Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Language Questions on Quora

How were languages created and how did they evolved through time?

A Req
Answer requested by Marine Baptiste

Hans-Georg Lundahl, amateur linguist
Answered just now
Evolving through time is a process still very well observable for many languages, so, take that first.

Pronunciation, sentence building, word choice, morphology can all shift, often very minutely (in each step), and usually each shift is also at first optional, some are reversed, some go through, some leave traces.

All of this leaves more traces in writing if it is word choice or sentence building and less if it is pronunciation or morphology.

Because, the first things you learn when you learn to read and write is how words are spelled and how the grammatical forms are made.

This means, if you deviate from morphology or previous standard spelling (if any) you are usually involuntarily mistaken, you correct yourself if you see a model corresponding to what you learned, but if you deviate from previous sentence structure or word choice, you more like say “you can say that too”.

This means, the acquired synaesthesia between language sounds and spelling will change over time, like English is much less phonetical in spelling now than in Chaucer’s time, but also the basic phonetic implications of any given letter or letter combination may also change.

Long a? Once, that would have been like the word father, both in the verb bathe and the noun bath. Since then, the sound in “father” and “bath” is seen as an exception, and the sound in “bathe” is the normal, even if bathe and lots of other words have shifted pronunciation.

Sometimes languages (not as in spoken languages, but as in a spoken and a written language going together in acquired synaesthesia) are created. This happens when you give a spelling system and alphabet to a language that was only spoken, this happens when you replace spelling system for a language, or (rarer) replace language for a spelling system.

You are a missionary and you give a writing system to a native language? That is how St Jean Bréboeuf and others created Huron as a written language.

You think the old spelling of a language looks very unfamiliar (you learned reading and writing in another one, and the books are very old), so you replace the spelling system with one from the language you know to write? That is how later version of Middle English (Chaucerian and West Midland versions, as well as Courtly Scots) were created, abandoning the very much older writings in Old English. Those creating them used the basics of French spelling system, back then, and added a few signs not needed in French, usually digraphs.

Or, you think priests in a certain country speak Latin very bad, and need to rehearse pronunciation? That is why Charlemagne (after hearing complaints) imported Alcuin from York …

As a by product of Latin writing acquiring a new prounciation (meaning to restore an older and more international one), producing Medieval Latin properly speaking, the Latin speech got a sound-to-letter correspondence to create a new written language from, and that is how Provençal and French were created.

If you mean very much older ultimate origins with language creation, both Hebrew and the Babelic languages were given or created directly by God.

And God used all the ingenuity of any conlanger, from Tolkien to Zamenhoff, to create new ones, except ingenuity is the wrong word for the omniscient … Hebrew (in some form) can probably be considered to be God’s own language. The one “He thought in” before He created.

What was the very first language recorded in history?

A Req
Answer requested by Evelyn Baker

Hans-Georg Lundahl, amateur linguist
Answered 24m ago
In history or archaeology?

Each people’s history usually considers either the own language or a specially fine version or older version of it as the first language.

In archaeology, that means, what deciphered written language has left the oldest remains.

So, as a Christian, I answer oldest language in history is Hebrew.

As knowledgeable about archaeology, I refer you to the list here:

Egyptian, Sumerian, Canaanite, Akkadian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hurrian, Hittite, Palawian - the wiki gives a timetable like 2690 to 16th C, referring to carbon dates of the remaining tablets or other supporting materials related to some organic material, and deflating the carbon dates to Biblical times gives from Joseph in Egypt or somewhat before to Exodus or somewhat later.

Note that Canaanite and Hebrew are aliases for same language and Eblaite is for Syriac, and theologians differ on whether oldest Hebrew was what we now call Hebrew or Syriac.

Here is the wiki, linking to relevant passage, by the way:

List of languages by first written accounts - Wikipedia

Is there a native American language family that is comparable in size to Indo-European?

A Req
Answer requested by Andrew Pece

Hans-Georg Lundahl, amateur linguist
Answered Feb 27
According to some, there are only three language families in native languages of America, with Amerind as largest of the three.

That would be the position of Ruhlen. However, others split up Amerind into several language families and come up with a somewhat different result.

Rich Alderson,
BA, MA, doctoral research in Indo-European linguistics
Ruhlen simply follows Greenberg, who was also wrong.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
I’m aware that he follows Greenberg, and if you say Greenberg was wrong, I suppose you are among the splitters.

Rich Alderson
“Splitters” is a would-be pejorative coined by Greenberg’s follower(s), but it makes no sense.

Any of us who has worked on the languages of the Americas would be happy to demonstrate a connection between previously unconnected language families, but we’ll do it with hard work and principled comparisons, not a scan through unanalyzed data hoping for “ooh, that’s one!” moments.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Just now
I’d consider “splitters” and “lumpers” two tendencies in any venture of taxonomy.

Neither more pejorative than the other.

I also think, if your criteria were used, possibly Indo-European, and probably Afro-Asiatic would not be language families.

Which might be a good thing, by the way. If it was the reverse perhaps …

Ural-Altaic has been a thing and is no longer, since criteria changed over decades.

