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22
votes
8answers
8k 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 ...
22
votes
3answers
6k 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
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
2answers
2k 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
3answers
2k views

Connection between right (opposite of left) and right (legal term)?

Does anyone know of a connection, or some sort of established historical/etymological explanation why in a few languages, "the opposite of left" and "legal term" are the same or seemingly related ...
21
votes
12answers
49k views

Why was korea able to remove kanji but japan wasn't when both languages use homophones?

I am strictly interested in the question of homophones and kanji. Korean has homophones yet they removed the Chinese characters and are getting by just fine? Or are they? Japanese kanji lovers say ...
21
votes
9answers
3k views

Are there languages that distinguish between inclusive and exclusive "or"?

I would be especially interested in Indo-European languages or other common language families, but failing that, I would be very interested if it exists at all, because it is an important distinction ...
21
votes
2answers
33k views

Why is /h/ called voiceless vowel phonetically, and /h/ consonant phonologically?

Why is /h/ called voiceless vowel phonetically, and /h/ consonant phonologically?
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
3answers
4k views

Reversal of kinship terms when speaking to a child

When Turkish people speak to children, they often address them with the kinship term that the child is supposed to use for the speaker. For example a mother may call her child "anneciğim" ("my dear ...
21
votes
4answers
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/...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

Paucal number without singular

I have usually seen the paucal number presented as intermediate between singular and plural in the languages that have it: singular - just one paucal - a few plural - many However, is there any ...
21
votes
3answers
6k 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 ...
21
votes
3answers
3k views

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, ...
21
votes
1answer
14k views

When does copula absence occur in African-American Vernacular English?

In what contexts can the zero copula occur in African-American Vernacular English? What rules govern its use—for example, what makes she runnin' more likely to be acceptable than ?she a runner? Some ...
20
votes
12answers
5k views

Which languages have different words for "maternal uncle" and "paternal uncle"?

According to some early Hebrew grammarians, the Biblical Hebrew word דוד (dod) specifically means "paternal uncle," while the term מסרף (misraf) means "maternal uncle" (for example,...
20
votes
9answers
4k views

Languages which changed their writing direction

I am interested in account of languages that had undergone a change in the writing direction somewhere in the history. We might say, for example, that Greek was used to be written also (not sure if ...
20
votes
3answers
6k views

Since when did Indo-European languages start associating noun genders with male/female sexes?

Since what point in time did noun classes in Indo-European languages become associated with the sexes? I read that greek/latin used words that translate to "kind" to describe the noun ...
20
votes
8answers
4k views

What are some interesting features that are common cross-linguistically but don't exist in English?

This is on purpose not a very concrete question, I simply want to know some interesting properties other languages have that English doesn't, or features you even think English ought to have, this can ...
20
votes
9answers
3k views

Languages with different words for 'we'

Are there any languages that make a distinction between the following: We (you and I) We (them and I, but not you) We (all of us) I don't think any of the Germanic languages do. Also, what is this ...
20
votes
5answers
1k views

What method do linguists use to rate language competence?

People on the street bandy about words like "fluent", "knows French", "speaks broken French" as if it all means something. How do linguists determine if a speaker is competent and what taxonomy do ...
20
votes
4answers
3k views

Is the schwa sound consistent?

The first syllable in "about" (ə'baʊt) is schwa, so is the second one in the "salad" ('sæləd), but iv'e never heard them pronounced the same way. in salad it sounds more like the i in "trick". ...
20
votes
2answers
1k 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, ...
20
votes
7answers
2k views

What divides semantics from pragmatics?

To my understanding... Semantics is the raw meaning and connotations a word carries on it's own and pragmatics is the context-dependent meaning a word holds. Is this accurate? Can anyone explain it ...
20
votes
2answers
4k views

Why do parents refer to themselves in third person?

Why do parents refer to themselves in third person, when talking to small kids? I've seen this happening in German, English and Russian and I do this myself (even though I try not to, because I think, ...
20
votes
4answers
2k views

Corpus of baby-talk or motherese

Baby-talk or motherese is the language that parents tend to use when addressing preverbal or just-starting-to-speak children. What are the fundamental features or rules that define this subset of a ...
20
votes
2answers
12k views

How are languages deciphered?

How do archaeologists, cryptoanalysts and linguists decipher extinct languages? Has there been a case in history where this was successfully accomplished, without the means of something like the ...
20
votes
7answers
3k views

Are the Japanese and Korean subject particles known to be related in any way, including by Sprachbund?

Japanese and Korean have strikingly similar grammars but whether they are related or not is an open question. Both languages have a particle to mark the grammatical subject of a sentence and in fact ...
20
votes
3answers
3k views

Can the IPA represent all languages' tones?

