Language discussion thread

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SafeBet said:
That was my guess as well, but perhaps there was some obscure linguistic theory about how these two languages were related.
Definitely not. The addition of Japanese to the Indo-European family would necessitate a complete do-over on our understanding of linguistics.

When you get situations like this there's always the possibility of a language contact situation leading to mutual influence, but in the case of languages as disparate both geographically and linguistically as Italian and Japanese that seems unlikely, and so as hrotha says, coincidence is probably the most likely reason.
 
Maaaaaaaarten is right about the phonology of Japanese and Italian being very different, too. There's more to phonology than sharing this or that phoneme.

Even when there's a plausible geographical connection that would explain the convergence of two unrelated or distantly related languages, that can be misleading. As an example, the phonology of Spanish is remarkably similar to the reconstructed phonology of Visigothic, but it's extremely unlikely that the explanation will be found in the Visigothic settlement of Iberia. Rather, both follow logically and independently (and without any radical changes as far as the phonemes being taken into account are concerned, it should be said) from the pronunciation of their immediate ancestors, Western Vulgar Latin and Proto-Germanic, for which such a close geographical connection cannot be posited.
 
My studies in linguistics are well behind me now and all the jobs that I've had had nothing to do with them but probably I'll need to re-read all my linguistic books, one day.

I made my thesis about the divergences between AmE and BrE based on corpora of US and UK editorials. I wanted to check whether the so-called Americanization of BrE could verify or not in editorials. The answer was negative of course (though my corpora were rather small).


I wanted to ask British posters here (or others) whether they had felt any kind of Americanization of BrE. What about the former colonies? (where the two varieties also add to the local variety) AmE is reputedly more popular worldwide than BrE but BrE is still the teaching language in many countries.

I guess the American word "movie" is now more and more often used than British "film".
 
Maaaaaaaarten said:
I actually don't think they sound that similar and there is a wealth of phonological differences between them.

Actually, just looking at the phonology, there is a wealth of difference in their phoneme inventory, Italian allows quite complex syllables, whereas Japanese is very restrictive in that regard, Japanese has a pitch-accent, whereas Italian has a lexical stress......
I'm not saying I disagree, you're absolutely right about the differences.
But again, among all the languages I've heard, there's no language which would be easier than japanese to reproduce for a fluent italian speaker (although a fluent japanese speaker would probably have a harder life picking up some italian sounds).

I've spent some time in Japan and I was impressively quick in learning the basics of the spoken language, considering how distant the two languages are from a lexical perspective. Much quicker than Portuguese, for instance.
 
Oct 23, 2011
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SafeBet said:
I'm not saying I disagree, you're absolutely right about the differences.
But again, among all the languages I've heard, there's no language which would be easier than japanese to reproduce for a fluent italian speaker (although a fluent japanese speaker would probably have a harder life picking up some italian sounds).
Well, sure, but barring a few exceptions, all of the phonemes in Japanese are very common and easy to produce. Except for the rhotic consonant and the nasal in the coda, which is sometimes pronounced uvular, I think all consonants in Japanese are very common throughout the worlds languages. The syllable structure is very simple, so nobody will have a problem with complex consonant clusters either. Furthermore the vowel system is basically the standard five vowel system /i u e o a/ which again is extremely common throughout the worlds languages. Only instead of /u/ they have something more like /ɯ/. Only the pitch-accent should probably give some struggles for pronouncing Japanese correctly. So I think Japanese is probably quite easy to learn with regard to the phonology for most people in the world, regardless of their native language.

SafeBet said:
I've spent some time in Japan and I was impressively quick in learning the basics of the spoken language, considering how distant the two languages are from a lexical perspective. Much quicker than Portuguese, for instance.
There are other reason for this, than similarity though. Off course I don't know your situation, but as for me, I'd definitely learn Japanese quicker than Portuguese too, if I had to live in both countries for a short while. I imagine if you know English and other Romance language(s) it's easier to get around in Portugal without knowing Portuguese, compared to living in Japan without knowing Japanese. Furthermore, no offence to our Portuguese friends on this forum, but I think Portuguese is the ugliest language in the world, so that would definitely not motivate me to learn it. :p

But for instance, for me, learning (the basics of) Spanish was felt way easier, compared to learning German, despite German being objectively more similar to my native language Dutch in every regard.
 
