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Thread: Language as a Clue to Prehistory

  1. Top | #11
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Latin itself had some relatives, notably Faliscan, Oscan, and Umbrian. They are known from inscriptions around roughly 500 - 100 BCE, much like early Latin. In fact, one can see some changes from early Latin to canonical Classical Latin.

    Lucius Cornelius Scipio (consul 259 BC) - his epitaph:

    Original:
    Honc oino ploirume cosentiont Romai
    duonoro optumo fuise viro
    Luciom Scipione. Filios Barbati
    consol censor aidilis hic fuet apud vos,
    hec cepit Corsica Aleriaque urbe,
    dedet Tempestatebus aide meretod votam.

    Classical Latin:
    Hunc unum plurimi consentiunt Romae
    bonorum optimum fuisse virum
    Lucium Scipionem. Filius Barbati,
    Consul, Censor, Aedilis hic fuit.
    Hic cepit Corsicam Aleriamque urbem
    dedit tempestatibus aedem merito.

    English translation:
    Romans for the most part agree,
    that this one man, Lucius Scipio, was the best of good men.
    He was the son of Barbatus,
    Consul, Censor, Aedile.
    He took Corsica and the city of Aleria.
    He dedicated a temple to the Storms as a just return.

    Notice some changes between Old Latin and Classical Latin.

  2. Top | #12
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Can we go further? As Romans conquered Greece, they adopted a lot of Greek culture, even identifying Greek deities with theirs. They noticed that their languages are rather similar, and they concluded that Latin is descended from Greek. It was about 2000 years before anyone made any improvements on this. By the seventeenth century, Europeans had become acquainted with India, and they noticed something odd about Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, the oldest Hindu religious literature. It had a remarkable resemblance to Latin and Greek. By the early nineteenth century, this led to the recognition of the Indo-European family, or Indo-Germanic (Indogermanisch) as German speakers like to call it.

    The earliest recorded Germanic languages and their reconstructed ancestor, Proto-Germanic.
    A prefixed * denotes a reconstruction.
    Old English án twá þrí féower fíf sex seofon eahta niɣon tíen
    Old High German ein zwâ drî fior fimf sehs sibun ahto niun zehan
    Old Norse einn tveir thrír fjórir fimm sex sjau átta níu tíu
    Gothic ains twai þreis fidwor fimf saíhs sibun ahtau niun taíhun
    Proto-Germanic *ainaz *twai *þrijiz *fiþwor *fimfi *seks *sibum *ahtō *niwun *tehun

    Latin ūnus duo trēs quattuor quinque sex septem octō novem decem

    Classical Greek heīs dúō treīs téttares pénte héx heptá oktṓ ennéa déka
    Greek éna ðío tría téssera pénde éksi eftá oχtó ennéa ðéka

    Slavic:
    Russian odín dva tri četÿre pyat’ šest’ sem’ vósem’ dévyat’ désyat’
    Czech jeden dva tři čtyři pět šest sedm osm devět deset
    Serbo-Croat jèdan dvâ trî čètiri pêt šêst sëdam ösam dëvēt dësēt

    Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

    With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
    Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ

    Outside the Indo-European family:

    Semitic languages:
    Akkadian ištēn šena šalaš erbe h`amiš šiššu sebe samāne tiše ešer
    Arabic wāḥid iθnān θalāθah ’arba‘ah χamsah sittah sab‘ah θamāniyyah tis‘ah ‘ašarah
    Classical Hebrew ’aḥat štayim šâlôš ’arba‘ ḥâmêš šêš šeba‘ šᵉmôneh têša‘ ‘eser
    Biblical Aramaic ḥaḏ tərên təlāṯā ʾarbəʿâ ḥamšâ šittâ šiḇʿâ təmānyâ tišʿâ ʿaśrâ
    Amharic and hulät sost arat ammɨst sɨddɨst säbat sɨmmɨnt zät’äññ asɨr

    There is some resemblance in the words for 6 and 7, but that is about it.

  3. Top | #13
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    As to what Proto-Indo-European was like, linguist August Schleicher decided to illustrate what he had worked out: Schleicher's fable

    The Sheep and the Horses

    [On a hill,] a sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

    Schleicher 1868 (rather Sanskrit-like)

    Avis, jasmin varnā na ā ast, dadarka akvams, tam, vāgham garum vaghantam, tam, bhāram magham, tam, manum āku bharantam. Avis akvabhjams ā vavakat: kard aghnutai mai vidanti manum akvams agantam.

    Akvāsas ā vavakant: krudhi avai, kard aghnutai vividvant-svas: manus patis varnām avisāms karnauti svabhjam gharmam vastram avibhjams ka varnā na asti.

    Tat kukruvants avis agram ā bhugat.

