Monday, December 22, 2008


Romansh is one of the four official languages of Switzerland along with German, French and Italian. A Romance language spoken by approximately 1% of the population, it is the least spoken and least known of Switzerland's official languages.

Romansh is spoken in the southeastern part of Switzerland. It has a number of dialects but was standardized by the Swiss linguist Heinrich Schmid. It is believed to be a remnant of Latin which was spoken by soldiers of the Roman empire in present-day Switzerland.

The vocabulary of Romansh has much in common with other Romance languages such as Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. This is clear upon examination of the numbers from one to ten. In the following list I have placed the Romansh numbers next to the Spanish ones for the purpose of comparison:

in uno
dus dos
trais tres
quatter cuatro
tschintg cinco
sis seis
set siete
otg ocho
nov nueve
diesch diez

The orthography of Romansch bears similarities to that of German. As a result, the "sch" and "tsch" correspond to the "sh" and "ch" of English. The "tg" is a voiceless post-alveolar affricate and is pronounced with a more retracted articulation than that of alveopalatals.

Romansch is a Romance language with a relatively small number of speakers. Nevertheless, it has survived, largely due to the efforts of the Swiss to preserve this part of their heritage.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Famous Chess Game with a Queen Sacrifice

Here is my commentary on a famous chess game between Richard Reti and Savielly Tartakower.

1. e4 c6

Tartakower chooses to play the Caro-Kann Defence.

2. d4 d5

3. Nc3 dxe

4. Nxe4 Nf6

5. Qd3 e5

6. dxe Qa5+

Rather than capture white’s queen, black aims to capture white’s e-pawn.

7. Bd2 Qxe5

8. 0-0-0 Nxd4

9.Qd8+ Kxd8

Reti sacrifices his queen. Black’s reply is forced because he has no other move.

10. Bg5++ Kc7

White’s double check may be the most famous in chess history.

11. Bd8#

White’s bishop mates black’s king.

Black thought he was winning because he was ahead in material. His downfall was his premature attack. His king was too exposed. If he had played Be7 on his eighth move, his king would have been safer. To his surprise, Nxd4 was a mistake. This game illustrates the importance of keeping the king safe prior to launching an attack.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Comparison of Tuscan and Standard Italian

The Tuscan dialect of Italian, spoken by about 3.5 million people, is considered the basis of Standard Italian. Florence is one of the cities in which it is spoken. Famous writers such as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in the literary version of Tuscan. However, Tuscan exhibits certain differences from the standard language. A number of these differences are phonological.

The soft c and g weaken in Tuscan. In other words, the affricates of standard Italian are pronounced as fricatives. This process is known as deaffrication. For example, in the phrase "la gente" (the people) the g of "gente" is pronounced with the voiced alveopalatal fricative of "genre" and not the voiced alveopalatal affricate of "gentle". This also occurs with the voiceless alveopalatal affricate in "la cena" (the dinner). The c of "cena" is pronounced with the voiceless alveopalatal fricative of "shoe".

The process of affrication also occurs. The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ is pronounced as an affricate /ts/ when it is preceded by an /r/, /l/ or /n/. For example, in "il sole" (the sun), "sole" is pronounced [tsole]. This also occurs word-internally. For example, "falso" (false) is pronounced [faltso].

Many words which have the diphthong "uo" in standard Italian are pronounced with the monophthong "o". For example, "buono" (good) and "nuovo" (new) are pronounced "bono" and "novo".

Perhaps the most famous feature of Tuscan is the weakening of intervocalic voiceless plosives. The voiceless velar plosive becomes a voiceless glottal fricative, the voiceless dental or alveolar plosive becomes a voiceless interdental fricative and the voiceless bilabial plosive becomes a voiceless bilabial fricative. This is often called the Tuscan gorgia which means the Tuscan throat.

The word "giuoco" (game) is pronouced with a glottal fricative before the final syllable. This change of a plosive into a fricative between two vowels is an example of weakening or lenition and can also be called spirantization. However, this change can also occur word initially if the preceding word ends in a vowel. For example, "la casa" (the house) is pronounced [la haza]. The voiceless alveolar fricative voices intervocalically.

Further examples of this weakening occur in "lupo" (wolf) and "muto" (mute). In "lupo" the "p" is pronounced as a voiceless bilabial fricative (this fricative also occurs in Japanese) and in "muto" the "t" is pronounced as a voiceless interdental fricative as in "thin".

The Tuscan dialect is a well-known dialect of Italian which formed the basis of the standard language. Nevertheless, a number of phonological differences differentiate it from Standard Italian. One of these is the process in which voiceless plosives weaken, a phenomenon often referred to as the Italian gorgia or Italian throat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A short chess game between Sri Lanka and Andorra

The following game was played between Sunil Weeramantry of Sri Lanka and a master from Andorra. The Andorran master's mistakes resulted in a quick victory for his Sri Lankan opponent. Sri Lanka was white and Andorra was black. Here I will provide my analysis of this fascinating game.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 Nf6

Black chooses to play the Pirc Defence. With this move order, it is expected that he will advance his king knight pawn and fianchetto his king bishop.

3. Nc3 g6
4. Bc4 Bg7

Black's third and fourth moves are as expected.

5. Qe2 0-0

White's fifth move is unusual. It is an aggressive move which signals that he intends to push his king pawn. Black's decision to castle here is a mistake. He should play Nc6 to fight for control of the centre. The decision to castle is premature. He should bring out his queen knight prior to castling.

6. e5 Nd7

White continues with the advance of the king pawn. Black retreats his knight but Nd7 blocks the light-squared bishop. He should move his knight to Ne8.

7. e6 fxe

8. Bxe6+ Kh8

9. h4 Nc6

White prepares to rip open the h-file. Black's move does nothing to prevent the opening of the h-file. Here he should play Nf6.

10. h5 Nxd4

White continues to advance on the h-file and black takes a pawn.

11. hxg Nf6

White ignores black's attack on his queen. He can do so because black's pawn is pinned and he threatens mate on the next move. Black finally defends with his king knight but it is too late.

12. Rxh7 Nxh7

Despite the presence of black's knight, white captures black's pawn and puts him in check. Black has to capture white's rook with his knight.

13. Qh5

White puts his queen on the h-file so that he can checkmate on his next move. Unable to stop the mate, black resigns.

The Andorran master commits a number of mistakes. He castles prematurely, thereby encouraging white to continue the advance of his king pawn. He retreats his knight to a square where it blocks his light-squared bishop and he attempts to generate counterplay with his queen knight instead of using his king knight to prevent the opening of the h-file. This game illustrates that premature castling can be fatal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Julius Caesar

Mark Antony, a good friend of Julius Caesar, speaks at his funeral. Brutus allows him to do so, disregarding the advice of Cassius. He knows that if he speaks directly against Cassius and Brutus, he will put his life in danger. Here are a few lines from his famous speech:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
(Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest –
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men )–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.

Mark Antony asks the crowd to listen to him when he uses the phrase "lend me your ears". He says that the evil men do lives after them. This appears to suggest that Caesar was evil but the key word in the speech is "men". In fact, Mark Antony communicates that the men who live, Brutus and Cassius are the evil ones, not Julius Caesar.

The sentence "The good is oft interred with their bones" does not mean that whatever good was in Caesar has been buried. Rather, it means that the good man is now dead. This serves to praise Caesar despite the words "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

The use of the word "noble" to describe Brutus is also ironic. Mark Antony does not directly state that Julius Caesar was ambitious. Rather, he reminds the crowd that it was Brutus who made the claim. He also tells the crowd that if Caesar was ambitious, it was a serious fault and he paid for it with his life. The use of "if" indicates that Mark Antony does not agree with Brutus.

The use of the sentence "For Brutus is an honorable man" is also ironic. The phrase "all honorable men" serves to include all who conspired against Julius Caesar, notably Cassius as well as Brutus.

Mark Antony praises Julius Caesar more when he reminds the crowd that Julius Caesar was his friend, faithful and just. He later repeats that Brutus is an honorable man. He uses irony and repetition to turn the crowd against Brutus.

Mark Antony's oratory is ironic, powerful and indirect. Though he tells the crowd that Brutus and Cassius have given him permission to speak, he makes it clear that he does not share their opinion of Julius Caesar. His words tell the crowd that he does not support the assassination and help to turn public opinion against Brutus and Cassius, ultimately leading to their downfall.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hummingbird Poem

This is one of the first poems I ever wrote. It's one of my favourites.

Flight Of A Hummingbird

Who can describe the emotions of flight
Granted to a tiny hummingbird,
Not able to utter a single word
Upward ascending to splendid height?

The hummingbird vanishes out of sight,
Swift in motion and firmly undeterred,
A leader in any airborne herd
Despite the perils of external might.

With the power of wondrous wings unfurled
The hummingbird can so easily blend
The sky and the wind of our vibrant world.

Within flight exists no limit nor end.
All boundaries are rapidly hurdled
And treasured experiences soon descend.

The first two stanzas of my poem consist of four verses. The final two have only three verses. The poem is written in the form of a sonnet. It has fourteen verses with ten syllables in each. The rhyme scheme is a, b, b, a, a, b, b. a, c, d, c, d, c, d. It is identical in the first two stanzas. This is the first sonnet I ever wrote.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Passive and Active Neutralization

Phonology distinguishes between two types of neutralization: passive and active. Neutralization is a phonological process whereby a phonetic contrast is eliminated. For example, English has a high front unrounded tense vowel in "mate" and a high front unrounded lax vowel in "met". However, in word-final position, this contrast in eliminated because only the high front unrounded tense vowel occurs. This is exemplified in the words "say" and "obey".

Many languages have a voiceless and a voiced alveolar plosive. In English the words "two" and "do" are distinguished by voiceless and voiced varieties of this alveolar plosive. After a word-initial voiceless alveolar fricative, though, only the voiceless alveolar plosive occurs. This can be seen in the words "stay" and "stone". Here the distinction between the voiced and voiceless alveolar plosives is neutralized. This neutralization is passive because it is natural that only a voiceless alveolar plosive should occur after a voiceless alveolar fricative. This can be explained as the result of a voicing assimilation.

