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Topic: Grammatical Mutterings (Read 20159 times)

Grammatical Mutterings
It's simply a neuter indeterminate pronoun. A construction like "The girl went shopping. It came home with a new hat."*  is quite ordinary. "She came home..." would be ungrammatical in this context.
You are most probably right, and I must be fairly outdated in German grammar. I didn't know about such usages of "es". For me, "Es regnet" was the most representative usage of it. Thanks, anyway.
  • Last Edit: 2013-12-29, 16:02:01 by Frenzie

Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #25

I also had some issues asking for Sprudelwasser at this one restaurant. I wasn't then aware that the term in the south was Tafelwasser, but that hardly seems like a reason to immediately start speaking English to me.


Sprudelwasser means Sodawasser.
Tafelwasser means potable water enriched with some ingredients.
Mineralwasser means mineral water.

In this case I have some understanding for the waiter/waitress. Since he/she has noticed that you aren't a native he/she wonted to make sure, you get the right drink. Hope, you got it at last :D

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #26
I don't really care as long as it's water and it's free of pathogens. :P

(I suppose I care in some places. In Luxembourg and some places in Germany the tap water easily equals the best mineral water; in a Dutch expert taste test apparently Rotterdam tap water beat all other water including bottled mineral water. But on the other hand, in France, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan all the tap water tastes odd to me. I don't know what they do with it.)

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #27
I studied linguistics at the university and one of the professors was fairly straightforward: "We call them language/family trees but they aren't really. They are more like shrubs or bushes."
Did your professor study math? The tree is a topological type of a graph.
Other related terms are substratum and superstratum in language contact theory.
Yes, they are related terms but not terms expressing things on the same level.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #28
Dutch is still the language most closely related to English by various measures.
What I have heard (actually read in encyclopedias), it's Frisian that is most closely related to English. But this is irrelevant in several ways. The languages in that corner of the continent are necessarily closely related. Moreover, English is a lingua franca, i.e. a global communication tool pliable hither and thither rather than a fixed symbol system, a distinctive marker of (self-)identity for a specific group/location. The latter is how I prefer to define (proper/real/true) language. Lingua franca is related to everything and everybody, nothing special about it.

These two points...

Their mutual intelligibility is so fluent that they could be considered dialects. Saxon, Franconian, and (High) German have a common present.

That's what the Nazis said. :P

I saw a South-African lamenting that if the Dutch hadn't disavowed Afrikaans on account of apartheid
...nicely illustrate how the distinction between dialect and language is political rather than linguistic. Science is politically neutral, even though it can be used politically, and often is.

By the way, my two sentences, as you quoted them, did not belong together. "Their mutual intelligibility is so fluent that they could be considered dialects" referred to the Scandinavian languages. With "Saxon, Franconian, and (High) German" I began next thought that I probably should have marked by beginning a separate paragraph.

I studied linguistics at the university and one of the professors was fairly straightforward: "We call them language/family trees but they aren't really. They are more like shrubs or bushes."
Did your professor study math? The tree is a topological type of a graph.
He studied literature, so he saw in the term "language tree" a poetic metaphor rather than a math concept.

Other related terms are substratum and superstratum in language contact theory.
Yes, they are related terms but not terms expressing things on the same level.

This is basic in the structuralist principle of analysis to provide a multidimensional view of what we are talking about.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #29
Moreover, English is a lingua franca...
This franca falls into a set of francas: Franca Americana, Franca Europeana, etc.;)

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #30
What I have heard (actually read in encyclopedias), it's Frisian that is most closely related to English.

