Historical Linguistics

by dorayakii 49 Replies latest jw friends

  • Pole

    :Pole as I said I am not a linguist and if what you are saying is right then all the books I read about the classification of the Slavic languages have to be rewritten on this point because they all class Russian-Ukrainian-Byelorussian as East Slavic and Polish-Czech-Slovak as West Slavic. Your contention is that Ukrainian should be in the West Slavic sub branch.
    No books have to be re-written ;-). Here is what I said actually:

    :In any case there is no good reason to lump together Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian as different dialects of the same language.
    Of course I'm not re-classifying Ukrainian as a West Slavic language from a historical perspective. My only point is that - taking a purely synchronic perspective - I object to your notion of "the Russian languages". That's why I emphasized the fact that there are striking similarities between Polish and Ukrainian.
    I guess my little point about Ukrainian-Polish-Russian boils down to putting the diachronic classification in a synchronic perspective. Again, I'm not questioning any diachronic dogmas. I accept most of them, but I also point out that their explanatory power is limited and sometimes they lead to misconceptions.
    :A genetic classification like the one given for Polish as West Slavic is perfectly valid, because the earliest strata in the lexicon has a set of sound correspondences that group it with other West Slavic languages.
    Sure. Diachronically correct. But, as an example, it may be interesting to notice that the set of Polish phonemes is more similar to that of Italian than it is to that of Russian. This is purely coincidental, but it serves to illustrate my point.
    One more unimportant comment on what you wrote: I guess there is a subtle difference between the influence of, say, Norman French on English and the influence of genetically close languages like Polish and Ukrainian on each other. The latter are much more likely to interfere with each other not only at the level of the lexicon, but also at the level of grammar (if we maintain the classical division between the lexicon and grammar which I'm not such a big fan of, but that's a totally different story).

    BTW, this is a good thread and all I'm trying to do is introduce some synchronic controversy ;-).

  • mustang


    [I will use Pinyin here; Pinyin is the Romanization of Standard Chinese (Mandarin). Pinyin lets us English speakers and writers put Chinese into English writing; it sort of helps with pronunciation, as well. The big thing is that Pinyin lets us read their street signs.]

    You forgot that "ma" is also used to denote a question. (I forget which "tone" it is; I'm real bad at "tones".)

    For example, "ni hao" is used for "hello" (literally "you good", said in greeting), but does not expect a response; whereas "ni hao ma" (literally "you good" + "question mark", "ma" adding the question) interrogatively now expects a response, making the meaning "how are you?".

    As long as you are expositing on this, Pinyin is interesting, as are other "Romanizations".

    It appears that you are or have a Japanese background and have been involved with Chinese by necessity. I am in my 18 th year of First Year Mandarin, by necessity; I am nan pungyou of "Dragon Lady" [not of this board].

    Mustang ,

    Whose Significant Other (nin pungyou/tai-tai/ai ren) is a native Chinese speaker (Hokkien/Cantonese/Mandarin/TeoChew) with extensive English second language training but has also studied and/or speaks Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish and Vietnamese; but I'm better at Pinyin than she is

  • Abaddon

    I had to do business in Romania in the past couple of years. I had previously assumed it was a Slavic language, but found out (its sound is a dead give-away, it sounds 'like' Italian) it was a Roamnce language like Spanish Italian or French.

    Interestingly rather than "si" for yes, they use "da" ('like' Russian). As many common phrases are very similar to Italian (greetings, enquiry of name etc.) this is surprising. I don't know when they started using what seems to be a loan word for such a common word.

  • Leolaia

    Pole....I agree with what you say about the synchronic status of the language, and I see looking back to greendawn's original remark ("I would guestimate that Ukrainian being an East Slavic language is nearer to Russian than Polish which is West Slavic") that he was talking about the character of the language as it is today. The "fallacy" that you mention is one of viewing the contemporary language through the diachronic lens of some earlier stage in its history (which is not representative of how the language works today)...

    not only at the level of the lexicon, but also at the level of grammar (if we maintain the classical division between the lexicon and grammar which I'm not such a big fan of, but that's a totally different story).

