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Language. Chapter 6. Language. Language – a set of sounds, combinations of sounds, and symbols that are used for communication. Mutual Intelligibility. Means two people can understand each other when speaking. Problems: Cannot measure mutual intelligibility

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Chapter 6



Language – a set of sounds, combinations of sounds, and symbols that are used for communication.

Mutual intelligibility

Mutual Intelligibility

  • Means two people can understand each other when speaking.

    • Problems:

      • Cannot measure mutual intelligibility

      • Many “languages” fail the test of mutual intelligibility

      • Standard languages and governments impact what is a “language” and what is a “dialect”

How languages are formed

How Languages are Formed?

  • Can find linkages among languages by examining sound shifts – a slight change in a word across languages over time.

    eg. Milk =lacte in Latin

    latta in Italian

    leche in Spanish

    lait in French

How are languages formed

How are Languages Formed?

  • Language divergence –

    when a lack of spatial interaction among speakers of a language breaks the language into dialects and then new languages.

  • Language convergence –

    when peoples with different languages have consistent spatial interaction and their languages collapse into one.


Monolingual State a country in which only one language is spokenMultilingual State a country in which more than one language is in useOfficial Languageshould a multilingual state adopt an official language?


Dialectvariants of a standard language along regional or ethnic lines- vocabulary-syntax- pronunciation- cadence- pace of speech


A geographic boundary within which a particular linguistic feature occurs

How do linguists study historical languages

How do Linguists Study Historical Languages?

  • Backward reconstruction – tracking sound shifts and the hardening of consonants backward to reveal an “original” language.

    • Can deduce the vocabulary of an extinct language.

    • Can recreate ancient languages (deep reconstruction)

Language and cultural identity

Language and Cultural Identity

Language and culture

Language and Culture

“No one was allowed to speak the language – the Dena’ina language. They [the American government] didn’t allow it in the schools, and a lot of the women had married non-native men, and the men said, ‘You’re American now so you can’t speak the language.’ So, we became invisible in the community. Invisible to each other. And, then, because we couldn’t speak the language – what happens when you can’t speak your own language is you have to think with someone else’s words, and that’s a dreadful kind of isolation [emphasis added].”

- Clare Swan, elder, Kenaitze band, Dena’ina Indians

Language and cultural identity1

Language and Cultural Identity

Language and national identity

Language and National Identity

Standard Language

a language that is published, widely distributed, and purposefully taught.

Government usually plays a big role in standardizing a language.


Language and Political Conflict


Flanders (Flemish language)

Wallonia (French language)

Percent of people 5 years and older who speak a language other than english at home

Percent of People 5 Years and Older Who Speak a Language other than English at Home

How languages diffuse

How Languages Diffuse?

Causes of languages diffusion

Causes of Languages Diffusion

  • human interaction

  • print distribution

  • migration

  • trade

  • rise of nation-states

  • colonialism

Spatial interaction helps create

Spatial Interaction helps create:

  • Lingua franca –

    A language used among speakers of different languages for the purposes of trade and commerce.

  • Pidgin language –

    a language created when people combine parts of two or more languages into a simplified structure and vocabulary.

  • Creole language –

    a pidgin language that has developed a more complex structure and vocabulary and has become the native language of a group of people.

Historical linkages among languages

Historical Linkages among Languages

  • Indo-European language family

  • Proto-Indo-European language

  • Nostratic Language: Pre-proto-Indo European

  • Mother Tongue

The three major language subfamilies of europe

The Three Major Language Subfamilies of Europe

Romance languages

Germanic languages

Slavic languages


Renfrew Hypothesis:

Proto-Indo-European began in the Fertile Crescent, and then:

  • Europe’s Languages diffused from Anatolia

  • North Africa and Arabia’s languages diffused from the

  • Western Arc of Fertile Crescent (

  • Southwest Asia and South Asia’s languages diffused from

  • the Eastern Arc of Fertile Crescent.


Agriculture Theory

With increased food supply and increased population, speakers

from the hearth of Indo-European languages migrated into Europe.


Dispersal Hypothesis

Indo-European languages first moved from the hearth eastward into present-day Iran and then around the Caspian and into Europe.

Nostratic language

Nostratic Language

  • Pre-proto-Indo European Language: Maybe a direct successor of the Proto-World language

  • Svytitch and Dogopolosky: Russian scholars who studies independently of each other and came to similar conclusions.

