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pietherapy March 5th, 2008 5:22 pm

On Linguistics
 
I apologize if this is not an appropriate topic for the Language Lab, but I think if anything relates to language, it's the study of language.

I have a question:

What do you think are the most interesting aspects of linguistics/language to study?

Many of us, particularly those in this subforum, love learning languages, but what I'm interested is learning about language. I'm about to apply to graduate school, and I am really leaning toward linguistics, but I know very little about it. So if there's anyone out there that has studied linguistics or is knowledgeable in the subject, please share your expertise!

So far I am interested in etymology, or the origin of words, and paleo-linguistics, or the study of extinct languages/languages of extinct cultures. I also would like to study socio/psycho-linguistics.

On that note, anyone who has actually studied an extinct language please respond too!

gipro2003 March 5th, 2008 9:34 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I'm also very interested in Linguistics. I was planning on studying the field at Georgetown, but due to financial reasons, I couldnt. And my current University has a terrible language department. But I think it is most likely the field I will pursue with my graduate studies.

I'm most interested in the diachronic field of linguistics (or how linguisitcs has changed over time) so such things as etymology and paleo-linguisitcs are interesting to me. Also anthropological linguisitcs (or how culture and language relate) is very interesting to me.

pints March 5th, 2008 10:31 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I took a linguistics course in uni, it covered the very basics of linguistics. I also did some paleolinguistics in archaeology and found the spread of language families to be very interesting. If you are interested in extinct languages sometimes archaeology departments are very good places to go.

insenergy March 5th, 2008 10:52 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Read the book "The Stuff of Thought" by stephen pinker amazing book on linguistics, very funny as well. Its a interesting topic if i had the ability to take more classes i would look into linguistics

Lein March 7th, 2008 12:08 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
I studied French, and my specialization (at least, that's what we call it in the Netherlands, I don't know how you call it) was sociolinguistics. I liked it very much. I wrote my end paper about Dutch loanwords in French, and their change of meaning. (for those who are interested: http://www.ethesis.net/influ_ned/influ_ned_inhoud.htm. I have to warn you, it is written in French).
I am most interested in sociolinguistics (logically), and I like etymology. I don't like the "technical" linguistics that much. I hated it when I had to create "treestructures" (don't know if it is the right word) when studying Chomsky...
But if you have any questions, fire away!

pietherapy March 7th, 2008 1:06 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Wow thanks so much for the input, guys! I do have one question, and my academic adviser didn't seem to know the answer either - what kind of jobs related to International Relations could a person with a linguistics degree get? I mean, is there any area in the government, UN or NGO's that makes use of linguists? (besides interpreters...)

Also, is anyone knowledgeable on graduate programs for linguistics? I'm trying to find a list of the best schools in that program but I can't find anything.

gipro2003 March 7th, 2008 1:50 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by pietherapy (Post 4948912)
Wow thanks so much for the input, guys! I do have one question, and my academic adviser didn't seem to know the answer either - what kind of jobs related to International Relations could a person with a linguistics degree get? I mean, is there any area in the government, UN or NGO's that makes use of linguists? (besides interpreters...)

Also, is anyone knowledgeable on graduate programs for linguistics? I'm trying to find a list of the best schools in that program but I can't find anything.

I dont know about the first question really. I know I'm majoring and minoring in several languages because I do want to be a translator for some government agency. Outside of that I dont really know what types of careers you could get into.

And I know Georgetown has one of the best linguisitcs programs in the country. That's where I plan on studying. UCLA, Northwestern, and MIT also have some linguistics programs, though I havent researched them and dont know how good they are.

insenergy March 7th, 2008 2:27 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by pietherapy (Post 4948912)
Wow thanks so much for the input, guys! I do have one question, and my academic adviser didn't seem to know the answer either - what kind of jobs related to International Relations could a person with a linguistics degree get? I mean, is there any area in the government, UN or NGO's that makes use of linguists? (besides interpreters...)

Also, is anyone knowledgeable on graduate programs for linguistics? I'm trying to find a list of the best schools in that program but I can't find anything.

georgetown is amazing on linguistic, with multiple languages you could try CIA but i would think that its more of a graduate school psych+linguistic PhD path you know research and the likes.

Lein March 7th, 2008 9:42 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by pietherapy (Post 4948912)
Wow thanks so much for the input, guys! I do have one question, and my academic adviser didn't seem to know the answer either - what kind of jobs related to International Relations could a person with a linguistics degree get? I mean, is there any area in the government, UN or NGO's that makes use of linguists? (besides interpreters...)

Also, is anyone knowledgeable on graduate programs for linguistics? I'm trying to find a list of the best schools in that program but I can't find anything.


Well, your first question, that's a bit of a problem... It's not easy to get a job with a linguistics degree. The only things I know about is translation/interpretors... I had a change of career ;), just because it's very difficult to find a job with linguistics. I'm working in a library, but I hope to get a job in a library of a university, and be able to combine it with linguistics (working in the linguistics part of the library...)

I don't know about the second question because I don't know anything about education in the USA

pietherapy March 7th, 2008 5:55 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Well I was planning on working on an International studies degree at the same time, and Georgetown is great for that too, so I might just do both if I can get in there. That way I can get a job, and study what I like. I'm not surprised there is little by the way of job opportunity.. but that's okay. I think linguists will come to be used increasingly as governments realize the importance of understanding foreign languages. Already the qualification for foreign language experience went from "beneficial" to "required" for potential foreign service officers (which is what I want to be). And thats just in the past couple of years.

Pegasus May 14th, 2008 7:36 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I'm going into English Language, which is the study of linguistics on strictly an English level (though a foreign language is required, so I'm learning French). An editing minor is an arm of the major (which is actually my goal), so I'm combining the two. From the little bit of research I've done into job opportunities, there are some really exciting opportunities in the actual linguistics field, working for the U.N., etc. It seems to me that the pool of linguists is probably small enough that you just need to know where to look for the job you want.

TheDanRad May 16th, 2008 9:19 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by insenergy (Post 4947872)
Read the book "The Stuff of Thought" by stephen pinker amazing book on linguistics, very funny as well. Its a interesting topic if i had the ability to take more classes i would look into linguistics


I have 'The Language Instinct' by Stephen Pinker. I haven't read it much yet, but so far it is very interesting. It has talked about how language is an instinct and how we have evolved to speak :)
I'm studying French and Spanish at A-Level, and would like to carry them on at Uni. And if I get the chance I will do a linguistics module for part of my course. I'm not sure which area I'm most interested in yet... I haven't looked into it much!

Olme July 22nd, 2008 1:40 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
There is always the option of studying linguistics within a particular language. I'm a double major in linguistics and Scandinavian studies, so a lot of them overlap. I can speak for Wisconsin (UW) saying that they have some great programs here, and that many people within the various language departments are linguists (there are numerous linguists within most depts, let alone the actual Ling department) and very active in their field. I know that there are quite a few venerable programs out there, particularly within departments (Texas' German (studies) department, Wisconsin has a great (and first in the States) Scandinavian Department, UCLA is very good from what I hear, MIT has Chomsky so I'm sure that they are fantastic (quite a reputation)).

Like most of you, I'm pretty into etymologies, and being able to quickly recognize related forms (cognates) is very helpful when reading related but "foreign" languages (i.e. within a language family). The only dead language I've studied is Gothic, but because I've taken 2 sems of German, Spanish, and am going into my 3rd of Norwegian, reading "Germanic" gradually becomes easier; and I'm sure the same holds true for all other language families (Romance, Slavic, ...). Linguistics is a very interesting and highly theoretical field (especially syntax!)

irpa July 26th, 2008 3:28 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
I am really looking forward to learning about linguistics next year in my school! Actually, I am pretty disappointed that I can't take it now and have to wait... and it is just for one year, but one can learn a lot in one year. I am actually studying languages in one of the oldest schools in Europe, founded 1056. It is small and we are only about 6 or something who will be studying classical languages next year, but still, interesting.

But I don't know what I will do when I have to choose what to learn in university... linguistics, french, russian, classical languages. It is hard because I really don't know what I can work with (beside teaching which I really am not interested in). I really think that people in general don't value knowledge in languages as much as in math or science... *andvarp*

drummer August 11th, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Linguistics is fascinating to me because it all boils down to people agreeing that certain sounds represent certain objects or ideas.
But when I look at the history of how languages developed, I always start with the assumption that some sounds are easier than others so my theory is that the easiest sounds became the first words.
For instance, an M sound is easier to make than say a Z sound. So in the timeline of words, words with M's came before words with Z's.
Also, I think looking at babies making sounds is also a good way to look at the history of language. But what I'd like to find out is, is there a difference within cultures of the first sounds that babies make?
In the U.S., they are usually M, B, D, and P.

LikeLuna August 11th, 2008 5:07 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by drummer (Post 5109981)
Also, I think looking at babies making sounds is also a good way to look at the history of language. But what I'd like to find out is, is there a difference within cultures of the first sounds that babies make?
In the U.S., they are usually M, B, D, and P.

I've heard that in almost all the world's languages, the word for "mother" starts with M. Anyone know why that is? That's one of the first sounds I've heard babies make, but I don't know if that has to do with it.

drummer August 11th, 2008 5:17 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Really? That's cool! That would be interesting to find out. That makes me wonder what the words are for father in every language and see if that's also similar.

Pox Voldius August 11th, 2008 6:13 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LikeLuna (Post 5109992)
I've heard that in almost all the world's languages, the word for "mother" starts with M. Anyone know why that is? That's one of the first sounds I've heard babies make, but I don't know if that has to do with it.

The exception is Georgian, where "mama" = father, and "deda" = mother. ;)

And it does indeed have to do with the first sounds that babies make, IIRC from class.

TheInvisibleF August 11th, 2008 7:18 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LikeLuna (Post 5109992)
I've heard that in almost all the world's languages, the word for "mother" starts with M. Anyone know why that is? That's one of the first sounds I've heard babies make, but I don't know if that has to do with it.