    LOL, indeed....if you follow lexical-functional grammar, that is indeed where you find much of the grammatical info for the syntax (right in the lexical entries of the morphemes)...

  • greendawn

    Romanian is a Latin language though surrounded by a sea of slavic speakers a strange fact but somehow this language did survive the slavic inundation and surprisingly that area (Dacia) hadn't been under Roman rule for that long, only about 160 years.

    Pole if I understood well your opinion is that Ukrainian is nearer to Polish than Russian is to Polish though overall Ukrainian itself is nearer to Russian.

  • Pole


    :Pole if I understood well your opinion is that Ukrainian is nearer to Polish than Russian is to Polish though overall Ukrainian itself is nearer to Russian.

    Yes, I guess you could put it that way. Plus I was making a distinction between diachronic (genetic) similarities and synchronic ones (that is the similarities between languages as they are today if we largely disregard their history), e.g. Ukrainian sounds way more similar to me as a speaker of Polish than Czech, although the latter is a West Slavic language genetically. On the other hand Slovak sounds strikingly similar, although it is really only marginally different from Czech.

    Speaking of Slavic languages. There is this cool project named "Slovio" (http://www.slovio.com/), where some folks took a core set of Slavic vocabulary which gets repeated across all the Slavic languages (or at least they try to maximize this factor). The point is to make an artificial language that would be understandable for all speakers of Slavic languages without having to learn much of it. I must say it works pretty well, although the grammar and morphology have been extremely simplified, compared with what we have in most Slavic languages.


    :LOL, indeed....if you follow lexical-functional grammar, that is indeed where you find much of the grammatical info for the syntax (right in the lexical entries of the morphemes)...

    That one I'm much more fond of ;-). Basically because many lexical-functional models are computationally applicable and that's somthing I'm really interested in.


  • dorayakii

    Wow, what an interesting and dynamic discussion, I didn’t expect it to receive so much interest. Umm, mustang, I really don’t speak any Mandarin or Cantonese at all, I just know that famous sentence. I believe the last "ma" in the sentence is toneless and is the question marker of which you speak. All the other components of the sentence have been accounted for: "maama mà màá de má ma" ~ mother-scold-horse-de-hemp-question…

    Would I be right in assuming that the "de" here is the possessive marker? Or does it in fact give a progressive meaning to the verb "" ?

    btw I’ve written double letters in order to represent accurately the tones on the forum; I wasn’t able to write the proper rising then falling or level tone accents.

  • badboy

    Albanian may not have came from Illyrian because Albanian doesn't contain significiant number of loan-words from Greek.

  • dorayakii

    After 7 months, i think we need a resurrection…

    It has been suggested that Japanese is a kind of Creole, with an Altaic grammatical substructure, and core Austronesian vocabulary. Evidence for this theory lies in the fact that like Turkish and Korean, Japanese is an agglutinative language.

    Additionally, there are a suggestive number of apparently regular correspondences in basic vocabulary, such as Japanese “ishi” (stone) to Turkic “das”, Japanese “yo” (four) to Turkic "dört"… they may not look much alike to you but, they display regular correspondences to each other as as does the English “four” to Old English “feower”, Old German “*fetuor”, Latin “quattuor” Lithuanian “keturi”, Old Irish “cethir”, Welsh “pedwar” and Sanskrit “catvarah which categorically put these languages in the same Indo-European Language Family. Lets have a look at some evidence which i hope is more compelling for putting Japanese in the same Altaic lanuage family as Turkish...


    Lets consider just one pair of the supposedly related words. Japanese “hashimasu” and Turkish “kosmak” both meaning “to run”. (prononced "hashimas" "koshmak" respectively).

    How can these two words be related to each other? How can the “k” of Turkish relate to both the “h” and “s” of Japanese?

