Language creation

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Language creation

#1  Postby Adco » Mar 01, 2010 4:31 pm

Given the number of different languages, past and present, it would appear that it is something that just happened without too much trouble. There seems to be no link between some of the languages e.g. Japanese and Zulu. One can see the link between German and English and so on.

Does a language only need a basic structure like tenses etc. and then it suddenly developes? Did all languages start with grunts and then get fine tuned? Are there languages that are not structured.
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Re: Language creation

#2  Postby crank » Mar 01, 2010 5:11 pm

There will be better informed than me posting, I will say that your question deserves a few books to answer well. We are hardwired to learn language, what language you learn of course depends on what you hear around you when young. As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

There are no languages that are not structured, but the structures that are there can be quite different. Probably be too hard for learning if there wasn't a structure in place to hang it all on. Then you get into the controversies over whether there is some internal mental language that is the same in all of us and gets mapped to the particular oral language we learn, see Noam Chomsky etc.

My little 2 cents worth of a most fascinating field.
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Re: Language creation

#3  Postby Adco » Mar 01, 2010 6:07 pm

crank wrote: We are hardwired to learn language, what language you learn of course depends on what you hear around you when young.

I accept the hard-wired part easily. And also the learning while young part.

crank wrote:As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

This doesn't make sense. What about the isolated people like the aboriginals in Aussie compared to the Incas. No people contact, so no link. Totally different words used.

crank wrote: Then you get into the controversies over whether there is some internal mental language that is the same in all of us and gets mapped to the particular oral language we learn, see Noam Chomsky etc.

Haven't heard of that, will check it out.
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Re: Language creation

#4  Postby crank » Mar 01, 2010 6:25 pm

Adco wrote:

crank wrote:As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

This doesn't make sense. What about the isolated people like the aboriginals in Aussie compared to the Incas. No people contact, so no link. Totally different words used.

Why no people contact? Incas came from northern Asia, Aussies from ??, but at some time in the past, there would be contact between a common ancestor. It is highly highly speculative, no one has a real clue how old language is, how it developed, etc. There is speculation on a connection between Basque and Navajo, hows that for a stretch?
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Re: Language creation

#5  Postby Agrippina » Mar 01, 2010 6:36 pm

This was one of the tools that racist regimes used to explain why some 'races' are inferior to others. If the language doesn't have the same number of words or complex sentence structure than the perceived 'superior' one, then the people using it have to be inferior or some such rubbish.

Using Zulu is a very good example. Imagine people arriving in Africa with languages as complex as Dutch and English and finding people who have only one word for every single plant, 'mbali' is the word for plant, whether it is a fern or a rose, there is only one word. This has to be a sign that their brains can't distinguish the difference between the two, is the argument.

Language developed from, as the OP said, from grunts and a need to use more than simple sounds to communicate and they developed from mingling with people with different languages. With the Zulu example, there are some similarities between their language and that of the Xhosa and Swazi and one of the Zimbabwe tribes who are descended from a branch of the Zulus. In the same way that Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and other 'Latin' languages are derived from the same roots. Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Romanian very close to original Latin.

English is as versatile as it is simply because of all the people who went into making the English people bringing their language with them and from what was added from the colonies. Words like pyjamas from India, stoep from South Africa and so on.
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Re: Language creation

#6  Postby vsop44 » Mar 01, 2010 6:44 pm

We all know what happened at the tower of Babel , that's when god feeling threatened , confused the workers by making them talk different languages and insisting they use the metric system !!! :lol:
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Re: Language creation

#7  Postby Agrippina » Mar 01, 2010 6:46 pm

vsop44 wrote:We all know what happened at the tower of Babel , that's when god feeling threatened , confused the workers by making them talk different languages and insisting they use the metric system !!! :lol:


Yes well when you're writing mythology, you have to figure out where the language differences came from too. :lol:
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Re: Language creation

#8  Postby Adco » Mar 01, 2010 6:49 pm

crank wrote:
Adco wrote:

crank wrote:As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

This doesn't make sense. What about the isolated people like the aboriginals in Aussie compared to the Incas. No people contact, so no link. Totally different words used.

