Historical Linguistics

by dorayakii 49 Replies latest jw friends

  • greendawn

    From your list I gather the Japanese can't pronounce the L sound and the change it to the closely related R sound eg Solomon = Soromon, Luke = Ruka.

  • dorayakii

    The Japanese "r", is an alveolar flap, similar to the American alveolar tap that replaces British English [t] in words like "better", so its not quite the same "r" as we usually have in English. The tongue flaps once against the alveolar ridge.

    It is a sound between the English alveolar approxmant [r] (in which the tongue doesn't quite touch the ridge) and the Spanish alveolar trill [r] (where the tongue repeatedly trills against the ridge). While we're on the subject, here are some useful phonetic symbols to describe the different types of "r" that i'm unable to type.



    A plosive is a consonent in which the speaker stops the air flow then releases it suddenly in one go. (b, p, d, t, g, k).

    During a trill, the tongue repeatedly taps against the articulation surface.

    During a flap, the tongue touches once against the articulation surface.

    Fricatives involve the narrowing of the space between the two articulating surfaces to produce a hissing noise. (v, f, dh, th, z, s, j, sh)

    Approximants also involve narrowing of the space, but they are more open that fricatives and produce no hissing. (l, r, y, w)

    As you can see, there are many types of "r" in different languages....


    From your list I gather the Japanese can't pronounce the L sound and the change it to the closely related R sound eg Solomon = Soromon, Luke = Ruka.

    The European languages view [l] as a seperate phoneme to the different varieties of [r]... The Japanese have difficulty in distinguishing "l" from "r" because they have neither the [l] nor the [r] as part of their phonemic inventory. So in line with what you said, (but with more precision), they change both [r] and [l] to the closely related alveolar flap [r].

  • Leolaia
    From your list I gather the Japanese can't pronounce the L sound and the change it to the closely related R sound eg Solomon = Soromon, Luke = Ruka.

    It's more complex than that because in reality there are actually over a dozen different sounds which are represented by "l" and "r", so often a language would have a phoneme whose allophonic variants include sounds recognized in English as both "l" and "r" (as in Korean), or would represent a sound that is neither English "l" or "r" but phonetically somewhere in between. English uses several different "r" sounds....a retroflex approximant "r" as in "run", and a retroflex tap "r" (spelled with tt) as in "butter", while Spanish has an alveolar flap "r" (as in pero "but") that contrasts with an alveolar trill (as in perro "dog"), French has an uvular trill, and many languages in India have a retroflex flap that can be also nasalized or murmured. English also has two kinds of "l" that we think of as the same sound even tho they are very different: an alveolar lateral approximant "l" as in "lip" and a velarized alveolar lateral approximant "l" that occurs in "pull". You can hear the difference if you pay attention. Some languages treat those two sounds as completely different contrasting consonants (i.e. as different phonemes), but English has lumped them together as realizations of the same phoneme in different phonetic environments (i.e. non-velarized "l" occurs in the beginning of syllables, the velarized "l" occurs at the end of syllables). There are also retroflex, palatal, and velar lateral approximants (i.e. different kinds of "l") that occur in other languages.

    Japanese uses lateral flaps. This is a sound that to an English speaker sounds like an "r" because it is flapped, but it is actually closer to an "l" because it is lateral like our own English "l". Thus, Japanese speakers pronounce neither an "r" or "l" as is found in the English language, but a different sound that phonetically has features of both. And Japanese flaps also have allophonic variation as well, so a lateral flap may sometimes be realized as an alveolar flap (i.e. Spanish non-trilled "r") in certain phonetic environments; it is really both a lateral and an alveolar flap, just like our English "l" is really both velarized and non-velarized. So to a Japanese ear, our own "l" and "r" sound alike because one is a lateral approximant, another is a retroflex tap/flap, and another is retroflex approximant.

    If you want to pronounce a Japanese lateral flap, say "la la la la la" and notice where the tip of the tongue touches the roof of your mouth. Then say "butter butter butter". Notice that the tongue is now at a different place? Say "la la la la" again to remember where the tongue should be and then say "butter" with the tongue in the place when you say "l". You will hear the difference. Now, if your tongue is a little curled, it will retroflex and will sound like an Indian "r". Make sure you don't curl your tongue.

  • greendawn

    You are really savvy when it comes to linguistics, are you a student of it or are you a linguistics amateur?

  • dorayakii

    Well, mself and Leolaia basically said the same thing but in different ways... our terminology is a little different becuase there are several different approaches to looking at the phonemes.

    You are really savvy when it comes to linguistics, are you a student of it or are you a linguistics amateur?

    I'm a student of Linguistics

  • LittleToe

    So many cunning linguists on this board!