In German, the voiceless and voiced alveolar plosives also occur but in word-final position the contrast is neutralized. This can be seen in the words "Rad" (advice) and "Rat" (wheel). In both cases, the final consonant is voiceless. Note that though "Rad" is spelt with a "d" it is pronounced as a voiceless plosive. This type of neutralization is classified as active neutralization because it is phonetically plausible to maintain a contrast and many languages do so such as English. For example, English has the contrast in the word pair "rode" and "wrote". If a language neutralizes a contrast in an environment in which the neutralization is not phonetically conditioned, this is called active neutralization.

Neutralization is a common phonological process in which a phonetic contrast is eliminated. Two types of neutralization, active and passive, are common in the languages of the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Different Neanings of the Word "or"

The word "or" has a number of different meanings. This may be surprising but in fact, this conjunction is rather complex. A number of examples can be used to illustrate.

Consider the question "Do you want rice or pasta?" One meaning is that of the alternative type question. The listener is given two choices, either rice or pasta. With the alternative type question, the noun before "or" has rising intonation and the noun following "or" has falling intonation. With this type of question comes an assumption. The assumption is that the listener wants one of the two choices. However, this assumption may be incorrect. It could be that the listener wants a different choice or that the listener does not want anything. In any case, the alternative type question offers the listener two or more alternatives.

In certain cases, though, the question "Do you want rice or pasta?" may be what is called a yes-no question. Perhaps the speaker is not sure what the cafeteria is serving that day and merely wishes to ask the listener whether he/she would like whichever dish is available. With the yes-no question, the noun preceding "or" and the noun following both have falling intonation. In reality, though, the alternative type question is far more common than the yes-no.

If a parent says to his/her child, "Finish your vegetables or you won't get dessert", no alternative is offered. The parent is not asking the child to choose between two scenarios. Rather, the parent explains that if a condition is not satisfied, finishing the vegetables on the child's plate, the result will be no dessert for the child. It is in fact a warning. The child knows the outcome of not finishing his/her vegetables.

In the sentence "I don't like fishing or hunting", the speaker expresses his/her dislike of both activities. This is the equivalent of saying "I don't like fishing and I don't like hunting." The conjunction "and" would only be used here if it referred to a singular activity or unit, i.e., "I don't like fish and chips."

The conjunction "or"can also be used to signify an equivalent meaning. This is illustrated by the following: "The word "glad" means happy or joyful. In this case, two words are given as equivalents of the word "glad".

Sometimes "or" represents an approximation. In the sentence "It takes five or six days", the speaker gives an approximate number. It is possible that the activity takes more than five days and less than six. In other words, it may take any length of time between five and six such as five and a half.

The meanings of the conjunction "or" vary from one sentence to another. Though many people probably associate this conjunction with the alternative type meaning, it actually has a wide range of meanings. Among these are equivalent meanings, approximations and consequences of a condition which is not fulfilled.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs and Conjunctions

Depending on their context, certain words can belong to more than one part of speech. It is necessary to determine the function of these words to classify them properly.

The word "at" is classified as a preposition. However, in the phrasal verb "look at", it is best classified as a part of the verb or verb particle. The functions of "at" in the prepositional phrase "at three o'clock" and in the phrasal verb "Look at my new shoes" are clearly different.

In the case of "after", it can be classified as a preposition, conjunction and adverb. Consider the following examples:

1) It started to rain after I had arrived.
2) You can go after me.
3) You can go after.

In the first sentence, "after" is a conjunction. The dependent clause "after I had arrived" is connected to the independent clause "It started to rain". The dependent clause modifies the verb "rain" and provides more information about the time that it started to rain.

In the second example, "after" is a preposition. It expresses the relationship between the two pronouns in the sentence. The pronoun "me" is an object of the preposition.

In the third sentence, "after" is an adverb. The meaning is similar to that of "later". It modifies the verb "go".

The linguist Dr. Geoffrey Pullum has suggested that the word "after" in both the second and third examples be analyzed as a preposition. He explains that the second example can be analyzed as a transitive preposition and the third one as an intransitive.

This parallels with verbs which can be transitive and intransitive. For example, the verb "walk" is transitive in "I walk my dog every day" but intransitive in "I walk every day". If one adopts the idea of transitive and intransitive prepositions, the word "after" can only be a preposition or a conjunction.

However, many grammarians believe that only verbs should be analyzed as transitive and intransitive. They argue that prepositions always take objects and therefore cannot be considered intransitive.

The idea of transitive and intransitive prepositions is unlikely to be adopted by traditional grammarians. However, it illustrates that the analysis of parts of speech and also grammar can vary from one individual to another. In any case, it is clear that words such as "after" which can be classified into three different parts of speech in traditional grammar nevertheless share much in common.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Legal's Mate

Legal's mate is named after the French chess player Sire de Legal. The mate is from a famous game in which white sacrifices his queen. If black accepts the sacrifice, white quickly mates. The following is my analysis of this short and famous game.

1. e4 e5

White and black both fight for control of the centre by bringing out their king pawns.

2. Bc4 d6

White uses the Bishop's Opening. Most players prefer to bring the knight out before the bishop by playing Nf3. Black chooses to protect the king pawn with the queen pawn.

3. Nf3 Bg4

White develops the king knight and black chooses to pin it with his bishop. The knight is pinned because if white moves it, black can capture white's queen.

4. Nc3 g6

White develops the queen knight. Black makes a bad move with g6. The idea is to move the king bishop to g7 and control the diagonal but there is no time for this. Black should develop his queen knight by playing Nc6 and fighting for control of the centre.

5. Nxe5 Bxd1

White initiates a queen sacrifice. Black's decision to accept the sacrifice and take the queen is a mistake. He should play d6xe5 which will only leave him down one pawn.

6. Bxf7+ Ke7

White puts the black king in check. The black king is forced to move.

7. Nd5#

White's knight mates the black king. Amazingly, the black king has no escape. White has no queen but it does not matter. He has won the game.

This game illustrates that it is possible to win without the queen. Although she is an important piece, in certain situations she can be sacrificed for victory as in this well-known game.

Friday, October 17, 2008

English Morphology

Many English words can be broken into different morphemes, units of meaning. These morphemes can be either free or bound. In the word "cats", we have two morphemes. The first is the free morpheme "cat" and the second is the bound morpheme -s. A free morpheme can occur in isolation and a bound morpheme cannot. The bound morpheme -s cannot occur in isolation but speakers know that it conveys the meaning of plurality.

The word "disappointment" can be broken into three morphemes: dis + appoint + ment. It is also possible to construct a word tree to show how the three morphemes combine with one another. By comparing other words with the prefix dis- and the suffix -ment, we can determine the order in which they combine. The prefix dis-occurs in verbs such as dislike, disregard and distrust and attaches to verbs. The suffix -ment occurs in nouns such as government, improvement and development. It also attaches to verbs.

The word "disappointment" can combine in one of two possible ways. The solution is either disappoint + ment or dis + appointment. The first possibility combines a verb with the suffix -ment. This is the pattern in words such as improvement and development. The second solution combines the prefix dis- with nouns. However, this is not correct. The prefix dis- does not attach to nouns but rather to verbs such as "dislike" and "distrust". As a result, we reject this solution and choose the former. The rule is that the prefix dis- attaches to verbs and the suffix -ment also attaches to verbs. Therefore, the verb disappoint attaches to the suffix -ment. We can illustrate this as follows:

dis (Af) + appoint (V) V + -ment (Af) = disappointment (N).

The symbol Af stands for affix. This is a convenient term which can refer to either a prefix or a suffix.

With nouns such as "worker", "farmer" and "painter", it is clear that they consist of two morphemes, a noun and an agentive suffix -er. This suffix creates nouns known as agents which are introduced by the preposition "by" in passive sentences.

Less clear, however, is the classification of the root. Is it a noun or a verb? The words "work", "farm" and "paint" function as both nouns and verbs.

Evidence in support of the answer can be found in other words. The nouns "singer", "seller", "buyer" and "teacher" consist of roots which are verbs rather than nouns. Therefore, we can analyze the roots of words with the agentive suffix -er as verbs.

In the study of English morphology, the order in which morphemes combine with one another is not always immediately obvious. By comparing words with the same morphemes, though, it becomes possible to determine the order of morphemic combinations. In other cases, the classification of a root is not immediately clear. However, this can be determined by locating other words which belong to only one grammatical category. English morphology is really a very fascinating study of word formation in English.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Classification of Four Parts of Speech

Four parts of speech can be classified with a binary system which uses the symbols N and V. They stand for noun and verb. These four parts of speech are nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions.

Pronouns are similar to nouns in the sense that they replace them and can be classified with nouns as substantives. Adverbs are closely associated with verbs because they modify them. Conjunctions and interjections are not as great in number as other parts of speech but have very useful functions. Conjunctions serve to combine clauses and interjections to express a wide range of emotions.

Since every sentence must consist of a noun and a verb, it is logical to use the symbols N and V to represent nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. In the imperative "Sleep!", no noun is present, but the pronoun "you", a substantive, is understood.

Nouns can be classified as +N, -V. Therefore, verbs can be classified as -N, +V.

In this system, the classification of nouns and verbs is clear. Nouns and verbs share opposite features. However, the classification of adjectives and prepositions is less clear.

Adjectives can be similar to nouns. For example, the sentences "I'm a Canadian" and "I'm Canadian" are similar. In the first sentence, the complement "Canadian" is a noun and in the second it is an adjective. This provides evidence that adjectives are similar to nouns.