Mar 13, 2009
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Portuguese (from Portugal) to me resembles russian a bit as well, and some people even say luxembourgish, because of the many /sh/ sounds in those languages.
 
Portuguese sounds exactly the same as my home dialect (Ligurian)... Every time I hear it I have the impression that I should be able to understand... except that I'm not :eek:

Anyway at the moment I'm pretty busy trying to learn German, so my fifth language will have to wait.
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Maaaaaaaarten said:
...Furthermore, no offence to our Portuguese friends on this forum, but I think Portuguese is the ugliest language in the world, so that would definitely not motivate me to learn it. :p
...
I agree that 'standard' European Portuguese as spoken e.g. in most news broadcasts is pretty tough to the ear. Unstressed vowels are swallowed giving not so nice consonant clusters and the /l/ is pronounced very deep in the throat, which I don't like either.
But I spent some time in Coimbra and the dialect there seemed much less harsh than on national TV. Then there is Brazilian Portuguese, which is nice and open.
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Libertine Seguros said:
It never ceases to amaze me how completely wrong the stereotypes about simple/complex languages are - and how at least in the Indo-European languages the exact opposite is true; the languages that have changed the least over time show by far the most complex structures, and the languages that have changed the most have simplified or simply removed a lot of features (grammatical dual, cases such as locative, instrumental and ablative, formations such as the subjunctive, T-V distinction and so on).
interesting post.
What exactly do you mean when you say that for IE the 'exact opposite is true'? The opposite of what?
 
sniper said:
interesting post.
What exactly do you mean when you say that for IE the 'exact opposite is true'? The opposite of what?
The stereotype is that less well-developed languages and/or languages of less well-developed cultures are more simplistic, un-codified languages being basic and not able to express the range of concepts in more well-developed languages with wider currency and better codification.

Structurally, however, you can find that IE languages are progressively simplifying their structures and grammar. With Romance languages, you can look at the grammatical structure of Latin compared with that of the modern day languages and note that many complex Latin grammatical constructs have been lost or replaced by prepositional phrases. Or compare Icelandic, a highly conservative language which has resisted outside influence as much as possible for the last 800 years, to its modern day brothers Danish and Norwegian. English is one of the best examples - of the eight cases or so postulated for PIE, only 3 remain in English - the nominative (subject), the accusative (object) and the genitive (possessive). Verb conjugation has simplified to only two forms in regular verbs (the first person singular is the only exception - "I want, you want, he/she wants"). In Norwegian there is only one. German, by contrast, has verb endings that indicate the subject. In Slavic languages, most of which codified themselves later, this goes further in that each subject's verb ending is unique, enabling subject pro-drop where there is no need to mention the subject, it is clarified by the verb's form. They also have retained a number of historical cases from PIE which have been lost in Germanic and Romance languages.

Another feature from PIE that has been simplified is the grammatical dual. This still exists in some forms, but is mostly a relic, as now almost every IE language uses the simple "singular, plural" system. Lithuanian is an excellent language to use as an example as it retains a number of features from PIE lost from almost all extant languages, however we know them to have been in PIE from their presence in much older IE languages (e.g. Sanskrit or Ancient Greek). These include pitch accent, free stress (some languages like Russian retain this, but most IE languages now have an established stress system enabling a learner to predict how a word will be stressed).
 
