An introduction to linguistics

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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#41  Postby Wiðercora » Apr 28, 2012 11:34 pm

My flatmate inflects all her sentences. It's really annoying? Because she talks like this? And even in the middle? of sentences the pitch just rises? for no reason?

Japanese is a tonal language, but not to the extent of Mandarin or Vietnamese. The word 'hashi' for example, can mean either bridge or chopsticks (and probably about a dozen other meanings, but they are the only ones I'm aware of).
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#42  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 29, 2012 11:50 am

Wiðercora wrote:My flatmate inflects all her sentences. It's really annoying? Because she talks like this? And even in the middle? of sentences the pitch just rises? for no reason?

Japanese is a tonal language, but not to the extent of Mandarin or Vietnamese. The word 'hashi' for example, can mean either bridge or chopsticks (and probably about a dozen other meanings, but they are the only ones I'm aware of).


Is she from an area where the dialect usually does that(, or other equivalent thing - is her sociolect like that)? (I've read of female sociolects where that's common, but it also seems to be common in some dialects - especially Irish English is more likely to have rising tone in statements than other versions of English (whereas some dialects in England even have falling tone on questions!).) Prosody is very difficult to change - it's among the most challenging bits in learning a foreign language (in part because few teachers really know any good way of teaching it, and we generally don't consciously hear it as long as it's "normal".

Japanese isn't generally considered a tonal language, it's considered a pitch accented language. The difference may seem rather small, but this essentially means that tonal distinctions only occur in stressed syllables, whereas in other tonal languages, it can occur in any syllable whatsoever. Pitch accented languages actually occur in Europe - Swedish*, Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian).

*as spoken in most of Sweden; it's mostly been lost in the far north, in parts of Dalarna and in pretty much all of the areas it's spoken in Finland.

I am not, to be entirely honest, sure why the distinction between pitch-accented and tonal languages is maintained in a lot of phonological descriptions. Some criticisms of the distinction between tonal and pitch-accented languages point out that it's not very well defined even.

Anyways, in "proper" tonal languages, every syllable has a tone, in pitch accented languages, there may be words that don't really have any tone at all, if that makes sense. (I'd guess for most of them this just means tone is *free* for those words or somesuch or follows some default pattern). I can't give any advice for how to figure out whether a language is pitch-accented or tonal other than that, but I kind of doubt anyone who's reading this will try to classify a language on the basis of what I'm writing anyway, so it's not that important, I guess?
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#43  Postby don't get me started » Apr 30, 2012 12:55 am

I have not come across descriptions of Japanese as a tonal language before. If it is a tonal language, then it is a tonal language in a different way to more canonical tonal languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Widecora is correct to point out that Hashi cane be either bridge 橋 or chopsticks 箸, with the alternate stress on the syllables to differentiate. However, the way that is is done in Tokyo (標準語 so-called standard Japanese) and the way it is done in Kansai (関西弁 Kansai dialect ) is opposite.( Don't ask me which is which...I always get it messed up!!)

Anthony Burgess in his book 'A Mouthful of Air' recounts how when he was teaching English in Malaysia his Chinese students were much more sensitized to tone and pitch then students who were not L1 speakers of tonal languages. He noticed that when he taught the collocative pair "knife and fork" the students faithfully copied the contrastive stress and tone variations that he had used, even when they went on to use the words singly in other sentences.

Some of my students who also study Chinese spend large amounts of time simply learning to notice and differentiate the tones of Chinese. A typical exercise will be a page of text in Chinese but written with Roman characters (Pinyin) without the diacriticals to indicate tone. They then listen to the text read or played out loud and add the diacriticals.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#44  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 30, 2012 10:42 am

don't get me started wrote:I have not come across descriptions of Japanese as a tonal language before. If it is a tonal language, then it is a tonal language in a different way to more canonical tonal languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Yeah, as I pointed out - Japanese is considered a pitch accented language:


Zwaarddijk wrote:Japanese isn't generally considered a tonal language, it's considered a pitch accented language. The difference may seem rather small, but this essentially means that tonal distinctions only occur in stressed syllables, whereas in other tonal languages, it can occur in any syllable whatsoever. Pitch accented languages actually occur in Europe - Swedish*, Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian).


don't get me started wrote:Widecora is correct to point out that Hashi cane be either bridge 橋 or chopsticks 箸, with the alternate stress on the syllables to differentiate. However, the way that is is done in Tokyo (標準語 so-called standard Japanese) and the way it is done in Kansai (関西弁 Kansai dialect ) is opposite.( Don't ask me which is which...I always get it messed up!!)

Such different ways of distinguishing things in different regional accents/dialects is not unusual for tonal languages either, but yeah, also occurs in pitch accented languages.

don't get me started wrote:Anthony Burgess in his book 'A Mouthful of Air' recounts how when he was teaching English in Malaysia his Chinese students were much more sensitized to tone and pitch then students who were not L1 speakers of tonal languages. He noticed that when he taught the collocative pair "knife and fork" the students faithfully copied the contrastive stress and tone variations that he had used, even when they went on to use the words singly in other sentences.

Apparently, speakers of tonal languages are also more likely to develop perfect pitch.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#45  Postby Zwaarddijk » May 03, 2012 8:11 pm

An x-ray video of the production of a click:

http://hctv.humnet.ucla.edu/departments ... movie.html
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#46  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jul 05, 2012 10:31 pm

_GRAMMAR_

Why do people tend to equate it with morphology? Grammar is an often misunderstood part of linguistics. Some people equate it with speaking properly, some people equate it with rich morphology, etc.

It's not unusual to find claims - even on fora devoted to languages - that e.g. Chinese lacks grammar. It is true that Chinese has a relatively minimal morphology, but morphology is not all there is to grammar. Morphology just happens to be the most visible form, and the easiest form to tabulate and show people.

Consider Latin grammar, what's the thing most people who have learned Latin in school associate with grammar? Generally, it's big tables of inflections. Some other languages with rich morphologies are Classical Greek, modern Russian, Church Slavonic, Sanskrit, Finnish, Arabic, Hungarian, Turkish, ...

Now, if we compare the words "mother" in Finnish and Chinese, we get

媽 / 妈 (ma), vs.

sg. nom äiti pl.nom äidit
sg. part äitiä pl. part äitejä
sg. acc äiti/äidin pl.acc äidit
sg. gen äidin pl.gen äitien
sg. transl äidiksi pl.gen äideiksi
sg. ess äiti pl. ess äitei
sg. ela äidiltä pl. ela äideiltä
.
.
.

where you get about 28 basic forms, then you can add suffixes to pretty much every one of those encoding possessor:
äitini
äitisi
äitinsä/äitiään
äitimme
äitinne
äitinsä/äitiään

äitiäni
äitiäsi
...

äidilleni
äidillesi
...

On top of this, you can add some discourse particles like
talossanihan ≃ in my house, though, ...
talossanikin ≃ even in my house
talossaniko? ≃ in my house?

This looks like a lot of grammar, whereas the Chinese example is just quite unimpressive: one unchanging syllable. And of course, the Finnish example is quite like the traditional examples we get in Latin or Greek classes, a kind of grammar that still has etched itself in the mind of grandkids of people who studied Latin back in the early 20th century or whenever. The reason this kind of grammar tends to get our attention is that it's very easy to tabulate it, it's easy to explain it, and due to the often combinatorial nature of it, it's easy to calculate a fine round number and say something along the lines of ~Finnish nouns have six thousand forms~ (note: that number is wrong. I'll also try to show you why such a number is a bit irrelevant).

First, we need a concept: a unit of "part of a word that carries meaning". In English, "cars" consists of two such units - we can subdivide it into "car" and "-s", such that both carry some meaning relevant to the word, whereas "ca"-"rs", doesn't, nor does "c" - "ars". We call "car" and "-s" morphemes. A word such as antidisestablishmentarianism has several morphemes to it:
anti - dis - establish- ment- ari- an- ism. Some of these can occur in isolation.

