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, ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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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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40 votes
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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
Ro Belle's user avatar
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37 votes
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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 ...
zooby's user avatar
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Is there any evidence that the modern word for "bear" is an euphemism which replaced the original taboo word?

I have read and heard many times the old linguistic story about the modern word for "bear": Slavic: medvěd, niedźwiedź, ведмідь, ... "honey-eater" Germanic: bär, bear, björn, ... &...
Honza Zidek's user avatar
35 votes
3 answers
6k views

Why is the word "war" in Romance languages predominantly of Germanic origin instead of Latin?

I wonder why in all Romance languages the word "war" ("guerra", with their multiple intonations) is a term that comes from Germanic languages, and that no modern language resembles ...
Daniel Castro's user avatar
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
25 votes
5 answers
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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 ...
JSBձոգչ's user avatar
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23 votes
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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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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
7 answers
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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 ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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22 votes
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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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
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22 votes
3 answers
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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, ...
Gilles 'SO- stop being evil''s user avatar
21 votes
4 answers
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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 ...
ZZZ's user avatar
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4 answers
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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/...
Cerberus's user avatar
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21 votes
1 answer
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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 ...
Aryaman's user avatar
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20 votes
1 answer
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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/...
M. Sperling's user avatar
19 votes
5 answers
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Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

Not considering logographic systems like Chinese, and outside Cuneiform (not sure if that is a logo system or something else), it appears at first glance that many of the world's writing systems ...
Lance's user avatar
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19 votes
2 answers
8k views

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 ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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19 votes
2 answers
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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 ...
DeLissaplitz Anonymous's user avatar
19 votes
1 answer
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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
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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
18 votes
7 answers
7k views

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 ...
Jvlnarasimharao's user avatar
18 votes
4 answers
6k 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, ...
J Li's user avatar
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18 votes
4 answers
6k views

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 ...
rberaldo's user avatar
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5 answers
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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 ...
Alenanno's user avatar
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18 votes
2 answers
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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, ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
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18 votes
3 answers
5k views

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, ...
BladorthinTheGrey's user avatar
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
18 votes
3 answers
3k views

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 ...
VictorLeVaguer's user avatar
18 votes
1 answer
2k views

Why did the consonant clusters /ks/ and /ps/ merit their own designated letters in Ancient Greek?

Ancient Greek had many consonant clusters, like /pn/ in pneuma, /bd/ in bdellion, and /pt/ in pteron. But for some reason, /ks/ (ξ) and /ps/ (ψ) received special real estate in the 24-letter Greek ...
Fomalhaut's user avatar
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17 votes
4 answers
7k views

What language came before Proto-Indo-European?

What is the Proto-Proto-Indo-European?
Nick Anderegg'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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17 votes
6 answers
22k views

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, ...
G M's user avatar
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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
17 votes
2 answers
6k views

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 ...
Noldorin's user avatar
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17 votes
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 ...
randomatlabuser's user avatar
17 votes
3 answers
1k views

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 ...
melissa_boiko's user avatar
16 votes
5 answers
2k 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 ...
Simd's user avatar
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16 votes
2 answers
1k views

Development of Old Norse 2nd and 3rd person sg. (present indicative) forms of "to be"

I was comparing the conjugations of "to be" in Old Norse and Proto-Germanic, and it looks like ON has flipped the 2nd and 3rd person singular forms. Is this what happened, or is there some ...
guest75643's user avatar
16 votes
3 answers
4k views

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
16 votes
2 answers
3k views

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], ...
Otavio Macedo's user avatar
16 votes
2 answers
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,...
Otavio Macedo's user avatar
16 votes
2 answers
1k 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 ...
brass tacks's 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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15 votes
2 answers
583 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 ...
Dan Milway's user avatar
15 votes
2 answers
782 views

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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