  • Source area: North of the Black Sea

  • Results of Research:

    - No names for domestic plants

    - Hunters/gathers not farmers

    - Links widely separated languages

    - May date back as far as 14,000 years

Diffusion to the americas

Diffusion to the Americas

The Americas are dominated by the Indo-

European languages

Pre-Columbian population did not exceed

40 million

As many as 200 million languages have been


Believed that first American languages

diverged into the most intricately divided

branches of the Language Tree

Greenberg hypothesis

Greenberg Hypothesis

  • Three major Language families:

    - Amerind: Most widely distributed

    - Na-Dene: NW Canada and Alaska

    - Eskimo-Aleut: Arctic area

  • Implies a migration across the Bering Land

    Bridge approximately 40,000 years ago

Criticism of greenberg hypothesis

Criticism of Greenberg Hypothesis

  • Criticism: Did not use conventional linguistic

    research methods and proper procedures

  • Compared similar sounding words today

  • Relies on genetic testing/archaeological dating

    of dental data to prove hypothesis of early

    migration occurring prior to 12,000 years ago

    - Pennsylvania 16,000 B.P

    - Chile (approx.) 33,000 B.P.



The Basque speak the Euskera language, which is in no way related to any other language family in Europe.

How did Euskera survive?

World language families

World Language Families

Linguistic culture regions

Linguistic Culture Regions

  • What is the Geographical patterning of languages?

  • Do the various languages provide the basis for formal and functional culture regions?

The ten leading languages in numbers of native speakers

The Ten Leading Languages in Numbers of Native Speakers

Origin and diffusion of four major language families in eastern hemisphere

Origin and Diffusion of Four Major Language Families in Eastern Hemisphere

Language families

Language Families

  • Indo-European Family

  • largest; most widespread language

  • spoken on all continents

  • Subfamilies: Celtic, Romance, Anatolian, Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, Indic, Iranic, Greek

  • Languages: Germanic-English, Dutch, Swedish, German

  • Commonalities in Family: Mother (English)

    Polish: matka, Greek: meter, Spanish: madre, Farsi: madar, Sinhalese: mava

Languages in india

Languages in India

Assamese Bengali

Bodo Dogri

Gujarati Hindi

Kannada Kashmiri

Konkani Maithili

Malayalam Manipuri

Marathi Nepali

Oriya Punjabi

Sanskrit Santhali

Sindhi Tamil

Telugu Urdu

Indian languages

Indian Languages

  • Hindi is the official and main link language of India. Its homeland is mainly in the north of India, but it is spoken and widely understood in all urban centers of India. It is written in the Devanagri script, which is phonetic and, unlike English, is pronounced as it is written.

  • Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages that exists in the world today.

  • The oldest Indo-Aryan language is Vedic Sanskrit, which is said to date as far back as 1500 BC.

Brief history of languages

Brief History of Languages

  • With over 900 million people and more than one thousand languages

  • India is one of the multilingual nations in the world today.

  • It is home to the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families, two of the world's largest.

  • Languages of the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman language families are also spoken in India

  • This multitude of languages reflects India's lengthy and diverse history.

  • During the last few thousand years, the Indian sub-continent has been both united under various empires as well as fragmented into many small kingdoms.

  • British empire helped to unit India under a common language.

  • Having attained independence from the British in 1947, Indian leaders chose Hindi as the official language of India.

2 afro asiatic family two language divisions semitic and hamitic

2. Afro-Asiatic Family: Two language divisions; Semitic and Hamitic

  • Semitic language region: Middle East west through North Africa

  • few speakers due to desert biome

  • Arabic largest Semitic language; many dialects with a standard written form

  • Hebrew is a Semitic language that was dead until 1948 State of Israel

  • Amharic language exists in East African mts.

  • Hamitic languages exist in North and East Africa, originated in Asia (Berbers, Algeria, Tuaregs, Cushites)

3 niger congo family

3. Niger-Congo Family

  • Sub-Saharan Africa

  • 325 million speakers

  • greatly fragmented

  • Bantu, Swahili, Hausa

  • 4000 years ago; moved from Nigeria-west then south to Zimbabwe

  • People moved in search of a climate change and new agricultural techniques

Languages of subsaharan africa extreme language diversity effects of colonialism

Languages of Subsaharan Africa- extreme language diversity- effects of colonialism

Nigeria more than 400 different languages

Nigeriamore than 400 different languages.