    A fascinating subject with hours of fun

  • greendawn

    Since you are linguists I will ask you a question: what do linguists know about the ancient languages of Europe (eg Iberian in Spain) that were not Indo European, and were they all related?

  • Leolaia

    greendawn....Fascinating question!

    Yes, there were many extinct languages spoken in Europe that are unrelated to Indo-European, such as Iberian and Lusitanian in Spain and Etruscan in Italy. Very little is known about these langauges from what has survived in inscriptions and comments by Greek and Roman writers. As far as we know, none of these ancient Mediterranean languages are related to each other, but again we have too little evidence to draw conclusions from. We do know that the ancient Aquitanian language in Iberia is related to modern-day Basque; in fact, it could be regarded as "Old Basque". But Basque (Euskara) itself is a language isolate, unrelated to any other known language. It is a remnant of a whole family or families of languages once spoken in Europe before the Indo-Europeans (i.e. the Celts especially) moved on in.

    We also have some evidence of these languages in loan words into Spanish, Latin, and Greek, and place names frequently are retained when a new population moves in. Just like today in America, many of our place names have Indian names tho Native American languages are no longer spoken for the most part. It is with this evidence that we can discern that ancient Sumerian (which is also an isolate) once replaced an even older language spoken in Mesopotamia, dubbed Ubaidian, which is also another mystery language.

    Europe also has Uralic languages like Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian...Proto-Uralic was spoken by an ancient people in northern Europe even before the Indo-Europeans moved in, and some old Proto-Germanic or Proto-Balto-Slavic words are demonstrably Uralic loanwords....which must have been borrowed thousands of years ago into Germanic and Balto-Slavic languages.

  • greendawn

    Thanks Leolaia, a very comprehensive answer. They say that there are writings in these languages (Iberian, Etruscan) based on the Greek alphabet, they can be read but not understood.

  • dorayakii

    One of the most fascinating things I find about etymology is the way that words in the Indo-European languages can tell us information about the kind of religion, culture and civilisation that the Proto-Indo-European people had in the Bronze Age of about 4000 BC… 6000 years ago!!!…

    Linguists to ascertain whether a certain group of bronze-age people were sea faring, or were farmers, or were livestock herders. If words have cognates in all of the IE languages, then it is likely that the early Indo-Europeans knew about that particular concept. (On the other hand, if words were invented, or borrowed from neighbouring linguistic groups, that concept is likely to have been discovered/invented at a later date). From the linguistic evidence, we can make a series of 6 suppositions about these people…

    1. Society. The Indo-Europeans were a semi-nomadic, patrilineal society of the Bronze Age. The people were organized in settlements (*weiks; English -wick "village"). Each *weiks probably had its own king (*rek's)… Skanskrit. “ Raj” , Latin “ regere " (to rule)," rex ", rectus (right, correct) Gaelic “ righ”, Gaul. -rix (in personal names, e.g. Vircingetorix ), German “Reich” (kingdom / empire), Old English “ rice " (kingdom), “riht " (correct / right).

    2. Identity. The native name with which these people referred to themselves may have been *aryo- , meaning "noble people”.

    Sanskrit-speaking invaders of India called themselves the “Aryas” meaning “belonging to the hospitable". Old Persian “ Ariya-“ Iranian “ eran” and Avestan “ airyan-” all meant “noble, honorable, respectable”. T he modern name for Persia “Iran” is also from this root.

    The word “Aryan” has been tainted and distorted somewhat by Nazi ideology; because of the misunderstanding that “race” corresponded to language. This for the Nazis it came to mean a "member of a Caucasian Gentile race of Nordic type" . This distorted meaning caused linguists to replace it with the term “Indo-European”.

    3. Religion. A third assumption is that they worshiped a God named *Dei-wo- Pater (Sky Father)

    The principle deities for the early Indo-Europeans were the * deiw-os which meant "daylight", “sky”, "deity", "sun-god”, “sky-god”, "thunder-god".

    For the Greeks, this became "dios" which was paletised to "Zeus" to become the name of the chief deity also called "Zeus pater", "the father of the daylight".

    The Latinate people also had this deity, which they called a "deus" and after having borrowed from the developed mythology of the Greeks, they began to call their chief deity "diu-pater" meaning "god-father" or "god the father". This evolved in various dialects of Latin to "Jupiter" and "Iupeter". From Latin “deus”, French developed the word "dieu" meaning "god".

    Also from this word, developed the Latin word for "day", "dies" from which we derive the word "diary" in English, and the Greek word “daimon” from which English derives the word “demon”.

    In Italian, the god "Jupiter" is now called "Giove", and Jehovah is called "Geova" modelled after the English pronunciation. This often leads to much confusion and consternation if a foreign JW who is learning Italian, has a slip of the tongue and starts referring to "il dio vero, Giove" (the true God, Jupiter) instead of "il dio vero Geova" (the true God, Jehovah).

