What causes languages to be more conservative/innovative?

vince

Senior Member
English
Hi everyone,

I'm interested in knowing what factors cause languages to be more conservative (i.e. remain close to its parent language), and which factors cause languages to be more innovative.

I have a theory that perhaps areas in close contact with unrelated or distantly related languages are less conservative. e.g. English with Celtic and later French influence, Mandarin with Tungusic and Mongolic influences, French with Germanic/Celtic influence, Romanian with Slavic and Magyar influence.

But this doesn't explain why Spanish is still partially intelligible with Italian: wouldn't Basque and Arabic influences have changed it more? And Paris being so far from the Germanic countries, could Celtic influence be that strong to change French so much? And I heard that Lithuanian has mantained features that are close to Proto-Indo-European: how could that be with Germanic, Finnic, and Slavic influence?
 
  • OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Hi everyone,

    I'm interested in knowing what factors cause languages to be more conservative (i.e. remain close to its parent language), and which factors cause languages to be more innovative.

    I have a theory that perhaps areas in close contact with unrelated or distantly related languages are less conservative. e.g. English with Celtic and later French influence, Mandarin with Tungusic and Mongolic influences, French with Germanic/Celtic influence, Romanian with Slavic and Magyar influence.

    But this doesn't explain why Spanish is still partially intelligible with Italian: wouldn't Basque and Arabic influences have changed it more? And Paris being so far from the Germanic countries, could Celtic influence be that strong to change French so much? And I heard that Lithuanian has mantained features that are close to Proto-Indo-European: how could that be with Germanic, Finnic, and Slavic influence?
    Indeed, Romanian is an interesting case. Romanian was proctecting itself, from serious Slavic influence. Though, most of this influence was brought by Slavonic church at the beginning of last millenium, so Romanians used to call the measure „a restauration of the language, a re-latinization”. Magyar influence is, however, insignificant and it was never put in discussion. Turkish had much more influence, than Magyar, for example. It was a period of time when Romanians rised as a nation and they wanted to show the affiliation with the other Romance language speaking countries and therefore, they intended to break any existing links with Oriental world. So, it was a political decision.

    Best regards
     

    jmx

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    But this doesn't explain why Spanish is still partially intelligible with Italian: wouldn't Basque and Arabic influences have changed it more?
    I think there's an easy answer to this : both Basque and Arabic influence on Spanish are often exaggerated. In fact I'd say Basque influence has never been satisfactorily proved, and the same can be said about Arabic, except for the vocabulary.
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    About French and Celtics, I don't understand what you mean, Vince. The Gauls were Celtic and the Franks were German, they both lived in France, at different times. French is a neo-Latin language, but the French population is mostly of Celtic descent. Latin was just an imported language.
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    Hi everyone,

    I'm interested in knowing what factors cause languages to be more conservative (i.e. remain close to its parent language), and which factors cause languages to be more innovative.
    I don't think anyone has a satisfactory theory of the rapidity of language change. In fact, the language change itself is difficult, if not impossible to quantify and measure in a well-defined way that would enable meaningful comparisons across languages. My impression is that the process includes quite a lot of random chance.

    I have a theory that perhaps areas in close contact with unrelated or distantly related languages are less conservative. e.g. English with Celtic and later French influence, Mandarin with Tungusic and Mongolic influences, French with Germanic/Celtic influence, Romanian with Slavic and Magyar influence.

    But this doesn't explain why Spanish is still partially intelligible with Italian: wouldn't Basque and Arabic influences have changed it more? And Paris being so far from the Germanic countries, could Celtic influence be that strong to change French so much? And I heard that Lithuanian has mantained features that are close to Proto-Indo-European: how could that be with Germanic, Finnic, and Slavic influence?
    One can find many confusing counterexamples to any such simple and plausible hypothesis. Observe e.g. the South Slavic languages. They are very closely related -- they split only about a millenium ago, and retain some mutual intelligibility to this day. However, they've changed to very different extents and in surprisingly different ways, and the times and spatial boundaries of these divergences don't correspond to any seemingly relevant historical circumstances.