Rich Alderson
15h ago
Non sequitur. The implication that there are only “lumpers” and “splitters”, and that “lumpers” are the good guys and “splitters” are the bad guys, misses the point that real linguists (and I’m sorry, but Joe Greenberg lost the right to call himself such when he moved beyond Africa) will happily combine language families *when the evidence is there*.

Indo-European is solidly confirmed, with nearly 250 years of study. Afro-Asiatic is pretty solid, but needs another few decades of solid work (not Greenbergian guesswork) to confirm it.

Ural-Altaic (and even Altaic) were essentially early examples of what you call “lumper” proposals: Things *looked* kind of similar, so they must be related; further study showed that this was the wrong way to do linguistics. If you want to call getting things right after getting them wrong “being a splitter”, that’s your poor choice.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Just now
How about learning to read?

You stated this in an answer to me:

“The implication that there are only “lumpers” and “splitters” (1), and that “lumpers” are the good guys and “splitters” are the bad guys,(2)”

I very clearly not only did not say these things, also did not imply them, because I said opposite things.

I will now quote myself with clarifications:

  • 1.) “I’d consider “splitters” and “lumpers” two tendencies in any venture of taxonomy.” = Two tendencies or two poles = there are lots between the extremes.
  • 2.) “Neither more pejorative than the other.” = lumpers will consider splitters as bad guys and splitters will consider lumpers as bad guys. Those exactly in the middle on the hedge will consider both as bad guys.

“Indo-European is solidly confirmed, with nearly 250 years of study.”

Starting, according to Greenberg’s and Ruhlen’s resumé with a methodology rather close to their own.

I will begin by stating, I distinguish group from family, as family is one of three group relations.

Balkan group = mutual adstrate, classic Sprachbund case.

West European group = common superstrate, namely Ecclesiastic Latin, so to speak “Sprachbund per lingua franca”.

Romance group = Romance family, solidly documented as descending from Latin.

I will now add, when it comes to IE langs, I am a lumper as to group status, but splitter as to family status.

I take it, while evidence for Ural-Altaic or Amerind is insufficient for family status, it might be clearly sufficient for group status, as per Balkan group as comparison, or two West European languages. My actual point is, this is how I view the IE group.

“If you want to call getting things right after getting them wrong “being a splitter”, that’s your poor choice.”

That’s a partisan appeal from splitters, if you like. As such, it is perfectly licit. Oh, were you trying to give scientific expertise status to that? I don’t believe there is such a thing in the theory of knowledge in the first place. Or not beyond direct observations.

Do we have any idea about the Proto-Indo-Europeans' clothing? What was their standard attire?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Answered 35m ago
In order to know anything about Proto-Indo-European culture, we would need to know two things about Proto-Indo-European language:

  • that it was a single language
  • and which human group studied by archaeology spoke it.

The answer would depend very much on whether you consider Indo-European started as a single language in Yamnaya or as a Sprachbund spanning parts of Anatolia and Balkan and the seas between and south of them. And by what time they would have coalesced.

What were the personal pronouns in Proto-Indo-European language?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Answered 59m ago
For I and II person, just taking nominative and accusative, as I see probable:

Egô, me
tû, te

weh, noh
yuh, woh

wei, nos
yus, wos.

Supposing there were really forms from one single proto-language.

I don’t know any single “branch of Indo-European” which uses all of above.

Perhaps some very early versions of Germanic (Gothic, Old Saxon, archaic types of Old English?)

(also, the classic six close blood relatives only have the “full Indo-European panoply” as one could say in Germanic).


Proto-Indo-European pronouns - Wikipedia

How did Proto-Indo-European turn a statement into a question?

A Req
Answer requested by Adam Abahot

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Answered 1h ago
That is precisely one the things which have not been reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European.

There are a few others as well.

What is Proto-Indo-European for hand? For mouth? For head?

As far as I know, we don’t know.

What do all/most languages that descend from PIE have in common (aside from many vocabulary roots)?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Answered Thu
I don’t think there is any thing all languages supposed to descend from it have in common, and fairly little most … wait … numerals from 2 to 10. That would be in all languages. Already for 1, you have a different word in Greek than for the others.

In order for either a vocabulary item or an item of morphology to count as coming from Proto-Indo-European, it has to:

  • exist in 3 or more of the “branches of IE” (the terminology presupposes a common root, a proto-language, I don’t quite agree, but am following common usage);
  • and not be a recent loan from one of them (example : “astronomy” is from Greek and is in other languages more or less recent, in Latin going back only sth like 2000 years, and then clearly borrowed from Greek).

I have started a little checkup on the Indo-European roots in Pokorny, and I am not sure how much of it will cover all or most “branches.” Some cover fewer, like “apple” or “wasp”.

Is it possible to reconstruct the original "Indo-European" language and teach it?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Answered Thu
Any reconstruction depends on assumptions about what historically happened.

Suppose Proto-Indo-European actually existed, rather than say Greek, Hittite, Aryan forming a Sprachbund and loaning words from each other, only what is preserved in sufficient commonolities between branches can be reconstructed.

As long as you stay with reconstruction only, you are therefore reconstructing an incomplete language.

You want a complete Indo-European? Fine, invent it.

Invented languages can be taught and lacunar languages can be extended by more invention. But someone else might invent another complete PIE.

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