    Closer to home, the Anglo-Saxon name for the god of the sky (later the god of war and thunder) was "Tiwes" also derived from this same PIE root *deiw-os. We therefore have "Tues-day", the day of the sky-god Tiwes. (Strangely it could also mean "the day of the day" as *deiw-os could have meant "day" as well as "sun-god").

    Also from this same word we have Lithuanian "dievas", "a god", Latvian "dievs", "a god"; and Russian "divny", now meaning "wonderful" (but originally meaning "godly").

    An even more interesting journey of this word is its journey to Sanskrit (the precursor to modern Indian languages). The speakers of Sanskrit had a plethora of Gods named "devah", and their principal deity was called "Dyauspita " meaning "heavenly father" (See how similar it is to Latin "Diu-pater", "Dius-pater", “Jupiter”).

    And to top it off with the icing on the cake, in vulgar Latin, "divus" meant "divine one". The feminine form "diva" was passed onto Italian and came to mean "goddess", or "fine lady". This was then passed onto English where it came to its present meaning of "a distinguished female singer".

    4. Domesticated / non-domesticated animals. A fourth supposition is that they probably were the first bronze-age people to domesticate the horse. They bred cattle and relied heavily on animal husbandry. They lived in a region inhabited also by wolves.

    The wolf or *wlup-os (or *wluk-os) inhabited their habitat…

    k-variety : Sanskrit “ vrkas ”, Greek “lykos”, Albanian “ ulk”, Russian “ volcica” , Lithuanian “ vilkas”…

    p-variety : Latin “lupus”, French “loup”, German “ Wolf ” Old English “wuluf” / “wulf”… (remeber the "p" to "f" thing?... "pater" to "father"... "pod" to "foot"... "wul-p" to "wul-f")

    From the PIE root *ekw-os (horse) comes Latin “equus”, Sanskrit “ asvah”, Greek “ hippos”, and Old Irish “ ech”. Old English cognate “eoh” was replaced by the Proto-Germanic *khursa- meaning, “to run” (course). This became Ol d English “ hursa”, then "horsa" and modern “horse”…

    The original IE word *ekwos was also replaced in most of the other IE languages (Vulgar Latin “caballus” Welsh “ceffyl”, French “cheval”, German “Pferd” Slovak “kona”). I’ll have to do some more research as to what those replacements mean on a historico-linguistic level.

    Cattle or *gwo-us were the most important animals to them, and the number of cows a man owned would be the measure of his wealth. The word "cow" in Old English was "cu", in German it is "Kuh"... in Sanskrit it was "gaus" , and originally, in PIE, it is theorised to be * gwous . (Sheep and goats were also kept, presumably by the less wealthy.)

    What is more striking is that likely candidates for cognates have been found in many other non-PIE languages, notably Sumerian " gu " and Chinese " ngu " or " ngo ". Perhaps it was an onomatopoeic word imitative of the sound that the animal makes... "moo".. "ngu"... ???

    5. Climate. They lived in a snowy climate, and they were familiar with large lakes, but not with oceans.

    Indo-European *sniegwh-/*snoigwho produced Old English “ snaw ", Old High German “ sneo” , Old Frisian “ sne ” Middle Dutch “ snee” , Modern Dutch “ sneeuw” , German “ Schnee” .

    Also, Greek “ nipha” , L. nix (genetive case “ nivis” ), French “neige”, Old Irish “ snechta ”, Welsh “ nyf” , Lithuanian “ sniegas ” Russian “ snieg'” and Slovak ” sneh”.

    Many cognates of PIE *lak, meaning “lake” exist in IE languages, Irish “loch”, French “lac”, Greek “lakkos”, and Latin “ lacus”… but have no common word for “ocean”.

    6. Technology. A last assumption, is that they invented the wheel during the Bronze age (just before the time when the first split in the Indo-European languages occurred).

    I've always found it absolutely fascinating and amazing how you can see the resemplace of the PIE word *kwe-kwlo spoken 5500 years ago, to the Greek "ky-klo" / "cyclo" and to the Old English "hweo-gol" / "hweol" and eventually modern "wheel".

    To think that bronze age humans invented this strange object, this… "wheel", and the word that they invented for it, "kwe-kwe" which just probably simply meant, literally "spin-spin", is still used by Western civilisation, 5500 years later in a variety of ways. This is the joy of historico-linguistics that really fires your imagination.

    From all this linguistic information, linguists and historians were able to construct a hypothesis of what the society, identity, religion, climate, and technology of the Indo-European people were like. (In addition, to know that these people lived at or even before the time when Adam and Eve are said to be created in Genesis... and waaaay before Great Flood, and the supposed confusion of languages at Babel).

    Their ancient society really comes to life in your mind, just by looking at a few common words... How amazing is that?!?!

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