Adjectives can also be similar to verbs. In Japanese, the adjective for cold is "samui". However, it was cold is "samukatta" in which a past tense verb ending is suffixed to the adjective. This same verb ending can be seen in the sentence "Wakatta" which means I understood. The pronoun does not need to be expressed but if emphasis is needed, one can say "Watashi wa wakatta". The particle "wa" is a subject marker. This example illustrates that adjectives can also behave like verbs. For this reason, adjectives are considered to have properties of both nouns and verbs.

Since adjectives can behave as both nouns and verbs, they are classified as +N, +V. This leaves prepositions, parts of speech which express the relationship between two nouns. For example, the sentence "The car is on the road" expresses the relationship between the nouns "car" and "road". Prepositions are functional parts of speech unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives which have lexical meaning. They are so different from nouns and verbs that they are classified as -N, -V.

The binary system with the symbols N and V can be used to classify four parts of speech. This system highlights the importance of nouns and verbs, the properties which adjectives share with them, and the very different nature of prepositions from nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Afrikaans "r"

It has recently come to my attention that the "r" in Afrikaans is not pronounced by all speakers as an alveolar trill. In fact, it has many variants. Some pronounce it as a dorsal, a uvular or velar fricative while others pronounce it as an approximant. The latter is similar to the "r" used in English. Thus, the "r" in Afrikaans has many variants just as the "r" in Dutch.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Extension and Intension

Semantics teaches that we can differentiate between the extension and the intension of a term. The extension is also known as the denotation and the intension is known as the connotation.

The current Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Harper. Since Canada became a nation in 1867, it has had a number of prime ministers starting with John A. MacDonald. The prime minister is the leader of the government of Canada, the person whose party has the most seats in the House of Commons. This is known as the intension of "prime minister". It can also be called the denotation.

However, when people speak about the prime minister, it is likely that they speak about a specific individual. If they speak about the current prime minister, they speak about Stephen Harper. This is known as the extension of "prime minister". This can also be called the connotation.

This distinction between extension and intension can be applied to many situations. For example, "fastest land animal in the world", "president of Mexico", "capital of Brazil", "Olympic city" and "King of France" have different intensions and extensions.

The fastest land animal in the world is the animal which can run faster than any other. This is the intension of "fastest land animal". The extension is the cheetah.

The president of Mexico is the person who is the head of the Mexican government. This is the intension. The extension is the current Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

The capital of Brazil is the city which is the seat of the Brazilian government. At one time, this was Rio de Janeiro. However, the current capital of Brazil is Brasilia. This is an example which illustrates that the extension of a term can change for not only people but also cities.

The term "Olympic city" refers to a city which hosts either the Summer or Winter Games. Many cities have been Olympic cities. The last city to host the Summer Games was Beijing and the last city to hold the Winter Games was Turin. To know the extension of Olympic City, it is necessary to specify the Olympic year.

The King of France is the French head of state. However, France no longer has a king because the French monarchy ended with the French Revolution of 1789.

Thus, this term can refer to past kings of France such as Louis XIV but cannot refer to any present king because France no longer has any. If referring to the present, we must say that the extension is null because at present France has a present as head of state and not a king.

It is useful to differentiate between the extension and intension of a term. When people speak, they may refer to either the extension or the intension. In some cases, they may even refer to both.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Comparison of Numbers in Dutch and Afrikaans

Afrikaans is a language which is descended from the Boers, the Dutch settlers of the south of Africa. Though similar to Dutch, it is sufficiently different to be classified as a separate language. The similarity between the two languages can be seen in the numbers from one to ten. Here they are:

Dutch Afrikaans

een een
twee twee
drie drie
vier vier
vijf vyf
zes ses
zeven sewe
acht agt
negen nege
tien tien

The words for "one", "two", "three", "four" and "ten" are identical. The others are very similar and show differences in the spelling systems of both languages.

The Dutch diphthong "ij" as "ijs" (ice) corresponds to the Afrikaans "y". The Afrikaans language does not have a "z", thus the word for "six" starts with an "s".

The lack of a "z" in Afrikaans is natural. If a language lacks a consonant, it if far more likely to lack a voiced one instead of a voiceless one. The reason is that voiced consonants require greater articulatory effort. As a result, they are more marked.

The Afrikaans word for "seven" does not have a word-final nasal. However, many Dutch speakers do not pronounce the nasal, either. In fact, word-final "n" is often not pronounced in Dutch.

The word for "eight" varies but the "g" and the "ch" have the same sound in Dutch and Afrikaans. This word is pronounced with the final sound in the name "Bach".

The word for "nine" is almost identical, but Afrikaans does not have a word-final "n". Many Dutch, however, also pronounce this word without a final nasal.

The pronunciation of Dutch and Afrikaans is also a little different. The word "een" has a diphthong in the pronunciation of many Dutch speakers. In Afrikaans speakers, this vowel is a monophthong.

The word "twee" is pronounced with a labiovelar glide in Afrikaans and tends to have a word-final schwa after the monophthong. In Belgium, the labiovelar glide is also common, but in Dutch speakers the labiodental approximant is common. Also, many Dutch speakers use a diphthong.

In Afrikaans, "drie" is always pronounced with an alveolar trill. In Dutch, however, the "r" has many varieties such as the uvular trill.

The word for "five" has a more cardinal diphthong in Afrikaans than in Dutch. In Dutch, the first component of the diphthong is lower and more fronted than in Afrikaans.

The word "sewe" has palatalization. A palatal glide is produced before the first vowel. This is not the case in Dutch. However, the "w" here is not a labiovelar glide but rather a labiodental approximant.

The word "nege" also has palatalization. As in the word "sewe", a palatal glide is produced before the first vowel.

The Dutch and Afrikaans languages are similar but clearly they also have a number of differences. One is that the Afrikaans language lacks a voiced alveolar fricative as in the Dutch word "zes". By looking at the numbers from one to ten, one can see important differences between the two languages.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Analysis of the French Word for "white"

The word "white" has four forms in French. They are "blanc", "blanche", "blancs" and "blanches". Here are four phrases to illustrate these four forms:

une maison blanche (a white house)
les maisons blanches (the white houses)
un livre blanc (a white book)
les livres blancs (the white books)

With feminine nouns, the forms "blanche" and "blanches" are used while with masculine nouns the forms "blanc" and "blancs" are used. This is different from English which has the invariable word "white". In English, adjectives are not marked for gender nor number.

In many cases, the French feminine and masculines forms of an adjective are pronounced the same as in "bleu" and "bleue" (blue). In other cases, the final letter of the masculine form is silent while with the feminine the letter "e" is added and the consonant is then pronounced. (The final "e" can be pronounced as a schwa but is often silent). This is illustrated with "vert" and verte" (green).

With "blanc" and "blanche", however, rather than a feminine form in which the final sound is a velar plosive, the final sound is an alveopalatal fricative. How can we explain this?

It is possible that at one time the word "blanche" was pronounced similarly to the English word "blank". It is also likely the case that the word final "e" was pronounced. Since this "e" is a front vowel, it is plausible that the velar stop developed an advanced articulation. Also possible is that the hard "c" sound became the soft "c" sound in words such as "centre" and "cigar". If the pronunciation of the word "blanche" was once "blanke" which developed to "blanse", a phonological explanation can account for the change to "blanche". The "e" is a mid front vowel which can trigger palatalization. The high front vowel "i" is another which can trigger this palatalization process. It would be less likely to occur with a back vowel such as "u". In fact, European linguists often refer to front vowels as palatal and back vowels as velar.

A very literary account for the different pronunciations of "blanc" and "blanche" was given to me by a professor who taught me phonology as an undergraduate student. His explanation was so original and imaginative that I remember it to this day.

He suggested that we think of a planet in the sky. We know that the planet exists but on cloudy days we cannot see it. This relates to the form "blanc". We can see the word-final "c" but we do not pronounce it. Its silence is similar to the concept of an invisible planet. With the word "blanche", however, the sky is clear and the planet is fully visible. As a result, the word-final "c" of the word "blanche" is pronounced. It is initially pronounced as a velar plosive but becomes an alveopalatal fricative because the word-final vowel triggers palatalization. The pronunciation of the vowel relates to the concept of a visible planet.

This explanation may not exist in any textbook and may fail to impress many linguists, but I find it very descriptive and satisfying. It underlines that linguistics does not need to be a science which excludes art. On the other hand, it can be beautiful and creative. This is the reason I view linguistics as a combination of both science and art and not merely one to the exclusion of the other.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

English Plural Marker

What is the underlying form of the English plural marker? The plural 's' has three variants: the /s/ in 'cats', the /z/ in 'dogs' and 'pies' and the /Iz/ in 'boxes'. These variants occur in specific environments. The /s/ occurs after voiceless consonants, the /z/ after voiced consonants and vowels, and the /Iz/ variant after consonants and affricates which have greater acoustic noise and turbulence than other consonants. If we take the case of the words 'judges', 'matches', 'wishes' and 'races', we have examples of affricates in the first two words and strident fricatives in the last two.

Many textbooks of linguistics argue that the underlying form of the plural marker in English is /z/. They make this claim on the basis of wider distribution. The voiced alveolar fricative is present not only in /z/ but also in /Iz/. However, is this really correct? First of all, it is debatable as to whether or not we should even claim that there is an underlying form. Do we want to say that at one time in the historical development of English there was only one form and from that form other forms developed? A counterclaim is that each form is contextually dependent and as a result the notion of wider distribution is invalid.

However, if we must choose an underlying form, we can also present many arguments in favour of the allomorph /s/. The first is that in forms such as 'snows' and 'plays', it is true that either a voiceless or voiced alveolar fricative can occur. We have words such as place' and 'race' to prove this. Nevertheless, because the word-final vowel is voiced, we can argue that a voiced fricative could be the result of assimilation. Perhaps the underlying form was once voiceless and later became voiced as the result of an assimilation process.

