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28
votes
4answers
7k views

Why do English verbs inflect so little, especially in regard to “person”?

Most Indo-European languages have verbs which endings change according to the person. I made a table with the most common (and close) languages and focussed on the category of person and the present ...
27
votes
4answers
11k 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 ...
26
votes
10answers
2k views

Do some languages have articles besides the definite and indefinite articles?

Most languages have either no articles, or one or both of the definite (akin to English "the") and indefinite (akin to English "a" / "an"). But are there other kinds of articles, and which languages ...
26
votes
8answers
14k views

Why did English lose declensions while German retained them?

Why did (or more specifically what caused) English lose declensions whilst they were retained in German? I ask as I have recently been reading into the various Germanic languages and it struck me that ...
26
votes
5answers
1k views

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 ...
26
votes
2answers
1k views

Is it common to use the minor third for calling someone?

In German, calling someone's two-syllable name is tied very strongly to the minor third. In languages that like to have a stressed last syllable, I would expect the last syllable to be higher than ...
25
votes
17answers
14k views

Is there a language without gender in third person pronouns?

English (as most Indo-European languages) has a gender-neutral third person pronoun, it, but it is typically not used for people; if one wants to be gender neutral, one is often stuck using he or she. ...
25
votes
9answers
10k views

The relationship between “orange” the colour and “orange” the fruit

This is something that bugged me before I studied linguists, and it still does - why is the word "orange" so often used for both the colour and the fruit cross-linguistically? Every language I've ...
25
votes
2answers
3k views

What do you call an IPA symbol that lacks a name (e.g. ɲ)?

Some IPA symbols such as ɲ lack any name, and when I tried searching for the symbol online, the pages I got only showed palatal nasal. But I wonder what I should call it when I talk with others. Is ...
25
votes
9answers
5k views

Are there any languages or cultures that have genderless given names?

In the U.S. where I live it is possible to be right almost all of the time when guessing the sex of a person from his or her given name: Ronald, George (Sand and Elliot notwithstanding), William, ...
25
votes
4answers
26k 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 "...
25
votes
5answers
2k views

Is the seeming relation between the sound /n/ and negativity purely coincidental?

I have noticed that in many languages, words for "no", negative verb forms, etc. often begin with the sound /n/. Although I understand it is by no means universal, is there any relationship between ...
25
votes
8answers
5k views

American English : are [ə] and [ʌ] different phonemes? (schwa vs. chevron)

What case can be made for considering whether [ə] and [ʌ] are different phonemes or not in American English? Please note the focus is on standard American English. EDIT: i.e.: on General American. ...
25
votes
2answers
44k views

English text corpus for download

I need a free English language corpus with at least 15 million words. The corpus should contain one or more plain text files. There should be no tagging, just raw text. The corpus should be free. I ...
25
votes
2answers
1k views

Are there any non-Indo-European languages with go-periphrasis?

Some Indo-European languages have a construction called go-periphrasis, by which some form of the verb go is used in conjunction with the main verb to mark tense. Most languages that have this feature ...
25
votes
5answers
606 views

What has NLP/CL brought to the table of pencil-and-paper linguistics?

What role do NLP (natural language processing) and/or CL (Computational linguistics) play in today's theoretical linguistics? Does, for instance, computability and formal specification play a big ...
25
votes
5answers
1k views

Are consonant mutations in Indo-European languages specific of the Celtic group?

Consonant mutations are a strong characteristic of the Celtic languages. An example in Breton would be: Khaz /kaz/: cat Ar c'haz /aʁ.xaz/: the cat The /k/ is altered to /x/ after ar. According ...
24
votes
22answers
4k views

What's the origin of “You're welcome”?

Is English the only language to use "You're welcome"? I've read on a few websites that English is the only language where it's accepted to say, "You're welcome" in response to ...
24
votes
3answers
14k 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 ...
24
votes
5answers
2k views

Animals’ names change when we eat them: is that universal?

I rebound off a question asked on French Language & Usage: in many languages, some designations for animal meats (in its raw, uncooked and uncured form) differ from the live animal's name itself. ...
24
votes
2answers
3k views

Fourth person (in Slavey language)

I was reading a Wikipedia article about the Slavey (Slave) language in Canada, and it says that Slavey has first, second, third and fourth person. I've never heard about a language having a fourth ...
24
votes
4answers
665 views

Why was מֹשֶׁה‎ transliterated as [moʊzɨz]?

How did the name "מֹשֶׁה‎" come to be transliterated with a [z] at the end? The OED entry notes that "Moses" derives from Biblical Hebrew "Mōšeh" and that the earliest attestations with a strident ...
24
votes
2answers
3k views

Why do languages not share a root for “butterfly”?