I thought babies said dad/dada/daddy before mam/mum/mom/mummy etc?

The word is mathair in Irish, mother in English, Mutter in German, madre in Spanish, mre in French. Just messing around with google language tools I've gotten майка (Bulgarian), majka (Croatian), matka (Czech and Polish), мать (Russian), mor (Danish and Norwegian), moeder (Dutch), moder (Swedish), madre (Italian), me (Portuguese), mamă (Romanian) (but iti in Finish). The words don't just start with the same sound, many of them are similar. That's because they came from the same proto-indoeuropean word which I don't know because I threw out my notes on the topic when moving back home for the summer. But yeah so as far as I know they are similar because they started out as the same word but transformed differently as people migrated and became isolated.

drummer August 11th, 2008 7:19 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Now that's interesting. The same exact words but opposite meanings. (for Georgian)
I looked up father in several languages and all seem to have the D, P, or B in common.
papa
dada
baba

Pox Voldius August 12th, 2008 3:10 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by TheInvisibleF (Post 5110153)
I thought babies said dad/dada/daddy before mam/mum/mom/mummy etc?

The word is mathair in Irish, mother in English, Mutter in German, madre in Spanish, mre in French. Just messing around with google language tools I've gotten майка (Bulgarian), majka (Croatian), matka (Czech and Polish), мать (Russian), mor (Danish and Norwegian), moeder (Dutch), moder (Swedish), madre (Italian), me (Portuguese), mamă (Romanian) (but iti in Finish). The words don't just start with the same sound, many of them are similar. That's because they came from the same proto-indoeuropean word which I don't know because I threw out my notes on the topic when moving back home for the summer. But yeah so as far as I know they are similar because they started out as the same word but transformed differently as people migrated and became isolated.

Here's an interesting discussion about words for mother & father --> http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=113508

Sifting through that discussion, here are some that are not Indo-European:

Chinese: māma / mŭ / ning (mother), bba / f / diē (father)
Basque: ama (mother), aita (father)
Turkish: ana / anne (mother), ata / baba (father)
Quechua: mama (mother), tata (father)
Malay: emak / mak / ibu(formal) (mother), bapa / papa / abah(formal) (father)
Tagalog: inay / nay / nanay (mother), itay / tay / tatay (father)
Tamil: amma (mother), appa (father)
Hungarian: Anya / Mama / Anyu (mother), Atya / Apu / Pter (father)
Korean: Omma (mother), Appa (father)
Hebrew: Em (mother), Av (father)
Modern Hebrew: Ima (mother), Aba (father) [apparently borrowing from Aramaic]
Arabic: Omm / Mama (mother), Ab / Baba (father)
Thai: Mae / Marda (mother), Po / Bida (father)

drummer August 12th, 2008 4:15 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Excellent site Pox Voldius!
I wonder what would be some other words that babies would learn other than mom and dad that would be something not tied to present day. (Thinking historically) Does that make sense?

Olme August 13th, 2008 4:01 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
originally quoted by drummer-Linguistics is fascinating to me because it all boils down to people agreeing that certain sounds represent certain objects or ideas.

Not necessarily. And mostly, hardly ever. It can be apart of linguistics (check out "Sound Symbolism"); but modern linguistics is descriptive, and more or less divided into synchronic explanations and diachronic explanations. Synchronic explanations detail a snapshot of language at anytime, whereas diachronic studies explain the state of language from a historical point of view. The Neogrammarian veiw view would say that all change is regular always. And actually, many linguists believe that the relation between sound and meaning is entirely arbitrary.

Having said that, I actually do believe in, to an extent, sound symbolism. For it all to have been completely arbitrary seems unlikely to me, but like I said, a lot of linguists do not believe this.

drummer August 13th, 2008 4:49 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
I just meant that words are made of sounds that are arranged in such a way that someone I don't even know can tell what I'm thinking by just looking at the letters I place together. Nothing that deep.
I've never heard of sound symbolism. How does that work?

Olme August 13th, 2008 2:27 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
It's pretty much what you were saying regarding sounds and what they represent. It's the idea that a sound (like a /b/) carries essential meaning. It's a pretty fascinating idea, but is not really taught.

drummer August 13th, 2008 4:01 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I also wondered why even though there are so many sounds that is common to almost every culture, there are still some that are difficult for some people (myself included).

Quickquill October 25th, 2008 9:50 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Husband"BareShevaRabbit" says:- Linguistic Studies person might be of help in building linguistic bridges-tunnels, et.al.. between various parties seeking a conflict resolution. Such a person could help construct a synthetic intermediate structure such as IND0EURO or Euronglish for a company with a B-o-Dir comprising German, French, Italian, Russian and, Hungarian speakers who need to talk to their factory sites in China.
"Quarm"? "Pweh"?

0n MAM-M0M, etc.:
Then, too, there is the root of {M-M} in that gland -mammary and mammal. I would like to know, too, of the Egyptian, Phoenecian & Summarian and, perhaps, even Accadian terms.
Consider how the 0ld Arabic Narnje came as a nornge and the {N} moved to indefinite article. Ha-narnje - a-narnje - a-nornje - a noranje - a-norange - an-orange even !
Pita{PEe-Tah} = Bread to {PEe TsaH} <Not all pita has a pocket>

canismajoris December 14th, 2008 12:53 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by drummer (Post 5111921)
I also wondered why even though there are so many sounds that is common to almost every culture, there are still some that are difficult for some people (myself included).

While it is often claimed that people lose the ability to distinguish sounds, I don't really think that's a rule, just a coincidence. And with a practical understanding of how sounds are produced it's not hard to learn them. Putting them together meaningfully and with any fluency is not as easy, of course, but people acquire phonetically disparate languages all the time. A good place to start is with the International Phonetic Alphabet, which has been developed with the express purpose of mapping each unique phoneme to a unique grapheme. It gets fairly complicated in a hurry (there are lots and lots of unique sounds), but the basic vowel and consonant charts can be pretty instructive.

Melaszka December 14th, 2008 8:49 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by canismajoris (Post 5201019)
While it is often claimed that people lose the ability to distinguish sounds, I don't really think that's a rule, just a coincidence.

Really? I thought it had been scientifically proved that children under two have some ability to distinguish sounds that the rest of us don't...or is that just one of those linguistic urban myths, like Eskimos having 50 words for snow or people from Newcastle being able to understand Norwegian?

Quote:

And with a practical understanding of how sounds are produced it's not hard to learn them.
That may be true. I can't hear the difference between sz and ś in Polish, but after reading where you have to put your tongue to make them, it's making some kind of sense.

I've always been much better at reading/writing languages than speaking/listening (I know most people are stronger in oral than written language or vice versa, but in my case the discrepancy seems particularly extreme) and I really, really struggle with pronunciation (not at all helped, in rhotic languages, by the fact that I can't roll my 'r's.)

canismajoris December 15th, 2008 1:01 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 5201361)
(not at all helped, in rhotic languages, by the fact that I can't roll my 'r's.)

As for that, just remember the air is doing the work, and your tongue just happens to be in the way.

Melaszka December 18th, 2008 1:22 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by canismajoris (Post 5201685)
As for that, just remember the air is doing the work, and your tongue just happens to be in the way.

Thanks for the tip. I think that may help.

I have a friend who has the oppposite problem. He speaks English to near-native standard in a near perfect British RP accent, but the one thing that gives him away as a foreigner is that he pronounces his "r"s too much - it would be fine in Scots or standard US, but not in British RP.

Quickquill March 3rd, 2009 11:46 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Pox Voldius (Post 5110491)
Here's an interesting discussion about words for mother & father --> http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=113508

Sifting through that discussion, here are some that are not Indo-European:

Chinese: māma / mŭ / ning (mother), bba / f / diē (father)
Basque: ama (mother), aita (father)
Turkish: ana / anne (mother), ata / baba (father)
Quechua: mama (mother), tata (father)
Malay: emak / mak / ibu(formal) (mother), bapa / papa / abah(formal) (father)
Tagalog: inay / nay / nanay (mother), itay / tay / tatay (father)
Tamil: amma (mother), appa (father)
Hungarian: Anya / Mama / Anyu (mother), Atya / Apu / Pter (father)
Korean: Omma (mother), Appa (father)
Hebrew: Em (mother), Av (father)
Modern Hebrew: Ima (mother), Aba (father) [apparently borrowing from Aramaic]
Arabic: Omm / Mama (mother), Ab / Baba (father)
Thai: Mae / Marda (mother), Po / Bida (father)

I have heard a theory that the reason the word for mother almost always has an "m"sound in it is because babies universally associate mothers with milk and suckling. Therefore they use a mm mm kind of sound for mother, giving rise to terms like "mama". What I find less explicable is the grouping of consonants associated with fathers : f, p, b, t.

Pox Voldius March 4th, 2009 1:02 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5246117)
I have heard a theory that the reason the word for mother almost always has an "m"sound in it is because babies universally associate mothers with milk and suckling. Therefore they use a mm mm kind of sound for mother, giving rise to terms like "mama". What I find less explicable is the grouping of consonants associated with fathers : f, p, b, t.

But if that's the case, then you have to wonder what happened in Georgian to flop it around so that "mama" is the word for father & "deda" the word for mother.

Melaszka March 5th, 2009 3:31 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I find this really fascinating. Is there any possibility that it's not just onomatopoeic, and that there might have been a universal Ur-Language, further back than Indo-European, or is that just too fanciful?

Pox Voldius March 5th, 2009 6:19 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
It's possible.