Why no people contact? Incas came from northern Asia, Aussies from ??, but at some time in the past, there would be contact between a common ancestor. It is highly highly speculative, no one has a real clue how old language is, how it developed, etc. There is speculation on a connection between Basque and Navajo, hows that for a stretch?

If anyone can show me any link between the Abo language and the Incas, other than Mama and Papa, then I'll agree about the common ancestory. There is absolutely no link between Japanese and Swahili either. And I think there are many other example of people that are not even that isolated.

Besides languages, what about writing styles. Chinese and Roman is not even close though the way they developed from pictograms is more traceable.
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Re: Language creation

#9  Postby Nixon » Mar 01, 2010 6:53 pm

crank wrote:
Adco wrote:

crank wrote:As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

This doesn't make sense. What about the isolated people like the aboriginals in Aussie compared to the Incas. No people contact, so no link. Totally different words used.

Why no people contact? Incas came from northern Asia, Aussies from ??, but at some time in the past, there would be contact between a common ancestor. It is highly highly speculative, no one has a real clue how old language is, how it developed, etc. There is speculation on a connection between Basque and Navajo, hows that for a stretch?


Basque and Navajo!!!! Jesus.

From what I gather, distant connections exist and where they don't it may possibly be because the languages involved have evolved beyond our ability to trace commonality. There are remote suggestions of some African languages amongst the major American groups (Amerind, Aleut and Nadene)... unless I've been totally misinformed about that. Curious to know where Australian aboriginals might figure in all of this particularly in light of genetic traits shared with the people of Tierra del Fuego (though I think the Inca / Australian thing is still a bit of a stretch).

Fascinating subject. I've had stabs at learning Nahuatl over the years (the Mexican language spoken by people commonly referred to as Aztecs) which is easier than you might imagine but also very weird, and I don't know enough about other languages to be able to tell if there are any similarly weird goings on in other tongues.

For example, in Nahuatl there isn't really such a thing as a noun in isolation. The closest form is termed an absolutive noun meaning that you can't just say the word 'dog' in Nahuatl, you have to say something approximating 'it is a dog'.
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Re: Language creation

#10  Postby Agrippina » Mar 01, 2010 7:07 pm

Adco wrote:
crank wrote:
Adco wrote:

crank wrote:As to languages being related, this is an extremely interesting field, languages have been tentatively linked that you wouldn't think it possible. Even hints that all languages developed from one early proto-language.

This doesn't make sense. What about the isolated people like the aboriginals in Aussie compared to the Incas. No people contact, so no link. Totally different words used.

Why no people contact? Incas came from northern Asia, Aussies from ??, but at some time in the past, there would be contact between a common ancestor. It is highly highly speculative, no one has a real clue how old language is, how it developed, etc. There is speculation on a connection between Basque and Navajo, hows that for a stretch?

If anyone can show me any link between the Abo language and the Incas, other than Mama and Papa, then I'll agree about the common ancestory. There is absolutely no link between Japanese and Swahili either. And I think there are many other example of people that are not even that isolated.

Besides languages, what about writing styles. Chinese and Roman is not even close though the way they developed from pictograms is more traceable.


Remember you're not talking about the common ancestor as a person who speaks fluent Swahili or Chinese. You're talking about people who probably grunted more than they spoke and who didn't need more speech than just basic instructions. Language evolved just like every other ability did. People who made weapons from stones and animal bones didn't have language in the sense that people who build spacecraft and who write modern literature do.

If you look at the language used in ancient literature, English literature, look at the vocabularly, it's nothing like the kind of vocabulary in the English language today. And you need to consider writing as well. The first writing was just marks on clay tablets, 6,000+ years ago, not complex letters like those we use today. Writing developed out of the need to make records, in the same way that spoken language evolved because of the need to communicate, and mostly because of meeting people who spoke different languages.