    Overall, I have the impression that language changes are driven by internal factors much more than by contacts with different languages, except in the most extreme cases where creole languages are created -- and these internal factors happen mostly by random chance. In Bosnia and most of Serbia, for example, there has been a large influx of Turkish words during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, but the grammar has remained mostly conservative and is still extremely similar to the East Slavic languages like Russian. On the other hand, in today's Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Southeastern Serbia, the language went through drastic grammatical changes comparable (and surprisingly similar) to those between Classical Latin and Spanish -- loss of cases and free word order, development of articles, etc. -- and this largely happened even before the Turks came. Such divergences definitely can't be explained by any simple hypotheses such as the above. I myself find it baffling that if you go more than a thousand miles northeast from Bosnia or Serbia, you'll find the grammar of the local language far less divergent than what is spoken only 100-150 miles to the east.
     

    demalaga

    Member
    España castellano
    Languages are living cultural beings, although not biological, but are really complex systems, so you cannot expect to find explicit rules that shape its evolution.I suppose it's a rather chaotic process.
    Two languages being at the other side of the same frontier doenst mean they have to influence each other necessarily.In the case in the so-called spanish of the middle ages (Spain did not existed yet)Arabic did not influenced the romance languages of the peninsula except the mozarabic, the language spoken by the mozarabes, christians who were allowed to live and practice their religion in the muslim ruled Andalus.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    Overall, I have the impression that language changes are driven by internal factors much more than by contacts with different languages, except in the most extreme cases where creole languages are created -- and these internal factors happen mostly by random chance. In Bosnia and most of Serbia, for example, there has been a large influx of Turkish words during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, but the grammar has remained mostly conservative and is still extremely similar to the East Slavic languages like Russian. On the other hand, in today's Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Southeastern Serbia, the language went through drastic grammatical changes comparable (and surprisingly similar) to those between Classical Latin and Spanish -- loss of cases and free word order, development of articles, etc. -- and this largely happened even before the Turks came. Such divergences definitely can't be explained by any simple hypotheses such as the above. I myself find it baffling that if you go more than a thousand miles northeast from Bosnia or Serbia, you'll find the grammar of the local language far less divergent than what is spoken only 100-150 miles to the east.
    I'm thinking that Bulgarian/Macedonian gained articles through influence from Romanian, and maybe that's also how they lost a lot of their cases.

    pomar, I am thinking that contact from Celtic and Germanic speakers while French was developing (i.e. in the post-Latin phase) might have caused French to diverge as much as it does from the neighboring Latin dialects. Being post-Latin, the influences I'm talking about would probably be from the Low Countries and Brittany (though probably insignificantly from the latter).
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    I agree that there are many ways to measure how conservative a language is, from having the same structures, same usages, similar grammar, similar vocabulary, similar syntax, and similar pronunciation.

    But it looks pretty obvious that Spanish is closer to Italian than it is to French, based on these characteristics (obviously there are exceptions e.g. French/Italian mangiare vs. Spanish comer, piu/plus vs. mais, French/Spanish "-s" as plural vs. Italian -i/e)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Those are not just a handful of random exceptions, though. In many, many ways, Italian and French are closer to each other than they are to Spanish. Do not let the phonology mislead you -- it's just the skin of a language.

    I also am skeptical about the way you seem to see language change as some sort of "infection" where one languages changes first all by itself, and then contaminates its neighbours. That seems awfully simplistic!
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    I'm thinking that Bulgarian/Macedonian gained articles through influence from Romanian, and maybe that's also how they lost a lot of their cases.
    But there was no such influence on Croatian and Slovenian dialects that have existed next to German and Italian. They did import a bunch of loanwords from these languages, but their grammar has stubbornly remained conservatively Slavic -- heavily inflected case system, no articles, etc. Why did Romanian influence Bulgarian/Macedonian/Torlakian Serbian this way (if it did), but Italian and German didn't influence Croatian and Slovenian dialects analogously? (Also, note that the Serbian dialects just across the Romanian border aren't Torlakian!) Nobody has any explanation except dubious post hoc conjectures.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    Those are not just a handful of random exceptions, though. In many, many ways, Italian and French are closer to each other than they are to Spanish. Do not let the phonology mislead you -- it's just the skin of a language.

