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Agglutinative to fusional to analytic...

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Alkeides
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 Message 9 of 13
31 March 2008 at 7:46am | IP Logged 
Actually, Chinese has become MORE polysyllabic. Read any Classical Chinese text and see what I mean. There were more consonants (and consonant clusters) in Middle and Old Chinese and the characters were probably pronounced more differently, this allowed them to make more lexical distinctions with one syllable. Tones probably already developed by Middle Chinese.

I think a lot of changes in grammar can be traced back to sound shifts. The loss of nasalization in final -m in Latin, collapse of the diphtongs and loss of long vowels for one, led to the erosion of the inflexion system, and thence forced the Vulgar Latin dialects to develop more synctatical elements to express concepts, leading to the analytic Romance languages.
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Iversen
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 Message 10 of 13
31 March 2008 at 9:54am | IP Logged 
shapd wrote:
The overall history of Indo-European languages may be misleading, since they probably went through the affix building stage thousands of years ago and are now busily going in the opposite direction. Several reconstructions of Proto Indoeuropean suggest that the old noun endings were actually originally independent words. That is certainly how some of the endings of Romance verbs came about, from Latin auxiliary verbs such as habere.


The Nordic and French cases mentioned earlier in the thread were not thousands of years old, but something less than one thousand years old (up to say the year 1200 or something like that). So now the question is: is this process still going on, and if not then why not? My personal feeling is that we may have been blind to some developments because of the writing system, which has kept the idea of separate words alive in spite of the real workings of the language (this s certainly the case in French). But I can't see same speed in language development in the European languages after 1200 as in the preceding period. Only in the last couple of years the decay has gained speed again, maybe through the influence of slang and other informal kinds of speech in the mass media. This in turn may spurn a new generation of amalgamations which eventually may become morphological features. My guess for Danish is that the auxiliary verbs will coalesce with the negation, - "kunne ikke " (could not) is already pronounced as "queick", and the "ik'" is rapidly becoming a negative ending. In final position in a sentence it is already close to being an affirmationseeking adverb, just as "Omygod" has become an exclamative adverb in American English. Ok, I'm joking...

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Vlad
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 Message 11 of 13
01 August 2008 at 2:54am | IP Logged 
This thread has been a very nice read and it's a shame it died off so soon.

Unfortunately I can only enjoy what others have to say on this topic because my knowledge here is very limited. Makrasiroutioun seems to be a very knowledgeable person in these matters and I do not even try to comment on anything he had to say, but having completed the course of the History and evolution of the Chinese language, I'd have one small correction. It's not even a correction, just supplementary information:



Makrasiroutioun wrote:
Hmm... pretty much every single language I can think of used to be more synthetic in the past! All IE and Semitic languages have lost (some nearly all of it, some little, some have maintained almost everything) syntheticness... Think of Modern Hebrew and Aramaic versus their predecessors. Think of all Romance languages (all but Romanian completely lost nominal and adjectival declensions,) think of all Indo-Iranian languages (Farsi vs. Old Persian and Avestan and their related languages; Hindi vs. SANSKRIT!) Dutch went from moderately inflected about a millennium ago to nearly English-like in analyticness, same for most Scandinavian languages. Middle and especially Old Chinese used to be far more polysyllabic and lacked tones. Vietnamese also had necessary tonogenesis. Some Uralic languages have also been losing their agglutinative character. Classical Ainu used to be polysynthetic, but now it's been "reduced" to agglutination.


The nature of the Chinese language and especially it's script makes it very difficult for linguists to reconstruct Middle or Old Chinese. One respected sinologist, Mr. Pulleyblank said, that Early middle Chinese is as far as all meaningful reconstructions of the Chinese language can go.

All in all it was a very interesting course and if anyone is interested I can share, but to get back to my comment:

1. Middle Chinese was not polysyllabic and according to one of the approaches of Old Chinese reconstruction - The six vocals theory - Old Chinese wasn't that polysyllabic either. Although, this might be my lack of understanding of the 'polysyllabic nature' of Middle/Old Chinese as mentioned by Makrasiroutioun. To put it simply, if by polysyllabic nature you imply, that one character which in today's Chinese stands for one syllable and in Middle and Old Chinese might have been a polysyllabic word (Japanese comes to mind) then in Middle Chinese this is not the case and in Old Chinese according to some theories there might have been in some cases a 'pre-initial' which might have acted as a separate syllable, but according to these theories Old Chinese was mostly monosyllabic as well. Whether there were or weren't fixed syllable combinations, that were so often used together that they acted almost as a polysyllabic word, that I do not know.

