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Vanishing Languages

 
 
Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 06:09 pm
Quote:
It's so embarrasing to make a "profound" statement only to discover that something very much like it was already posted nine months ago by a person far more articulate thanI.


Why are you embarrassed? It happens to me all the time. What is worse, is when I tell a joke or a story back to the person who told it to me originally! Rolling Eyes
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Mar, 2004 11:03 pm
Aww, you're just funnin' me, Phoenix. I know that never happens to you.

Languages: In one sense, of course, there is no such thing as a truly "dead" language. It may no longer be spoken by anyone in its original form, but it survives in altered form. Latin is not a dead language. It has morphed, over the last couple of millenia, into French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and a few wild dialects spoken on the southern slopes of the Alps, e.g. Romanche in Switzerland. Sanskrit survives in all the languages derived from it (including my native Latvian).

OK, I'll take that back. (Can you tell I'm thinking this out as I type? Extemporaneous to the max.) A language dies if the people who spoke it become totally assimilated into another culture and adopt the language of the dominant culture over their own. For example, today there are only two Baltic languages on that branch of the Indo-European language tree -- Latvian and Lithuanian. But a third language, now "dead", is known to have existed. It is known through fragmentary transcriptions which show it clearly to be a Baltic language. This is Old Prussian. Contrary to popular belief, the original Prussians, considered by many to be the sine qua non of the Germanic spirit were not a Germanic people at all. They were close cousins of modern-day Latvians and Lithuanians. The difference between the Prussians and their cousins living a bit further east was that, when the Baltic plateau was overrun by the Knights of the Teutonic Order (mostly Saxons) in the late 12th, early 13th centuries, the Prussians quickly assimilated to the language and life-style of their new masters, the Germans, and became indistinguishable from the conquering race. Latvians and Lithuanians resisted the invasion for centuries and maintained their ethnicity.

In the final analysis, this is what language is all about -- ethnicity. When a people lose their language and assimilate into another group, they lose their ethnic heritage. Perhaps this can be seen most clearly in America (including Canada) and in the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand). We may describe ourselves as Irish-American or Italian-American or German-American, but if we don't speak the language of the place where our ancestors came from, we are all Americans and it's impossible to tell a Slovene from a Finn.

Is this a bad thing? I don't know. It seems less so in a new environment, such as the United States. But it seems somehow sad if people still living in the land of their ancestors all speak English or French or Spanish or German instead of the original tongue.

Before my ancestors came into the country which is present-day Latvia, there was a Finno-Ugric speaking people already dwelling there. These were the Livs (sometimes called Livonians). By language, they are closely related to the Estonians, Finns and Hungarians. Their language and folkways survived for many centuries. In the 1920s and 1930s, during the days of the first Latvian Republic, they were recognized as an indigenous minority with certain rights, e.g. maintaining schools in their own language, observing traditional holidays etc. etc. Today there are maybe between 50 and 100 people left who can actually speak the language and probably no more than a dozen who actually do speak it as a matter of everyday course. This language will die within less than one generation. To me, that is sad.

Of course, we can take the optimistic point of view expresssed in the first paragraph of this post. The language of the Livs, the Estonians and the Finns was probably at one time the same language which eventually split into several dialects which, over the course of time, became different languages. So, in that sense, of course, the language doesn't die. It's just that Livonian dialect goes out of use.

I have rambled, off the top of my head, and for that I apologize. Sleep well, y'all.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 06:09 am
Well, Andrew, that was excellent info for someone who just rambled. Someone clear this up for me. Isn't English a Germanic language as opposed to the Romance languages?

Another question. Are the three most difficult languages to speak Chinese, Russian, English--in that order?

I had a difference of opinion with someone on this, also. Isn't English grammar based on Latin thus rendering the "split infinitive" a perfectly acceptable use, since the Latin verb could not be separated, i.e. video--to see?

Good morning, all.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 06:42 am
Letty wrote:
Someone clear this up for me. Isn't English a Germanic language as opposed to the Romance languages?
[...]
Good morning, all.


Good morning, Letty - nearly time for coffee here, too ... although with a piece of cake :wink:



http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ballc/oe/ie-tree.gif
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 06:45 am
Letty wrote:

I had a difference of opinion with someone on this, also. Isn't English grammar based on Latin thus rendering the "split infinitive" a perfectly acceptable use, since the Latin verb could not be separated, i.e. video--to see?

Quote:

The Germanic tribes were exposed to Latin before they invaded England, so the languages they spoke did have some Latin influence. After converting to Christianity, Latin had more influence, as evidenced in words pertaining to the church. Celtic did not have a large impact on English, as only a few place names are of Celtic origin, but Danish (Old Scandinavian) did contribute many vocabulary words.

more HERE!
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 06:51 am
Wow! Walter, that chart was fabulous and almost a replica of the one in my college Linguistics textbook I wish I could recall the author's name. I did find out later that he had several glaring errors concerning Virginia language groups. I'll have to check that out. Thanks!
0 Replies
 
urs53
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 06:58 am
Walter - as always we can rely on you! Thanks!
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 11:03 am
Letty wrote:
Another question. Are the three most difficult languages to speak Chinese, Russian, English--in that order?

I was told once by a Polish instructor that the most difficult language for a native English speaker to learn is Chinese (can't remember which one--I imagine they're all pretty hard), and that the second-most difficult is Polish. I have no idea if that's true or not, but Polish is definitely not easy.

Letty wrote:
I had a difference of opinion with someone on this, also. Isn't English grammar based on Latin thus rendering the "split infinitive" a perfectly acceptable use, since the Latin verb could not be separated, i.e. video--to see?

