Languages getting simpler

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by flameofanor5, Oct 22, 2008.

  1. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    no fluff like articles and stuff. They aren't really needed you could still understand a sentence if i left those things out, it would just sound weird in English. ASL is as basic as it gets only main ideas are portrayed and it makes you realize how much you don't really have to say in English to get your point across.
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  3. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I had told wife that you thought highly of Chinese some time ago, but all I could remember as to why, was that they had been refining it for >3000 years. (She knows you as my "bird friend / expert")

    Today, after reading the above, I mentioned the lack of need for prepositions as one reason. She remarked that the congential deaf who have learned to write and speak (often not well, but intelligible usually) rarely use them. She did not know if they even exist in sign language; I suspect not, at least not those that show spatial relationships.

    I do know that that they have a different way to make reference to the pronoun's anteceedent*. I probably will not tell it correctly, but they can "park" Tom, which they may need to spell out as T O M, at some location in space and later refer to him by just coming back to that space location and "pick Tom up." So perhaps the congentially deaf have neither pronouns or preposition in their sign language, at least (possibly not when writting or speaking as a result.)
    * I have noticed that gender is retained in English but gone most every where else (Gender is unnatural for me in portuguese as that is how banco & banca differ entirely in meaning, etc.) but we still have "him" and "her" to help select the proper anteceedent half the time when two are possible.

    As you like languages so much, if you have not done so already, you might find sign language very interesting. Unfortuantely, it is far from universal. I.e. here in Brazil it is Portuguese sign language, not American or French, etc.
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  5. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    For every language there is a sign language. I only know American Sign Language. But everything about it is much simpler than English. From the words to the grammatical construction. It's the spelling that gets tricky.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In English, we retain gender only in pronouns: he/she/it. In Portuguese you have gender in nouns, adjectives and articles. Masculine: O meu bom caminho. Feminine: A minha boa rua. Every word that comes anywhere near a noun has to be declined for gender. The same is true of all the Romance languages: Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian and Occitan. Also German (three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter), but not as heavily in the other Germanic languages. Also Greek. And the Slavic languages have three genders but (except for Bulgarian) at least they don't have articles. I don't know about Albanian, Armenian, or the Celtic or Indo-Iranian branches.
    Most sign languages have some basis in the spoken language of the surrounding people. It stands to reason that in a culture with an Indo-European language, a sign language would evolve with a subject-verb-object structure, and the sign-words would fit that paradigm. In other cultures it would develop with a different structure, such as topic-description as in Japanese.
  8. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Hi Fraggle:
    I note in another thread that you play go (much better than me I am sure.) I do not play games. – I consider it a waste of my time but did play at lunch time years ago with one friend as he wanted to and had no one else who would play (With 8 stones I usually won, but never with only 6 at start.)

    I post to tell that I think it the best game for the following reasons:

    (1) Two quite different skill levels can play with X stones initial handicap to the weaker without significantly changing the nature of the game - that is impossible in chess.

    (2) The rules are simple and clear - you can master them all in a few minutes and easy to remember - almost obvious.

    (3) There are no moves of pieced on the board and all are the same.

    (4) It is much more subtitle than chess - I think no computer program even comes close to demonstrated human skills.

    I do not think it clear where GO originated, but as you admire Chinese language (and probably the Japanese one also) I wonder if you think that there is any probability that GO was invented and became so popular in Asia because of superior organization of thought patterns that a superior language may permit?

    I have what may not be a very politically correct POV that supports the idea that Asians are naturally more intelligent, independent of their superior language. (Not PC as it also implies Africans are less than average in native intelligence. But as leader in civil rights movement of years ago, I hasten to add that the difference is extremely tiny compared to variation within these different population groups - too small to measure I am sure as just the environmental influence on each individual is orders of magnitude greater in importance on the test results.)

