Questions tagged [comparative-linguistics]

A study of the relationships or correspondences between the languages that have a common origin. Formerly known as Comparative Grammar, Comparative Philology.

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How similar are Ukrainian and Russian?

How similar are the Ukrainian and Russian languages? For example, can I reasonably expect that anybody from Ukraine would be able to understand spoken Russian or be able to read a Russian text?
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11 answers
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Articles before the name of a person

In the question “La” or “le” before a person's name? on the French SE site, the asker refers to the phenomenon that in some rural/dialect settings the first name of a person is preceded by the ...
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Are there grammatical analyses of languages that are extremely different from IE grammar?

It's a fact that the grammar core of most European languages (not only IE ones) can be analysed in a relatively precise common framework. Of course I do not know much of these languages, but the basic ...
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4 answers
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Worldwide map or data for linguistic distance?

I came upon an excellent graphical representation of the linguistic distance between a number of European languages. I'm looking for a similar worldwide map of currently spoken languages. Or at least ...
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12 answers
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Which languages have different words for "maternal uncle" and "paternal uncle"?

According to some early Hebrew grammarians, the Biblical Hebrew word דוד (dod) specifically means "paternal uncle," while the term מסרף (misraf) means "maternal uncle" (for example,...
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20 votes
8 answers
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What are some interesting features that are common cross-linguistically but don't exist in English?

This is on purpose not a very concrete question, I simply want to know some interesting properties other languages have that English doesn't, or features you even think English ought to have, this can ...
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18 votes
3 answers
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Is it possible to predict language changes?

The comparative method is used to reconstruct unattested languages from the attested ones. By comparing different sounds for the same words in various sister languages, it is possible to infer some ...
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17 votes
1 answer
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Is it possible to analyse Māori grammar without contrasting nouns and verbs?

In order to prepare myself for a glorious sports event this weekend, I've bought and read a book about Māori. If my sources are to be believed, Māori is relatively close to other Polynesian languages, ...
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1 answer
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Latin, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French number words from eleven to nineteen - history of a bizarre, inconsistent construction

Following Sklivvz's advice, I propose here a question I made in Italian Language. Because I am not sure how I should do this, I will just copy/paste the whole lot. Let's count in Latin from one to ...
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16 votes
4 answers
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Are Hungarian and Turkish related?

I was told by somebody who has lived near Hungary that she thought that Hungarian and Turkish were related, and that their languages are very similar. A brief google search seems to support this. ...
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16 votes
5 answers
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Do linguists measure the relation distance between languages? How?

Sometimes, I read passages like: Languages X, Y and Z in region A are closely related to each other, comparable to French, Italian and Spanish in Western Europe. The discussion in the question "Do ...
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What is the relation between the words "Cossack" and "Kazakh"?

These two words in English would appear to refer to foreign peoples / cultures known to the Rus within recorded history. The Russian wikipedia pages indicate a surface similarity in spelling: ...
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12 votes
3 answers
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Efficient linguistic algorithms for detecting language of a website?

Some browser addons and web-services for website/dictionary translation sometimes offer a "automatic-language-detection" feature. This works more or less in my experience. There is probably a variety ...
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3 answers
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Why does the name of the flower 'Forget-me-not' have the same meaning in other languages?

The flower forget-me-not is named "Vergissmeinnicht" in German and "Незабудка" in Russian. The meaning is the same in all three languages. Is this a coincidence?
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11 votes
3 answers
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Database of Swadesh lists

Do anyone know where to find the most extensive collection of Swadesh lists? And with how many different languages in the collection?
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11 votes
2 answers
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Is it obvious that the difference between French/German is much larger than between Mandarin/Cantonese?

In another Linguistics.SE question, an answer makes this claim: The difference between French and German is so much larger than between Mandarin/Cantonese that one would be hard pressed to say they ...
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10 votes
2 answers
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Why do languages have different syllable complexity from each other?

Assuming human vocal tracts are similar and equally capable of articulating different syllable structures, why is it that languages develop different syllable complexity? Why is it that it is not ...
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7 answers
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Are there any languages with the equivalent of "both" for three items?

