73

"Tonal" is one of those words that everyone vaguely understands, but is annoyingly hard to actually define. Most people agree that English isn't "tonal". But there's not a clear dividing line between "tonal" and "not tonal"; it's more of a spectrum. At one end are the truly tonal languages. In these languages, every syllable/vowel/tone-bearing-unit gets one ...


38

English commonly resorts to post-auxiliary ellipsis as in (1) They arrived late, as I thought they would. This is already pretty rare among the world languages. But, as far as I know, English is unique in the variety of constructions where ellipsis is tolerated. For instance, it tolerates voice mismatch as in (2) This problem was to have been looked into,...


27

English marks plurality in first and third person pronouns (I vs. we, he/she/it vs. they), but not in the second person (you). (The singular thou did exist in English in the past, but is now considered obsolete.) According to WALS chapter 35 (paragraph 5.1), about 20% of languages distinguish plurality in either first person or second person but not both. ...


27

I'll give the glib answer: A straightforward/predictable orthography. Out of all the languages which have established writing systems, the vast majority are to some extent phonemic; not all have a one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes, but it's generally possible to figure out how a word is pronounced, given nothing but its written form. ...


22

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 as obviative and the more salient one as proximative. According to Rice (1989), the fourth-person pronoun go- is used for objects when the subject is third ...


22

The term is loanword adaptation. It happens every time someone tries to use a word from a different language when speaking another. It's because every language has a different set of sounds that can be recognized as part of that language. A tongue click can be part of ordinary words in some languages in southern and eastern Africa just like any other ...


20

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. For example, consider: “John was in a tizzy last night and got into a fight with Bill. He hit him so hard that he broke his jaw.” Here, it isn’t clear that who ...


19

The usual account of the difference is that the location of "stress" differs between perMIT and PERmit. You cannot tell the difference between tone ans stress just based on phonetics (that is, "higher F0" does not mean "H tone", because the primary phonetic correlate of stress is higher pitch). There is a misguided tendency to use Chinese as the standard of ...


17

If expletive infixation isn't unique to English, what about recursive expletive infixation, however impractical it may be. Ex: "Holy mother-mother-fucking-fuck!"


17

R-coloured vowels seem to be a pretty unique trait of English phonology. I don't know of any other language that has the vowel [ɝ] as in General American pronunciation of "work". The only major language, other than English, that has this type of vowels is Mandarin, but it doesn't have this particular one.


17

Here are some features that are common to many languages, but absent in English. It's worth taking WALS entries with a grain of salt, but the chapters are great at calling out potential issues and borderline cases and identifying areal patterns. In no particular order, here are some common features that English does not have. English does not have an ...


16

If the source language already has genders, then they will often be taken along to the host language, provided that people in the host language know a little bit about the source language. But there are countless other subtle, complex factors. Dutch has a neuter article (het) and the fused/common gender masculine-femine (de). There are no definite rules for ...


16

It is not possible for there to be a human language that does not have a way of referring to entities, or to predicate states and actions of an entity. If that is what you mean by "noun" and "verb", then all languages have nouns and verbs. However, noun, verb, adverb, adjective are typically treated by linguists as "word classes", defined in terms of how ...


16

Yoon Mi Oh's 2015 thesis (pages 44-45) provides estimates of the number of syllables for various languages, gathered by taking the 20,000 most frequent words in a corpus of each language and counting the different syllables that show up. Ordering them by increasing number of syllables: Japanese: 643 Korean: 1104 Mandarin: 1274 Cantonese: 1298 Basque: 2082 ...


15

The problem is, things like "word-based" vs "character-based" as you put it (the standard words are alphabetic vs logographic) apply to writing systems, not languages. Languages, both historically and even nowadays, are spoken more often than they're written—you can find people who speak English, or Chinese, or almost any language, perfectly well, even ...