    I base my POSTULATED idea on fact humans did emerge from Africa. Those that got to Europe faced new problems such as frozen rivers to cross - some of the less intelligent drowned, ate poisonous berries when hungry in quantity, instead of a few to test first. etc. Those that made it all the way to Asia (over the Himalayas or around them and thru the Gobble Desert etc.) had even more filtering out of the dumber part.

    Perhaps a superior language, longer lived culture, love and skill at GO, all reflect this tiny difference in group average intelligence?
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 27, 2008
  9. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    I think it's time English became simpler. I'd like to see formal English being taught like Latin - i.e. not in primary schools, but as a special purpose language where precision is paramount.
    "Conversational" English should be the norm, with flexibility in spelling, and freer choice of things like grammar constructions, verb conjugations, and plurals.

    I really don't like irregular verbs.

    *end rant*
  10. Atopos Registered Member

    This is actually pretty wrong. Not everybody of course speaks in the same way, but what I understood with my studies is that an Anglo-Saxon retainer (i.e. a warrior, somebody who never went to school) had a broader vocabulary than a modern italian or english teenager, who attends school, reads and watches TV. Non every language is going to the same direction, but all the western languages lost words and grammatical precision.
    We have no documents written by peasants in the old ages and scarcely even now, but for sure, the poets' language of 1000 yrs ago had more words that the poets' language now. It is almost impossible to make a general trend, but just compare an old germanic vocabulary (Anglo-Saxon, gothic, scandinavian) to modern english, german, swedish vocabulary. Something has been lost.
    And watch TV today. Communication times have restricted and language is collapsing on itself - I have actually written something about this on my personal blog.

    For those who said "german has cases and many articles etc. while english has not"... German IS NOT older than English. They evolved in the same period and they both exist nowadays. English is more trendy, not more recent.
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That would be a disaster. It's been recently discovered that people read words holistically, rather than taking the letters in sequentially. All we observe is the first letter, the last letter, and the total group that falls between them. Eexrptinems sohw taht the lteerts in bweten can be cmolpteley sarlbcemd and we can slitl raed the snnectee at nmaorl seped. But if there is an exstra letter, a mising letter, or an incurrect letter, it slows us down because we have to read each letter in sequence to figure out what the word is supposed to be.

    Standardized spelling is vital to our ability to read. People who refuse to take the effort to learn to spell correctly insult us with every word. They demand that we slow our reading down by a factor of two or more, devoting more time to their writing, and taking away time we'd like to spend reading someone else's writing. The answer is to repay disrespect with disrespect, and completely ignore anything they write.
    For good reason. Until the invention of printing, there was very little to read and there was no point in expending the effort to learn the skill. Literacy only became widespread in the West since Gutenberg.
    I'd like to see your research to support that hypothesis. The vocabulary of Modern English is many times greater than the vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon (or "Old English") on the eve of the Norman Invasion. And those new words are not all scientific and scholarly words. We have nuanced words for business, recreation, art, politics, even love and family life, that are derived from Latin, Greek, Norman French and many other sources. Shakespeare, who wrote a full five centuries after your benchmark date, added many hundreds of expressions to colloquial English: a great enrichment from one single writer of early Modern English.
    What's been lost are a lot of old words, but they've been replaced by new words. German has had an explosion of word creation since the Enlightenment; a Saxon of 1000 years ago would hardly understand words like fernsprecher, kraftwagen, weltraumfahrt, sauerstoff or schadenfreude. Swedish and all the Scandinavian languages have simply adopted the German words, mapping them through the phonetic transformations that have evolved over the centuries: vitenskap instead of Wissenschaft. And English of course has had several different explosions: borrowed words from Norman French and many other languages such as rodeo and gung-ho, words built from Latin and Greek roots such as petroleum and autodidact, words built by native Germanic agglutination such as doghouse and sousaphone, and acronymy such as radar.
    I think what you're reacting to more than anything is that we now have the ability to record and publish colloquial language, which was rare before electronic technology and virtually unknown before printing. Since people who are not scholars or poets are reading articles and listening to broadcasts, they have to be composed in their vernacular, not the stilted jargon of the academy or the flowery prose of the orator.
    English is not "trendy." The English-speaking community has been subject to more outside influence than the German-speaking community. Anglo-Saxon was old German, that's the reason that we stopped using the term "Old English."

