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  • Showing only topics with the tag "linguistics". Back to normal view
    1. If you speak another language other than English, what are some interesting differences with English in its vocabulary?

      I love languages, and one of the great things about learning other languages - or even just learning about them - is how it expands your mental horizons. One of the first things you notice is that...

      I love languages, and one of the great things about learning other languages - or even just learning about them - is how it expands your mental horizons. One of the first things you notice is that many words don't correspond 1:1 with each other in distinct languages. Sometimes, what you think of as one concept gets partitioned out into one, two, three, four distinct word forms in another language. Other times it's the opposite, and distinctions are lost. What are some interesting vocabulary/lexicon differences between English and another language you're familiar with? I'll give some examples:

      • Russian motion verbs are a lot more complex than English ones. There are two distinct words for "to walk", idti and xodit'. The former is used for walking in one direction, the latter for walking in multiple or unspecified directions. The former is also used for single actions while the latter is for habitual action. Russian makes this distinction in every common verb for motion. It also makes a distinction between going by foot and going by a means of transportation, like a car, a bicycle, or a train. In English, you could say "I walked to the store" to specify you went by foot, but you could also say "I went to the store" and the mode of transportation is unspecified. In Russian, there is no single verb "go" that doesn't imply either by foot or not by foot. You have to use either idti/xodit' "go by foot" or exat'/ezdit' "go by some means of transportation". (As I understand it, I'm not a native speaker of Russian, just studied it a bit.)
      • Terms of kinship are a big topic. Wikipedia lists six distinct basic forms of kinship terminology, and that's just scratching the surface. Some languages distinguish between the maternal and paternal side of the family, others do not. Some do not distinguish cousins and siblings. Some make distinctions between elder and younger family members with distinct words. Unfortunately, I don't speak any languages that are markedly different from English. But even in my native Norwegian, which is closely related to English, there are some differences, such as:
        • First cousin is a distinct stem (søskenbarn, lit. sibling-child, i.e. the child of your parent's sibling) from second cousins (tremenning). There are also distinct words for cousin (no gender specified) and female (kusine) and male (fetter) cousins.
        • Maternal and paternal grandparents are distinguished.
        • I struggled to understand what the hell a "cousin once removed" was until I realized it's a kind of family relation that has no name in Norwegian.
      • Or it could just be a single word. For instance, English has one word, "suspicious", meaning both an attitude towards another person's behavior (suspicious of) and that behavior itself (behaving in a suspicious manner). In Norwegian, those are two distinct words: mistenksom (suspicious of) and mistenkelig (behaving suspiciously).

      I've only studied a couple of languages seriously. But I also have an interested in constructed languages as a hobby, so I've dabbled in a lot of languages, looking to pilfer ideas for my own projects. I really think it's expanded my view of the world, by showing that categories that seem obvious, really aren't. That's a lesson I've tried to transfer to other areas of life.

      I also think it leads into philosophy, because it's really a question of how to divide up semantic space. If we imagine the theoretical space of all things that could ever be spoken about, how do we divide up that space into distinct words? Which categories do we choose to represent as meaningful, and which ones are relegated to being a sub-aspect of another category, only distinguishable by context? I imagine that in a culture with large family units, it makes more sense not to distinguish "brother" from "male cousin", than a culture in which nuclear families are the norm, for instance.

      Do you have any cool examples of how vocabulary works differently in other languages, whether it be a single word or a large class of words? Or examples of times when encountering a different way of describing the world by learning another language led to insights in other areas of life?

      25 votes
    2. What features would you add to languages?

      If you had the option to add new features to your primary language, what would they be? Is there something from a foreign language you'd like to import to your primary language? A couple examples:...

      If you had the option to add new features to your primary language, what would they be? Is there something from a foreign language you'd like to import to your primary language?

      A couple examples:

      • A prefix to indicate intensity or degree. BBS/early hacker jargon had terms like "k-rad" to mean 1000x (2^10?) as radical as "rad" without the prefix.
        That Montessori preschool was t-cool but why would they think calling it "Hobbledehoy" was a good idea?
      • Making an indication of how confident you are in an a statement obligate and easy. I hedge all the time because I think it's important to convey, but it's clunky. We do a bit of that non-verbally but that doesn't translate to text, and has the other complications of non-verbal cues.
        It would be nice if there was an established vocabulary to quickly convey things like "experienced first-hand, repeatedly", "99% certain", "I've heard but never looked into", etc. From there it would be nice if this was as required as the gender, in gendered languages.
      12 votes
    3. What linguistics habits annoy you?

      Habits can be good! I mean, if you build the good ones of course. But ya know, sometimes people fall into habits that annoy you. I mean, they probably don't know that they're annoying you. Or that...

      Habits can be good! I mean, if you build the good ones of course. But ya know, sometimes people fall into habits that annoy you. I mean, they probably don't know that they're annoying you. Or that they've fallen into the habit at all! What linguistic habits have you noticed in yourself (or others) that drives you up the wall?

      26 votes
    4. What is the most interesting feature you've seen in a language?

      For me, it's definitely the topic particles in Japanese. It just seems like a really interesting thing that is a reason enough to want to learn Japanese, even excluding other great features it...

      For me, it's definitely the topic particles in Japanese. It just seems like a really interesting thing that is a reason enough to want to learn Japanese, even excluding other great features it has. Here some info on them.

      30 votes
    5. Should languages keep historical artifacts?

      Three examples : American English have lost the u in word like "color", because it is closer to its phonetics (the u is silent and there's no particular sound associated with "ou"). The letter u...

      Three examples :

      American English have lost the u in word like "color", because it is closer to its phonetics (the u is silent and there's no particular sound associated with "ou"). The letter u has an anglo-norman root.

      Swiss French (and for this particular example Belgian French) differs little from standard French, apart from the numbering system. It is ironically more metric than standard French since it streamlines what's left of the base 20 (vigisimasomething) system, i. e. it's "seventy and eighty" ("septante et huitante*") instead of "sixty-ten and four-twenties" ("soixante-dix et quatre-vingts". Historically people all over the world used some sort of base 20 system, probably because we have twenty toes and fingers.

      *no one ever use "octante". Belgian people think the Swiss uses it, while Swiss people thinks the Belgian it. I don't know why its that.

      Swiss standard German (not dialect) have ditched the Eszett ligature (ß) in favor of a more simple "ss ". That ligature was more common in the middle age.


      With those example in mind, do you find value in the "old" vs the "new" way of writing?

      (in other words: spelling reformer partisan and opponent : what goes through your mind?)

      6 votes