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Language X is older than Y

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Iversen
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 Message 9 of 31
19 November 2012 at 3:59pm | IP Logged 
Unless you count the Coptic language as a living and modernized version of Ancient Egyptian nobody has spoken Ancient Egyptian since around 1100 AD. And before that period nobody spoke French because they had to get rid of Latin first. But this is a very extreme case. Let's take another one.

Danish! and Icelandic! Danish has evolved in an organic fashion from Old Norse, and so has Icelandic. The difference is that Danish has evolved faster and ended up quite far from Old Norse, whereas Icelandic was conservative and stayed close to Old Norse - however it is not identical with Old Norse. Nevertheless you could argue that Icelandic and Danish have exactly the same age because they descend from the same language, and there is no point where any of them suddenly was turned totally upside down. But it is evident that Icelandic has been far more conservative than Danish.

So the two concepts 'age' and 'conservatism' don't cover each other, and 'age' has the problem I mentioned above: there are no strict criteria that define when Old Norse died in Denmark and Danish arose from the ashes. We have never had a situation where young people would claim to speak another language than that of their grandparents, but we have certainly had periods where the old folks had lots of things to moan about - for instance during the Hansaperiod (up to around 1500) where Low German words streamed into Danish. But the changes back then were not worse than those we experience today, and we just try to keep up with the changes.

So if somebody attaches the label 'Danish' to the language spoken in Denmark from a certain year and onwards it is mostly based on the fact that Danish now is very different from Old Norse (and we have to draw a line somewhere). It is not based on the perception of the current situation by those who lived around 1200 or 1500 (or 2000 for that matter).


Edited by Iversen on 19 November 2012 at 4:04pm

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Arekkusu
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 Message 10 of 31
19 November 2012 at 4:48pm | IP Logged 
All languages are equally old.

Every language is, at this precise moment, the most recent version of the result of constant modifications going all the way back to the first language (or languages).

Languages are not born -- they simply continue to evolve and, from a historical and sometimes linguistic point of view, eventually acquire a new name because a local variant of the language has been separated from the others long enough to no longer be intelligible, but there is no specific point when that occurs (lookup dialect continuum), nor is there a precise way to determine when it occurs, but it certainly doesn't suddenly make the language start again from zero so that it could be declared as suddenly younger than the other branches.

Now, yes, some languages are or were more conservative. However, this is very hard to establish for a variety of reasons, not in the least because the rate of change may not have been constant through time or across dialects, and because we can only rely on the written language.

In the case of Danish and Icelandic, even if it's fairly easy to establish that Danish has changed faster than Icelandic in recent centuries, presumably because of the influence of several other dialects and languages on Danish, it still doesn't tell whether Old Norse underwent really quick changes in its history preceding the onset of written language. It would remain a useless qualification.

Edited by Arekkusu on 19 November 2012 at 4:56pm

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akkadboy
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 Message 11 of 31
19 November 2012 at 5:08pm | IP Logged 
Iversen, I totally agree with your example about Danish/Icelandic. But the OP asked wether "conservative" would be a better word than "old" without any precision. That's why I answered from a broad point of view.

Arekksu, again I totally agree but (keeping the OP in mind) I still can't see why saying that Ancient Egyptian is "more conservative" than French (even if we assume that they come from the same original language) would be linguistically better than saying "older".

Again, I'm not saying that "old" is a good, justified linguistic word. When discussing such matters, I use "attested before/after" because in the end it's the only thing we can be sure of.
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Arekkusu
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 Message 12 of 31
19 November 2012 at 5:27pm | IP Logged 
Conservative can't be the right term -- you are conservative when you consciously resist change. Entire societies never decide that linguistic change is good (in fact, they never think it's good). All we can do is conclude, in retrospect, that the rate of change during a given period was faster in one language than in another.

So if you are looking for the right term, I suggest "rate of change", and again, this would only apply for a specified period of time.
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Iversen
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 Message 13 of 31
20 November 2012 at 12:58am | IP Logged 
The Icelanders have actually resisted linguistic changes to the degree that they have put up a law forbidding them. And before they got that law they were conservative because of isolation and a deep attachment to their history and tales. If the national sport of a country is genealogy (with chess as the only serious contender) then a certain amount of conservatism can be expected.

Edited by Iversen on 20 November 2012 at 12:59am

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Марк
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 Message 14 of 31
20 November 2012 at 8:16am | IP Logged 
Well, we can probably say "old languages" meaning they have a very old written form which
is known to us.
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Arekkusu
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 Message 15 of 31
20 November 2012 at 12:48pm | IP Logged 
Марк wrote:
Well, we can probably say "old languages" meaning they have a very old written form which
is known to us.

And? That's like saying your neighbour must be older than you because his house is older than yours. How
does having an old script make Sanskrit an older language than Zulu?
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Марк
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 Message 16 of 31
20 November 2012 at 1:16pm | IP Logged 
Arekkusu wrote:
Марк wrote:
Well, we can probably say "old languages" meaning they
have a very old written form which
is known to us.

And? That's like saying your neighbour must be older than you because his house is older
than yours. How
does having an old script make Sanskrit an older language than Zulu?

Because Sanskrit is a real language for us, but "Old Zulu" might be only a vague
construct.


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