They've found that Homo neanderthalensis had the same version of FOXP2 as Homo sapiens (FOXP2 = gene associated with language skills), and the most recent common ancestor there is some 600,000-800,000 years back, IIRC. So language could be hundreds of thousands of years old, which is long enough for one language (or maybe some almost-languages) to have evolved into several language families that bear little resemblance to each other, I think.

shaylee_ann March 10th, 2009 5:48 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5246117)
I have heard a theory that the reason the word for mother almost always has an "m"sound in it is because babies universally associate mothers with milk and suckling. Therefore they use a mm mm kind of sound for mother, giving rise to terms like "mama". What I find less explicable is the grouping of consonants associated with fathers : f, p, b, t.

Oh, that is so interesting! It sounds right to me. In addition, "M" is a relatively easy consonant to form, which would make sense, too.

That's interesting about the grouping of consonants for father. Hmmm. :hmm:

canismajoris March 10th, 2009 7:30 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
I'm not sure if I buy that. Is one bilabial consonant that different from another that is has some sort of evolutionary significance? I mean, m is nasal, p is invoiced, but they're not articulated too differently. I just don't know if I buy it.

LyraLovegood February 11th, 2011 4:30 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
May I bump this thread? I looked for a sesquipedalia thread first, but my Search yielded no results.

I love Linguistics, and etymology has always fascinated me. I also love big words, and my favorite class in my 2.5 year college course has been the Medical Terminology I took first term.

My new favorite huge word that I just learned tonight, studying Cardiology, is plethysmography.

:love:

ajna February 11th, 2011 5:05 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
So, is it kind of a word of the day thing? And tell me about plethysmography.

LyraLovegood February 11th, 2011 5:07 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
It could become a word of the day sort of thread if no-one objects, though I would hope for it to be much more as it looks to me like it was an interesting conversation when it was active.

Plethysmography records the change in organ size when blood passes through said organ, and its purpose is to detect vascular abnormalities in the circulatory system.

Lyra likes life science and linguistics. :love:

Quickquill February 13th, 2011 12:45 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Pox Voldius (Post 5248304)
It's possible.

They've found that Homo neanderthalensis had the same version of FOXP2 as Homo sapiens (FOXP2 = gene associated with language skills), and the most recent common ancestor there is some 600,000-800,000 years back, IIRC. So language could be hundreds of thousands of years old, which is long enough for one language (or maybe some almost-languages) to have evolved into several language families that bear little resemblance to each other, I think.

That's interesting. I always suspected that spoken language goes back much further than some people think. Actually, that's the only problem I have with Jean Auel's books ("Clan of the Cave Bear" ...). I never understood on what she based the supposition that Neanderthals couldn't vocalize much more than chimps or gorillas and relied on body language and sign language instead.

canismajoris March 19th, 2011 11:01 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5697679)
That's interesting. I always suspected that spoken language goes back much further than some people think. Actually, that's the only problem I have with Jean Auel's books ("Clan of the Cave Bear" ...). I never understood on what she based the supposition that Neanderthals couldn't vocalize much more than chimps or gorillas and relied on body language and sign language instead.

As for why it was long assumed that language was inaccessible to Neanderthals, I'm not sure. Rather than an evaluation of their brain capacities, I had long heard that they lacked the physical characteristics (assumed to be) required for human-like spoken language, having to do with tongues and vocal cords and whatnot.

But I would like to point out that sign languages today are fully-developed linguistic systems like any other, and they are neither precursors to nor imitations of existing languages. If we suppose for a moment that the Neanderthals did use sign language (I have no idea how it may have been employed in those books), they would have done so with every bit as much innovation and expressiveness as their brains would permit, in other words, likely just as much as we do. So to equate reliance on sign language as a necessary disadvantage or to compare it to animal communication seems a bit hasty.

Quickquill March 22nd, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Oh, Auel made the point that the Neanderthal language was just as expressive as spoken language. But for some reason, she postulated in her "Clan of the Cave Bear " series that they didn't vocalize. I know she did a great deal of research before she wrote the books, but I don't know on what basis it was assumed that Neanderthals couldn't speak. Considering that the necessary anatomy is soft tissue that would not have been preserved, why was it assumed it was that different from our own?

While many small relatively helpless creatures don't vocalize very much, most mammals are capable of a range of vocalizations. And monkeys are notoriously noisy. I see no reason why genus homo as a whole wouldn't have been equally vocal from the start. I see no reason why vocal language should be a late development in our evolution.

I suspect that it will eventually be recognized that language, whether verbal or visual, is present in most of the animal kingdom as well. Already, bee "dance" is being recognized as a kind of language. And anybody who has ever lived with a dog knows that they understand language, and actually use a kind of Morse code of barks to send messages over distances. ( The "Midnight Bark" of the "101 Dalmations" was an observed phenomenon. Not something the author made up out of whole cloth. The author used it well to further the story though.) Talking birds, like mynas and parrots sometimes use human language in such an appropriate way that people wonder if they actually understand the proper context for it's use. And what about whale song? Supposedly it changes every year or so. Isn't that an indication that it carries some kind of complex message?

canismajoris March 26th, 2011 11:21 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5713431)
Oh, Auel made the point that the Neanderthal language was just as expressive as spoken language. But for some reason, she postulated in her "Clan of the Cave Bear " series that they didn't vocalize. I know she did a great deal of research before she wrote the books, but I don't know on what basis it was assumed that Neanderthals couldn't speak. Considering that the necessary anatomy is soft tissue that would not have been preserved, why was it assumed it was that different from our own?

Well as for that I'm not sure either. Given that it's a work of fiction, I wouldn't read too much into it. I have heard that theory before, but it was based (if I remember correctly, which I might not) that cranial structure and other physical features indicated that oral speech was less likely to have been useful. Whether that's true or not, they certainly must have communicated in some way. To me, the notion that a human or human-like civilization communicated with signs and body language is a much more interesting one, so maybe that's why the author went with it. Also, I just took a peek at a plot summary, and it seems like a central theme is the differences and similarities among the two species, so it's not a surprising choice to give the Neanderthals a markedly different way of communicating.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5713431)
While many small relatively helpless creatures don't vocalize very much, most mammals are capable of a range of vocalizations. And monkeys are notoriously noisy. I see no reason why genus homo as a whole wouldn't have been equally vocal from the start. I see no reason why vocal language should be a late development in our evolution.

I'm inclined to agree... but I would to emphasize the distinction between vocalization and language. I can vocalize all sorts of things that aren't language, and a deaf person can use language without vocalizing anything, so the two are definitely not synonymous. I think looking at your examples in this light will demonstrate the difference between using language and merely mimicking some aspects of it.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5713431)
I suspect that it will eventually be recognized that language, whether verbal or visual, is present in most of the animal kingdom as well. Already, bee "dance" is being recognized as a kind of language. And anybody who has ever lived with a dog knows that they understand language, and actually use a kind of Morse code of barks to send messages over distances. ( The "Midnight Bark" of the "101 Dalmations" was an observed phenomenon. Not something the author made up out of whole cloth. The author used it well to further the story though.)

While those are interesting phenomena, I do not believe they are language, which is a pretty specific and narrowly-defined ability. I don't mean to be dismissive at all, and I've read some pretty interesting research, but the way linguists define what language is, no animal comes close.

For example, a dog may learn to associate particular sounds with people and behaviors, but that is much different from understanding language. I speak to my dog quite a bit, and I'm quite sure he has no idea what I'm saying. If I say "up" or "out" or "sit" with a certain tone he knows what I expect him to do, because I've trained him to respond to those sounds. But I can get pretty much identical results by saying different words like "cup" or "pout" or "fit," because they sound rather like the commands he knows. Likewise, if I happen to use a synonym for "up," ("Dog, ascend!") he has no idea. That's because it's not the meaning that he knows, just the sound and the response I've trained him to produce.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5713431)
Talking birds, like mynas and parrots sometimes use human language in such an appropriate way that people wonder if they actually understand the proper context for it's use. And what about whale song? Supposedly it changes every year or so. Isn't that an indication that it carries some kind of complex message?

But such birds do not use language any more than a tape recorder uses language. Being able to reproduce sounds is only one small aspect of linguistic competence (and as I've pointed out is not even a necessary one), and as far as I know a mynah bird has never demonstrated the ability to understand what it is saying. It would be just as comfortable imitating the sound of a telephone ring as it would the sentence "I'm going to eat the mynah bird for Thanksgiving." If it could use our language, I'm sure a mynah bird would be quite alarmed by such a sentence, but something tells me this is not the case.

Quickquill April 8th, 2011 12:24 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Just because you haven't bothered to teach your dog to understand a more varied vocabulary doesn't mean that he's incapable of it. Mine understands commands in at least three languages. These commands are given by different people, with different inflections and different intonations and different gestures. But he still understands them. Inter-species communication is a tricky thing because each specie has it's own mode of communicating which is peculiar to it, and suited to it's particular capabilities. These communications can be quite elaborately expressive within the specie while being inaccessible to other species that lack the necessary sensory apparatus. That does not disqualify them from being "languages". It's the height of hubris to think that only human style spoken language is worthy of the name.

canismajoris April 9th, 2011 7:58 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5721847)
Just because you haven't bothered to teach your dog to understand a more varied vocabulary doesn't mean that he's incapable of it. Mine understands commands in at least three languages. These commands are given by different people, with different inflections and different intonations and different gestures. But he still understands them.

What I was attempting to explain is that the animal learns sounds, not meanings--I can't simply paraphrase a command and expect the same result. It has nothing whatsoever to do with how many commands I teach the dog, because the mechanism will always be the same. As fascinating as your dog may be, what you've described is still just conditioned response to a limited set of sounds. Moreover, dogs are evolved to get along with us, and have at times been specifically bred for this purpose. But none of their behaviors necessarily requires them to use or understand language, and especially not ours.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5721847)
Inter-species communication is a tricky thing because each specie has it's own mode of communicating which is peculiar to it, and suited to it's particular capabilities. These communications can be quite elaborately expressive within the specie while being inaccessible to other species that lack the necessary sensory apparatus.

