Historical linguistics
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Historical linguistics. Language classification and change. Classification. Genetic Typological Areal. A very important discovery. Jones [1788] described Sanskrit:

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Historical linguistics

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Historical linguistics

Historical linguistics

Language classification and change



  • Genetic

  • Typological

  • Areal

A very important discovery

A very important discovery

  • Jones [1788] described Sanskrit:

    • Sanskrit has a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity … than could possibly have been produced by accident.

Language families

Language families

  • “Family trees”: linguists love trees!

  • The world has many (how many?) languages

  • They can be traced back to a small number of families

    • Which families do English and Chinese belong to?

  • The word “family” is used to describe different levels, so it is vague

    • The highest level node can also be referred to as the Proto-language, for example PIE



  • Words from the same root

    • Maternal and madreboth come from mater

    • (which 3 languages, please?)

  • Yule 184-187 show how linguists can rebuild PIE and other proto-languages

  • Read “Word Reconstruction” carefully

  • Understand the example

  • Do study question 3, including the reasons

Change in grammar and vocabulary

Change in grammar and vocabulary

  • Read about Syntactic changes and Semantic changes

  • Try Research Task D

Typological classification

Typological classification

  • SVO SOV…

    • 6 possible types

  • Pro-drop vs non-pro-drop

    • Can you remember this? What is Chinese?

  • Accusative (Japanese, Latin) vs ergative (Basque) (from wikipedia.org) (Japanese? German?)

Areal linguistics

Areal linguistics

  • There is no genetic relationship between languages, but they still share features, and they are spoken in the same region

  • Balkan linguistic union

    • Albanian, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian are all IE languages

    • However, they are not closely related

    • And yet they share certain grammatical features (case, tense etc.)

East asian sprachbund

East Asian sprachbund

  • Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and others are probably unrelated genetically (like Chinese & English, also unrelated)

  • Various shared features

    • Tone

    • Classifiers

    • Monosyllabic morphemes

    • Topic-comment constructions

      • こちらは 田中さんです。

      • 你的衣服,怎么这么脏? (wiki again)

    • Politeness (changing in Chinese)

Lexical borrowing

Lexical borrowing

  • Lots of languages borrow extensively from English

  • You can probably think of many words in Chinese… how about the other way round?

  • This is not really part of language classification though

  • Domain-specific borrowing

    • Legal / administrative vocab zh  vn

    • Cooking fr  en

    • Philosophy de  en

  • Calque

    • Skyscraper  gratte-ciel (fr), Wolkenkratzer (de), 摩天樓 (zh)

    • Brainwash, runway (can you say why?)

English chinese loans

English  Chinese loans

  • Phonologically similar

    • Easy to think of many examples

  • Calque/phonological hybrid

    • 冰淇淋

  • 蹦及

    • Cross-straits difference

  • 電子郵件, 伊媚兒, EMAIL


  • Taiwan Office English (why??)

    • 麻煩你把candidate的resume fax 給我, 我明天要interview他.



Variation in language

Variation in language

  • What are

    • Accent?

    • Dialect?

    • Language?

  • Draw a tree

    • For English (me)

    • For Chinese (students)

  • Give some examples of lexical differences, from English and Chinese.

Social factors in accent

Social factors in accent

  • Differences in accent

    • What are the 3 main reasons one accent differs from another?

      • Place; ____; ____.

  • Accent differences

    • Taiwan Mandarin vs standard Mandarin

    • English

  • Labov (1987) investigated “4th floor” pronunciation, in NYC

    • 3 department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Klein’s)

    • “higher class” speakers pronounce the /r/

  • Trudgill (1974) in the UK

    • Found that “higher class” speakers do not pronounce the /r/

Register describe the differences please

Register: describe the differences, please

  • Would you mind giving me your full attention please?

    • Shut up!

  • I am writing to inform you

    • Just wanted to let you know

  • That is truly marvelous

    • That really rocks (what does rock mean?)

  • t/v distinctions



  • This happens in a bilingual society

  • Each variety is used

    • With different people

    • In different situations

    • Or for different purposes

  • An easy example of this phenomenon, please?

  • Usually there is said to be an H. variety, and an L. variety. Can you guess what H. and L. mean?

  • Also Singapore; Philippines; England in the Middle Ages; many other examples

The sapir whorf hypothesis almost certainly incorrect but interesting anyway

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (almost certainly incorrect, but interesting anyway!

  • Sapir and Whorf, in the 1930s, said that language determines culture

    • Hopi (American Indian language) has a feature +/- animate

    • Hopi words for cloud and stone are animate

    • Whorf concluded that clouds and stones are animate in the Hopi world-view

  • Can you disprove the S-W hypothesis, using the knowledge you have of Spanish, French, Hungarian or German?

What was that all about

What was that all about?

  • Definition of language

  • Description of the different levels of language. Analyzing

    • Sounds

    • Words

    • Sentences

    • Meaning

And then

And then…

  • Language and the mind

    • How language is acquired

    • How things sometimes go wrong

  • Today’s introduction to historical linguistics and language in society

  • Thanks for coming!

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