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Article

Danish  

Eva Skafte Jensen

Danish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 6 million people. Genealogically, it is related to the other Germanic languages, in particular the other North Germanic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese), but also, for example, German, Dutch, and English; typologically, Modern Danish is closer to Norwegian and Swedish than to any other language. Historically deriving from Proto-Germanic, Danish morphology once had three grammatical genders (the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter) and case inflection (nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive) in all nominal words; it also had inflection for mood, tense, number, and person in the verbal conjugations. In Modern Standard Danish, much of the traditional nominal and verbal inflection has disappeared. Instead, other kinds of morphosyntactic constructions and structures have emerged. Middle Danish and Modern Danish are typologically very different languages. One of the structural innovations linked to the typological change is that a syntactic subject becomes obligatory in Danish sentences. Correlated to this, Danish develops expletive constructions with det ‘it’ and der ‘there’. Another important point differentiating Middle Danish from Modern Danish concerns agreement. Traditional Indo-European agreement (verbal as well as nominal) has receded in favor of more fixed word order, both on the sentence level and internally within phrases. As part of this, Modern Danish has developed a set of definite and indefinite articles. The traditional three genders are reduced to two (common and neuter) and have developed new syntactic-semantic functions alongside the traditional lexically distributed functions. In the verbal systems, Danish makes use of two different kinds of passive voice (a periphrastic and an inflected one), which carry different meanings, and also of two different auxiliaries in perfective constructions, that is, have ‘have’ and være ‘be’, the latter doubling as an auxiliary in periphrastic passive constructions. Perfective constructions are made up by an auxiliary and the supine form of the main verb. Danish is a V2-language with a relatively fixed word order, often depicted in the form of the so-called sentence frame, a topological model designed specifically for Danish. Like most other Germanic languages, Danish has a rich set of modal particles. All these morphosyntactic features, Danish shares with Swedish and Norwegian, but the distribution is not completely identical in the three languages, something that makes the Mainland Scandinavian languages an interesting study object to the typologically interested linguist. Exclusive for Danish is the so-called stød, a suprasegmental prosodic feature, used as a distinctive feature. Modern Danish is strongly standardized with only little of the traditional dialectal variation left. From the end of the 20th century, in the larger cities, new sociolects have emerged, that is, multi-ethnolects. The new multi-ethnolects are based on a substrate of Danish with lexical features from the languages of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In addition to the lexical innovations, the multi-ethnolects are characteristic in intonation patterns different from Standard Danish, and they have morphosyntactic features different from Standard Danish, for example, in word order and in the use of gender.

Article

Romance in Contact with Albanian  

Walter Breu

Albanian has been documented in historical texts only since the 16th century. In contrast, it had been in continuous contact with languages of the Latin phylum since the first encounters of Romans and Proto-Albanians in the 2nd century bce. Given the late documentation of Albanian, the different layers of matter borrowings from Latin and its daughter languages are relevant for the reconstruction of Proto-Albanian phonology and its development through the centuries. Latinisms also play a role in the discussion about the original home of the Albanians. From the very beginning, Latin influence seems to have been all-embracing with respect to the lexical domain, including word formation and lexical calquing. This is true not only for Latin itself but also for later Romance, especially for Italian historical varieties, less so for now extinct Balkan-Romance vernaculars like Dalmatian, and doubtful for Romanian, whose similarities with Albanian had been strongly overestimated in the past. Many Latin-based words in Albanian have the character of indirect Latinisms, as they go back to originally Latin borrowings via Ancient (and Medieval) Greek, and there is also the problem of learned borrowings from Medieval Latin. As for other Romance languages, only French has to be considered as the source of fairly recent borrowings, often hardly distinguishable from Italian ones, due to analogical integration processes. In spite of 19th-century claims in this respect, Latin (and Romance) grammatical influence on Albanian is (next to) zero. In Italo-Albanian varieties that have developed all over southern Italy since the late Middle Ages, based on a succession of immigration waves, Italian influence has been especially strong, not only with respect to the lexical domain but by interfering in some parts of grammar, too.