Tell me then, if you may, how would a bird explain what a credit default swap is? I can (attempt to) make up an infinite variety of sentences to express anything that could ever possibly occur to me, and a bird can't.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5721847)
That does not disqualify them from being "languages". It's the height of hubris to think that only human style spoken language is worthy of the name.

I don't really agree with your facts or your sentiments. It's not about worthiness, it's about criteria of competence and performance that have been developed scientifically (among other things). Much of what you're referring to is actually disqualified. Language is a set of phenomena that can be measured and defined, not a set of feelings that you may have about your dog. I don't think human language is in its own class because I want to feel special, I think so because, well, for example, we're sitting here using computers to discuss it.

Quickquill April 10th, 2011 10:06 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by canismajoris (Post 5722693)
Tell me then, if you may, how would a bird explain what a credit default swap is? I can (attempt to) make up an infinite variety of sentences to express anything that could ever possibly occur to me, and a bird can't.


I don't really agree with your facts or your sentiments. It's not about worthiness, it's about criteria of competence and performance that have been developed scientifically (among other things). Much of what you're referring to is actually disqualified. Language is a set of phenomena that can be measured and defined, not a set of feelings that you may have about your dog. I don't think human language is in its own class because I want to feel special, I think so because, well, for example, we're sitting here using computers to discuss it.

A credit default swap is a particularly human cultural artifact, not even found in some human cultures, so I would not expect it to interest a bird regardless of it's linguistic capabilities. How are we supposed to recognize and communicate with extraterrestrial intelligent creatures if we can't even recognize and communicate with other terrestrial creatures that have some degree of intelligence?

Again, a computer is a peculiarly human artifact. Don't confuse technology with intelligence, or with linguistic capability. The richness of human language is not dependent on technology, but rather on the human urge to talk about our experiences and our world. This is a very basic human instinct. and I'll bet it's a lot older than scientists have allowed themselves to admit. I'll bet it is a basic aspect of genus Homo that will eventually be traced all the way back to Australopithecus. Or at least to Homo Erectus. After all, both of them also made fairly complex tools, and had the beginnings of technology. Maybe you don't consider a spear to be a complex tool, but it requires fabrication; and the techniques of chipping stone tools and forming clay pots, are early technologies.

While Human speech is not dependent on technology, it can give rise to technology and to it's spread as well as to other cultural expressions like storytelling and music. On the other hand, ants are pretty good builders, and have a high degree of social organization. No doubt they have some means of communicating complex messages. Does our lack of comprehension indicate a lack of intelligence? Or a lack of sensory input?

canismajoris April 12th, 2011 5:26 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
A credit default swap is a particularly human cultural artifact, not even found in some human cultures, so I would not expect it to interest a bird regardless of it's linguistic capabilities.

I can discuss things that aren't human cultural artifacts, so why can't a bird discuss things that aren't avian cultural artifacts? I wonder whether a bird can discuss it, not whether it would find it an interesting subject.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
How are we supposed to recognize and communicate with extraterrestrial intelligent creatures if we can't even recognize and communicate with other terrestrial creatures that have some degree of intelligence?

Linguistic competence varies noticeably among humans based on intelligence and other factors, so that might answer your question. I'm not suggesting that animals can't communicate, but I see a big difference between communicating and using language.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
Again, a computer is a peculiarly human artifact. Don't confuse technology with intelligence, or with linguistic capability.

I'm quite clear on the distinction, and I'm certain that language is one of the first and most important ingredients in every single technological advancement we have. It is not the computer itself that I was referring to, but the rapid development of the computer in really just a few generations after we learned to use electricity. Mathematics and language are the underlying facilitators of this advancement, and I have a feeling math owes much of its identity to language as well.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
While Human speech is not dependent on technology, it can give rise to technology and to it's spread as well as to other cultural expressions like storytelling and music.

And so why has this not happened with animals?

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
On the other hand, ants are pretty good builders, and have a high degree of social organization. No doubt they have some means of communicating complex messages. Does our lack of comprehension indicate a lack of intelligence? Or a lack of sensory input?

Ants communicate with pheromones, don't they? I would actually argue that we even overestimate the intelligence required for this, because we put it in human terms using human language.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
The richness of human language is not dependent on technology, but rather on the human urge to talk about our experiences and our world.

Truly though, as much as intelligence may be relevant, many modern linguists argue that the human brain itself contains structures and exhibits congenital abilities that allow us to communicate the way we do. This is not to suggest that animals have no similar ability, but it is evidence that language is an innate feature of humanity.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723101)
This is a very basic human instinct. and I'll bet it's a lot older than scientists have allowed themselves to admit. I'll bet it is a basic aspect of genus Homo that will eventually be traced all the way back to Australopithecus. Or at least to Homo Erectus. After all, both of them also made fairly complex tools, and had the beginnings of technology. Maybe you don't consider a spear to be a complex tool, but it requires fabrication; and the techniques of chipping stone tools and forming clay pots, are early technologies.

Yet it couldn't have been a human instinct before there were humans, and it's possible that the urge to communicate you mentioned evolved simultaneously with the ability to do so.

Quickquill April 12th, 2011 8:12 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
That's precisely my point. That linguistic ability did not develop only in humans, but rather that it is fairly common in the animal kingdom and is present in nearly all of the higher mammals and birds, and a good many lower creatures too. The content of the conversations, and the form of communication is dependent on the peculiar capabilities of each specie, but the underlying ability to organize a conscious communication of information is very widespread.

canismajoris April 12th, 2011 9:16 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5723738)
That's precisely my point. That linguistic ability did not develop only in humans, but rather that it is fairly common in the animal kingdom and is present in nearly all of the higher mammals and birds, and a good many lower creatures too. The content of the conversations, and the form of communication is dependent on the peculiar capabilities of each specie, but the underlying ability to organize a conscious communication of information is very widespread.

The distinction I'm making here is between language, a human ability, and everything else. I don't believe anything you've said yet so far is evidence that this distinction is invalid. Language is nowadays understood as a complex human ability governed by universal rules and constraints. It is by definition a function of higher cognition.

What I think most completely marks language as a uniquely human ability is the fact that humans who are competent in language--as nearly all of us are--have a literally infinite ability to express ourselves. For example, while there are (varied but predictable) rules limiting how we may form sentences, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from forming completely unique and meaningful sentences over and over until I die. I can say something that nobody has ever said or heard before and it would be understood. Likewise, for a given meaning, there is no end to the ways I may choose to express it, and what's more two identical words or sentences can have a broad array of different meanings. I can express the exact same meaning with my voice, with my hands, as a raised texture on a surface, or by a regular series of simple tones. I can even say one thing and mean the exact opposite.

So I can't say, and I don't believe you can either, the same things for any known form of animal communication. It isn't simply that we communicate. It's the way our thoughts are made meaningful that makes language human.

Quickquill April 13th, 2011 10:57 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by canismajoris (Post 5723758)
The distinction I'm making here is between language, a human ability, and everything else. I don't believe anything you've said yet so far is evidence that this distinction is invalid. Language is nowadays understood as a complex human ability governed by universal rules and constraints. It is by definition a function of higher cognition.

What I think most completely marks language as a uniquely human ability is the fact that humans who are competent in language--as nearly all of us are--have a literally infinite ability to express ourselves. For example, while there are (varied but predictable) rules limiting how we may form sentences, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from forming completely unique and meaningful sentences over and over until I die. I can say something that nobody has ever said or heard before and it would be understood. Likewise, for a given meaning, there is no end to the ways I may choose to express it, and what's more two identical words or sentences can have a broad array of different meanings. I can express the exact same meaning with my voice, with my hands, as a raised texture on a surface, or by a regular series of simple tones. I can even say one thing and mean the exact opposite.

So I can't say, and I don't believe you can either, the same things for any known form of animal communication. It isn't simply that we communicate. It's the way our thoughts are made meaningful that makes language human.

I didn't disagree with you on that score. What I'm saying is that whatever capabilities we have developed out of preexisting capabilities already present in the animal kingdom. Therefore human language is largely different in degree from the "languages" of other creatures. We consider ourselves to be more intelligent than other creatures present on this planet, and we also think of our culture as more varied and richer than theirs. This is probably due to the fact that we are better acquainted with our own language and culture than we are with that of any of the lower animals.

I know people who think that only their own language is the most expressive. This is usually due to lack of depth of acquaintance with other languages or with second hand information about other languages.

BrianTung October 17th, 2011 7:43 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Don't know how effective the thread necromancy will be, but I'm going to give it a shot.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 5724479)
I didn't disagree with you on that score. What I'm saying is that whatever capabilities we have developed out of preexisting capabilities already present in the animal kingdom. Therefore human language is largely different in degree from the "languages" of other creatures. We consider ourselves to be more intelligent than other creatures present on this planet, and we also think of our culture as more varied and richer than theirs. This is probably due to the fact that we are better acquainted with our own language and culture than we are with that of any of the lower animals.

In my opinion, it is no less reckless to say that human language is surely different only (or largely) in degree, absent evidence, as it is to say that it is surely different in kind. I think on that score we can say only that there is at present no good evidence that other animals can converse at the level of abstractions that we can.

Furthermore, I'm not sure what you mean in saying that our language capabilities developed from pre-existing skills in other creatures. In one sense, it's trivially true: We developed from other creatures; hence, our language skills did, too. But if you mean that all (or most) of the components of our language skills were developed largely before humans evolved--well, I'm not sure one can reliably say anything like that. There's just too much we have yet to understand about how humans read, write, speak, and listen.

I do think it's remarkable that there are (linguists claim) no "primitive" languages on the Earth--primitive in the sense that they are in principle less expressive than others. Is this an indication of a relatively recent origin of language? Or is just an indication that less expressive languages died out?

canismajoris October 17th, 2011 6:47 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5906774)
I do think it's remarkable that there are (linguists claim) no "primitive" languages on the Earth--primitive in the sense that they are in principle less expressive than others. Is this an indication of a relatively recent origin of language? Or is just an indication that less expressive languages died out?

