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78 votes
3 answers
13k views

Why did Old English lose both thorn and eth?

My understanding is that Old English had two letters, thorn and eth, which were used interchangeably to represent the sound th as in thin or father. Intuitively, one might think that one of these ...
K--'s user avatar
  • 952
75 votes
12 answers
29k views

What characteristics are unique to English (or at least rare among language as a whole)?

After wondering about this today at work, I turned to the Internet. A short piece that focuses on pronunciation points toward "none". I've scoured ELU and Google (perhaps not as thoroughly or ...
Zairja's user avatar
  • 1,178
72 votes
9 answers
118k views

When should one use slashes or square brackets when transcribing in IPA?

When should one use /fubar/ and when [fubar] when transcribing in IPA? What are the differences?
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
67 votes
10 answers
17k 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, ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
67 votes
11 answers
59k views

Is there an online tool to convert IPA symbols into audio sound?

As many amateurs and beginners know, IPA is difficult to memorize and internalize at first. Does software exist where one can paste in IPA text and hear synthesized speech (ideally in the form of a ...
Mike's user avatar
  • 1,004
64 votes
9 answers
6k views

Why do we have interest in (dying) language preservation?

When we read the news related to dying languages, normally this is painted as bad news and it's really important to preserve the language, see Language at risk of dying out (Guardian) or Digital tools ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
58 votes
7 answers
18k views

Is there a linguistics term meaning "it's grammatically correct, but nobody says that"?

This happens a lot when learning a foreign language: You learn some grammar structure, and insert some nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., in the appropriate places, only to find out that no-one would ...
Rebecca J. Stones's user avatar
52 votes
13 answers
15k views

Do unschooled people use cases correctly, e.g. in Germany and in Russia?

I wonder if the case system is devised/imposed by literates and not really natural: it is said that the vulgar Latin that most people really used didn't have e.g. the cases (or all of them) of the '...
newinterested's user avatar
52 votes
6 answers
217k views

What's the difference between syntax and grammar?

From what I've read, both terms have to do with the rules of formation of sentences. I've seen grammar used in mathematical contexts, in computability theory, where it has a precise definition. But ...
a06e's user avatar
  • 631
50 votes
5 answers
15k views

Why do most words for "mother", across languages, start with an [m], and for "father" with [p]/[b], but not vice versa?

It has been observed that in general, a word for "mother" tends to be based on a bilabial nasal [m] or similar consonant, and for father it tends to be [b] or [p]. This is found in many language ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
49 votes
2 answers
11k views

Could the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs have been deciphered without the Rosetta Stone with modern tech?

The Rosetta Stone was one of the most important documents in the history of linguistics. Discovered around 1800, it allowed Ancient Egyptian to be deciphered. Let's say that the stone didn't exist, ...
Number File's user avatar
  • 1,561
48 votes
15 answers
492k views

What's the difference between phonetics and phonology?

Having practiced armchair linguistics for some years I should be able to sum up the difference off the top of my head, yet often I don't know which term to use. And looking them up on Wikipedia doesn'...
hippietrail's user avatar
  • 14.7k
48 votes
3 answers
15k views

Why do English transliterations of Arabic names have so many Qs in them?

I remember when the Muslim holy book was the Koran when I was in middle school, but now it's the Quran. But it's always been Qatar and Iraq (but still Kuwait.) Who decided that 'Q' was going to be ...
John Q. Guest's user avatar
45 votes
3 answers
15k views

Is English tonal for some words, like "permit"?

I have heard the difference between tone and intonation described in the following way: Tone is when the pitch of a word determines its meaning. Intonation is when the pitch of a word conveys its ...
WillG's user avatar
  • 693
45 votes
9 answers
8k views

Is there any language that uses different pronouns for "we" depending on whether the spoken to person is included in the group?

As in "we are going out tonight" using a different word for "we" depending on whether you mean "me and some other people" or "you and me (and potentially other people as well)".
erikkallen's user avatar
45 votes
6 answers
6k views

How do linguists place the vowels of a language precisely on the vowel trapezoid?