Article

Iconicity  

Irit Meir and Oksana Tkachman

Iconicity is a relationship of resemblance or similarity between the two aspects of a sign: its form and its meaning. An iconic sign is one whose form resembles its meaning in some way. The opposite of iconicity is arbitrariness. In an arbitrary sign, the association between form and meaning is based solely on convention; there is nothing in the form of the sign that resembles aspects of its meaning. The Hindu-Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 are arbitrary, because their current form does not correlate to any aspect of their meaning. In contrast, the Roman numerals I, II, III are iconic, because the number of occurrences of the sign I correlates with the quantity that the numerals represent. Because iconicity has to do with the properties of signs in general and not only those of linguistic signs, it plays an important role in the field of semiotics—the study of signs and signaling. However, language is the most pervasive symbolic communicative system used by humans, and the notion of iconicity plays an important role in characterizing the linguistic sign and linguistic systems. Iconicity is also central to the study of literary uses of language, such as prose and poetry. There are various types of iconicity: the form of a sign may resemble aspects of its meaning in several ways: it may create a mental image of the concept (imagic iconicity), or its structure and the arrangement of its elements may resemble the structural relationship between components of the concept represented (diagrammatic iconicity). An example of the first type is the word cuckoo, whose sounds resemble the call of the bird, or a sign such as RABBIT in Israeli Sign Language, whose form—the hands representing the rabbit's long ears—resembles a visual property of that animal. An example of diagrammatic iconicity is vēnī, vīdī, vīcī, where the order of clauses in a discourse is understood as reflecting the sequence of events in the world. Iconicity is found on all linguistic levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and discourse. It is found both in spoken languages and in sign languages. However, sign languages, because of the visual-gestural modality through which they are transmitted, are much richer in iconic devices, and therefore offer a rich array of topics and perspectives for investigating iconicity, and the interaction between iconicity and language structure.

Article

Noam Chomsky  

Howard Lasnik and Terje Lohndal

Noam Avram Chomsky is one of the central figures of modern linguistics. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. In 1945, Chomsky enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Zellig Harris (1909–1992), a leading Structuralist, through their shared political interests. His first encounter with Harris’s work was when he proof-read Harris’s book Methods in Structural Linguistics, published in 1951 but completed already in 1947. Chomsky grew dissatisfied with Structuralism and started to develop his own major idea that syntax and phonology are in part matters of abstract representations. This was soon combined with a psychobiological view of language as a unique part of the mind/brain. Chomsky spent 1951–1955 as a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, after which he joined the faculty at MIT under the sponsorship of Morris Halle. He was promoted to full professor of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1961, appointed Ferrari Ward Professor of Linguistics in 1966, and Institute Professor in 1976, retiring in 2002. Chomsky is still remarkably active, publishing, teaching, and lecturing across the world. In 1967, both the University of Chicago and the University of London awarded him honorary degrees, and since then he has been the recipient of scores of honors and awards. In 1988, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in basic science, created in 1984 in order to recognize work in areas not included among the Nobel Prizes. These honors are all a testimony to Chomsky’s influence and impact in linguistics and cognitive science more generally over the past 60 years. His contributions have of course also been heavily criticized, but nevertheless remain crucial to investigations of language. Chomsky’s work has always centered around the same basic questions and assumptions, especially that human language is an inherent property of the human mind. The technical part of his research has continuously been revised and updated. In the 1960s phrase structure grammars were developed into what is known as the Standard Theory, which transformed into the Extended Standard Theory and X-bar theory in the 1970s. A major transition occurred at the end of the 1970s, when the Principles and Parameters Theory emerged. This theory provides a new understanding of the human language faculty, focusing on the invariant principles common to all human languages and the points of variation known as parameters. Its recent variant, the Minimalist Program, pushes the approach even further in asking why grammars are structured the way they are.