100 Things You Never Wanted to Know about Language and Never Thought to Ask

I can tell you for a fact…

The following facts about languages and linguistics have mostly come off the top of my head. I can’t guarantee that some of what I say here hasn’t been superseded by more recent research, but I’ve tried not to allow conjecture into the list.

  1. All languages have consonants and vowels.
  2. Consonants can be subdivided into obstruents and sonorants.
  3. Obstruents comprise stops, affricates and fricatives.
  4. Sonorants comprise nasals, liquids and glides.
  5. Sonorants also include vowels, but the term usually refers to consonantal sounds.
  6. Some languages don’t distinguish verbs and adjectives as a word class.
  7. The Eskimo languages don’t have huge numbers of words for “snow”.
  8. Indo-European (IE) is the distant and unrecorded ancestor of most of the languages of Europe, some of the languages of the Middle East, and some of the languages of India.
  9. The earliest recorded language in the world is Sumerian.
  10. The earliest recorded IE language is Hittite.
  11. The earliest recorded Afro-Asiatic language is Akkadian.
  12. The earliest recorded variety of Greek is found in the Linear B inscriptions.
  13. The Linear B syllabary was designed for a language with a different syllable structure from Greek.
  14. The eastmost IE language was Tocharian.
  15. Records of Tocharian were found in the west of China.
  16. Tocharian is now extinct.
  17. The earliest recorded Germanic language is Gothic.
  18. Gothic is an East Germanic language.
  19. Gothic was still spoken in the Crimea in the 17th century.
  20. Gothic was the only recorded East Germanic language.
  21. English is a West Germanic language.
  22. The closest relative of the English language is Frisian.
  23. The earliest extant records for English are about years old.
  24. The Old English period was AD 449 to c. 1100.
  25. Modern English is the descedant of the Anglian dialect of Old English.
  26. Old Norse (Old Icelandic) wasn’t recorded until the early th century.
  27. Some word in the Salishan language, Bella Coola, are made up solely of obstruents.
  28. In Imdlawn Tashlhiyt Berber, any consonant can function as a vowel, provided it is parsed into the nuclear position of the syllables.
  29. Syllables have three parts – the onset; the nucleus; and the coda.
  30. The nucleus, or the nucleus and coda together, form the rhyme.
  31. The onset is the consonant or consonants that precede the nucleus.
  32. In some languages, onsets are obligatory.
  33. The nucleus is obligatory.
  34. The nucleus usually contains vowels, but some languages permit certain classes of consonants to fill this position.
  35. The most likely class of consonant to be found in the nuclear position is the sonorants.
  36. In no language are coda consonants obliagtory.
  37. In many languages, there are restrictions on consonants which can occur in the coda.
  38. Japanese only allows [n] in the coda of a syllable.
  39. Mandarin Chinese only allows [n] or [ŋ] in the coda of a syllable.
  40. Word-finally, Finnish only permits [l, n, r, s, t] or a vowel.
  41. In German, obstruents in the coda are voiceless.
  42. Syllables can be classified as light or heavy.
  43. A light syllable has a non-branching rhyme.
  44. Therefore, a syllable which ends in a short vowel is light.
  45. A heavy syllable has a branching rhyme at some level.
  46. Where the rhyme branches at the level of the nucleus, the syllable has a long vowel or diphthong.
  47. A diphthong is two vowels said as a single syllable.
  48. Where the rhyme itself branches, the syllable ends in one or more consonants.
  49. Syllable weight is also measured in terms of a unit of timing called a mora.
  50. A light syllable is monomoraic.
  51. A heavy syllable is bimoraic or larger.
  52. Stress assignment in some languages (e.g. English, Latin) is sensitive to quantity.
  53. Stress assignment in some languages is quantity insensitive.
  54. There appear to be only three different types of metrical structure used to assign rhythmical stress – the moraic trochee, the syllabic trochee, and the moraic iamb.
  55. The moraic trochee is a left-headed, quantity sensitive foot.
  56. The syllabic trochee is a left-headed, quantity insensitive foot.
  57. The moraic iamb is a right-headed, quantity sensitive foot.
  58. The moraic iamb is assigned from left to right.
  59. Trochaic feet may be assigned in either direction.
  60. One foot, typically at or near the left or right edge of the word, will be assigned primary stress.
  61. Stress has no one particular phonetic correlate.
  62. In some languages, stress assignment is determined by vocalic sonority.
  63. In some languages, stress assignment is determined by the properties of the morphemes from which a word is formed.
  64. If a language has only one type of obstruent, it will be voiceless.
  65. Sonorants are almost always voiced.
  66. Voiceless sonorants are much less frequent than voiced obstruents.
  67. A Sprachbund is a group of languages which share certain linguistic features.
  68. The languages of the Sprachbund are not necessarily closely related even if they belong to the same language family.
  69. English is a nominative-accusative language (just look at the personal pronouns).
  70. The nominative is the case of the subject of a sentence.
  71. The accusative is the case of the object of a sentence.
  72. In ergative-absolute languages, the ergative is the case of the subject of a transitive verb.
  73. The subject of an intransitive verb in an ergative-absolute language goes into the absolute case.
  74. Most erg-abs languages have split ergativity.
  75. In such languages, nouns follow the erg-abs pattern, but pronouns follow a nom-acc pattern.
  76. The passive voice demotes the subject of the sentence.
  77. The antipassive voice demotes the object of the sentence.
  78. The passive is found in nom-acc languages.
  79. The antipassive voice is found in erg-abs languages.
  80. SVO languages have a tendency to be left-headed.
  81. SOV languages have a tendency to be right-headed.
  82. Headedness determines where the obligatory word goes in a phrase.
  83. English and French are SVO languages.
  84. In English, unmodified adjectives usually precede nouns.
  85. In French, most adjectives usually follow nouns.
  86. The Celtic languages are VSO.
  87. Welsh, Cornish, and Breton are p-Celtic languages.
  88. IE *[kw] became [p] in these languages.
  89. Irish, Gaelic, and Manx are q-Celtic languages.
  90. IE *[kw] became [k] in these languages.
  91. Japanese is an SOV language.
  92. Some languages (e.g. Hungarian, Warlpiri) have no particular word order.
  93. Such languages are called configurational.
  94. There are about 6,500 languages in the world today.
  95. Many languages are endangered or on the verge of extinction.
  96. The IE languages are divided into two main groups called centum and satem.
  97. In the centum group, which is found mostly in the west, IE *[k] remained mostly unchanged.
  98. In the satem group, IE *[k] was subject to palatalisation.
  99. Centum is the Latin word for “hundred”.
  100. Satem is the Avestan word for “hundred”.
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One thought on “100 Things You Never Wanted to Know about Language and Never Thought to Ask”

  1. One day I met Dr John. He was a linguistics expert. We had a couple of words. I did not understand either of them. (With apologies to proto "Bluebottle" circa 1953). PS This was written in rainy Auckland. In fact it hosed down several times. Aunty Pat is being extraordinarily brave in the face of awful pain.

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