Archive for Historical linguistics

Sinitic historical phonology

[Or, as David Prager Branner, who wrote the guest post below, jokingly calls it, "hysterical phrenology".  Note that Branner uses Gwoyeu Romatzyh ( "National Language Romanization"), a type of tonal spelling, for the transcription of Mandarin.]

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This is on the subject of Carbo Kuo's 郭家寶 performance of Shyjing "Shyi yeou charngchuu 隰有萇楚" ("In the low wet grounds is the carambola tree") in Jenqjang Shanqfang's 鄭張尚芳 various antique reconstructions, sent to me by Victor Mair. It pleased me a lot. The issue is one of art, not scholarship, and it should be judged as art.

[VHM:  must hear]

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No creoles?

Damián Blasi, Susanne Michaelis and Martin Haspelmath, "Grammars are robustly transmitted even during the emergence of creole languages", Nature Human Behaviour 2017:

[W]e analyse 48 creole languages and 111 non-creole languages from all continents and conclude that the similarities (and differences) between creoles can be explained by genealogical and contact processes, as with non-creole languages, with the difference that creoles have more than one language in their ancestry. While a creole profile can be detected statistically, this stems from an over-representation of Western European and West African languages in their context of emergence. Our findings call into question the existence of a pidgin stage in creole development and of creole-specific innovations. In general, given their extreme conditions of emergence, they lend support to the idea that language learning and transmission are remarkably resilient processes.

Email from Damián Blasi puts it more bluntly:

The basic conclusions are that 1) creoles clearly continue the linguistic structure of the languages that preceded them, 2) we don't have any evidence for a pidgin stage preceding creoles and 3) no evidence for purely creole features (like SVO) whatsoever.

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Genetic evidence for the spread of Indo-Aryan languages

My own investigations on the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age peoples of Eastern Central Asia (ECA) began essentially as a genetics cum linguistics project back in the early 90s.  That was not long after the extraction of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from ancient human tissues and its amplification by means of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) became possible.

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Cantonese sentence-final particles

Even if you don't know any Cantonese but listen carefully to people speaking it, you probably can tell that it has an abundance of particles.  For speakers of Mandarin who do not understand Cantonese, the proliferation of particles, especially in utterance final position, is conspicuous.  Non-speakers of Cantonese, confronted by all these aa3, ge3, gaa3, laa1, lo1, mei6, sin1, tim1, and so on naturally wonder why there are so many particles in this language, what are their various functions, why they are often drawn out (elongated), and how they arose.

Cantonese speakers, on the other hand, just take them in stride as a natural part of their expressive equipment and don't think that there is anything unusual about them.

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Inflection in Georgian and in English

Helen Sims-Williams has a new post on The Philological Society Blog:

"Understanding the loss of inflection" (11/23/16)

Helen takes what might superficially seem to be a dry and dreary topic and turns it into a lively, stimulating essay.  Here's how it begins:

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Eurasian eureka

After reading the the latest series of Language Log posts on long range connections (see below for a listing), Geoff Wade suggested that I title the next post in this series as I have this one.  If there ever was an occasion to do so, now is as good a moment as any, with the announcement of the publication of Chau Wu's extraordinary "Patterns of Sound Correspondence between Taiwanese and Germanic/Latin/Greek/Romance Lexicons, Part I", Sino-Platonic Papers, 262 (Aug., 2016), 239 pp. (free pdf).

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