Other arguments in favour of /s/ as underlying are orthography. If the plural marker had originally been pronounced as a voiced fricative, would this not be reflected in the orthography? Markedness theory also favours /s/. It is well-known that voiceless fricatives are less marked than marked ones and that in word-final position many languages only have voiceless fricatives such as German and Dutch. English, though, is a Germanic language with many voiced fricatives in word-final position as in 'knives', 'boys' and 'dogs'.

Other languages such as Spanish and German have a voiceless fricative in the plural: i.e., Spanish has 'gatos' (cats) and German has Autos (cars). This also provides evidence to suggest that the underlying plura marker could be /s/.

A problem for the claim that the underlying marker is /s/, though, is forms such as 'knives' and 'lives'. The Swedish, Norwegian and Danish words 'kniv' and 'liv' indicate that 'knive' and 'live' may be underlying forms in which the word-final consonant devoiced. If this is the case, /z/ appears to be underlying. But it is also possible that 'lives' and 'knives' are the result of a progressive voicing assimilation, (live + s > live + z; knife + s > knife + z), and the devoicing that resulted in 'life' and 'knife' occurred at a different stage in the development of the English language. This goes against the claim of the Neogrammarians that sound change is always regular, but unfortunately, despite the wishes of many linguists, it does not appear that language is always so simple.

Many linguists claim that the underlying plural allomorph in English is /z/. However, it is also possible to claim that all the allomorphs are contextually dependent and thus occurred simultaneously in their own specific environments. If an underlying form must be chosen, it is also possible to claim that this underlying allomorph should be /s/ and not /z/.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A comparison of the vocabulary of English and Swedish

English and Swedish are related languages. They are both classified as members of the Germanic language family. The similarity between them is reflected in many words: for example, the Swedish words "hus", "nu", "liv", "vi", "oss", "tre", "se", "nummer", "mus" and "fisk" mean "house", "now", "life", "we", "us", "three", "see", "number", "mouse" and "fish".

In certain cases, Swedish words do not appear so similar to English ones but a semantic relationship clearly exists. As a result of this semantic relationship, the connection between the two words can be clearly seen.

For example, the Swedish word "kvinna" means woman. The two words may not appear similar but the word "kvinna" is very similar to the English word "queen" and one of the semantic properties of the word "queen" is +female.

The Swedish "bord" means table. It is very similar to the English word "board". The Swedish word for "chair" is stol which is similar to the English word "stool".

The word "mo:rk" means dark. It is very similar to the English word "murky" as in murky water. Murky water is difficult to see through because it is dark. Again the semantic relationship is clear.

The Swedish word "dyr" means expensive. It is related to the English word "dear" which can mean valued and treasured. Though it is now considered rather archaic, the word "dear" can also be used to mean expensive as in "a dear necklace".

The Swedish word for Christmas is "jul". It is related to the English word "yule" and is in fact pronounced similarly because the Swedish "j" corresponds to the English "y".

The Swedish word "kuvert" may appear unrelated to the word "envelope" but if one thinks of the word "cover", that is exactly what an envelope does. It covers the letter that goes inside it.

Another example is the Swedish word "gul". It means yellow and may appear unrelated. However, the English word "gold" is similar. When the words "gul" and "gold" are compared, the similarity between these two words is evident.

The English and Swedish languages have a number of words which are related to one another. A number of words may appear unrelated to one another upon first glance. However, when viewed from a semantic perspective, the similarity in meaning often becomes evident.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Favourite Finnish Words

The Finnish language is a beautiful language which is very different from most European languages. When I lived in Finland from 2003-2004, I had the opportunity to study this fascinating language. Though it is classified in the same language family as Hungarian (Uralic language family), the similarities between them are not as great as one might expect.

I decided to make a list of my ten favourite Finnish words. These are words that I consider among the most beautiful in the language. Because my knowledge of Finnish is rather limited, though, this list is far from perfect. Nevertheless, here it is. I provide the English translation next to the Finnish word.

1) vesi (water)

2) sininen (blue)

3) taivas (sky)

4) lumi (snow)

5) valkoinen (white)

6) lintu (bird)

7) aurinko (sun)

8) maailma (world)

9) kiitos (thank you)

10) rakkaus (love)

The word "maailma" consists of the word maa (land) and the word ilma (air). The combination of the two words creates the word "world". Though Finnish is a very challenging language to learn, I'm very grateful that I had the chance to study this beautiful language in the city of Jyva:skyla:, Finland. I use the colon after the "a" to represent the "a" with an umlaut over it. This vowel is pronounced similarly to the English vowel of "hat".

Monday, July 14, 2008

Adjectives Formed From Proper Names

A number of people have become so famous that their last names have adjectival forms. However, the suffix used to transform proper names into adjectives is irregular in English. A number of suffixes can be used.

The great Armenian chessplayer Tigran Petrosian, a former world champion who was a master of prophylaxis, the art of preventing threats, and who was quick to take advantage of his opponents' mistakes, has given us the word "Petrosianesque" as in "That was a Petrosianesque manoeuvre". Other former world champions of chess whose names have adjectival forms are Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov- the adjectives are "Karpovian" and "Kasparovian". The suffix in Petrosianesque is rather unusual but it does occur in "Kafkaesque", the adjective formed from the name of Franz Kafka. However, the suffix attached to Karpov and Kasparov is rather productive.

This suffix occurs with many other names such as "Chomskian" for Noam Chomsky (note the change of the "y" to an "i"), "Darwinian" for Charles Darwin, "Newtonian" for Sir Isaac Newton, "Orwellian" for George Orwell, "Chaucerian" for Geoffrey Chaucer, "Saussurean" for Ferdinand de Saussure, "Shakespearean" for William Shakespeare, "Mozartian" for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Bachian" for Johann Sebastian Bach and "Beethovian" for Ludvig van Beethoven.

The suffix -ist in used in the words "Marxist", "Leninist" and "Calvinist", adjectives formed from Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and John Calvin. This is a very productive suffix which also occurs in words such as "typist", "artist", "pianist" and "scientist". These words, however, are all nouns rather than adjectives.

In the word "Lutheran" formed from Martin Luther, the suffix is -an rather than the far more common -ian. In "Thatcherite" formed from Margaret Thatcher, the suffix is -ite, a suffix which is relatively rare. It is important to add that these words can also funtion as nouns. It is clear that these words are nouns in the following sentences: "She is a Lutheran"; "He is a Thatcherite".

The suffix -ic occurs in "Socratic", formed from the name of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. It also occurs in "Napoleonic" for Napoleon de Bonaparte. An example of the use of "Napoleonic" is the phrase "Napoleonic code".

In English, a number of suffixes can be used to form words from proper names. The most common one by far, though, clearly appears to be the suffix -ian.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Canadian Spelling of English

When people think of English spelling, they tend to think of British and American spellings. Canadians, however, tend to use a combination of both. This is certainly true in my case. When I was learning to spell in elementary school, my teachers said that we could use either the American or the British spelling of a word, but we had to be consistent.

With words that end in either -or or -our, I use the British spelling. With younger Canadians, though, it appears that American spellings are becoming increasingly popular. Examples of such words include "neighbour", "favourite", "honour", "labour", "colour", "savour", "flavour" and "harbour". With words that end in either -er or -re, I also use the British variant- i.e., "centre", "metre", "theatre", "litre" and "fibre".

I use the British spellings "catalogue" and "dialogue" rather than the American "catalog" and "dialog" and "pyjamas" instead of "pajamas". I double the "l" in words such as "traveller", "cancelled" and "dialling" and use a single "l" in "skilful" and "wilful".

I also use the spellings "grey", "manoeuvre", "judgement", "axe" and "cheque"rather than "gray", "maneuver", "judgment", "ax" and "check". Note that Americans also use the spelling "grey" in the word "greyhound". I use the spelling "practise" for the verb ("practice" for the noun) rather than the American spelling "practice" and I use the spellings "licence" and "defence" rather than "license" and "defense".

All these examples may give the impression that I use British spellings exclusively, but this is far from the case. I use the spellings "realize", "organize" and "civilization" rather than the spellings "realise", "organise" and "civilisation" which are often used in British spelling. British English, however, also allows the spellings used in American English.

I also use the American spellings "mom", "program", "kilogram", "tire" (a car tire), "buses", "focusing" and "curb" rather than "mum", "programme", "kilogramme", "tyre", "busses", "focussing" and "kerb". The spellings "kilogramme","tyre" and "kerb" are very unusual in Canada.

Though I use the American spelling "mom", I use the British pronunciation of this word. For me, the word "mom" rhymes with "come" and not with "palm" as is the case in American English. This example serves to illustrate that Canadian English is often a variety of English that reflects both British and American influences.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Very Short Chess Game

Here are the moves of a chess game that I played at I mated my opponent on my eighth move. He was white and I was black. I now provide the moves of the game along with some commentary.

1. e4 c5

My move aims to generate counterplay along the c-file. Another common reply for black is e5. The reply c5 is known as the Sicilian Defence.

2. d4 cxd4

My opponent chooses to strike in the centre with the knowledge that if I take his pawn he can recapture with his queen. This is an aggressive move but bringing out the queen so early in the game can be very dangerous. A much more common move for white here is Nf3.

3. Qxd4 Nc6

My third move not only develops my queen knight but also threatens the white queen.

4. Qd1 e6

By moving his queen back to her original square, my opponent loses time. In chess language, this is known as losing a tempo. I move my king pawn to open a diagonal for my dark-squared bishop.

5. Bb5 Bc5

My opponent makes an aggressive move with his bishop which threatens to capture my knight in exchange for his bishop. However, this is a very committal move. Many chess players prefer to develop their knights first and decide later where to place their bishops. I place my bishop on a diagonal which targets f2.

6. Bxc6 bxc6

My opponent exchanges his bishop for my knight. When players have the bishop pair, they hope to exchange many pawns and pieces so that they can play an open game. In an open game, bishops are considered superior to knights. I don't play dxc6 because I want to keep my queen.