In the article The Elusive Butterfly. Iconicity in Language (2001), William O. Beeman draws attention to the fact that most languages do not share a root for their word for butterfly. In other words, ...
23
votes
9answers
4k views

Are some languages inherently harder for children to acquire?

I don't see why this shouldn't be the case. Surely children around the world don't learn to speak fluently by the same age?
23
votes
4answers
5k views

How do field linguists begin to study an undocumented language which they cannot speak?

When field linguists begin to study a new language with whose speakers they don't share a common language, how do they begin? I don't need the whole story, just the very start, the "bootstrapping". ...
23
votes
3answers
3k views

Can Someone Identify This Diacritic?

My mother is working on genealogy and has run across a diacritic mark that I could swear I've seen before but cannot identify. Here is the last name (said to be Austrian) from two documents. It's the ...
23
votes
1answer
4k views

Deciphering a handwritten script

There are many studies on calligraphy, and in some cultures (Chinese, Indic, Arabic) it became a really significant part of culture. However, there are not only examples of good handwriting. Often we ...
23
votes
5answers
5k views

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 ...
22
votes
23answers
21k views

Is there a language whose writing is 100% phonemic?

Is there a language that has a complete one-to-one correspondence between the graphemes (letters) and the phonemes of the language? In other words, is there a language that is 100% ideally phonemic?
22
votes
8answers
4k views

What are some alternatives to Chomskian generative grammar?

What are the other common approaches to study syntax? Note: the source is an example question from the on-topic question list in Area51.
22
votes
9answers
962 views

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 ...
22
votes
5answers
6k views

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? ...
22
votes
2answers
17k views

What's the difference between a “false cognate” and a “false friend”?

There are two terms used for pairs of words (in the same or different languages) that look similar but are actually unrelated: false friend and false cognate. Are these terms synonymous? If not, what'...
22
votes
3answers
2k views

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 ...
22
votes
3answers
5k 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 ...
22
votes
4answers
3k views

What is “case”?

As a non-linguist, I am confused about the concept of case. What is its definition, as linguists use it? Is it about the different forms that nouns/pronouns can take? Is it about the function of the ...
22
votes
4answers
4k views

Is there a linguistics equivalent to Turing completeness?

In computer science, programming languages can be described in terms of "Turing completeness", basically, whether a programming language is capable of expressing any* algorithm. A non-Turing-complete ...
22
votes
7answers
2k views

In languages with grammatical gender, how do they determine the gender when a new word has been created?

In languages with grammatical gender that has (almost) no morphological relation between the words and the genders(e.g. French), how do they determine the gender of a new word that has been introduced/...
22
votes
3answers
1k views

How do linguists distinguish between case endings and postpositions, especially in languages which have both and/or have no traditional grammar?

In my attempt to learn Georgian, an agglutinative language of the South Caucasus, I have learned that it has both case endings and postpositions. I also have some familiarity with Korean and Japanese ...
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Why do different languages have different amounts of unique words for numbers between 10 and 20?

I've read a similar question here which mainly dealt with why English only has eleven and twelve as unique words with some interesting ideas. But my question is why do different languages have ...
22
votes
2answers
750 views

False-belief verbs

Some languages, including Mandarin and Cantonese, have a dedicated belief verb that one uses for describing false beliefs. For instance, in Mandarin, yiwei is used to describe beliefs that the ...
21
votes
9answers
5k views

Do any languages mark social distinctions other than gender and status?

Many languages have pronouns that reflect gender, and some have pronouns that reflect relative social hierarchy or formality. (To pick an example I actually know, in Dutch the second person singular ...
21
votes
9answers
7k 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 ...
21
votes
8answers
7k views

Does Japanese have determiners?

It's generally established that Japanese does not have the grammatical category of articles (akin to English "a/an" and "the"). But as mentioned in this answer, the concept of articles seems to be ...
21
votes
4answers
3k views

Why do Polish and Belarusian have an atypical greeting if compared to other Slavic languages?

While chatting with a polish penpal, I've discovered that in Polish the expression for "good morning/good day/hello/good afternoon" varies if compared to the other Slavic languages; later I saw that ...
21
votes
1answer
2k views

What is the name for a placename that contains what the thing is in a different language?

For example Mount Maunganui. In Māori maunganui means "large mountain" and thus when literally translated into English it means "Mount Large Mountain". Another example would be the river Avon. In ...
21
votes
4answers
3k 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/...
21
votes
2answers
2k views

Do onomatopoeias resist sound change?

Regular sound changes can of course affect phonemes used in onomatopoeias. For example, consider a language containing /mjaw/, referring to the call of a cat. Suppose that final /w/ is sound-changed ...
21
votes
1answer
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. ...
21
votes
3answers
5k views

Is Yiddish a creole language? And if not, what is it?

A "creole" language is formed by the merging of two parent languages, usually through an earlier rudimentary mixture of the two. Does this make Yiddish a creole language? My question is really about ...

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