Terry Nakamura
G Track
Physics
December 8, 1997

Linguistics Literature Review


The phenomenon of language is perhaps one of the most defining and significant characteristics which separates man from beast. With the help of this great tool, man has achieved time and time again what was thought to be impossible and has thus built an incredibly advanced and complex world. Language is indispensable to all facets of everyday life, for whether in the form of writing, speech, or even sign language, it is essential in the maintaining of social structure and well-being. The economic, political, and social status of every country across the globe depend on communication. The ability to communicate and express oneself is the basis of civilization, and the creation of language was the genesis of the profound intellectual growth and achievements on which the world as we know it has been built upon. The many and various cultures found across the globe would not exist without language, and it is logical that man engages in extensive studies of it to better understand its effects on the world around him.
The study of language, or linguistics, deals with the structure, development, and history of language. There is an increasingly great number of various divisions of linguistics, each dealing with a separate aspect of language in general. Descriptive linguistics attempts to explain the phenomena of language through the study of the sound and structure of spoken language. Historical linguistics investigates the development of language and how it changes over the course of time. Though these two remain the largest branches of linguistics there is also comparitive linguistics, which compares the structures of two or more languages, and geolinguistics, which is the study of the effects of historical factors on language. Geolinguistics observes and investigates such phenomena as linguistics spheres of influence, multilingualism, class language, jargon, and slang. These subdivisions of linguistics can all be further divided into a few common categories. These categories are:
1. Phonology, the study of language sounds
2. Morphology, the study of various changes in the individual word to alter its meaning (prefixes, internal changes)
3. Syntax, the arrangement of words in a sentence or word group
4. Vocabulary, the study of individual words and their origins; includes the
subgroups:
a.) Etymology, the history of individual words
b.) Semantics, the study of word meanings
These more specific fields are useful in the study of languages across the globe, helping to both distinguish and compare language as well as trace its roots.
In order to fully understand the origins of language, however, one must first ask how language is physically manifested. Because language is always initially spoken with the development of writing following behind, it is the vocal sounds created by various speech organs which "provide the materials for language" (Barber 10). While phonology is mainly defined as the historical study of language sounds, its counterpart, Phonetics, is the study and classification of sounds not in reference to their historical evolution, but to how they are produced and shaped into speech. Speech begins with the lungs' expulsion of air, created by the contraction of the diaphragm and chest muscles. This flow of air provides the vibrations needed to create sound. Though some languages of Africa utilize solely the tongue, cheeks, and lips to produce clicking sounds, most languages are based on the air flow which originates in the lungs, changes somehow during its passage through speech organs, and expels itself through the mouth or nose. The first in a chain of speech organs is the vocal cords, located in the windpipe, which vibrate as the air passes through them. The vibrations can be maximized or minimized through the expansion or contraction of the muscular flesh of the vocal cords. Most human speech occurs when the vocal cords are in their intermediate position, allowing for the creation of the voice. The tone or pitch of the voice can be varied moderately as speech is created, placing emphasis on certain words of importance and making speech much more personal. Another factor which determines the quality of speech is the nasal cavity. If the nasal passage remains open, a higher, more penetrating sound is produced, whereas if the nasal passage remains closed, the sound produced is richer and deeper. The placement of the tongue in the mouth also effects the tone of speech. The tongue's various vertical and horizontal placements create different vowels with different sounds. The looseness or tightness of the lips compliments these vowels and gives them distinct qualities. As the vocal cords, nasal cavity, tongue, and lips are simultaneously shaped in separate ways, sounds of a vast quantity can be produced.
These basic sounds dependent on the free passage of air flow are called vowels, however another important component of language, consonants, are created as the air flow is somehow blocked during its passage. The three classifications of consonants are fricatives, stops, and resonants. Fricatives are created as the flow of air is diverted as an air passage decreases in size. As the air is forced through a more narrow passage, an audible friction is produced. The second type of consonants, stop consonants, are produced when the air flow is completely obstucted by the tongue and lips. Finally, resonant consonants are created when air is allowed to pass without friction, but with a small obstruction of some sort caused by the speech organs of the mouth. With a variety of consonants to modify the numerous basic vowel sounds, an immense multitude of sounds can be created. Though the great number of languages spoken across the world can be vaguely similar or incomprehensibly different in sound, it is important to remember that because all ethnicities and races of humans are biologically the same, the components of the production of sound are identical in all languages.