7. b3 Qf6

My opponent moves his pawn to b3 because he wants to place his dark-square bishop on b2. However, he fails to notice that this move is a mistake. I place my square on a square which sets up a double threat. I not only threaten to capture his rook on a1 but also to mate him on f2 because I now target this square with both my queen and bishop, a lethal combination.

My opponent needs to forget about defending his rook and prevent mate. One way to do this is to play Nf3, a move which is often played early.

8. c3 Qxf2#

My opponent's move prevents my queen from capturing his rook but fails to see the greater threat, checkmate. My opponent makes aggressive moves but ultimately fails to attend to the safety of his king.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flapping and Vowel Raising

Flapping is a feature which is associated with the English of Canada and the United States. However, it does also occur in parts of England such as the southwestern part known as the West Country. It also occurs in the English of Australia and New Zealand as well as in other parts of the world.

Vowel raising is a feature that is characteristic of Canadian English but also occurs in parts of the USA such as in Minnesota. For most Americans, the words "writer" and "rider" are identical, but for most Canadians they are different. The word "writer" preserves the raised vowel of "write".

Two phonological rules are associated with Canadian and American dialects which preserve a distinction between "writer" and "rider". They are vowel raising and flapping. The ordering of the two rules is considered important. If no distinction is maintained, flapping applies first. When flapping applies first, the voiceless alveolar plosive becomes a voiced alveolar flap. Since vowel raising must occur before a voiceless consonant, this takes away the environment necessary for vowel raising. We can say that flapping bleeds vowel raising. In other words, when flapping is applied first, the rule for vowel raising is blocked.

However, in the dialects which maintain a distinction between "writer" and "rider", vowel raising applies first. This is the case in the word "writer". The vowel raises in the word "write" to which the agentive suffix -er is attached. After the vowel raises, the voiceless alveolar plosive, between a stressed vowel and an unstressed vowel, becomes a flap.

In those dialects which distinguish between "writer" and "rider", the words "spider" and "rider" do not rhyme. Morphology is needed to explain this phenomenon. The word "rider" consists of the morphemes ride + -er. In the word "rider", the diphthong of "ride" is preserved. "Spider", however, consists of a single morpheme. The voiced alveolar plosive is flapped and vowel raising applies. It is curious, though, that vowel raising applies here because "spider" does not have a voiceless alveolar plosive. It thus appears that vowel raising can occur wherever an alveolar plosive is flapped. In the case of words such as "rider", vowel raising does not occur because vowel raising does not occur in the root "ride".

The examples of "spider" and "rider" appear to show that the analysis with the rules of vowel raising and flapping is simplistic. If this analysis were sufficient, the vowel raising in words such as "spider" could not be explained. It is necessary to include morphological information to explain forms such as "rider" in which vowel raising does not occur in those dialects with vowel raising. Though "spider" has no voiceless alveolar plosive, all alveolar plosives can flap between a stressed vowel and an unstressed one. A better account of dialects which distinguish between words such as "writer" and "rider" is simply to state that vowel raising is regular before flaps unless the word has a root with a voiced alveolar plosive to prevent vowel raising.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Relationship of Japanese and Korean

The relationship of the Japanese and Korean languages is a difficult issue for linguists. Some classify Japanese as a language isolate and Korean as a member of the Altaic language family. Others, however, consider Japanese and Korean to be related and some claim that they should both be classified as members of the Altaic language family. The more I learn about these two languages, the more I am convinced that they are probably distantly related

The two languages both lack tone, unlike many other Asian languages. They have similar syllable structures which usually consist of a consonant and a vowel. They share the same word order of subject, verb and object. They are pro-drop languages- this means that the personal pronoun can be dropped when the meaning is clear.

Both Japanese and Korean have subject markers, object markers and topic markers. I know of no other languages which make use of all three. Verbs are used in combination with a variety of endings to indicate the relationship between the speaker and the listener. The question marker is "ka" in Japanese and "kka" in Korean. The two languages can express a wide range of degrees of politeness. One ending, -yo, not only expresses a neutral degree of politeness but is also an exclamatory form in both languages. The plain form of the verb "be" is the same in both languages- "da". This is exemplified by the sentence "It's a book". In Japanese this is "Hon da" and in Korean it is "Chaegi da".

Japanese and Korean have postpositions, some of which are remarkably similar in the two languages. For example, the postposition -e means "in" in Korean and "to" in Japanese.
They also treat many verbs similarly to adjectives. The sentence "It was cold" is formed from the adjective "cold" which is inflected as if it were a verb because it is given a past tense ending.

Sergei Storastin observed that there may be a 25% rate of potential cognates in the Swadesh word list. The Swadesh word list is a collection of words which are considered basic and useful for determining the degree to which languages are related. The languages in the Swadesh word list are words which are considered to be native words. In other words, it is considered unlikely that they would be borrowed. Words such as "water" and "be" are considered basic words and thus likely native words. In Japanese, "water" is "mizu" and in Korean it is "mul". The verb "be" is also similar in these two languages. The Japanese word for "be" is "iru" and the Korean word is "ida".

A comparison of Japanese and Korean reveals an amazing number of similarities. For political and nationalistic reasons, many Japanese and Koreans reject the idea that the two languages could be related. However, upon examination of the evidence, it appears likely that the two languages are related to one another. Without a common writing system to unify them, it would have been easy for them to drift far apart from one another, especially if they separated a very long time ago. The similarities that they share appear too great to be merely a coincidence.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Finding the Proto-Form

Related languages have a number of words which are similar to one another. In the branch of linguistics known as historical linguistics, the proto-form is defined as the word from which similar words were derived. Determining the proto-form often involves a great deal of speculation because of the lack of written records. However, common phonological processes such as weakening (lenition), strengthening (fortition), assimilation, syllable structure and neutralization are useful for determining the proto-form of similar words.

Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are three similar languages which are very useful for determining proto-forms. Here is a list of ten words in these languages which are rather similar:

Danish efter Norwegian etter Swedish efter (after)
Danish kage Norwegian kake Swedish kaka (cake)
Danish ti Norwegian ti Swedish tio (ten)
Danish syg Norwegian syk Swedish sjuk (sick)
Danish hvad Norwegian hva Swedish vad (what)
Danish skib Norwegian skip Swedish skepp (ship)
Danish gade Norwegian gate Swedish gata (street)
Danish mave Norwegian mage Swedish mage (stomach)
Danish hvid Norwegian hvit Swedish vit (white)
Danish peber Norwegian pepper Swedish peppar (pepper)

The proto-form from which similar words are derived is marked with an asterisk as follows: *.
An arrow is used to show the resulting form. For example, to show that the French word "quatre" is derived from the Latin "quattuor", we can write it in this manner: *quattuor ---> quatre.

Now we can consider the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish words. The word "after" is the same in Danish and Swedish. On this basis alone, we may follow the rule of majority rules and choose the one present in two out of three languages. However, we also have natural development to suggest that the Norwegian form "etter" is the result of an assimilation process. Thus we can determine the protoform. It is *efter.

The word "cake" is different in all three languages. We can suggest that the proto-form is *kaka.
Vowel weakening changes the word-final "a" to "e" and voicing changes the "k" to "g".

The proto-form of "ten" is *tio. Word-final vowel deletion derives "ti".

The word "sick" is different in all three languages. The proto-form is *syk. Palatalization changes *syk to "sjyk" in Swedish and vowel retraction changes "sjyk" to "sjuk". In Danish, the plural adjective "syge" exists. Thus we can postulate intervocalic voicing to change the "k" to "g" and then word-final vowel deletion.

The proto-form of "what" is *hvad. Word-final consonant deletion derives the Norwegian word "hva" and consonant cluster simplication derives the Swedish word "vad".

The proto-form of "ship" is *skip. Voicing derives the Danish plural "skibe" (ships) and the singular "skib". As for Swedish, a vowel change derives "e" and the double "p" merely indicates that the vowel is short.

The proto-form of "street" is *gata. Word-final vowel weakening derives the Norwegian word "gate" and the additional rule of intervocalic voicing derives the Danish word "gade".

The proto-form of "stomach" is *mage. Majority rules applies because this is the form in two out of three languages. Natural development is also in evidence because the change from "g" to "v", from a plosive to a fricative, is an example of weakening.

The proto-form of "white" is *hvit. Danish has the adjective plural "hvide". Thus, "hvid" is derived as a result of intervocalic voicing and apocope, word-final vowel deletion. The Swedish word "vit" is the result of consonant cluster simplification.

The proto-form of "pepper" is *peppar. The Norwegian word "pepper" is the result of vowel weakening. The Danish word "peber" is the result of voicing and if the word "pebber" ever existed, we can apply degemination to derive "peber".

The proto-form is not always an existing form of a language. For example, the word "week" is "uge" in Danish, "uke" in Norwegian and "vecka" in Swedish. It appears that the proto-form is neither of these forms. By considering other languages such as English, Dutch and German, we can begin to determine the proto-form. English and Dutch have "week" and German has "Woche" for "week". It thus appears that the initial segment is a "w". It may be that the proto-form of "week" in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish is *weka. Strenghtening can change *weka to "ueka" in Danish and Norwegian. Vowel deletion changes "ueka" to "uka". Voicing then derives "uga" in Danish and word-final vowel weakening derives "uge". In Norwegian, "uka" changes to "uke" as a result of word-final vowel weakening. In Swedish, *weka changes to "veka" as a result of a phonological process which changes the labiovelar glide to a voiced labiodental fricative. Then gemination, a process needed to maintain the short "e", derives the form "vecka". However, this analysis may not be accurate. It involves a considerable amount of speculation, but this is what historical linguists do.

Languages which are closely-related to one another such as Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are very good for determining proto-forms. With less similar languages, the process of finding the proto-form is considerably more difficult.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Latest Poem

In this post I'll share my latest poem which I wrote recently. It's titled "Magnolias".


