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Several language families and a few language isolates are represented in the Himalayas, the world’s greatest massif, running a length of over 3,600 km. The most well-represented language family in this region happens to be the Trans-Himalayan language family, whose very centre of gravity and phylogenetic diversity is situated within the Eastern Himalaya. This most populous language family on our planet in terms of numbers of speakers used to be known as Tibeto-Burman but, in some circles, the family formerly also went by the names “Indo-Chinese” or “Sino-Tibetan”, the latter two labels actually designating empirically unsupported and now obsolete models of language relationship. The study of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar began with Brian Houghton Hodgson in the 1830s, who during this time served at Kathmandu as the British Resident to the Kingdom of Nepal. Periodically, minor studies devoted attention to several of the more salient morphosyntactic phenomena of Trans-Himalayan historical grammar, but Stuart Wolfenden contributed the first major monograph to the subject in the 1920s. Finally, the historical morphosyntax of the Trans-Himalayan language family came to be the focus of numerous linguistic studies from the 1970s onward, and since that time our understanding of the historical grammar of the language family has changed drastically. As ever more languages out of the hundreds of previously undocumented Trans-Himalayan tongues came to be described and analysed in great detail, it came to be understood that the flamboyant verbal agreement morphology observed in languages such as the Kiranti languages of eastern Nepal and the rGyalrongic languages of southwestern China were neither grammatically innovative nor represented typological flukes, but instead represented the most grammatically conservative languages within the entire language family. Subsequently, cognate inflectional systems or vestiges of cognate conjugational morphology were discovered in most other branches of the language family as well. The geographical centre, as well as the centre of phylogenetic diversity of the Trans-Himalayan language family, was identified as the highland arc of the Eastern Himalaya. Sinitic languages, although representing by far the most populous single branch of the Trans-Himalayan family, were now understood as constituting just one out of many subgroups, not more divergent from other branches than any one of the four dozen other subgroups making up the language family. The various types of epistemic marking systems observed sporadically throughout the region were shown to be secondary innovations, reflecting a great variety of semantically distinct language-specific grammatical categories. Particularly, languages showing the typology of the Loloish or Sinitic type were shown to be innovative in their grammar, having lost much of the original Trans-Himalayan morphosyntax.

Article

Gothic  

D. Gary Miller

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article. Apart from runic inscriptions, Gothic is the earliest attested language of the Germanic family, dating to the 4th century. Along with Crimean Gothic, it belongs to the branch known as East Germanic. The bulk of the extant Gothic corpus is a translation of the Bible, of which only a portion remains. The translation is traditionally ascribed to Wulfila, who is credited with inventing the Gothic alphabet. The many Greek conventions both help and hinder interpretation of the Gothic phonological system. As in Greek, letters of the alphabet functioned as numerals, but the late letter names were from runic. Gothic inflectional categories include nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Nouns are inflected for three genders, two numbers, and four cases. Various stem types inherited from Indo-European constitute different form classes in Gothic. Adjectives have the same properties and are also inflected according to so-called weak and strong forms, as are Gothic verbs. Verbs are inflected for three persons and numbers, an indicative and a nonindicative mood (here called “optative”), past and nonpast tense, and voice. The mediopassive survives in Gothic morphologically as a synthetic passive and syntactically in innovated periphrastic formations; middle and anticausative functions were taken over by reflexive-type structures. Nonfinite forms are the infinitive, the imperative, and two participles. In syntax, Gothic had null subjects as an option, mostly in the third person singular. Aspect was effected primarily by prefixes, which have many other functions, and aspect is not consistently indicated. Absolute constructions with a participle occurred in various cases with functional differences. Relativization was effected primarily by relative pronouns built on demonstratives plus a complementizer. Complementizers could be used with subordinate clause verbs in the indicative or optative. The switch to the optative was triggered by irrealis, matrix verbs that do not permit a full range of subordinate tenses, expression of a hope or wish, potentiality, and several other conditions. Many of these are also relevant to matrix clauses (independent optatives). Essentials of linearization include prepositional phrases, default postposed genitives and possessive adjectives, and preposed demonstratives. Verb-object order predominates, but there is much Greek influence. Verb-auxiliary order is native Gothic.