It's more closely related to the language of their Saxon neighbors who moved across the North Sea, but the North Sea trade took place primarily between Holland, Zeeland, and Flanders on this side and England on the other. It has even been suggested that the most famous old Dutch literary phrase is actually Old English rather than Old Flemish, which is rather unlikely for extralingual reasons, but it does illustrate how the distinction between Old Dutch and Old English can be far from obvious after several centuries of North Sea trade. At the same time, Frisian has been heavily influenced by Dutch after losing significantly in worldly power and status especially since West-Frisia was annexed by Holland in 1297. However, there are certainly dialects of English which may be significantly more similar to Frisian; I understand Northumbrian is one of them. Incidentally, I'm from West-Frisia. What's spoken there are Hollandic dialects with a Frisian substrate.

Some similarities between Frisian and English are extremely obvious, for instance:
Dutch: kaas
German: Käse
Frisian: tsjiis
English: cheese

That brings to mind the Frisian equivalent of schild en vriend: "Bûter, brea en griene tsiis" (Butter, bread, and green cheese. See here.)

Anyway, I can't seem to find the research. It was published no more than two or three years ago. I think the comparison focused on Dutch, German, and the Scandinavian languages, but I'm not completely sure.

...nicely illustrate how the distinction between dialect and language is political rather than linguistic. Science is politically neutral, even though it can be used politically, and often is.

It was also political prior to then to call it Nederlands in spite of the fact that Afrikaans is more of a creole. However, the political decision shaped the language in the sense that it might've moved closer to standardized Dutch again if relations had remained well. I don't know if you've heard of Schneider's dynamic model? The point in time where they decided to call it Afrikaans instead of Dutch in many ways concludes phase 4.

Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #31
Nevertheless, Dutch is an official language in the Union of South American Nations

What is this? A typo?

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #32
What is this? A typo?

Hardly. Surinamese Dutch is one of the four major varieties of Dutch: Netherlandic Dutch, Belgian Dutch, Caribbean Dutch, and Surinamese Dutch. Although I seem to have been slightly mistaken about the status of English:

Quote
The official languages of the Union of South American Nations shall be Spanish, English, Portuguese and Dutch.


However, it might be that English is not actually an official language in any of the individual member states. I'll have to check up on that.

Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #33
Interesting. I've never heard about that.
In Guiana they speak English.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #34
In Guiana they speak English.

Good point. Guyana is probably why English is an official language too.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #35
I would expect the German case system to be greatly simplified if not to disappear all together, like has happened to other Germanic languages.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #36
Yes, me too.

Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #37

I would expect the German case system to be greatly simplified if not to disappear all together, like has happened to other Germanic languages.


Yes, me too.

Grrrr  :o

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #38
Haha, I'm sorry. It's just something that seems to be a global rule, observed in the evolution of languages all around the world. But there's no need to worry; there's a hypothesis that languages will start the whole process all over again once they reach the "end."

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #39
Agreed. I used the Perl motto to describe this in an earlier posting.

Quote from: jax
Quote from: rjhowie
I found it amusing having been involved in the Educational field for years when an English teacher in Glasgow bemoaned to me once that no matter how much time he spent on the language as soon as the pupils were out at 3.30pm they just reverted back to their working class Glaswegian lingo.


I think this one post more than any condenses the future of English  (or any other language or dialect).

Languages change constantly, and it is primary the children who change it. The adults can add a nifty phrase here and there, or analyse the language to make up rules that governs it, but the dramatic or subtle language shifts that garners from one generation from the next are largely caused by the new custodians, children and young adults.

<a href="http://my.opera.com/community/forums/findpost.pl?id=2510212">I have appropriated the Perl virtues[/url], laziness, impatience, and hubris, as the drivers of natural languages as well. Laziness is a major cause of sound shifts, the new sounds are less energy consuming than the old ones, it is easier to say dis than this. Impatience efficiently shortens language, while hubris is the drive to do better, resulting in the construction of more elaborate linguistic structures. The impatience-hubris engine is powerful and social, you deemphasise what unimportant to you and the listener, and emphasise what is important. As the culture changes so does the language, as the language changes so does the culture.

The amount of creativity stirred into the language is staggering. We spend an immense effort in creating new words and phrases or reappropriating old ones, and we take joy  from that. Just look at any medium-length thread on D&D and you will find this in action. It is even more satisfying when others take up on our creations, but most are one-use, or short-use that fads away.