Through temperate and tropical spheres,
Magnolias welcome warmth of spring.
Golden light from distant sun nears
And crowns their sun celestial king.

Large flowers of every colour stand,
Supported by leaves of dark green.
Welcomed with joy in every land,
They take their place in each spring scene.

Their fragrant flowers are colourful-
Pink, purple, green, yellow and white.
Their beauty leaves viewers joyful,
Royal plants of visual delight.

Magnolias stay united to spring,
Surviving winter's bitter cold.
At their birth birds in sweet song ring
As spring life begins to unfold.

Here are some notes about my poem. In the first stanza I mention the temperate and tropical spheres in which magnolias grow to emphasize that they are found in all corners of the world. I contrast the distance of the sun with the nearness of spring and warmer temperatures. I also compare the sun in the sky to a king whose rays have dominion over the world of magnolias.

The second stanza recalls that magnolias are large and multicoloured. The final verse of this stanza personifies them to highlight their connection to spring.

In the third stanza the different colours of magnolias are mentioned. The final verse describes them as royal plants because they are often called the aristocrats of the plant world.

The final verse serves to personify magnolias who announce by their presence that spring has arrived. This is expressed as a birth which signifies new life. Also, with the coming of spring, birds sing and more flowers begin to bloom.

My poem is organized in four stanzas of four verses. The rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, ghgh and each verse consists of eight syllables. I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Morphological Analysis of Hungarian Possessive Suffixes

Unlike many languages, Hungarian has possessive suffixes. Instead of using two words to say "my car", Hungarian uses only one: auto'm. The word "auto'" means "car" and the suffix -m means "my". When the noun ends in a consonant, a linking vowel is required. The word "kertem" means "my garden". The word "kert" has a front vowel, so a front vowel is required in the suffix. However, if the noun consists of back vowels, a back vowel is required instead. This is illustrated by the word "ablakom" which means "my window". It consists of "ablak" (window) and the possessive suffix -om.

It is convenient to analyze the vowel of the possessive suffix as a linking vowel. The reason is that this eliminates the need to specify which vowel is underlying. With this analysis, it is sufficient to say that a front vowel is required with front vowel roots and a back vowel with back vowel roots.

In addition to possessive suffixes, Hungarian also has infixes. An infix is a morpheme which is placed between morphemes. For example, the Hungarian word for "my car" is "auto'm". This consists of the morpheme "auto" (car) followed by the possessive suffix -m. The Hungarian word for "my cars" is "auto'im". The -i- is an example of an infix. It is placed between the morpheme "auto'" and the morpheme -m. The English phrase "my cars" can be analyzed morphologically as my + car + s. In Hungarian this identical phrase is structured as follows: car + s + my. The two languages clearly use very different structures.

With nouns which end in a consonant, the linking vowel precedes the infix and the possessive suffix follows it. The word for "my cars" is "auto'im" and the word for "my houses" is "ha'zaim".
The linking vowel is necessary to preserve the syllable structure of "my house". In Hungarian this is "ha'zam" which is ha'z (house) + (a)m (my). The bracket serves to indicate that this is a linking vowel. By inserting this vowel, the word preserves a CV structure in the final syllable. The word "ha'zam" has the syllable structure CVC.VC. If it were not present, the word would have the syllable structure CVCC which is not possible in Hungarian.

In the case of "ha'zaim" (my houses), the linking vowel is not needed to preserve the syllable structure. Without the linking vowel, the result would be "ha'zim" which is an acceptable syllable structure in Hungarian. However, the linking vowel of the possessive suffix attached to the singular noun is preserved in the plural. The result is the syllable structure CV.CV.VC.

One may ask why "my houses" is "ha'zaim" rather than "ha'ziam". If it were "ha'ziam, the possessive suffix -am from "my house" would remain intact. However, there is a good explanation for "ha'zaim". With such a construction, it is clear that the noun is a plural. With a construction such as "haziam", the word could be interpreted as a singular noun plus the possessive suffix -am.

Another explanation can also be provided. With the structure "ha'zaim", the word for "my houses" has the same ending as the word for "my cars", "auto'im". Thus, the same sound sequence is preserved. The word "ha'zaim" can be analyzed as a word which consists of a root, a linking vowel, infix and possessive suffix. The use of a bracket is useful for indicating the linking vowel. The word "ha'zaim" can thus be shown as follows: ha'z + (a) + i + m.

The Hungarian language makes use of possessive suffixes. With roots that end in a consonant, a linking vowel is added to possessive suffixes which consist of a consonant. For forming the plural, i.e., "my cars", the infix -i' is used. Whether the noun ends in a vowel or a consonant, the structure which means my + plural noun such as "my cars" and "my houses" always ends with the sound sequence "im".

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Translation and Interpretation

The field of translation and interpretation can be very challenging. Interpreters and translators need to ensure that their words are easily understood and that they convey the meaning of the original language. Besides the words of the original language, they must also concern themselves with the proper level of formality, politeness and emphasis.

No two languages are identical but the more similar two languages are to one another, the easier it is to translate/interpret from one to another. Many translators and interpreters agree that it is easier to translate and interpret from English to French and vice-versa than it is from English to Russian and vice-versa. The reason is that English and French are more similar to one another than either is one is to Russian. Closely-related languages such as Norwegian and Swedish, Italian and Spanish and Czech and Slovak are much easier to work with than distantly-related languages such as English and Hindi, German and Polish, and Icelandic and Portuguese.

The most difficult material to translate and interpret must be poetry and jokes. Poetry is difficult because literary devices such as rhyme, rhythm and alliteration are often language-specific. Jokes are often difficult to translate because many involve puns which are also language-specific. For example, the pun "Seven days without water makes one week" plays with the word "week" which has the same pronunciation as the word "weak". This pun can mean that seven days comprise one week but also that a person who goes without water for seven days becomes weak. Such a pun only works in English.

Translation and interpretation are challenging because words have multiple meanings. The German philsopher Max Freude once said, "Nur im Zusammenhang des Satzes bedeuten die Wo:rter etwas". This means: "Only in the context of the sentence do the words mean something." The English word "fish" applies to both the live and dead animal, but in Spanish "pez" refers to a live fish and "pescado" to a dead one. The word used depends on the context.

Two techniques which translators and interpreters use are compensation and paraphrase. For example, many languages have a formal and informal second person singular you. English, however, does not. To compensate, translators and interpreters may add a formal title such as "sir" and "madam" to convey politeness or use informal words such as "hi" to convey informality and friendliness. In the case of an expression for which the target language has no equivalent, translators and interpreters may paraphrase. The Portuguese language has the word "saudade" which has no exact English equivalent. It can be paraphrased as the feeling of missing a person who has left.

It is often the case that one language has more specific vocabulary than another. The English word "sibling" has no equivalent in Dutch. Thus, the translator and interpreter would require more information to determine whether to use brother or sister. If they did not have the required information, they could simply use "brother or sister". Interpreters, unlike translators, have the advantage of being able to ask for more specific information on the spot. Translators, however, have the advantage of more time.

Machine translation, though it has greatly improved over the years, still has its problems. A well-known example involves the sentences "Time flies like an arrow" and "Fruit flies like an apple". The two sentences appear to be very similar but are in fact very different. The first one uses the verb "fly" and a simile expressed with the preposition "like". The second one uses the plural noun "flies" and the verb "like". Unfortunately, machine translation cannot account for these types of differences.

The best translators and interpreters require great skill. They know that they must consider much more than the meanings of the words themselves. This involves the level of formality, politeness and context. For those cases in which exact translation is insufficient, two techniques which they may use include compensation and paraphrase.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The "sp" and "st" of the German Consonant Shift

A number of sound changes occurred during the German Consonant Shift. Among these changes were the syllable initial consonant clusters "sp" and "st". The voiceless alveolar fricative became an alveopalatal voiceless fricative.

These changes did not occur in all varieties of German- they occurred in the variety of German known as High German or Hochdeutsch. In Low German, they did not occur. For example, the words "Strasse" (street) and "Sprache" (language) are pronounced with an alveolar fricative in the areas where Low German (Plattdeutsch) is spoken such as Hamburg. This sound change also did not occur in other languages. For example, the word "street" and the Dutch equivalent "straat" are not pronounced with an alveolpalatal voiceless fricative.

What is the motivation for the sound change of the consonant clusters "st" and "sp"? The process which converted the alveolar voiceless fricative to a voiceless alveopalatal fricative may be called palatalization. Another possible name for the process is weakening because the voiceless alveopalatal fricative has a lower frequency than the voiceless alveolar fricative. However, the weakening process is more common in syllable-final position than in syllable-initial. This type of weakening occurs in European Portuguese as well as in the Portuguese of certain Brazilian speakers, notably in Rio de Janeiro. These speakers pronounce the syllable-final "s" as a voiceless alveopalatal fricative in words such as "seis" (six), "festa" (party) and "dias" (days).

The best term for this sound change may be dissimilation. The reason is that the alveopalatal voiceless fricative is rather different from the voiceless bilabial plosive and voiceless alveolar plosive. The voiceless alveolar fricative, however, is much closer in place of articulation to the two plosives. They can all be classified as +anterior. The voiceless alveopalatal fricative, however, articulated between the alveolar ridge and the palate, is -anterior. Though palatalization, weakening and dissimilation can all be used to refer to this sound change, I cannot find a clear motivation for palatalization nor weakening. For this reason I prefer to use the term dissimilation.

The Germanic Consonant Shift is associated with many sound changes. Among these is the change of the consonant clusters "st" and "sp"in which the initial consonant changed from a voiceless alveolar fricative to a voiceless alveopalatal fricative. Many terms can be used to describe this change such as palatalization, weakening and dissimilation. However, many linguists prefer to describe this as a process of dissimilation because the motivation for other processes is not easily explained.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Spanish of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville

Many people may not know that besides Spanish, Spain has other languages such as Basque, a language isolate, and Catalan and Galician, other Romance languages. Catalan is spoken in eastern Spain, in cities such as Barcelona. Galician is spoken in northwestern Spain, in cities such as Vigo. In addition to these languages, Spain has many dialects of Spanish. Residents of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville all speak distinct varieties of Spanish.

