language and mind

May 23, 2013

No men, women, children, or houses with the pie

William JonesWilliam Jones was a reported a hyperpolyglot. He learned Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, and basic Chinese, says Wikipedia to add he knew thirteen languages thoroughly, and another twenty-eight reasonably well.

Mr. Jones wrote The Sanscrit Language to tell that Greek and Latin had a common root, Sanskrit. This Proto-Indo-European “language”, PIE in short, was to originate contemporary European tongues.

Altogether, Mr. Jones is reported to have had at least reasonably good knowledge of 41 tongues. Such a reasonably good acquaintance should encompass the words woman, man, child, and house. Let us compare these words in Latin, Greek, English, Russian, Polish, German, French, and Sanskrit.

Is there a root PIE vocabulary?


Woman silhouetteWOMAN

Latin: femina; Greek: gyne; English: woman; Russian: zenshchina; Polish: kobieta; German: Weib; French: femme; Sanskrit: nari.

Man silhouetteMAN

Latin: vir; Greek: andros; English: man; Russian: muzshtschina; Polish: mężczyzna; German: Mann; French: homme; Sanskrit: naro.

I do not know Sanskrit at all. I can only compare resources. The morpheme -man as quoted by supporters of the PIE, seems to refer to thinking, not sex.

Child silhouetteCHILD

Latin: putillus; Greek: pais; English: child; Russian: rebionok; Polish: dziecko; German: Kind; French: enfant; Sanskrit: sutah.

Words for children seem to have varied in Sanskrit. The culture remains reported as strictly stratified, in status and ancestry. “Children of men” made another name, napraja. The notion is unlikely to concern sexual differences.

House silhouetteHOUSE

Latin: domus; Greek: do; English: house; Russian: dom; Polish: dom; German: Haus; French: maison; Sanskrit: vasati.

Vir or andros, child or rebionok, woman or kobieta ― the words have nothing to do one with another. They are the basic vocabulary to tell language groups: they hardly ever change. Polish and Russian make a group. We may compare the words muzshtschina and mężczyzna. There is not much point deriving Polish from Russian or Russian from Polish, however. We can compare rebionok and dziecko.

Domus, do, and dom, or house and Haus, show geographic affinity. It is characteristic of urban or other developments and does not decide on grouping.

Language groups or families

Language groups work better than language families. ‘Families’ derive languages one from another. This might not work, as in the Polish and Russian examples above. Proto-languages are mostly constructs: there is no written evidence for them.

The natural fact will remain that people speak tongues as they are, and do not look up to any ‘parents’. With evolutionary approaches, languages do not have to come all from one. They may have emerged independently, owing to human cognitive advancement.

Why derive European vocabularies from Sanskrit, while Sanskrit might have absorbed loan words?

Sanskrit is dated thousands of years B.C. There is no writing in wood, papyrus, parchment or  paper preserved from those times. Stone inscriptions are too short and too scarce to work etymologies. The Rosetta Stone was absolutely unique, yet it allowed translation, not etymological study. Finally, Marco Polo was not probably the first visitor to the Far East.

TrundholmCarbon dating

Written resources should be carbon-dated. There is no philological method to affirm the original beyond evidence. Writings were copied in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and later, hand style and pen craft.

Radiocarbon results happen to be misunderstood. A website shares a story about a find from 9.5 thousands of years ago. It is … a piece of wood from an underwater site. There is much such wood world-round. It does not prove writing. The picture on the left shows a find dated with pollen. Palynology is naturally less likely to work for books.

Oldest does not mean wisest

In Antiquity, people were mostly illiterate, lived without running water, and had many health problems. The lifestyle diseases of the present day are those the Ancients would never get as … they would never live that long. One needs to be very selective, seeking wisdom in those times.

Contemporary Supporters of the PIE, professing the Proto-Indo-European ‘family’, have gone into making out religion, too. There is not even a PIE root for the name of our planet.

Earth silhouetteEARTH

Latin: terra or tellus; Greek: Gaia or Aia; English: Earth; Russian: Ziemlia; Polish: Ziemia; German: Erde; French: Terre; Sanskrit: vasudha.