14

Here is a relevant Wikipedia article: Nominal TAM There is a fair amount of literature that mentions the existence of languages that mark tense on nouns; the first result I found on Google was this paper by Judith Tonhauser, "Towards an Understanding of the Meaning of Nominal Tense" (2005), about Paraguayan Guaraní. Depending on the language, the meaning of ...


13

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 principles. One can rather look for some typological rarities in English. A typological rarity is a feature that goes against some commonly recognised linguistic ...


13

English lacks a simple vowel system: Cross-linguistically, three (/a/, /i/, /u/) or five (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/) vowel systems are very common, having a lot of different vowel qualities like English is uncommon.


11

The problem with this question is that parts of speech are just a construct used for the description of language - not necessarily a real thing in a language. You can see that across languages only nouns and verbs are fairly uncontroversially universal with adjectives being another good but still disputed candidate (See Dixon's Basic Linguistic Theory). So ...


11

There is no such categorization of languages as "word-based" vs. "character-based". Not all Chinese speakers are literate. Standard Chinese has certainly been affected by the character-based writing system, and this affects how people speak, but linguists generally don't consider the paucity of inflection in Chinese to rely heavily on the existence of ...


11

Although largely archaic, in some locations (some parts of Northern England/Cornwall/Ireland, among others) the word "ye" is still used as second-person-plural. It can also be found in some older works, such as the King James Bible: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your ...


11

It's not "deliberate" – it's the automatic, nigh-inevitable result of fitting a set of sounds from one language's inventory into a different inventory. It's like changing a photo from RGB to CMYK or changing the encoding of text that includes special characters. Most values will transfer but some will just be approximated. Sometimes the change is obvious, ...


10

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 collection: th- (interdental fricative) is rare among world languages. Icelandic, Arabic, and some Northwest Indian languages have it. Everybody has problems saying ...


10

The important feature is that in a polysynthetic language, a single word may contain more than one lexical root. This means that e.g., to choose the most frequent example, a complex verb may not only contain the verbal root, but also an incorporated noun, which (as opposed to compounding) remains referentially autonomous (In compounds, transparency often ...


10

German does have something like this: (list of abbreviations see below) Wo-r-auf hast du ein Spielzeug gelegt? where-ITF-on have you a toy put.PSTPTCP Where did you put a toy on? Wo-von ernähren sich Hasen? where-of live.on REFLPRN rabbits What do rabbits live on? Wo-nach riecht das? where-after smells that What does this smell like?...


10

Athabaskan languages would be the "most prefixing", in (a) being almost or in fact exclusively prefixing and (b) allowing many prefixes (11 positions). Papers on Navaho include this, as well as J. Kari Navajo Verb Prefix Phonology and Young & Morgan The Navajo Language. One can check information from the related language Sekani, and it seems that the ...


10

Although adverb agreement in gender/noun class is far from ubiquitous, there seem to be (apparent) examples of this kind of agreement in a fair number of languages. I am most familiar with examples of gender-agreeing adverbs from Indo-European, since that is a large and well-studied family containing many languages with gender systems. But there do seem to ...


9

The (Equadorian) Quechua name for the language is Runa Shimi meaning "Language of the People". All of the Saami terms for the languages (e.g. North Saami, Lule Saami etc) include the word "language", such as Davvisámegiella. The Lushootseed name for the language, dxʷləšucid, means "language of the south" and contains a suffix -ucid which means "language" ...


9

No. The use of a ‘characters writing system’ (I take it you mean something not simply alphabetic) does not restrict the number of distinct syllables. Even if you look at Yoon Mi Oh's list there's no reason to assume this. The gap between Cantonese and Basque isn't all that great and Korean uses an alphabet. The list is also fairly biased, for example many ...


8

I am not a linguist in any sense, but the answer appears to be that English has no unique traits (excluding trivial "features")*. From both a spoken and written perspective, English was formed as a mix of other languages. There is nothing that I'm aware of—grammatically, phonetically, or conceptually—that can be expressed solely in English. Here are some ...


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