Well, to begin with, I'm not sure why it's such a remarkable claim, given that it is indeed simply an observation based on the languages we know of. Depending on who you ask, there are between 3,000 and 7,000 languages that fit into the discrete idioethnic category. Now, this category generally only includes languages that can be learned naturally as native languages from birth, and not invented ones, computer or symbolic languages, etc. Of these, they all generally have enough structure and expressiveness that no one is radically more utile than others and no one is especially inadequate.

That being said, the claim that some languages are primitive (which has for many decades been considered quaint or offensive) likely never had much scientific background to it in the first place, but was instead based on bogus racial or cultural prejudices. I could find examples if you wish, but otherwise take my word that very often people assessing the sophistication or primitiveness of a language were not trained to do any such thing. (As you rightly said, linguistics as a scientific discipline has not been around terribly long, but we do have a significant corpus of written texts to deal with going back thousands of years, and some pretty reliable theories about how languages change.)

So what I would suggest about language history is first, we believe that language as we define it has existed for some multiple of 10,000 years, whether 5x, 20x, depending on the theory. We also know rather convincingly that languages do change, in regular ways, and that there is even a strong correlation between the number of speakers of a language (and of course the proportion of native and non-native speakers) and how and how much the language will change over time.

My purely conjectural notion is that many thousands of years ago, what languages were spoken were not simpler in and of themselves, but were less prone to the kinds of changes we see when a language is used by a massive population spread across the planet. For example the theoretically-reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language may seem rudimentary at first glance, since for among other reasons we obviously have very little evidence of the breadth and depth of its vocabulary, but simple it is not.

It probably employed an intricately complex system of morphology including inflection and ablaut. And we "know" this because successively older ancestors of modern languages in the family tend toward these systems (e.g. look at the strongly fusional tendencies of Latin and Old English compared to the relatively isolating modern Italian and English). Syntactically PIE may have been relatively undeveloped, or it may have had no regular syntax at all, relying on devices like affixation and vowel harmony to piece increasingly complex words together. (Languages that tend toward this are called among other things synthetic--referring to a high morpheme-to-word ratio--and agglutinative--which is another way morphemes interact. cf. modern Turkish.)

So if PIE was morphologically more complex, and spoken by a smaller number of people... then guess what? Some theorists now suggest that the population size and demographic makeup of a language group are so strongly linked to the isolating-synthetic continuum that those data alone should suggest what type of language the people speak! I read this paper a while ago, but just off the top of my head I would note that English and Mandarin Chinese, two of the most widely spoken languages--and bear in mind I am not referring to number of native speakers alone--are also much closer to the isolating end of the spectrum, that is, they have very few morphemes per word and rely heavily on syntax to express meaning.

What I'm getting at, clumsily, is mainly that until surprisingly recently the full range of possible language strategies was not systematically understood either across populations or over time. What one scholar in the 19th century considered primitive may have only seemed so to him in comparison to Classical Latin. I'm not saying there never has been such a thing as a primitive language, only that to me it seems that fully developed languages are in some way linked with fully developed modern humans.

Melaszka October 17th, 2011 8:27 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I freely admit to being a complete ignoramus on Linguistics, so I'm probably just making myself look even more stupid here, but I vaguely remember being taught at college that, far from the stereotype of cavemen communicating in grunts and human beings gradually making language more sophisticated over time, actually language has a tendency to simplify over time (that's why English used to have case inflections but - apart from the possessive 's - doesn't any more). So I'm guessing that a primitive language today would be a very complicated one with about 32 cases, and a non-primitive language would be one with very few grammatical rules!

Seriously, I'm assuming that at the dawn of humanity language was very simplistic, then it got more sophisticated, and it's now simplifying again. Or it was simple then, but in a different way. But I never totally got my head around that one.

Garwain October 17th, 2011 8:41 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 5907054)
Seriously, I'm assuming that at the dawn of humanity language was very simplistic, then it got more sophisticated, and it's now simplifying again. Or it was simple then, but in a different way. But I never totally got my head around that one.

It would make sense that the concepts being communicated at the dawn of humanity were more simple - the means by which they communicated might have been incredibly complex compared to the methods we would use to convey the same message today. We are the ones becoming more sophisticated over time, so as the complexity of the messages themselves grew, the need for a more simple way to convey the basic concepts grew as well.

That might explain why language itself is being simplified, though we might not necessarily be producing simpler messages. This is pure conjecture, though... I don't know anything on historical linguistics. ;)

BrianTung October 17th, 2011 10:08 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by canismajoris (Post 5906941)
Well, to begin with, I'm not sure why it's such a remarkable claim, given that it is indeed simply an observation based on the languages we know of. Depending on who you ask, there are between 3,000 and 7,000 languages that fit into the discrete idioethnic category. Now, this category generally only includes languages that can be learned naturally as native languages from birth, and not invented ones, computer or symbolic languages, etc. Of these, they all generally have enough structure and expressiveness that no one is radically more utile than others and no one is especially inadequate.

I'm not sure we mean "remarkable" in the same way. I don't mean that it is remarkable in the sense that I don't believe it of the languages we know. I mean that it is remarkable in the sense that I don't think it needed to have come out that way in truth. By way of analogy, if a bunch of computer scientists got together and each designed a different programming language, would we expect them all to come out Turing complete? Not so sure about that.

So I think it makes sense to speculate about how that might have come about. Is there something about either human brain organization or more general needs that makes a significantly more or less expressive language less likely? Or are the equalizing effects of diffusion sufficient to explain the parity? A lot of this might be clearer if we knew whether or not there was a single origin to all surviving languages. As far as I can tell, there is no general agreement on this.

Quote:

So what I would suggest about language history is first, we believe that language as we define it has existed for some multiple of 10,000 years, whether 5x, 20x, depending on the theory. We also know rather convincingly that languages do change, in regular ways, and that there is even a strong correlation between the number of speakers of a language (and of course the proportion of native and non-native speakers) and how and how much the language will change over time.
Have you read this article by Lieberman, et al., "Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language"? It appeared in the 2007-10-11 issue of Nature, and describes a rather interesting quantitative relation between the frequency that an irregular word appears in corpora, and the average time that it takes for such a word to regularize. It's fairly speculative, but pretty interesting.

Quote:

My purely conjectural notion is that many thousands of years ago, what languages were spoken were not simpler in and of themselves, but were less prone to the kinds of changes we see when a language is used by a massive population spread across the planet. For example the theoretically-reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language may seem rudimentary at first glance, since for among other reasons we obviously have very little evidence of the breadth and depth of its vocabulary, but simple it is not.
I don't know how it might seem to others, but it certainly doesn't seem simple to me.

But I'm not sure why you think early language would be less prone to changes. It might be true that the speakers of PIE covered less of the planet, but then, too, the time that it took from information to travel from one end of the PIE-speaking area to the other (so to speak) probably was longer than it was in recent times--just before the development of the modern dictionary, which tends to fix language--and certainly longer than it is now. I should think that "propagation time" has a substantial impact on how fungible a language is.

Quote:

So if PIE was morphologically more complex, and spoken by a smaller number of people... then guess what? Some theorists now suggest that the population size and demographic makeup of a language group are so strongly linked to the isolating-synthetic continuum that those data alone should suggest what type of language the people speak! I read this paper a while ago, but just off the top of my head I would note that English and Mandarin Chinese, two of the most widely spoken languages--and bear in mind I am not referring to number of native speakers alone--are also much closer to the isolating end of the spectrum, that is, they have very few morphemes per word and rely heavily on syntax to express meaning.
Yes. In fact, back in the days when amateur philologists were classifying languages in their charmingly Euro-centric fashion, it was commonly understood that Chinese had no grammar at all--which of course was pure garbage. It does (essentially, though not completely) lack morphology, but of course there is plenty of syntax.

However, I'm not sure that Chinese is so illustrative of the large speaker base = analytic / small speaker base = synthetic correlation. Old Chinese doesn't have a ton of morphology, either. Now, to be sure, we're not exactly certain what Old Chinese sounded like (not, at any rate, to the extent that we know what Middle Chinese sounded like), but there are general notions. We suspect that there was some inflection, but it doesn't appear to have been for declension, conjugation, number, etc. Based on what I've read, it seems that inflection was most productive for determining voice and degree of introversion/extroversion of verbs, and may today account for some of the tonal aspect of the various dialects. (A bit like how we say re-JECT for the verb, and RE-ject for the noun.)

In any event, Chinese seems to have been, from its earliest attested stages, a fairly analytic/isolating language, even when it had a relatively small speaker base. I wonder if there isn't something a bit more flexible than size of speaker base that one can hang the morphological classification of a language on. (Of course, the more flexible, the harder to disprove/verify empirically.)

Quote:

What I'm getting at, clumsily, is mainly that until surprisingly recently the full range of possible language strategies was not systematically understood either across populations or over time. What one scholar in the 19th century considered primitive may have only seemed so to him in comparison to Classical Latin. I'm not saying there never has been such a thing as a primitive language, only that to me it seems that fully developed languages are in some way linked with fully developed modern humans.
Yes, I think that's quite right. I think it's open, however, as to how fully developed languages got that way.

In some sense, some kind of intermediate value theorem for languages must apply; there must at some point have been a language, a system of signs, that was distinctly less expressive than any surviving human language. We can imagine that it might have had all kinds of concrete terms, but perhaps little or nothing in the way of abstract ones. The question is fairly uninteresting in those terms; I think a more interesting one is whether such a language could have survived for any length of time, more or less unchanged, or whether it was inevitably a mere steppingstone on the way to modern language.

canismajoris October 18th, 2011 12:27 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
Have you read this article by Lieberman, et al., "Quantifying the evolutionary dynamics of language"? It appeared in the 2007-10-11 issue of Nature, and describes a rather interesting quantitative relation between the frequency that an irregular word appears in corpora, and the average time that it takes for such a word to regularize. It's fairly speculative, but pretty interesting.