    The phonology has led to grammatical changes, e.g.

    since French has dropped the last syllable from most Latin words, it requires subject pronouns.

    I also am skeptical about the way you seem to see language change as some sort of "infection" where one languages changes first all by itself, and then contaminates its neighbours. That seems awfully simplistic!
    That's just a conjecture of mine to provide ONE explanation, that's why I opened this thread to search for other answers.
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    But there was no such influence on Croatian and Slovenian dialects that have existed next to German and Italian. They did import a bunch of loanwords from these languages, but their grammar has stubbornly remained conservatively Slavic -- heavily inflected case system, no articles, etc. Why did Romanian influence Bulgarian/Macedonian/Torlakian Serbian this way (if it did), but Italian and German didn't influence Croatian and Slovenian dialects analogously? (Also, note that the Serbian dialects just across the Romanian border aren't Torlakian!) Nobody has any explanation except dubious post hoc conjectures.
    An interesting fact is that Romanian, even being a different language than the neighbour's ones, it's got some common and enough characteristics to place it in the Balkan languages union. Therefore, verbe tenses, case systems, subjunctive construction, morphology etc. are very similar, no matter if the language is Albanian, Greek, Romance or Slavic.

    IMHO, the most expressive example is the definite article in which you can clearly see the same way of thinking, even if there are different words:

    Aromanian: bărbat - bărbatlu
    Romanian: bărbat - bărbatul
    Bulgarian: мъж - мъжът
    Macedonian: маж - мажот

    So, Romanian, even if it's got the Latin definite article L, similar with Spanish El, french Le, Italian Il, it's got the Slavic form of placing it at the end of the word.

    Best regards
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Those are not just a handful of random exceptions, though. In many, many ways, Italian and French are closer to each other than they are to Spanish. Do not let the phonology mislead you -- it's just the skin of a language.
    I completely agree, Outsider. Overmore what may sound similar or different are the standard national languages, whose choice among other regional languages was made for political-cultural reason.
    The Italian standard comes from Tuscan language and pronounce, it has been said that the Tuscan version of neo-Latin was chosen, because Tuscan, being Etruscan and not Latin, had kept a clearer pronounce of the Latin. On the contrary the standard French comes from the North of France.
     

    Fede26

    New Member
    Italy Italian
    I have noticed that nobody has considered that it is not only the distance between two countries that counts, but also the trade relations.
    If you don't need to talk to your neighbours, it's difficult to influence their language!
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    The attitude towards outside linguistic influence can also be quite different for different cultures. Some languages like English easily incorporate new words from whatever source, but others like Icelandic try to be more conservative and create their own terms for new realities.

    It is interesting to note how different European languages deal with the issue of the spelling and pronunciation of the euro. Some languages accept this spelling unchanged even when the word Europa is written differently in this language, but others adjust the spelling to local preferences despite the requirements of the EU to keep it unchanged.

    There is no doubt that Latvian has been influenced by many languages: Russian, Finnish, German, Lithuanian, yet it is also quite conservative in many other aspects. For example, in Latvian foreign personal names are always transcribe according to the pronunciation which is rare among languages that are based on the Latin alphabet.

    Or maybe because Latvian has always been surrended by different languages without any one dominating for a long time, it has managed to avoid significant changes during those periods. There are many strange linguistic forms in the Bible translation, probably due to the fact that the early translators were influenced by German. These forms have been kept in the new Bible translations but apart from religious usage they have never been accepted in the standard language.
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I have noticed that nobody has considered that it is not only the distance between two countries that counts, but also the trade relations.
    If you don't need to talk to your neighbours, it's difficult to influence their language!
    On my opinion,trade relations may bring vocabulary, but would not influence very much neither the structure of the language nor the pronunciation.
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    The attitude towards outside linguistic influence can also be quite different for different cultures. Some languages like English easily incorporate new words from whatever source, but others like Icelandic try to be more conservative and create their own terms for new realities.
    But language change is a different concept from borrowing of vocabulary. If a population is faced with new realities that require novel vocabulary to describe -- which will also normally cause the vocabulary for some old realities to be archaized and forgotten -- the language will change just about equally in the sense of how different from before it will become, regardless of whether the new terms are imported or coined. I'm pretty sure that a Croatian speaker from 200 years ago would find the Croatian terms for modern concepts equally puzzling, regardless of which ones were imported, and which coined (there are plenty of both).
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    So, Romanian, even if it's got the Latin definite article L, similar with Spanish El, french Le, Italian Il, it's got the Slavic form of placing it at the end of the word.
    I wouldn't call this form "Slavic" -- these Bulgarian/Macedonian/Torlakian postpositional articles are highly exceptional among Slavic languages. How exactly the East Balkan languages influenced each other in this regard, I don't know (and I doubt anyone knows reliably), but there is certainly nothing Slavic about them. In fact, other Slavic languages don't even have articles, so in a sense, they're an even greater exception than they are in Romanian relative to other Romance languages.
     

