Questions tagged [historical-linguistics]

The diachronic study of language and its evolution.

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Why did early Indo-European languages seem to be morphologically complex?

Apparently there is a general trend that languages lose morphological marking over time. For example, according to this question PIE had 8 noun cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, etc), Latin 5, ...
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Languages that are gaining morphological distinctions

In diachronic comparison of languages, say PIE to Latin to Romance, it is a classic recognition that the later languages strictly lose some of the morphologically marked categories. PIE had 8 noun ...
Mitch's user avatar
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Could Proto-Indo-Uralic be reconstructed?

I am interested in linguistics and how words spread from place to place. I have seen that there are two language families, and that there are signs that they might be related. Proto-Indo-Uralic is the ...
Number File's user avatar
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13 votes
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How did Chinese recursion evolve?

The modern Chinese linguistic recursion system is essentially the same as English. If you have a highly embedded sentence, you can translate it word for word, the embedding is very much the same. In ...
Ron Maimon's user avatar
3 votes
6 answers
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Why is Edenics not recognized as a serious linguistic theory?

Many people know the Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, when God broke apart the world's singular language into 70 different branches. Most linguists don't give this a second thought, or anything ...
CodyBugstein's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
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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 ...
user54748's user avatar
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3 answers
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What did the Greeks and Romans believe about language relationships?

The ancient Greeks and Romans had no concept of historical linguistics or of the Indo-European language family. However, it would have been noticeable to anyone who spoke even a little of both Greek ...
TKR's user avatar
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16 votes
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When were there the most languages?

A friend recently asked me this simple and fascinating question. At what point in history were there the largest number of human languages? Although a really precise answer needs a clear ...
Simd's user avatar
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15 votes
2 answers
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How stable are grammatical genders?

In languages which have gender-like classifications for nouns, like French and Russian, how often do nouns change gender over time? Have any studies been done to get statistics on how many words have ...
Jack M's user avatar
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9 votes
1 answer
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Why do we call some countries a different name than the people of that country?

For example, in English we say Germany, Japan, and China but they say Deutschland, Nihon, and Zhongguo respectively. If we change the names because they are difficult to say or spell outside of their ...
Aaron's user avatar
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9 votes
5 answers
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Why there are no grammatical cases in the French language?

As far as I know, the French language is considered as a Romance language, which is derived, in its turn, from the Latin language. The last one has a rich grammatical cases system. I am interested to ...
Mike's user avatar
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31 votes
4 answers
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What are the historical origins of terms for north, south, east and west?

In the course of researching the etymology of the word "Australia", I was trying to find the Latin words for north and south (the cardinal directions). I found some websites that translate north as "...
dotancohen's user avatar
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26 votes
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Was there a Semitic influence on Proto-Germanic?

One of the hypotheses supported by Theo Vennemann and other linguists is that Proto-Germanic was influenced by some Semitic language. The evidence they present for their case includes: Loss of some ...
Otavio Macedo's user avatar
25 votes
3 answers
27k views

Is Sanskrit really the mother of all languages?

Hindus believe that "Sanskrit is the mother of all Languages". It is a fact that Sanskrit has enriched most Indian Languages including the Dravidian Languages such as Telugu, as Latin enriched some ...
Jvlnarasimharao's user avatar
23 votes
5 answers
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How did Korean become a language isolate?

According to most linguists, Korean is a language isolate. Why doesn't it have any sister languages, like languages usually do? Why didn't it spread to other areas, or split into various languages? ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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19 votes
1 answer
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What is the relationship between the PIE roots *dekṃ and *kṃtóm?

It seems that there is a consensus that the PIE roots for ten and hundred are, respectively, *deḱṃ and *ḱṃtóm. There also seems to be a consensus that *ḱṃtóm is a shortened version of *deḱṃtóm. These ...
Otavio Macedo's user avatar
17 votes
3 answers
1k views

Is Nicaraguan Sign Language the only language born from nothing?