The IPA's current tone system can show five different tone levels, and any contours formed from them. Is there any language for which this is insufficient? In other words, is there any (known, ...
20
votes
8answers
16k views

Do absolute synonyms exist?

By absolute synonyms, I mean words (in the same language) that are interchangeable in all situations. There can't be differences in register, meaning, or emotional value. Is there material that ...
20
votes
3answers
1k views

Are there any fundamental differences in personal pronoun acquisition across languages?

I am interest in reversal errors in personal pronoun acquisition. My knowledge comes mostly from studies done with English-speaking children, and I was wondering if there is any languages where this ...
20
votes
4answers
3k views

Does Japanese have pronouns?

It is often said that Japanese doesn't really have a pronoun word class, such as in the Wikipedia article on Japanese Grammar: Although many grammars and textbooks mention pronouns (代名詞 daimeishi), ...
20
votes
1answer
2k views

How powerful is literacy to slow down language change?

The degree of literacy of a certain community of speakers is generally proposed as one of the factors that affect the pace of language change. More specifically, literacy would slow down change, since ...
20
votes
2answers
668 views

Are similar languages easier for children to acquire than dissimilar ones?

When a child is first learning a language in a bilingual environment, is it easier or harder to properly acquire the two distinct languages if they are more similar? For example, is it easier for a ...
19
votes
10answers
9k views

What makes a non-native English speaker sound foreign?

I'm not a native speaker. However, I have tried a lot during last 10 years to learn English at a high level of proficiency and to become fluent in conversation. However, when I talk to some of my ...
19
votes
8answers
8k views

Why do even completely illiterate persons, who speak their national language poorly, speak their local dialect with perfection?

Disclaimers: I have no linguistic knowledge whatsoever, I'm just fascinated by these subjects. Also, I will use the word "dialect" due to my lack of a better word, although I see that the ...
19
votes
4answers
6k views

Is the Cyrillic letter 'Z' the same as the number 3

Why do the Cyrillic 'Z'(З) and the number '3' seem to be the same glyph? Is there a difference that I'm just not seeing? They look identical to me
19
votes
8answers
3k views

Is the countable vs mass noun distinction common outside English?

English makes a difference between count nouns (also known as countable nouns) and mass nouns (also known as uncountable nouns). Count noun: One cat, two cats, few cats. Mass noun: Some information, ...
19
votes
6answers
6k views

What's the global difference between nouns and verbs?

Is there a way to distinguish nouns and verbs that applies to all languages? This problem has been occupying my mind for some time now. I'm not quite sure how to approach this question, so I'll just ...
19
votes
6answers
770 views

Which phenomena compensate for sound losses in languages?

There is a tendency in all of the world’s languages to drop word sounds, especially unstressed syllables. One example is the word for “winter” in Proto-Algonquian, “peponwi”, which developed into “aa” ...
19
votes
4answers
5k 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 ...
19
votes
2answers
8k views

What is the function of the soft sign (Ь) in Russian?

After some searching, I'm still unsure about what function the soft sign (Ь) performs in Russian. I have read that it indicates declension, palatisation, and iotation in different contexts, but with ...
19
votes
1answer
2k views

What is the idea behind calling the adverb the garbage can of words?

As chance would have it, I came across three unrelated persons each describing the adverb as the the garbage can among the word classes. It happened in Germany and the original wording was: ...
19
votes
2answers
5k views

Why are Native American names translated?

Is there a particular reason that Native American names, such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Black Hawk, or Red Cloud, are translated into English phrases? As far as I know, no other culture's names ...
19
votes
1answer
911 views

How do tone languages assign phonemic tones to loanwords from non-tone languages?

How do tone languages assign phonemic tones to loanwords from non-tone languages? For example, does such assignment vary according to the phonological context in each loanword? Alternatively, does ...
19
votes
5answers
874 views

Language acquisition without interactive contact with fluent speakers

Children raised in a multilingual environment learn all the languages that they are exposed to with no effort. Does the same thing happen if a child has only indirect contact with a language? For ...
19
votes
3answers
8k views

Does anyone know of text message corpora?

I am looking for a large corpus of text messages. By large, I am hoping to have at least 15,000 text messages in my sample. I am fine with combining several smaller corpora into a larger corpus as I ...
19
votes
3answers
4k views

Why does stop VOT duration vary depending on place of articulation?

From the (albeit citation needed) section of the Wikipedia article on aspiration: Spanish /p t k/, for example, have voice onset times (VOTs) of about 5, 10, and 30 milliseconds, whereas English /p ...
19
votes
2answers
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 ...
19
votes
3answers
857 views

How are mathematical operators like "plus" and "cos" analyzed?

Consider the mathematical statement 1 + 2 = 3 It is read in English as One plus two equals three. One plus two is equal to three. In English at least, equals is obviously an ordinary verb, ...

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