Saturday, January 30, 2010

Word Order Typology

The languages of the world can be classified by their word order. Using the three constituents of subject, verb and object, it is possible to construct a word order typology. With these constituents, six word orders are possible- SVO, SOV, VSO, VOS, OSV and OVS.

Certain languages differ in their use of subject, verb and object. For example, French uses the order SVO with nouns but SOV with pronouns. "Michel parle italien" means "Michel speaks Italian" but "Michel le parle" is "Michel speaks it". In German, SVO occurs in independent clauses but SOV in dependent ones. "Ich weiss es" is "I know it" but "She knows that I know it" is "Sie weiss, dass ich es weiss". For these reasons, it is necessary to establish the conditions under which subject, verb and object must occur for a basis of comparison.

The constituents of subject, verb and object should occur in declarative sentences, they should be in an independent clause, the subject and object must be nouns and no unit should have special emphasis. This aims to rule out special circumstances such as the word order of dependent clauses in German and the position of the subject and verb with an object pronoun in French.

The most common word order typology in the languages of the world is SVO. Also common is the word order SOV. Far less common is VSO. The remaining three types are rare. VOS and OVS only occur in a small number of languages and OSV in an even smaller number.

SVO is the most common word order. It occurs in English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese and Swahili.

The word order SOV is also common. It is found in languages such as Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Basque, Farsi, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindu, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Nepali.

Less common but also found in a significant number of languages is VSO. This word order occurs in Hawaiian, Irish, Breton, Welsh and Tagalog.

The remain three word order types are not common. VOS occurs in Fijian and Malagasy. OVS is found in Kixkaryana, a language spoken in Brazil. The last type, OSV, is found in Warao and Xavante, also languages of Brazil.

One method of classifying languages is word order. With the units of subject, verb and object, all languages can be categorized into six possible types. The most common word order is undoubtedly SVO and the least common, one that is very different from SVO and is not found in any widely-spoken language, is OSV.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Phoneme Inventory

The phoneme inventory of a language indicates the number and types of phonemes which it has. Phonemes are the distinctive units of sound in a language. One method to determine phonemes is minimal pairs.

If two words share the same number and order of segments but one and those different segments create different words, the words are minimal pairs and the sounds are phonemes. For example, the English words "bell" and "sell" are minimal pairs. The only segments which are different are the word-initial "b" and "s". Since they create different words, they are phonemes of English.

The UCLA Phonological Segment Inventory Database, also known as UPSID, contains the phoneme inventories of more than 400 languages. In the UPSID database, Rotokas, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea, has only 11 phonemes. In contrast, Xu, a language spoken in southern Africa, has 141 phonemes. Many of those phonemes are click sounds common to the languages of southern Africa.

It is often difficult to determine the precise number of phonemes in a language. This is due to several factors. One is that diphthongs are often classified as phonemes in certain languages but not in others. For example, the diphthong which most English speakers have in "take" is classified as a phoneme but the diphthong of the Spanish word "reina" (queen) is not. The Spanish diphthong is phonemic because "reina" (queen) contrasts with "rana" (frog). However, most Spanish speakers do not view the diphthong as a single sound but as two due to the orthography which represents it with two letters.

The short and long vowels of Hungarian are classified as phonemic but the short and long vowels of Finnish are not. The difference is that the Hungarian short and long vowels are considered qualitative and quantitative but the Finnish vowels only quantitative. However, for many Hungarian speakers the high vowels /i/ and /u/ are merely quantitative. In some speakers, the short/long distinction in these vowels is actually non-existent. However, it is traditional to classify the Hungarian short and long vowels as phonemic.

In Finnish, though, the difference is merely considered one of length, so the long vowels of Finnish are excluded from the Finnish phoneme inventory. The phonemic length of Finnish vowels can be considered chronemic. Likewish, consonants can also be chronemic. The Finnish word "kuka" (who) differs from "kukka" (flower) merely in consonant length but phoneme inventories exclude long consonants. This is merely convention.

