Basic Linguistic Terminology Noun, Pronoun, Adjective Verb, Adverb Preposition, Conjunction The Grammatical Cases: Nominative (the subject) Accusative (the direct object) Dative (the indirect object) Ablative (movement from, or because of, something) Genitive (possession) Vocative (addressee) Locative (indicates where) Instrumental (indicates object used to perform an action
What is language? Language is a set of rules for manipulating a set of symbols used for communication. Language seems to be a distinctly human invention and the use of language seems to be an ability of only humans. While a number of animals have simple communication systems, these do not approach the level of human language and exhibit no sign of grammar, a critical part of any language.
Vervet monkeys of sub-Saharan Africa have at least 10 separate calls they make to warn each other of different dangers. There are separate calls for leopards, snakes and eagles, for example and each call triggers a different defense mechanism in the listening group.
While language is intimately connected with the human voice, it is not dependent on it. Sign language is a fully grammatical language (or series of them) that prove this point. All humans, even the deaf, have the mental ability to process language, demonstrating that language is not simply the physical ability to make sounds, but requires the mental ability to interpret the symbols of communication that form the basis of any language.
In humans the hyoid bone descended lower in the larynx, and it is this that allows humans to make the sounds of language. Earlier hominids did not have this anatomical feature and were unable to produce the full range of modern human sounds. In 1983 a Neanderthal hyoid bone was found in Kebara Cave in Israel. While Neanderthal language was undoubtedly very different from modern human language, and much simpler, it seems clear that Neanderthals were capable of complex communication via speech and possibly song.
How many languages are spoken in the world? Ethnologue, the major language encyclopedia, lists almost 7000 languages as being spoken in the world today. The vast majority of these languages, however, are spoken by very small populations and are quickly dying out. Many more languages, just like species, existed in the past but have since become extinct. More than 820 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Ethnologue records more than 300 for the United States, but few are spoken by more than a handful of people. Cayuga, for example, has only 10 speakers.
Language 1 st language 2 nd language Total Mandarin 873 128 1051 English 340 168 508 Hindi/Urdu 242 224 466 Arabic 206 246 452 Spanish 322 60 382 Russian 145 110 255 Bengali 171 34 211 Portuguese 177 15 192 Indonesian 23 140 163 German 95 28 123 Japanese 122 1 123 French 65 50 115
So why is language important? Consider your life if language did not exist. What would you not be able to do without language? What advances in human culture and civilization would not have been possible without language?
Nowell Codex, folio 129r British Museum, London (c. AD 1000)
Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon, hū đā æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon, hū đā æþelingas ellen fremedon. Lo! We have of the glory of the Spear-Danes in yore-days, of the peoples’ kings, heard; how the princes glorious deeds did. Koenig ‘king’ cf. German Tag ‘day’
A Thousand Years of Language Change in English (as seen in translations of Matthew 26:73) Modern English ( New English Bible , 1961) Shortly afterwards the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you are another of them; your accent gives you away!’ Early Modern English ( King James Bible, 1611) And after a while came vnto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Middle English ( Wycliff Bible, c. 14th-century) And a litil aftir, thei that stooden camen, and seiden to Petir, treuli thou art of hem; for thi speche makith thee knowun. Norman Conquest (AD 1066) Old English ( West-Saxon Gospels, c. 1050) þa æfter lytlum fyrste genēalǣton þa ðe þær stodon, cwædon to petre. Soðlice þu eart of hym, þyn spræc þe gesweotolað Viking Invasions (AD 800-954)
“ Therefore is the name of it called Babel ( בבל babel ); because the LORD did there confound ( בלל balal ) the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.” — Genesis 11:9 “ Therefore is the name of it called Babel ( בבל babel ); because the LORD did there confound ( בלל balal ) the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.” — Genesis 11:9
James Scaliger (1540-1609) divided the languages of Europe into four types, named after their words for “god”: deus group (ie// Romance languages) gott group (ie// Germanic languages) theos group (ie// Greek) bog group (ie// Slavic languages) Scaliger did not believe these were related languages, however. The Birth of Historical Linguistics
Filippo Sassetti (1540-1588), of Florence, Italy, was one of the first Europeans to travel to India. There, he noted that a number of words in Sanskrit, the ancient sacred language of India, seemed related to Italian words. “ god” (devah/dio) “ snake” (sarpah/serpe) “ seven” (saptah/sette) “ eight” (asta/otto) “ nine” (nava/nove)
The interconnection of these “Indo-European” languages allows us to discover some interesting facts. Did you know that God became the Devil in Iran? The Indo-European word for “god” was deva, which can be seen in later languages: Latin = deus (Spanish = dios), Greek = theos. The English word “divine” reflects this earlier word. Among the eastern Indo-European languages, those in India and Iran, there was a division between two sets of gods in their pantheon, the devas and the ashuras. In India the devas were the “good” gods, while the ashuras were seen as demons. In Iran a major upheaval in their religion caused them to see the devas as the demons and the ashuras as the good gods. The word deva became the word “devil” and was ultimately adopted by the Jews after their liberation from Babylonian captivity by the Persians. From the Jews the Indo-Europeans of Europe adopted the idea of demons and the word “devil”. Thus, in English we have words for both “divine” and “devil” coming from the same original source.