    There's been a steady continuity of evolution from the Old German of the continent to Modern German. This is not the case with English. Norsemen continued to settle in Britannia after their cousins, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, settled there, renamed it "Angle Land," and replaced the native Celtic language with Anglo-Saxon. English picked up Norse words steadily over the centuries. Then the Norman Invasion imposed a linguistic superstratum over the language of the occupied people, causing a simplification in grammar, a shift in phonetics and a massive exercise in word borrowing from Old French. This continued as the occupiers abandoned their native language and adopted English, which now changed from the language of a conquered people to the language of the ruling class. As education, science, democracy and commerce blossomed in England, words were borrowed from a multitude of foreign languages.

    German was not subject to any of these forces until quite recently. By the time that happened, it had been honed into an agglutinative language whose speakers have a natural preference for building their own words instead of borrowing them. Its grammar evolved slowly over the centuries instead of in quantum leaps over a generation or two. And its phonetics were never mangled by an invasion of foreign conquerors who couldn't pronounce the words right.

    If you want to study a language that has been evolving in the same way as German for a much longer time, just look at Chinese. But oddly enough, English and Chinese are converging in the same direction, with a stripped-down grammar and a strong word-building facility. Of course we differ completely on the matter of adopting foreign words, since it's almost impossible to render a foreign word into Chinese phonetics.
  12. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Do you have a link to these studies?

    Reading is a very complex process, and I am not sure the same for all. Probably those taught to phonetically analyze differ from those taught by "LOOK SAY"

    The start of the process is the same for all - a sequence of fixations. Typically that collects information processed from several word images. I recall that there are for left to right readers more letters processed on the right side of the fixation point than the left, but the asymmetry is not large. This is to be expected as the prior fixation (unless this one is the first on the text line) did give information on the left of the current fixation. What is the most extreme but still processed on the right is mainly shapes and used to select the next fixation, not "read" with this fixation.

    All visual processing for perception is completely suppressed between fixations. Simple experiment showing this is to look in mirror at one of your eyes and then the other. (Be close to the mirror so it is large angular shift but not too close for sharp vision.) You will never see any eye motion although clearly it is occurring. In reading most of the time is wasted with these fixation movements.

    With computers and good video display you can boost your reading speed nearly 10 fold (as I recall) buy eliminating all ballistic fixation movements. I.e. you stare at a fix point on the display and computer presents a few words (or only one if long) rapidly there. It was called RSP (Rapid Sequential Presentation) again from 25 year old memory. One tested subject's upper reading rate could not be measured as the display frame rate was the limit. I do not recall what that was but if 24 frames per second and more than two words / per frame on average then that is more than 24 words / s. (a blank frame between each word was used, but I am not sure why that was necessary.) - Say 25W/s or 1,500 words / minute. This text of mine, including this has 374 words. Can you read every word of it, with full comprehension, in less than 15 seconds?
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2008
  13. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

  14. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    People learn to read differently? What exactly is learning to read phonetically and what is the difference between the "Look Say" you mentioned? I'm just curious. I recently took a class on increasing one's reading speed and my instructor said that everyone learns to read the same way and continue to read this way into adulthood, which is why we read so slow. But I don't know I'm no expert :shrug:
  15. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Hrm. That's an old meme, but not all that reliable. Try these sentences:
    • A vheclie epxledod at a plocie cehckipont near the UN haduqertares in Bagahdd on Mnoday kilinlg the bmober and an Irqai polcie offceir
    • Big ccunoil tax ineesacrs tihs yaer hvae seezueqd the inmcoes of mnay pneosenirs
    • A dootcr has aimttded the magltheuansr of a tageene ceacnr pintaet who deid aetfr a hatospil durg blendur

    Taken from: This page by a Cambridge cognition researcher.
    The meme seems to have its roots in an unpublished 1976 PhD thesis, which found the public eye in a letter to New Scientist in 1999.