My interest in linguistics was sparked by John McWhorter's popular book The Power of Babel, which, in its section on creoles, includes a small piece on Nicaraguan Sign Language, which really sparked ...
TRiG's user avatar
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Origin of articles in European languages

I read that PIE, Latin, old English, and even old German did not use articles, yet current English, German and Romance languages all use articles. Is it true that articles developed in all these ...
Martin Konicek's user avatar
12 votes
6 answers
5k views

How would someone begin translating an unknown language?

Excuse my ignorance. I'm writing a work of fiction wherein an archeologist finds a tomb that contains not only the bodies of an unknown/unstudied society, but also samples of writing in that society's ...
Megan.D's user avatar
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11 votes
0 answers
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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 ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
11 votes
1 answer
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Why did Greek never develop into other languages like Latin?

The Hellenization of the classical world is one of the biggest events in ancient history, similar to the conquests of Rome in later centuries. Greek rulers held Egypt, Mesopotamia, Turkey, even places ...
DeLissaplitz Anonymous's user avatar
9 votes
2 answers
299 views

L2 acquisition as a factor in loss of "complex" grammatical features

Recently I came across a short text on Language Log briefly discussing a phenomenon which seems to affect certain languages. The author noticed that loss or heavy weakening of inflection during ...
czypsu's user avatar
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8 votes
4 answers
351 views

Place feature metathesis

Familiar cases of metathesis involve segments changing places, but metathesis can also operate at the subsegmental level, affecting individual features. I'm specifically interested in metathesis of ...
TKR's user avatar
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8 votes
3 answers
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Descendants of Latin vs. Greek?

From Latin there descend half a dozen (or more) modern languages. Greek, by contrast, has simply changed over time but without branching into separate languages. Why the difference? Both were spoken ...
user438's user avatar
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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?
Valandil's user avatar
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8 votes
3 answers
394 views

Can two close languages be merged?

For example: Norwegian and Danish are very close. If for some reason, Norwegian and Danish people live together in the same place, after a certain time, they'll speak the same language, will they? ...
Huy Ngo's user avatar
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6 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 ...
Otavio Macedo's user avatar
6 votes
5 answers
2k views

Are sound changes regular?

Are sound changes regular now or not? I mean it seems to me that it's accepted that sound change is pretty regular, because of how sound changes are treated in etymology/historical linguistics. I even ...
Arhama's user avatar
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5 votes
3 answers
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How do we know that Avestan is sister of Vedic Sanskrit and not its daughter?

I am new here and to linguistics. Recently I have developed a passion and an interest for linguistics, but I am not familiar with it. So I got into debate with a person from India. He was claiming ...
Nikkū's user avatar
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5 votes
2 answers
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Which Romance Language retains the most words from Celtic?

It is known that they were once the same language, Proto Italo-Celtic, however with the descendants of Latin and the remaining Celtic languages, which Romance Language retains the most influence from ...
Michael Valentin's user avatar
5 votes
3 answers
666 views

What is the contribution of Tocharian to the reconstruction of Proto-Indogermanic?

Inspired by this question Which Indo European language best preserves the features of Proto Indo-European?, I want to ask the follow-up question: What did we learn for the reconstruction of Proto-...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
5 votes
1 answer
384 views

Wanderwort origins and the Indus Valley Civilization?

I have noticed that there seem to be many words that have travelled the globe due to trade, such as the word orange or rice, which have plausible origins in proto-Dravidian. Meanwhile, it is ...
mhenderson's user avatar
4 votes
1 answer
755 views

What are arguments for and against a common origin of Korean and Japanese?

Now, Korean and Japanese have been proposed to be part of other language families, for instance Altaic, but Altaic is not considered a valid term subterfuged by evidence as much as Sino-Tibetan and ...
Abdul Al Hazred's user avatar
4 votes
2 answers
701 views

History of "have", "avoir", "haben", etc. as auxiliary

In Geoff Pullum's recent post Being an Auxiliary on the Lingua Franca blog, he states that the sense of "have" as an auxiliary (forming the perfect tense) evolved from the possession sense, "but the ...
Stephen Powell's user avatar
4 votes
6 answers
460 views

Are there words which sounds very similar in different languages, and which are proven not to be the result of cultural exchange?