I'm reading it now, definitely interesting, and rather in line with what I know personally about the decline of strong verbs. On that subject actually, if you need some light reading, I would recommend Pinker's Words and Rules, as it approaches some neuro-psychological notions of how irregular verbs appear and disappear.

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
But I'm not sure why you think early language would be less prone to changes. It might be true that the speakers of PIE covered less of the planet, but then, too, the time that it took from information to travel from one end of the PIE-speaking area to the other (so to speak) probably was longer than it was in recent times--just before the development of the modern dictionary, which tends to fix language--and certainly longer than it is now. I should think that "propagation time" has a substantial impact on how fungible a language is.

Well, I would underscore that a smaller population in a tighter geographic distribution is probably going to suggest less change. By that I don't mean that the speakers don't unwittingly make changes to how they speak, I only mean that if there's only one contiguous population there will be fewer competing standards going at once, and a much greater chance of stasis within the population even if not over long periods of time.

As for the language traveling across larger areas, I don't think we need to speculate about what happened, because obviously several different groups eventually became mutually unintelligible... it's just we have to draw a line somewhere saying that it ceased to be Proto-Indo-European. What I'm saying is that (going on the assumption that it really existed in this form) when it was itself, in its original population in its original location, it probably changed a lot less than it did once it spread out and the number of speakers increased.

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
Yes. In fact, back in the days when amateur philologists were classifying languages in their charmingly Euro-centric fashion, it was commonly understood that Chinese had no grammar at all--which of course was pure garbage. It does (essentially, though not completely) lack morphology, but of course there is plenty of syntax.

:yuhup: I was actually reading a very interesting 19th-century text about the Anglo-Saxon-Jute migration to Britain, and the word "savage" came up about a hundred times in one page.

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
However, I'm not sure that Chinese is so illustrative of the large speaker base = analytic / small speaker base = synthetic correlation. Old Chinese doesn't have a ton of morphology, either. Now, to be sure, we're not exactly certain what Old Chinese sounded like (not, at any rate, to the extent that we know what Middle Chinese sounded like), but there are general notions. We suspect that there was some inflection, but it doesn't appear to have been for declension, conjugation, number, etc. Based on what I've read, it seems that inflection was most productive for determining voice and degree of introversion/extroversion of verbs, and may today account for some of the tonal aspect of the various dialects. (A bit like how we say re-JECT for the verb, and RE-ject for the noun.)

If I misled you I'm sorry, the hypothesis in article I was describing was a bit more involved than what I described. One of the key factors they looked at (again I apologize, this is from memory, I was unable to find it again) was the number of adult L2 speakers of a given language, and languages with larger numbers in that area tended to be less morphologically involved. In other words, it says, the more people acquire a language as a second language, the less complex it might realistically be on the word level. So, it's definitely possible that this is not the case with Mandarin or other Chinese languages, but I suspect to some extent it is or was historically.

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
In any event, Chinese seems to have been, from its earliest attested stages, a fairly analytic/isolating language, even when it had a relatively small speaker base. I wonder if there isn't something a bit more flexible than size of speaker base that one can hang the morphological classification of a language on. (Of course, the more flexible, the harder to disprove/verify empirically.)

Oh, see above, and I will try to find that article.

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907174)
Yes, I think that's quite right. I think it's open, however, as to how fully developed languages got that way.

In some sense, some kind of intermediate value theorem for languages must apply; there must at some point have been a language, a system of signs, that was distinctly less expressive than any surviving human language. We can imagine that it might have had all kinds of concrete terms, but perhaps little or nothing in the way of abstract ones. The question is fairly uninteresting in those terms; I think a more interesting one is whether such a language could have survived for any length of time, more or less unchanged, or whether it was inevitably a mere steppingstone on the way to modern language.

A fine set of questions to which I have no answers. :lol: I believe there are some other folks around here who have a more anthropological interest in language (and a great deal more knowledge than I have), so maybe somehow we can rope them in.

Alastor October 18th, 2011 5:46 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Actually when the Europeans started to explore the whole globe a number of languages lacking words for abstract thinking were found. These languages were used in gatherer-hunter societies without much need for abstract thinking. Unfortunately I can't remember any example for the moment.

So that stage of development in a language can survive for a very long time if the pressure for change is absent.

ccollinsmith October 18th, 2011 6:01 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Alastor (Post 5907591)
Actually when the Europeans started to explore the whole globe a number of languages lacking words for abstract thinking were found. These languages were used in gatherer-hunter societies without much need for abstract thinking. Unfortunately I can't remember any example for the moment.

So that stage of development in a language can survive for a very long time if the pressure for change is absent.

One thing I recall is that in some hunter-gatherer societies, elements denoting tense were non-existent, indicating that those societies had a non-linear sense of time.

More recent research, however, may have since superceded this interpretation.

Yoana October 18th, 2011 7:55 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 5907054)
I freely admit to being a complete ignoramus on Linguistics, so I'm probably just making myself look even more stupid here, but I vaguely remember being taught at college that, far from the stereotype of cavemen communicating in grunts and human beings gradually making language more sophisticated over time, actually language has a tendency to simplify over time (that's why English used to have case inflections but - apart from the possessive 's - doesn't any more). So I'm guessing that a primitive language today would be a very complicated one with about 32 cases, and a non-primitive language would be one with very few grammatical rules!

Seriously, I'm assuming that at the dawn of humanity language was very simplistic, then it got more sophisticated, and it's now simplifying again. Or it was simple then, but in a different way. But I never totally got my head around that one.

A completely amateur observation, but - I think languages which transition from synthetic to analytical may simplify morphologically (lose inflections, cases, etc.), but they tend to compensate with more grammatical flexibility, polysemic pre- or postpositions, and possibly other things I'm not aware of because I haven't been in a linguistics class in 6 years.

BrianTung October 18th, 2011 6:46 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Alastor (Post 5907591)
Actually when the Europeans started to explore the whole globe a number of languages lacking words for abstract thinking were found. These languages were used in gatherer-hunter societies without much need for abstract thinking. Unfortunately I can't remember any example for the moment.

So that stage of development in a language can survive for a very long time if the pressure for change is absent.

Interesting--do you have a citation for this, by any chance?

Alastor October 18th, 2011 7:00 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianTung (Post 5907809)
Interesting--do you have a citation for this, by any chance?

Unfortunately not. This is just something I remember from reading books about exploring the world.

Serpentine October 18th, 2011 7:38 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
BrianTung - maybe you're looking for something like this...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_language

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

BrianTung October 18th, 2011 9:30 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Serpentine (Post 5907844)
BrianTung - maybe you're looking for something like this...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_language

Hey, that's pretty cool! Thanks for the link.

ccollinsmith October 19th, 2011 6:08 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 5907054)
I freely admit to being a complete ignoramus on Linguistics, so I'm probably just making myself look even more stupid here, but I vaguely remember being taught at college that, far from the stereotype of cavemen communicating in grunts and human beings gradually making language more sophisticated over time, actually language has a tendency to simplify over time (that's why English used to have case inflections but - apart from the possessive 's - doesn't any more). So I'm guessing that a primitive language today would be a very complicated one with about 32 cases, and a non-primitive language would be one with very few grammatical rules!

Seriously, I'm assuming that at the dawn of humanity language was very simplistic, then it got more sophisticated, and it's now simplifying again. Or it was simple then, but in a different way. But I never totally got my head around that one.

I'm not sure that this is a general principle... though it might be.

What I learned from my Philology class is that in English, noun declensions/case inflections were dropped before 1066 because the English and the Vikings could understand each other if they did not use declensions. So a conquest led to that particular simplification. The Norman Conquest led to other simplifications... and also to the infinitely expandable vocabulary of the English language. Basically, necessity led to the simplification of the language.

However, other Germanic languages - such as modern German (Hochdeutsch) - still have pretty elaborate article declensions.

At the same time, Latin simplified as it morphed into the various Romance languages.

I'd be curious to know how extensively this "simplification" principle is at work in languages outside of the Indo-European family... and also how extensively it is at work in Indo-European languages outside of the two largest Western European linguistic groupings (Germanic and Latinate). I wonder to what extent simplification occurred in the Celtic languages, for example.

Alastor October 19th, 2011 8:31 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ccollinsmith (Post 5908316)
I'd be curious to know how extensively this "simplification" principle is at work in languages outside of the Indo-European family... and also how extensively it is at work in Indo-European languages outside of the two largest Western European linguistic groupings (Germanic and Latinate). I wonder to what extent simplification occurred in the Celtic languages, for example.

One non Indo European simplification which comes to mind is that in spoken Finnish the plural verb forms are more and more often left unused. I believe school kids are still forced to use them in writing. Whether this is just following the Swedish example or if it would be happening anyway I have no clue. In Swedish the plural verb forms were dropped in the first half of the 20th century. I believe the last Swedish author who still used them was Frans G Bengtsson who died in 1954.

Yoana October 19th, 2011 8:37 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ccollinsmith (Post 5908316)
I'd be curious to know how extensively this "simplification" principle is at work in languages outside of the Indo-European family... and also how extensively it is at work in Indo-European languages outside of the two largest Western European linguistic groupings (Germanic and Latinate). I wonder to what extent simplification occurred in the Celtic languages, for example.

Well, I can speak about the Slavic languages: of all Slavic languages in all three groups, only Bulgarian and Macedonian have moved from synthetic to analytical; the rest still retain their case systems in verbs to different extents. Why that is so though, I don't know; I suppose it may be a result from their being influenced by the Balkan language group they're a part of, but that wouldn't explain why Serbian didn't drop the case system as well.

mona88 October 27th, 2011 7:43 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
I took linguistics courses at university, and I'm interested in system-functional linguistics. I also made an analysis on it with my paper. I think studying linguistics is not only interesting but of great importance.

