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37 votes
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Is there any evidence that the modern word for "bear" is an euphemism which replaced the original taboo word?

You are correct that whilst the argument that the original term was replaced is pretty strong, the arguments for taboo being the reason for its replacement is much less clear-cut. The first thing ...
Tristan's user avatar
  • 8,785
19 votes

At what point does a language become its descendant?

This is a difficult question. Greek is perceived as one language despite the fact that Classical Greek is no longer intelligible for a native speaker of Modern Greek without exposure to the classical ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
13 votes
Accepted

State of language in the hunter-gatherer era of Europe / Levant?

There is no controversy over the existence of the contemporary language faculty as recently as 40 Kya, though we should omit speculations about persistence of Neanderthals and their language capacity ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k
12 votes

Vanishing of cases: general trend or specific to indo-European family?

It's not just a modern trend. Four millennia ago we see Hittite (Indo-European) gradually losing its elaborate case-marking system, and Akkadian (Semitic) reducing its three cases to two (and ...
Draconis's user avatar
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11 votes
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When does language "evolve" and when is it just wrong grammar?

It's right if other people who speak your dialect (other people in your speech community) also say the same thing systematically. In the Japanese case, it's clear that the construction is correct in ...
WavesWashSands's user avatar
11 votes

Origin of Present Perfect in Romance Languages

The similarity is due to a common pathway of grammaticalistion. The have + past participle form comes from a resultative construction (Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca, 1994), which commonly leads to the ...
WavesWashSands's user avatar
11 votes
Accepted

Why has the neuter gender disappeared from almost all the modern Romance languages?

I've read that even in Latin, we see some variability in the declension of words as neuter or masculine. Sometimes the use of the masculine where neuter would be expected is attributed to "...
brass tacks's user avatar
  • 18.3k
10 votes

Is it realistic for the Grounders' language as depicted in "The 100" to have developed within 97 years?

There may be a real-world example on Quora from Don Grushkin, Professor of Deaf Studies (Ph.D. in Language, Reading and Culture). I've added the bold. I'm not sure anybody's ever conducted any ...
rosesunhill's user avatar
9 votes

Origin of Present Perfect in Romance Languages

To the excellent answer by @WavesWashSands I'll only add that some Latin verbs employed a perfective construction with the verb esse "to be" and a participle, which at some point could have motivated ...
pablodf76's user avatar
  • 1,235
8 votes

Fronting of /u/ from Latin to French

The question does not accurately summarize the relevant sound changes. Latin short /u/ was not fronted to /y/. Only Latin long /uː/, as in dūrus /duːrus/, regularly developed to /y/ in French. (Of ...
brass tacks's user avatar
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8 votes
Accepted

Why is it thought that definite articles develop from deictic markers, and not the other way around?

For English in particular, we have older stages of the language attested: Shakespeare, Chaucer, whoever wrote Beowulf. And we can see that in Beowulf "the" had the force of a demonstrative, but ...
Draconis's user avatar
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8 votes
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Why is "knife" in Ukrainian different from other Slavic languages?

This is one of the most salient and well-known features of Ukrainian, and the first mentioned in Wikipedia’s description of the history of the Ukrainian language; it is not just this word. The ...
Janus Bahs Jacquet's user avatar
7 votes
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Possible diachronic developments of th sounds

Proto-Semitic *ϑ becomes /ϑ/ in (classical) Arabic, /t/ in Aramaic and some Arabic dialects, /ʃ/ in Hebrew, /s/ in Amharic, /f/ in some Arabic dialects. Proto-Semitic *δ becomes /δ/ in (classical) ...
fdb's user avatar
  • 24.2k
7 votes

How can all languages be considered equally "good" at expressing ideas when language had to evolve from something more primitive?

The problem with Deutscher’s theory is that it posits the exact opposite of what we can observe in real languages across time. If we look at the long-term development from Latin to Romance; from ...
fdb's user avatar
  • 24.2k
7 votes

Has the Russian way of pronunciation been affected by frost?

The multidisciplinary study of how climate and other environmental factors can be of influence to linguistic features in general and to phonetics in particular is something very young and results are ...
shabunc's user avatar
  • 919
7 votes
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Looking for examples of natural languages with affricates but no corresponding fricatives/plosives

A likely place to start, I think, would be to find an affricate that’s relatively common, but whose corresponding fricative is not all that common. The most obvious candidate to me is /(d)ʒ/. The most ...
Janus Bahs Jacquet's user avatar
6 votes

When does language "evolve" and when is it just wrong grammar?

I think it is important to look at the general tendency in which the language is evolving. If a language is loosing some distinctions, then there will be an important trend of speaking/writing without ...
Luís Henrique's user avatar
6 votes
Accepted

Why does the name for Germany vary so much between languages?

The primary reason is because there were many Germanic tribes with which the other nations came into contact with directly. This may actually be because of the position in Central Europe - i.e. the ...
Eleshar's user avatar
  • 2,363
6 votes

Why did English evolve to have so little inflection?

There is a trend for languages, in general, to lose inflection of a certain type, and Indo-European languages manifest that trend. Particular facts of English have encouraged that development, and ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k
6 votes

How is it possible to reconstruct old accents of a language?

Oftentimes we have documents that talk about how things were pronounced, especially when they criticize people for how they talk (the Romans were rather famous for that). Texts like poems are also ...
user0721090601's user avatar
5 votes

Why there are no grammatical cases in the French language?

It has to do mostly with sound change. French underwent two principal sound changes that effectively prevented it from keeping the case system from Latin. 1) Elision of any post-accentual vowels: ...
Eleshar's user avatar
  • 2,363
5 votes

Where did the discussion of the language faculty between Fitch, Hauser, Chomsky and Pinker and Jackendoff terminate?

The debate ended in 2005. Shortly after this, Chomsky (2005/2008 (written in 2005, and circulated, published in 2008) wrote On Phases which did not acknowledge anything from his previous papers co-...
Ghoti657's user avatar
  • 321
5 votes

Can two close languages be merged?

Whether Norwegians and Danes living in the same place would end up speaking 1 vs. 2 languages depends on the extent to which they remain culturally Norwegians vs. Danes, or simply generalized ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k
5 votes

What is it called when a word is used based on an extant definition which no longer actually applies? e.g. "dial" with phones

That's called the 'generalization / extension / broadening' of meaning: words with concrete meaning (like 'dialing' meaning 'calling by turning the round wheel on the phone') begin to mean more ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
  • 18.5k
5 votes

How fast is the number of languages spoken today decreasing/increasing?

If language-name plays a central role in determining what "language" one speaks (I speak English, as do hundreds of millions of others), then the number of languages is decreasing. Many languages are ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k
5 votes
Accepted

Absence of vowel combination /ou/ in Spanish

It seems this was a combination of: 'ou' being rare in Latin words and only in environments where vowels would undergo changes in the evolution to Spanish, and instances of vowel + consonant ...
iacobo's user avatar
  • 3,122
5 votes

At what point does a language become its descendant?

At what point do we say "These people in the Italian peninsula are no longer speaking Latin; they are speaking Italian"? There used to be an official answer to this: Italians were taught that Dante'...
abarnert's user avatar
  • 2,625
5 votes

When and how did the Japanese honorific system evolve?

As a partial answer, this dissertation by K. Russell reconstructs verbal morphology of proto-Japonic. Certain morphemes are reconstructed (ch. 4) at the level of proto-Japonic, but others are only ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83.1k

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