The absolute majority of plurals in English use the -s desinence to mark plurality. However, there are some exceptions: oxen, fish, mice, men. So plural morphemes in English are {-s, -en, -Ø, -[some weird things that change vowels in the word]}. The different morphemes here don't correlate with any grammatically meaningful categories of English, nor are they triggered by the phonetic environment they occur in. English does have at least one desinence where variant forms are triggered by the context: the past tense -ed. Anyways, variant morphemes that express the same thing but in different contexts (e.g. in different words, in different phonetic environments, etc) are called allomorphs. Finnish is rich in allomorphs due to its vowel harmony rule: words with {ä,y,ö} in it will take no suffix with {a,o,u} and vice versa. So, e.g. -lla will occur with words where there's a, o or u, -llä will occur with words where ä,y,ö occur.
There's another allomorphy going on in the Finnish examples I gave: äiti- vs. äidi-. The conditioning factor is mostly whether the final syllable is closed (although the possessive suffixes don't trigger that for some reason). We can't just count the number of different endings: we need to identify which allomorphs belong to the same morpheme.


(In Finnish, there's 5 possessive suffixes + no suffix, 14 cases, two numbers for a total of 168 combinations, but not all cases permit having the empty suffix. In addition, one of the cases does not have singular forms. In addition, there's a number of almost-cases, some nouns have two forms with slight differences in connotation but the same basic case (e.g. lapsena, lasna - both essives of child, one a bit more poetic and cutesy), etc, so calculating it is not as simple as taking the size of a cartesian product of the categories expressed morphologically. The discourse suffixes as well multiply the number of available forms, and we could make huge tables for these. Finnish verbs would permit even greater variety, with a rich number of regularly derivative morphology. As for marginal cases, Russian is a good language: there's any number of cases that only seem to occur with a small set of nouns, and which basically are conflated with some other case for the vast majority of cases. The most standard one of these is the 2nd prepositional case for some nouns such as port, aeroport, les; normally, the prepositional singular ends in -e, but for those, the alternative case ends in -u.)

Now, languages with morphology - "synthetic languages" - come in two main forms: agglutinating and fusional languages.
In Finnish, case and number agglutinate. They have separate suffixes each, and you simply "glue" them on top of each other. auto-ssa = in car, auto-i-ssa = in cars, auto-i-ssa-ni = in my cars. Russian, however, merges number, gender and case - those caetgories are fusional in Russian. Essentially, a plural case ending may not bear any superficial resemblance to the corresponding singular ending, and feminine singular dative may have a suffix distinct from the masculine singular dative.

It's a bit stupid trying to compare the number of forms of Finnish and the forms of Latin or Russian for that reason: Finnish lines morphemes up, Russian kind of merges them.

In Finnish, you basically get something along the lines of (using set notation)
{sg (Ø), pl (-i-, -ei-)} x {nom (Ø, -t), gen (-n), part (-a, -ta), all (-lle), ill (-:n, -in, -hVn, -sVVn), abl (-lta, -ltä), ela (-sta, -stä), adessive (-lla, -llä), inessive (-ssa, ssä), trans (-ksi), ess (-na, -nä), abessiva (-tta), instructive (-in, ...), comitative (-ne-)} x {Ø, -ni, -si, -nsa/-an/-nsä/-än, -mme, -nne}.

In Russian or Latin, you need to look at it one step more abstractly, as there's less of a direct connection between the function of a form and its surface realization:
Russian:
{nom, acc, gen, dat, instr, prep} x {masc, fem, neut} x {sg, pl}
However, there's also reason to think of this in terms of
{nom, acc, gen, dat, instr, prep} x {masc, fem, neut, pl}.

Some genitives and accusatives are identical: {acc, masc} is identical to {gen, masc} for animate masculines, whereas {nom, masc} is identical to {acc, masc} for inanimate masculines (and all neuters). {prepositional, feminine} and {dative, feminine} are also conflated. Some desinences (endings) are also shared between genders and cases: masculine and neuter genitive has the same ending, essentially, as feminine singular nominative. All singulars have the same locative: -e. The feminine genitive and the plural nominative are identical.
So, ultimately, we get a situation where the number of "functional forms" - e.g. actual case-number combinations - and the number of actual visually distinct forms are different.

The situation is further complicated by no noun having all the desinences appear on it. So, unlike the Finnish example, we can't just count the endings, put them in distinct sets along with what position they take and multiply together the sets to get a rough idea of the number of cases.

Having looked this much at the Finnish noun, and a little bit less at the Russian noun - not even getting into derivational morphology, one would think it's quite obvious Finnish and Russian have more grammar than Chinese - an unchanging 媽 / 妈 (ma) isn't comparably really impressive in any way.

What use do the Finnish forms have?
äidille - to mother, äidillä - by mother, at mother, in mother's possession, äidin - mother's, mother(object), äitien - mothers', äidiksi - (turning) into a mother, becoming a mother, äitinä - as a mother, being a mother, in the role of a mother, äidiltä - from mother, äitiä - (part.obj, neg.obj, ) mother, etc. Basically, these suffixes have roles fairly similar to prepositions in English or Chinese.
Finnish does have adpositions (both pre- and postpositions, in fact), so Finnish hasn't just stuck all their adpositions at the end of words, but what's historically actually has occured is that some adpositions have merged with the noun.

Russian cases likewise - but to a lesser extent - cover uses that syntax and adpositions do in English. E.g. the dative either replaces something along the line of "to (someone)", as in 'we gave a gift to her', or the adpositionless 'we gave her a gift'. In the English translations here, we have grammar as well - adpositions carry a significant bit of the grammar in English (but also in Russian and Finnish!). The Russian prepositions, as well as those in German collaborate with the cases, so e.g. Russian v + prepositional = at, v + accusative = to (location), na + locative = on, na + accusative = onto, German an + acc = onto, an + dat = on.
This too is grammar - but it's not as easy to tabulate this kind of rule-based grammar. Let's take another example of grammar that is not easy to tabulate:
In English, there's two kinds of phrasal verbs.

The first kind includes verbs like "to wait for", "to look at".
The second includes "to run up (e.g. a bill)", "to bring in", "to blow out".

Let's consider two example sentences:
John waited for her.
Bring in the guests!
John blew out the candle.
Eric walked out the door.
I looked at the painting.

We can rearrange some of them:
John blew the candle out
Bring the guests in!
but this can't be done with some of the other sentences:
*John waited her for
*I looked the painting at
*John walked the door out

Apparently there is some kind of difference here in what reorderings are permissible and which are not. Which ones are permitted and which ones are not is lexically determined - e.g. there's some phrases in the lexicon which are fairly well established as such verb-particle pairs, and some that aren't. Apparently, in English grammar there's a bit that says the phrasal verbs can rearrange like that, and verbs + particles that aren't phrasal verbs don't permit that kind of reshuffling. How do you quantify a bunch of grammatical rules like that? It's not easy to tabulate, so it can't be made to look impressive the way verb and noun endings like Latin or Finnish can. And it's less easy to spot mistakes in a language you only barely know if it's in those rules than if it's in the morphological bit - you simply often don't know the relevant rules, as some very far-out rule might be involved in making your example sentence wrong(ish), whereas in morphology, you usually have your paradigm, your declensions and conjugations, and sometimes a small list of specific exceptions. With rules regarding reorderings, what elements can combine, what happens when elements combine, etc there's just so much that can happen - and we can be fairly sure no grammar of any human language is fully described anywhere.