Mar 13, 2009
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Libertine Seguros said:
Structurally, however, you can find that IE languages are progressively simplifying their structures and grammar. With Romance languages, you can look at the grammatical structure of Latin compared with that of the modern day languages and note that many complex Latin grammatical constructs have been lost or replaced by prepositional phrases. Or compare Icelandic, a highly conservative language which has resisted outside influence as much as possible for the last 800 years, to its modern day brothers Danish and Norwegian. English is one of the best examples - of the eight cases or so postulated for PIE, only 3 remain in English - the nominative (subject), the accusative (object) and the genitive (possessive). Verb conjugation has simplified to only two forms in regular verbs (the first person singular is the only exception - "I want, you want, he/she wants"). In Norwegian there is only one. German, by contrast, has verb endings that indicate the subject. In Slavic languages, most of which codified themselves later, this goes further in that each subject's verb ending is unique, enabling subject pro-drop where there is no need to mention the subject, it is clarified by the verb's form. They also have retained a number of historical cases from PIE which have been lost in Germanic and Romance languages.
This is what I read in Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass (condensed):

19th century German linguist August Schleicher famously compared the sesquipedalian Gothic verb habeidedeima (first-person plural past subjunctive of "have") with its cousin in modern English, the monosyllabic "had".

When it comes to morphology, all evidence suggest that small societies use complex words while large societies use simplified words in their language. There are several theories for this. One is the constant need to communicate with strangers: taxi driver, waiter, librarian, person asking for directions, etc. In isolated tribes, this is not the case. Communication among intimates allows a compact way of expression, and you can be more concise than when communicating with strangers.

The language of a small society may also not be exposed to any other language, or a different dialect of the same language. We, on the other hand, may be exposed to a whole variety of different Englishes on a daily basis. Contact with different varieties is known to encourage simplification in word structure.

Another case is subordination. Guy Deutscher is careful on the subject: "impressionistically it seems that languages that have restricted use of complements (or lack them altogether) are mostly spoken in simple societies". Again, it may have to do with people in large societies having to share information with strangers who do not share the same background, therefore needing to be more explicit. Furthermore, the language of legal proceedings is more likely to arise in a complex society.
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Libertine Seguros said:
The stereotype is that less well-developed languages and/or languages of less well-developed cultures are more simplistic, un-codified languages being basic and not able to express the range of concepts in more well-developed languages with wider currency and better codification.

Structurally, however, you can find that IE languages are progressively simplifying their structures and grammar. With Romance languages, you can look at the grammatical structure of Latin compared with that of the modern day languages and note that many complex Latin grammatical constructs have been lost or replaced by prepositional phrases. Or compare Icelandic, a highly conservative language which has resisted outside influence as much as possible for the last 800 years, to its modern day brothers Danish and Norwegian. English is one of the best examples - of the eight cases or so postulated for PIE, only 3 remain in English - the nominative (subject), the accusative (object) and the genitive (possessive). Verb conjugation has simplified to only two forms in regular verbs (the first person singular is the only exception - "I want, you want, he/she wants"). In Norwegian there is only one. German, by contrast, has verb endings that indicate the subject. In Slavic languages, most of which codified themselves later, this goes further in that each subject's verb ending is unique, enabling subject pro-drop where there is no need to mention the subject, it is clarified by the verb's form. They also have retained a number of historical cases from PIE which have been lost in Germanic and Romance languages.

Another feature from PIE that has been simplified is the grammatical dual. This still exists in some forms, but is mostly a relic, as now almost every IE language uses the simple "singular, plural" system. Lithuanian is an excellent language to use as an example as it retains a number of features from PIE lost from almost all extant languages, however we know them to have been in PIE from their presence in much older IE languages (e.g. Sanskrit or Ancient Greek). These include pitch accent, free stress (some languages like Russian retain this, but most IE languages now have an established stress system enabling a learner to predict how a word will be stressed).
Great post. Thanks.
I would perhaps object to what you describe as 'the stereotype'.
As far as I've understood, among linguists, a long-held (mis)conception is or has been that in the end all languages are equally complex (regardless of the society). According to that view, relative simplicity in one area of a language (e.g. the phonology) is compensated for in another area (e.g. the morphology).

I clearly disagree and I take from your post that you do too(?)
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Christian said:
This is what I read in Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass (condensed):

19th century German linguist August Schleicher famously compared the sesquipedalian Gothic verb habeidedeima (first-person plural past subjunctive of "have") with its cousin in modern English, the monosyllabic "had".

