An Essay on the Origin and
Classification of Languages
Fernando M Q Pereira
Why to Classify Languages?
• How many different languages exist?
• How old are the languages?
• Is there a common ancestor of all the
languages?
• How do languages evolve?
Classification Systems
• Areal Classification
• Typological Classification
• Genetic Classification
Universal versus Specific
• Which properties are present in every
language?
• Which properties are specific of some
languages?
Typological Classification 1
• Isolating/root/analytic languages
• Agglutinating languages
– Lat. agglutinare `to glue together’
• Inflectional/fusion languages
Typological Classification 2
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SVO
SOV
VSO
VOS
OVS
OSV
Genetic Classification
• Most languages share common ancestors.
• Genetic markers: characteristics shared by
related languages that hardly would happen
by chance.
• Cognate words.
• Glottochronology
Stocks of Related Languages
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Niger-Congo
Austronesian,
Trans-New Guine,
Indo-European,
Sino-Tibetan
Afro-Asiatic
Nilo-Saharan
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•
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Oto-Manguean
Austro-Asiatic
Sepik-Ramu
Tai-kadai
Tupi
Dravidian
Mayan
Applications
• The age of languages
• Language reconstruction
Diversification of Languages
• Small, isolated populations.
• Social stratification.
• Contact between cultures.
– Pidgin,
– Creole.
Examples
• Russian <- East Slavic <- Slavic <- Indo-European
– Sister languages: Belarusian, Ukrainian, Rusyn
• Franch <- Oil <- Gallo-Rhaetian <- GalloRomance <- Italic Romance <- Indo-European
– Sister languages: Lombard, Piedmontese, Ligurian,
Franco-Provencal
• Mandarin <- Chinese <- Sino-Tibetan
– Sister languages: Wu, Xiang, Gan, Hakka, Cantonese,
Min.
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An Essay on the Origin and Classification of Languages