    HKK

    Senior Member
    Dutch/Belgium
    I think Frank makes a very good point. Slovenia being close to Germany and Italy has had little influence on its language because they have little economic/social/cultural ties.

    That explains why Arabic hasn't had more influence on Spanish: the Arabs and their Spanish allies were removed from Spain by force. So the ties between the languages were broken as well.

    Pomar already mentioned that in the case of French, the large Celtic substrate may have changed the language away from Latin. Some linguists believe that Celtic substrates were also responsible for one of the Vowel Shifts in the Germanic languages (though I can't remember which one :eek:)
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I wouldn't call this form "Slavic" -- these Bulgarian/Macedonian/Torlakian postpositional articles are highly exceptional among Slavic languages. How exactly the East Balkan languages influenced each other in this regard, I don't know (and I doubt anyone knows reliably), but there is certainly nothing Slavic about them. In fact, other Slavic languages don't even have articles, so in a sense, they're an even greater exception than they are in Romanian relative to other Romance languages.
    You might be right. I'm sorry, I said Slavic because it exists in some Southern Slavic languages. It may have something to do with local pre-Latin population. Maybe...
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    But language change is a different concept from borrowing of vocabulary. If a population is faced with new realities that require novel vocabulary to describe -- which will also normally cause the vocabulary for some old realities to be archaized and forgotten -- the language will change just about equally in the sense of how different from before it will become, regardless of whether the new terms are imported or coined. I'm pretty sure that a Croatian speaker from 200 years ago would find the Croatian terms for modern concepts equally puzzling, regardless of which ones were imported, and which coined (there are plenty of both).
    Or the language can recycle the old words giving them new meanings in the modern context. Especially if the purist tendencies are strong in the society and people are purging loan words from the language and searching for archaisms. Of course, the language can never be the same again but I too have found some words in the dictionary that are marked as "obsolete, no longer in use" while in fact they are very common words today. I have heard that Hebrew is very conservative in this regard.
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I am sure everybody knows it, but I think the word Latin needs "disambiguation". Latins, as a population, lived in central Italy, and some "cousins" of them were in South Italy. The diffusion of Latin was not caused by general migrations, as it happened with other peoples before (e.g. Celtics) and after Roman domination (e.g. Germanics). So, you cannot call pre-Latin the ancient population of Romania, Oldavatar. Of course, a few Romans might have moved there, but this doesn't influence the pre-existing substrate. France, Spain, Portugal are called Latin, but only because they adopted Latin as a language, they didn't mix genetically very much.
    Rome, as the capital of the Empire, surely experienced a larger genetical mix, although a Latin substrate must have resisted. Even in Italy there were non-Latin populations in the Centre and in the North (Etruscan, Celtics, etc.).
    What I mean is, nobody can say where Latin has remained more Latin. The only real Latins being in central Italy, one should suppose that the only "natural" evolution of the Latin language is Roman and Latial dialects (wich would sound very different from Spanish, by the way).
    Standard Italian, as I said, is the evolution of Latin as it was spoken by the Etruscans, standard French is the evolution of Latin as it was spoken by the Celtics (Lutecii?) and so on.
    On the contrary Angli, Saxons and Juti (sorry, I don't remember the English spelling) invaded Geat Britain and stayed there.
    I think that this is a great difference, to be kept in mind, when speaking of development and spreading of languages
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    So, you cannot call pre-Latin the ancient population of Romania, Oldavatar.
    When I meant pre-Latin I wasn't thinking of any ethnical concept. By all means, I completely agree with you. When I said pre-Latin I wanted to name populations which were using other languages than Latin, spoken before the extension of Roman domination in Northern Balkan Peninsula and in Dacia. So, I was referring myself only to the language and not to an ethnical group or another.
    In general, I do not prefer to turn a discussion in any sort of ethnical subject. I always like to keep the discussion close to the language and not to the ethnicity which is always a bit slippery, not to say more.