When it comes to morphology, all evidence suggest that small societies use complex words while large societies use simplified words in their language. There are several theories for this. One is the constant need to communicate with strangers: taxi driver, waiter, librarian, person asking for directions, etc. In isolated tribes, this is not the case. Communication among intimates allows a compact way of expression, and you can be more concise than when communicating with strangers.

The language of a small society may also not be exposed to any other language, or a different dialect of the same language. We, on the other hand, may be exposed to a whole variety of different Englishes on a daily basis. Contact with different varieties is known to encourage simplification in word structure.

Another case is subordination. Guy Deutscher is careful on the subject: "impressionistically it seems that languages that have restricted use of complements (or lack them altogether) are mostly spoken in simple societies". Again, it may have to do with people in large societies having to share information with strangers who do not share the same background, therefore needing to be more explicit. Furthermore, the language of legal proceedings is more likely to arise in a complex society.
interesting post.
one comment:
English might well still be in a process of simplification, but the main areas of the grammar had simplified well before the existence of taxidrivers;), basically well before English became a lingua franca.
(that said, i agree with the argument that contact, in the majority of cases, encourages simplification)
 
sniper said:
Great post. Thanks.
I would perhaps object to what you describe as 'the stereotype'.
As far as I've understood, among linguists, a long-held (mis)conception is or has been that in the end all languages are equally complex (regardless of the society). According to that view, relative simplicity in one area of a language (e.g. the phonology) is compensated for in another area (e.g. the morphology).

I clearly disagree and I take from your post that you do too(?)
The challenge is always in expression. Languages must be fit for purpose. When used in situations that require complexity, for example legal documents, Acts of Government and financial correspondence, the language must have adequate complexity to fulfil the types of nuance required in these situations, and because languages have evolved differently, the methods by which the precise definitions and differentiations required are achieved vary.

Since we have sideswiped Christian's discussion, his homeland is an interesting example. Luxembourgish is a language which is still developing out of the Mosel-Franconian dialects of German it still has close resemblances to. It has now been accepted as a national language, and therefore you are free to express yourself in court, in parliament etc. in Lëtzebuergesch. However, the language has a few characteristics that limit its usefulness as a legislative language. Christian can help me out here - it's been a few years since I covered this - but I think there's only one form of past tense - the perfect - in Lëtzebuergesch. This is a linguistic feature which makes it easy to use in everyday life but means that in situations where complex language is called for, a majority of Luxembourgers still prefer to use French (more commonly) or German (less commonly). Lëtzebuergesch is still developing the vocabulary required to make itself more usable in these situations, however it is likely that much of this will simply be borrowed from the neighbouring languages.

The other question simply is about what is meant by complex? We see speakers of particular languages talking about the complexities of their own, but it's only a relative measure. Pistolero was talking about how tough Dutch is to learn, but for a speaker of German or English, it's a lot easier than, say, Mandarin or Hebrew. For an Afrikaans speaker, it's probably extremely simple to pick up. Hitch talked of people having problem with the range of palatal consonants, fricatives and sibilants in Polish, but to speakers of other Slavic languages they're more likely to find the nasal vowels ą and ę an obstacle than those consonants. Usually what's difficult is not necessarily complexity in syntax, morphology, vocabulary or phonology, but what is different to the learner. For example, first-language Arabic speakers can often use ع as a shibboleth, as the sound it represents is uncommon in other languages and therefore for most people it is a sound that has to be learned; languages without T-V distinction can often find problems when learning in using the inappropriate 2nd person, while trying to learn a Uralic language will forever result in a struggle with the numbers of case endings and what they represent, whereas on the other hand first-language Hungarian speakers trying to learn, say, Spanish, may find it difficult to express themselves due to the need to learn a bunch of separate vocabulary to create prepositional phrases or even entire sentences in order to explain what a case ending does for them in their native speech.
 