Many residents of Barcelona are bilingual speakers of Spanish and Catalan. Their Spanish can be characterized as Catalan Spanish. Speakers of Catalan Spanish have a palatal lateral, a sound which was once common in Spanish. They use a palatal lateral in words such as "llamar" (to call) and "silla" (chair). Other Spanish speakers use a palatal approximant in such words. Also typical of Catalan Spanish are the velarized alveolar lateral in words such as "sal" (salt), "sol" (sun) and "alto" (tall) and the devoiced dental plosive in words such as "Madrid" (Madrid) and "sed" (thirst). For other Spanish speakers these words are pronounced with a voiced interdental fricative. Note that the devoiced dental plosives occur word-finally.

Residents of Madrid use a pharyngeal fricative in words such as "jalea" (jelly), "jefe" (boss) and "general" (general). The "s" is either apico-alveolar or apico-dental as in northern and central Spain. The Spanish of Madrid is classified as Castilian Spanish and is considered standard.

Residents of Seville do not use the voiceless interdental fricative. In words such as "gracias" (thanks), "feliz" (happy) and "cielo" (sky), they use a lamino-alveolar or lamino-dental fricative as in Latin America. However, residents of the province of Seville who are not from the city of Seville use only the voiceless interdental fricative in all cases. For example, they pronounce the word "gracias" with two voiceless interdental fricatives. Residents of the city of Seville use a voiceless lamino-dental or lamino-alveolar fricative in this word. In other parts of southern Spain, speakers use a voiceless interdental fricative followed by a voiceless lamino-dental or lamino-alveolar fricative in the word "gracias", maintaining a distinction between the voiceless interdental fricative and the lamino-dental/alveolar fricative. In central and northern Spain, speakers also preserve a distinction but it is between the voiceless interdental fricative and the apico-dental/alveolar fricative.

Residents of Seville are known for the elision of intervocalic "d" in words such as "lado" (side) and "todo" (everything). The "r" is often elided word-finally as in "flor" (flower) and "mar" (sea). The pharyngeal fricative of northern and central Spain is realized as a velar fricative in words such as "jalea" (jelly), "jefe" (boss) and "general" (general). Also, the syllable-final "s" in words such as "fresco" (fresh) and "costa" is often pronounced as a glottal fricative or deleted. In word-final position such as "semanas" (weeks) and "restaurantes" (restaurants), the "s" is very likely to be deleted, especially if it sentence-final.

Spain is a country of many varieties of Spanish. As a result of this variety, it is often easy to tell which part of Spain a person is from. Residents of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville usually speak with accents which are relatively different from one another. Thus, the Spanish of Spain is spoken in many dialects.

Monday, April 21, 2008


TMP stands for Time Manner Place. The prepositonal phrase "in the morning" functions as an adverb of time; the prepositional phrase "by car" functions as an adverb of manner and "to my cottage" functions as an adverb of place.

In German the order of prepositions and adverbs is precise. Adverbs of time must come first followed by adverbs of manner and then adverbs of place. For example, "Ich fliege morgen mit Lufthansa nach Hamburg" means "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa". The word-by-word translation of the German sentence is "I'm flying tomorrow with Lufthansa to Hamburg". In English this word order definitely sounds odd. In German, however, it is normal. Thus the two languages use a different word order here.

The German sentence "Ich fliege morgen mit Lufthansa nach Hamburg" uses the order Time Manner Place, also expressed as TMP. In English this is usually expressed with the order PTM. In the sentence "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa " we have the prepositional phrase "to Hamburg" which expresses place, the adverb "tomorrow" which expresses time and the prepositional phrase "with Lufthansa" which expresses manner.

However, the English word order is not so rigid. It is also possible to say "I'm flying with Lufthansa to Hamburg tomorrow". This uses the word order MPT. The sentence "I'm flying to Hamburg with Lufthansa tomorrow" is also acceptable. This sentence uses the word order PMT.
In all of these sentences, we notice that adverbs of place precede adverbs of time.

If we put an adverb of time before an adverb of place, we have a sentence that sounds odd. For example, the sentences "I'm flying tomorrow to Hamburg with Lufthansa" and "I'm flying with Lufthansa tomorrow to Hamburg" are not used by native speakers of English. In the first example, the word order is TPM and in the second it is MTP. Thus it appears that adverbs of time cannot precede adverbs of place in English.

The word order used in English is the same as that used in French. The French equivalent of "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa" is usually expressed as "Je vole a Hambourg demain avec Lufthansa". This is a PTM word order. However, "Je vole a Hambourg avec Lufthansa demain" is also possible. This sentence uses a PMT word order.

German adheres to a strict TMP word order in sentences such as "I'm flying to Hamburg tomorrow with Lufthansa". In English, the word order is not so strict. It is usually PTM but PMT is also common. The rule which must be followed in English is that adverbs of time precede adverbs of place. The word order used in English appears to be similar to that of other Romance languages such as French.

Friday, April 18, 2008


What is V2? It simply means that a verb must follow the first part of a sentence such as a noun phrase or other constituent. In other words, the verb is in second position in the sentence.

For example, the English sentence "Sometimes he comes late" does not have the same word order in other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. In Swedish the sentence is "Ibland kommer han sent". The word-by word translation is "Sometimes comes he late". The verb is in second position. The English sentence "At three o'clock I was here" does not have the same word order in German. In German the same sentence is "Um drei Uhr war ich hier". The word-by-word translation is "At three o'clock was I here". The sentence "Tomorrow we travel to London" is "I morgen rejser vi til London" in Danish. The word-by-word translation is "Tomorrow travel we to London". We see that V2, a verb in second position, is regular in all Germanic languages other than English.

However, English does have some sentences which follow the V2 pattern. They occur with the adverbs "rarely", "hardly", "seldom" and "never". The regular word order is one which starts with the subject but to add special emphasis, it is possible to put the adverb in subject position.

The sentence "She is never late" has a regular word order. However, it is possible to move "never" to the front and say "Never is she late". Other similar examples are "Rarely are they late", "Hardly did she eat" , "Seldom do they visit" and "Never have I seen them". Notice that with the examples "hardly" and "seldom", it is necessary to insert a do-verb in second position. The reason is that with these adverbs, it is more common to use a main verb rather than simply an auxiliary when they are moved to subject position. With main verbs, inversion is not possible, thus the auxiliary "do" must be inserted.

Why does English have V2 only in a few cases? I suspect that English used to have regular V2 as is the case in the other Germanic languages. It may have lost regular V2 due to the influence of French. In French, having the verb in second position in the sentence is not necessary. This can be seen in the sentence "Demain je vais a la piscine" which means "Tomorrow I'm going to the swimming pool". As in English, French places the subject "I" after the adverb "tomorrow".

The sentences with adverbs such as "never" and "rarely" which place a verb in second position when they begin a sentence must be from an early period in the development of the English language. In this earlier period of the English language, V2 must have been regular. Thus, we can say that the sentences with these adverbs reflect an earlier stage of the English language in which putting the verb in second position in the sentence was required as in other Germanic languages.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Analysis of Danish Word-Final Consonants

When I studied historical linguistics, I learned that many languages have word-final devoicing which can be considered a weakening process. It is clear that the word-final position can be analyzed as a weak one. For example, many languages delete segments in word-final position but rarely do so in word-initial position.

The Danish language puzzled me. I was unable to explain the reason that voiceless segments in Swedish and Norwegian were often voiced in Danish word-finally. For example, the imperative "lose" in Swedish and Norwegian is "tap". In Danish it is "tab". The word "sick" is "sjuk" in Swedish and "syk" in Norwegian. In Danish it is "syg". The word for "out" is "ut" in Swedish and Norwegian but "ud" in Danish. The word-final "d" is a fricative in Danish. How could Danish have a voiced consonant in a weak position? Could that be called weakening?

One day I realized the solution. It occurred to me that all the Danish forms with word-final voiced consonants have intervocalic forms. For example, the infinitive of "to lose" is "tabe", the plural adjective of "sick" is "syge" and the stative adverb "out" (used to denote lack of motion) is "ude" as in "Han er ude" (He is out) as opposed to "Han gik ud" (He went out).

Thus the word-final Danish voiced consonants can be explained. The voicing occurred when the consonants were in an intervocalic position. As a result of word-final vowel deletion, they then surfaced word-finally. This is an example of two phonological rules which need to be ordered. The first is a voicing assimilation which occurs between vowels, a very natural phonological process, and the second is apocope, also known as word-final vowel deletion.

Obviously, these processes did not occur in Swedish and Norwegian, two languages which can be considered less innovative or more conservative from a linguistic point of view. A "t", "k" and "p" in Swedish and Norwegian often correspond to a "d", "g" and "b" in Danish.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Double Object Construction

The double object construction, also known as the ditransitive construction, has been the focus of much analysis in syntax. In English, this construction can be expressed in two ways: direct object + complement, and indirect object + direct object. This is exemplified by the following two sentences:

Peter gave the ball to Andrew.
Peter gave Andrew the ball.

Some syntacticians argue that the sentence "Peter threw Andrew the ball" is underlying and thus "Peter threw the ball to Andrew" is derived from "Peter threw Andrew the ball". However, an analysis of double object constructions in other languages makes it difficult to make this determination. Also, many syntacticians who argue that "Peter threw Andrew the ball" is underlying do not refer to historical linguistics nor to child language acquisition to support their claim.

I prefer to argue that both structures are common and serve different purposes. For example, the sentence "Peter threw the ball to Andrew" has a different semantic meaning from "Peter threw Andrew the ball". In the first sentence, it is not clear whether or not Andrew has caught the ball. The completeness of the action is not expressed. In the second sentence, the action has been completed. It is clear that Andrew has caught the ball.