It turns out - and this is an important thing in some modern theories of grammar - that grammar and the lexicon interact quite a bit; in fact, it can be reasonable to even say that a fair bit of our grammar resides in the lexicon, basically words are not just sequence of sounds + [something that tells us which suffixes, infixes and prefixes it can take] + [meaning], but there's also a fair bit of + [things you can do with the word]. It's quite unlikely every speaker of a language has the exact same grammatical lexicon in their minds, sufficient matches are enough.

Another instance of grammar that might not seem quite obvious in a language that has it - and this is known from many languages, and reconstructed for proto-Indo-European: in some languages, subjects and objects are differentiated by morphology (i.e. a case) (English does this in the personal pronouns). In other languages, word order (English, Chinese, Swedish, loads of other languages) or some particle (partially in Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, ...) serve to distinguish the subject from the object. In some languages, however, neither of these strategies is used, yet speakers can always pinpoint with very great accuracy which constituent is the subject and which is the object.

So what's used to determine which is which? Turns out many such languages have a hierarchy of words. In a sentence with two constituents that 'vie' for subjecthood, the one higher in the hierachy always wins. This hierarchy often correlates with some notion of animacy, but there may be exceptions. If the verb is intransitive (i.e. cannot take an object), you'll only have one candidate, and no such strategy is needed. Naturally, oftentimes the more animate noun will be the subject - although this to some extent also depends on how things generally tend to be expressed in the language and on what other
The word 'water' comes in two inherited versions in Indo-European languages, some are cognate to the English word - water, vod, vatten, ὕδωρ (hydor), udens (Latvian), some are cognate to Latin aqua, eau, ujë, å, ...
There's good reason to think one of these were higher in the hierarchy, and hence used when it was a transitive subject, and the other used when it was the object. This is a situation not unusual in languages with such hierarchies, if some noun low in the hierarchy also happens to actually be perceived as a subject every now and then. Water is a thing that easily can be perceived as a thing that does things: it covers things, it takes people, etc.

Let's play a bit with an idea here. Let's say we have two typologically quite different languages, and we try to figure out which one has more grammar. How many noun pairs like the above does it take to be as much grammar as three case forms? As two genders? As a perfective-imperfective distinction in the verb?

Finnish marks telic, nonnegative transitive verbs' objects with its accusative case. All telic negative, atelic negative or atelic nonnegative verbs take objects in the partitive case. How does this compare to a language that has, say, distinct perfect and imperfect verbs, differentiated by some regular affix or stem change or auxiliary verb or particle?

Despite the fact that the Chinese word for mother - 媽 / 妈 (ma) - does not possess the same amount of distinct forms as Finnish äiti does, does not mean we can be sure Finnish has more grammar than Chinese. The kind of grammar that is difficult to tabulate is often also more difficult to research, and it's especially difficult to showcase to people that think Chinese lacks grammar.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#47  Postby don't get me started » Jul 09, 2012 8:25 am

Good work Zwaarddijk. A very thorough accounting of some quite tricky stuff.
I'll add to what you wrote in a somewhat tangential manner, if I may.

I have the suspicion that a lot of folk views of what grammar is and how it works comes from the status and nature of Latin.
Basically, for several hundred years in western Europe, if you wanted to call yourself educated, you had to be familiar with Latin.
Lectures at Oxford and Cambridge were in Latin into the 19th Century I believe.

Now, if you're a native speaker of English, then Latin seems to come with a lot of what what Anthony Burgess called 'the needless baggage of inflections'. Hard to master if you are coming at as a second language if your first language is not so inflectional, but, and here is the point, very easy for a pedant pedagogue to pick to pieces if you get it wrong.

I'm guessing that generations of students being dragged through declension tables and the like helped to fix the idea that grammar IS inflection and morphology in the popular mind, leading to notions that some languages (usually highly inflected) have more 'grammar' than other languages.

In modern times this has also found expression in the Chomskian preoccupation with syntax. It still seems the case that being conversant with 'grammar' means that you are 'clever', and that if you play fast and loose with grammar (as all speakers do in 'talk-in-interaction' (Schegloff's term), then you are producing a corrupt and degraded form of the language, and displaying low intelligence.
In actual fact, research has shown that speakers don't pay much attention to grammar in ongoing talk*. Matters of meaning and social roles take precedence over form everywhere except the language classroom.

*References available on request.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#48  Postby nunnington » Jul 09, 2012 9:18 am

Good stuff, Zwaarddjik. I find the material about grammar and lexicon very interesting, as there has obviously been a big shift in recent years, away from the slot and filler approach. Construction grammar is just one of the contemporary accounts, which are bleeding grammar and lexicon into each other.

I suppose the Chomskyan approach to syntax had a series of empty slots, into which lexical items could be inserted. However, as you say, this began to fall apart, as researchers realized that lexical items carried with them their own syntactic operations, as it were. Thus, as a simple example, we can observe that a verb like 'postpone' will tend to predict a preposition such as 'until'. In fact, you can then describe phrasal verbs and so on.

One of my memories from being at UCL was quite a lot of research into syntactic 'blends', that is, where one syntactic construction bleeds into another (I seem to have blood on the brain today), although I think this was first put forward by Bolinger. But this also militated against the 'slot' approach. An obvious example is 'different than' which presumably blends the use of comparative plus 'than' with 'different from'.

But the really interesting thing about this lexicalist turn, is that the purely formal approach of Chomsky has been abandoned. From this paradigm of extreme formalism, Chomsky made all kinds of inferences, for example, that language was not really about communication! And also, that acquiring syntax was separate from semantics and the lexicon.

Presumably, this turn to collocation grammar, or whatever you call it, will have big implications for psycholinguistics, language acquisition, language pathology, and so on. I used to do research in a stroke clinic, where patients with aphasia and the like were trained to re-establish some of their speech and language skills, so I think this new approach could have a considerable impact here. For example, purely syntactic drills seem to be the wrong way to go.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#49  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jul 09, 2012 1:29 pm

I'm guessing that generations of students being dragged through declension tables and the like helped to fix the idea that grammar IS inflection and morphology in the popular mind, leading to notions that some languages (usually highly inflected) have more 'grammar' than other languages.

This also has lead to the unfortunate notion that languages over time lose grammar through the sloppiness of younger speakers. Yes, grammatical features are lost. They also are gained. They are altered as well.

In modern times this has also found expression in the Chomskian preoccupation with syntax. It still seems the case that being conversant with 'grammar' means that you are 'clever', and that if you play fast and loose with grammar (as all speakers do in 'talk-in-interaction' (Schegloff's term), then you are producing a corrupt and degraded form of the language, and displaying low intelligence.

In part, this also has to do with sociolinguistics. Even today, an African American whose speech entirely adheres to the grammatical rules of AAVE will be judged as speaking with bad or even no grammar. Grammar is not just the rules given by some governing body or Academy or privileged linguist - grammar is a joint venture (or even multiple joint ventures that further are somewhat joint between them as well - pretty much every speech community's standards are affected by surrounding and overlapping speech communities' standards), that evolves over time. It's very unlikely that every person who has mastered the English literary standard actually has the same grammar in their mind - it might be quite similar for a large number of them, but variations will exist. The same goes both for vocabulary (not just in number of entries, but in what the entries actually are, i.e. we can share a word without sharing its definition fully.)

In actual fact, research has shown that speakers don't pay much attention to grammar in ongoing talk*. Matters of meaning and social roles take precedence over form everywhere except the language classroom.

I get the feeling people are more willing to pay attention to your grammar if you also happen to have a non-native accent - ungrammaticalities native Finns get away with constantly have been pointed out to me when I've done them as indicative of me not being a native speaker. In these cases, they were things fairly far from what one usually would expect in Finnish (e.g. a locative adverbial in the nominative, a bit like saying "he's the other side" instead of "he's on the other side" - a thing that can slip by by accident, and both the speaker and listener may perceive as odd or just not notice. Thing is, I have a slight Swedish accent, so when I make slip-ups, people attribute them to my non-nativeness. When natives slip-up, they barely notice!

