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Lecture 1

LINA02H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Linguistic Typology, Language Revitalization, Mutual Intelligibility

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Eri Takahashi

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- Language typology: The diversity and universality found in languages
- Language universals: properties that are universal among all languages
- Top 20 languages hold 44% of the worlds population
o Most languages have fewer than 10 000
o 60% of the orld’s laguages are at risk
o Four out of 60 indigenous languages spoken in Canada have enough speakers to survive
o Language is lost every 14 days
- Examples of dead languages: Latin (which led to roman languages such as French, Spanish,
Italian etc.), Sanskrit (evolved to Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, Marathi etc.), and Bo
o But can we count Latin or Sanskrit as dead? Because it evolved to so many other
languages? But it can also be considered dead because there are no native speakers of
Latin or Sanskrit
Why do languages die?
- Speakers use them less and less because other language may appear to offer greater economic
or educational opportunities.
- Usually occurs over the course of 3 generations
o Parents are monolingual <- they immigrate to a new country
o Children are bilingual (adopt a new language)
o Grandchildren are monolinguals of the new language
- 6909 languages in the world but only 200 countries.
o Majority of laguages do’t hae the protetio of a atioal goeret
Why is language revitalization / documentation important?
- Hard for linguists to investigate possible languages if they are not observable
What do we mean by possible languages?
- Out goal is to develop mental grammars where all and only possible languages can be generated
- But we do not have access to all possible human languages, only a subset
- There are some observations we can make about what is and what is not a possible language
that can be effected if not all possible languages are observed (1% of languages may have a
property that is not found anywhere else)
What is a language?
- What’s the differee etee laguages ad dialets?
o Mutual intelligibility
Different languages: if someone is speaking to you in a different language, you
cannot understand them (NOT mutually intelligible)
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Dialects of the same language: if someone is speaking to you in a different
dialect of the same language, you should still be able to understand them
(mutually intelligible)
- A laguage is a dialet ith a ary ad a ay! - Max Weinreich, 1945
o Who as an army and a navy? A country
o Even if we are speaking a dialect of the same language, if the dialects belong to separate
countries, the countries will insist that they are separate languages (for political
Different approaches to language classification
- Genetic classification
o Groups languages into families based on common origin (like how Latin is grouped with
French, Spanish etc. because those languages are all descended from Latin)
- Linguistic typology
o Classify languages based on structural characteristics
o “iilar soud patters, graatial strutures, et…
o Goal of this is to identify linguistic universals (structural characteristics that occur in all
or most languages)
o This is the type e’ll fous o i lass.
Language Universals
- Grammatical characteristic present in all or most languages
- Grammatical characteristic that depends on the presence of another grammatical characteristic
within the language
The nature of Language Universals
- Statements about universals can be:
o Absolute/tendency: single feature
Absolute: A linguistic feature that holds in all languages e.g., all languages have
Tendencies: A linguistic feature that occurs in most languages e.g., most
languages have X
o Implicational: multiple features
If a language has feature X, it likely has feature Y
Marked traits = more complex and rare traits
Unmarked = more common traits
If a marked trait is found, the unmarked counterpart is also found.
Example: oral vowels = unmarked, nasal vowels = marked
So if a language has contrasting nasal vowels, they will have contrasting
oral vowels
Segmental Universals: Vowel Inventories
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