Referring to this question it seems that English does not have the equivalent of "both" for three items. Although it would seem to be a useful word, I am unaware of its existence in any languages. Is ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Can or has the comparative method be used in current Arabic dialects to reconstruct Classical Arabic?

The comparative method has been used in modern Romance languages to piece together Vulgar Latin and Proto Romance. Has the same been done for the modern Arabic dialects to recreate the last descendant ...
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What kind of features support the claim that Slavic languages are closer to Germanic languages than to Indo-Iranian languages?

Inspired by this answer to a different question, I ask what kind of features justify a claim that Balto-Slavic languages are closer to Germanic languages than to Indo-Iranian languages. The features ...
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9 votes
4 answers
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Why proto-languages?

Nowadays all the leading works on historical linguistics consider Proto-Slavic (you can put here anything you wish but I will talk about Slavonic studies) language as a fact (yes, there can be said ...
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Are there any known natural languages in which tense is never (or very rarely) expressed through the modification of verbs?

I should probably confess up front that I don't have a great deal of knowledge of foreign languages, but I have lately taken a strong interest in the structure and nature of language, and have spent a ...
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9 votes
3 answers
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Where can I find a reliable academic source of translations of words to the world's languages?

In this recent question, I was trying to research a list of translation for "no", and a quick google found this page. That website also has other similar pages, like translation of "Hello", "Good ...
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9 votes
2 answers
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Which indigenous languages have marked Ancestral/Mythological Past in grammars?

I have found a mention on such a system among some South American native languages in Adam Jacot de Boinod's book I Never Knew There's A Word For It. Non-academic reading, which doesn't make it less ...
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8 votes
6 answers
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Which Indo European language best preserves the features of Proto Indo-European?

Among all attested Indo European languages, which one best preserves the features of Proto Indo-European? Which is most useful in the reconstruction of PIE?
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8 votes
2 answers
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How often are dictionary etymologies wrong?

How often are the etymologies in dictionaries incorect? Sometimes when reading a dictionary I see a derivation of a word which contradicts my intuition. For example I read that "ball" comes from ...
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8 votes
2 answers
178 views

Can computational techniques solve historical problems that couldn't otherwise be solved?

Recently I've read that machine learning has been used to apply the Comparative Method (example with references here). Also, there are other mathematical approaches that have been applied to the ...
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8 votes
2 answers
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How different are Urdu and Hindi?

My family are Pakistani, but I never learned Urdu as a child. I'd like to learn a little, primarily as a means of keeping this part of my heritage alive. However, the pragmatist in me realizes that ...
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8 votes
4 answers
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Are different varieties of German closer to each other than different Slav languages?

Are different varieties of German (e.g. Bavarian and Low German) closer to each other than different Slav languages (e.g. Russian and Polish)? The lexical distance map from https://elms.wordpress.com/...
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8 votes
12 answers
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What are the exact relations between Slovak and Slovene?

The former seems to have more speakers, while the latter seems to possess the elder history. Slovak said to be a West Slavic language, while Slovene seems to belong to the South Slavic group (...
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8 votes
1 answer
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Measuring oral comprehensibility between different language

Recently I was wondering whether some languages are inherently more comprehensible when spoken, than others. Has this been measured in any way? To make things more precise, let's define a "please say ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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Are the words "blue" and "red" universally linked to coldness and warmness in different languages?

We often talk about warm vs cold colors. When someone feels sad, we say she "feels blue". I conjecture this may be universal across cultures due to our experience with the warmness of the ...
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8 votes
1 answer
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Is there a measure for grammatical similarity?

Something I see from time to time is the proportion of words from various sources, e.g. English has about 29% French, 29% Latin, 26% Germanic and 6% Greek words. I've never seen anything similar with ...
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8 votes
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Oldest proto-languages

Dating proto-languages is obviously something we can't do precisely, but we can offer reasonable ranges. For example, Proto-Indo-European can't really be much younger than 5 millennia, and let's say ...
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How different were Proto-Italic and Proto-Germanic?

It's (generally) accepted that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) evolved into the subfamilies Proto-Italic, Proto-Germanic, and Proto-Iranian among others. English uses a Latin Writing system which evolved ...
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7 votes
3 answers
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Where do we find the highest "language density"?

At Travel.SE it was pointed out that in Georgia (the country), a visitor would have use of learning Georgian, Russian, and Armenian. That's three very different languages, with three quite different ...
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7 votes
4 answers
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"Ring species" as dialect continuum?

In biology, ring species is a population of subspecies in a geographically ring-shaped region, where individuals are close (in terms of interbreeding) if they live close to each other, but between the ...
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7 votes
3 answers
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Is there a known rule of correspondence between Latin and Greek *p and *kʷ - in other languages?

It seems to me that some words that have -p- in stem in Latin have clearly reconstructible -ku̯- based on other Indo-European languages. Some examples include *u̯lpes - *u̯lku̯os ("wolf") *u̯esper - *...
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7 votes
1 answer
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Why are the plural and singular first person forms of the verb "go" so different in the Romance languages?

In many Romance languages, the first person plural and singular forms are completely different: French (aller): je vais, nous allons Italian (andare): io vado, noi andiamo Catalan (anar): jo vaig, ...
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7 votes
2 answers
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How are Baltic and Slavic languages related?

What are their common characteristics? I was reading about it on Wikipedia but didn't understand much since I have no background in linguistics. I would appreciate if someone could just name some ...
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3 answers
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Does the English "Garden" come from the French "Jardin" or the German "Garten"?

I always assumed that the English word "Garden" was similar to the German "Garten" due to the Germanic roots of English. But according to Wikipedia, "Garden" in English is related to the French "...
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7 votes
2 answers
237 views

What strategies for efficiency are adopted by languages with minimal phonemic inventories?

As the size of a phonemic inventory decreases, the information rate allowed by the inventory should likewise decrease. So are there any (semantico-)pragmatic or morphosyntactic strategies that ...
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7 votes
3 answers
632 views

What is the difference between "Linguistic distance" and "Lexical distance"?

The question arose in the comments here.
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7 votes
2 answers
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What is the oldest language that we know enough about to construct a plausible sentence in it?

One exciting way to track the evolution of our understanding of Proto-Indo-European is to look at the different versions of Schleicher's fable from different years. The more time we spend studying the ...
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7 votes
1 answer
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Why do many French and Spanish noun cognates have opposing grammatical gender?

While most French/Spanish noun cognates share the same gender (both descending from the same vulgar latin root), there are many exceptions having opposing genders (e.g. la couleur / el color; la ...
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7 votes
1 answer
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How common is word order change?

During the course of their development, the word order of some languages change. Examples include Latin (SOV) that changed to SVO in the Romance languages, Proto-Austronesian (verb initial) that ...
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7 votes
0 answers
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Is there any evidence of language contact between the Inuit and Ainu languages?

The Eskimo-Aleut and Ainu languages were historically spoken in the same region (near the Kamchatka Peninsula), and they share some features that are common in Paleo-Siberian languages, including ...
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6 votes
4 answers
545 views

From Italian to Spanish, consonant + "i" goes to consonant + "l"?

Why is it, that in words like plaza / piazza, or blanca / bianca, the "l" in Spanish corresponds to an "i" in Italian? Is there a preference for this kind of sound in Italian, or ...
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6 votes
2 answers
243 views

What is Proto-Semitic *x̣?

In his Akkadian grammar (specifically the appendix on phonology), Huehnergard lists the following Proto-Semitic consonants: Most of this looks familiar to me. However, *x̣ caught me by surprise; I'm ...
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6 votes
4 answers
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Which cues can I listen for to distinguish spoken Georgian and Armenian?

I'm living in an area of Tbilisi Georgia that is traditionally the ethnic Armenian area. I would like to take the opportunity to listen to people in the street to detect whether anybody is speaking ...
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