    I don't even buy the official theory of Romanians origin, but that's another story :)...

    Best regards
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    In general, I do not prefer to turn a discussion in any sort of ethnical subject. I always like to keep the discussion close to the language and not to the ethnicity which is always a bit slippery, not to say more.
    I know that ethnicity is a bit slippery, but if we want to speak about language development we have to consider genetical substrates. I hope that people who studied foreign languages would be more open-minded about the issue and not be racist, not even nationalist.
    The reason why I entered the subject is mainly because native English speakers (and Latin-Americans as well) often use the word Latin in a way that can be confusing. Like, when they say "latin" lover, or Latin character, you know...it means nothing, really! I'm fed up with things like that! (By the way, I am Sardinian, so I am not Latin at all!)
     

    HKK

    Senior Member
    Dutch/Belgium
    I know that ethnicity is a bit slippery, but if we want to speak about language development we have to consider genetical substrates.
    Err... no we don't. We're talking about language, which evolves culturally and not genetically.
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    I know that ethnicity is a bit slippery, but if we want to speak about language development we have to consider genetical substrates.
    Why? Genes don't talk.

    The reason why I entered the subject is mainly because native English speakers (and Latin-Americans as well) often use the word Latin in a way that can be confusing. Like, when they say "latin" lover, or Latin character, you know...it means nothing, really!
    Says who? I'm sorry, but this is an instance of absurd language purism. Language changes, and so do the meaning of words. They can change completely, or then can get extra meanings over the centuries. The meaning of 'Latin' as in 'Latin lover' is a widely accepted one in English. That particular English word might confuse you, and you might not like it, but it sure does mean a thing to quite a lot of people, really.

    I'm fed up with things like that!
    Are you also fed up with words in your native language which changed their meaning, or gained extra meanings over the centuries? :) If not, why not? And if not bis, why the double standard?

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Well, peoples' migrations did influence language developments a lot. In recent times DNA reserchers and linguists are often helping one another. The fact the the ethnical issue has been and is being used by stupid and ignorant persons must not prevent us from considering this issue in a totally different way, always considering that every human being is just a human being, and everyone is the result of years and years of migrations.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Ethnicity is no more determined by genetics than language.

    You spoke of the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes -- if we went by sheer numbers, they were always a minority in England. Yet their language spread to the whole island. This shows that languages have a life of their own, which often if not nearly always extends beyond genetics.

    The reason why I entered the subject is mainly because native English speakers (and Latin-Americans as well) often use the word Latin in a way that can be confusing. Like, when they say "latin" lover, or Latin character, you know...it means nothing, really! I'm fed up with things like that! (By the way, I am Sardinian, so I am not Latin at all!)
    As far as I know expressions such as "Latin lover" are common throughout Europe in various languages, besides English. "Latin" can mean many different things; in that case, I would say it's more an ethnic label than a linguistic term.
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    I think Frank makes a very good point. Slovenia being close to Germany and Italy has had little influence on its language because they have little economic/social/cultural ties.

    That explains why Arabic hasn't had more influence on Spanish: the Arabs and their Spanish allies were removed from Spain by force. So the ties between the languages were broken as well. [...]
    The problem is that while such arguments might appear plausible on the surface, you can use them to explain everything and nothing at the same time; they are not falsifiable hypotheses, but merely post hoc rationalizations. By stretching the arguments enough, you can easily come up with such "explanations" in any situation, no matter what the actual state of affairs is. Also, in these concrete examples you present, there are serious factual errors. Most of today's Slovenia was within the Habsburg crown lands for almost 600 years, and it's absurd to claim that they had "little ties" with Austria culturally and economically. And in many places, extremely strong influences of former conquerors remained long after they were thrown out by force; I don't think I even need to present any examples for that.
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Why? Genes don't talk.