    Well if we look at three primitive language family trees for the Indo European words which give us modern English words, “heart”, “core”, “horn” and “hound”, even if we don’t enumerate the reasons for or the processes involved in such a phonetic shift, we may be able to accept the possibility of such a change.


    If we pay close attention to the Germanic words, we notice that at some point in history, the Indo-European velar plosive “k” weakened into a Proto-Germanic velar fricative “kh” then further into the modern English glottal fricative “h”.

    Similarly, looking at the Sanskrit and Slavic words, although the process is not as clearly defined, the Indo-European velar plosive “k” would probably have gone through a similar phase as a velar fricative before moving to the front of the mouth as the alveolar fricative “s”.
    However (assuming that “k” was the original sound), how can the same letter in the mother language (“k”) change to two different letters, and do that in the same daughter language (e.g. “s” and “h”)?

    Well phonemes (sounds) undergo changes at different stages of a languages development. One particular change might occur at one point in its history (k à s) then another at another stage of its development (k to h… or perhaps s to h )…

    To illustrate the complexity of phonemic shifts (sound changes), in Old English the word “scyrte” meant a short garment and was pronounced somewhat like //skeerta//. A nationwide phonetic change then occurred perhaps through imitation and transmission that caused the word to be pronounced //sheerta//. Perhaps it was the latest fashion among Anglo-Saxon youths or maybe it was the newest in-thing to pronounce the word like this. In fact all existing words in Old English beginning with “sk” were softened to “sh”. At that time there was not one word in English with the consonant cluster “sk”… That is, until the Vikings and Danes began to invade. As they integrated into Anglo-Saxon culture, they introduced a plethora of Old Norse words into Old English vocabulary including “sky”, “skin”, “skip”, “skull”, “skill” “scatter”… and …“skyrta”, which did not replace, but peacefully coexisted with the Anglo-Saxon words “heaven”, “hide”, “ship”, “shell”, “craft”, “shatter” and “scyrte” respectively… The word “scyrte” evolved into “shirt” and the word “skyrta” into “skirt”, two different words, and two different short garments, but one common origin.

    So here we see, that the same phoneme cluster “sk” in Old English became two different phoneme clusters in the same language (sk to sk) and (sk to sh)…

    So coming back to the point, (across a slight diversion) perhaps this is the sort of thing that happened to the Proto-Altaic sound “k” which perhaps remained the same in Turkish but changed at two or more different points in Japanese.

    Frankly, we don’t know enough about the early developments, invasions and borrowings of early Japanese to be able to formulate a solid theory about the suggested phneme changes (k to s) and (k to h), but this is enough to speculate that both the “s” and “h” of “hashimasu” could have come from Proto-Altaic “k” under different conditions and at different points in history.

    Hmmmmm… hashimasu… kosmak… hashimas… koshmak… hashmak… koshmas… khashmask…… am I stretching it a bit here???

    If anyone had some thoughts regarding this theory or relating to any of the other words in the list, feel free to reply.

    Dorayakii... of the “Association for the Common Origin of the World’s Language Super-Families” aka “ACOWLSF”…… (which is in no way affiliated with the “Genesis Foundation for the Vindication of the Post-Deluvian, Tower of Babel Story” aka “GFVPDTBS”)

  • Narkissos

    Thanks dorayakii. Fascinating stuff as usual.

    The "horn/corne" example brings to mind the fringe phenomenon of apparent Semitic/Indo-European overlapping (coincidences, early loanwords?) -- "horn" is qrn in Hebrew. Other famous cases in Hebrew are yd` ("to know," cf. Greek oida), or yyn ("wine," cf. Greek oinos). While the latter might be easily explained as a loanword, this doesn't work quite as well for the first two imho.

    Within the Indo-European area, the status of Iranian (Persian, Farsi, Afghani etc.) lexica and their close phonetic resemblance to English and German are particularly remarkable -- family nouns like "father," "mother," "daughter," but also usual words like "bad," comparatives in -tar (behtar = "better")... suggesting that independent lines of derivation can be phonetically parallel as well as divergent?

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