It seems there was a pie more than the PIE, Mr. Jones time, and that pie was India. The colonial era began about 1500, and there was much competition.

Space 1999 would show reading Proto-Sanskrit accurately … ;)

Sanskrit Readout

The holocaust in the clip is not the Holocaust.

March 28, 2013

British grammar nazis

GrammerDisclaimer: the adjacent — and colored meaningfully yellow — graphic piffle is not intended to mean the Union Jack proper. It is the British grammar nazis logo on Facebook.

British grammar nazis header


The logo dubious pulchritude may be seen in its full form on the right here, also with a click.


Now, without going into matters of the meaning of life, or the spoken lore on WWII and British losses — invaluable for those hard of reading — let me focus on the statistics and implications.

Much has been written about WWII. Evidently, mere gathering orthography and other detail does not make one capable of text interpretation. The fact shows in website reactions to The Daily Mash: the guys hardly get irony. Daily mash

British grammar nazis sharesThe article appears full size, when clicked.

The reactions page does the same. Should there be visiting grammar nazis, I venture a brief primer on irony after this indispensable piece of advice.

The site has about 50 thousand ‘likes’. Taking the British population alone, that would make about 50 thousand functionally illiterate, among about 63 million people. Some might say it is not so bad, it is not even one percent. Still, you’d better ‘think literacy’, going to the UK.

Try for a plain passport photo, that is, without brooches, scarves, ties, anything you do not always carry; the piffle shows the guys’ attention to picture specifics. ;)

Remember to wave your hand, getting a taxi; it is a simple, therefore legible gesture. Try to get a map with statues and other tourist attractions in large icons. It is better to take a walk from the National Museum than end up the Piccadilly, owing to small print. ;)

In hotels, always tick the boxes. At best, you ask for those straight, should you be provided with a form without boxes to tick. ;)

When it comes to mailing letters, get the recorded: they have ID strips. Seeking directions, approach people with newspapers: there are odds they can read them. Never ever leave your books or papers, especially open: they might be taken for other utilities. ;)

Now, the primer on irony. The basics are in the affirmative and the negative. You do not take them for a yes or no merely. Let me quote the Mash:

In no way are any of these people vain, arsey pedants.

You do not take this for negation. The ironic vogue, you interpret the statement. ;)

Naturally, life cannot be about statements only. Let me continue with the Mash.

The way they selflessly dedicate themselves to correct punctuation, for example by pointing out to the staff of a chip shop why the term ‘chip’s’ is a sloppy obfuscation, confirms they are bold and righteous individuals.

The ironic fashion, you apply antonymy, to grasp the gist. The rest may become plain with a close synonymy not to support a complimentary note.

Laying all that out in detail to a grammar nazi looks discouragingly big a task, hence the handful of thoughts and the primary color, yellow (adjective, reference 3). ;)


June 10, 2012

Apples grow on noses: two languages – two minds?

Filed under: language, language processing, language use, psycholinguistics — teresapelka @ 12:18 pm


Two minds_Speaking a second language can change everything from problem-solving skills to personality. It is almost as if you are two people, says Catherine de Lange. Her account raises ethical concerns.

We can read ‘Mon espirit paratage — My two minds’, in The New Scientist of May 5th, 2012. Ms. de Lange compares monolingual and bilingual children. The Washington Post forwards her article.


Both monolinguals and bilinguals could see the mistake in phrases such as ‘apples growed on trees’, but differences arose when they considered nonsensical sentences such as ‘apples grow on noses’. The monolinguals, flummoxed by the silliness of the phrase, incorrectly reported an error, whereas the bilinguals gave the right answer, says Ms. de Lange.

The experiment looks biased. Most children get fairy tales. It does not matter, if the kid speaks one, two, or more languages. It it important the child comprehends the language in which he or she can hear there was a kingdom, a long time ago, where apples grew on noses.Apples

NosesReal-life, you can tell a nose from a nose, regardless of the language. And you can tell apples.

The children would have had to be misled on the objective: whether they were to tell the syntax or the pragmatics. Talking the science, the task was deictically misconstrued, if the account is real. Both children groups could have been wrong or right. Bilingual children know that apples do not literally grow on noses. Monolingual children know a plural noun takes a plural verb.