    Frank
    Is the word genes or genetic that disturbs you, would you like better people, population, ethnos? Do you think that genetic is nor politically correct?
    When one wants to inquire about the language spoken by people that once lived in an area, who didn't have or didn't leave written documents, one can study their real presence in that area by studying their manufactures, their burial places, their skeleton and their skulls, while comparing about the remains of the supposed substrate language in the same area.
    About the topic of the thread, I wanted to outline that there was not a Celtic influx on French after French developed from Latin, but that there was an influx on the way Latin was spoken by French people and also on some structures, as the numerical structures by "twenths". I wanted also to deny the so-called closer resemblance between Spanish and Italian for their being more closer to Latin. Standard Italian and standard Spanish were the "staccato" way two non-Latin peoples pronounced a foreign language. I have a close evidence with Sardinian. the way Campidanese people pronounce Sardinian is very loose and glided, when we pronounce Italian we are very hard , we even pronounce different sounds for the same "Latin" word when we say it in Italian and when we say it in Sardinian.

    Says who? I'm sorry, but this is an instance of absurd language purism. Language changes, and so do the meaning of words. They can change completely, or then can get extra meanings over the centuries. The meaning of 'Latin' as in 'Latin lover' is a widely accepted one in English. That particular English word might confuse you, and you might not like it, but it sure does mean a thing to quite a lot of people, really.
    It surely means a lot to a lot of Italian males (as the more recent "Italians do it better") and they feel it as a compliment. But I don't like generalization, and I think that is a subtle form of folklore, if not racism (what's more, based on a supposed common sexual attitude because of a common imposed language). Yes, it is common in Italy too, but in English. It remains Latin lover in Italian too (we say also, as a spun, latrin lover, where "latrina" means WC).

    Are you also fed up with words in your native language which changed their meaning, or gained extra meanings over the centuries? :) If not, why not? And if not bis, why the double standard?
    Sure I am. I 'm just now thinking about calling "Arabs" people who speak Arabic, and sometimes people who are just Muslim. I only call Arabs those who live in Arabian peninsula. There's some not very cultivated people in my area, included one of my close fellow-workers, who calls Morrocan every pedlar (pitchman) even when they are from Senegal, Bangladesh, Shry Lanka, because the first migrants who came here were Moroccans. But, you know, it's difficult to watch oneself at the mirror. If you happen to know some "ethnical" generalization, let me know.


    Now, if I went out topic it was for answering your question.
    But I was trying to say that it was the cultural, economical, political weight of Roman Empire to fix Latin as "the language" (for Neo-Latin languages, of course). Cultural importance, on its own, has not proved sufficient. Greeks, for example, was felt by Romans as more cultivated, they didn't loose their language, but neither did they diffuse it abroad any longer.

    A si biri,
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    Is the word genes or genetic that disturbs you, would you like better people, population, ethnos? Do you think that genetic is nor politically correct?
    I am not disturbed by the word 'gene' or 'genetic'. And where do you get the idea that it has to do with politics? We're talking linguistics, no? I am just wondering about what you wrote:
    but if we want to speak about language development we have to consider genetical substrates.
    Please explain why do we have to consider "genetical substrates" when talking about language change?

    When one wants to inquire about the language spoken by people that once lived in an area, who didn't have or didn't leave written documents, one can study their real presence in that area by studying their manufactures, their burial places, their skeleton and their skulls, while comparing about the remains of the supposed substrate language in the same area.
    What is a skull going to tell you about substrate languages? Skulls talk as much as genes.
    Let's say I find a skull, a skeleton and some artifacts of a person buried round the 5th century AD in what's now France. What is that skull, skeleton and artifacts going to tell us about the about the substrate language?