The number of phonemes in English ranges from 36 to 48. Certain inventories classify the rhotic vowels such as those of "car" and "ear" as phonemic and certain ones classify them as separate segments. In non-rhotic varieties of English such as Received Pronunciation, also known as RP, words such as "ear" are analyzed as a high front vowel followed by a schwa, a diphthong which certain linguists classify as a phoneme and others do not. Thus, the standards for determining the number of phonemes in a phoneme inventory vary.

Phoneme inventories are useful for comparing the number and types of sounds of different languages. It is often the case that languages of a particular area share common features. For example, click sounds are common in languages of southern Africa, consonant clusters are common in Germanic languages, and the existence of only one liquid such as an alveolar lateral or alveolar tap is common in many languages of eastern Asia.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The mora is a unit of sound. It is between a segment and a syllable. A syllable with one mora is monomoraic. If it has two moras, it is bimoraic.

A short syllable has one mora and a long syllable has two. The onset of the syllable never has a mora. The nucleus has one mora if the vowel is short and two if the vowel is long or is a diphthong. In many languages, the syllable coda is also a mora. For example, the English word "cat" is bimoraic.

Japanese speakers are very much aware of the mora. In fact, the Japanese haiku poem consists of 17 moras divided into verses of 5, 7 and 5. "Tokyo" has two syllables but four moras because the two vowels are long- to-o-kyo-o. "Osaka" has three syllables but also four moras- o-o-sa-ka. "Sapporo" also has four moras- sa-p-po-ro.

Hungarian is a language which can have short and long consonants in the syllable coda. For example, "megy" is the verb "goes" and "meggy" is "sour cherry". The word "megy" has two moras and "meggy" has three.

Moras are closely connected to duration and syllable weight. If a syllable has no coda, it is a light syllable. If it has a coda, it is a heavy syllable. However, a syllable that ends in a diphthong can be classified as light but has two moras as in "day" and "my".

The mora is a unit of sound which is often associated with syllables. It is possible for a syllable to have more than one mora. Japanese is one language which is famous for its use of moras. They are the units used for writing haiku.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Most Common Family Names

I researched the most common family names of countries in Europe and Asia. Now I will report the results.

The most common family name in England is Smith. In Germany it is Mu:ller which is often spelt Mueller in English. In the Netherlands the most common family name is De Jong. The most common Norwegian family name is Hansen. In Denmark the most common is Jensen and in Sweden it is Johansson.

The most common Finnish family name is Virtanen and the most common Hungarian one is Nagy. The most common Russian family name is Smirnov (sometimes spelt Smirnoff), the most common Polish one is Nowak, the most common Czech one is Novak and the most common Croatian one is Horvat.

The most common French family name is also a given name, Martin. The most common Spanish family name is Garci'a, the most common Portuguese one is Silva and the most common Italian one is Rossi.

Now I will focus on Asian family names. The most common Chinese family name is Wang (sometimes spelt Wong). The most common family name in Japan is Sato and in Korea it is Kim. The most common Vietnamese family name is Nguyen.

A list of the most common family names in different countries reveals that even in neighbouring countries with related languages the names are often quite different. In Denmark, Norway and Sweden the most common family names are Jensen, Hansen and Johansson respectively. However, in the Czech Republic and Poland they are virtually identical- Novak and Nowak. In the case of France, the most popular family name, Martin, is also a popular given name for men.

Curds and Whey

Dravle is tne name of a Norwegian dessert which consists of curds and whey. In order to get curds and whey, it is necessary to add buttermilk or yoghurt to a combination of milk, cream and eggs. Dravle is very easy to make.

Put 2 litres of milk (homogenized works best) and 200 millilitres of cream in a pot. Bring to a boil. Now whip in 600 millilitres of buttermilk or yoghurt, 100 millilitres of sugar and 5 eggs. Remove about 1/3 of the whey and simmer for about an hour. Add raisins if desired.

Dravle can be eaten hot or cold. I prefer to eat it cold. I enjoy this dish very much. I hope you do too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Countries

Many new counties have been created in the last twenty years. The number of new countries is over thirty. Many of these are from the former countries of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

15 countries were created with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Takikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are known as the Baltic states. Russia, the largest country of the former Soviet Union, shares a border with seven former republics. They include Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

With the end of the former Yugoslavia, seven countries came into existence. These are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.