How could we tBimoesell syntactic skills? The way we can regularly teach, without experimenting, or telling monolingual people from bilingual people. We use virtual words.

Kids can get it easy. We can show a child  a car, a ball, a doll, and a troll. They are all things. We can name those things. We can say they’re our phimoes. Children make up virtual words often and spontaneously. We can use this for grammar, compare here.

We can show that a car rolls, a doll dances, a troll hops and jumps, and a ball bounces. All phimoes bimo — things can do characteristic things. We can play with the kid and talk. This phimo bimoes like that. That phimo is not bimoing now. It would not be long, before a kid could tell easy, if we are correct saying, The phimo bimo now. :)

Importantly, there would not be any bias about the child’s background, ancestry, or languages. I could never agree that bilingualism confuses. I would not try to turn it into a special wit, on the other hand. Speaking more than one language is just an everyday thing to me.

The bilingual or multilingual side does not bring neglect to word meaning. The account above wouldBread suggest that bilingual kids do not mind if something is real or true, and look to syntax only.

PainMs. de Lange says she speaks English and French. All languages have their spellings and sound shapes. Naturally, we can think about pain and bread. In French, un pain is bread.

Obviously, the boy is not eating any pain, whether he speaks French or not. Boy eating bread

He is eating real bread. Other stories could be only sick. Whether you speak French or not, seriously sick. Mal a l’oreille. ;)

Either the experiment or the account had to be prejudiced. There are other ethical concerns. Ms. de Lange reports infant scans for experimental purposes.  I do not see much sense in such scanning. Most importantly, you cannot obtain informed consent from an infant. Washington Post has more.

April 28, 2012

Burning the Flag – where is the language?

Filed under: language, language processing, language use, law, psycholinguistics — teresapelka @ 10:46 am


Themis and the FlagThe legal profession is a depth of recondite detail the Supreme Court has the expertise firmly to deliberate. The linguist I am, I yet cannot yield on a few principles. Freedom of speech has been quoted to justify burning the American flag.

United States versus Eichman, United States versus Haggerty, Texas versus Johnson: all cases argued freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Haggerty’s case would have the implication to make the Flag necessarily your piece of cloth before burning. It is when the Flag belongs to an institution like Seattle’s Capitol Hill Post Office that you get fined. ;)

Let me read the First Amendment again.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In my grammar book, I tell people to exercise comprehension in paraphrase. We can say the First Amendment

forbids the Congress to regulate the matters of religion, to reduce independent speech or publication, to delimitate people’s right to convene, or to prevent people’s formally requesting the authorities for reparation of damages.

Let me imagine a person burns something. Is there a speech sound produced, if the human just sits silently by a campfire, warming his or her hands? Is there any written or printed stretch of language to emerge from the flame? Should one try to interpret the wood or coal crackling and hissing as stanzas, quatrains, epodes? Could we hear the anacrusis?

The Supreme Court could not hear or read any language. The Eichman holding says:

The government’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol did not outweigh the individual right to disparage that symbol through expressive conduct.About DWRL University of Texas logo

The result is lesson plans I cannot favorably credit. A click on the header below shows a University of Texas material (unless they have been impersonated, the About page is on the right, the e-mail address saying

University of Texas lesson plan logo

The lesson plan says you learn to tell symbols from icons, and you comprehend why flag burning could do for some kind of talk.

Let me tell on linguistic terms, without conditions or a single match attached. Symbols and icons may be exact same objects, without language. You work with a computer. You click on an icon and it takes you to a website. The icon symbolizes the website. You can associate the content only provided you know it, however. The icon is an arbitrary symbol.

Speech sounds are not symbols. They are not arbitrary, in their ability to communicate. We can put phonemes into notation with phonetic alphabets. We could say we read phonetic symbols. This yet would be jargon. The strict term is grapheme. Phonetic alphabets use graphemes.

If we want to use the word ‘symbol’ with reference to speech and language, we form a lexical item, a unit of meaning. We can say we use letter symbols, or even letter-symbols. Everyone knows there are many alphabets, and graphemes may be arbitrary.