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    When one wants to inquire about the language spoken by people that once lived in an area, who didn't have or didn't leave written documents, one can study their real presence in that area by studying their manufactures, their burial places, their skeleton and their skulls, while comparing about the remains of the supposed substrate language in the same area.
    It may be possible in some rare cases but generally it is very difficult to link archeological evidence including genetic information with language spoken by those people. Today we know that Latvians (speaking IE languages) are genetically more related to Estonians and Finnic people (speaking Finno-Ugric languages) than to any other Europeans. But we still don't know if they were Finno-Ugric tribes in the past who conquered Latvian tribes and adopted their language or it was other way around. Finnic people are also genetically different from the ingenious Sami people in Scandinavia. It is very hard to establish the past migrations of these tribes but even harder to know what type of language they spoke.

    However, nationality or rather strong sense of it can influence language conservation too. If people are proud of their nationality and language they will try avoid or resist foreing influence more than tribes with no strong sense of identity.
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    If people are proud of their nationality and language they will try avoid or resist foreing influence more than tribes with no strong sense of identity.
    I'm not sure about this one. I mean, it can be that way, but I'm not sure if that would be indeed a rule, or perhaps only the exception of it. Or, maybe things are different, from nation to nation. Can you, please, go a bit further with that, providing a bit of examples, details and so on?
     

    xarruc

    Senior Member
    England
    Some examples:

    1) I've read that the French government routinely tries to purge foreign words from the language.

    2) The Catalans are very aware of similarities with Spanish. The use of a "Catalan Catalan" word (an old-fashioned one not obviously related to Spanish, or a word that has dropped out of use, replaced by the Spanish word) will often lead to praise. We see words like mancar (to be lacking) preferred to faltar (to be lacking) [Spanish = faltar, French = manquer].

    Both these examples come from a highly nationalistic group of people.

    On the other hand, I've read that English has a structure that easily allows the use of foreign loanwords to be inserted with little difficulty, and that German has a structure which favours the creation of new German words from existing German words.

    Spanish and Catalan certainly use a lot of loanwords from English, (especially in business and technology), although this is not resisted at all (in fact it's quite 'cool' to use them).
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Well, Frank06, a skull can tell us if there were dolicephalic or brachycephalic people in that area. You can track different migrations and distribution. Just supposing (I'm not talking about the real situation) that it was found that the ancient Basques had a skull shape different from the skull shape of their ancient West European neighbours, and it was tracked instead a thread of similar burial places and similar skulls in North Africa or in Hungry (just to say), you could reconstruct their migration, and all along it find linguistical remaining in topography, for example.
    About genetic ressemblance, Sardinian people was found very near to Lybanese people.
    All this doesn't give you an immediate result, but adding this information to historic, cultural, economical, climathic elements and comparing them all, some result may be obtained.
    You may object that all this is talking about paleontology, not linguistics, but languages have a long way behind. We can talk now about languages resistance or surrender to English, but we could maybe understand their behaviour better if we understood why Basques or Albanians didn't loose their languages. Was it just because they were cut off and ignorated, or did they isolate themselves to protect their culture?
    Look, I'm not saying at all that genetic features can explain the cultural attitude and the language of one people, but it may help in reconstructing the history of that language, together with other elements, of course.
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Well, Frank06, a skull can tell us if there were dolicephalic or brachycephalic people in that area.
    Are the skull shapes studies still considered as being scientific studies?
    I thought it was an obsolete theory which is not considered science anymore... The skull shape could change due to a certain way of living and not necessarily because of racial differences.
     

    pomar

    Senior Member
    Italian
    You are right, Oldavatar, I must have used the wrong terms. I was not talking of measurement of brains, nothing of that kind, sorry.:eek:
    I just meant the shape of the skull, revealing somatic features.
    I am not a specialist and I am not a native English, it's difficult sometime to tell what I really want to say, :eek: but, believe me, I absolutely didn't mean anything tied to old racist theories.
     

    OldAvatar

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    You are right, Oldavatar, I must have used the wrong terms. I was not talking of measurement of brains, nothing of that kind, sorry.
    I just meant the shape of the skull, revealing somatic features.
    I am not a specialist and I am not a native English, it's difficult sometime to tell what I really want to say, but, believe me, I absolutely didn't mean anything tied to old racist theories :confused::confused:
    No, no, sorry, I understoot what you meant from the first time. I wasn't speaking about the brain size. Your English is very good! I understood that you're talking about the shape of the brain box, actually the shape of the head bones. But the shape of the head bones can be very easily modified by, for example, the ammount of sleep a child gets in early years. Or by the way he's sleeping; if a child sleeps mostly laid on the back, for example, he is going to have more chances to have a flat skull with big eyepits. Also, the dimensions ratio can vary, up on bone internal structure, due to alimentation, life style and so on. I'm not an expert neither, but I thought that these sort of theories connected to head shape are at least under debate, euphemistically speaking.