But grammar does have a role whenever we speak - it's pretty much unavoidable. We mostly notice with grammar if it's violated in really remarkable ways, though - akin to the Finnish example, and possibly, but slightly less likely the one I snuck into the beginning of this sentence. Grammar is what we use to emphasize things - e.g. the construction I just used ("grammar is what ...") is a pseudo-cleft, a way of attracting focus onto something - clefts and pseudo-clefts don't occur entirely at random, their occurence correlates with something about what the speaker wants to express -, grammar is what we use to express which out of the nouns did something and which of them was done to, grammar is what we use to determine what some pronoun refers to - other languages may have different rules for resolving it, and other rules for marking it. In some languages, a sentence such as "They made sure that themselves knew what they were doing" - such constructions are permissible and even mandatory in some languages. We are constantly grammar-parsing machines, although to what extent we manage to parse what someone else is saying the way they intended it is a different question - I am increasingly suspecting that linguists have overestimated that part of it.


Of course, the grammar I speak of above is not the grammar Strunk and White wrote of, and it's not the grammar that prescriptivists try to make other speakers adhere to. It's the grammar that naturally has evolved, and still is evolving, under various pressures.
More on how grammar changes, why it changes, what kinds of changes there are, and such in the next installment. Which will not take this long to write - I have written something like three drafts every month for this, and been disappointed at each and every one. I finally decided that whatever I wrote that evening would have to do.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#50  Postby don't get me started » Jul 09, 2012 2:26 pm

I have written something like three drafts every month for this, and been disappointed at each and every one.

Yeah, tell me about it....
I'm writing three papers this month. One for a non-peer reviewed publication, the other two for peer-review. No matter how many times I revisit it, it's never right. I have to admit that I'll never be a really successful writer. I'm far happier giving presentations, using language as a living, protean thing.
No surprise that I have directed my research efforts at conversation analysis (CA) rather than generative grammar and all of that side of language.

By the way, one of the studies I referenced was relating to Finnish.
It found that when non-native speakers (NNS) of Finnish were in interaction with native speakers of Finnish (NS), the NNS tended to focus on grammatical correctness, but the NS brushed over it. The example given was of a NNS trying to get the inflection right and the NS just saying get on with it.

NNS has been telling a story about two babies mixed up at birth.

NNS: Sitte he (0.2) huomaa- huomu- huoma=
NS: Jo o [huomas]
NNS: [huomat] huomas
NS: Joo
(0.4)
NS: Mitas siina tapahtu sitte...

The brackets indicate pausing and the square brackets indicate overlapping speech.

In this case the NNS was performing a word search...specifically, attending to the 'correct' form.
The NS provided the 'correct 'form and after a short pause moved the interaction forward.
Notice how the NNS contined the word search even during overlapping speech, but the NS brought the search to a halt by supplying the 'correct' form, and established that the concept was understood and there was no further need to dwell on the form of the verb 'notice'.

Refrence:
Salla Kurhila.
Different Orientations to Grammatical Correctness PP 143-158 in
Applying Conversation Analysis
K. Richards and P. Seedhouse
Macmillan
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Re: Grammar change

#51  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jul 30, 2012 6:09 pm

Badly written, again, but sums up some kind of important things in way too simple a manner. Ask for clarification and it will be given. This is mainly just maybe a starting point for a discussion if there's questions. I've been a bit too busy again :|

It can trivially be shown that languages change. Just compare, say, a few newspaper articles from the 19th century and some from last year, and you'll find differences. There will be words in the older articles that have fallen out of use, but there'll also be words in the newer articles that weren't coined or whose usage was marginal during the 19th century. Some words will also have changed meaning in different ways.
But other changes will also have taken place besides the vocabulary-related ones. The style will have changed. That's mainly a kind of social thing: in the 19th century, newspaper articles were expected to be phrased and structured in a certain way, now they're expected to be phrased and structured in ways that are slightly off from that. The newspaper article is a kind of context in itself, where language is used in some specific ways that differ from the ways we use language when talking to our colleagues over lunch, when we chat someone up at a bar, when we confess to someone that we've done a terrible mistake, etc. That's a kind of meta-grammar, though - it specifies how we wrap things together in a discourse. This meta-grammar (if I may use such a nonstandard term) is studied in pragmatics.

If we go back a bit further, we find more obvious changes in things: word order may seem odd at times, there are unfamiliar endings and prefixes on the verbs (but some may seem somewhat familiar if we know, e.g., German), and we'll also find that some weak verbs were strong - as well as possibly the opposite. We may also find more and different suffixes on the nouns. At some point we also find things referred to by gendered pronouns as well as the neuter pronoun - and that the gender used for any given noun will be rather invariant through a period, but also that the gender used with a noun seems rather arbitrary.

It's easy to understand why the meanings of words change and why words come and go. (There are, of course, complications - generally complications that best are understood through sociolinguistics, but I am not opening that can of worms just yet.) New things are invented, old things fall out of use, new social structures appear that need describing, old structures fall out of use, words are generalized, become more specific ("meat" formerly included all foods, "deer" formerly included animals in general), or just switch around by some kind of association (the evolution of the word "gay" is a good example, the Scandinavian word "arg" is an example that kind of goes the other way around, it started out meaning something along the lines of "unmanly", developed to meaning"the submissive part in homosexual sex, or the victim of homosexual rape", then "someone who has been thoroughly disgraced", then through some other steps ended up meaning "angry" with no sexual connotations whatsoever.

It's also easy to understand why grammatical affixes disappear - they simply [well, not really "simply"] drop out.

Let's look at an English noun about a millennium ago:
- it inflected its nouns (and adjectives) for case. Any noun that was used got marked for the nominative, dative, accusative, genitive or instrumental (which was increasingly being conflated with the dative). These cases reflected different grammatical roles.
- the verbs were all inflected for person, even in the past tense.

Why's that drop out? Well, it's easy to attribute it to some simplistic explanation like, say
people don't bother with tedious affixes[/b], or [i]people didn't learn the rules properly or language tends to simplify over time. Consider, for instance, the verb suffixes - usually, you'd also have the pronoun present, so it was somewhat redundant. Another popular explanation of (apparent) simplification in grammar is foreign influence. Yes, foreign influence does both give and take in linguistic change, but it seems to me it's too often used as a recourse to explain any change. Languages do change even without foreign languages involving themselves in it. The polynesian languages, for instance, wouldn't have had almost any variety in them before the arrival of the Europeans if outside influence was a necessity for linguistic change. I will get back to why change occurs later in this post.

How that happens isn't difficult, but how does a language acquire or shed grammar? There's a few processes that change the grammar of a language. But before going there, let's refine our notion of what grammar is. Let's go so far as to try and come up with some kind of notion of what form grammar exists in!

IN WHAT WAY DOES GRAMMAR EXIST?
Let's consider a bit what it means for something to be grammatical.

There's several ways of defining a language's grammar. We could, for instance, decide that what some authority decides is the grammar of English. We'd have some arbitrary group of people - say a bunch of English professors or somesuch, and whatever they say goes. Let's say a situation appears where you need to express something that isn't possible to say with the current rules of the language, or that isn't regulated whatsoever. Before we know if you said it right, the committee that decides would have to decide how that particular need is handled. Verifying whether something's grammatical would simply mean checking the most recent version of the grammar. Constructing a grammatical utterance would simply mean applying the given rules constructively. If the committee is real kind, maybe we're even given algorithms for these two problems.