Wikipedia says that a red octagon means ‘stop’, even without language. Wikiepdia octagon

Stop__roundWe can talk about a referential code only. Road signs happen to be also round.

Let us compare graphetics. How could we interpret Hello? The thing with referential codes is they do not work without language, however lenient the driving instructor. Without semantics, nobody gets any meaning.

HelloFlag associations 1

What is the meaning of a national flag? It symbolizes the country and the people. The picture on the right shows only part my associations.

I generally associate the USA people and things with the American flag.

Flag associations 2

Even if you don’t like everybody round, would rather live in a tent, make own clothes  and hunt for food to liberate yourself of the influence of American capitalism, the nonsense of burning the Flag remains appalling, when I think about a cause-and-effect association I have.

Flag associations 3


It would not look sound to speculate if the Constitution would have come to existence without the people fighting for American freedom, also in Fort McHenry, about which The Star Spangled Banner tells. It would not make any sense to ponder, if the First Amendment would have been passed without the Constitution.

The Amendment does not say

Congress shall make no law abridging expressive conduct …

Human expressive behaviors are a very wide spectrum. Part of this spectrum belongs under parental guidance and does not meet the criteria for language at all.

Again, let me tell on linguistic terms, without conditions or even a single match attached. Generally, language is a human faculty to consist of grammar, phonology, and a lexicon. As in all areas of human activity, there is no uniform definition of language. Some researchers will say syntax, phonology, and vocabulary can make a language. To me, syntax belongs well within grammar.

A language needs to be spoken or written. Braille belongs with writing, and sign languages with spoken forms of language. ‘Body language’ is a figure of speech. I cannot agree with Wikipedia also on counting languages: it is as if we could not count the apples, because part are varieties of apples. ;)

Wikipedia does not tell language as such. It tells a language or particular languages. No linguist would have a dialect for a sign code. :)

Any precise estimate depends on a partly arbitrary distinction between languages and dialects.

Language logo


Concluding, I do not support the Supreme Court verdict. It is not because I would uphold the notion of Flag desecration. The word desecration suggests abuse on sanctity. I think flags are for people, and I have put images of the American flag on my grammar books, which are absolutely my human work.

Flag burning or malicious damage are not speech acts, in my opinion. I hope time will bring the change necessary for legislation to rule out physically abusive behaviors from speech acts.

November 6, 2011

Tongue entanglement

Filed under: language, language autonomy, language bias, language use — teresapelka @ 8:31 am

Language is often taken for granted, or given the regard for the humanity’s unloved child.

Diarmaid Ferriter of The Limits of Liberty ventured the classic frown on his RTE One show. Irish people speak English owing to cultural submissiveness, avouched Mr. Ferriter. You cannot dominate someone who does not speak your language. These have been the English to speak English; they brought the language.

Well, you could not make a prodigal son or daughter of language.

It does not spend much, and it can give a lot. ;)

Most businesses in Ireland work on English language papers and cash. People have English language business talks. People learn in English language schools. People go to English language medics and shops. Many have never learned British. Irish English has a distinct sounding, one might find more pleasurable than that from over the Thames, as Pete McCarthy has noticed.

Getting rid of all this would not be freedom. It would be a disaster.

IMAG0172Contrary to Mr. Ferriter, I think Irish English should have a corpusAutonomous language environments always have own corpora. Google brings mostly Gaelic-English glosses, should you key in the phrase ‘Irish English dictionary’. Limerick university does not focus on Irish English, offering courses. The International Corpus of English requires a request form, and does not promise anything.

Bus tours in Dublin symbolize English with the Union Jack. The Irish flag represents Celtic.

There are two kinds of power, The Limits said. The police and the military were the ‘hard power’. Language was the ‘soft power’.

I agree that saying ‘come in’  can be physically more efficient than carrying people into rooms, especially if the persons would be wholesome. Yet saying ‘fish and chips’ does not give a Leo Burdock, unless there is the cash to make the deal.

Language does not have an overpowering potential. More, political debates world round prove humans phylogenetically capable of days and more of a language production to have no influence on thought or decisions. ;)

Language is not a physical power. It can be an opportunity.