    Best regards
     

    robbie_SWE

    Senior Member
    Trilingual: Swedish, Romanian & English
    An interesting fact is that Romanian, even being a different language than the neighbour's ones, it's got some common and enough characteristics to place it in the Balkan languages union. Therefore, verbe tenses, case systems, subjunctive construction, morphology etc. are very similar, no matter if the language is Albanian, Greek, Romance or Slavic.

    IMHO, the most expressive example is the definite article in which you can clearly see the same way of thinking, even if there are different words:

    Aromanian: bărbat - bărbatlu
    Romanian: bărbat - bărbatul
    Bulgarian: мъж - мъжът
    Macedonian: маж - мажот

    So, Romanian, even if it's got the Latin definite article L, similar with Spanish El, french Le, Italian Il, it's got the Slavic form of placing it at the end of the word.

    Best regards
    As it was pointed out by another user the Romanian way of using an article can't really be assigned a Slavic grammatical tendency. The theory that has gained the most respect is the one linking the Dacian, Illyrian and Thracian languages to many grammatical differences. It's quite consistent with the geographical distribution of many linguistic "phenomena".

    I am sure everybody knows it, but I think the word Latin needs "disambiguation". Latins, as a population, lived in central Italy, and some "cousins" of them were in South Italy. The diffusion of Latin was not caused by general migrations, as it happened with other peoples before (e.g. Celtics) and after Roman domination (e.g. Germanics). So, you cannot call pre-Latin the ancient population of Romania, Oldavatar. Of course, a few Romans might have moved there, but this doesn't influence the pre-existing substrate. France, Spain, Portugal are called Latin, but only because they adopted Latin as a language, they didn't mix genetically very much.
    Rome, as the capital of the Empire, surely experienced a larger genetical mix, although a Latin substrate must have resisted. Even in Italy there were non-Latin populations in the Centre and in the North (Etruscan, Celtics, etc.).
    What I mean is, nobody can say where Latin has remained more Latin. The only real Latins being in central Italy, one should suppose that the only "natural" evolution of the Latin language is Roman and Latial dialects (wich would sound very different from Spanish, by the way).
    Standard Italian, as I said, is the evolution of Latin as it was spoken by the Etruscans, standard French is the evolution of Latin as it was spoken by the Celtics (Lutecii?) and so on.
    On the contrary Angli, Saxons and Juti (sorry, I don't remember the English spelling) invaded Geat Britain and stayed there.
    I think that this is a great difference, to be kept in mind, when speaking of development and spreading of languages
    Hmm...I agree with you in some parts, but at the same time I would like to nuance your statement. You're completely right that the Latin people came only from a specific part of Italy and using the word "pre-Latin" to any other country or region than that specific region in Italy is incorrect (this actually includes France, Spain etc.). But I've read that recent studies have shown that the pre-existing people in Romania, before the Roman conquest, had much more in common with the Romans than presumed. The theory based upon archaeological findings show that the Dacian language and culture was more similar to that of other tribes in Italy than the tribes located in Eastern Europe. Since there are no written Dacian documents this will probably never be confirmed nor denied. This theory would inherently explain why the "Romanisation" of Dacia was "easier" than the Romanisation of e.g. Gaulle (referring to the constant raids from Celtic tribes in Gaulle). But I'm definitely not stating this as a fact!

    :) robbie
     

    CrazyArcher

    Senior Member
    Russia/Russian
    ... I have heard that Hebrew is very conservative in this regard.
    There's a relatively small group of purists, but there are alot of Latin-based loan-words in modern spoken Hebrew, mainly under the influence of English. Actually, in academic circles (and among peopel with high education in general) it's very common to hear a loan-word even though there's a Hebrew word for that, for instance 'informatziya' instead of 'meyda'.
     
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