Hot answers tagged

58 votes
Accepted

Is it unusual that English uses possessive for past tense?

This is what's called a "Sprachbund" feature: it's a trait shared by a bunch of languages in an area, even ones that aren't genetically related. In particular, this one is a feature of the "Standard ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
46 votes
Accepted

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

English syntax makes a distinction between auxiliary verbs and full verbs. (Note that this answer is only talking about English; other languages do things differently. And as people have pointed out ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
38 votes
Accepted

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

Yes there are. Examples include Greenlandic and Cree. It's not exactly what you asked for, as it doesn't depend on whether it's the last antecedent, or second-to-last antecedent. But in these ...
user avatar
  • 4,348
22 votes
Accepted

Fourth person (in Slavey language)

The fourth person is a (rare) synonym for the obviative. In languages with this feature, when there are two third-person referents and one of them is less salient, the less salient one may be marked ...
user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

Why do we use the names we do for grammatical genders?

The names currently used for French are inherited from Latin, which had three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. (Some ancient grammarians added "common" and "epicene" to ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
20 votes

Fourth person (in Slavey language)

As a layman in linguistics I found this explanation pretty illuminating: In English, when we have a non-SAP (speech act participants) involved in the discourse, there is the potential for ambiguity. ...
user avatar
18 votes
Accepted

Which comes first? Grammar or language?

Linguists make a distinction between prescriptive and descriptive grammar, and the answer to your question depends on which of the two you are talking about. Prescriptivists set forth their rules ...
user avatar
  • 12.3k
17 votes

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

While it is not clear to me what should be considered as "unique" to a language, since all the languages are different, so also unique in many ways, but they also share many basic features and ...
user avatar
16 votes
Accepted

Example of a tenseless sentence

A common saying in linguistics is, languages don't vary in what they can express. They only vary in what they must express. In English, it's morphologically impossible to have a finite verb without ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
16 votes
Accepted

Can one sentence have two or multiple possible phrase structure grammars? And what is this called?

Yes, this is possible, and the phenomenon is called syntactic ambiguity. A classical example sentence is He saw the man with the telescope. which has two different readings and syntactic analyses.
user avatar
14 votes

What's the use of Grammar?

A very short version: the use of grammar is that you could not have asked this question without using grammar! You are making one big assumption, and as a result, you miss the main point: Grammar ...
user avatar
  • 241
14 votes
Accepted

Besides logics, what mathematical tools are used in the study of linguistics?

Nice question, I think this is good to ask for linguistic theory in general, because people who are not so familiar with linguistic research often find this hard to imagine. First of all, logic in ...
user avatar
  • 6,120
14 votes

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

In some sign languages, pointing is used as a pronoun. It makes different distinctions to the ones made by English pronouns. In English, he, she, this, that and it are different. He and him are ...
user avatar
  • 281
14 votes
Accepted

Why are there grammars in languages in the first place?

This is a very general question about acceptance of scientific theories, and you can analogously ask if you should really believe that your body is made up of little tiny cells, the cells are made up ...
user avatar
  • 68.7k
13 votes

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

John McWhorter recently explained some. I'll add to that here. English has a number of features that, while not absolutely unique to English, just rare in the world, are unique to English as a ...
user avatar
  • 4,374
13 votes

Does English have [ inchoative aspect ]?

This is a case where we have to distinguish between the ability to express something in a language and the presence or absence of a grammatical structure dedicated to expressing that something. ...
user avatar
13 votes

I have my hair cut - "my hair" a Direct Object?

First of all, the sentence I have my hair cut. is an example of a Construction. That is, there is a special model for this clause, with its own unique sets of meanings, uses, restrictions, and ...
user avatar
  • 9,723
12 votes

Are there any known natural languages in which tense is never (or very rarely) expressed through the modification of verbs?

In Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania, the verbs never change their form, it is the pronouns that have the tense. In Wolof there is I-which-is-now, I-that-will-be, I-that-was, ...
user avatar
  • 16.3k
12 votes

Are words classified (PoS) according to their use in a sentence, or does classification precede usage?

Short, snappy answer: parts of speech are a lie perpetuated by Big Syntax. Longer, actually useful answer: parts of speech are an abstraction created by linguists to explain how syntax works. There's ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
12 votes

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

Aside from obviative third person pronouns mentioned by OmarL, some languages have what are known as 'reflexive' pronouns. These pronouns refer directly back to the subject of the clause that they are ...
user avatar
11 votes
Accepted

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 ...
user avatar
11 votes

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

You can't delete a vowel and also stress it. That's obvious. So deleting a vowel prevents stressing it, and stressing a vowel prevents deleting it. A principle of English stress is that the last ...
user avatar
  • 12.3k
11 votes
Accepted

Is it possible in Sanskrit to distinguish between the names Rāma and Rām i.e. राम and राम् when used in a sentence?

In the dictionaries, the Sanskrit name राम (Rāma), together with most other Sanskrit words, is given in the form of the stem. राम (Rāma) is the stem, and in a sentence it can be used only as a direct ...
user avatar
  • 16.3k
10 votes
Accepted

Declensions in Polish

I can recommend this book: Słownik odmiany rzeczowników polskich by Stanisław Mędrak. The good news is that it's exactly what you want: a dictionary that lists all the noun declension paradigms. The ...
user avatar
  • 1,743
10 votes
Accepted

Intuitive English example of why linguists think natural language grammar is stronger than CFL?

I don't personally believe that CFL are insufficient, but among linguists who care about weak generative capacity (probably most don't care about the issue), the consensus seems to be that they are. ...
user avatar
  • 12.3k
10 votes
Accepted

Are there languages where the tense depends on time elapsed between events?

Having one or more remoteness distinctions in the past tense is reasonably common, particularly in Papua, parts of the Amazon and parts of Africa: http://wals.info/feature/66A (note that the map is ...
user avatar
  • 286
10 votes
Accepted

"Den" or "det" in Swedish

Many languages have such an ambiguity built in. It's very common that you can't tell the morphosyntactic properties of a word or even its phonological interactions just from its form, even given ...
user avatar
  • 2,218
10 votes
Accepted

Why is sign language different from spoken language?

Sign languages are true natural human languages, so the first misconception to overcome is that anyone has the power to control it like the question suggests. We can set conventional spellings in a ...
user avatar
  • 5,443
10 votes

Why couldn't one combine rules from languages for sentences with the same intended meaning?

You can if you want; nothing is stopping you. But if you're writing in Finnish, it's presumably because you want Finnish-speaking people to understand you, and Finnish-speaking people are used to the ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k
10 votes

Which language is more complex, English or French? Is it even possible to objectively measure a language's complexity?

This is a (perhaps surprisingly) complex question. The short answer is that it's a widely-held axiom that no naturally-spoken languages are more or less complex than others, but solid proof of this is ...
user avatar
  • 53.2k

Only top scored, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible