(L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

A forum for discussing linguistics or just languages in general.
User avatar
Dormouse559
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2628
Joined: 10 Nov 2012 20:52
Location: California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Dormouse559 »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
28 Apr 2020 18:44
There are a lot of instances of reduplication in English where the first element contains /ɪ/ and the second contains some other vowel (often /æ/ or /ɑ/), so-called "ablaut reduplication".
Pish posh! Stop with all this flim-flam and jibber-jabber! Vowels are such a wibbly-wobbly mishmash of knick-knacks and zigzags, you might as well hop into your jim-jams and go beddy-bye. (Ah! Broke the streak!)

Anyway, this has been something on my mind, too (I even have a list of examples in an unposted draft.) so I'd be interested in seeing an answer. [:)]

User avatar
All4Ɇn
mayan
mayan
Posts: 1570
Joined: 01 Mar 2014 07:19

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by All4Ɇn »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
28 Apr 2020 18:44
There are a lot of instances of reduplication in English where the first element contains /ɪ/ and the second contains some other vowel (often /æ/ or /ɑ/), so-called "ablaut reduplication".

For example: wishy-washy, mish-mash, bric-a-brac, pitter-patter, flip-flop, chit-chat, hip-hop, etc.

Is there any "explanation" for why the pattern is high vowel first/low vowel second?
Not only does this distinction involve high vowel/low vowel but also front-central-back. There are several terms in English where instead of it being 2 words with the pattern /ɪ~i æ~ɑ/, it's 3 words with the pattern /ɪ~i æ~ɑ u~ʌ~o/ such as tic-tac-toe or Big Bad Wolf (which even goes against the typical English rules for adjective order).

From what I've read about this, no one really knows exactly why it's like this for sure. It seems to me like it has something to do with high vowels being perceived as more distinct than low vowels and front vowels being perceived as more distinct than back vowels. To me the first one of these seems more important. In two syllable reduplication, the preference looks more like height preference as English speakers prefer the order /ʊ~u æ~ɑ/ over the inverse. But once we're dealing with 3 syllable reduplication, it seems to me like then frontness comes into play as well. In that case we see /æ ɑ/ placed in the middle as the low vowels are seen as less distinct than the high vowels, and we see /ɪ~i/ before /ʊ~u/ because the front vowels are perceived of as more distinct than the back vowels.

User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
greek
greek
Posts: 529
Joined: 15 Feb 2016 06:10
Location: Northern California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

Things like this, things that hint at language not being entirely arbitrary (like all those words referring to "shiny" things that start with /gl/, e.g. glow, gleam, glimmer, glisten, glitz, glamor, etc.) always interest me.

Steven Pinker's theory is that some basic words referring to more immediate things, e.g. "here", "this", "me", etc. contain front/high vowels as well and that this gives them primacy, hence why the front-high-vowel syllable occurs first.

User avatar
All4Ɇn
mayan
mayan
Posts: 1570
Joined: 01 Mar 2014 07:19

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by All4Ɇn »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
28 Apr 2020 19:39
Steven Pinker's theory is that some basic words referring to more immediate things, e.g. "here", "this", "me", etc. contain front/high vowels as well and that this gives them primacy, hence why the front-high-vowel syllable occurs first.
It's interesting that this largely lines up in German too and somewhat but not as much in Dutch. What's interesting how much this differs in other languages. A really obvious example being the Romance language terms for 1s and 2s
:ita: io & tu have the same front vowel/back vowel distinction as English and German
:esp: yo & tú both contain back vowels
:bra: eu & você both not only contain the same front vowel /e/ but considering that in Portuguese /o̯/ merged with /w/, also in a way share a back vowel
:fra: je & tu traditionally had the first one pronounced with a central vowel /ə/ while the second was pronounced with front vowel /y/. Nowadays the first one is often either also pronounced with a front vowel /ø/ or not pronounced with a vowel at all. Meanwhile stressed moi and toi have the same vowel sound.

And meanwhile in Japanese the distinction between here and there is distinguished not by their vowels but by their consonants: koko (here) vs. soko (there) where the consonant used for "here" is actually pronounced further back than the one for "there". And then there's asoko (over there) which just makes the paradigm even more confusing.