Article

William R. Leben

About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today. The actual number depends on where the line is drawn between language and dialect—an arbitrary decision, because languages are always in flux. But specialists applying a reasonably uniform criterion across the globe count well over 2,000 languages in Asia and Africa, while Europe has just shy of 300. In between are the Pacific region, with over 1,300 languages, and the Americas, with just over 1,000. Languages spoken natively by over a million speakers number around 250, but the vast majority have very few speakers. Something like half are thought likely to disappear over the next few decades, as speakers of endangered languages turn to more widely spoken ones. The languages of the world are grouped into perhaps 430 language families, based on their origin, as determined by comparing similarities among languages and deducing how they evolved from earlier ones. As with languages, there’s quite a lot of disagreement about the number of language families, reflecting our meager knowledge of many present-day languages and even sparser knowledge of their history. The figure 430 comes from Glottolog.org, which actually lists them all. While the world’s language families may well go back to a smaller number of original languages, even to a single mother tongue, scholars disagree on how far back current methods permit us to trace the history of languages. While it is normal for languages to borrow from other languages, occasionally a totally new language is created by mixing elements of two distinct languages to such a degree that we would not want to identify one of the source languages as the mother tongue. This is what led to the development of Media Lengua, a language of Ecuador formed through contact among speakers of Spanish and speakers of Quechua. In this language, practically all the word stems are from Spanish, while all of the endings are from Quechua. Just a handful of languages have come into being in this way, but less extreme forms of language mixture have resulted in over a hundred pidgins and creoles currently spoken in many parts of the world. Most arose during Europe’s colonial era, when European colonists used their language to communicate with local inhabitants, who in turn blended vocabulary from the European language with grammar largely from their native language. Also among the languages of the world are about 300 sign languages used mainly in communicating among and with the deaf. The structure of sign languages typically has little historical connection to the structure of nearby spoken languages. Some languages have been constructed expressly, often by a single individual, to meet communication demands among speakers with no common language. Esperanto, designed to serve as a universal language and used as a second language by some two million, according to some estimates, is the prime example, but it is only one among several hundred would-be international auxiliary languages. This essay surveys the languages of the world continent by continent, ending with descriptions of sign languages and of pidgins and creoles. A set of references grouped by section appears at the very end. The main source for data on language classification, numbers of languages, and speakers is the 19th edition of Ethnologue (see Resources), except where a different source is cited.

Article

Anthony P. Grant

The Penutian language family, Penutian phylum, or better still, Penutian hypothesis is one of the largest genealogical linguistic groupings to have been proposed for western North America. It involves 16 families or isolates. Only a few of these families are demonstrably relatable to one another according to current knowledge and diachronic techniques. Sometimes Penutian is split by observers into groups of languages assumed to be interrelated, and this is done without assumptions that the groups themselves are interrelated. This article focuses on the Canadian and US languages in “Sapir’s Penutian,” the most commonly accepted version; the most southerly family within Penutian is thus held as Yokutsan of California’s Sierra Nevada. It discusses the subclassification of the so-called Penutian languages into families and smaller units; aspects of their phonology, morphosyntax, and contact histories; and issues in their revitalization and the potential reconstruction of Proto-Penutian.