Mar 13, 2009
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Libertine Seguros said:
Since we have sideswiped Christian's discussion, his homeland is an interesting example. Luxembourgish is a language which is still developing out of the Mosel-Franconian dialects of German it still has close resemblances to. It has now been accepted as a national language, and therefore you are free to express yourself in court, in parliament etc. in Lëtzebuergesch. However, the language has a few characteristics that limit its usefulness as a legislative language. Christian can help me out here - it's been a few years since I covered this - but I think there's only one form of past tense - the perfect - in Lëtzebuergesch. This is a linguistic feature which makes it easy to use in everyday life but means that in situations where complex language is called for, a majority of Luxembourgers still prefer to use French (more commonly) or German (less commonly). Lëtzebuergesch is still developing the vocabulary required to make itself more usable in these situations, however it is likely that much of this will simply be borrowed from the neighbouring languages.
This is accurate. Luxembourgish indeed only possesses one past tense, which is the perfect. For instance, you cannot say "I ran" (German: "Ich lief"), you have to say "I have run" (German: "Ich bin gelaufen", lux: "Ech si gelaf"), no matter what the situation. However, there are some exceptions to this: the verbs "to be" and "to have" for instance, but also others like "to say". Interestingly enough, TV and Radio hosts (i.e. people who sometimes have to try and express complex situations in the limited grammatical capacity of luxembourgish) sometimes create new prétérite tenses for verbs. This is usually greeted with amusement by the intelligentsia.

In a professional context, French or German can be very useful, since it reduces the margin for possible confusion.
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Christian said:
This is accurate. Luxembourgish indeed only possesses one past tense, which is the perfect. For instance, you cannot say "I ran" (German: "Ich lief"), you have to say "I have run" (German: "Ich bin gelaufen", lux: "Ech si gelaf"), no matter what the situation. However, there are some exceptions to this: the verbs "to be" and "to have" for instance, but also others like "to say". Interestingly enough, TV and Radio hosts (i.e. people who sometimes have to try and express complex situations in the limited grammatical capacity of luxembourgish) sometimes create new prétérite tenses for verbs. This is usually greeted with amusement by the intelligentsia.

In a professional context, French or German can be very useful, since it reduces the margin for possible confusion.
interesting.

so you're part of the Praeteritum-Schwundgebiet.
(you've probably heard of that, but for those who havent: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberdeutscher_Präteritumsschwund)
i know Yiddish and several other German dialects are part of that Schwundgebiet.
 
Oct 16, 2010
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Libertine Seguros said:
The challenge is always in expression. Languages must be fit for purpose. When used in situations that require complexity, for example legal documents, Acts of Government and financial correspondence, the language must have adequate complexity to fulfil the types of nuance required in these situations, and because languages have evolved differently, the methods by which the precise definitions and differentiations required are achieved vary.

Since we have sideswiped Christian's discussion, his homeland is an interesting example. Luxembourgish is a language which is still developing out of the Mosel-Franconian dialects of German it still has close resemblances to. It has now been accepted as a national language, and therefore you are free to express yourself in court, in parliament etc. in Lëtzebuergesch. However, the language has a few characteristics that limit its usefulness as a legislative language. Christian can help me out here - it's been a few years since I covered this - but I think there's only one form of past tense - the perfect - in Lëtzebuergesch. This is a linguistic feature which makes it easy to use in everyday life but means that in situations where complex language is called for, a majority of Luxembourgers still prefer to use French (more commonly) or German (less commonly). Lëtzebuergesch is still developing the vocabulary required to make itself more usable in these situations, however it is likely that much of this will simply be borrowed from the neighbouring languages.