Since vowels in human speech are a continuous spectrum rather than a discrete set, many descriptions of languages I’ve seen — not only on Wikipedia — place the vowels of a language as dots in a two-...
Timwi's user avatar
  • 831
42 votes
9 answers
13k views

What is word order used for in "free word order" languages?

Consider languages whose case-systems allow the order of arguments to be changed without changing the arguments’ grammatical relations. (Note the 189 languages noted as having “no dominant word-...
James Grossmann's user avatar
41 votes
10 answers
4k views

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
  • 4,455
41 votes
4 answers
3k views

Is there really a difference between agglutinative and non-agglutinative languages when spoken?

What's the difference between agglutinative and non-agglutinative languages when spoken? According to my understanding, agglutinative languages typically join prefixes and suffixes extensively. For ...
Lucky's user avatar
  • 600
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
39 votes
5 answers
8k views

Why is there (almost) no variety to the Hebrew accent in Israel?

Hebrew is my native language, and I grew up and spent most of my life in Israel. Unlike English, in Hebrew we don't have a variety of accents. In fact, generally all of the people in Israel have the ...
Michael Seltenreich's user avatar
39 votes
5 answers
4k views

Why does speech speed seem to vary between different languages?

I feel that French and Spanish speakers speak their languages faster than English speakers do. Is this difference real, or is it just a mistake in my observation (note: I am much less familiar with ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
39 votes
4 answers
7k views

Why isn't "I've" a proper response?

Suppose someone asked me the question, "Have you completed the project?". A standard response would be "I have". Why does the equivalent "I've" sound so strange and never used as a replacement? I am ...
The Monkey's user avatar
39 votes
5 answers
9k views

Why do the Romance languages use definite articles, when Latin doesn't?

Classical Latin, as I understand things, barely has a definite article at all: ille is the nearest equivalent, and even this word is closer to English that than the. But Spanish, French and Italian ...
Tom Hosker's user avatar
38 votes
1 answer
8k views

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
37 votes
8 answers
7k views

Are there languages that don't have this kind of ambiguity?

In the sentence "John told James that he's happy.", the pronoun "he" is ambiguous, since it could refer to either John or James. Are there any languages which try to solve this ...
John's user avatar
  • 373
37 votes
4 answers
11k views

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
  • 653
36 votes
13 answers
4k views

Are there languages with other spatial deixis besides "here", "there" and "over there"?

When it comes to spatial deixis most languages seem to have either two or three distinctions: 2 | 3 English | Spanish Japanese -------------------------------- here | aquí / acá ...
hippietrail's user avatar
  • 14.7k
36 votes
6 answers
14k views

Can Modern Hebrew be considered an Indo-European language?

According to this Wikipedia page Zuckermann argues that Israeli Hebrew, which he calls "Israeli", is genetically both Indo-European (Germanic, Slavic and Romance) and Afro-Asiatic (Semitic). He ...
Louis Rhys's user avatar
  • 8,501
36 votes
2 answers
13k views

Why is “ß” not used in Swiss German?

What are some of the historical reasons why the orthographic symbol ß is not used in Swiss Standard German and “ss” is used instead?
alecxe's user avatar
  • 323
36 votes
5 answers
8k views

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?
Martin's user avatar
  • 461
36 votes
3 answers
7k 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
35 votes
7 answers
4k views

How do I format an interlinear gloss for HTML?

I'm trying to use interlinear glossing to show the structure of a sentence to an audience without requiring them to learn the language in question. Are there any tools for quickly creating an ...
MatthewMartin's user avatar
35 votes
3 answers
1k views

Why the prevalence of "ph" in transliteration?

Why is "ph" used so often (as opposed to "f") to transliterate the Hebrew "fei" sound into English? Examples: Alef - 17.5 million Google hits (MGh) Aleph - 13.8 MGh Seraf - 0.9 MGh Seraph - 23.4 MGh
Isaac Moses's user avatar
34 votes
10 answers
4k views

Is the connection between 'right' in the sense of direction and concepts like 'correct' limited to Indo-European languages?