    Interesting - I didn't notice the mistakes until I'd read enough of the sentence to pick up the meaning, then I went back to check again.
    I really don't think so. But, I could better accept standardised spelling if it was accompanied by consistent verb conjugations, plurals, and so forth. In fact, this is precisely the de-facto standard that I expect would develop if flexibility were allowed (even encouraged) in early schooling.
    Curmudgeon. The time of students is better spent in learning to think clearly and construct sound logic than in learning arbitrary and unnecessary rules of spelling. I would much rather read a poorly spelled, grammatically loose, well-thought out work than a mound of nonsense with perfect spelling and grammar.

    As it stands, poorly spelled writing is less likely to be good writing, because both spelling ability and thinking ability are generally positively correlated with education. But the correlation is not direct, and is not to be to relied on. In particular, an excellent thinker who is new to English is likely to have excellent writing, spelled poorly.
  16. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    60 years ago there was pedagogical war between two groups divided on how to teach reading.

    The Teach Phonetically group:
    "C" is symbol for the sound <ka>
    < > I use to indicate the sound of letter contained.
    So "U" is < oou > and "T" is < ta > etc. Consequently the teacher would say: CAT is how we write cat. What do you think BAT is the word for? Etc.

    And to attack the other group they would say only this way can you read a word you have never seen before.

    The "look say" people would respond:
    That phoneitcs they will and should learn on their own AFTER they can read. There are only about 4000 words to learn TO RECOGNIZE BY THEIR SHAPES as a whole. CAT is for <cat> DOG is for <dog> note that word CAT does not look like a word DOG and these animals do not look much alike either do they? Tomorrow we will learn the words for <bat"> and <ball>

    And to attack the other group would say you are going to make slow readers. Word, even several at a time must be recognized at a glance.

    As you did not know these two different approaches existed, I assume one defeated the other in the war.


    To Pete: Thanks for your comments. (and others):
    Fraggel is such an expert that I only asked for the reference, but I was nearly sure what he stated is not true, or was not considered true 30 years ago, when I did know about some aspects of reading that relate to the visual perception and even much later processing where meanings of the symbols (and all their potential uses in sentences like: "may be a transitive verb," has irregular past tense of____, etc. ) are looked up in the "lexicon." - It is hierarchically organized. For example, some stroke victims may post stroke not be able to name (or recognize the name) any vegetable, but if handed a carrot can tell you it grows underground, had fine green leaves on thin stocks, is good for the eyes (and if well educated, even adding because it contains carotene, yet still not be able to say the word carrot!) That same stroke victim may be able to name all the fruits and berries, or if the stroke was more extensive none of these but still know and name the foods beef, pork, venison, fish etc.

    This hierarchical organization of the lexicon can be demonstrated in perfectly normal subjects also via RT (reaction time) studies. For example if different items are flashed on a display and task is to tell as quickly as possible if it is animal or not you are faster than if task is to tell it is a bird or not. Telling if it is a food is faster than telling if it is a fruit but telling if it is a fruit or a vegetable is about the same delay as these categories are at the same level in the subdivision of foods.

    Each lower level is basically a list (or parallel processed for access to the stored information lists) with the typical and common examples near the top. For example, words robin and blue jay are identified as birds faster than emu and penguin. As far as the lexicon is concerned a whale is a fish etc. and perhaps a penguin is not a bird.

    I am sure a lot more is known now, but that was sort of the state of knowledge 30 years ago.

