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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

Steven N. Dworkin

From an historical perspective, the Spanish lexicon consists of three different categories: (1) its historical core of words inherited from the Latin spoken in the Roman province of Hispania; (2) loanwords that entered Spanish over its long history as a result of contact at the levels of both oral and written discourse with other languages; and (3) words created internally through such mechanisms of derivational morphology as suffixation, prefixation, compounding, back-formations, and so on. Over the last 150 years, specialists in the history of the Spanish language have studied in considerable detail all three sources of lexical material. Although most of the lexical items inherited from spoken Latin have cognates in many (in some cases, all) of the Romance languages, Spanish has preserved some words that live on only in Spanish (and neighboring Portuguese) or only in Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, the geographical extremes of the Romance-speaking world, far removed from the centers of linguistic innovation. As a result of language contact, loanwords from the pre-Roman languages of the Iberian Peninsula, Visigothic, Arabic, Gallo-Romance (northern and southern French), Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, classical Latin, native languages of the New World, and English have entered and taken root in the Spanish lexicon. Although such lexical borrowings have often been studied within a cultural framework, recent research has focused on their introduction and incorporation as examples of contact-induced language change at the level of the lexicon. Throughout its history, Spanish has increased the size of its vocabulary through the creation of neologisms through processes of suffixation, prefixation, and composition. The study of such items has traditionally been the focus of specialists in diachronic derivational morphology. This subfield constitutes in many respects an important component of diachronic lexicology. Indeed, etymology and diachronic derivational morphology are two sides of the same coin. Lexical history is not limited to the study of additions to the vocabulary. Over time, many words have fallen into disuse or have become obsolete. Some recent work on the history of the Spanish lexicon has examined the various external and internal/structural causes of lexical loss in the history of the Spanish lexicon.

Article

Anna Berge

The Eskimo-Aleut language family consists of two quite different branches, Aleut and Eskimo. The latter consists of Yupik and Inuit languages. It is spoken from the eastern coast of Russia to Greenland. The family is thought to have developed and diverged in Alaska between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, although recent findings in a variety of fields suggest a more complex prehistory than previously assumed. The language family shares certain characteristics, including polysynthetic word formation, an originally ergative-absolutive case system (now substantially modified in Aleut), SOV word order, and more or less similar phonological systems across the language family, involving voiceless stop and voiced fricative consonant series often in alternation, and an originally four-vowel system frequently reduced to three. The languages in the family have undergone substantial postcolonial contact effects, especially evident in (although not restricted to) loanwords from the respective colonial languages. There is extensive language documentation for all languages, although not necessarily all dialects. Most languages and dialects are severely endangered today, with the exception of Eastern Canadian Inuit and Greenlandic (Kalaallisut). There are also theoretical studies of the languages in many linguistic fields, although the languages are unevenly covered, and there are still many more studies of the phonologies and syntaxes of the respective languages than other aspects of grammar.

Article

Cynthia L. Allen

Middle English is the name given to the English of the period from approximately 1100 to approximately 1450. This period is marked by substantial developments in all areas of English grammar. It is also the period of English when different dialects are the most fully attested in the texts. At the beginning of the Middle English period, the sociolinguistic status of English was low due to the Norman Invasion, and although religious texts of Old English composition continued to be copied and updated, few original compositions are extant. By the end of the period, English had regained its status as the language of government, law, and literature generally. Although some notable changes to the phonemic inventory of consonants date from the Middle English period, the most dramatic phonological developments of the period involve vowels. The reduction of the vowels of unstressed syllables, one of the changes that marks the beginning of the Middle English period, is a phonological change with substantial morphological effects, as it substantially reduced the number of distinctive inflectional forms. Constituent order replaced case marking as the primary means of signaling grammatical relations. By the end of the Middle English period, subject-verb-object order had become established as the norm. The lexicon of English was transformed in this period by an enormous influx of French words. The role of derivational morphology declined as its functions were to some extent replaced by the adoption of French words. Most Scandinavian loans in English first appear in the texts of this period. The Scandinavian loans are typically everyday words, while the words adopted from French are more often in areas of government, law, and higher culture, reflecting the nature of the contact between English speakers and the speakers of these languages. The density of the Scandinavian population in the northern part of England is generally held to be responsible for the earlier appearance of changes in the north than in the south. The replacement of the third person plural personal pronoun hie by the Scandinavian they is an example of a development which is apparent only in the north early in Middle English but became general in English by the end of this period. An important phonological development of later Middle English is the beginning of the Great Vowel Shift, which affected long vowels and involved successive changes and was implemented differently in different dialects, the north-south divide being the most evident. Early Middle English is a language that cannot be understood by Modern English readers without special study, while the language of the late Middle English period, especially that coming from the London area, can be understood with the heavy use of explanatory notes.

