Similarities between disparate languages

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Similarities between disparate languages

#1  Postby hackenslash » Feb 13, 2013 9:09 am

A friend of mine was telling me (dunno if it's true or not) that there are some interesting similarities between Welsh, a Celtic language, and Navajo. Anybody come across this? Confirm? Deny? Explain?

Ta.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#2  Postby katja z » Feb 13, 2013 9:36 am

I don't know about this specific example, but it's hardly surprising that certain similar solutions crop up now and then in unrelated languages, given that all human languages share some of the same constraints.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#3  Postby james1v » Feb 13, 2013 9:37 am

:think:
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#4  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 13, 2013 9:41 am

Unfortunately for the Navajo connection, I fear it is related to this:

The Dene and Na-Dene Indian Migration 1233 A.D., Escape from Genghis Khan to America: Ethel G. Stewart

The Navajo language comes from the Athabascan linguistic family.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabaskan_languages

The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.

Presumably, what you've heard above is a continuing rendition whereby these central asian languages are connected by some process to ancient European languages, and Narbona's your uncle.

Now, if you start inquiring into Proto-Indo-European, you will be in for some quite astounding connections from as far afield as Indian Sanskrit and Old English... but that's quite a different tale, and one which has a fairly decent amount of supporting evidence! :)
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#5  Postby virphen » Feb 13, 2013 9:43 am

It might be bullshit connected to the whole American Indians = lost Jewish tribe idea in Mormonism.

Search for "Navajo" in this article, for example
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madoc

Crossposting with ST
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#6  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 13, 2013 9:46 am

Had to go and check, and yes the Navajo are from the Na-Dené Southern Athabaskan languages known as Diné bizaad.

Your friend is almost certainly getting their info at least indirectly from Stewart, who was getting her information from a bong.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#7  Postby katja z » Feb 13, 2013 10:07 am

Spearthrower wrote:
The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.


Yoruba is tonal too. Hey, have I just proved that the Chinese come from West Africa? :tongue:
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#8  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 13, 2013 10:10 am

katja z wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.


Yoruba is tonal too. Hey, have I just proved that the Chinese come from West Africa? :tongue:



Sweet! You should write a book!

I'm tone deaf - guess I'm not Chinese! :(
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#9  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 13, 2013 10:59 am

Spearthrower wrote:
katja z wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.


Yoruba is tonal too. Hey, have I just proved that the Chinese come from West Africa? :tongue:



Sweet! You should write a book!

I'm tone deaf - guess I'm not Chinese! :(

Hm. Do you hear the difference between the different "na:" listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language#Tones ?

(I have never seen, in the literature, whether musical tone deafness and linguistic tone deafness go together. ... However, a lot of people that do not have proper amusia identify themselves as tone deaf, so ...)

Btw, the majority of languages on earth are tonal.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#10  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 13, 2013 12:03 pm

hackenslash wrote:A friend of mine was telling me (dunno if it's true or not) that there are some interesting similarities between Welsh, a Celtic language, and Navajo. Anybody come across this? Confirm? Deny? Explain?

Ta.


Let's have a look at the languages!

Navajo has a moderately rich system of consonants. In stops, it contrasts three phonation-types: unvoiced, aspirated and ejective. Unvoiced signifies that the vocal chords do not vibrate during the production of the stop, aspirated likewise that there is no such vibration during the production and that this lack of vibration continues into the next sound for a bit even if it normally would have vibrating vocal cords, and possible a puff of air after it to boot. Finally, the ejectives are weird: the air stream is produced by closing the vocal cords, and "ejecting" the entire package a bit so that air is pressed out.

Welsh distinguishes two types of stops: aspirated and voiced stops. Aspiration vs. voicing could seem like a thing they share, but ... it's not an uncommon thing in languages. (Since aspirated and voiced consonants are more acoustically different than voiced and voiceless consonants are, it is somewhat likely for a voicing distinction to be replaced with an aspiration distinction for no other reason whatsoever over time.)
However, Welsh lacks ejectives. Of course, if we are absolutely sure they're related, we can posit that the ejectives have merged with some non-ejective consonants, but we can't just assume that without reasons to do so.

Welsh has a rather symmetric system of stops:
ph <> b
th <> d
kh <> g

Navajo, has a very asymmetric one:
p
t <> t' <> th
tl <> tl' <> tlh
k <> k' <> kh
.
.
.

(note: p t k and b d g are similar enough that even though I am using different symbols in the Navajo and Welsh overviews, these could basically correspond to each other)

Welsh has no affricates (except in loans and maybe as a result of a very recent sound change) - Navajo, has a whole *series* with the same distinction series as those in the stop system -
ts - ts' - tsh

Welsh and Navajo do share one "unusual" sound - the voiceless l, written ll in Welsh and barred l, afaict, in Navajo. However, Navajo does not only have voiceless l, it also has a whole set of stops where the pressure buildup behind the tongue is released through an l-like articulation (see the t-with-superscript-l above), and it has aspirated, voiceless and ejective versions of that as well. Voiceless l is often quoted as an unusual sound, but outside of Europe it's not that terribly unusual, and it seems to occur in non-standard dialects in lots of places in Europe as well. I haven't gone out of my way looking for it, but I know that at least Närpes in Finland has it, and if such a small place I just happen to have heard the dialect of often enough has it, I bet there's dozens of places all around Europe with it that just never get reported anywhere.

The presence of such a sound in both Welsh and Navajo can't, therefore, be taken as evidence of anything. Some early Semitic languages also had such a sound.

Welsh has a rather rich vowel system, Navajo a rather small one.

