Linguistic Stages

A forum for discussing linguistics or just languages in general.
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DV82LECM
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Linguistic Stages

Post by DV82LECM » Fri 06 Jul 2018, 15:37

This post might be very long (or could be, if I went full retard...er, I mean, hulk), but I am a proponent of certain linguistic theories that I have yet to see totally defined. [I'm being vague and cryptic, so as to not dredge up the ire of EVERYONE just yet.]

My premise for this post is to ask a question of and about the flow of linguistic morphological variation. I know that there is much study into how grammar, accent, and phonologies change, as well as the time it takes, but is there study on the time it takes on language to completely morphologically change?

For example, could it be proposed, inferentially, how long it might have taken PIE to develop from another type of morphological variant: perhaps, polysynthetic? With becoming the Germanic languages, it appears to have gone from agglutinative to more or less isolating in a matter of 6-7 thousand years (I assume of the time), so it does happen.

In the same vein, how long might we assume Chinese to become something like polysynthetic? If it won't, can we say that it is because Chinese came from such a distinctly different language branch off that it can't, and if following this degree of logic to its extreme, could we infer that these languages were spoken by any one of the other hominid species that existed alongside homo sapiens we are discovering now, so many 10s of thousands of years back?

In the end, I am trying to explore the idea of an ebb and flow of human cognition. Isolating -> Agglutinative -> (Poly)synthetic -> Agglutinative -> Isolating...and so on in this change, evolving and devolving, somewhat forever.

The polysynthetic languages of the world (which do cover a very few, specific regions of the earth) fascinate me the most. To me, either they are like this because they are the product of a specific branching off of humanity, all the way to being another "species" and may always stay this way, or they will not and will follow the pattern above and devolve into lesser degrees of type, morphologically.

Does this make sense and does anyone concur with these assumptions?
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Re: Linguistic Stages

Post by Salmoneus » Fri 06 Jul 2018, 18:39

DV82LECM wrote:
Fri 06 Jul 2018, 15:37
This post might be very long (or could be, if I went full retard...er, I mean, hulk), but I am a proponent of certain linguistic theories that I have yet to see totally defined. [I'm being vague and cryptic, so as to not dredge up the ire of EVERYONE just yet.]
Well, my two tips for not 'dredging up ire' would be a) don't use derogatory slurs like "full retard", and b) don't hint at KKK membership.
For example, could it be proposed, inferentially, how long it might have taken PIE to develop from another type of morphological variant: perhaps, polysynthetic? With becoming the Germanic languages, it appears to have gone from agglutinative to more or less isolating in a matter of 6-7 thousand years (I assume of the time), so it does happen.
PIE wasn't agglutinative. But in any case, a huge amount of that loss of affixes in English has occured in just the last thousand years. Old English had multiple cases, agreement, person marking on verbs and so on. German still has, if not as much as before. Indeed, a huge chunk of the loss in English was just in the 1100-1400 era.

Features as superficial as the number of affixes can change extremely quickly, given the right sound changes or areal influences.
In the same vein, how long might we assume Chinese to become something like polysynthetic?
Somewhere between 50 years and infinity.
Needless to say, Chinese is unlikely ever to become polysynthetic - few languages ever do, particularly in that part of the world. But since it's already isolating, it's not far from developing a high level of synthesis in a short period of time, if some reason to do so emerged.

People say that spoken French is highly synthetic - perhaps a century from now it'll be outright polysynthetic. But it was almost entirely isolating only a century or two ago.
If it won't, can we say that it is because Chinese came from such a distinctly different language branch off that it can't, and if following this degree of logic to its extreme, could we infer that these languages were spoken by any one of the other hominid species that existed alongside homo sapiens we are discovering now, so many 10s of thousands of years back?
No, that would be a load of bollocks motivated entirely by irrational bigotry. For a number of reasons, including:
- the degree of isolation is a superficial and transitory characteristic of a language, so is unlikely to have any great significance regarding long-term origins
- the degree of isolation has in fact changed considerably for chinese - Proto-Chinese and probably Proto-Sino-Tibetan are believed to have been agglutinating
- "isn't" does not imply "can't be"
- genes do not influence language
- East Asian people have, like almost all human groups, very little genetic or cultural inheritence from other early hominids
- East Asians are in general very closely related to Europeans
- specifically, Uralic languages are probably carried from an ultimate birth in East Asia (Uralic languages are closely associated with haplogroup N, which originated in southeast asia). So you'd expect the same genetic-syntactic fingerprint on Uralic. But Uralic is associated with a high degree of agglutination.
- indeed, the hotbed of polysynthesis, North America, is filled entirely with relatively recent migrants from East Asia...

In the end, I am trying to explore the idea of an ebb and flow of human cognition. Isolating -> Agglutinative -> (Poly)synthetic -> Agglutinative -> Isolating...and so on in this change, evolving and devolving, somewhat forever.
Obviously language change over time. But this does not appear related to 'cognition' in any way...
The polysynthetic languages of the world (which do cover a very few, specific regions of the earth) fascinate me the most. To me, either they are like this because they are the product of a specific branching off of humanity, all the way to being another "species" and may always stay this way,
No, Native Americans are not 'another species'. The existence of mixed-race people proves this by definition (or do you think mixed-race people are a conspiracy theory?).