Melaszka October 21st, 2012 1:28 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LyannaS (Post 6046804)
But logically, don't you agree that if you say that you "could care less", it means that you do care at least a bit?

Like if you tell your loved ones "I couldn't love you more" it means that you love them very, very much, maxed out on love so to speak. But if you tell them "I could love you more" it means that your love is somehow lacking a bit.

Have you ever actually heard anyone say "I could love you more", though? To me it sounds incredibly stilted. IMO, confusion is unlikely to occur, because (a) "I could love you more" or "I could care less" (in the sense of "I care a considerable amount") is such an improbable thing to say (b) if you did say it, the context and/or the emphasis that you put on individual words in the phrase would make it very clear what you meant.

In the case of "I could care less", I suspect that the reason it has arisen in the US (but not in the UK) is because in US pronunciation, the "n" of "couldn't" tends to be elided, so "I couldn't care less" sounds quite a lot like "I could care less", especially if you're talking quickly. People may have started writing down what they thought they heard.

If the meaning was confusing, though, people probably wouldn't have started using it in the first place. Humans have an innate sense of linguistic logic - unless they have some kind of brain disability affecting their use of language, people very rarely say things in their native language that are incomprehensible, because linguistic rules (which are not the same as the grammatical rules you find in a grammar textbook) are hard-wired in our brains. Non-standard grammatical forms like "We was robbed" or "me and John went to the shop" may make your ears bleed, but what the speaker means will almost always be perfectly clear.

Native non-standard forms are very different from the kind of errors made by non-native speakers, which sometimes are confusing or incomprehensible.

Quote:

If phrases turn out to mean the opposite of what they say according to syntax and grammatical rules, we're heading towards linguistic chaos, or at least big potential for misunderstandings.
I'd disagree, largely because the "rules" of English grammar and syntax were often invented in the 18th century, when the language they were attempting to codify had existed for centuries. e.g. the much cited old chestnut that "I don't want no dinner" is "confusing" because "people might think you meant that you DO want dinner". No, they wouldn't. I have never come across a case of anyone genuinely misunderstanding that kind of double negative or using that kind of double negative when they mean a positive. "I don't want no dinner" (meaning "I don't want any dinner") was considered perfectly good English in Chaucer's day and in several other modern European languages double, triple or even quadruple negatives are still used today to express a simple negative, so surely it cannot be the case that a double negative meaning a negative is illogical?

Language doesn't work with a mathematical logic, so maxims like "2 negatives = one positive" or " 'I could care less' means the opposite of 'I couldn't care less' " are, IMO, meaningless.

LyannaS October 21st, 2012 6:56 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 6046818)
Have you ever actually heard anyone say "I could love you more", though? To me it sounds incredibly stilted.

I just gave the first example that went through my head. :D However, it is very possible that someone says "I could have loved you more" - I believe there are even songs lyrics that say that. That's irrelevant to the discussion, though. My point was simply that no one would say "I would love you more" when they meant "I love you so much, I couldn't love you more", in parallel with the "I could [not] care less".

All those negatives, double negatives or mixed positive/negative, etc. can be confusing. I never did make out what "Yes we have no bananas" meant. :whistle:

Quote:

... the much cited old chestnut that "I don't want no dinner" is "confusing" because "people might think you meant that you DO want dinner".
I didn't know that double negatives were correct in Chaucer's day. Here in the US it's mostly (in my experience) Black people who use a double negative meaning a positive, like at a self-service eating place, the person at the register may ask you "You don't want no salad?" - and I very often (I can't help it) correct our handyman when he uses the double negative, or when he says "you didn't went to..." instead of "you didn't go to", but that's a different matter.

Pox Voldius October 21st, 2012 10:41 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LyannaS (Post 6046852)
I never did make out what "Yes we have no bananas" meant. :whistle:

I can't vouch for the accuracy of it, but Wikipedia actually has a whole page on that phrase: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes!_We_Have_No_Bananas

Quote:

Originally Posted by LyannaS (Post 6046852)
I didn't know that double negatives were correct in Chaucer's day. Here in the US it's mostly (in my experience) Black people who use a double negative meaning a positive, like at a self-service eating place, the person at the register may ask you "You don't want no salad?" - and I very often (I can't help it) correct our handyman when he uses the double negative, or when he sayq "you didn't went to..." instead of "you didn't go to", but that's a different matter.

There are also plenty of white people in the rural Midwest that still use double negatives. My mom still does. (She grew up in a farming town in Iowa that was so small, they didn't even have house numbers or street names.)

LyannaS October 22nd, 2012 5:05 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Thanks for the info, Pox Voldius! I hadn't realized that that phrase went back so far back in time, I thought it came into being with that song that was so popular some years ago.

Concerning the double negative, I did specify "in my experience", which is mainly in the tri-State area around New York. I did travel West, but as a tourist, not staying around long enough to pick up on the local people's speech. Also, apart from a few days at a dud ranch, and a few weeks driving around the West (from Denver to San Francisco), I mainly stayed in big cities, not in small villages in the country.

Yoana October 22nd, 2012 8:34 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 6046818)
Humans have an innate sense of linguistic logic

I completely agree with that. It's why I don't like the prescriptivist approach to grammar.

Quote:

I'd disagree, largely because the "rules" of English grammar and syntax were often invented in the 18th century, when the language they were attempting to codify had existed for centuries. e.g. the much cited old chestnut that "I don't want no dinner" is "confusing" because "people might think you meant that you DO want dinner". No, they wouldn't. I have never come across a case of anyone genuinely misunderstanding that kind of double negative or using that kind of double negative when they mean a positive. "I don't want no dinner" (meaning "I don't want any dinner") was considered perfectly good English in Chaucer's day and in several other modern European languages double, triple or even quadruple negatives are still used today to express a simple negative, so surely it cannot be the case that a double negative meaning a negative is illogical?
In my language you must use negatives in every place they can be used. For example: I haven't never told no lies to nobody. If you use "ever" or "anybody" instead of "never" and "nobody", it would make no sense to the native ear.

Melaszka October 22nd, 2012 8:57 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Yoana (Post 6047006)
I completely agree with that. It's why I don't like the prescriptivist approach to grammar.

I must admit that I (as you may have noticed!) am a bit of a hypocrite in this regard - I will happily say "Me and Casper went for a beer", arguing that it's perfectly clear what I mean and, to me, the non-standard "Me" in the nominative case denotes intimacy in this context, but then sneer at people who say, "He gave the job to Jane and I."

I'm also far more prescriptivist about English in the serious news media than I am in any other context. The use of "convince him/her to" on the BBC news and in the Daily Telegraph is doing my head in at the moment, although its appearance there probably denotes that it has now become a standard form, and I'll just have to live with it. Plus, it's perfectly obvious what it means, so I know I'm just being a language snob in objecting to it.

Quote:

In my language you must use negatives in every place they can be used. For example: I haven't never told no lies to nobody. If you use "ever" or "anybody" instead of "never" and "nobody", it would make no sense to the native ear.
It's a bit like that in Polish, too.

horcrux4 October 22nd, 2012 9:31 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
So are the double/triple negatives meant for emphasis rather than cancelling each other out?

canismajoris October 22nd, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by horcrux4 (Post 6047084)
So are the double/triple negatives meant for emphasis rather than cancelling each other out?

Well, I think what's important to remember is that the concept of negatives cancelling each other seems to be more of a 19th-century invention than an innate quality of English. Indeed, I can think off the top of my head of one example from Old English and another famous example from Chaucer where multiple negatives far from cancel. First from "The Wanderer":

"Nis nu cwicra nan / e ic him..."

Or "There is not now alive none / to whom I..." I would admittedly translate this as "there is not now alone one to whom..." but even if I left the "none" in there, and say reformulated it into a more American style, a phrase like "There ain't none alive who I..." it works. It might sound strange either way with "none," since we've all learned to avoid that specific usage, but I honestly don't think it muddles the essential meaning of it, which is that nobody's alive.

"He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In all his lyf unto no maner wight""

Or "He never yet no villainy not said / In all his life to no manner of person." This phrase, some people might recognize, is (I believe) from the Canterbury Tales general prologue, in which the character Chaucer is describing the various companions he's found at the inn in Southwerk, in this case the Knight. Here at least I think you'd agree that sorting out the negatives mathematically would be a tall order, when in reality emphasis is exactly the point. The Knight definitely, most certainly, without a doubt, never ever once "said villainy." (Which in fact is demonstrably true of his character. Later in the Tales it becomes clear that he doesn't really approve of mean or aggressive people.)

Anyway, in both of these cases the goal is emphasis, with perhaps a little bit of alliteration thrown in. For the Wanderer it isn't simply that nobody's around at the moment, there is nobody at all left. The Knight doesn't just have a reputation for being civil, he has actually never insulted anyone.

In the case of American usages, one of which I postulated above, particularly by rural and African-American speakers, I would also say that emphasis is the rule, if we are unwilling to say that in fact double negatives themselves are the rule and not merely stylistic choices.

Which is not to say double negatives can't cancel when the speaker plainly intends them to. For example, while the phrase "ain't none," I'm willing to bet, has never meant "there are some" without a particular (and easy-to-identify) emphasis on "none," in those cases it becomes more of a rhetorical issue than a grammatical one. The concept of litotes applies, I think, and so the double negative gets across the idea that while there is some of whatever it is, there is so little it barely merits an affirmative reply. I forget what I was talking about, but I better get back to work on my paper now. :D

Melaszka October 23rd, 2012 12:57 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by horcrux4 (Post 6047084)
So are the double/triple negatives meant for emphasis rather than cancelling each other out?