When you come across people like the San in the Kalahari, and my example of the Zulu, their natural vocabulary is very limited and it's grown purely because of their connections with the languages brought from Europe. For example, my cleaning lady is teaching me to speak Zulu, so I ask her the Zulu words for things: avocado, for instance, they had no word for it it was just a 'fruit' before we came here. Now South Africans for some strange reason, call it an "avocado pear" in Zulu, it's call a "quarter pear" because that's what they hear. They call all shopping bags, "checkers" because that's the name of the store where most rural people do their shopping, so all plastic shopping bags are called "checkers" and all other plastic bags, whether they are zip lock bags or sandwich bags, are called 'e-plastic." This demonstrates how language is adopted by people who come across new people. For instance we call black and green snakes of the very poisonous variety "mamba" either black or green, to Zulus, all snakes are 'mamba" whether they are mambas, boomslang, rinkhals, cobras or adders. They don't know the other words, spiders, are just spiders, not black widows, button spiders etc. Over time, and with education, they learn to differentiate because that's how languages evolve.
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Re: Language creation

#11  Postby Adco » Mar 01, 2010 7:33 pm

I like that explanation. I need to think back to before technology, say 1000 years ago. There was a lot of isolation and looking at all the different languages, it appears that it is easy for a totaly unlinked language to just pop up.

I am not sure, that is why I did the OP. This is just one of many questions I think about but don't have an answer for.
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Re: Language creation

#12  Postby Agrippina » Mar 01, 2010 7:53 pm

Adco wrote:I like that explanation. I need to think back to before technology, say 1000 years ago. There was a lot of isolation and looking at all the different languages, it appears that it is easy for a totaly unlinked language to just pop up.

I am not sure, that is why I did the OP. This is just one of many questions I think about but don't have an answer for.


Yes, if you consider how writing evolved, and how limited it was when it first started, then it's fairly simple to understand that the same thing happened with language. And definitely when you live in close proximity to people who use a limited language.

For instance when the settlers arrived in Africa, there was absolutely nothing written down, they hadn't invented writing because there was no need for it. All history was work of mouth, so all the stories were there but no records of them. Since formal education was introduced, it was necessary to also introduce books written in the home languages of all the students including books to teach the 'bantu language' speakers to read. Now there are vast libraries and even technical books are translated into our 11 different languages.
And now we have cross-language dictionaries.

I imagine that Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South America etc., all have the same situation where there are people who use indigenous languages but who didn't write their stories until settlers taught them how to transcribe them into the symbols they used and that they created because of the complex trading done in the north.

In places where societies didn't evolve complex languages, they didn't need to write because they most had everything they needed so they didn't need to store food or trade extensively in consumer goods. I often use this analogy: If people have houses that suit their environment, cattle to milk, wildlife walking past their door (literally) and abundance of fruit and vegetables growing in their environment, why do they need to either trade or develop complex food storage systems. It wasn't until settlers came and put down fences, blocking them off from their grazing and food supplies that they had to learn how to trade and thus how to record the trade, and to communicate that they developed writing and more complex language. It's very interesting to see how these people adopt new words and make them into their own. Another example is counting. They had no words for numbers, we taught them and now they use e-one, e-two, e-three etc.
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Re: Language creation

#13  Postby Adco » Mar 01, 2010 7:57 pm

Agrippina wrote:They had no words for numbers, we taught them and now they use e-one, e-two, e-three etc.

I like when they go up to e-nine, e-ten, e-leven.
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Re: Language creation

#14  Postby crank » Mar 01, 2010 9:06 pm

Adco wrote:I like that explanation. I need to think back to before technology, say 1000 years ago. There was a lot of isolation and looking at all the different languages, it appears that it is easy for a totaly unlinked language to just pop up.

I am not sure, that is why I did the OP. This is just one of many questions I think about but don't have an answer for.

How do you suppose isolation gives 'unlinked'? You assume the isolation before language. That is not at all known. We do not know when language developed.

You definitely should not mix writing in with this. language is something built in, there is no question about this, writing is an invention, it is not known how many truly independent writing systems arose, I've forgotten what the best guesses are, but is is a small handful.

The studies of the really ancient precursor languages will always be highly speculative, but the studies go on. It is entirely possible that we had a primitive language before we left Africa, then it is far from impossible that all languages are related and derive from a common ancient tongue. You would do well if motivated to start wiki-ing, the subject is incredibly fascinating.
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Re: Language creation

#15  Postby Wiðercora » Mar 01, 2010 9:16 pm

Aren't all languages related, like all animals are related?
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Re: Language creation

#16  Postby crank » Mar 01, 2010 9:24 pm

Wiðercora wrote:Aren't all languages related, like all animals are related?

