Questions tagged [historical-linguistics]

The diachronic study of language and its evolution.

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65
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10answers
14k views

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, ...
41
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10answers
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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 ...
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7answers
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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
36
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4answers
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Were ancient languages as sophisticated as modern languages?

Reading some dialogues from Socrates, it struck me how eloquently the people seemed to speak from those times thousands of years ago. (Although this might be a result of the translation.) And yet ...
26
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5answers
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Which Romance languages have reflexes of the Latin nominative in nouns?

It is generally accepted that the nominal forms in the Romance languages represent reflexes of the Latin accusative rather than the nominative. (This is even true for those languages that have ...
25
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4answers
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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 "...
25
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5answers
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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 ...
24
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3answers
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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 ...
23
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5answers
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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? ...
23
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9answers
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
23
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1answer
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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. ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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4answers
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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/...
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3answers
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Is there a single origin for the connection between time and weather?

There are several families of languages where the same word can mean either a concept closely related to time or a concept closely related to weather: Romance root: French temps, Italian tempo, ...
20
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2answers
994 views

Why is it that Latin was more "successful" in the western part of the Empire than in the eastern part?

The Roman empire ruled over the lands around the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, and I imagine imposed its language on its subjects. But why is it that the western part of the empire (France, ...
19
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4answers
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True languages that pirates spoke

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you may already know, today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Since I find the historical subject of piracy quite interesting, specially after reading Pirate Utopias, I would ...
19
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2answers
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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 ...
19
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1answer
885 views

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 ...
18
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7answers
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Are language and thought the same?

I want to know whether language and thought are the same. I think language enriches one's thought and thought helps one to use language better. Without language how could man think? Did they ...
18
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4answers
5k views

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years, and spoken language is believed to have been around for 50,000 to 150,000 years. Writing is a relatively new phenomenon. According to this source, ...
18
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4answers
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What language came before Proto-Indo-European?

What is the Proto-Proto-Indo-European?
18
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3answers
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Are there any languages that have a pronoun which is only used to refer to royalty?

I can recall reading an article years ago which claimed that some languages have unused "royal" pronouns. That is, these pronouns were only used to refer to royalty as a show of respect or ...
18
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3answers
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What is the meaning of the number 2 in Proto-Indo European reconstructions? e.g. As in *tewtéh₂, meaning "people" or "tribe"

I am a writer doing some research into ancient languages for a story I am creating. Despite having done some formal and informal study on linguistics (I am familiar with a phonetic chart) and informal ...
18
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1answer
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. ...
18
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1answer
3k views

Is there a diagram showing the history of sound changes from Latin to the Romance languages?

We have had a number of questions about sound changes, asking for the history of specific changes. See this one, for example: asking about the change from Latin benedictionem to French beneiçon. Often,...
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3answers
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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 ...
17
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6answers
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Why are many ancient languages so complicated compared to many modern languages?

Many ancient languages have a structure that is more complex than that of the "respective" modern languages. Modern languages like English have simpler structure, without case, gender or declination, ...
17
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5answers
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When and how did French become a non-null-subject language?

First of all, what does "null-subject" mean? Taken from the Wikipedia page for "Null-subject languages": […] a null-subject language is a language whose grammar permits an ...
17
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3answers
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Do any languages use {woman} as the root for human?

In English, along with some other Latinate languages, the word for our species as a whole is related specifically to that of the male sex: 'Latin humanus "of man, human," – Etymoline' This, ...
17
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2answers
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How did Italian manage to stay (mostly) phonetically spelled despite its long written tradition?

Italian is commonly cited as an example of a phonetically spelled language. It is easy to guess how an Italian word is pronounced based on the way it is written, because each written symbol highly ...
17
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3answers
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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 ...
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3answers
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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 ...
17
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1answer
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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 ...
17
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0answers
373 views

What are the different schools of PIE reconstruction?

I have read some works on Proto-Indo-European which mention different schools that advocate for different paradigms of reconstruction, such as the Leiden and the Erlangen schools. I'd like to know if ...
16
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4answers
1k views

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 ...
16
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3answers
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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, ...
16
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2answers
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Where did the nasal sound in the Portuguese word "sim" come from?

Among the descendants of the Latin word sic ("thus, so, or just like that"), only the Portuguese word sim ends with a nasal consonant. Actually, in modern Portuguese, it ends with a nasal vowel, [sĩ], ...
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3answers
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On the idea that Classical Chinese may *not* be direct ancestor of modern Chinese languages

It's known that Literary Chinese (or Classical; wényán ), the language of historical Chinese texts, differs completely from modern Mandarin as well as from other spoken Chinese languages, not only in ...
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5answers
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What are the reasons to count Armenian as an Indo-European language?

Often I encounter arguments that Armenian is in fact not an Indo-European language. The claims assert that the regular correspondences between Armenian and PIE are too unrealistic, too rare and too ...
15
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3answers
5k views

Does the letter p in a word mean that the word is not Germanic?

In Germanic languages, the p sound in Proto-Indo-European became f. I have wondered if the p sound means that the word does not come from a Germanic source. This is because words that have p in them ...
15
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2answers
998 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,...
15
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2answers
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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 ...
15
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2answers
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When and where did the guttural 'r' originate?

I have often wondered why French is (almost) unique in the Romance languages in using the guttural 'r' – in particular, the uvular fricative. Apart from Piedmontese / Piedmontese Italian (and even ...
14
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4answers
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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 ...
14
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2answers
512 views

Is anyone studying change in constructed language?

Is there any serious work being done on linguistic change in constructed languages (e.g. Esperanto, Interlingua, Lojban)? I would imagine it might be difficult given the small population of native ...
14
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0answers
425 views

Why is reconstructed PIE so typologically unusual?

I'm probably not the first to notice that a large number of features of reconstruct Proto-Indo-European are typological irregularities. The most famous of these probably being the voiceless/voiced/...
14
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2answers
837 views

Do dialects without the meet-meat merger neutralize the distinction in some contexts?

For many dialects of English (including my own) multiple historical lexical sets are merged into one "FLEECE" set (this diaphoneme can be represented with IPA /iː/). I've read about the basics of the ...
13
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2answers
2k views

How did Greek loanwords with 'ae' come to be pronounced [i] in modern English?

There are a bunch of Greek loanwords in English that orthographically include the vowel sequence 'ae'. Examples include: aegis aether aeon The 'ae' vowel here is pronounced [i] in English, but at ...
13
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4answers
639 views

Are there documented languages that evolved from tonal to nontonal?

There is a theory about tonogenesis for the Chinese language, thus Chinese had once a more complex syllable-structure and no tones. In the course of time, the syllable structure became less complex ...

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