    Reading has at least two very distinct stages. One taking place in the visual cortex is concern with processing the retinal stimulation into recognized units. The other mainly identifies those recognized units mainly in the temporal lobe. Do not think the letters of the words make up the units. Very early in V1 and V2, to some extent, the shapes of the letters are transformed into things like: four terminators, four angles, two straight sections, and intersection, no curves, etc. for an "X" Thus the word "box" becomes a long set of ordered descriptive characteristic that is "looking for a match" to that same set already known. What Frangle and you illustrated is that if most the charcteristics are in the "dissected" unit then a few probable matches will be tentatively activated. For example pox will at least activate box's set also. If the visual symbol is "Put the cat in the pox." that "pox" is "close enough." - Especially as the phonetic characterization activated by "p" and "b" are almost identical also. (Only difference as I recall is one is "voiced" (vocal cords vibrate while it is made) and other is not. Both are "Plosives" (lips rapidly separate while making their sounds) etc. for other characteristic I forget.

    As you illustrated, I very seriously doubt the emphases that Fraggle mentioned about the first and last letter, but the Look Say people did have one thing correct: The overall shape of the word is important. Letter like "l" "b" "p" "h" “y" which extend above or below most others if replace by ones that do not will slow reading down more than "h" being replaced by "b" or replacing "h" by "p" is worse than by "b" even though "b" are "p" essentially identical in their "dissected" visual and phonetic characterizations.

    A striking demonstration that letters are dissected is the speed with which you can find a single X in a field of many dozens of O (or conversel only one O and many X s) and how hard (time consuming) it is to find the single T in a field of L (or conversely). This is because T & L, when dissected, have nearly identical dissected characterizations but X and O share none.

    If you search I bet you can down load a program to run these tests now or find a site which will interactive display them for you to find one sole symbol in the field of many. It has been known for at least 40 years, I think, that the letters are rapidly replaced in V1 by the characteristic descriptors.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2008
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No. All I've ever seen is samples of text printed that way. Just about everybody I know has seen six or eight of those and they all agreed that after the second one they were reading at almost normal speed. Of course I'm surrounded by people who are well-educated, avid readers and flawless spellers. I think I'm the slowest reader of anyone I know. I don't know how the average person would fare on this test.
    I've never heard the left one singled out before.
    This is probably an issue that only comes up in English and French, the two languages that use "phonetic" alphabets but don't use them very consistently. You can read a paragraph of Spanish, Italian, Czech, Greek and many other languages and recite it aloud perfectly without even understanding the words. If you ask me, learning to read English correctly is only moderately easier than Japanese, because almost every letter has several different ways it might be pronounced.

    I believe that what we used to call "learning to read phonetically" is what the teaching industry now calls "phonics": puzzling out how a word is supposed to sound by understanding the most likely sound of each letter or letter combination. I think it requires developing an intuitive ability to guess at the language of origin of the word. "Telephone" looks like it's of Greek origin, so that PH is probably a digraph, pronounced F. But "uphill" looks suspiciously like a native Anglo-Saxon word, so that PH is probably pronounced as two phonemes, P-H.
    I think the hypothesis we're wondering about here is that regardless of how we initially learn to read, at some point in our maturation we unconsciously apply our pattern-recognition ability to reading, and we become able to take in the whole word at once instead of reading the individual letters sequentially. I observe this in other endeavors. When people learn to play go they struggle to see the orthogonal connections between the stones and it takes them five minutes to plan a single move--poorly. Then one day the board suddenly pops into focus and they take it in holistically, seeing it as a pattern of more and less strongly connected groups of stones. That never happens for a few people and they never stop playing at the "just learned the rules" level--or rather they stop playing entirely because playing that way is more work than fun.