So yeah, lots of interesting stuff with all this phonetically

User avatar
LinguistCat
sinic
sinic
Posts: 203
Joined: 06 May 2017 07:48

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by LinguistCat »

All4Ɇn wrote:
28 Apr 2020 20:10
And meanwhile in Japanese the distinction between here and there is distinguished not by their vowels but by their consonants: koko (here) vs. soko (there) where the consonant used for "here" is actually pronounced further back than the one for "there". And then there's asoko (over there) which just makes the paradigm even more confusing.

So yeah, lots of interesting stuff with all this phonetically
In Old Japanese/before Classical Japanese proper ko- is thought to be speaker oriented, and so- non-speaker. Asoko and similar terms were a later innovation. So I think maybe k- = closer to the center = the speaker themself, s- = farther from the center = non-speaker, if we're seriously considering this.

Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1881
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

All4Ɇn wrote:
28 Apr 2020 19:33
KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
28 Apr 2020 18:44
There are a lot of instances of reduplication in English where the first element contains /ɪ/ and the second contains some other vowel (often /æ/ or /ɑ/), so-called "ablaut reduplication".

For example: wishy-washy, mish-mash, bric-a-brac, pitter-patter, flip-flop, chit-chat, hip-hop, etc.

Is there any "explanation" for why the pattern is high vowel first/low vowel second?
Not only does this distinction involve high vowel/low vowel but also front-central-back. There are several terms in English where instead of it being 2 words with the pattern /ɪ~i æ~ɑ/, it's 3 words with the pattern /ɪ~i æ~ɑ u~ʌ~o/ such as tic-tac-toe or Big Bad Wolf (which even goes against the typical English rules for adjective order).
I don't see the relevance of the second one - 'big bad wolf' is just some ordinary words in a story. If you pick any three words from a fairy time, eventually you'll get the pattern you want. ("Once upon a time" and "happily ever after" don't follow any obvious pattern!). And how does it go against the typical rules? Size adjectives typically precede other adjectives - hence the opening song of Reservoir Dogs has someone singing about a "little green bag", not a "green little bag". Cf little red riding hood. It's true that adjectives of estimation can come first ("nice little place you have here!"), but often not ("There's a small bad apple in the barrel", not *bad small apple). And 'big bad' has the same order as similar phrases like 'big horrible...', 'big scary...', 'big ugly...', etc Come to think of it, is it just 'little' that can violate this rule?
From what I've read about this, no one really knows exactly why it's like this for sure. It seems to me like it has something to do with high vowels being perceived as more distinct than low vowels and front vowels being perceived as more distinct than back vowels. To me the first one of these seems more important. In two syllable reduplication, the preference looks more like height preference as English speakers prefer the order /ʊ~u æ~ɑ/ over the inverse. But once we're dealing with 3 syllable reduplication, it seems to me like then frontness comes into play as well. In that case we see /æ ɑ/ placed in the middle as the low vowels are seen as less distinct than the high vowels, and we see /ɪ~i/ before /ʊ~u/ because the front vowels are perceived of as more distinct than the back vowels.


I would go for a much simpler explanation: rhythm. Consider the phrase "tick-tock". In reality, most clocks don't go 'tick-tock' - they go 'tick-tick' (or 'tock-tock' if you prefer). But we hear them instinctively as 'tick-tock'. [if you concentrate, you can 'make' a clock go 'tock-tick' instead, or 'tock-tick-tick, tock-tick-tick' like a waltz, for example]

This is because we instinctively create rhythmic structures out of sequences of sound; these structures instinctively begin with strong beats, and strong beats are associated with higher pitch. /i/ has a high pitch, so we instinctively associate it with strong beats (every child knows a siren goes 'neee-norrrr' or 'weee-wahhh', even though you've got a 50% chance of actually hearing norrr-neee or wahhh-weee instead...). We associated back vowels and nasals with weak beats - which is why everybody knows that beethoven's fifth symphony goes 'da-da-da-DUM'. (why not di-da-da-DUM? you do get that, but less often, because it suggests a stronger initial beat, whereas the tune actively tries to blur that beat over the first three notes).