So, who decides to give this committee this power? The queen? The congress? The joint heads of state of all anglophone countries? Or should there be separate committees for Canada, England, Scotland, Australia, ... ? Now, I am sort of highlighting here the absurdity of such an idea, yet it is true that some countries do have such committees, and these committees tend to fight a losing battle against evolution, although on occasion they do manage to change the course of the entire river that the language is. As a speaker of Swedish, I can point out that until relatively recently, the grammar of Svenska Akademien forbade a certain construction based on a reasoning that should have forbidden a few others, yet the grammar permitted those for no given reason whatsoever - it was inconsistent (other inconsistencies undoubtedly exist today). This particular rule has been omitted, but prescrivists still occasionally like sneering at you if you use that construction. Also, this organ that defines and refines the grammar of Swedish has not had a member to represent the 300 000 strong minority of speakers of Swedish from Finland.

In this case though, the grammar exists as a well-defined formal description. How people actually speak and write is not interesting, and speaking grammatically means adhering to the rules set fort in some formal description. A change is an order from the top to change some rule. You can't 'really' speak until you've learned a sufficient part of the rules.
If this were how grammars are defined, the majority of languages would not have grammars. Language change would come from the top down in an explicit form, and so on. Quite a bizarre and unrealistic description of the situation.

Another misconception of the situation that is rather popular is based in some kind of, I dunno, naive platonism or something. The kind of idea that "this is how English is, and that's that. There's no mystery to it, that's how it is."
But no god has stepped down on Sinai or any other mountain to lay down the law of English grammar - there's no external intangible arbiter or essence of English that exists in some ethereal manner that decides what English grammar is like. Believing in such a thing basically isn't that far from believing in ghosts. Yet lots of people who'd never be caught believing in something so preposterous, do believe there's a grammar of English existing in Plato's Cave. No different, really, from believing that God somehow works as an external guarantee of ethics or something, and somehow has revealed this to us in a collective revelation that some of us decide not to adhere to. Just as superstitious.

Let's try to think about it more rationally. Where does grammar reside? It resides in brains. Now, you can of course object that many speakers don't know when something's an object or a subject, or explain how anaphora bind, or even analyze their own usage of morphology reliably. That's not a problem, though: labels like object, subject, anaphora, 1st declension, etc, are labels, used to describe the processes that go on in our heads. They classify the different building blocks we use, and are then used to figure out what patterns we adhere to when we speak.

How does knowing where language resides help us figure out what the grammar of English is? Now, you probably share quite a significant bit of grammar with those around you - but there may very well be variations between you. One of you might not use a certain verb intransitively at all, another might permit making it intransitive without any care in the world. Someone might have another adposition with a specific phrasal verb, and someone might drop the adposition with that phrasal verb altogether. So we can't just study one person's grammar, and then say we've learned all of English. The reason for this, really, is that as pattern-matching machines, our brains sometime overanalogize, and sometimes, they miss patterns as well. Some time, you've undoubtedly uttered a strong verb as though it were weak or vice versa. And these kinds of things sometimes happen on a scale grand enough to make most speakers of the language change which of those two kinds of verb a verb belongs to. We need to get some kind of idea of what features unite the entire speech community.

Well, we could come up with a definition of English as some kind of weighted average (with some permitted deviation) of some kind of "sum" of all grammars of those who speak English. Of course, where do we draw the line for what English is, we still haven't got a grammar by which to decide! When is some dialect divergent enough no longer to qualify as a form of English? We look at how people identify what they speak, the history of how what they speak has come about, how well it's understood by people closer to the average, and to what extent there's chains of transitional forms of the language. Often there'll be borderline cases that can't be answered absolutely, and we can often also find subsets where people cluster towards some kind of centre as well - Scots might qualify as that in the case of English. Of course, we can't peer into everyone's brains and pick the grammar out and compare them. We need to use some other methods. Luckily, we can just sample. And we try to find patterns in an intellectual manner in the corpus we get, and since we have live informants, we can produce intentionally misproduced sentences and see if our hypotheses are right: a misproduced sentence should produce some kind of feeling of error in the native listener. And if most people seem to grasp what we say and write well enough, and it patterns well with what others utter in our vicinity, we can be sure oour grammar is fairly correct. Many common pet-peeves are actually mistaken analogies: 'begging the question', if you apply analogy and read it as though it were just a normal phrase would mean exactly what people mistakenly think it means. (Or something along those lines - it might actually be borderline malformed for some speakers, and this might set off a warning bell for some that there's something odd about this expression. If you try to find a meaning for it without having looked it up, the only meaning you would come up with is the meaning people do come up with.)

When it comes to figuring out how language works (and everyone does that at least for one significant bit of their life), we're in a bit of a double bind: language is used to communicate, among other things, what we think, but at the same time, to reliably construct a model of the language in our own head (esp. when learning our first language), we would need to know what the speaker thinks! To some extent we can, but there's still room for doubt about it. We're after all not telepathic beings, and we will parse an utterance the wrong way at times. Since our neural network doesn't get entirely static at some point, but keeps adjusting, this will also affect the language model stored in our brain. Our analogizing can fail simply because we're not smart enough to quite get what the other guy is saying, or we can project too much smarts on him, and fail that way as well.

This is, a kind of abstract, kind of concrete look at how the most realistic definition of grammar for real, spoken languages would work out.

So, how does grammar change, and where does the grammar this speech community share come from if it hasn't been handed down from a committee or God-on-a-mountaintop?

There's several processes we need to be aware of.
  • analogy
  • grammaticalization
  • sound changes merging or deleting elements with grammatical roles

Analogy is a very important process in language. Every now and then, we are going to utter a sentence never uttered before. We can't look such a sentence up in a list of accepted sentences of the English language - no such list exists. And none of us have ever seen an exhaustive list of all rules of English. And when we use a new word, it's seldom we look it up in some list of approved forms in order to inflect it right. Our brains probably don't generally do this by implementing a list of rules in some form, but by analogy to other things we've heard. Our brain is a neural network, and neural networks are good at pattern matching to some extent.

As it happens, English inflection nominal morphology is rather simple: you have a singular form and a plural form for all count nouns. We have a few occasional exceptional nouns - ox, oxen; man, men. A rather famous experiments showed that children relatively early have analogized the plural allomorphs of English, -/s/ after voiceless consonants, /-z/ after voiced consonants and vowels, and -/Iz/ after some consonants. The test asked children about plurals for various words that don't exist in mainstream English. The wug has kind of remained a fixture in linguistic lore ever since:

Image

But as I said, analogy can draw different conclusions: someday, the strong verbs may very well disappear due to analogy with the weak verbs. Already, most colloquial English has reduced the modal forms of 'to be' to rubbles. Meanwhile, it's also likely a lot of syntactical assumptions that English had 600 or even 400 years ago may have been lost without anyone even caring to complain about them, since there were no scholars that had identified that kind of grammar back then, so no one even knew to whine.

Sound change is another important source of linguistic change. Not only does it shape our words - e.g. turning *skuldra into sholder into shoulder. It also changes our grammatical morphemes. For one, the loss of most un-stressed word-final vowels in English pretty much spelled out the end of the case system. Similar changes happened throughout western Europe, reducing the case systems of Latin and Proto-Germanic to just some occasional remnants in the pronominal systems. Similar changes also reduced the number of distinct verb forms. Keeping that in mind, it'd seem natural that morphology is doomed, over time, to simplify. But that's an untenable position: if that were the case, language should've been at its most morphologically complex when it began being spoken! A highly odd position, no?

Turns out we know a process that does the opposite (but also through the reduction of elements). Grammaticalization. One important form of grammaticalization is when worn-down function words get their actual meaning semantically bleached - they no longer carry any actual meaning as words, only their function remains. In English, the article system has developed since medieval times. Articles did not exist in the year 600 or thereabout. A/an is a reduced version of "one". I am not sure about the origin of "the", but I'd wager some demonstrative or such whose meaning got less demonstrative and only the definite part remained. And there's quite a bit of grammar in the use of "a/an". (C.f. the previous sentence, in some related languages, you'd say the equivalent of "a quite bit"; there's also a lot of grammar as to when you should omit the articles, which kinds of nouns don't take the indefinite article, etc. There's a whole bunch of grammatical rules in there, rules that probably no one even had a reasonably complete description of until maybe the 1950s, yet most speakers of English had used those rules fairly consistently with the occasional outlier for over a century.)