Article

The expression language of the economy and business refers to an extremely heterogeneous linguistic reality. For some, it denotes all text and talk produced by economic agents in the pursuit of economic activity, for others the language used to write or talk about the economy or business, that is, the language of the economic sciences and the media. Both the economy and business contain a myriad of subdomains, each with its own linguistic peculiarities. Language use also differs quite substantially between the shop floor and academic articles dealing with it. Last but not least, language is itself a highly articulate entity, composed of sounds, words, concepts, etc., which are taken care of by a considerable number of linguistic disciplines and theories. As a consequence, this research landscape offers a very varied picture. The state of research is also highly diverse as far as the Romance languages are concerned. The bulk of relevant publications concerns French, followed at a certain distance by Spanish and Italian, while Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese look like poor relations. As far as the dialects are concerned, only those of some Italian cities that held a central position in medieval trade, like Venice, Florence, or Genoa, have given rise to relevant studies. As far as the metalanguage used in research is concerned, the most striking feature is the overwhelming preponderance of German and the almost complete absence of English. The insignificant role of English must probably be attributed to the fact that the study of foreign business languages in the Anglo-Saxon countries is close to nonexistent. Why study foreign business languages if one own’s language is the lingua franca of today’s business world? Scholars from the Romance countries, of course, generally write in their mother tongue, but linguistic publications concerning the economic and business domain are relatively scarce there. The heterogeneity of the metalanguages used certainly hinders the constitution of a close-knit research community.

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

The language of chemistry has seldom been the object of study by linguists, who tend to prioritize literary works. Nevertheless, in recent years its study has developed at a different pace for each of the Romance languages. It is therefore important to describe the current state of research separately for French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan. The work of historians of science, who have always dedicated particular attention to the language of chemistry, is particularly pertinent to this purpose. Toward the end of the 18th century, French chemists spearheaded a terminological revolution: traditional terms used in alchemy were replaced by a well-structured, systematic nomenclature that was quickly adopted by the scientific community, mainly through the translation of French chemical texts, many of which were pedagogical in nature. It is important to trace the dissemination process of new chemical nomenclature in each country and in each language, since it was not uniform. This new nomenclature is firmly based on the classical languages, particularly Greek, and it adopts a broad range of suffixes and prefixes for systematization. During the 19th century, this system steadily consolidated as the field of chemistry developed until a standardized international nomenclature was established. From a lexicographical standpoint, the treatment of chemical terms in both general and specialized dictionaries deserves attention. Traditional lexicography has mistakenly classified many chemical terms as Hellenisms, while from the early 21st century onward they have been recognized as Gallicisms thanks to research carried out by historians of scientific language. Finally, the procedures the Romance languages follow to coin chemical terms—both to name elements and chemicals and to express chemical combinations by means of word formation processes—must be taken into account.

Article

Traditional Chinese linguistics grew out of two distinct interests in language: the philosophical reflection on things and their names, and the practical concern for literacy education and the correct understanding of classical works. The former is most typically found in the teachings of such pre-Qin masters as Confucius, Mozi, and Gongsun Long, who lived between the 6th and 3rd centuries bc, the latter in the enormous number of dictionaries, textbooks, and research works which, as a reflection of the fact that most Chinese morphemes are monosyllabic, are centered around the pronunciations, written forms, and meanings of these monosyllabic morphemes, or zi (“characters”) as they are called in Chinese. Apparently, it was the latter, philological, interest that motivated the bulk of the Chinese linguistic tradition, giving rise to such important works as Shuowen Jiezi and Qieyun, and culminating in the scholarship of the Qing Dynasty (1616–1911). But at the bottom, the philosophical concern never ceased to exist: The dominating idea that all things should have their rightful names just as they should occupy their rightful places in the universe, for example, was behind the compilation of Shuowen Jiezi and many other works. Further, the development of philology, or xiaoxue (“basic learning”), was strongly influenced by the study of philosophical thoughts, or daxue (“greater learning”), throughout its history. The picture just presented, in which Chinese philosophy and philology are combined to form a seemingly autonomous tradition, is complicated, however, by the fact that the Indic linguistic tradition started to influence the Chinese in the 2nd century ad, causing remarkable changes in the analyzing techniques (especially regarding character pronunciation), findings, and course of development of language studies in China. Most crucially, scholars began to realize that syllables had internal structures and that the pronunciation of one character could be represented by two others that shared the same initial and final with it respectively. This technique, known as fanqie, laid the basis for the illustrious 7th-century rhyme dictionary Qieyun, the rhyme table Yunjing, and a great many works that followed. These works, besides providing reference for verse composition (and, consequently, for the imperial examinations held to select government officials), proved such an essential tool in the philological study of classical works, that many Qing scholars, at the very height of traditional Chinese linguistics, regarded character pronunciation as central to xiaoxue and indispensable for the understanding of ancient texts. While character pronunciation received overwhelming attention, the studies of character form and meaning continued to develop, though they were frequently influenced by and sometimes combined with the study of character pronunciation, as in the analysis of the relations between Old Chinese sound categories and the phonetic components of Chinese characters and in their application in the exegetical investigation of classical texts. Chinese, with its linguistic tradition, had a profound impact in ancient East Asia. Not only did traditional studies of Japanese, Tangut, and other languages show significant Chinese influence, under which not the least achievement was the invention of the earliest writing systems for these languages, but many scholars from Japan and Korea actually took an active part in the study of Chinese as well, so that the Chinese linguistic tradition would itself be incomplete without the materials and findings these non-Chinese scholars have contributed. On the other hand, some of these scholars, most notably Motoori Norinaga and Fujitani Nariakira in Japan, were able to free themselves from the character-centered Chinese routine and develop rather original linguistic theories.