The voice produces sounds which form into words which translate basic ideas, and consequently words are put into groups which carry more complex meanings. The field of linguistics that deals with the formation and meaning of these word groups is the study of syntax. As words are pulled together into constructions, or specific groups of words formed to convey a specific meanings. Two types of structural categories exist in the definition of constructions. One of them is exocentric structure, which involves word groups that are traditionally known as 'complete sentences' ("I am here"). The second structural category is endocentric structures, which are word groups that act collectively as nouns ("the large old house" ); verbs (should have learned); adjectives (down-to-earth); and adverbs ("in a flash", "many years ago"). When sentences grow and become more complicated as more words are added, certain groups of words called a constituent class are to describe a basic idea. Constituent classes can consist of a few words or even one word, as long as they express an idea that would occur in the same spot in a sentence. The group "man who lives there" and the word "dweller" would both be found at the same location in a sentence, therefore would be of the same constituent class. This ability to appear at one particular part of a sentence is called privelege of occurence.
Due to the vastness of the globe and the many physical barriers which separate people, languages in separate parts of the globe developed in very different ways. Most theorize that there were many "root" languages which started in separate parts of the world, slowly spreading and creating off-shoot languages as the spans of the root languages overlapped at various points. The languages of Europe and Western Asia, though spawned from different root languages, are closely related. By observing the similarities in the languages of Europe and Asia, one can trace the diffusion of phonetics and structure. One example of this diffusion is the d- sound at the beginning of words of the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and Slavic languages which indicates the numbers two and ten. There also exists similar syntax in these languages. The many similarities of languages in Asia and Europe inspired linguists to classify them into the larger category of the Indo-European family. The discovery of the relation of languages in the two separate continents of Asia and Europe led to a new way of looking at language as a whole, as "detailed study of the Indo-European family is important for understanding of historical linguisic method as well as for knowledge of the interrelationships of some of the world's most widely spoken languages" (Lehmann 18). Linguists began to create somewhat of a family tree to trace the history of language. The initial step to classifying languages and creating families is to find the oldest known form of a language and dating it. A family may consist of a number of languages, all with their own subgroups, but all are related to one original strain of language.
The Indo-European family, is also known as the Aryan family because both Celtic and Indic authors referred to their people by this name (Lehmann 19). The Indo-European family has a large number of subgroups which consist of various interrelated languages from the same area. The first of these subgroups is Indo-Iranian, which was carried to the area of Iran and India more than three millenia ago. This is the subgroup which gave birth to Sanskrit, which was the origin of the Hindi, Bengali, Gujerati, Marathi, Panjabi languages as well as other lesser-known ones. Indo-Iranian also gave birth to Avestan and Old Persian, which created the modern day languages of Balochi, Afghan, Persian, Kurdish, and Ossetic. The second linguistic subgroup of Indo-European is Armenian, which to present day exists in two branches: Eastern, spoken in Russia and Iran, and Western, spoken in Turkey. The Slavic subgroup is prime examples of languages created by the diffusion of others, and is broken into the lesser groups of South, West, and East Slavic. South Slavic includes Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovenian; West Slavic consists of Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Wendish; and East Slavic consists of Great Russian, White Russian or Byelorussian and Ukrainian. Another subgroup of Indo-European is Baltic, which has spawned Latvian and Lithuanian. One of the most important of subgroups is Hellenic, or Greek, which split into Mycenaean Greek, West Greek, which split into Northwest Greek and Doric, and East Greek, which subdivided into Attic-Ionic, Aeolic, and Arcado Cyprian. The subgroups Italic and Celtic have many characteristics in common, with Italic eventually evolving into Latin, which is the root of all modern Romance languages, and Celtic evolving into Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Irish, Manx, and Scots Gaelic. The displacement of Celtic has been brought about by Germanic languages. Speakers of Germanic languages spread across Iceland, Greenland, America, into Baltic and Slavic territory, and even south to Africa. Modern languages such as Swedish, Danish, and Gutnish, all from East Norse, and Norwegian, Faroese, and Icelandic West Norse are direct derivations of the Germanic subgroup. As the various forms of Germanic spread across both eastern and western Europe, the dialects which gave birth to Frisian, English, Yiddish, and Dutch.