I'm now familiar with enough Indo-European languages to know in almost all of them there's an etymological connection or outright homonymy between the word(s) for 'right' in the sense of direction and ...
user3482545's user avatar
34 votes
3 answers
7k views

Why isn’t the letter “G” immediately after “C” in the alphabet?

I have absolutely no formal linguistics background, but I enjoy learning about it a lot. I’ve seen multiple times before how the alphabet mutated from Roman times to our own: The letter “J” was a ...
Gauss's user avatar
  • 443
34 votes
10 answers
8k views

Is pronouncing loanwords according to their "native" pronunciation stigmatised across most cultures and languages?

This old CollegeHumor sketch highlights an interesting phenomenon: it's often frowned upon or disapproved of, at least in the US and England, to pronounce a loanword according to the phonetics of the ...
Lou's user avatar
  • 1,280
34 votes
6 answers
10k views

Is it hard for software speech synthesisers to handle IPA? If so, why?

Yesterday on ELU, the IPA sequence ˌoʊkeɪˈhiːɹjəˌgoʊ was posted in a comment. I'm not very familiar with IPA, so I thought the easiest way to "decode" that would be through a software speech ...
FumbleFingers's user avatar
34 votes
4 answers
2k views

Why are certain there-sentences infelicitous in English?

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language states that the first three of the following four excerpts are semantically or pragmatically anomalous (to give that term some context, it cites We ...
Vitaly's user avatar
  • 443
33 votes
6 answers
19k views

What are the fundamental differences between Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics?

I have a vague knowledge regarding those two fields, but I admit there are some fundamental concepts that I lack. So, if we had to write down the actual differences between these two fields, what ...
Alenanno's user avatar
  • 9,388
33 votes
5 answers
9k views

What languages lack personal pronouns, and why?

The Japanese language lacks personal pronouns in the IE sense. Japanese is very pro-drop, and often sentences will be constructed so personal pronouns do not appear, and the agents which the pronouns ...
dainichi's user avatar
  • 1,564
32 votes
8 answers
23k views

Why do Japanese people have difficulties in pronouncing English?

When I watch Anime, I notice that Japanese English pronunciation is really bad, they twist all the sounds, and they can't pronounce sounds like "L". I think English is the easiest language when it ...
Ichigo Kurosaki's user avatar
32 votes
5 answers
7k views

What is the term for this derivation: "Cheeseburger comes from Hamburger" but... the word hamburger didn't refer to ham

So the title says it all really. The term hamburger doesn't refer to ham but instead the origin of the food Hamburg, but when the presence of cheese was added the new invention is referred to as a ...
Kallum Panditharatna's user avatar
32 votes
6 answers
8k views

Is there any evidence to support the claim that English grammar is unusually straightforward?

The renowned linguist Eddie Izzard devoted at least one of his standup comedy routines to the proposition that English grammar is unusually straightforward, at least in comparison (if I recall ...
Tom Hosker's user avatar
32 votes
2 answers
5k views

Can you rhyme words in sign language?

In spoken language, patterns of vowels, consonants, and stress are used to feel the similarity of form between two words and create rhymes. Can you do the same in sign language? Also, is there sign ...
honestSalami's user avatar
31 votes
5 answers
9k views

Is future tense in English really a myth?

Does English really have two tenses - present and past? Some linguists argue that it is a Latinate fallacy to think that English has three tenses. Some English professors and even some native ...
Jvlnarasimharao's user avatar
31 votes
4 answers
16k views

Is there a list of mutually intelligible languages?

Is there a list of languages which are mutually intelligible (i.e. a speaker of A can understand language B and [perhaps] vice versa)? And would this beg the question of whether they really are ...
BlueWhale's user avatar
  • 763
31 votes
11 answers
5k views

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 ...
Phira's user avatar
  • 1,425
31 votes
4 answers
35k views

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
  • 1,296
31 votes
6 answers
1k views

Lists of linguistic resources

In the interest of cultivating a professional, academic community, I posted this question on Meta. One comment was to open a community-wiki question inviting others to contribute to a list of academic ...

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