Grammaticalization may go as far as to create new morphology. The Scandinavian definite articles - which have also evolved roughly during the same time as the English articles - are suffixes. a car / the car translates as en bil / bilen in Swedish. This suffix did not exist when the rune stones were written. It's been worn down, and assimilated into the preceding word. Finnish with its 16ish cases descends from proto-Uralic, a language that probably had six cases. The Scandinavian passive verb originates with a grammaticalization of a reduced form of the pronoun "himself/herself/itself", "sig", so now, to passivize a verb in Scandinavian, you can just tuck an -s onto its end (instead of bothering with this tedious "is/.../was/were x:ed" periphrasis.)

All this happens through people either being a bit lazy and simultaneously doing what they have to do to keep up with language: analogy. And this all happens in a fluid democracy-like thing where majority vote (by usage) is kind of powerful, but minority votes can be maintained for long times within a speech community as well.


GRAMMAR AND REDUNDANCY AND A KIND OF A NARRATIVE MODEL FOR GRAMMAR CHANGE
(that in kind of ~evolutionary~ terms describes how redundancy comes about)

It's easy to think that redundancy is somehow a flaw in a grammar. It's common among people who like to improve things to try and come up with improvements for human language that get rid of the redundancy, and also build it up more logically. This seems to be popular among engineers who are also into conlanging (the art of constructing languages.) There is an evolutionary reason for the redundancy though, and there's also an evolutionary reason why redundancy sometimes is dropped as well. We live in a noisy channel - at times, information gets lost en route. If there's enough redundancy, the likelihood that the mind can reconstruct the message is increased a bit. Sometimes we parse wrong even if we hear every word of the message clearly - maybe we assume the wrong context or the wrong intentions behind it or whatever. This kind of redundancy is encoded in many ways: in some languages, you have gender agreement, in some you have person agreement on the verb + mandatory subject and object nouns or pronouns present, in some, all adjectives are marked for the same case as the noun they modify, in some you have all objects of negated verbs appear in one specific case, in other languages double (and even triple or quadruple) negation is a way of ensuring that the listener doesn't happen to miss the negation particle. Almost all languages have some level of redundancy in how they encode stuff. Some sentences may very well lack that redundancy, and some may even permit ambiguity, but there'll usually be some strategies that introduce a bit of redundancy. And why is this? Well, imagine if your language is optimized to squeeze too much information into this noisy channel. People will increasingly often ask "excuse me, what're you saying?", until you get quite irate with it. You'll probably - possibly subconsciously, start repeating salient parts "the car mechanic, he did repair the car quite well he did'. Speaking in a way where people start misunderstanding or asking for repeated statements a lot will make people annoyed, and that's the battle of the fittest being waged here: a more efficient way of speaking will probably win out (if it's also easy enough to learn by hearing). Younger learners pick up this way of repeating some information that may help out and at some point there's sufficient amounts of redundancy, so no one keeps adding any more of it as they'll sound like someone who can't shut up and can't keep quiet and really sucks at succinctness. At some point, sound changes start wearing it down and all of a sudden a former pronoun is now a part of the verb as a subject or object marking on the verb, maybe an adposition has merged with a noun in forming a case inflection, and so on. This is of course just a narrative, but similar narratives easily can explain most of the ways how languages gain and lose morphology and redundancy and other features. Of course, normally this'll be driven by some typological tendencies, e.g. a language where the verb tends to go first will almost invariably have the subject go before the object, permit that the verb goes in the middle between them on occasion, will have prepositions instead of postpositions, will almost invariably have adjectives go after the noun, and so on. Why this is is a more difficult thing to explain, but it tends to influence how a language changes over time. Of course, a language with verb-subject-object order easily can change into a SVO language (as that order almost always is permissible in the language, it just needs to become a strong enough fad). We know of languages that have gone from SOV to VSO, and vice versa. Languages with the object preceding the subject are unusual, but all three variations of that are attested as well.
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Some errata

#52  Postby Zwaarddijk » Aug 22, 2012 1:41 pm

Errata and clarifications:

The sounds thus produced are fairly regular - they're tones. This contrasts with less regular sounds, e.g. sounds produced by friction. Some sounds exist in various languages that do not use pulmonary exhalation - clicks are one such type of sounds.

Note: (ir)regular here pertains to the wave form - the less regular sounds have more random components to the wave form.

Not only are the sounds we make affected by where in the mouth the closure is, there's a number of manners of articulation that are relevant. While introducing the nasal-oral passages as a tube, I already presented the stop. The stop is a full closure, behind which some pressure is allowed to build up and then released. The stop part of it is actually fairly silent, what gives away what sound it is in that case generally is an effect on the surrounding sounds' frequency distributions just prior to and after the stop. Depending on where along this tube it occurs, it'll affect the neighbouring sounds in subtly different ways, which we parse as different actual sounds.

The bolded part is unclear: we parse the effects it has on the surrounding sounds as though it were an actual sound in between or after or before the surrounding sounds.

Basically, if the first box here represents the time span for "a" and the second box is "t", and the third "o" (ish)',
[ a ][ t ][ o ][ m ]
things that actually happen in the a-box, especially towards the end, and in the o-box towards the beginning, will be parsed as though it actually were a t-sound we hear inbetween, even if the t-sound itself lacks very much in ways of distinct audible properties.

Consider the two words grave and crave. These are very similar, in fact there's only one sound distinguishing them from one another. /g/ and /k/. [khreIv] vs. [kreIv], though, are not considered distinct - we write both as /kreIv/, although the latter may sound slightly off to most speakers of English - the lack of aspiration (belated onset of voicing, and a slight puff of air on the k) cannot distinguish two words from each other - although in some dialects of English, it seems aspirationless [k] is more likely to be parsed as belonging to /g/.

I accidentally slipped into X-SAMPA there for a moment, the I in [khreIv] and [greIv] are supposed to be ɪ, hence [greɪv], [khreɪv]. The accident happened because of X-SAMPA, a one-to-one transliteration of IPA into ASCII symbols. This system was necessary until recently for ascii-based communication such as email, webpages, ... and still occasionally finds its use. I occasionally accidentally slip into X-SAMPA.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#53  Postby Zwaarddijk » Sep 14, 2012 10:43 pm

HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS III

I previously explained the changes that can happen in languages, but I never explained anything about methodologies in studying these phenomena after they've occured.

Back in the day, scholars were noticing that there were similarities between Latin and Greek, and eventually, the increased contacts to India got scholars of classical languages interested in Sanskrit and the languages of India. Turned out there were some relatively regular correspondences between the three of them. I am not entirely sure what order similarities were being discovered here, but regular similarities also were found to Old Church Slavonic, Avestan (Persian), Gothic, ...

And due to the regular nature of most sound changes, a relatively clever idea appeared. What if, given a set of languages derived out of a prior, unattested language, it's possible to, to some extent, reconstruct the ancestor language? For some reason, the method used is called 'the comparative method'.

Many scholars worked over decades on this, new languages were found to belong to the set: the Celtic languages, various archeologically discovered ones, ... and the internal groups were also reconstructed: the evidence from the Germanic languages gives a pretty good reconstruction of proto-Germanic, the Baltic ones gives an ok reconstruction of proto-Baltic, those and the Slavonic languages give a good reconstruction of a possible Balto-Slavic ancestor node, ...