English grammar is sort of a combination of French and German grammar. Latin grammar is not comparable to English grammar: Latin is much more flexible in terms of word order, for instance, because Latin nouns are highly inflected (in that respect, Latin grammar is closer to German than English). And Latin doesn't have split infinitives because Latin doesn't have two-word infinitives, so there's nothing to split.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 11:09 am
Thanks, Joe. I would never have thought Polish. But weren't the original schools in America called Latin Grammar Schools? I knew about the "split infinitive" thing, as per my example of video. I do some more checking.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 11:19 am
This was interesting:

http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~spike/ling290/badEnglish.html

UhOh! We need to get these messages back to "square one" instead of a rectangle.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 01:30 pm
Letty wrote:
But weren't the original schools in America called Latin Grammar Schools?


From the 'Btitannica':
Quote:
Boston Latin School
public secondary school in Massachusetts, the oldest existing school in the United States. Its establishment in 1635 as the Latin Grammar School, open to all boys regardless of social class, set a precedent for tax-supported public education.

Based on the English grammar school, its purpose was to educate young men in the classics as a preparation for university entrance. In 1789 the Latin School curriculum was changed from the English model by reducing the course from seven years to four; it now offers four- and six-year programs. In 1877, 242 years after the start of the boys' school, the strictly college-preparatory Girls' Latin Schoolwas established, and in 1972 the Boston Latin School was made coeducational. Notable alumni include the educator Charles William Eliot, philosopher George Santayana, businessman and statesman Joseph P. Kennedy, and composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.


And from 'Encarta' here at The History of Grammar School

I went to a school - a "Gymnasium", originally from 1687 - which still was called e.g by my grandparents "Latin School" (especially in contrast to the girl's grammar school, a "Lyzeum".
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 01:38 pm
Well, Walter, my walking, talking encyclopedia, you just verified my premise. hee hee. The point that I was trying to make is that English grammar was based on Latin, and ergo has some anomalies.

Check out that link that I posted, and you'll see my justification.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 05:33 pm
I don't know where this myth comes from that English is a difficult language. There are only two things about English that are really difficult. 1) The spelling is ridiculous beyond belief, so if we're speaking about written English, rather than just speaking the language, then, yes, it's very difficult. 2) English has an extremely large vocabulary (something approaching a million different words). So, if you want to be really, really erudite, it'll take a while. But, that said, one doesn't need to know all those words to speak the language inetlligibly. A 'survival vocabulary' of a few gundred words is all that many who speak English as their native tongue are familiar with. (The average college graduate probably knows about 10,000 words.) And when we speak of learning a language we seldom mean learning it so that we can write a novel in that language without consulting a grammar textbook. You must be able to read it to consider yourself fluent, but having a dictionary handy for spelling is not an indication of illiteracy. Keeping those two caveats in mind, I think English is one of the easiest languages going. There are no noun diclensions, no verb conjugations. Word endings don't change; we use prepositions instead. That's the lasy man's way of speaking. When compared to German and/or French, English and Spanish are wayyy easy to learn.
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 08:22 pm
English is darn easy to learn at a survivor level for the speaker of any other Indo-European language.
Specially easy to read.
No verb conjugations, no gendered nouns, hardly any formal and informal difference; lots of latin roots for us romance speakers, nouns that become verbs...
It is difficult to master. But what language isn't?

I would say that French and Spanish are harder for a non-romance native speaker.
French spelling is almost as anarchic as English, and pronunciation is a curse.
And both languages have verb conjugations, gender nouns, formal and informal conjugations and ver few germanic or slavic root (hardly any, in Spanish).
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 10:32 pm
I agree, fbaezer, that Spanish is marginally more difficult than English. But for a native English-speaking person I still think it's the easiest second language to acquire. The preponderance of Latin-derived words helps in acquiring the vocabularly and the gender nouns aren't really that difficult to master if you can remember, if it ends in 'a', it's feminine. Smile
0 Replies
 
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2004 11:38 pm
There are always "el √°guila" and "el agua".Wink
0 Replies
 
Diane
 
  1  
Reply Sat 6 Mar, 2004 01:05 am
Letty, like many others, I've just discovered this great thread. In addition to losing languages, I regret the loss of regional accents. They always add a flavor and character to conversation that I love.

Although the link and excerpt I have included don't address a spoken language---an ancient form of writing that was kept secret by the women of a province in China is interesting and still relevant to your thread--I hope.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4356095/

Only men learned to read and write Chinese, and bound feet and social strictures confined women to their husband's homes after marriage. So somehow -- scholars are unsure how, or exactly when -- the women of this fertile valley in the southwestern corner of Hunan province developed their own way to communicate. It was a delicate, graceful script handed down from grandmother to granddaughter, from elderly aunt to adolescent niece, from girlfriend to girlfriend -- and never, ever shared with the men and boys.
0 Replies
 
rufio
 
  1  
Reply Sat 6 Mar, 2004 10:38 am
Also "el programa" and "el idioma" - there's a lot more than you'd expect...

I like Spanish though, it seems a lot easier (to me, anyway) than most other foreign langauges.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sat 6 Mar, 2004 11:07 am
Hi, yawl Smile Thanks for your input. Need to read over all the responses here. Back later.
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 7 Mar, 2004 06:39 am
Well, my, my, my. Will you look at what I found?

http://home.bellsouth.net/s/editorial.dll?fromspage=cg/news/channel_news_intl.htm&categoryid=&only=y&bfromind=527&eeid=4111310&eetype=article&render=y&ck=

Hope this is right.
0 Replies
 
 

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