Anyway, it's a bit more complicated than that, but:
- if we hear or invent two similar sounds in sequence, we instinctively make the first one a stronger beat and the second one a weaker beat
- if we vocalise sounds, we tend to associate the stronger beat with /i/
- English in particular tends to have a strong initial beat anyway, so i-a and i-o patterns are even more likely.


So when we make up a nonsense word of two syllables, one intentionally mirroring the other there's going to be a strong instinct to make the first syllable /i/ and the second syllable something else. Talking about a zogzigging mashmish would be as counterintuitive as talking about a clock's tocktick!

As for 'tic-tac-toe' and the like... well, when you have 'tick' and 'tock' (or here 'tack'), the third beat needs to be a different vowel. If you repeat 'tock', you're putting into triple time, which doesn't come naturally. And if you repeat 'tick', then you leave people waiting for the 'tock'. So you need something that sounds like the end, but is distinct from the off-beat. So you'll have lots of /o/ and /u/ and /Um/ and the like.

Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1881
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

Regarding proximity: it continually trips me up that Irish sin means 'there', while 'here' is seo. It should be the other way around, damn it!

User avatar
Aszev
admin
admin
Posts: 1375
Joined: 11 May 2010 05:46
Location: ꜱᴇ

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Aszev »

Swedish is full of such high/front-back/low pairs as well. Some off the top of my head:

ditt och datt 'this and that, odds and ends (with the back vowel first!)'
krimskrams 'rubbish, novelties, knick-knacks'
hipp som happ 'haphazardly, at random, willy-nilly'

User avatar
Ser
sinic
sinic
Posts: 242
Joined: 30 Jun 2012 06:13
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia / Colombie Britannique, Canada

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Ser »

Salmoneus wrote:
28 Apr 2020 21:33
Regarding proximity: it continually trips me up that Irish sin means 'there', while 'here' is seo. It should be the other way around, damn it!
/ʃɪnʲ/ and /ʃɔ/. Yeah, I can see that...

Mandarin would score pretty badly: 這 [ʈʂɤ:˥˨] 'this' (also the root of 'here'), 那 [na:˥˨] 'that' (id. for 'that'), 我 [wɔ˨˩] '1SG'.

Classical Chinese has a wealth of demonstratives, but the most unmarked ones are (with Middle Chinese pronunciations): 此 [tsʰje] 'this', 彼 [pje] 'that', 是 [dʑe] '(anaphoric); this'. And then there's 吾 [ŋu] and 我 [ŋɑ] for the 1SG pronoun.

Standard Arabic isn't exactly inspiring either: [ˈhʊnæ(:)] 'here', [hʊˈnæ:kæ] 'there', [ˈʔænæ] '1SG'.


Maybe Pinker was only talking about English and French (ici, là-bas). Even Spanish fails with aquí 'here' and ahí/allí 'there'.
Last edited by Ser on 29 Apr 2020 03:56, edited 3 times in total.
hīc sunt linguificēs. hēr bēoþ tungemakeras.

User avatar
Ser
sinic
sinic
Posts: 242
Joined: 30 Jun 2012 06:13
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia / Colombie Britannique, Canada

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Ser »

By the way, I was once told about a pattern in German where "k + n/l + mid rounded vowel" appears in word roots for small rounded things. It may possibly be true of all of West Germanic or even Germanic, but I wouldn't know. Middle English solidly qualifies with "knob/knot/knoll/knuckle/knee/clod/clot/cloud/clump" at least, the first few still with [kn] at the time... Apparently, "cleat" could also still mean clump, and "clue" a yarn ball. There is also "clay", which could count since soft balls seem to be the most obvious shape...

der Knauf (pl Knäufe) 'door knob'
der Knopf (pl Knöpfe) 'button'
der Kloß (pl Klöße) 'thick lump'
die Knolle (pl Knollen) 'tuber bulb (of garlic, potatoes, etc.)'
die Knospe (pl Knospen) 'bud (of a plant)'
das Knie [ˈkni:] (pl Knie [ˈkni:ə]) 'knee'
das Knäuel (identical pl) 'yarn ball'
der Knoten (identical pl) 'knot'
der Klumpen (identical pl) 'lump in one's skin/muscle'
der Knöchel (identical pl) 'ankle; knuckle'
pl die Klöten '(vulgar) balls, testicles'

Interestingly, the northern half of the German-speaking world seems to use der Kloß for 'dumpling of food', but the southern half use der Knödel (identical plural), from some high German dialect. At a stretch, maybe we could also include der Kuchen (identical plural) 'pie, cake' and die Quaddel (type plural Quaddeln) 'allergic rash, hives'.
hīc sunt linguificēs. hēr bēoþ tungemakeras.

User avatar
Vlürch
sinic
sinic
Posts: 299
Joined: 09 Mar 2016 21:19
Location: Finland
Contact:

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Vlürch »

Does anyone know what the etymology of :irn: لال (lâl, "red") is? Wiktionary doesn't list it and I couldn't find an Old Persian term that could be its etymon, but maybe I just suck. Proto-Turkic *āl is similar but lacks the initial consonant, so I'm not sure if it makes sense to even consider since there's probably a simpler explanation than partial reduplication from a Turkic loan...
All4Ɇn wrote:
28 Apr 2020 19:33
Big Bad Wolf (which even goes against the typical English rules for adjective order).
I thought it's because it's a bad wolf that's big, not a big wolf that's bad... Image But reading Sal's post about it, I question whether that's even something I thought or just something I now assumed must be what I thought until now. I mean, "a big wooden boat" or whatever does sound more sensical than "a wooden big boat" and... my head is confused now, over something I had never even consciously thought about AFAIK.🤔

User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2697
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by sangi39 »

Vlürch wrote:
02 May 2020 11:44
Does anyone know what the etymology of :irn: لال (lâl, "red") is? Wiktionary doesn't list it and I couldn't find an Old Persian term that could be its etymon, but maybe I just suck. Proto-Turkic *āl is similar but lacks the initial consonant, so I'm not sure if it makes sense to even consider since there's probably a simpler explanation than partial reduplication from a Turkic loan...
I honestly can't find anything either, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's down to not being able to read and understand Persian, and so far it doesn't look like anyone else, employing English online anyway, is certain on this.

The closest I've found so far is in the word Persian word lâle (tulip), which the Wikipedia article seems to suggest as coming from the word lâl (mute, speechless), apparently related to the shape of the flower as "closed lips". How true that is though, I have no idea.

The wiktionary article on the Albanian word lule (flower), however, gives suggests that it, and lâle, are from a "Balkan" word from some substrate language, ultimately from Ancient Egyptian (Middle) /ħaˈɾuːɾaʔ/ (which might be the origin of the word "lily" in English, through Latin, Greek, and Coptic). Then once it got into Persian, a derivative came to mean "red".

That's about the best I've managed, but I'm really not sure about any of it.
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.

User avatar
qwed117
mongolian
mongolian
Posts: 3746
Joined: 20 Nov 2014 02:27

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by qwed117 »

sangi39 wrote:
04 May 2020 19:15
Vlürch wrote:
02 May 2020 11:44
Does anyone know what the etymology of :irn: لال (lâl, "red") is? Wiktionary doesn't list it and I couldn't find an Old Persian term that could be its etymon, but maybe I just suck. Proto-Turkic *āl is similar but lacks the initial consonant, so I'm not sure if it makes sense to even consider since there's probably a simpler explanation than partial reduplication from a Turkic loan...
I honestly can't find anything either, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's down to not being able to read and understand Persian, and so far it doesn't look like anyone else, employing English online anyway, is certain on this.

The closest I've found so far is in the word Persian word lâle (tulip), which the Wikipedia article seems to suggest as coming from the word lâl (mute, speechless), apparently related to the shape of the flower as "closed lips". How true that is though, I have no idea.

The wiktionary article on the Albanian word lule (flower), however, gives suggests that it, and lâle, are from a "Balkan" word from some substrate language, ultimately from Ancient Egyptian (Middle) /ħaˈɾuːɾaʔ/ (which might be the origin of the word "lily" in English, through Latin, Greek, and Coptic). Then once it got into Persian, a derivative came to mean "red".

That's about the best I've managed, but I'm really not sure about any of it.
This wordreference thread appears to indicate that it came from an Middle Eastern wanderwort that came into Arabic and was borrowed into Persian
Spoiler:
My minicity is Zyphrazia and Novland
What is made of man will crumble away.