HOWEVER, if you have not learned to distinguish these sounds, it's much easier to think Welsh and Navajo sound similar or whatever. And that is a mistake a lot of amateur linguists make. The belief that something is not different because you can't distinguish it is a very common mistake even outside of crank linguistics, and it is probably one of the strongest kinds of confirmation bias ever.

Further, in grammar: Welsh basic word order is somewhere along the lines of Verb-Subject-Object and Subject-Verb-Object (seems there's an universal that in VSO langs, SVO is also common), and is a fairly typical Indo-European language in all respects BUT the VSO bit. Navajo has Subject-Object-Verb

Navajo relies *heavily* on prefixing when it comes to inflection. The initial mutation in some Celtic languages is unusual for Indo-European and is indeed a prefix-like morphology, but how it has developed over time is well understood and it is a rather recent development. (Historical times, that is.) Furthermore, the use of initial mutation in Welsh differs very strongly from the use of prefixes in Navajo.

Demonstrating that two languages are related usually takes two bits:

1) Showing systematic correspondences between sounds in one and another - this does not mean that the same number of sounds or the same sounds should be demonstrable. If we compared Swedish and English, we'd notice that English /ð/ and /þ/ (the two distinct sounds written by the digraph <th>) correspond to Swedish d, but so does English /d/. Sometimes the situation can be a bit more complex, with sound changes having only hit some given context giving more complicated correspondences. This has been solidly carried out for Welsh with regards to the other Celtic languages, and for those, a "reconstructed ancestor" has been calculated, and the same has been solidly carried out for it and some other western Indo-European languages (the Romance languages, for instance) and an ancestral language for those constructed, and for those, it's been further carried out for the whole Indo-European language family, with the Celtic languages, the Romance languages, the Germanic languages, the Slavic and Baltic languages, Armenian, Albanian, Greek, Hittite, Persian and Indic languages, Tocharian, ...)
2) Showing some kind of similarity in the grammar, so that the two languages' grammars conceivably both can have developed out of a common source through various small changes. For Welsh, this has been solidly carried out with regard to the other Celtic languages, and let's not repeat the full list provided above, but yeah, it's been carried out with very great care.

Linguists know this shit. And they also know getting Navajo to fit in somehow would require a lot of maneuvers not favored by Occam's razor.

Linguists also know chance similarities will appear, and that if you go look long enough in two random languages you'll probably find some. However, ... in this case there haven't even been made any specific claims as to what similarities there are, so we cannot even check how significant those similarities are. (An author that really loves making that kind of claim without ever backing it up is Acharya S; in her case, Welsh, Nahuatl (which she calls 'Mexican'), Hebrew and Sanskrit are the favorite candidates.
Last edited by Zwaarddijk on Feb 13, 2013 4:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#11  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 13, 2013 12:16 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
katja z wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.


Yoruba is tonal too. Hey, have I just proved that the Chinese come from West Africa? :tongue:



Sweet! You should write a book!

I'm tone deaf - guess I'm not Chinese! :(

Hm. Do you hear the difference between the different "na:" listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_language#Tones ?

(I have never seen, in the literature, whether musical tone deafness and linguistic tone deafness go together. ... However, a lot of people that do not have proper amusia identify themselves as tone deaf, so ...)



I was only joking! :lol:

I can hear the differences between those, and I can say them - actually some of them are quite distinct with longer or shorter vowel sounds, so they're reasonably easy compared to some other words.


But I really struggled with Thai for the first 4 or 5 years I was here - I could pick up the tonal differences between 2, 3, 4, or 5 otherwise similar words, but my brain couldn't remember which one signified which. Even now, I have difficulty pronouncing some words in such a way as to not need a sympathetic listener.

I have often wondered how tone deaf people manage in Mandarin, Thai etc. - I am sure there's a context aspect for comprehension, but for production.... that must be really tough


Btw, the majority of languages on earth are tonal.


Bloody hell! Those Chinese get about, don't they? :grin:
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#12  Postby hackenslash » Feb 13, 2013 4:13 pm

Thanks all, especially Zwaardijk for that wonderfully informative post!
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#13  Postby Shrunk » Feb 13, 2013 6:34 pm

I guess it means Arabic is the mother of all languages.

(Hands up, everyone who gets the inside joke.)

But, yeah, very interesting stuff. Much appreciated.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#14  Postby katja z » Feb 13, 2013 6:39 pm

Shrunk wrote:I guess it means Arabic is the mother of all languages.

(Hands up, everyone who gets the inside joke.)


:dance:

ETA And it's not tonal, so this means that tones are Shaytan's work. :grin:
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#15  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 14, 2013 11:08 am

So that's why some muslims want to ban all music.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#16  Postby katja z » Feb 14, 2013 12:04 pm

:lol:
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#17  Postby electricwhiteboy » Oct 16, 2013 9:33 am

I knew about connections between Gaelic and Sanskrit, and strong comparisons between some of the vedas and the Celtic Myth cycle.

Going in the other direction from this thread the Basque language is exceptionally dissimilar to other languages, and therefore is possibly pre Indo-European in origin.
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Re: Similarities between disparate languages

#18  Postby MrFungus420 » Oct 16, 2013 12:13 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
katja z wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:
The argument appears to be:

Athabaskan languages are tonal. Chinese is tonal. Therefore the Athabaskans came from Central Asia.

That really is all there is to it.


Yoruba is tonal too. Hey, have I just proved that the Chinese come from West Africa? :tongue:



Sweet! You should write a book!

I'm tone deaf - guess I'm not Chinese! :(


Sounds like an occident of birth. :whistle:
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