    Lehmann and Zgusta 1979 (other recent versions are much like this one)

    Owis eḱwōskʷe

    Gʷərēi owis, kʷesjo wl̥hnā ne ēst, eḱwōns espeḱet, oinom ghe gʷr̥um woǵhom weǵhontm̥, oinomkʷe meǵam bhorom, oinomkʷe ǵhm̥enm̥ ōḱu bherontm̥. Owis nu eḱwobh(j)os (eḱwomos) ewewkʷet: "Ḱēr aghnutoi moi eḱwōns aǵontm̥ nerm̥ widn̥tei". Eḱwōs tu ewewkʷont: "Ḱludhi, owei, ḱēr ghe aghnutoi n̥smei widn̥tbh(j)os (widn̥tmos): nēr, potis, owiōm r̥ wl̥hnām sebhi gʷhermom westrom kʷrn̥euti. Neǵhi owiōm wl̥hnā esti". Tod ḱeḱluwōs owis aǵrom ebhuget.

  4. Top | #14
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    Language does get mixed up together.

    Sapnish prhrases are common in conversation here in Seattle.

    I listend to Spanish language CDs. As I went along I realized language expresses a culture mor than I reralized.

    Spanish speaking immigrants can sound like they are speaking bad English when they are conflating Spamish and Enlish. They fit Enf glish into Spanish form.

    It is like language expresses diffeent thought process and paradigms through structure.

    Ethiopian immigrants will commonly say 'I get you' for 'I will get it for you'. Spanish speakers similar.

    I'd say language is history. Society has become hyper fast. Text and vrrbal communication has been compressed with acronyms and other short phrases.

    Some languages have no specific word for self, or words for leaving. One never leaves even if gone for weeks in an island culture.

  5. Top | #15
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Such linguistic crosstalk produces combinations like Spanglish - Spanish + English.

    Standard Average European is likely a result of such crosstalk in western Europe. Here's a nice video: Euroversals - Are all European languages alike? - YouTube French and German are the most alike, the result of the "Charlemagne sprachbund", named after that medieval king's empire. A sprachbund is set of languages which have converged on features because their speakers live close enough to suffer from lots of linguistic crosstalk. European languages in number of Euroversals:
    • French, German
    • Other Romance, Germanic languages
    • Slavic languages
    • (hardly any Euroversals) Celtic langs, Finnish, Turkish, Basque

    This also correlates with the US State Department's estimates of language difficulty. It is roughly I: Romance and most Germanic languages, II: most languages, III: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Category I contains those languages high on Euroversals. II and III contain medium to low in Euroversals.

  6. Top | #16
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    That is not a correct definition of the term cross talk, which refers to a systemic situation where signals are being exchanged but messages are not being correctly received and interpreted by their intended recipients. So two speakers of Spanglish are not engaging in cross talk, as they have actually created a consensus language that both are fluent in. Blended languages such as Spanglish occur because of two processes, pidginization and creolization. Cross talk is more common in cases where two speakers speak the same primary language but different dialects, sociolects, or vocational jargons.

  7. Top | #17
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    I return to Proto-Indo-European.

    Some linguists disdain trying to construct protolanguage text, but others consider it a good exercise for showing off how much one can be confident in about a protolanguage. Schleicher's fable is the best-known, and The king and the god is a recent example. In any case, much such research is on how one got from there to here.

    One gets
    • Phonology - how it was pronounced.
    • Vocabulary
    • Grammar

    Indo-European is the best-studied of the larger language families, and even there, there are lots of differences in opinion on what Proto-Indo-European was like.

    PIE phonology was a bit complicated, so I will discuss only a few issues about it here.

    PIE had several stop consonants, inferred from correspondences like English foot ~ German Fuss ~ Latin ped- ~ Greek pod- ~ Sanskrit pad- ~ PIE *ped-, English two ~ German zwei ~ Latin duô ~ Greek duô ~ Russian dva ~ Sanskrit dvâ ~ PIE *dwô, English three ~ German drei ~ Latin três ~ Greek treis ~ Russian tri ~ Sanskrit trayas ~ PIE *treyes, English hundred ~ German hundert ~ Latin centum ~ Greek hekaton ~ Russian sto ~ Sanskrit satam ~ PIE *kmtom, ...

    p t k' k kw
    b d g' g gw
    bh dh gh' gh gwh
    The columns are for point of articulation, where the sound is made: labial (lips together), dental (tongue against teeth), palatovelar (tongue against upper back of mouth), velar (tongue against back of mouth), and labiovelar (like velar, but with lips close together).

    The rows are for voicing. They are traditionally reconstructed as unvoiced, voiced, and voiced aspirate, but in recent decades, some alternative reconstructions have been proposed. What are aspirate consonants? These consonants have a puff of breath after the main consonant sound, and English has some unvoiced aspirates.

    till still
    pill spill
    kill skill

    The first one is aspirate, and the second one non-aspirate. This "complementary distribution", as linguists call it, means that these two "phones" (low-level sounds) are "allophones" (sound variants) of "phonemes" (high-level sounds).

