Friday, February 26, 2010

Classification of Languages

The languages of the world can be classified into different families. The most famous language family is undoubtedly the Indo-European. It is also the one which has been most extensively studied. However, the languages of the world include many other families.

The Indo-European language family can be subdivided into many smaller families. Other familes of the Indo-European include the Romance, Germanic, Balto-Slavic and Greek. The Greek family consists of only one language, Greek. The Germanic language family is a larger one which includes English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faeroese.

The Indo-European language family has not only European languages but also languages spoken in India, Iran and other countries of Asia. These are the Indo-Iranian languages. Persian, also known as Farsi, is an Indo-Iranian language which is further divided into the Iranian language family. Languages such as Hindi, Punjabi and Bengali are further divided into the Indo-Aryan language family. Thus the Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages are branches of the Indo-Iranian language family.

Though they are European languages, Finnish and Hungarian do not belong to the Indo-European language family. They are classified as Uralic languages and are subdivided into the Finno-Ugric language family.

The Austroasiatic languages, spoken in southeastern Asia, are one of the world's largest language families. Languages which belong to this group include Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. The Sino-Tibetan languages also have many speakers. As the name suggests, Chinese and Tibetan belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family.

Other large language families are the Afroasiatic, Dravidian and Turkic. One branch of the Afroasiatic languages is the Semitic which includes languages such as Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic. The Dravidian language family has languages which are primarily spoken in southern India. These languages include Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. The Turkic languages are spoken over a wide area. The most widely-spoken Turkic language is Turkish but other languages include Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Tatar, Chuvash and Tuvan.

The Basque language, though it is located in Europe, is not classified as an Indo-European language. In fact, the language is a mystery for linguists. As a result, it is considered a language isolate. In the case of Japanese and Korea, the classification is unclear. Some linguists believe Japanese and Korea are related while others do not. Others include the two as languages of the Altaic language family or only Korean as Altaic and Japanese as a language isolate. Thus language classification is often problematic.

The languages of the world can be classified into various language families. In some cases, the classification is either unclear or the language is a language isolate as in the case of Basque. Nevertheless, many of the world's languages belong to large language families such as the Indo-European, Afroasiatic and Austro-Asiatic.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snowflakes

"Snowflakes" is the title of my latest poem. I wrote it on February 9th of this year. Now I want to share it with you.

Snowflakes

Finely formed as droplets of cloud,
Crystals of white make their descent.
Snowflakes make heights of heaven proud.
Viewers watch to their hearts' content.

Though small, all snowflakes are unique.
No snowflakes share the same design.
This only adds to their mystique
As they fall over forest fir and pine.

Snowflakes provide wondrous displays.
Inside are triangles, prisms,
Hexagons, arrowheads, sunrays,
Needles, bullets, stars and columns.

On quiet days of cold winter
Snowflakes drop over land and sea.
They send forth hope, love and wonder
And sprinkle landscapes with beauty.

In this poem I express the complexity and wonder of snowflakes. I personify them in parts of the poem. One example is found in the first stanza which states that they make heights of heaven proud. Another example occurs in the final stanza which mentions that they send forth hope, love and wonder.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Instructive Chess Game

I recently played an instructive chess game at letsplaychess.com. I played an opening that I seldom use and was successful with it. My opponent was Likearocket from the United Kingdom. In this game he played white. Now I will provide the moves of the game along with my commentary.

1. e4 Nf6

I usually reply here with c5. My reply is known as the Alekhine Defence. It is a provocative move that encourages white to push his e-pawn in the hope that it will later prove to be overextended. The Alekhine Defence is considered a difficult opening. Black has to play very accurately because any mistake can prove fatal.

2. e5 Nd5

As I expect, black pushes his pawn.

3. d4 d6

I want to counter black's strong pawn centre.

4. c4 Nb6

White attacks my knight again.

5. Qf3 dxe

White's move is unusual. His knight would be better placed on f3 than his queen.

6. d5 c6

Black's decision not to recapture my e-pawn is a surprise.

7. c5 Nxd5

Black makes a mistake. He decides to attack my knight instead of capturing my pawn but ends up losing a pawn.

8. Nc3 g6
9. Bc4 Be6
10. Nxd5 Bxd5
11. Bxd5 cxd5

Now I have a strong pawn centre.

12. Ne2 Bg7
13. 0-0 Nc6
14. a3 0-0
15. b4 e4

My last move creates a double attack. My e-pawn attacks the white queen while my bishop attacks the white rook on a1.

16. Qb3 Bxa1
17. Bd2 Nd4

I attack the white queen with my knight because I want to exchange my knight for white's.

18. Nxd4 Bxd4
19. Bh6 Bh7

Again I want to exchange because I am ahead in material.

20. Bf4 e5

I strengthen my pawn centre.

21. Bd2 Kh8

I put my king on h8 to avoid any future checks from the white queen along the a2-g8 diagonal.

22. f3 f5
23. f4 exf
24. Bxf4 d4

My pawns dominate the centre of the board.

25. Bd6 Re8

White forces me to move my rook.

26. Kf2 Qh4+

White is worried about my pawns and wants to attack them but his king is too exposed on f2. I check him with my queen.

27. g3 Qxh2+

White makes a mistake which costs him a pawn. Here he should play Bg3 which forces me to move my queen.

28. Ke1 d3

White's move is forced. Now I threaten mate with my queen on e2.