User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
greek
greek
Posts: 529
Joined: 15 Feb 2016 06:10
Location: Northern California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

Okay, fun question relating to English grammar: is "than" a conjunction or a preposition or both?

It seems weird to me to describe "than" as a preposition, but that seems to be the case in a sentence like "she is taller than me". Grammarians will just say this is wrong and it should be "she is taller than I" because there's an implied clause "I am" and thus it's still a conjunction. Should note that as a native speaker, I would never say "she is taller than I". It sounds pedantic and awkward. I would say "I am" or "me". If "me" is used, is "than" really being used as a preposition?

(Even "as" has this issue. In the phrase "as a preposition", isn't "as" being used as a preposition?)

User avatar
Dormouse559
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2628
Joined: 10 Nov 2012 20:52
Location: California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Dormouse559 »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
05 May 2020 17:40
Okay, fun question relating to English grammar: is "than" a conjunction or a preposition or both?
Both! Yaaay!!

Someone was just talking about this on another forum I belong to. "Than" started as a conjunction, but there was a tendency to drop the verb in the clause after "than" (He is taller than I [am]). Because of that, some reanalyzed it as a preposition; accordingly, the objective forms of pronouns started to be used, as is normal after prepositions (He is taller than me).

To me, all three possible constructions (He is taller than I am. / He is taller than I. / He is taller than me.) sound valid. I probably default to the third one. The first two feel more formal/useful for disambiguation. What part of speech "than" is for a given person probably depends on their personal language experience.

Khemehekis
mayan
mayan
Posts: 2276
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Khemehekis »

Compare:

My boyfriend likes anime better than I.

with:

My boyfriend likes anime better than me.
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 65,595 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!

User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
greek
greek
Posts: 529
Joined: 15 Feb 2016 06:10
Location: Northern California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

Thanks for explaining. I guess I hadn't thought about what the definition of "preposition" actually is, but looking at it, "than" and "as" fit when used in these ways. It was also a discussion on another site that inspired me to ask this, although prescriptivists saying that "than me" is always 100% wrong were involved too. >:(

Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1881
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

Dormouse559 wrote:
05 May 2020 20:41
KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
05 May 2020 17:40
Okay, fun question relating to English grammar: is "than" a conjunction or a preposition or both?
Both! Yaaay!!

Someone was just talking about this on another forum I belong to. "Than" started as a conjunction, but there was a tendency to drop the verb in the clause after "than" (He is taller than I [am]). Because of that, some reanalyzed it as a preposition; accordingly, the objective forms of pronouns started to be used, as is normal after prepositions (He is taller than me).
I'm a little skeptical of this idea.

"Than" actually started as an adverb, back in Old English. But I suspect it very quickly merged with "tha", which was used in comparisons exactly as "than" is now, and perhaps with "thone", the accusative form of 'the', which came to be used as a relative pronoun.


However, while I know I've read something on this, I must admit I can't remember what its conclusions were, so maybe if we had the historical data to hand it'd prove me wrong...

Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1881
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Salmoneus »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote:
06 May 2020 00:12
Thanks for explaining. I guess I hadn't thought about what the definition of "preposition" actually is, but looking at it, "than" and "as" fit when used in these ways. It was also a discussion on another site that inspired me to ask this, although prescriptivists saying that "than me" is always 100% wrong were involved too. >:(
To be clear, anyone who says that "than me" is always wrong is an idiot who doesn't understand their own rule. Sentences like "she likes him more than me", meaning "she likes him more than [she likes] me" have always been considered valid. Well, for a very long time, at least. And there's no principled reason to prohibit them.

User avatar
Dormouse559
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2628
Joined: 10 Nov 2012 20:52
Location: California

Re: (L&N) Q&A Thread - Quick questions go here

Post by Dormouse559 »

Salmoneus wrote:
06 May 2020 01:34
"Than" actually started as an adverb, back in Old English. But I suspect it very quickly merged with "tha", which was used in comparisons exactly as "than" is now, and perhaps with "thone", the accusative form of 'the', which came to be used as a relative pronoun.
I left this out, but as I understand it, "than" comes from Old English þonne, which is the etymon of both "than" and "then". "Þonne" had both adverb and conjunction meanings, and the two senses were eventually split off onto different variants.

Post Reply