    However, some languages distinguish voiceless aspirates and nonaspirates. Chinese does, and it has no voiced stops. The Wade-Giles transcription of Chinese indicates aspirates with apostrophes, while the Pinyin transcription omits them and writes nonaspirates in voiced. Thus:
    Wade-Giles Pinyin
    P'in-yin Pinyin
    Mao Tse-tung Mao Zedong
    The Thai language also distinguishes aspirates and nonaspirates, and also voiced consonants.

  8. Top | #18
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    There are some problems with the traditional reconstruction of the PIE stops. Among known languages, when a language has voiced aspirates, it also has unvoiced ones, and in this reconstruction, there is no convincing evidence for voiceless aspirates.

    Another problem is the rarity of *b, when the language has plenty of both *p and *bh. Example of the latter: English be ~ German bi- ~ Latin fu- ~ Greek phu- ~ Russian by- ~ Sanskrit bhav- ~ PIE *bheu- When a language lacks one of /p/ and /b/, it is always /p/ and never /b/. That means that the voiced unaspirated stops are likely some voiceless ones.

    A prominent alternative is the "glottalic theory", where instead of traditional T, D, Dh, it's T(h), T', D(h), where the T and D standard for unvoiced and voiced stops. The "glottalic" sounds are the T' ones, pronounced with a small pause between the consonant and the following sound. Here is a table:
    • Traditional: T, D, Dh
    • Glottalic: T(h), T', D(h)
    • Thai-like: Th, T, D


    Turning to grammar, PIE was very different from English and much like Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. It had eight noun cases and complete sets of personal verb endings, though it was rather short on verb tenses. It had three aspects, imperfective (incomplete action), perfective (complete action), and stative (constant state). It had two main verb voices, active and mediopassive (reflexive + passive).

    Its noun cases: vocative (for addressing someone), nominative (subject), accusative (object), genitive (of-case), dative (to-case), instrumental (with-case), locative (in-case), and ablative (from-case).

    Its basic word order was subject-object-verb, unlike English subject-verb-object. It had no definite article, no word for "the". It indicated possession much like how Russian does, with "at me is something" instead of "I have something".

    The earliest dialects of PIE likely had two grammatical genders, common and neuter, with common quickly getting split into masculine and feminine, making three. PIE had a dual number in addition to singular and plural; dual is a plural for two things.

    PIE had lots of vowel shifts or "ablaut", and some of it survives, like in the past tenses and past participles of "strong" verbs in English and other Germanic languages.

  9. Top | #19
    Member aupmanyav's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

    With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
    Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ
    That also shows that decimal system perhaps existed with PIE.
    Yeah, returning after a long time. The forum structure here is different.

  10. Top | #20
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aupmanyav View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca ṣaṣ saptá aṣṭá náva dáśa

    With this reconstruction of their ancestral forms:
    Proto-Indo-European *oynos / *sem *duwō *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe *sweks *septṃ *oktō *newṇ *dekṃ
    That also shows that decimal system perhaps existed with PIE.
    Yeah, returning after a long time. The forum structure here is different.
    Yes, indeed PIE had a decimal system. A word for "hundred" can also be reconstructed, but "thousand" varies among the dialects.

    This leaves vocabulary, and one can make a lot of cultural inferences for what a language's speakers have words for.

    The most stable sorts of vocabulary are, however, not very good for cultural inferences, because they are very commonplace. Indo-European vocabulary Words for "Sun", "Moon", "fire", "water", "name", "eye", "ear", "tongue", "tooth", "foot", "to be", "to go", "to come", "big", "young", "old", "red", ...

    But some words are for things that are not as commonplace, and these words have been used to try to locate the place and time where the Proto-Indo-European speakers lived.

    For a long time, words for various kinds of trees were used, because different species have different ranges, and that would presumably be helpful. For example:

    English birch ~ German Birke ~ Swedish björk ~ Latin fraxinus ("ash tree") ~ Russian beryoza ~ Sanskrit bhurja ("Himalayan birch") ~ PIE *bherHgos
    English beech ~ German Buche ~ Swedish bok ~ Latin fâgus ~ Greek phêgos ("oak") ~ Russian buk ~ PIE *bheh2gos

    So one must look for birches and beeches. But these trees grow over a wide area, so that is not very helpful.

    Some words are more variable, like words for oak trees
    English oak ~ German Eiche ~ Proto-Germanic *aiks
    Latin quercus ~ English fir ~ PIE *perkus
    Russian dub ~ Proto-Slavic *dobu

    So we must look elsewhere.

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