Article

Otto Zwartjes

Missionary grammars are printed books or manuscripts compiled by missionaries in which a particular language is described. These grammars were mainly written as pedagogical tools for language teaching and learning in a missionary-colonial setting, although quite a few grammars have also a more normative character. Missionary grammars contain usually an opening section, a prologue, in which the author exhibits the objectives of his work. The first part is usually a short introduction into phonology and orthography, followed by the largest section, which is devoted to morphology, arranged according to the traditional division of the parts of speech. The final section is sometimes devoted to syntax, but the topics included can vary considerably. Sometimes word lists are appended, containing body parts, measures, counting, manners of speaking, or rhetorical figures. The data presented in the grammar are mainly based on an oral corpus, whereas in other cases high registers from prestigious texts are used in which the eloquence or elegance of the language under study is illustrated. These grammars are modeled according to the traditional Greco-Latin framework and often contain invaluable information regarding language typologies, semantics, and pragmatics. In the New World, Asia, and elsewhere, missionaries had to find an adequate methodology in order to describe typological features they had never seen before. They adapted European models to new linguistic realities and created original works which deserve our attention within the discipline of the history of linguistics alongside contemporary pedagogical works written in Europe. This article concentrates on sources written in Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin during the colonial period, since these sources outnumber the production of missionary grammars in other languages.

Article

Silvio Moreira de Sousa, Johannes Mücke, and Philipp Krämer

As an institutionalized subfield of academic research, Creole studies (or Creolistics) emerged in the second half of the 20th century on the basis of pioneering works in the last decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Yet its research traditions—just like the Creole languages themselves—are much older and are deeply intertwined with the history of European colonialism, slavery, and Christian missionary activities all around the globe. Throughout the history of research, creolists focused on the emergence of Creole languages and their grammatical structures—often in comparison to European colonial languages. In connection with the observations in grammar and history, creolists discussed theoretical matters such as the role of language acquisition in creolization, the status of Creoles among the other languages in the world, and the social conditions in which they are or were spoken. These discussions molded the way in which the acquired knowledge was transmitted to the following generations of creolists.

Article

The study of Romance linguistics was born in the 19th-century German university, and like all linguistics of that era it is historical in nature. With respect to Indo-European and Germanic linguistics, a difference was immediately apparent: Unlike Indo-European and Common Germanic, Latin’s attestation is extensive in duration, as well as rich and varied: Romance linguists can thus make use of reconstruction as well as documentation. Friedrich Diez, author of the first historical grammar and first etymological dictionary on Romance languages, founded Romance linguistics. His studies singlehandedly constructed the foundations of the discipline. His teaching soon spread not only across German-speaking countries, but also into France and Italy. Subsequently, the most significant contributions came from two scholars trained in the Indo-European field: the German linguist Hugo Schuchardt, whose doctoral thesis studied with sharp theoretical awareness the passage from Latin to the Romance languages, and the Italian Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, who showed how the Romance panorama could be extraordinarily enriched by the analysis of nonstandard varieties. The discipline thus developed fully and radiated out. Great issues came to be debated: models of linguistic change (genealogical tree, wave), the possibility of distinguishing dialect groups, the relative weight of phonology, and semantics in lexical reconstruction. New disciplines such as linguistic geography were born, and new instruments like the linguistic atlas were forged. Romance linguistics thus became the avant-garde of general linguistics. Meanwhile, a new synthesis of the discipline had been created by a Swiss scholar, Wilhelm Meyer-Lübke, who published a historical grammar and an etymological dictionary of the Romance languages.