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#208291 - 12/10/12 09:07 PM Do you speak a Scandinavian language?
Alex Williams Offline
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http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2012/12/language-families

Do you speak a Scandinavian language?
Dec 5th 2012, 15:17 by R.L.G. | NEW YORK



IF YOU can read this post, then Jan Terje Faarlund thinks you do. The researcher at the University of Oslo and his colleague Joseph Emmonds of Palacky University in the Czech Republic have claimed that Old Norse didn't influence Old English, but replaced it. They place emphasis not only on the many words (heretofore presumed loaned) from Norse into English, but also grammatical structures. They claim that it is an "almost universal" rule that languages in contact—as Norse and Old English were after the Viking invasions—swap words but not grammar. The story has gotten little pickup in the English press (so far), but a few Scandinavian news websites have passed it on uncritically: "English is a Scandinavian Language" reads the headline in Aftenposten, a leading Norwegian daily.

Before you hoist a Danish or Norwegian flag, though, Sally Thomason has poured a heavy dose of cold water over the notion in Language Log. Languages in close contact over a long period do, in fact, swap grammar as well as words. She cites the Indian town of Kupwar, where the local variety of Urdu (an Indic language) shows grammatical influence from neighbouring Kannada (an unrelated Dravidian language), as well as from Marathi (a more closely related fellow Indic language). Prof Thomason did not have to reach for quite such an exotic example, though. English shows light traces of grammatical influence from French—the word-order of phrases like "attorney-general" and "court-martial", or the productive suffix -ee that can make words like employee, lessee, legatee and the like. No one would claim that this makes English a Romance language.

English is traditionally called a West Germanic language, related closely to Dutch and German, and only more distantly to North Germanic Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. English has many grammatical features of West Germanic. How does Prof Faarland account for this, if English is Scandinavian? West Germanic Old English influenced Scandinavian English before "dying out" in England, he says. But what about his earlier claim that languages do not borrow grammar? If they do borrow grammar (and they do), it is easier to explain the few Scandinavian borrowings into a West Germanic English than to explain the many West Germanic borrowings into a putatively Scandinavian English.

If Prof Faarlund's case falls short, it remains clear that Old Norse had a heavy influence on English. He cites an example—He took the knife and cut the steak—and notes that all the words but he, the and and are Scandinavian. And in fact if he'd chosen she or they and not he, he'd have chosen pronouns that English, strikingly, borrowed from Old Norse. It's surprising just how many ordinary words Old English took from the Danes to replace ordinary words it already had. It is little wonder that the Norman French, bringing their court and their legal system, also brought words related to those elevated spheres of life into English. But the Scandinavians gave us ordinary words like husband, shirt, anger and egg. An English-speaking learner of German will notice how many English words seem to come from German: water/Wasser, bread/Brot, house/Haus. But some such earthy words do not match their German cousins: die/sterben, call/rufen, again/wieder. But the Danish-learner will see that this is because we got those words from Norse: die/dø, call/kalde, again/igen. If you can bother to learn French, too, you can reconstruct rather a lot of English etymology.

I hope to return to Prof Faarlund's examples of grammatical borrowings in a future post.

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#208293 - 12/11/12 01:21 AM Re: Do you speak a Scandinavian language? [Re: Alex Williams]
jenny jenny Offline
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In answer yes and no.

Language is a compilation of a group of sounds that transfer information from one human being to another. Word order doesn't mean diddly squat if a meaning is successfully transferred.
Noam Chomsky - and all others with an egoficial need to pontificate - diddle in their own squat.

Language is not a con-job. Language defines our Culture and Culture is Evolution's way of keeping us going forth. Or not.
Don't you think? smile

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#208296 - 12/11/12 12:51 PM Re: Do you speak a Scandinavian language? [Re: jenny jenny]
LukeJavan8 Offline
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Language is not a con-job. Language defines our Culture and Culture is Evolution's way of keeping us going forth. Or not.
Don't you think?



This seems to be the jist of a National Geographic article in
July 2012.
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#208299 - 12/11/12 05:37 PM Re: Do you speak a Scandinavian language? [Re: Alex Williams]
Alex Williams Offline
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I'm not sure I get the whole "language is not a con-job" comment, or more specifically what in the article inspired that. But anyway I thought it was an interesting article that AWAD users would find worth discussing.

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#208301 - 12/11/12 07:48 PM Re: language a speak do Scandinavian you? [Re: jenny jenny]
zmjezhd Offline
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Language is a compilation of a group of sounds that transfer information from one human being to another.

Who's doing the compiling? Are the sounds merely at random?

Word order doesn't mean diddly squat if a meaning is successfully transferred.

Some languages get along just fine without word order. The relationships between words is handled in a different way, e.g., by inflections.

Noam Chomsky - and all others with an egoficial need to pontificate - diddle in their own squat.

While I am no great fan of Chomsky's linguistic theories, I am having a tough time catching the drift of your meaning. Perhaps there isn't any, but I doubt that it has to do with word order. Maybe more to do with context or pragmatics, but in this case there does not seem to be one.
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#208304 - 12/12/12 12:21 AM Re: language a speak do Scandinavian you? [Re: zmjezhd]
jenny jenny Offline
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Originally Posted By: zmjezhd
Language is a compilation of a group of sounds that transfer information from one human being to another.