Seen from the language more important than the constant creations is how and from whom we monkey our words. We pattern all our speech on others. Early on that would be the parents and the background chatter, later our peers, especially those we would like to emulate, the teachers, the writers, the television, the future employers and authority figures, the Internet. We are capable not only of learning one or more languages, but keep track of the status of those speaking it and how they speak it.

The Glaswegian children can speak one variant at school and another one after school. They will even adjust to an individual speaker or group and what they want to achieve. Later on in life they will discard some part of their language as childish, other parts as low-status, and other parts as too difficult for their new peer groups. What parts they have discarded or discounted by the time they become parents themselves determine how the language evolves.

When school's over for good, will they speak Glaswegian or RP or a mix? Glaswegian like Singlish or Nigerian Pidgin have traditionally been low-status with "proper" English the high-status language. This quest for status has driven British English pronunciation to exaggerate high-status features, as you can see by comparing it with high-status English a couple centuries back. On the opposing side language is also part of identify. By speaking Glaswegian you announce to the world that you come from Glasgow or aspire to come from Glasgow. Then comes television as the great leveller. Glaswegian is one of the British dialects that do best, most British languages and dialects have died out or become greatly reduced, but it, like the other survivors, is becoming more standardised and less unique.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #40
That link in turn is relevant to the case system. The -s at the end of nouns denoting ownership is straightforward Germanic genitive, a remnant from the case system that seems to have no inclination to go away anywhere, but the English added a spurious apostrophe to it, "the father's son" or "the son's father" instead of the more sensible "the fathers son" and "the sons father". What is more that useless apostrophe seems to be spreading to other languages, including German.

Quote from: jax
Quote from: Leviticus 20.20
Wenn jemand bei seines Vaters Bruders Weibe schläft, ...
'If someone sleeps with his father's brother's wife,...'


That reminds me of another property of English, <a href="http://my.opera.com/community/forums/findpost.pl?id=2449461">excessive use of apostrophes[/url]. Apostrophes, remember, is primarily used for contraction in English. The English cognate of Vaters (pronounced "fater" for those who don't know German) is father's and brother's is of Bruders. So where does this strange apostrophe in 's come from? It seems that a phenomenon called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_genitive">his genitive[/url] made grammarians think that -(e)s was a contraction.

That in turn caused the endless confusion of its and it's, since by the seeming genitive rule its should be it's, but it's not. By the gods of usability the apostrophe should be among the first against the wall when English 2.0 comes. Its a difference that doesnt make a difference. Unfortunately the gods dont seem to hear my vocative.

On the contrary it seeps into other language. The Norwegian father and brother is far and bror (an archaic form is fader and broder so again the difference isn't too large), and from that the genitive fars and brors is formed. Undue influence from English makes some write far's or bror's instead, or more commonly form it with names, Vinnie's kebab style. German has its case system mostly intact, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same phenomenon happens in German.

All languages seem to follow the path of the Perl language: <a href="http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?LazinessImpatienceHubris">laziness, impatience, and hubris[/url]. Laziness and impatience simplifies the language, and hubris, or ornamentation, makes it more complex.

Quote from: Jaybro
In The Blank Slate, Stephen Pinker, following others, posits that knowledge grows at least in part along lines of latitude because similar latitudes support important technologies, the growth of agriculture and animal husbandry being two.
In the gossip category, I heard on the radio that he just got an honorary doctorate at the <a href="http://uit.no/castl/pinker/">University of Tromsø[/url].