I think many believe this, there will never be conclusive evidence of it most likely, too deep into the past.
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Re: Language creation

#17  Postby eversbane » Mar 01, 2010 9:25 pm

I wonder how you get something as complex as a human being from something as simple as a bacteria.

Is that what the OP is asking in reference to languages around the world? Because the answer is basically the same: evolution. Although evolution of languages, like evolution of culture, is simply filthy dirty with HMT.

Also, given the hardwired nature of language, I would not put it past any particular group to simply invent a spoken language, although there is no reason to rank that very high as a useful answer to the question.
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Re: Language creation

#18  Postby eversbane » Mar 01, 2010 9:33 pm

crank wrote:
Wiðercora wrote:Aren't all languages related, like all animals are related?

I think many believe this, there will never be conclusive evidence of it most likely, too deep into the past.

Babies all make the same range of sounds, based on common anatomy. They retain specific sounds and drop others dependent on the sounds used to communicate with them. Essentially, the capacity to learn any existing language is inherent in any given baby. That points strongly to the early evolution of language: certainly before any Homo spp. left Africa. If that founder group was small enough, then that would be our Last Common Language between those who left Africa and those who stayed. That's probably about as far as you could go with that but there would be another LCL between our African ancestors and the founders of the Homo neandertalenis European population.

An interesting question then is how closely related were the languages of the Neandertals and the Cro Magnons. Ah, my kingdom for a time machine.
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Re: Language creation

#19  Postby Agrippina » Mar 02, 2010 4:13 am

crank wrote:
Adco wrote:I like that explanation. I need to think back to before technology, say 1000 years ago. There was a lot of isolation and looking at all the different languages, it appears that it is easy for a totaly unlinked language to just pop up.

I am not sure, that is why I did the OP. This is just one of many questions I think about but don't have an answer for.

How do you suppose isolation gives 'unlinked'? You assume the isolation before language. That is not at all known. We do not know when language developed.

You definitely should not mix writing in with this. language is something built in, there is no question about this, writing is an invention, it is not known how many truly independent writing systems arose, I've forgotten what the best guesses are, but is is a small handful.

.


Using writing is a metaphor to show that in the same way the writing, once invented evolved, so did language evolve.

Think about it, the first basic symbols for writing became the works of Shakespeare and the internet.

The first grunts of language became the versatility of the English language.
If you want to get an idea of the development of language places like Africa, Australia and South America are good places to look. Even though the languages of these people have evolved into complex systems today, there are still traces of what the original languages may have sounded like, especially when you listen to the language of the San, who are the purest descendants of the first people. Listen to these people.

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Re: Language creation

#20  Postby Adco » Mar 02, 2010 5:41 am

crank wrote:
Adco wrote:I like that explanation. I need to think back to before technology, say 1000 years ago. There was a lot of isolation and looking at all the different languages, it appears that it is easy for a totaly unlinked language to just pop up.

I am not sure, that is why I did the OP. This is just one of many questions I think about but don't have an answer for.

How do you suppose isolation gives 'unlinked'? You assume the isolation before language. That is not at all known. We do not know when language developed.

You definitely should not mix writing in with this. language is something built in, there is no question about this, writing is an invention, it is not known how many truly independent writing systems arose, I've forgotten what the best guesses are, but is is a small handful.

The studies of the really ancient precursor languages will always be highly speculative, but the studies go on. It is entirely possible that we had a primitive language before we left Africa, then it is far from impossible that all languages are related and derive from a common ancient tongue. You would do well if motivated to start wiki-ing, the subject is incredibly fascinating.

There's a good point. I am assuming isolation before language. But assume that the language of a group was in a basic state of developement and then the group split. One tribe remained and developed Swahili. One group travelled north then east and developed Chinese. Another group travelled south and developed the San "click" language. All had the same basics to start with but the end result is so far apart, they could have come from different planets. I like Swahili, Chinese and San because they are so different from each and make a good example for the OP.

What I am still trying to get at is the ease at which different languages "spring up" or develope. I must be the complexity of humans by default that allowed that to happen. Look at the ability of humans to learn languages. Most remarkable. Lions roar to the same tune, cats meow the same, dolphins and whales might talk slightly differently but their range is limited. It must be a byproduct of our intelligence that allows this to happen.

You are right about writing. It should be kepy out of this discussion.
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