After Indo-European, the most widely studied language family is Hamito-Semitic which was later renamed Afro-Asiatic. The Afro-Asiatic family is comprised of five branches: Egyptian, one of the earliest known languages, Berber, Cushitic, Chad, and Semitic. Semitic was extremely important to the development of many languages which are spoken throughout the world today. Semitic further subdivided with time into East Semitic and West Semitic. Akkadian remains as the only stem from the root of East Semitic. West Semitic, however, consists of two groups, Aramaic-Canaanite and Arabic-Ethiopic. The Aramaic-Canaanite group included many important and ancient languages such as Phoenician and Hebrew.
To the south of the Afro-Asiatic group, a large family called the Chari-Nile group spread across Northern Africa. Most of the other languages of Africa are classed in the Niger-Congo family, including Bantu and Swahili. Lesser known African dialects such as Hottentot and Bushman stem from the Khoisian family which thrived south of the Niger-Congo family. Most African languages and dialects of modern day can be traced from these three large families which dominated Africa in its early civilization.
Yet another large linguistic family is the Dravidian, which is based in Asia and whose major languages are spoken in southern India. The lesser languages of Telugu, Tamil, Kanarese and Malayalam are all branches of the Dravidian family. Just to the east of where these languages are spoken exists the Malayo-Polynesian family, which over time has split into the dialects of Indonesian, Melanesian, Mironesian, and Polynesian. The Malayo-Polynesian family extends from Madagascar to Easter Island, and from Hawaii to New Zealand. Still farther east towards Siberia, the Palaeo-Asiatic and Hyperborean languages are spoken, whereas the central belt of Asia is characterized by the Turkic languages. These languages are classified mostly with the Mongol and Manchu-Tungus languages from the Altaic family. The Altaic family as of late has been grouped with the Finno-Ugric group from western Asia and the resulting Ural-Altaic group, which contains sounds such as mi mu, yo ya, and hi fu, is related to modern day Japanese and Korean. The remaining languages of Asia all belong to one linguistic family of great importance for its wide distribution of subgroups and antiquity of its documents. This group is referred to as Sino-Tibetan, and consists of three groups: Yenisei-Ostyak, Tibeto-Burman, and (Thai-) Chinese. The first is spoken in northern Siberia, the second consists of the languages of Burma and Tibetan, and the last includes various languages in Thailand and the area to the east of it, as well as dialects of China. Though only one writing system is used in China, there are nine different dialects, the most important being Cantonese, Mandarin, and Manchurian.
Because of the destruction of the Native American people and culture by European invaders, little is really known about the roots of Native American language. Though there were though to be fifty-four families of Native American language, they were all grouped into only six due to structural similarity,. These six divisions are as follows: Eskimo-Aleut, Na-Dene, Algonkin-Wakashan, Hokan-Siouan, Penutian and Aztec-Tanoan. This general way of classifying families into large divisions is also being used to classify the twenty-three language families of Mexico, Central America, and Southern America.
As can be seen from these examples, the diffusion of language across the globe and all of its complex subdivisons create a world in which one's language is specific to their country, or in some cases their district or town. The vast differences between cultural languages creates barriers and impair the flow of knowledge and ideas across the world. Global harmony is also difficult to attain when politicians must be relied upon to maintain world-wide stability. If average people from all parts of the world could somehow communicate in a common language, it would be much easier to relate important information to people living outside of your immediate location on the globe. In an effort to achieve this, Dr. L.L. Zamenhof of Poland created Esperanto in 1887. Esperanto was created as a international language which would allow people who speak different native languages to communicate while still retaining their original languages and cultural identities. Esperanto is specific to any country or people, but belongs to anybody who learns to speak it. It has a simple, regular and extremely flexible structure, and a vocabulary which consists of words of all different countries. According to scientific studies, Esperanto is time times easier to learn than any other language because of its sixteen regular and exception-free rules of grammar and regular phonetic spelling. The rules are constantly applied and are not inconsistent as in most other languages.
Due to the technological advancement of communication, the only barriers between cultures are not physical, but merely consist of language and culture. Because language is created from the basic components which all people have in common, the speech organs and the human mind, anybody is capable of learning Esperanto and using it on a day-to-day basis. It would provide people the chance to learn about cultures they would never have known about and discuss international issues with people who are actually experiencing them. With the combined efficiency of technology and Esperanto, the world could become much more unified and knowledgeable.