The former nation of Czechoslovakia is now two nations. They are the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The former nations of West Germany and East Germany are one- Germany. Eritrea is a nation which used to be part of Ethiopia and East Timor used to be part of Indonesia. East Timor is the only Asian country whose official language is Portuguese.

A number of countries have been created in the last twenty years. Many of them are from the former nations of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Most are relatively small countries but Russia is a notable exception.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Colours can be classified into primary, secondary, tertiary and neutral. Primary colours are pure hues. This means that they cannot be created by mixing colours. Secondary colours are created by mixing primary colours and tertiary colours are created by mixing primary and secondary colours.

The three primary colours are yellow, red and blue. With these three colours many other colours can be created. If more white is added to a primary colour, this is called a tint. If more black is added, this is called a shade. If grey is added, the colour acquires a different tone.

The secondary colours are orange, purple and green. Orange is a mixture of yellow and red. Purple is a mixture of red and blue and green is a mixture of blue and yellow.

Tertiary colours are a combination of a primary and a secondary colour. Brown is created by mixing the primary colour red with the secondary colour green.

The neutral colours are white, black and grey. White and black are opposites. White is bright but black is dark. In a certain sense, black and white are not colours because black can be considered the absence of light and white is the blending of many bright colours. Black can be created by mixing many colours. A combination of the primary colours yellow, red and blue can create black.

Though the primary colours are limited to three, they can be used to create many other colours. These include the secondary and tertiary colours. Other colours are the neutral colours which can be combined with primary and secondary colours to create a tint or shade and even a different tone.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Received Pronunciation

Received Pronunciation, also known as RP, is the name given to a variety of British English. Because it is spoken by members of the Royal Family, professors of Oxford and Cambridge, and BBC newscasters, it is considered a prestigious accent. However, current statistics reveal that it is no longer spoken by many people in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. It is now mostly spoken in England.

Received Pronunciation also has other names. These include Oxford English, BBC English and Queen's English. Though it is the form of British English which is most often taught to foreigners, it is a minority accent. Only 2-3% of the English population actually speaks it. Though many speakers of RP live in London, it is not a regional accent. RP speakers may be found in any part of Britain. In fact, upper-class Scots often speak RP with no trace of a Scottish accent.

RP has a number of notable features. These include a diphthong in words such as "go", "show" and "boat" in which the first component is a mid front unrounded vowel. Other features include a word-final lax vowel in words such as "happy" and thirty", a mid back rounded lax vowel in words such as "not" and "off", a low back vowel in "bath" and "dance", and high vowels which are slightly diphthongized such as in "read" and "boot".

The RP accent is non-rhotic, the same as most accents of England. The words "pa" and "par" sound the same. However, "he" and "here" do not because "here" ends with a schwa.

Received Pronunciation is a famous accent associated with the British upper-class. It is also the variety of British English that is most familiar to many people. However, it is definitely not the most widely-spoken. It must be considered a minority accent because it is spoken by a relatively small percentage of the British population.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nothing Gold Can Stay

One of Robert Frost's most famous poems is "Nothing Gold Can Stay". Here follows the poem:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

This poem consists of eight verses with the rhyme scheme a, a, b, b, c, c, d, d. Each verse consists of six syllables in which the stress pattern is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. The six syllables can be organized into three feet. Thus the poem is in iambic trimeter.

Robert Frost's poem is about the loss of innocence. In the first verse we read that youth is gold. However, this is only temporary because all newborns eventually change. They lose their innocence, age and die. As much as they may wish to retain their youth, they cannot.

The early leaf is a flower but it does not last long. The cycle of life is emphasized in the fifth verse. As one leaf is replaced by another, a newborn is also replaced by another. The sixth verse mentions Eden, the paradise described in the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve, the first humans, were innocent until their act of disobedience. With this fall of innocence, the garden ceased to be a paradise.

The seventh verse uses dawn and day to depict the cycle of life and death. In the final verse, we have the title of the poem. This emphasizes that youth and innocence later fade.

Robert Frost's poem reminds us that purity and youth are not eternal. As dawn and day and the changing hues of leaves, they also change with time. Though short, the poem expresses the beauty of birth and life.

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