English German Spanish night nacht noche three drei tres dog hund perro four vier cuatro pig schwein cerdo English French sheep mouton pig porc bull bœuf
Sir William Jones is generally regarded as the father of historical linguistics. He was a hyperpolyglot, and knew 13 languages fluently, as well as knowing another 28 “reasonably well”. Working as a tutor and translator, he became noted for his interest in the Orient and in 1783 was sent to India as a judge in British Bengal. In 1784 he founded the Asiatic Society in Kolkata, and published extensively on Indian topics. In 1786 he gave a talk to this small group that was later published in the group’s proceedings. The Birth of Historical Linguistics
The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek , more copious than the Latin , and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists... — Sir William Jones (1788) The Birth of Historical Linguistics
Rasmus Rask (1787 – 1832) was a Dane who was also a polyglot, speaking 22 languages and having studied at least twice as many. He carried out far more systematic comparisons of European languages and those of Persia and India. He noted there was correspondence of many specific sounds between these languages. For example, Greek ph = English b , eg// Greek phero ‘I carry’ and English bear , or Greek phrater ‘clan member’ and English brother . Or Greek g and Germanic k , eg// Greek gyne , Old Norse kona , ‘woman’; Greek genos , Old Norse kyn ‘family’; or Greek agros , Old Norse akr ‘field’. The Birth of Historical Linguistics
These similarities were found not only in phonology, the study of individual sounds, but also in grammar. Note the way the words for ‘fire’ in Sanskrit and Latin appear in different cases: Sanskrit Latin Nominative Singular agnis ignis Accusative Singular agnim ignem Dative Plural agnibhyas ignibus The Birth of Historical Linguistics
Sanskrit Greek Latin Gothic English pita pater pater fadar father padam poda pedem fotu foot b h ratar p h rater frater brothar brother b h arami p h ero fero baira bear jivah ‘living’ — vivos qius quick virah ‘man’ viro vir wair — tris tres thri three — deka decem taihun ten — he-katon centum hund(rath) hundred Some Indo-European Cognates werewolf
‘ This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother...’
The standard English plural is octopuses . Its origin is Greek octo-pus (literally ‘eight-foot’), pl. octo-podes . The form octopi came from the mistaken belief that octopus was: (a) Latin in origin, and (b) that it included the Latin nom. s. ending -us , usually pluralized as - i .
Morpheme . The smallest meaningful morphological unit in a language (e.g., in, come , and -ing in the word incoming ). Cognate . A word (or morpheme) which is related to a word (or morpheme) in one of its sister languages by virtue of its having been inherited directly from a mother language. Cognate Set . The entire set of words (or morphemes) which are related to one another across a group of sister languages by reason of having descended directly from a mother language. Comparative Method . A method which compares forms from related languages, cognates, which have descended from a common ancestral language (a proto-language ), in order to reconstruct the original form in the ancestral language. Correspondence Set . A systematic set of sound correspondences occurring across the cognates shared by sister languages. Reflex . The descendant in a daughter language of a sound of the mother language is said to be a reflex of that sound. Some Key Definitions
- If a language has a long written tradition, conventional spellings (traditional, received orthography) can provide important evidence of earlier pronunciations. e.g., English knight German Knecht ‘groom’ Swedish knekt ‘soldier’ - In the many English borrowings from French (at different time periods), we witness frozen remnants of a series of sound changes which took place in that language, where initial k first became č and then š . Latin caput ‘head’ French chef ‘main, chief’ English borrowings: c aptain, ch ieftain, ch ief, and ch ef [ š ef] Conventional Spellings
Speech sounds can be classified on two distinct levels: Phonetic . This refers to the surface level of speech. Uttered sounds ( phones ) are conventionally transcribed in square brackets ( e.g., [p]). Phonemic . This refers to the way sounds are organized in the mind of a speaker. The phoneme is a minimally-contrastive ( i.e., significant) unit of sound conventionally enclosed in back-slashes ( e.g., /p/). Phonemes can have different surface pronunciations ( allophones ) in different environments , and are defined by distribution and contrast . In the English words pin and bin , /p/ and /b/ are distinct phonemes because they appear in identical environments ( e.g., at the beginning of words before i ) and yet contrast meanings (this is called a minimal pair ). In the words pin [p h in] and spin [spin], /p/ is still a single phoneme despite its different pronunciations (with and without aspiration). This is because English does not meaningfully distinguish [p] and [p h ]. Phonetic vs. Phonemic
knight knight / nait/ k > Ø / #__ n x > Ø / __C causing preceding V > V: knight / ni:t/ Great English Vowel Shift ( i: > ai ) cni ȝ t cniht /knixt/
Phonetic Symbols Chart (p. xxi ) The Consonants
Proto-Indo-European *ékwo-s ‘horse’ Latin equ-os ~ equ-us cf . English equestrian Greek hippos cf . English hippopotamus, Philip ( fr. Φίλιππος) ‘ lover of horses’ *e > i (i.e., ik w os ) *Ø- > h- *k w - > pp- Italic ´ Old English eo ( h ) ‘horse’ cf . é ored , cavalry (lit. ‘horse-ride’) éothéod , horse people ( þeod ‘people’) Éomund, horse-protection ( mund ‘hand’) Éomer , horse-great ( mǣre ‘great’) É owyn , horse-joy ( wynn ‘joy, delight’) Éothain , horse-follower ( þegn ‘follower of a great man’) Spanish yegua, mare Germanic *ehwa-z Hellenic
(1) The proto-language was uniform, with no dialectal (or social) variation. Caveat: this is not truly an assumption, but rather a consequence of the nature of our data; daughter languages tend to obliterate evidence of variations in their mother. No practicing linguist truly believes that proto-languages are uniform.
Language splits are sudden. Not necessarily so in all cases: our methods of data presentation (the ‘tree’ model) merely make them seem so.
After the split-up of the proto-language, there is no subsequent contact among the related languages. Not so. In fact, the comparative method itself makes it possible to identify probable instances of post-split contact.