Article

Carmen Jany

Hokan is a linguistic stock or phylum based on a series of hypotheses about deeper genetic relationships among languages that extend geographically from Northern California to Nicaragua. Following the general effort to genetically link the vast number of Native American languages and to reduce them to a few superstocks, Dixon and Kroeber first proposed the Hokan stock in 1913, to include several California indigenous languages: Karuk, Chimariko, Shastan, Palaihnihan (Atsugewi and Achumawi), Pomoan, Yana, and later Esselen and Yuman. The name Hokan stems from the Atsugewi word for “two”: hoqi. While the first proposals by Dixon and Kroeber rested on very limited cognate sets comprising only five words, later assessments by Sapir included hundreds of putative cognate sets and analyses of Hokan morphosyntax. By 1925, Sapir further included Washo, Salinan, Seri, Chumashan, Tequistlatecan, and Subtiaba-Tlapanec as the Southern Hokan branch into the stock. Throughout the 20th century, scholars sought additional evidence for the stock as more and refined data on the languages became available. A number of languages were added, and earlier proposals were abandoned. A new surge in work on individual California indigenous languages in the 1950s and 1960s prompted a string of studies conducting binary comparisons. This renewed interest inspired a series of Hokan conferences held until the 1990s. A more recent comprehensive assessment of the entire stock was undertaken by Kaufman in 1988. Applying rigorous analysis and only implicating those languages for which he encountered substantial evidence, Kaufman proposes sixteen classificatory units for Hokan clustered geographically. Kaufman’s Hokan stock also includes Coahuilteco and Comecrudan in Mexico and Jicaque in Nicaragua. Although Hokan was widely studied in the 20th century, and many scholars presented what they thought to be supporting evidence, it is far from being an established genetic unit. In fact, many scholars today treat it with a lot of skepticism. One major challenge, as with any phylum-level affiliation, is its time depth. Proto-Hokan is thought to be at least as antique as Proto-Indo-European. Moreover, many of the languages were spoken in geographically contiguous areas, with speakers being multilingual and in close contact for an extended period of time, as is the case in Northern California. This suggests considerable language contact effects and complicates the distinction between true cognates and ancient borrowings. Many of the languages involved further show similarities in grammatical structure as a result of language contact. Hokan languages stretch across California, Nevada, South Texas, various parts of Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua and display notable structural differences. Phonologically, the languages show great variation including small and large phoneme inventories and different phonological processes. Typologically, they are equally diverse, but many are considered polysynthetic to varying degrees. Morphosyntactic and grammatical similarities are evident especially among languages spoken in Northern California. These resemblances include sets of lexical affixes with similar meanings and affinities in core argument patterns.

Article

Edward Vajda

Dene-Yeniseian is a proposed genealogical link between the widespread North American language family Na-Dene (Athabaskan, Eyak, Tlingit) and Yeniseian in central Siberia, represented today by the critically endangered Ket and several documented extinct relatives. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis is an old idea, but since 2006 new evidence supporting it has been published in the form of shared morphological systems and a modest number of lexical cognates showing interlocking sound correspondences. Recent data from human genetics and folklore studies also increasingly indicate the plausibility of a prehistoric (probably Late Pleistocene) connection between populations in northwestern North America and the traditionally Yeniseian-speaking areas of south-central Siberia. At present, Dene-Yeniseian cannot be accepted as a proven language family until the purported evidence supporting the lexical and morphological correspondences between Yeniseian and Na-Dene is expanded and tested by further critical analysis and their relationship to Old World families such as Sino-Tibetan and Caucasian, as well as the isolate Burushaski (all earlier proposed as relatives of Yeniseian, and sometimes also of Na-Dene), becomes clearer.

Article

Several attempts have been made to classify Romance languages. The subgroups created can be posited as intermediate entities in diachrony between a mother language and daughter languages. This diachronic perspective can be structured using a rigid model, such as that of the family tree, or more flexible ones. In general, this perspective yields a bipartite division between Western Romance languages (Ibero-Romance, Gallo-Romance, Alpine-, and Cisalpine-Romance) and Eastern Romance languages (Italian and Romanian), or a tripartite split between Sardinian, Romanian, and other languages. The subgroups can, however, be considered synchronic groupings based on the analysis of the characteristics internal to the varieties. Naturally, the groupings change depending on which features are used and which theoretic model is adopted. Still, this type of approach signals the individuality of French and Romanian with respect to the Romània continua, or contrasts northern and southern Romània, highlighting, on the one hand, the shared features in Gallo-Romance and Gallo-Italian and, on the other, those common to Ibero-Romance, southern Italian, and Sardinian. The task of classifying Romance languages includes thorny issues such as distinguishing between synchrony and diachrony, language and dialect, and monothetic and polythetic classification. Moreover, ideological and political matters often complicate the theme of classification. Many problems stand as yet unresolved, and they will probably remain unresolvable.