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Trolling for languages

Sej Mac skring at banet.net
Thu Jul 2 15:53:01 EST 1998


Tho't this from another ng might be appropriate to this thread:

But the test for a living
> >>language is surely: is it learnt and spoken by small children in the home?
> >

> >That's the general litmus test for survival, but it assumes there is only
> >one kind of "language life", namely being the primary language of a com-
> >munity, at least in certain quotidian domains.  Maybe we should distin-
> >guish between "living languages" (including revivals, like Modern Hebrew),
> >"dead languages" (like Hittite and Polabian), and "undead languages" (like
> >Latin and Biblical Hebrew).  The last category would include languages
> >that are preserved in certain domains, but can't be said to represent the
> >speech of daily life for any community.
>
> Somewhere between living and undead would be school languages, such as
> Swahili in Tanzania or Spanish in Paraguay, which are not generally
> learned in the home but at school.  (When do Papuans learn Tok Pisin?)

Sej Mac wrote:

> . . .   My only point
> was that these languages are far from dead.  We can scarcely utter a sentence today
> which does not have some Latin and Greek in it, even in common parlance, and
> bionet.neuroscience, the name, illustrates this, not to mention the subjectmatter!
> The more scientific the subjectmatter of a sentence, the more "living" the Latin or
> Greek.

Richard Kerr wrote:

> > The notion of a language being static is not supported by
> > many people (and IMHO laughable) as language is dynamic, just as its users
> > (ie: you and me) are similarly dynamic.
>

> True enuf, but this is an irrelevant copout (usually defensively raised by the
> linguists themselves); it would take a million posts and thrice the number of years
> to point out all that is *missing* from this simplism.
>
> But your point raises an interesting facet I never tho't of before:  Greek and Latin
> *are* "dead" languages insofar as they cannot change as drastically as those we call
> "English," "French," etc.  But they do change, even so---both in phonology and
> semantically---thanks to us idiots.  A great example from Greek is _phenomenon_
> which in modern parlance has come to encompass what the Greeks called _noumenon_,
> (e.g., "psychological phenomena") and which, curiously, has no singular and plural
> distinction; both one and many are (to hear everyone speak) "phenomena."  A parallel
> example from Latin is _medium_.  In its plural form, this word has come to be almost
> the proper name of modern information disseminators: newspapers, mags., radio, TV.
> One radio station or one magazine is, today, "a media."
>
> Ever wonder how language , er, "evolves"?
>
>






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