Who's doing the compiling? Are the sounds merely at random?

Word order doesn't mean diddly squat if a meaning is successfully transferred.

Some languages get along just fine without word order. The relationships between words is handled in a different way, e.g., by inflections.

Noam Chomsky - and all others with an egoficial need to pontificate - diddle in their own squat.

While I am no great fan of Chomsky's linguistic theories, I am having a tough time catching the drift of your meaning. Perhaps there isn't any, but I doubt that it has to do with word order. Maybe more to do with context or pragmatics, but in this case there does not seem to be one.


The compiling is done by the language clade. Ain't all languages done that way? And no, zmjezhd, no sounds and no nothings are done merely at random.

Right you are Z, no matter how the transfer of information is effected it serves to continue or discontinue the kind.

My Sentence suggesting that Chomsky and others of his ilk are con-men is because they are. They invent silly constructions and cling to them beyond reality for bucks and ego [hey Z, how did you like my nonce word "egoficial"?] and those so-called "language experts" care zip about any incongruity with that which is real.

Good show, Alex. You stimulated a lively discussion. smile

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#208309 - 12/12/12 02:21 PM Re: language a speak do Scandinavian you? [Re: jenny jenny]
zmjezhd Offline
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The compiling is done by the language clade. Ain't all languages done that way? And no, zmjezhd, no sounds and no nothings are done merely at random.

Not sure what you mean by clade in this context. Compilation, to my mind, means that not only is there an agent (doing the compiling), but a will to, and language, to me, seems an unconscious event, at least at the meaning level.

My Sentence suggesting that Chomsky and others of his ilk are con-men is because they are. They invent silly constructions and cling to them beyond reality for bucks and ego [hey Z, how did you like my nonce word "egoficial"?] and those so-called "language experts" care zip about any incongruity with that which is real.

Again, far be it from me to defend Chomsky's linguistic theories, but I feel he is at least genuine in his interest in language. Is it just Chomsky's passel of grad students or is it all linguists in general? While I agree with Saussure that the linguistic sign, taken in isolation, is basically pretty much arbitrary, as soon as you get context and the will to mean something that arbitrariness is not so evident. What I mean here is that while the word for the concept of "tree" in any given language is arbitrary, the word for "trees" is not: it consists of the first word / sign plus another arbitrary sign for plural number. Language is a rule-based activity or at least a pattern-based one.

Yes, "egoficial" is a nice nonce word.

I guess I need a definition of "language experts". All linguists, just Chomskians, all theoretical syn tacticians in the generativist vein? All speakers, all normative grammarians? etc.
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#208323 - 12/14/12 12:09 AM Re: language a speak do Scandinavian you? [Re: zmjezhd]
jenny jenny Offline
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jmzezhd: Not sure what you mean by clade in this context. Compilation, to my mind, means that not only is there an agent (doing the compiling), but a will to, and language, to me, seems an unconscious event, at least at the meaning level.

Yes you do. Your comment suggesting that language is an unconscious creation tells me that you do indeed understand my use of the term "clade" in that context.
Language, as well as the rest of evolution, can only be interpreted as being Deterministic.
Whether it is or it is not.




zmjezhd: Again, far be it from me to defend Chomsky's linguistic theories, but I feel he is at least genuine in his interest in language. Is it just Chomsky's passel of grad students or is it all linguists in general? While I agree with Saussure that the linguistic sign, taken in isolation, is basically pretty much arbitrary, as soon as you get context and the will to mean something that arbitrariness is not so evident. What I mean here is that while the word for the concept of "tree" in any given language is arbitrary, the word for "trees" is not: it consists of the first word / sign plus another arbitrary sign for plural number. Language is a rule-based activity or at least a pattern-based one.
I guess I need a definition of "language experts". All linguists, just Chomskians, all theoretical syn tacticians in the generativist vein? All speakers, all normative grammarians? etc.

Really now, zmjezhd, what cognizant lifeform would think that all trees are alike just because they are all called trees? And as we know, all self described "language experts" are not experts in language.

Our words only have value if they give insight to that which is.

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#208333 - 12/14/12 09:33 AM Re: Do you speak a Scandinavian language? [Re: Alex Williams]
gooofy Offline
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Registered: 01/19/12
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#208334 - 12/14/12 11:22 AM Re:the risk of dysmeaning [Re: jenny jenny]
zmjezhd Offline
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Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3290
Loc: R'lyeh
Your comment suggesting that language is an unconscious creation tells me that you do indeed understand my use of the term "clade" in that context.

For me, "clade" in an historical-linguistic contexts means a branch in a language tree. That's why I asked.

[W]hat cognizant lifeform would think that all trees are alike just because they are all called trees? And as we know, all self described "language experts" are not experts in language.

Now, I have the distinct feeling (and perhaps this is because I am currently sick battling some kind of cold/flu), that my leg is being pulled.

I did not intend to mean or suggest that all treesd are alike because speakers of English call them "trees". I meant that languages tend to display arbitrainess and non-arbitrariness. In my example, in English, the singular and the plural forms of the word for "tree" ( "tree"/"trees" ) are related. The word "tree" in both words being the same. I can imagine an no-too-likely language where the singular and plural forms for "tree" might not be related: e.g., skhor for 'tree' and yantaq for 'trees'.
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