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comment by user-inactivated
user-inactivated  ·  2759 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Help me learn new things! – Linguistics

A. S. I'm assuming you're the author of the post. Whether this is the case, whenever I address "you", I address the author.

    All of them [grammar rules] came about because someone thought what people were doing was wrong, and convinced everyone else that was the case.

Not all of them. None of them, in fact. Those aren't grammar rules you're referring to: those are stylistic rules. Grammar rules are generally followed without exception because they're what makes the language itself.

There are, of course, noticable changes going on currently like "whom" (accusative or, in terms of English grammar, objective case) being steadily replaced by the nominative "who" or dropping the use of Present Perfect tense in favor of Past Simple ("I've just seen" vs "I just saw"). One might argue that "whom"/"who" is a stylistic issue at this point, since everybody understands what "who" stands for what in a sentence. The evolution of language is a topic in itself.

    I’ve often wondered why some words are spelled so oddly.

That - the fact that someone doesn't know where the words come from, historically - has bothered me to read to a surprising degree. I've always been keenly interested in the development of language and what ties there are between the modern languages and the ancient ones. For me, of course it's "debitum": that's part of the reason we've been studying Latin! Obviously, the perspective is quite different for a layperson: most of the people don't have to deal with nor are interested in languages as a topic or in historical linguistics in particular.

Still, it feels weird that people aren't taught the origin of their main tool of communication. It seems highly superficial to me, like teaching someone not to put their fingers into an electrical socket without telling them why (electricity and the possible dangers of exposure to it). I'm not saying children should be put through a course of Latin or Greek, but a sidenote every once in a while would surely stimulate curiosity of a young and inquisitive mind about something they are most likely to use to the day they die.

    One of the biggest ways languages change is through shortening.

Not simply shortening, but becoming more succinct or losing what feels to the speaker as excessive weight. There's a tabletop game, Dialect, up on Kickstarter that shows this process quite simply. Let me quote them:

    In this example, the table decides that the terrible accident was when STATION SIX mysteriously blew up, for reasons that no one still fully understands. With time, we shortened STATION SIX to STAYSIX which has become our new word for any BAD OMEN or related concept.

In other words, things are getting shaped with the meaning they become associated with more and more as the time goes on. Sometimes, the original word or phrase get "trimmed" ("station six" -> "staysix") because the semantic weight associated with the trimmed parts has been lost - that is, people no longer need or use the full name to associate it with some kind of a station or the number 6.

It's a fascinating process which, again, is a topic in itself. Good job on taking a footing there.

    “Ask” actually comes from the Old English “acsian”. So “ask” yourself why one is superior to the other. See my first point.

You have tripped yourself there, I'm afraid. The English Wiktionary says that it comes from "āxian, āscian" (confirmed by the The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology here and is cited by the Online Etymology Dictionary as "ascian" here) and is led towards the modern English with the verb "asken".

"Aks" is easier to pronounce than "ask", which requires effort to make that additional barrier for the air to wave around, so it's no wonder those less educated would take a simpler route. It's not in the current English grammar (more topics) to "aks" anybody - only to "ask". Why is "ask" superior, you might ask? It isn't. It is, however, very much omnipresent compared to "aks", and from my point of view as a linguist, such deviations are not in the general language that's supposed to be taught and learned. You may learn them as part of your subset of the language when you grow up or you may learn it when the subset has already settled, but it isn't something you would be teaching your child at school.

The same feeling of superiority has overcome you, perhaps? It did sound snarky.

    Eskimos do not have more words for snow than other languages. That’s a myth.

Again with the not explaining stuff!

Worded by the idea coiner himself, Franz Boas:

    To take again the example of English, we find that the idea of WATER is expressed in a great variety of forms: one term serves to express water as a LIQUID; another one, water in the form of a large expanse (LAKE); others, water as running in a large body or in a small body (RIVER and BROOK); still other terms express water in the form of RAIN, DEW, WAVE, and FOAM. It is perfectly conceivable that this variety of ideas, each of which is expressed by a single independent term in English, might be expressed in other languages by derivations from the same term. Another example of the same kind, the words for SNOW in Eskimo, may be given. Here we find one word, aput, expressing SNOW ON THE GROUND; another one, qana, FALLING SNOW; a third one, piqsirpoq, DRIFTING SNOW; and a fourth one, qimuqsuq, A SNOWDRIFT.

@ Handbook of American Indian languages (1911)

In other words, Boas didn't say there were many words for different kinds of snow in the Eskimo–Aleut languages. He said that there are in those languages - and there may be in others - the form of expression of what, to one language's speakers, is a singular, if broad, entity in distinct words with, to the speakers of the other language, distinct meanings. In English, we have "snow", which can then be modified in meaning to reflect its state ("falling snow", "fallen snow", "snow on the ground" etc.). In the Eskimo-Aleut languages, on the other hand, there are different words for each of those meanings - possibly because, according to linguistic relativity (aka the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), the language we speak both affects and reflects the way we see the world.

    This took me a lot of time to wrap my head around, but people do not think in languages like English or French.

I do. I've noticably switched from thinking in Russian to thinking in English in my teenage years and haven't gone back. It's the internal dialogue - a feature present in many - which is in language. There is, of course, the non-verbal part of thinking, which obviously can't be in any langauge: images, sounds, smells, tastes, emotions...

So here you go. If you have any questions, feel free to ask: I will be glad to explore the topic further.

wasoxygen  ·  2759 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's not my work, but I have found the "learn new things" project fun to follow. I am not very strong in linguistics, having only read the Pinker book mentioned this month.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this conversation as well:

user-inactivated  ·  2759 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Someone on r/linguistics the other day said they wished Chomsky and Pinker would kill each other off so everyone else could get on with their jobs. Or something like that.

user-inactivated  ·  2759 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'll see if I have something to say later today.