Are there words which sounds very similar in different languages, and which are proven not to be the result of cultural exchange? For example, we know most words related to technology comes from ...
Pablo's user avatar
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3 votes
2 answers
459 views

Why does Sankr. नक्ति (nákti) not show Satemization

Did Sanskrit नक्ति (nákti) "night", PIE *nókʷts, not participate in the kentum-satem split? Why? Is it a loan? There are at least two synonyms, if that makes any difference. I have no actual reason ...
vectory's user avatar
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2 votes
1 answer
720 views

What is a loan creation?

How is it different from a loanword? One example given was mitkind created on stimulus of English sibling. Does this mean mitkind is a new word but with a foreign sense? Is there such thing as loaning ...
leon's user avatar
  • 29
40 votes
7 answers
13k views

Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to?

Is there a word we lost the definition to? A word whose definition we lost to history? Something that is a part of our history but we forgot the meaning with time
Ro Belle's user avatar
  • 509
23 votes
1 answer
2k views

Is the Dené–Yeniseian hypothesis widely accepted, and has it led to further research?

In 2008 Edward Vajda presented his decade-long research into a connection between the Yeniseian languages of central Siberia (e.g. Ket, Yugh) and the American Na-Dené (Athabaskan–Eyak–Tlingit) family. ...
Mark Beadles's user avatar
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22 votes
3 answers
7k views

Why do some Indo-European languages have genders and some don't?

In some languages, like German and French, every noun has a gender and each gender has its article. Whereas languages like English and Persian do not have genders. Why is that? Even though these ...
AziZ's user avatar
  • 331
22 votes
7 answers
8k views

What is the origin of non-natural grammatical genders in Indo-European languages?

Non-natural grammatical genders in Indo-European languages: What is their origin (assuming that there is a single origin, if there are many origins)? Or what are the origins? How and for what ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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21 votes
4 answers
4k views

Where did Spanish get its /x/? Arabic influence?

Most Romance languages don't have /x/ (like the j in hijo), nor did Latin. Where did Spanish /x/ come from? Internal development, Arabic influence, or something else? Since Moroccan Arabic also has /x/...
Cerberus's user avatar
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19 votes
2 answers
2k views

Did Romance languages evolve in North Africa?

So, I know that the dialects of Vulgar Latin evolved into the Romance languages in the Western Roman Empire, but I've always wondered why they only formed in Europe instead of in North Africa. Does ...
DeLissaplitz Anonymous's user avatar
19 votes
1 answer
1k views

Is there a language known to have developed a case system?

There are many languages which, having descended from a language with a complex case system, have lost or greatly simplified theirs: Bulgarian (Slavic), English (Germanic), most Romance languages etc. ...
Quassnoi's user avatar
  • 699
18 votes
2 answers
1k views

Origin of h as a modifier letter

A silly what-if question that sounds a bit mad: I am curious as to why the letter "H" in English and some other European languages is used as a modifier to make diglyphs represent a single phoneme (ch,...
Matteo Ferla's user avatar
17 votes
1 answer
3k views

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 ...
randomatlabuser's user avatar
17 votes
3 answers
2k views

How did the Arabic word "allah" come to have an /lˤ/ ("emphatic l")?

In Modern Standard Arabic, phonemic /lˤ/ (a.k.a. "emphatic l") only occurs in one native word: Allah /ʔalˤˈlˤaːh/. (According to the linked article, it also occurs in a few loanwords.) This seems ...
Leah Velleman's user avatar
15 votes
2 answers
3k views

What is the current understanding of Greenberg's classification of African languages?

In a reply to the criticism of his classification of the languages of the Americas, Greenberg (1989: 107) characterized his work on African languages as follows: [...] my classification is clearly ...
user avatar
15 votes
3 answers
5k views

Are Old French and French mutually intelligible?

In Les visiteurs (The Visitors), two Frenchman from 1123 are transported to 1993. In the movie, the visitors from 1123 can understand the speech of the modern French people in 1993, and vice versa, ...
Tim S.'s user avatar
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14 votes
4 answers
2k views

What is the reason for the double negation found in some languages?

I'm a bulgarian. My language has a double negation form and I do not understand why and how can people talk like that and how it came to be in first place. Everyone just seem to accept it and no one ...
Yordan's user avatar
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