In reality, the entire 'indigenous' population of the Americas descends, so far as we can see, from three specific migrations into north america from northeast siberia (Amerind, Na-Dene, and Eskimo). These people left many relatives in the Old World - 4% of Swedes share the same y-dna linneage as amerinds.

Polysynthesis arose, presumably much later, as an areal characteristic of north america, across all three language stocks.
or they will not and will follow the pattern above and devolve into lesser degrees of type, morphologically.
Well yes.
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Re: Linguistic Stages

Post by Porphyrogenitos » Fri 20 Jul 2018, 02:40

I don't think it's possible to even begin to speculate on how long it will take such-and-such language to "reach" a particular morphological profile. Not unless there's clear evidence that the language is already in such a transition, in which case all we can say is "Sometime in the future - unless something drastic happens."

There's actually a lot of debate about the idea of the "typological cycle" right now. It's an old idea, and it probably won't completely be thrown out, but the simplistic idea of "Isolating > Agglutinative > Synthetic > Isolating > ..." has been seriously called into question. For sure, we can see examples of each of those three changes in action, but whether it is a "cycle" that all languages naturally progress through is an entirely different matter. Not to mention that the place of polysynthesis is very uncertain in this picture, since there are many different ways in which languages can be polysynthetic - also many different ways in which languages can be synthetic/fusional. Compare the synthesis/fusion of Latin to that of Classical Arabic. Very different, right?

There are, for instance, examples of languages moving from a more fusional profile to a more agglutinative profile - Cappadocian Greek, Armenian, Ossetic, Marathi, and others. Typically this can be attributed to contact with agglutinative languages, but there are also cases of (apparently) purely language-internal fusional > agglutinative developments in, for example, Russian.

In recent years, a fair amount has been written about how the size of a speaker population, and how changes in the size of a speaker population, might influence the morphological profile of a language. It seems to be the case that when a language is acquired by a large amount of adult learners, especially over a long period of time, this tends to simplify and strip away its inflectional morphology. John McWhorter has proposed this as part of the explanation of why Old English lost so much inflection - not the Normans, but the massive Norse settlements in England during the 800s-1000s. He also suggests continual acquisition by new populations of adult learners may be the reason by Chinese has kept such a thoroughly analytic profile over the past 2000 years.

On the other hand, it may be that small speaker populations tend towards morphological complexity. Many languages spoken by relatively small groups with tight social bonds, such as those of many Native American groups, are characterized by esoterogeny - the innovation of distinctive features that make the language more difficult for outsiders to acquire. We might see this happening because in smaller population groups, innovations take less time to spread to the majority of the population, and there is less pressure to accommodate learners.

This is a contrast between what some scholars call exoteric and esoteric languages. Exoteric languages are outward-oriented languages, used by empires or travelling merchants for administration and trade. They're spread to many different populations and many people learn them. Esoteric languages are inward-oriented, and are spoken by smaller groups that don't have any interest in imposing their language on outsiders.

This is just one view of why morphological patterns in languages change over time. I don't think it's the whole story, I think there are definitely purely structural factors at play that have nothing to do with the social context of the language. But I doubt the idea of an inevitable "cycle", as well. I hope this just gives you something to think about.
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Re: Linguistic Stages

Post by Imralu » Fri 20 Jul 2018, 05:30

Yeah, I don't see why there should be a cycle and I don't think there is any statistically significant evidence for one. Languages don't have a memory of the past and language change doesn't have a direction. There is a rough axis we can put languages on from isolating on one end and polysynthetic on the other end with fusional maybe in the middle (if that's not a separate dimension) and languages probably just wander around that axis rather randomly as they change. The most noteworthy grammatical changes are probably ones that involve movement along that axis/those axes.

Of course, it is just possible that there is some kind of cyclical instability whereby isolating languages naturally tend to become more agglutinating and vice versa ... but also, if a language is completely isolating, there's really nowhere for it to go on the axis than back in the agglutinating direction. If you have 0 bound morphemes in your language, you can't lose any but you can develop more, so that would be why isolating languages tend to get more agglutinative (or stay as isolating as they were but no more).

And re. the racialist stuff, yeah nah. Don't do that. That's all bullshit. The only reason certain languages are associated with certain races is because people generally inherit their language and their genetics from the same people. People wander. Languages change. When people inherit these things from different people, language does not seem to be influenced by genetics or vice versa. A friend of mine has (unknown) Korean biological parents but was raised in Norway and his genetics have not had any effect on his language. I also take issue with you saying "evolving and devolving" as neither end of the spectrum is superior and as languages only move forward through time, they only evolve (in the neutral sense, as in change, not as in improvement).
Glossing Abbreviations: COMP = comparative, C = complementiser, ACS / ICS = accessible / inaccessible, GDV = gerundive, SPEC / NSPC = specific / non-specific, AG = agent, E = entity (person, animal, thing)
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eldin raigmore
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Re: Linguistic Stages

Post by eldin raigmore » Fri 20 Jul 2018, 06:00

Is it possible that language change, instead of going in a cycle, goes in a figure-8?
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