Now, an interesting thing happened towards the end of the 19th century: some scholars were finding that a bunch of words had changed in relatively consistent ways, but for many languages, it was like there had been a flip of a coin for words which particular type of change they would go through - and the flip of a coin seemed to have landed similarly everywhere, despite there not being any sound present that would've triggered it in one word and not in others. de Saussure posited that there had been sounds that at some point had triggered some sound changes (so, e.g. sound 1 had triggered a certain set of changes, sound 2 had triggered another set), and then had been lost in all descendant languages. That, of course, is kind of unfalsifiable, isn't it? The theory was that the sounds probably were somewhere far back in the mouth, alternatively in the throat, and that they likely were fricatives. These have later been labelled h1, h2, h3.

And yes, as far as theories go, it is unfalsifiable. But luck would have it, that a civilization suddenly was dug up somewhere in Turkey. The Hittites. And in their texts - which were written using a known script - that of Akkadian. To scholars, it was immediately obvious that this language too was cognate to the other indo-european languages, due to several cognates (words shared by the different languages, though with potentially different sound changes along the line. English 'have' and German 'haben' are an example of cognates.) It turned out that some letters that in Akkadian were used for throaty sounds were used in Hittite with the exact same distribution as de Saussure had predicted.

Later discoveries of languages have also sometimes been languages for which regular changes have been easy to posit from reconstructions of proto-Indo-European, altho' new discoveries sometimes also have shed light on uncertain things about it. The fact that Tocharian also clearly was of Indo-European derivation supports the comparative method

Now, archeology, philology, genetics and other scholarly fields have traced the historical movements of the Indo-European tribes and their languages. Of course, genetics does not tell what language one speaks - the Afro-American community in the US should be sufficient evidence that a group of people can change language to one they have not inherited from their parents.
However, these tools do help us figure things out about prehistorical tribal movements.

Of course, not all languages in the world can be traced to Indo-European. About as early as the idea that there may be an actual explanation as to why Greek, Latin and Sanskrit are similar, similar theses were being proposed for Finnish, Sami and Hungarian , sometimes also including small languages spoken in different parts of Russia. Turkish has a number of central and north Asian relatives with well studied similarities. Manchurian, has a number of relatives called the Tungusic languages. Mongolian, likewise, has a number of relatives that linguists are very sure of - in all these language families, there are a significant number of shared words where the sound changes are very regular.

(Note: typology is the study of features of languages, as in, does a language tend to use prefixes or suffixes, does a language use subject-verb-object or subject-object-verb or some other or no dominant word order, does it have a gender system, does it have a case system, ... and various increasingly abstract or complex features.)

Not all suggested relations have held true either: Hungarian linguists have often tried linking it to Turkish, and strenuously denied any relation to Finnish - but the cognates generally have only gone through recent sound changes in Hungarian, and none of the earlier layers of it, and can therefore be excluded from being cognates, and instead, with high certainty, be assumed to be loans.
Some linguists have found the typological similarities between the Turkish languages, the Mongolian languages, the Tungusic languages, (and sometimes Korean as well as Japanese (and the closely related Japonic languages)) to be too great not to be related. The theory that these form a family is often called the Altaic family. No cognates shared by all three have been found, though - but cognates shared by any two of them do exist, which might instead suggest that intense loaning has occured between them from early on, but that the shared words are not indicative of actually sharing an original proto-language.

The Uralic languages have also been associated with Altaic at times on account of purely typological similarities, but few linguists accept such a grouping nowadays.
Attempts have also been made to link Uralic and Indo-European: the two families have had contact for a very long time, which we know in part due to purely archeological evidence. Another type of evidence for early contact are words of indo-european origin that must have been borrowed early by the uralic tribes, as they had gone through just a few of the historical sound changes that were to happen in the IE tribes they were borrowed from, the words then going through several changes in the Uralic languages - such things can actually help us put an approximate date on when the word was borrowed as well as on when the sound changes happened (if supported by archeology or other knowledge). Examples of such borrowings are Finnish "orja" from a word that ended up as English "aryan", (funny enough, it's changed meaning in Finnish to 'slave'), and "porsas" from the word that ended up as "pork" in English. (From an original *porćas). These words can be shown not to go back to proto-finno-ugric or proto-uralic though. Suggested cognates include water - vettä, name - nimi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Urali ... e_cognates contains a larger list of proposed cognates.
Fortescue has shown that Uralic and Yukaghir (a small family of Sibirian languages) are related, and his work showing that Uralo-Yukaghir and Eskimo are related is apparently considered rather good, but is recent enough not to have been accepted everywhere.

The reason such a complex methodology is used has to do with the overwhelming likelihood of random matches in large enough corpora. Often, claims of languages being related can be made for nationalistic, religious or other nutty reasons. Such claims seldom come with any method, but are just large sets of words that look similar but have no systematic similarities, no regular sound changes involved. The 'research' seldom takes into account the fact that languages loan words as well. Paarsurrey's claims of all major languages being derived from Arabic is typical of that kind of thinking.

http://zompist.com/chance.htm is an article that builds a small model for estimating the chance that such false cognates can be found - turns out it's overwhelmingly likely if no methodology is permitted.

I will list some of the main language families of the world below. This dry boring list does tell us something: it tells us how languages have spread. Keep in mind this is not necessarily the same as how genes have spread, as a group can adopt a new language, and this is known to have occured at times. (E.g. the Finns and the Samis have quite distinct genes, yet both groups speak related languages. Another, more modern example would be immigrants to the Americas in general.) However, adopting a language is no small change, and oftentimes, groups that speak related languages will be somewhat related.

Now, some other families that are of relevance in the world include, and this will be rather boring reading:
Afro-Asiatic (formerly known as Hamito-Semitic), include Hebrew, Arabic, Maltese, Tigrinya, Aramaic, Coptic, and most languages of north Africa and Arabia. These languages, like Indo-European, have written sources that go rather far back, which has given considerable aid in reconstructing the proto-language and in figuring out what changes have happened, historically, to them. Some of the grammatical properties shared by pretty much all the Semitic languages (and to a lesser extent the Hamitic ones) influenced some attempts at solving some problems of reconstructing Indo-European, as it was assumed they might be similar or even related further down the line. No solid evidence of Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic sharing any considerable set of cognates has been found, though - mostly words for new technologies that have spread from semitic areas to indo-european areas or vice versa.

Sino-Tibetan include Chinese, Burmese, Tibetan and a number of minor languages in that general area. These too have written sources that go far back that have helped in reconstructing the ancestral language, and are typologically quite distinct from Indo-European and northern Asian languages.

Dravidic languages are spoken mainly in the southern parts of India. They tend, typologically, to be agglutinative - just like Mongolian, Uralic, Turkic, Tungusic and any number of other families, where long strings of suffixes or prefixes are permitted. Some of them have clear traces of Indo-European influence, and some Indo-European languages of India have clear Dravidian influences.

(I have omitted some Asian families here, as these are families I don't know much about - such as the Thai and Vietnamese language, I barely know anything about those. Neither will I go into detail on the families of the Australian aboriginal languages - languages that often do have fascinating grammars, but where certain taboos often have obscured relations between the languages quickly. A taboo common in that part of the world has been avoidance of uttering any word that sounds like the name of anyone recently dead, so the tribe elders apparently in some of the tribes planned ahead what to call things whose names are too similar to John, Jill or Steve once John, Jill or Steve dies. Such a situation naturally erodes the similarity in the vocabulary between related languages quickly, and makes reliable reconstruction impossible. )

Niger-Congo languages are spoken in most of sub-saharan Africa, and include Swahili. Alas, reconstruction has not been reliably carried out for the entire grouping, although some subgroups are fairly solid. Khoe languages (including Khoisan) form the largest group of non-Niger-Congo languages in subsaharan Africa. On Madagascar, an Austronesian language - related to Maori, Hawaiian, Rapa Nui (Easter island), and the languages of a large part of Indonesia, Polynesia, etc is spoken. The Austronesian languages are now believed to have spread out from Taiwan. Papua has not been much settled by Austronesians, though, and contains a multitude of small and relatively unresearched language families.