Quote from: Shandra
Does only a small amount of Translators or Traders developed a little knowledge of the other language(s), and/or was there also some influence. And if, to what degree and in what context? As it seem there are just few or little adoptions from arabic languages to western europe ones, even if there must have been much interaction before and during the middle-ages.
Traders alone don't change language. You don't even need language to trade, trade gestures have been sufficient to show intent and handle haggling. Even today you when you get to places where you are unable to speak the language, you can be sure that this little detail won't prevent people from trying to make a sale. But trade gives incentive for other cultural contact. Spain and Spanish is heavily influenced by Arabic culture and language, and to some extent it goes further up Europe. A Buddha statuette was found <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helgö">in Sweden[/url] from the 6th century, before Islam, and just a few days ago, while I was there, they found <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7330540.stm">yet another Arab hoard[/url].

Quote from: Jaybro
What seems clear about numeration is that it comes as needed. Where it isn't needed, as with the group mentioned by Oakdale, it doesn't come at all. My early understanding about the Aborigines of Australia is that they had no conception of linear time. Is that even imaginable in the development of Western thinking?

There's nothing hardwired about 'three.' Grammar may be wired, but words? Where some words seem to possess that quality, I think other explanations suffice.

No, there is nothing hardwired about the word three, but I wonder what it meant before it was reused to refer to the pure abstraction three. What was the original threesome? In English it would be tempting to think of tree, even more so in Norwegian where the "th" sound has been simplified into "t" so there is no difference between three and tree (the word for both is tre), but this is a false cognate. Colours by comparison are pretty simple, almost all words originally denoted something having that particular color. What had threeness, fourness, fiveity?

You don't need a word to have a concept, but you need a concept to have a word. <a href="http://my.opera.com/community/forums/findpost.pl?id=2233459">My claim[/url] is that not only humans but many other animals have the concept of three, and these animals have no way of expressing it in words.

If all words have a concrete, physical, meaning that if you trace them far enough back, you can end up with a fairly minimal vocabulary. <a href="http://my.opera.com/community/forums/findpost.pl?id=2472388">Guy Deutscher[/url] speculated that a language based on little more than pointing and a few fundamentals like the body would be sufficient.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #41
Laziness and impatience simplifies the language, and hubris, or ornamentation, makes it more complex.

Not just hubris, but also actual need of communication demands a certain minimal level of relevant distinctions. Language is for conveying a message after all. If laziness and impatience were everything, then language would be reduced to one single sound which is incapable of conveying anything. But this is not the case. Where some distinctions are levelled due to laziness or haste, other distinctions crop up elsewhere in the word/sentence to compensate, and this principle of serving a purpose is as relevant as the principle of minimal effort. The conjunction of these principles produces a tender level of efficiency that is constantly changing due to the tendency of less effort on one hand and due to inevitable need to convey relevant messages about the ever-changing world on the other.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #42
Not just hubris, but also actual need of communication demands a certain minimal level of relevant distinctions. Language is for conveying a message after all.

I have become increasingly convinced that language was never developed as a tool for conveying precise messages. Of course language is a very versatile means of communication, but it is not something an engineer would come up with. He would make something closer to a computer language instead. Natural languages go way beyond that.

One case is the cliché, writers and readers abhor them, but from a functional communication perspective they are great. When something is working well, why not repeat it, again and again and again? You know them, the audience know them, no scope for confusion. Instead we spend considerable effort coming up with synonyms and alternative phrasing, greatly increasing the risk of error.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #43
The answer to this is simple - everybody needs language, but hardly anyone is engineer. People come up with different terms for the same thing, and this must be allowed. A computer language may be precise according to your definition, but it would also be too limited, whereas natural languages handle with ease all the imaginable and even unimaginable complexities of real life. So, endless ways of expressing the same thing are not redundant after all, but rather necessary and inevitable.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #44
Versatility is not the argument why language is over-engineered for the simple task of getting a message across. Language is as much concerned with style and flair, how we speak, as with telling things, what we speak about. Merely telling things is easy and and could use a much simpler system than natural languages.

