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71
votes
3answers
9k 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 ...
68
votes
12answers
23k 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 ...
62
votes
10answers
13k 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, ...
59
votes
9answers
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 ...
58
votes
10answers
83k 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?
58
votes
10answers
43k 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 ...
53
votes
13answers
13k 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 '...
52
votes
7answers
16k 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 ...
46
votes
3answers
13k 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 ...
46
votes
4answers
11k 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 ...
46
votes
2answers
10k 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, ...
44
votes
9answers
6k 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)".
42
votes
15answers
461k 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'...
42
votes
9answers
206k 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 ...
41
votes
6answers
5k 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-...
40
votes
9answers
11k 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-...
40
votes
3answers
10k 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 ...
39
votes
10answers
3k 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 ...
37
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...
36
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
36
votes
4answers
6k 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 ...
36
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...
35
votes
13answers
3k 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 ...
35
votes
8answers
6k 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 ...
35
votes
4answers
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 ...
34
votes
2answers
12k 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?
34
votes
4answers
10k 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 ...
33
votes
4answers
7k 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 ...
32
votes
10answers
3k 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 ...
31
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
31
votes
1answer
5k views

Is it unusual that English uses possessive for past tense?

When learning some basic French, I was somewhat surprised to learn that phrases of the form "I have found the cat" generally translate almost word-for-word from English (J'ai trouvé le chat). To me, ...
31
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
31
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...
31
votes
3answers
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
30
votes
8answers
20k 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 ...
30
votes
5answers
11k 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 ...
30
votes
6answers
15k 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 ...
30
votes
5answers
14k views

Is there a difference between an affricate and a plosive+fricative consonant cluster?

Is there a difference between an affricate and a plosive+fricative consonant cluster? According to wikipedia, there is a difference between a plosive+fricative sequence, as in the following example ...
30
votes
5answers
19k views

What meaningful distinction is there between morphology and syntax?

While I am not interested in hearing the common distinction made in introductory text-books, I am interested in hearing what meaningful distinction there can be between morphology and syntax. Is there ...
30
votes
4answers
9k 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 ...
29
votes
8answers
5k views

Is there a language where there are personal pronouns for the first or second person that have gender?

Is there a language where there are personal pronouns for the first or second person that have gender? Like a feminine "I" or a masculine "you".
29
votes
5answers
6k views

Why does English not have a cognate of words like heter, in Swedish, or llama, in Spanish, etc?

This is something that I think is present in most languages. If I were to present my self in English, I might say: My name is DisplayName. Where as in other languages I can both say: Mitt namn ...
29
votes
5answers
8k 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 ...
29
votes
5answers
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 ...
28
votes
6answers
52k views

Why is English classified as a Germanic rather than Romance language?

I am not a linguist. I do not know German nor French. The majority of English vocabulary is derived from Romance languages. Given these facts, I ask for a simple and convincing demonstration (using an ...
28
votes
7answers
14k views

Why do so many core Romanian words with Latin roots come from different roots than in the other Romance languages?

Romanian is a romance language like Catalan, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish so much of its core vocabulary is derived from Latin. Why then even in core vocabulary does Romanian so often ...
28
votes
3answers
6k views

Why don't you get back the original text when you use translation software to translate something into another language and then back into English?

I translated "How to use Web?" into some other language using machine translation, but after I translated the result back into English, it is not the same as the first text I put into the translator. ...
28
votes
2answers
4k views

Is there a technical name for when languages use masculine pronouns to refer to both men and women?

I know a little Arabic, and I also know English. They both have the notion of "gender" built into their syntax. I am Persian and I speak Farsi, which does not have "gender" built ...
28
votes
4answers
4k views

Do the Khoisan languages resemble the world's first language?

I have read somewhere that if there ever was a world's first language*, that language must have had very much in common** with the Khoisan languages. Arguments in support of this hypothesis are: ...
28
votes
11answers
4k 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 ...

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