The Caucasus mountains contain several tiny families, including the Kartvelian languages, and two families just named Northeast and Northwest Caucasian. In addition, Indo-European and Turkic languages are spoken in the area. Attempts to link the families together with each other, or with Afro-Asiatic or Indo-European have been tried. No success there.

Language isolates are languages for which no related languages are known. These include Basque, Burushaski, Ainu, a number of Siberian languages, Korean, Japanese (sort of, there are languages known to be closely related to Japanese, spoken by at most tens of thousand speakers. These are often considered dialects in various sources. The Japonic family, though, is not known to be related to any other languages). There are also isolates in the Americas and Africa, but I don't recall any specific ones right now. We also have attested extinct languages for which we know of no related language: Sumerian, Hattic, Elamite, possibly Etruscan.

The native American languages form several separate families, and among them, there also are a large number of isolates. This may be a result of these languages not having been well enough studied, though.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#54  Postby virphen » Sep 14, 2012 11:13 pm

Going back to your Aug 23rd post which I hadn't read until now, where you talk about the English of a millennium ago. I had read of a hypothesis where this simplification was explained as being caused at least in part by influxes of large numbers of adults who had to learn the new language (particularly the Scandinavian influx). That is, adults having to learn a second language tend to struggle with some of the pickier aspects of the grammar of the language they are adopting and dispense with them. That at least superficially seems to make sense to me (as someone trying to learn French I'd quite like to take le and la , un and une and merge them until some middling sound, most of the gender features seem to make it all so much more complicated while adding little to the content communicated). That hypothesis is extended to Persion, where the connection is made to the Persian empire importing workers from all over the fertile crescent and facing them with the same problem and resultant phenomena, adults having to learn a new language and tending to abandon or merge some of the more difficult and apparently redundant grammatical features. I'm sure there were other languages cited. The result being a stripped down, easier to learn (for adults) language.

Is there any merit in that sort of hypothesis?
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#55  Postby Zwaarddijk » Sep 23, 2012 3:57 pm

virphen wrote:Going back to your Aug 23rd post which I hadn't read until now, where you talk about the English of a millennium ago. I had read of a hypothesis where this simplification was explained as being caused at least in part by influxes of large numbers of adults who had to learn the new language (particularly the Scandinavian influx). That is, adults having to learn a second language tend to struggle with some of the pickier aspects of the grammar of the language they are adopting and dispense with them. That at least superficially seems to make sense to me (as someone trying to learn French I'd quite like to take le and la , un and une and merge them until some middling sound, most of the gender features seem to make it all so much more complicated while adding little to the content communicated).

Sometimes, such a thing is a reasonable explanation, but it's not the only possible reason for such changes in general.

An important bit here is first-language acquisition. Most of us tend to think we've learned our language from our parents, but by and large, the way it happens is we learn our language from our friends to a larger extent. All of us take bits from our surroundings - including our parents - and these bits are puzzled together among the children. Of course, older children have puzzled together more of it, and contribute in a way as well.

So, for any large changes to happen, a large enough group of the children have to have parents not speaking the language natively, yet switching to it even when speaking to their children. (In the case of children learning a language in isolation from an actual speaker community, the parents are obviously the main contributor, of course.) Of course, in the case of the Danelaw, there was a constant influx of Norse speakers over a long period, where each new generation there were grownups having to learn the local language - so to some extent that might have influenced the speech.

In the case of English and Norse, Norse probably was a high-status language on account of them being (successful) invaders. The languages were closely related already, so there weren't any remarkably different things to learn (as would have been the case if, say, the invaders or the invadees had been Australian aborigines and the other party had been Norse). The difference probably was comparable to, say, Dutch and Modern English or somesuch.

Further evidence is given by the fact that some of these features survived into Middle English - way after the demise of the Danelaw. The simplification of the noun morphology might somewhat

Many of the changes that happened seem rather to have been results of sound changes, sound changes that, again, have also occured elsewhere without any need to use 'immigrants' as an explanation. These sound changes include weakening of final, unstressed syllables, which, due to the way English morphology worked, naturally removed most of the accidents of the nouns - gender, number and case marking. A gender system can survive without morphological marking, but explicit morphological marking does help maintaining the system.

The gender system, by the way, provides extra redundance, a very useful feature in human communication, due to background noise.

virphen wrote:That hypothesis is extended to Persion, where the connection is made to the Persian empire importing workers from all over the fertile crescent and facing them with the same problem and resultant phenomena, adults having to learn a new language and tending to abandon or merge some of the more difficult and apparently redundant grammatical features. I'm sure there were other languages cited. The result being a stripped down, easier to learn (for adults) language.

Is there any merit in that sort of hypothesis?

The difference in the Persian case is:
- larger numbers of speakers of foreign languages
- several second languages involved
- high status of the Persian language, low status of the others

Hence, the children would likely learn Persian in a milieu less conductive to actually picking up the more difficult parts of the language, their families' native languages wouldn't necessarily provide much use outside of the immediate family. The children would notice which language is worth picking up, and they'd likely pick them up together with others who only had flawed bits of the language they strive to learn.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#56  Postby Zwaarddijk » Oct 15, 2012 12:26 pm

A MUSING ON SOCIOLINGUISTCS

Not only is language used to communicate ideas, commands, suggestions and gossip, we also use it to figure things out about others as well as to tell others things about ourselves. The things we often tell about ourselves include class (or what class we want to be mistaken for), education and (ethnic and geographical) background.

Very often when someone complains about bad grammar (or bad pronunciation - the entire "nucular" thing is actually an example of people being very judgmental twats), what they're doing is really judging on the basis of sociolect. This kind of judging basically is a way of disapproving of the existence of an entire social class, by the way. The reasoning is probably along the line that bad grammar is proof of laziness: these people have not gone to the effort of acquiring proper grammar and not acquiring it is lazy and rude. However, many "proper" languages have a history of developing even more labyrinthine grammatical shibboleths whenever the plebeians have acquired too much of it - a class marker is no good once the lower classes can pass the test! Who would buy armani, if everyone wore armani?

If the plebeians speak properly, speaking properly isn't good enough so the line usually is redrawn subconsciously by the upper classes at some feature of speech where it will take even more resources to acquire it, until a large enough subpopulation can't acquire it - this is pattern matching: we find a pattern that the poor don't have and one the rich do have (or vice versa), and then start hating on the poor for (not) having that pattern - such a behavior basically is blaming people for having a trait, and the trait is blameworthy because it's a trait those people have! If the lower classes were really actively acquiring "proper grammar", it would end up as an arms race where the lower classes' linguistic habits could be entirely decided by the upper classes - a very undemocratic situation.

So, whenever you hear someone complaining about bad grammar, well, now you know they're basically being intolerant of the fact that some people have not managed to become rich. Please tell them what insufferable gits they are.
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#57  Postby virphen » Oct 21, 2012 2:28 am

Agreed.

Armani is a proper noun though, and should be capitalised.

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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#58  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 02, 2012 10:24 am

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-B_ONJIEcE[/youtube]
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#59  Postby Zwaarddijk » Nov 26, 2012 6:11 pm

Is there any requests for topics?
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Re: An introduction to linguistics

#60  Postby Delvo » Apr 29, 2013 3:36 am

I just came here after reading some stuff about ancient ancient Middle-Eastern gods with names like Ba`al, El, An, Ki, Inanna, and Ea. Without written vowels, those would be Bl, L, N, K, Nnn, and nothing at all. I can see how other related languages' cognates with known vowels in later eras, together with some "rules" about sound changes based on adjacent sounds, can help linguists infer the ancient vowels between written consonants in a dead language with living relatives... but where do they get the ones that dangle out at the beginning or end of a word or even are the entire word themselves, especially in a dead isolate? Or is it just not accurate that the vowels were unwritten?
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