The other question simply is about what is meant by complex? We see speakers of particular languages talking about the complexities of their own, but it's only a relative measure. Pistolero was talking about how tough Dutch is to learn, but for a speaker of German or English, it's a lot easier than, say, Mandarin or Hebrew. For an Afrikaans speaker, it's probably extremely simple to pick up. Hitch talked of people having problem with the range of palatal consonants, fricatives and sibilants in Polish, but to speakers of other Slavic languages they're more likely to find the nasal vowels ą and ę an obstacle than those consonants. Usually what's difficult is not necessarily complexity in syntax, morphology, vocabulary or phonology, but what is different to the learner. For example, first-language Arabic speakers can often use ع as a shibboleth, as the sound it represents is uncommon in other languages and therefore for most people it is a sound that has to be learned; languages without T-V distinction can often find problems when learning in using the inappropriate 2nd person, while trying to learn a Uralic language will forever result in a struggle with the numbers of case endings and what they represent, whereas on the other hand first-language Hungarian speakers trying to learn, say, Spanish, may find it difficult to express themselves due to the need to learn a bunch of separate vocabulary to create prepositional phrases or even entire sentences in order to explain what a case ending does for them in their native speech.
There's a name for what you describe here: learner's complexity (or 'agent-related' complexity).
It has however been argued (and I support the argument) that it is also possible to measure a more objective type of complexity. Let's call it objective complexity (or system complexity).
As you probably know, there is tons of literature on the topic (enough of it also online).
Let me briefly summarize:
Let's say the objective degree of complexity equates 'the number of rules required to say X in a given language'. The more rules required, the more complex a language is in that particular domain.
For instance, Kikongo has four morphologically different preterits, English two, Japanese only one. So here it seems possible to say Kikongo is objectively more complex than the other two in that particular domain of the language. In other parts of the language, Kikongo may or may not be more or less complex. The point is if we would go through the same procedure for a statistically large enough amount of features for different languages we could measure and compare their respective objective complexity.
 
Mar 13, 2009
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Portuguese is, to me, the hardest romanic language that I have studied, in orthography, pronunciation and verb system. It's hard for me to judge French, since I have grown up with it, but I can appreciate that it's orthography is more difficult than that of spanish, for example.

I have not studied Romanian, though I had to read some newspaper articles and had a hard time understanding them. The difference from Romanian to French/Spanish/Italian/Portuguese seems larger than the difference between the latter among each other.

I have not studied Catalan, Gallego, Romanche, etc.

Reason I am saying this: today I learnt a second verb tense in portuguese that does not exist in French, Spanish or Italian (though my knowledge on Italian is limited). Already when I learnt the futuro do conjuntivo (subjunctive future), I thought, man, the portuguese really are a perverse people. I'm sure they just made this up to confuse foreigners (I'm sure many people must feel this way at one point when trying to understand the subtleties of a foreign language). But now I find out there is yet another verbe tense that, to my knowledge, is one-of-a-kind among romanic languages: the infinitive pessoal (personal infinitive).

To be fair, both tenses are actually pretty easy to conjugate, and their use is pretty straightforward. But two unique tenses - respect, lusophones. Quite the feat!
 
Just saw this on the Ruta del Sol thread:

Netserk said:
In Denmark you can have an unlimited number of first names, but you must have one, an unlimited number of middle names and exactly one surname. How you refer to someone is, I'd say, up to the person being referred to. Michael M?rk?v isn't being referred to by his surname, but by his first and middle name. (Probably) no one would know who you referred to if you called him Michael Christensen. The same way Michael Valgren is referred to without his surname. On the other hand someone like Chris Anker S?rensen is being referred to by all of his first name, middle name and surname (I think Anker is a middle name to him, but it can be his second first name as well, or, for another person, a surname. That's right you could be named Anker Anker, I don't know if you could be named Anker Anker Anker as well, but I don't think so.).
Interesting. What's a middle name and where does it come from?
Given name or family name?
 
SafeBet said:
Just saw this on the Ruta del Sol thread:



Interesting. What's a middle name and where does it come from?
Given name or family name?
Family name. Usually the surname from your other parent that you don't use as your own surname. Some middle names however can only be middle names and don't origin as a surname.
 
Jan 11, 2010
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SafeBet said:
Just saw this on the Ruta del Sol thread:



Interesting. What's a middle name and where does it come from?
Given name or family name?
The idea that you must have an unlimited number of middle names fascinates me ;)
 
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