73 votes
Accepted

Is Sanskrit really the mother of all languages?

No, it is not. First and foremost, there are many languages recorded long before the advent of Sanskrit, and many religions recorded long before the advent of Hinduism. The oldest surviving texts in ...
Draconis's user avatar
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65 votes
Accepted

Were ancient languages as sophisticated as modern languages?

Or are there any examples of historic languages with far fewer words and being much more basic? Interestingly enough, there are not! Nor are there any examples of "more basic" modern languages (*). ...
Draconis's user avatar
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46 votes
Accepted

Why is the word "war" in Romance languages predominantly of Germanic origin instead of Latin?

A why-question is almost unanswerable, the answer is "because it happened so". But there was a strong trigger for the replacement of bellum, namely the homophony with the word for "...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
46 votes

Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to?

Ancient Greek word ΣΑΣΤΗΡ (sastēr) From 1890 to 1899, in pieces, a white marble slab was found by archaeologists in the ruins of an Ancient Greek colony Chersonesus, Greek Χερσόνησος (Khersónēsos), on ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
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46 votes
Accepted

How did the generic masculine emerge?

In many Indo-European languages, like Latin, the masculine is less "marked" than the feminine, meaning that it's the more basic or fundamental form: the one you use by default unless there's ...
Draconis's user avatar
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38 votes

Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to?

There are many such words. Even for a really well-attested dead language like Latin such words are known, e.g., aurichalc, haematopus, or cortumio (all three examples taken from the answers to this ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
37 votes
Accepted

Are language and thought the same?

The idea that language and thought are one and the same, that thoughts cannot exist without language, is sometimes called strong linguistic determinism or the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (*). It's ...
Draconis's user avatar
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37 votes
Accepted

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
  • 8,322
35 votes

Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to?

A surprising example is that one of the words in the "Lord's Prayer", one of the most significant prayers of the Christian tradition, has an unknown meaning. The original Greek word is ...
James Martin's user avatar
33 votes

What linguistic evidence is there in support of/in opposition to the account of the Tower of Babel?

The main evidence for this is archaeological, not linguistic. Historical linguistics can come up with plausible reconstructions of proto-languages, talk about whether and how they're related, and even ...
Draconis's user avatar
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31 votes

Is Sanskrit really the mother of all languages?

Sanskrit is not the mother of all languages. Sanskrit is not even the mother of the modern Indo-Aryan languages of the Northern India. Neither it is their father or grandfather. In fact, no language ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
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30 votes

Why were writing systems invented independently during roughly the same period across multiple civilizations?

From the source: Full writing-systems appear to have been invented independently at least four times in human history: first in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) where cuneiform was used between 3400 ...
Draconis's user avatar
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28 votes

Why do some Indo-European languages have genders and some don't?

The origin of grammatical gender is not necessarily well understood, but presumably it originated like any other inflectional feature and then became associated with gender when it was noticed that ...
Cairnarvon's user avatar
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28 votes

Why is it called proto-Germanic?

It's also worth pointing out the term originates in German as Urgermanisch or Protogermanisch, and that the German for German is Deutsch, not Germanisch. It was intended to be more neutral w.r.t. ...
Cairnarvon's user avatar
  • 2,077
27 votes

Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to?

In Genesis 6:14, Noah's Ark is made of עצי גפר (gopher wood). "Gopher" is just a phonetic transliteration of the ancient Hebrew גֹּפֶר. No one knows what it means, except that it is ...
Mark Foskey's user avatar
26 votes
Accepted

Why is it called proto-Germanic?

Roman authors, at the latest from the time of Caesar, used "Germani" to identify all the "Germanic" tribes on both sides of the Rhine. So this usage has been established for a long ...
fdb's user avatar
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24 votes

Why is Edenics not recognized as a serious linguistic theory?

The reason "Edenics" isn't taken seriously is that it isn't, by scientific standards, serious. To establish a kinship between two languages, linguists need to have whole series of words that can be ...
Luís Henrique's user avatar
24 votes

Does the letter p in a word mean that the word is not Germanic?

Not always. Grimm's Law predicts that Proto-Indo-European *b would turn into Proto-Germanic *p. However, Proto-Indo-European *b is vanishingly rare, and some scholars argue it didn't actually exist in ...
Draconis's user avatar
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23 votes

What is the meaning of the number 2 in Proto-Indo European reconstructions? e.g. As in *tewtéh₂, meaning "people" or "tribe"

The numbers are specific to Proto-Indo-European. Scholars aren't sure how PIE was pronounced: after all, there are no native speakers around now, or records from the time. All of the sounds in ...
Draconis's user avatar
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23 votes
Accepted

Why were vowels secondary citizens in many of the worlds sound-based writing systems?

In Ancient Egyptian, like many Afro-Asiatic languages, the consonants generally determine the root of a word, while the vowels inflect it. Sāḏam means "to hear", saḏma means "might hear&...
Draconis's user avatar
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23 votes

Was cuneiform ever drawn on a surface, as opposed to carved?

I wonder though, given that it remained in used for thousands of years, was this the only way it was ever utilized? As fdb mentions, it was also sometimes carved or hammered into other materials. ...
Draconis's user avatar
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21 votes
Accepted

How stable are grammatical genders?

There is no simple answer. In languages with gender - less than half* - the gender of specific words often varies not just by time but by dialect. Likewise it varies across languages in a language ...
Adam Bittlingmayer's user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

How did Greek loanwords with 'ae' come to be pronounced [i] in modern English?

Greek αι (/aj/) was regularly borrowed into Latin as ae (/aj/*). In Latin, ae eventually monophthongized into /ɛː/; in Vulgar Latin/Proto-Romance, vowel length was lost and this eventually merged with ...
Draconis's user avatar
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20 votes
Accepted

Do any languages use {woman} as the root for human?

In Arabic the word for “human being of either sex” is ʼinsān, from the same root as nisāʼ “women”. The usual word for “male human being” is rajul.
fdb's user avatar
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19 votes
Accepted

Which Indo European language best preserves the features of Proto Indo-European?

There are many possible answers to this question. Historically, the comparative method was born from observing the regularity of phonological and morphological correspondences between Classical ...
Artemij Keidan's user avatar
19 votes
Accepted

Origin of h as a modifier letter

To my understanding, it comes from TH and PH. In Ancient Greek, there were "aspirated" consonants written Θ and Φ, which literally sounded like "t followed by h" and "p followed by h". So when words ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 66.2k
18 votes

Origin of "boor"

It's just a coincidence. The Hebrew and Arabic words come from a root B-W-R "to lie fallow"; compare the Arabic verbs بَوَّرَ (bawwara) and بَارَ (baara). The metaphor of "thoughts = ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 66.2k
18 votes
Accepted

How well do Semitic languages preserve consonants over time?

Semitic languages don't always preserve consonants perfectly. In fact, I don't think that there is any Semitic language without multiple classes of conjugation to account for irregularities. All ...
b a's user avatar
  • 2,775
18 votes

Why is the word "war" in Romance languages predominantly of Germanic origin instead of Latin?

The basic meaning of the Germanic *wirr is “disorder, chaos” etc. The shift in meaning to “warfare” originated in Frankish and is attested since the 9th century in High German, English, but not ...
fdb's user avatar
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