In addition to what canis said:

A double, triple or even quadruple negative in Polish is still a negative. They don't cancel each other out. I wouldn't say they were for emphasis, either - they're just how you form a negative in Polish.

e.g. Nigdy tam nie byłam [= "I have never been there", but literally "Never there I wasn't"]
Nie jadłam zadnego chleba [= "I didn't eat any bread", but literally "I didn't eat no bread"]

Having said that, there are certain types of double negative in Polish that do cancel each other out.

e.g. Było nie bez znaczenia. [= "It was not without significance" i.e. "It had significance"]

Jest nie niebezpieczny. [= "It is not unsafe" i.e. "It is safe"]

But I would argue that that is pretty similar to English. If someone said to you in English "It is not without significance that Harry calls his first two children after his parents", they would clearly mean that it is significant that Harry calls his first two children after his parents. If someone says, "I am not unhappy with that decision", they mean (well, more or less - I'm aware there's a certain nuance) that they are happy.

But if someone says, "We don't need no education" in English, despite generations of schoolteachers insisting that that sentence is "confusing" or that "logically the two negatives should cancel each other out", they pretty obviously mean "We don't need any education", NOT "We need some education". I would posit that no-one who wanted to say "We need some education" would ever phrase it "We don't need no education" because, like the Poles, we instinctively distinguish between two types of double negative - the sort where one negative DOES cancel the other out and the sort where it doesn't.

ccollinsmith October 23rd, 2012 3:00 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 6047124)
But if someone says, "We don't need no education" in English, despite generations of schoolteachers insisting that that sentence is "confusing" or that "logically the two negatives should cancel each other out", they pretty obviously mean "We don't need any education", NOT "We need some education". I would posit that no-one who wanted to say "We need some education" would ever phrase it "We don't need no education" because, like the Poles, we instinctively distinguish between two types of double negative - the sort where one negative DOES cancel the other out and the sort where it doesn't.

And the same goes for "We don't need no thought control."

(sorry, but the temptation was too great) :)

LyannaS October 23rd, 2012 7:20 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ccollinsmith (Post 6047146)
And the same goes for "We don't need no thought control."

(sorry, but the temptation was too great) :)

What about "You ain't seen nuthin' yet"?

(Yes, the temptation was too great here too!) ;)

canismajoris October 24th, 2012 5:27 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Yoana (Post 6047006)
For example: I haven't never told no lies to nobody.

Wow, I just happened to look at this. Can you possibly provide me with a wider context for this sort of thing? Bear in mind I can read your alphabet of choice, and if you are willing to indulge me I'd be peachy.

By the way, I know that you are very reliably honest.

Editorial explanation: What on earth... is there an earth?

Yoana October 24th, 2012 7:52 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by horcrux4 (Post 6047084)
So are the double/triple negatives meant for emphasis rather than cancelling each other out?

Neither - there's no reason behind it, it's just how a negative sentence works in Bulgarian.

For Bill: Никога не съм казвала никакви лъжи на никого.

ccollinsmith October 24th, 2012 3:07 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Yoana (Post 6047006)
In my language you must use negatives in every place they can be used. For example: I haven't never told no lies to nobody. If you use "ever" or "anybody" instead of "never" and "nobody", it would make no sense to the native ear.

I've heard similar constructs in rural American English: "I ain't never told no lies to nobody."

horcrux4 October 24th, 2012 6:21 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by LyannaS (Post 6047210)
What about "You ain't seen nuthin' yet"?

(Yes, the temptation was too great here too!) ;)

Or "I can't get no satisfaction".

canismajoris April 4th, 2013 8:57 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I had posted this elsewhere because it's driving me crazy, but I thought I should bring it up in the appropriate thread, too.

I'm trying to diagram the clause "who will eat the Milky Way" without losing the underlying structure of it. My thought is that because it's an interrogative statement, there must be auxiliary inversion, and because it's a wh-question, the "who" has also replaced a noun phrase. I believe that is the case because the result is a clause that appears to be structured just like a declarative sentence, but clearly that's not what's really going on. Does anyone have any thoughts about this? Here's the clause in bracket notation:

[S [Comp who][S [Aux will][S [NP t][VP[VP [Aux t][V eat]][NP [Det the][N Milky Way]]]]]]

And here it is as a tree diagram:
http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/...ps759032a7.png

(Also, I used a "t" symbol to stand in for the displaced phrases. And the parent is really a complementizer clause I guess, not a "sentence," but that part of the structure doesn't concern me unless this is an embedded clause, which I'm not dealing with right now.)

Melaszka April 6th, 2013 12:36 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
I can't help at all, because I haven't parsed sentences for about 30 years, but I'd question whether it is an interrogative statement. It depends on the context. If it's part of a longer sentence e.g. In the last days, Loki will give birth to a giant wolf, who will eat the Milky Way", then surely it's a straightforward relative clause?

canismajoris April 6th, 2013 3:29 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
That's a fine point, but in this case it's interrogative because I say it is. :lol:

ccollinsmith April 7th, 2013 4:52 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Yeah, in looking at it, I was wonder whether it was a sentence with a question mark at the end (in which case, it is interrogative, but not a clause) or whether it was a relative clause, as Mel pointed out.

I always tuned out during sentence diagramming in grade school and haven't had to do it since (so I can't help with the diagramming), but I do have an interest in learning it... now. :lol:

Pox Voldius April 7th, 2013 9:26 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Yeah, sentence diagramming isn't really my thing either...

Melaszka April 7th, 2013 1:54 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by ccollinsmith (Post 6066842)
Yeah, in looking at it, I was wonder whether it was a sentence with a question mark at the end (in which case, it is interrogative, but not a clause)

I suppose it could be the main clause of a longer question, e.g. "Who will eat the Milky Way* if I eat the Snickers*?"
e.g.2 "Who will eat the Milky Way* that the cat licked?"


[*Brand name of a chocolate bar in the UK - I'm not sure if you have them in the US or not.]

Quickquill April 13th, 2013 11:16 pm

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Melaszka (Post 6066885)
I suppose it could be the main clause of a longer question, e.g. "Who will eat the Milky Way* if I eat the Snickers*?"
e.g.2 "Who will eat the Milky Way* that the cat licked?"


[*Brand name of a chocolate bar in the UK - I'm not sure if you have them in the US or not.]

We have them in the U.S.

As has been pointed out, it depends on the punctuation. Is it a complete sentence, with a question mark at the end? Or is it a clause within a bigger sentence?
We didn't parse sentences in school, but I had a private tutor who believed in it. Personally, I hated it, and couldn't see the point, since I already knew how to construct a sentence in English.

Personally, I always hated learning grammatical terms, and that's why I never wanted to become an English teacher even though most English speaking immigrants to Israel of my generation were offered retraining as English teachers.

canismajoris February 1st, 2014 3:27 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 6067791)
We didn't parse sentences in school, but I had a private tutor who believed in it. Personally, I hated it, and couldn't see the point, since I already knew how to construct a sentence in English.

Well I'm not sure parsing sentences in school is really quite the same thing, to be fair to any linguists out there. Attempting to understand the structure of a language is not only a matter of describing any one sentence, but of ascertaining rules about the language that can produce any grammatical sentence native speakers could think of, and every one they couldn't.

Now that's not what I was doing, as I'm only a mere beginner where syntax is concerned, but I feel linguistics deserves much more respect as a scientific discipline than being compared to rote memorization of grammatical terms. :)

MmeBergerac March 1st, 2014 12:24 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Quickquill (Post 6067791)
We didn't parse sentences in school, but I had a private tutor who believed in it. Personally, I hated it, and couldn't see the point, since I already knew how to construct a sentence in English.

I didn't like it very much at school either, but I found it really useful when I had to study other languages (specially Latin). Later I have been a tutor in English and I've found it very hard to teach the structure of a foreign language to people who didn't know the structure of their own. Specially because you English speakers have quite a definite structure (your adjectives always go before the noun and so) while we Spanish are quite free about where to place our words.

Quote:

Posted by canismajoris
Now that's not what I was doing, as I'm only a mere beginner where syntax is concerned, but I feel linguistics deserves much more respect as a scientific discipline than being compared to rote memorization of grammatical terms.
Indeed.

canismajoris March 2nd, 2014 3:14 am

Re: On Linguistics
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by MmeBergerac (Post 6088055)
I didn't like it very much at school either, but I found it really useful when I had to study other languages (specially Latin). Later I have been a tutor in English and I've found it very hard to teach the structure of a foreign language to people who didn't know the structure of their own.

The applicability of cross-linguistics education is the most important thing I've learned by studying linguistics over the past few years, exactly. It has always been a pet ambition of mine to teach foreign languages to primary school children, just to start the ball rolling early. I don't speak any languages but English, but I'm confident in saying I wouldn't need to in this particular case.

It's my belief that everyone is a linguistic genius, they just don't know why or how. Much in the same way a professional football player may be uniquely accomplished at taking a corner kick, but most likely can't explain how he or she arrives upon the ideal the ballistic trajectory of the ball, accounts for air friction and gravity, or fully understands whether and in what way the choice of shoes matters. So what I care most about is taking these people who've always had plenty of success in, you know, doing language, and showing them how remarkable it is that anyone can do it at all.

Quote:

Originally Posted by MmeBergerac (Post 6088055)
Specially because you English speakers have quite a definite structure (your adjectives always go before the noun and so) while we Spanish are quite free about where to place our words.

We do now, certainly. Back in the day, by which I mean the years 500 to 1400 CE, things were a little more awesomely weird. English was then (well in the earlier part of that range) a much more inflected language, if you look at noun morphology. Our medieval forebears had four or five noun cases (there was an instrumental that seems to have merged with the dative--I blame the "Danes"), and so there was a pretty modest excess of scrambling going on. Indeed, for Modern English speakers, learning to live with a free word order is the chief obstacle to learning older forms of English.


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