4 austronesian family

4. Austronesian Family

  • Dispersed over island from Madagascar to Indonesia to the Pacific Islands to Hawaii and Easter Islands

  • Largest single language group Malay-polynesian; most widespread Polynesian language

5 uralic family

5. Uralic Family

  • Homeland lies in the grasslands and tundra regions of northern Europe

  • Finnish and Hungarian

4 altaic family

4. Altaic Family

  • Homeland lies in inhospitable deserts, tundra and coniferous forests of northern and central Asia

  • Turkic and Mongolic are languages of the Altaic Family

6 sino tibetan family

6. Sino-Tibetan Family

  • Region: China, Southeast Asia

  • Mandarin: mother tongue of China

  • Burmese, Tibetan

8 japanese and korean family

8. Japanese and Korean Family

  • Unproven ties to the Altaic family

  • 200 million speakers

  • 9.Austro-Asiatic Family

  • peripheral domain; Austronesian, Indo-

  • European and Sino-Tibetan

  • spoken by Vietnamese, Cambodians,

  • Thais, Malaysians and Indians

Social morale model by charles withers

Social Morale Model by Charles Withers

I. Procedure

A. Imperial conquest or technological advances cause the replacement of indigenous languages

B. Conquered group remains in a low social class until a loss of pride in the language forces its abandonment

C. Formal education system is based on the socially dominant class

D. No official recognition of the conquered language=social inferiority (old language is primitive; socially degrading)

Changes in language

Changes in Language

Retreat of the welsh language in the twentieth century

Retreat of the Welsh language in the twentieth century

Example language convergence in whales

Example Language Convergence in Whales

  • Urbanization/Industrialization contributed to the emigration from rural areas

  • British education system promoted English

  • Welsh people relocated in industrial towns where English was spoken

  • “liquidation of the Welsh culture”

  • Monoglots began to disappear

Welsh language convergence british response

Welsh language convergence: British Response

  • British government extended education and media rights to Welsh people

  • Whales attained political autonomy within the U.K.

  • The Welsh language began to revive.

Native americans in canada and the united states

Native Americans in Canada and the United States

  • Native Americans were greatly marginalized by a dominant culture

  • Young Native Americans were relocated to bordering schools outside their communities

    - children were not allowed to speak their

    native languages

    - reduced languages from 148,000 in 1990

    to 3 first graders in 2005

Examples of language convergence

Examples of Language Convergence

1793 France (New Republican government)

  • Government is used to mandate the elimination of all regional languages and dialects

  • Present day analogy: Prohibit oppressed language groups access to broadcast facilities

Impact of language on the cultural landscape

Impact of Language on the Cultural Landscape

Probabilities of selected polynesian drift and navigation voyages

Probabilities of Selected Polynesian Drift and Navigation Voyages

Result of language convergence

Result of Language Convergence

Languages used to Google

World’ nearly extinct languages

The creation of a constructed global language non natural

The Creation of a Constructed Global Language (Non-natural)


  • L.L. Zamenhof: Polish oculist in 1880’s

  • Set out to construct a second language everyone in the world would speak

  • Slang is not used in this language

  • Arabic, Greek, Latin-based; stable, not subject to changes natural languages undergo

  • 2 million speakers

The creation of a constructed global language non natural1

The Creation of a Constructed Global Language (Non-natural)


  • J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings)

  • Spoken by the Elvish inhabitants of Middle-Earth

  • Difficult to pronounce, speak and learn; never intended to replace a natural language

  • Dictionaries and lessons available



  • Toponym – a place name

    • A toponym:

      • Imparts a certain character on a place

      • Reflects the social processes in a place

      • Can give us a glimpse of the history of a place

Martin luther king jr streets

Martin Luther King, Jr. Streets

Geographer Derek Alderman asks:

* Where are MLK streets?

* Why are they where they are?

* What controversies surround memorializing MLK with a street name?

Where are mlk streets in the us

Where are MLK Streets in the US?

Changing toponyms

Changing Toponyms

  • When people change the toponym of a place, they have the power to “wipe out the past and call forth the new.”

    - Yi-Fu Tuan

Changing toponyms1

Changing Toponyms

  • Major reasons people change toponyms:

    • After decolonization

    • After a political revolution

    • To memorialize people or events

    • To commodify or brand a place

Naming place is closely related to claiming place

Naming place is closely related to claiming place

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