Quote from: jax
Quote from: OakdaleFTL
For instance: I neglected to mention that I followed your link to Guy Deutscher's book's ad; and that -even if I disagreed with every "theoretical" point he makes (I've not read it, yet)- I'd recommend it to everyone, for its wit and charm and the wealth of "language experience" and, yes, oddities and freaks as well as commonplace and "regular" examples...interesting, all. He gives enough there to make one wish it were umpty-times as long; a mere 368 pages would only whet my appetite for more of the same.

Yes, I've taken a lot from The Unfolding of Language in this thread, including the thread title itself. Language is deeply fascinating, and closely related to who we are and what we think and how we share, but still most linguists manage to turn the field barren. You would have thought that people that devote their lives to the study of languages should have acquired the ability to write somewhere along the way.


Much of the book is fairly uncontroversial, he largely keeps away from the most heavily fought battles among linguists, though he builds up to some speculation on early language, but still well after it has become a language in most modern senses. There are many speculations on how language itself came to be.
Quote from: Investor
I believe that language must have been quite developed before leaving safe home, as exploration requires planning, courage and confidence, which needs to be convinsingly communicated and understood.
The idea that language came to be to serve practical problem solving and communication needs is not popular these days. For that purpose language seems vastly overengineered. Other species have similar needs and have gotten away with much simpler and much cheaper systems. On the other hand having language skills has improved our problem solving skills immensely.

Another theory is that language was sexually selected, that language is our peacock's tail. Geoffrey Miller is arguing this case. The earnest sweet-talker gets the child, and people get in power through language skills. It is a persuasive case, though I have a hard time believing that grammarians get laid more often than others.

Deutscher has written a defence of clichés, and I find it interesting that they need defending. If language were purely utilitarian, clichés would be considered a good, they express ideas more parsimoniously than novel expressions.
Quote from: fanfaron
Anyway, I'd say language is a feminine invention.
I guess you by that refer to the gossip theory, that language isn't just an entertainment device, but a tool to get power and influence over your fellow man and particularly your fellow woman. The ensuing mental arms race would caused a rapid growth in language skills. This is the more popular theory, or so I have been told.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #45
The idea that language came to be to serve practical problem solving and communication needs is not popular these days. For that purpose language seems vastly overengineered.
Clearly, this looks this way only when your thinking is overly engineerial itself. Problem-solving is not practical in the mechanistic sense. In the mechanistic sense it's only practical to let things be. As some wise dude said: Work pays off on payday, laziness pays off now.

Problem-solving, when understood correctly, is entirely sufficient prerequisite for language. The correct understanding of problem-solving does not entail just any actual problem here and now, but all possible and thinkable problems any time anywhere. When problem-solving is understood this way, and it's also understood that this is what language is supposed to cover, the nature of language also becomes clear.

Computer languages are too limited for problem-solving understood as I described. When new bigger problems arise or a new angle to computational problem-solving is discovered, hackers usually create a new language to deal with it, whereas natural languages are immediately usable or readily extensible to handle any new situation.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #46
We can device, have deviced, much simpler languages that are more than sufficient for any form of problem-solving. However they never last long. Because they are insufficient to solve problems? No, even the simplest language can be extended as needed. They never last because they are boring.

Somehow the imperative "don't be boring" beats "let me get this point across" in the human mind. This is the hubris speaking. There is no functional reason why boring should be bad, for precision or problem solving boring is good, but language is more than mere functionality. It expresses who we are, or who we want to be.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #47
Somehow the imperative "don't be boring" beats "let me get this point across" in the human mind. This is the hubris speaking.

Yeah, I see your point now. See how much repetition it took. And still, "don't be boring" can be seen from problem-solving point of view also: When there's nothing to solve, we conjure up problems just for fun. I personally am a broadly problem-solving person. Everything is a problem, and I don't mean it in a bad way. Solving problems is my style of entertainment.

[Language] expresses who we are, or who we want to be.
Right. I said that before.

Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #48
I know I'm boring.

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Re: Grammatical Mutterings
Reply #49
We can device, have deviced...

The verb is "to devise".