29. Qd1 0-1

White moves his queen to prevent mate on e2 but then resigns. He sees that I can play Bc3+. Then he must block the check with his queen by playing Qd2. I then play Qxd2# so he resigns. He knows that he cannot prevent mate.

In this game I play an opening which I suspect white does not expect. I manage to take advantage of his mistakes, take control of the centre and eventually overwhelm his king. If the game had continued longer, I would have centralized my a8 rook but in this game it was not necessary.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Phonological Rule Order

Rules are an important part of phonology. In certain cases it is claimed the rules need to be ordered. If the first rule creates an environment in which the second can apply, the rules are in a feeding relationship. However, if the first rule creates an environment in which the second can no longer apply, they are in a bleeding relationship.

For example, in many varieties of Brazilian Portuguese, the word "cidade" (city) is pronounced with a word-final [i] and the [d] is pronounced as a voiced alveopalatal affricate that corresponds to the English "j". The affricate only occurs before the high front [i]. To explain this sound change, two rules can be created. Rule A is unstressed word-final vowel raising which changes the mid front vowel to a high one. Rule B is palatalization which changes the voiced dental plosive to an affricate. The two rules are in a feeding relationship. The application of the first rule, vowel raising, creates the environment in which palatalization can occur.

However, this suggests that one rule precedes the other. It is possible that vowel raising and palatalization apply simultaneously. Though certain Brazilians apply word-final vowel raising but not palatalization, this does not prove that the two rules cannot apply at the same time. The concept of rule ordering does not necessarily have to exist in reality but simply on an abstract level.

A well-known example of feeding occurs in French. In the phrases "ma petite maison" (my small house) and "mon petit lit" (my small bed) the word for "small" is pronounced differently. The word "petite" has a word-final plosive but "petit" does not. It is claimed that there are two rules. One rule is word-final vowel deletion and the other is word-final consonant deletion. In "petite" the final vowel is deleted and in "petit" the word-final consonant is deleted. Rule A, word-final vowel deletion, feeds Rule B, word-final consonant deletion.

These rules are unsatisfactory on several levels. First of all, "petite" and "petit" are spelt differently. This is an indication that they should be pronounced differently. Second, "petite" is a feminine form which occurs with feminine nouns and "petit" is a masculine form which occurs with masculine ones. Phonology should not ignore spelling and grammar.

Another problem is that word-final vowel deletion is an optional rule. Though it is true that it is applied by most French speakers, in certain cases the vowel is pronounced as a schwa, particularly in careful speech. It does not apply categorically. In the phrase "mon petit lit", there is no evidence that a word-final vowel was deleted and then a word-final consonant. In fact, it is possible that the word-final vowel was added to created the feminine form.

In addition to feeding and bleeding, phonologists also use the terms counterfeeding and counterbleeding. These are terms used to describe cases in which the application of two rules is reversed.

In the phrase "mon petit lit" the two rules of word-final vowel deletion and word-final consonant deletion are applied to "petit" so that it is pronounced without a word-final schwa or word-final consonant. However, in the phrase "ma petite maison" the word-final vowel is deleted but not the word-final consonant. Many phonologists label this counterfeeding. They explain that the application of the rules is reversed. Rule B, consonant deletion, applies before Rule A, vowel deletion. If we apply Rule B first, it is blocked because "petite" has a word-final vowel. Then we apply Rule A, vowel deletion, to derive the correct pronunciation of "petite". Since one of the rules applies, this is labelled counterfeeding. The problem, however, is that there is no reason that "petite" should be pronounced the same as "petit". In fact, distinct masculine and feminine adjective forms are a characteristic of not only French but all Romance languages.

Counterbleeding can be clarified with an example from Portuguese. The word "bom" (good) has a fully nasalized vowel but no nasal. Two rules can be formed. Rule A is the vowel nasalization rule which states that a vowel becomes nasalized if it is followed by a nasal in the same syllable. Rule B is the nasal deletion rule which deletes a word-final nasal. If the order of the two rules were reversed and we applied nasal deletion first, the word "bom" would become "bo". In this case, the environment for vowel nasalization would be destroyed and it would fail to apply. This is an example of counterbleeding.

However, this example also has problems. It is not always the case that a vowel becomes nasalized before a nasal segment. For example, in Hungarian vowels do not nasalize before nasals. In the Hungarian word "szent" (saint) the "e" is not nasalized. Thus vowel nasalization is not a universal phenomenon. Second, it is not clear that vowel nasalization first applies and then nasal deletion. It is a possibility that the two rules apply simultaneously so that they coalesce. If the vowel and the nasal coalesce, neither vowel nasalization nor nasal deletion precedes the other.

Phonological rule orders often present many problems. One problem is that it is not always evident that one rule must precede the other. Other problems are that the rules are often not universal and in certain cases are optional rules. Phonological rules and rule orders often fail to capture the reality of the sound changes they represent.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Polish Dill Pickle Soup

One of my favourite soups is Polish dill pickle soup. It can be served either hot or cold. I prefer to have it cold. This soup does not take too long to prepare. Here is a recipe for this tasty soup.

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, sliced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 and 1/2 cups chopped dill pickles
2 cups water
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and black pepper

Melt the butter in a pot. Fry the onion until it is golden brown. Add the broth, pickles, water and potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Cook until the potatoes become tender.

Blend the flour with the sour cream. Add some hot soup to the mixture of sour cream and flour. Slowly pour it into the hot soup while stirring. Simmer until the soup is slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or if desired, cool in the refrigerator and serve cold.

This soup is especially good when eaten with rye bread. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.