Category: General Language

Why does the unmarked “or” usually imply the exclusive meaning in natural languages?

By: | Post date: 2017-07-05 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Tamara Vardo’s answer is most of the answer. I think there’s a psychological component as well, though this is getting into speculation. It’s convenient for implicature to have xor on a scale before and, and to require the less natural notion of inclusive or to be expressed as a combination of the two, rather than […]

How can a taboo word show friendliness or intimacy when it is inappropriate?

By: | Post date: 2017-07-04 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Appropriateness is always relative. We might like to think that there are universal norms applicable to all people and all situations. It simply does not work like that. Profanity signals intimacy, because it presupposes a level of trust that the addressee will not take offence, and it situates the interlocutors as both being rebels against […]

Is there an upper bound to the amount of words a language will realistically contain?

By: | Post date: 2017-07-04 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

If a language is agglutinative, or has a halfway decent derivational morphology, you can keep making up words based on other words for as long as you like, and those words will be perfectly acceptable. So there is not much of a limit. There is a limit in how many building blocks of words (morphemes) […]

What got you into linguistics and languages?

By: | Post date: 2017-06-07 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

A high school Latin grammar. One of the many school textbooks my uncles and aunts left behind in my granddad’s shed, which I read in primary school. I was fascinated by the declension tables and the familiar lexicon, and I taught myself enough Latin to stumble my way through Cornelius Nepos. (“His simple style of […]

Are speakers of non-standard languages discouraged from using the web?

By: | Post date: 2017-06-06 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

The bulk of material on the Web, like the bulk of written material in general, is in standardised forms of languages. If you know the standardised form of your language, or the official language of your country, you can access the Web as well. And if you’ve gone to school at all, then you know […]

Are there any features, besides vocabulary, of human languages that only appeared relatively recently?

By: | Post date: 2017-06-06 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Written registers are a reasonably recent thing in human language, so the peculiarities of written language would qualify as innovations. The catch is, the characteristics of written language I can think of are matters of degree, rather than categorical differences from spoken language. But they include things like syntactic complexity, anaphora referring back a long […]

Is a phonosematic matching word domestic in origin?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-23 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

I’m having a lot of difficulty understanding your question, but what I think you’re asking is: can a word be both onomatopoeic (or otherwise iconic in some way), and borrowed? The lazy answer, which is in fact the default answer from what I can tell, is no: if a name is an onomatopoeia, then its […]

Why do all languages sound different?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-23 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

I’m going to answer a different interpretation of this question. If all languages have access to the same, finite repertoire of segments (phonemes), then why do they sound as different as they do? There are several answers to this. The repertoire of phonemes may be finite, but the realisation can be phonetically different. A Dutch […]

Is there a difference between asking which language is older and asking which species is older?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-21 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Will you take a “Yes… and No”? 🙂 The Cladistics of biological species was inspired by the cladistics of languages; the cladistics of languages, in turn, was inspired by the cladistics of classical manuscripts. All three fields have similarities. In all three fields, the classical tree model of divergence is an oversimplification; in fact, in […]

Do you feel some people speak your native language better than you, that some people speak it worse than you, or that native speakers are equal?

By: | Post date: 2017-05-18 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Linguists and lay people answer this question differently, but that’s because they have different focuses on what language competence means. A linguist thinks of language as a rule system—a grammar, and a lexicon. As far as a linguist is concerned, the grammar is the common property of the entire language community: if you are a […]

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