29

No. Language is not something that can be "better" or "worse" or in any way objectively be "ranked". This would scientifically be totally untrustworthy. Going through each of your points: Language is result of social consensus, so could we say less popular dialects or languages are inferior? Popularity of a dialect or language depends on so many ...


26

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 some prominent things of one natural gender fell into one paradigm and things of another into another, upon which those paradigms might have been generalised to ...


18

Etymology was the term used for both concepts up to the early 20th century. Then de Saussure postulated the incompatibility of diachrony and synchrony and nothing was ever the same again. Etymology is a study of the history of words' form and/or meaning, and history implies diachrony. Thus, the word lord comes from Old English hlafweard "one who guards the ...


17

This is a great question. Not that it matters all that much, but it's always good to periodically revisit the directions one's discipline has taken. First, the problem is that there's linguistics and then there's study of aspects of language for a particular purpose. Lexicography, pedagogic grammar, philosophy of language - they all have a long tradition ...


16

No, this is not possible. As already said by lemontree, most of these points are just totally subjective criteria that you can't possibly rate impartially. The only points where one could see some chance to come up with an objective rating are the 3 and 5: ambiguity and conciseness. Indeed, as the paper you've linked shows, it is possible to empirically ...


14

Almost everything a linguist will know about language will be counterintuitive to many native speakers. I've spent years teaching grammar to native speakers of English as well as intro to linguistics so I have come across a lot of things that completely dumbfound people. Here are some areas to look into: Phonetics and phonology Schwa is the most common ...


14

This might be similar to asking "which is the best animal?" and "can we rank animals?". Thinking this way highlights to me that we run into two (related) problems in ranking languages: the definition of "best" and "superiority" can be measured along many axes, and any general statement of superiority would mean ranking and scoring those qualities (eg is "...


13

The headline question: Is language infinite? should perhaps invite more scrutiny than it's generally given these days. It was posited by Chomsky in the context of a particular view of language: "A small set of rules operating on a large but finite set of words, generates an infinite number of sentences." The problem with this definition is that it assumes a ...


13

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 general is essential in formal semantics. Using propositional logic, predicate logic, set theory and tools like lambda calculus, functions and type theory, formal ...


12

This is not a question which can be answered with a yes/no answer. Music is like a natural language in some respects and very much unlike one in others. Here are some suggested similarities and dissimilarities. Music is like (a) language in that: It can be described through a system of rules that operate on a limited vocabulary It combines small building ...


11

DNA is a physical code. It would be possible to encode a natural human language in it just like we can encode English in Morse code. But the natural DNA in our cells does not encode a language, it is not literature. There is no symbolic meaning of the DNA in our genomes. It is closer to the non-linguistic diagrams telling you how to assemble your Ikea ...


9

As I understand your interest, you don't need the relationship to be English (monomorphemic) to Other (polymorphemic), it works just as well if you have English being the polymorphemic example and Other being the monomorphemic example. North Saami [gabba] is "all-white reindeer" – there are other words for various coloring, sexes and ages of reindeer, also ...


8

All three of your assumptions about natural languages are questionable. They describe models used by linguists very many of which have been inspired by computer-like algorithms not language itself: Natural language does not "strongly distinguish between syntax and semantics". In fact, they are very closely interlinked. Syntactic constructions are used to ...


8

This is of course highly debated, but some linguists would answer yes, there is a small set of words/concepts common to all natural human languages. The major theory currently representing this view is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage, which posits that there are around 66 core 'semantic primes' which are both irreducible and universal. These primes are ...


8

One easy source for this is words that used to be polymorphemic, but fossilized by the time they reached English. For example, "desire", "depend", "destroy", "descend", and "delete" are irreducible in English: there are no verbs *sire, *pend, *stroy, *scend, and *lete. However, in Latin, de- was a productive derivational prefix meaning "down, from, away", ...


8

An example that springs to mind: English "love" vs. Danish "kærlighed", which is actually tri-morphemic, consisting of "kær" (dear), "-lig" (derivational morpheme creating adjectives, thus "kærlig" = "loving") and "-hed" (derivational morpheme creating nouns from adjectives, like English "-ness").


6

This is essentially the lexical protolanguage hypothesis of language evolution, favored by Derek Bickerton, Ray Jackendoff, and others. You can find a nice discussion of this in Tecumseh Fitch's 2010 book The Evolution of Language.


6

I would highlight Wittgenstein's idea of family resemblances, which served as a basis for a very productive field in semantics (specificaly prototype theory). This basically postulates that words and their meanings do not work in binary categories but are organised in a field-like manner, where at the centre of the semantic field you have the prototypes (the ...


6

"Be brief" is the 3rd Gricean manner maxim of conversation. See Gricean maxims.


5

The answer to the question as formulated in the last sentence is a resounding no. Language does in no way represent or reflect any underlying truths about the world. In fact, the very definition of language is that it represents one way of reflecting a particular way of perceiving the world. Different languages represent this reality in different ways. ...


5

OK, this is an Answer, not a book, and conversations are inhibited here. So I'm going to observe some restrictions to keep this relatively short. I'm not dealing with Chomsky here; I find Chomsky's proposals and theories about language and its supposed relation to human brains, minds -- and lately biology and genetics -- to be at best irrelevant, and at ...


5

I have found a paper that addresses this question directly (finally!). Svenonius & Ramchand's 2014 paper (here) offers an explanation for universal "grammatical zones" that appeals both to innate grammatical principles and properties of extralinguistic cognition. From the abstract: ...there remains an irreduceable universal functional hierarchy, for ...


5

The thing is that a language, when you get to the core of it, is a system of communications. It is used a means of communicating to talk to others about the world and so on. Math can be considered a language in the sense that it's a system with well-defined rules and that can convey some meaning. However the range of concepts it can treat is very limited ...


5

In the philosophy of language and modal logic, the conceptions you label "static" and "dynamic" are called rigid designator and flaccid designator respecively.


5

The sentence parses as follows: { We { { see } and { hear } and { ( otherwise ) experience } } ( ( very largely ) as we do ) } because { { the language habits of our community } predispose { certain choices of interpretation } }. That is, (otherwise) adverbially modifies "experience". We have three verb phrases in conjunction, "see" and "hear" and "...


4

I can't speak for reduplication, but Tanoan languages of the central US have a system whereby some nouns have bare singulars and marked plurals, while others have bare plurals and marked singulars. The distinction usually falls along lines of animacy, although exceptions abound. Perhaps this is a system (or the remnant of one) along the same lines? (Note:...


4

Modern syntax was first put on a scientific basis by Zelig Harris and Noam Chomsky: Harris with his development of formal models of phrase structure and Chomsky through his elaboration of Harris' techniques, by his clarifying the distinction between empirical study of syntax and language pedagogy, and by devising the first formalized model of the traditional ...


4

Thank you for digging up the article. I am afraid I find it really feeble. “Zipf’s law” (named after the American Nazi Zipf) is an application to word frequency of a very common statistical relationship known in mathematics as the power law. It had been observed, long before Zipf, by the economist Pareto with regard to income distribution, and by the ...


4

I don't know of a single term for these fallacies. But I agree that they are related and would benefit from an umbrella term to make it easier to point people to the profoundly problematic nature of these. I would call them examples of linguistic essentialism - the belief (and often fervent faith and feeling) that there is something fundamental in the ...


4

There is some confusion in the use of the term meaning here. The idea that the lecturer is explaining goes back to Frege's notions of Sinn and Bedeutung. The latter is better translated as 'reference', while the former is 'sense', rather than 'meaning'. English meaning has been historically used to translate both of Frege's terms, so that it became ...


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