2. Middle Chinese definitely had tones. The Old Chinese didn't have the 入声 tone and some theories say that if there was no 入声 then there was no 去声 as well and as a consequence some go as far as to say that Old Chinese had no tones at all. However, we are talking 2500 plus years back and since none of us have been there, no one will tell for sure.

Although the course was quite thorough, there is so much information that one could study this topic for years so of course I might be wrong. This is what I remember from the classes anyway.


Edited by Vlad on 01 August 2008 at 2:58am

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shapd
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 Message 12 of 13
07 August 2008 at 10:38am | IP Logged 
The problem with this discussion is that it can take thousands of years to change the typology of a language and very few have records for long enough. Dixon in his book "Ergativity" quotes one of the few examples known of a language going full circle - Egyptian! Apparently it started out with complex verb conjugation, then become more analytic in the middle period, and finally developed a whole new set of verb endings in Coptic.

However, there are many examples known where inflectional endings have clearly come from old pronouns etc. Most are not in the major written languages, so are not widely known except by specialists. Givon quotes some in his books on syntax. He claims that verb inflections usually come from either pronouns which are incorporated or serial verb complexes. A similar example is the long adjective endings in Lithuanian (and, a bit less obviously, Russian), which clearly come from incorporating personal pronouns.
Closer to home, the negative in spoken English has become a suffix (can't, aren't)
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Iversen
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 Message 13 of 13
07 August 2008 at 3:39pm | IP Logged 
shapd wrote:

.. there are many examples known where inflectional endings have clearly come from old pronouns etc. Most are not in the major written languages, so are not widely known except by specialists. Givon quotes some in his books on syntax. He claims that verb inflections usually come from either pronouns which are incorporated or serial verb complexes. ...


You don't have to delve into rare and exotic languages known only to specialists to find examples of pronouns evolving into endings and things like that. In all the Nordic languages we use a postclitic article that within historic time has evolved from a pronoun that is still used in isolation ("hinn"). The most conservative of these these languages (Icelandic) has even kept a trace of the origins in the fact that both the noun and the article are declined. The Romanian postclitic article has evolved in a similar fashion from the pronoun "ille", which is also the source of the semiindependent prepositioned articles of almost all the other Romance languages (apart from Sardinian, where the source seems to be "ipse"). Even "the" is clearly a descendant of some demonstrative pronoun, while the numeral 1 has involved into semiindependent indefinite articles in most of the European languages. The question can only be when such an article is a word in its own right and when it has become a prefix. In French the rule clearly is that all articles become prefixes unless there are phonetic hindrances - though this is obscured by the writing: in all respects a prefix in "l'homme", but in the spoken language also a prefix in "un homme" (note the pronunciation ön-OM, not ö OM), - even the feminine articles in "la femme" and "une femme" are clearly prefixes if you go by the pronunciation, though this is not shown in the writing. In fact it would be closer to the actual pronunciation to write "lafemme" and "un(e)femme" "yn fam", but I wouldn't bet my money on a change in the Holy French Ortography anytime soon.

In the conjugation of Romance verbs it is clear that the endings derived from forms of the verb 'habere', and in written European Portuguese the connection is still so loose that unstressed person pronouns can force themselves into the position between the root and the presumed ending: "dar-lhe-ia" I would give him/her. In the same way the passiv or reflexive verb - however this happened even earlier than Latin. And it happened in Greek too: the ending in 1.person singular normally is "-ομαι" and 'I am' is "είμαι". In the Nordic languages we have both a 'two-word' passive ("bliver slået", "is beaten" or literally "becomes beaten" in Danish) and a 'one-word- passive/reflexive on -s (-st in Icelandic). This is the last remnant of an unstressed reflexive pronoun (cfr. "han slog SIG".    

So the signs of "the big wheel turning" are still all around us.


Edited by Iversen on 07 August 2008 at 3:53pm



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