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  #61  
Old October 18th, 2011, 6:46 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Alastor View Post
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?


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  #62  
Old October 18th, 2011, 7:00 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by BrianTung View Post
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.


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  #63  
Old October 18th, 2011, 7:38 pm
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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


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  #64  
Old October 18th, 2011, 9:30 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Serpentine View Post
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.


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  #65  
Old October 19th, 2011, 6:08 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
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.


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  #66  
Old October 19th, 2011, 8:31 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by ccollinsmith View Post
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.


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  #67  
Old October 19th, 2011, 8:37 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by ccollinsmith View Post
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.


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  #68  
Old October 27th, 2011, 7:43 am
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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.


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  #69  
Old October 21st, 2012, 1:28 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by LyannaS View Post
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.

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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.



Last edited by Melaszka; October 21st, 2012 at 1:48 pm.
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  #70  
Old October 21st, 2012, 6:56 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
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. 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.

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... 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.



Last edited by LyannaS; October 23rd, 2012 at 7:21 am. Reason: Correct typo
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  #71  
Old October 21st, 2012, 10:41 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by LyannaS View Post
I never did make out what "Yes we have no bananas" meant.
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

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Originally Posted by LyannaS View Post
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.)


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  #72  
Old October 22nd, 2012, 5:05 am
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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.


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  #73  
Old October 22nd, 2012, 8:34 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
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.

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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.


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  #74  
Old October 22nd, 2012, 8:57 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Yoana View Post
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.

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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.


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  #75  
Old October 22nd, 2012, 9:31 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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


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  #76  
Old October 22nd, 2012, 10:50 pm
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Re: On Linguistics

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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 / že 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.


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  #77  
Old October 23rd, 2012, 12:57 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by horcrux4 View Post
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.



Last edited by Melaszka; October 23rd, 2012 at 1:13 am.
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  #78  
Old October 23rd, 2012, 3:00 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Melaszka View Post
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)


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  #79  
Old October 23rd, 2012, 7:20 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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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!)


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Old October 24th, 2012, 5:27 am
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Re: On Linguistics

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Originally Posted by Yoana View Post
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.

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