    So I don't agree that we all continue forever to read the way we did when we were children. I certainly see the difference between the way I read English or other languages in the Latin alphabet, and the way I read Greek, Yiddish, or the languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. I look at each letter and say to myself, "That's a palatalized T" or "That's probably a vowel in that position." When I read Portuguese, a language in which I'm not at all fluent, the spoken words form immediately in my head, just like in English. With a Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) accent, just the way I learned it. I can understand written Portuguese better and faster than Portuguese spoken in Iberian dialect.
    Those two were easy. I sailed through at almost normal speed.
    Obviously longer words are going to be more difficult. I had to stop and analyze "manslaughter," a legal term that Americans are not too familiar with unless they watch a lot of cop shows on TV. But I was surprised to have a problem with "teenage." I suppose these days we're more likely to see "teenaged" or "teenager," but "teenage" was common enough up into the 1980s, for the first forty years of my life.
    I think most of us internalize English's micro-rules about plurals. We know that the plural of focus is foci and if we saw it written "focuses" we'd probably stumble over it.

    But as for conjugations, the force for regularization is strong. I notice most people say wreaked instead of wrought, and it's become less common to hear leapt instead of leaped. On the other hand anglophones seem to find humor in the phonetics of strong verbs and make up inauthentic participles like drug for dragged and dove for dived. I'm a big fan of word-based humor because it's the only type that doesn't rely on making fun of someone else's misfortune, so I'm happy to find people grinning over the sound of a bogus verb form instead of the sound of someone slipping on a banana peel.
    I become very impatient with writing that requires me to slow down to a fraction of my normal speed. I have a running feud with one of the other Moderators, who thinks the chemical in vodka that intoxicates us is "achole."
    In my experience foreign students put superhuman effort into their spelling, which is therefore often better than their pronunciation.
  18. CutsieMarie89 Zen Registered Senior Member

    Oh, I had no idea. I learned phonics. And I still use it today to help pronounce words I have never seen before or have a hard time saying. I read the exact same way today as I did when I was 6 years old.
  19. Atopos Registered Member

    I totally agree. Of course language evolves, but not necessarily by teenagers' misspelling.

    Unfortunately I can't give you data; I haven't published anything yet, nor I will any soon.
    Don't think I am crazy though. Of course we cannot know the exact number of words that an old language had, it is even difficult to know how many words we have today! I had the feeling of something being lost though. Perhaps I shouldn't take english as an example since I have not been born anglophone, but I am still convinced that in some languages - not all of course - words have been lost.
    Of course there is much more borrowing, as you said. From latin, norman french etc. but also in modern times, though borrowing a word is somehow different from having an "indigenous" one. And of course we have lots of new words, describing the things we invented, new laws, new technologies, and such, but I think - and I want to underline, it is an opinion - that if we do not consider the advancement of society and technology, many modern languages do not have as many words as they used to have. Agglutinated words always existed in germanic languages and were commoly used, perhaps even more than in modern english.
    Even then you may be convinced that english has gained a lot, vocabulary-wise. Fine. But believe me that, for example, modern italian has registered a clear loss, since Latin.
    Word agglutination never existed - except with a few prefixes such as de- anti- con- - and in centuries, not much was created, except grammatical operators (articles, a few prepositions). Words were lost, shades of meaning were lost. In exchange, latin was contaminated. Standard italian has not changed much from Tuscanian vernacular of the XV-XVI century, and even vernacular from the XIII is clearly understandable to us. Contamination from other languages happened with the germanic invasion, but mostly it was an exchange: bellus (war) was replaced by 'wera', gladium (sword) by spada. Terms about war were dictated by the winners, but all the vocabulary of agriculture, handcraft, law and religion remained latin - mass was in latin until a few centuries ago.
    The "new words" in italian are either taken from english (and that is why I say it's trendy) or old latin or greek words with different meaning (tele+visio). New words by agglutination cannot be created. Italians borrow many english idioms (leader, management, out) for which there already is a word, thus not enriching much the vocabulary, but just sounding more "up to date".

    I know and understand what you say, but german is not older, in the real meaning of the word. Germany has no sea around it, had much political fragmentation and lots of translators, travellers and such. Nonetheless they remained "closer" to the original germanic language. But that does not mean that modern German is older, or simpler or stupid or whatever.
    I agree with the stripped-down grammar, and that is exactly what I am talking about: languages are getting simpler. But I have to disagree about word-building: not every language is going to the same direction.
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