With certain verbs such as "lift", English does not allow both double object constructions. We can use an asterisk to mark that one sentence is ungrammatical:

Peter lifted the box to Andrew.
*Peter lifted Andrew the box.

If forms such as "Peter gave Andrew the ball" are underlying, it is difficult to explain why "Peter lifted Andrew the box" is ungrammatical. We know that in Romance languages, the double object construction is expressed with the preposition "to" as in "Peter gave the box to Andrew". For example, in French this is "Pierre a donne la boite a Andres". In Hungarian, "to Andrew" is expressed with a postposition suffixed to "Andrew". Double object constructions can vary greatly from one language to another.

The construction that a person uses tends to be highly influenced by the form that the first speaker uses in a conversation. For example, if speaker A asks: "Did Mark give Linda flowers?", it is likely that speaker B will answer, "Yes, he gave Linda flowers" or if pronominalization is used, "Yes, he gave her flowers." Likewise, if speaker A asks: "Did Mark give flowers to Linda?", it is likely that speaker B will answer, "Yes, he gave flowers to Linda" or with pronominalization, "Yes, he gave flowers to her". This is because of the desire to establish solidarity with the first speaker.

In English, though, it is interesting that the question "Did Mark give flowers to Linda?" is never replaced with *"Did Mark give her them?" English does not like to place two pronouns next to one another. For this reason, it uses the structure "Did Mark give them to her?" If forms such as "Mark gave Linda flowers" are underlying, it is difficult to explain why this structure does not result when the direct and indirect objects are pronominalized.

In questions with the interrogative pronoun "who", only one construction is used. The question *"Who did he give them?" is ungrammatical. Only "Who did he give them to?" or "To who did he give them?" is possible. This also counters the theory that forms such as "Mark gave Linda flowers" are underlying in English.

I do not agree with syntactic analyses which claim that the English double object construction has one form which is underlying and that it is this form from which the other is derived. Rather, I prefer to state that the two forms serve different purposes and are both very common. One may be more common than the other but they are both frequently used in English. Many examples can be provided to counter the claim that forms such as "Peter gave Andrew the key" are underlying.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Chess Game

I'm going to take a break from linguistics and post about chess this time. I enjoy playing chess games at You can also access the site at This is the shortest game I"ve every played on the site. I was white and my opponent was black. Here are the moves with my commentary.

1. d4 d5

At this stage we have a Double Queen Pawn Opening.

2. c4 Nf6

My second move is part of an opening known as the Queen's Gambit. I want black to take my pawn so that I can gain more control of the centre with e4. He doesn't take it, though, so this is known as the Queen's Gambit Declined.

3. Nc3 Bg4

Black's third move is unusual. Though my e-pawn is pinned (if I move it, I lose my queen), his bishop can be attacked easily. He brings out his bishop too early. A stronger move is e6, opening the diagonal for his dark-squared bishop and increasing his control of the centre. Also, by bringing out his bishop, the pawn on b7 is now undefended.

4. Qb3 e6

After moving my queen, the e-pawn is no longer pinned. My queen now attacks b7 and supports the c-pawn. Black is worried about his d-pawn which I'm attacking three times (queen, c- pawn and knight), so he decides to give it more support with his e-pawn. But b7 is undefended.

5. Qxb7 Nd7

I take the pawn. Black moves his knight so that his queen can defend his rook.

6. cxd5 exd5

I initiate the exchange with the intention of winning a pawn.

7. Nxd5 Qc8

Black wants to exchange queens. Since I'm on the offensive and my queen is clearly doing more than his, I don't want to exchange.

8. Nxc7+ Kd8

I put black in check. He loses his queen if she captures my knight, so he moves his king.

9. Qxa8 Nd5

Maybe black expects me to take his queen, but I make a better move. I take his rook. His queen can't move off the back rank because if she does, his king will be in check. I expect that his next move will be to capture my queen and then I'll capture his with my knight. But he moves his knight instead. This is a bad move because after I capture his queen with my queen and put him in check, he'll capture my queen and then I'll win his knight. A better move for him is to capture my queen.

10. Qxc8+ Kxc8

At this point black resigns. He knows that my next move will be Nxd5. At that stage I'll be up two pieces (two rooks vs. only one rook for him) and up three pawns, so he decides to concede.

Black makes a number of mistakes in this game but the worst one is probably 3... Bg4.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hungarian Vowel Harmony

Hungarian is a language with vowel harmony. According to Gussenhoven and Jacobs (1998), it is a subclass of long-distance assimilation and excludes certain combinations of vowels in the word. In my MA thesis, I related the findings in the literature regarding Hungarian vowel harmony to the results of my sociolinguistic experiment with bilingual Hungarian speakers.

Part of my experiment involved the analysis of the neutral vowels. In addition to back vowels and front vowels, Hungarian has phonetically front vowels which for the purposes of vowel harmony are classified as neutral. This simply means that the front vowels "e" (low front vowel and mid front vowel written with an acute accent) and high front vowel "i" (long vowel written with an acute accent and short vowel) can combine with both front and back vowels. In a root with non-neutral vowels, they do not seem to trigger vowel harmony. Thus they are transparent (they let vowel harmony pass through them).

I also analyzed doublets, proper names and recent loanwords which allow either front or back suffixes. Doublets with back suffix variants have transparent neutral vowels because they allow vowel harmony to pass through them. On the other hand, doublets with front suffix vowels have opaque neutral vowels because they block the back vowel from spreading a back vowel to the suffix. In other words, they trigger a front vowel in the suffix. An example is the doublet "hotel". The phrase "in the hotel" can be "a hotelban" or "a hotelben". In the phrase "a hotelban", the neutral vowel "e" is transparent. The back vowel "o" triggers the back suffix variant -ban. However, in the phrase "a hotelben", the neutral vowel "e" acts as a harmonic front vowel. We can say it is opaque because it blocks the back vowel "o" from triggering a back vowel in the suffix. The suffix variant -ben has a front vowel.

Another part of my experiment involved toponyms with neutral vowels. These included "Los Angeles", "Seattle" and "Vancouver". Some linguists claim that the vowel "e" is no longer a neutral vowel but actually behaves as a front vowel. However, my results did not confirm this. They merely confirm that the neutral vowels exhibit different degrees of neutrality. The neutral vowel "i" is the most neutral and the low front unrounded "e" is the least neutral.

I tested the use of the inessive suffix -ban/-ben in 30 participants who attached a suffix to a toponym three times. This resulted in 90 tokens with each toponym. I obtained the following results with "Los Angeles", "Seattle"and "Vancouver":

Los Angeles -ben 87.8% -ban 12.2%
Seattle -ben 31.1% -ban 68.9%
Vancouver -ben 70% -ban 30%

In Hungarian magazines and newspapers, I had previously seen "Vancouverben" (in Vancouver), so I was surprised that in 30% of cases, participants used the form "Vancouverban". In the response "Vancouverban", the neutral vowel "e" is tranparent because a back vowel occurs in the suffix. However, it may be that in the response "Vancouverban", some participants used a schwa or a vowel similar to the mid front rounded vowel of French, i.e., "fleur" (flower). If this was the case, it is not surprising that they attached a back suffix variant to "Vancouver".

With "Seattle", a root which consists of a front vowel followed by a back vowel and front vowel, the back suffix variant was used 68.9% of the time. This is a very high percentage. If the vowel "e" is now a harmonic front vowel, the back suffix vowel should not have been used so frequently. However, it may again be the case that the final vowel of Seattle was pronounced by some participants as a schwa or a mid front rounded vowel. In such cases, the back suffix variant would be expected.

"Los Angeles" has two back vowels followed by two front vowels. Despite the presence of the front vowel "e" in the final two syllables, the back suffix variant -ban was used in 12.2% of cases. It may be that some participants pronounced one or both of these vowels as schwas, but nevertheless, I did not expect that the back suffix variant would be used to this extent. For the participants who attached a back suffix variant, the "e" vowel was clearly neutral.

How can we explain the reasons the neutral vowel "e" is either neutral or opaque? I offer a few possible explanantions.

In those cases in which the form "Vancouverben" (in Vancouver) is produced, the vowel "e" is a harmonic front vowel. Also, we can claim that recent cues predominate over earlier cues. Though the difference in the time of the utterance of the vowel "e" versus the earlier back vowels is in milliseconds, this may be significant for the purposes of vowel harmony. Another possibility is the adjacency condition which claims that the vowel of the suffix needs to share the same feature as that of the vowel in the adjacent syllable. In the form "Vancouverben", the vowel "e" of the final syllable and the vowel "e" of the suffix are both front vowels.

In those cases in which the form "Vancouverban" (in Vancouver) is produced, the vowel "e" is a neutral vowel. It is transparent because it does not participate in the vowel harmony process. Also significant may be the count effect which claims that the number of vowels in a word is significant. The word "Vancouver" has two back vowels and one front vowel. (The first vowel in "Vancouver" is a back vowel in Hungarian). It may be that a back suffix variant is more common in roots that have a greater number of back vowels. If this theory is correct, the back suffix vowel would be less common in a root that had the combination of one back vowel followed by one neutral vowel and more common in a root that had three back vowels followed by one neutral vowel. My experiment did not confirm whether or not this theory is correct. Another explanation may be stress. In Hungarian stress is fixed on the first syllable of a word. Since the stressed syllable is Vancouver contains a back vowel, this theory predicts that the suffix should contain a back vowel. However, my experiment did not confirm the accuracy of this theory and to the best of my knowledge, most linguists are not convinced this is valid.

To further my research, I would like to determine the reason the neutral vowels exhibit different degrees of neutrality. I would also like to determine the significance of the count effect and the role of stress in Hungarian vowel harmony. Also fascinating would be the answer to the question of why languages have vowel harmony.

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