May 11, 2011

Larry Selinker’s interlanguage – Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain didn’t have it right?

Filed under: language, language processing, language use — Tags: , , — teresapelka @ 9:54 am

I do not and would not postulate error about the two authors.

Larry Selinker, a professor emeritus of linguistics, developed his theory  of  ‘interlanguage’ or ‘third language’ in 1972. He says that people who learn English after another tongue, learn English as a second language. A ‘latent psychological structure’ becomes woken in the brain, when a human learns a second language, says Mr. Selinker.

Thought about language should not be made merely serve lectures. Let us reason about language and life.

Eduardo was born in America, in an immigrant Hispanic family. He spoke mostly Spanish before he went to school: his parents spoke Spanish, and his little friends in the town area he lived were all Spanish. Mr. Selinker would say Spanish is Eduardo’s first tongue.

Now, Eduardo is 20. He never wanted to stay in the small town. He is doing an IT degree. He takes elliptic integrals easy, but he would need a dictionary to translate math from English to Spanish — he learned math at school, in English-speaking classes.

Love wouldn’t come Spanish-first to Eduardo, either. His girlfriend is an American. American English is the only language she has ever spoken. She is a real treasure and a natural for a good conversation. When Eduardo tells his sweetheart he loves her, he says it in English and he means it.

Ai-li also was born in America. Her grandparents were Chinese. She has always been for languages. Before she went to school, she learned American along with Chinese. She started to learn German and French, when she was about seven years old.

Ai-li is writing a thesis about spatial reference in German and French — her two ‘second languages’ or her ‘third-second languages’? Should American count as the second, German and French would make the third or fourth, but actually she has learned and worked with all her languages at the same time …

Both Eduardo and Ai-li are made up figures, but they are absolutely possible in modern America. Larry Selinker would imply abnormal mental and neural realities about both, whereas they could easily communicate with one another, as well as with other people.

Mr. Selinker built his theory on student error. He states that owing to latent psychological structures in the brain, second language learners show simplification, circumlocution, and over-generalization. Idiosyncrasy is a tag common to all the precedent. An idiosyncrasy may be

a structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group, a physiological or
temperamental peculiarity, or an unusual individual reaction to food or a drug
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 

Human brains do not have purely ‘functional’, ‘mathematical’, or ‘psychological’ connectivities. There are no ‘latent’ brain areas in unimpeded humans. Injury does not produce neural structures for language. Learning languages, obviously, does not injure brains.

Why call learners idiosyncratic? Mr. Selinker says generally that second language learners produce utterances different from those by other people. Let us compare, would this be different?

The brain is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side,

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,

For, hold them, blue to blue,

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,

And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.

The Brain by Emily Dickinson. Source: Project Gutenberg; daguerreotype: Wikimedia Commons.

Emily Dickinson would never have come to existence in human awareness, without her talent and individuality. As many people might like her poetry as hate it, yet anybody’s producing the exact same poem is not probable. Everyone has own idiolect. An idiolect is individual speech and writing. It is not idiosyncrasy.

The author to have gained my innocent admiration is Mark Twain. He may be a natural association, when we speak about idiolects. He remains adorable — the celebrated author he was — in his attitude to himself. Let us mind he traveled much, and got to know language and life well.

And if I sell to the reader this volume of nonsense, and he, instead of seasoning his graver reading with a chapter of it now and then, when his mind demands such relaxation, unwisely overdoses himself with several chapters of it at a single sitting, he will deserve to be nauseated, and he will have nobody to blame but himself if he is. ;)

Mark Twain’s Speeches by Mark Twain, Project Gutenberg. Caricature by Leslie Ward ‘Spy’ for Vanity Fair, May 13 1908.

Mr. Selinker’s opinions do not endure, in the light of individuality and talent. We could not hold beliefs about language to concern a group of people only. Language is language.

Let us analyze Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course by Susan M. Gass and Larry Selinker.

Imperfective morphology emerges with durative and/or stative verbs (i.e. activities and states), then gradually spreads to achievement/accomplishment and punctual verbs.

As language is language, the natural question might be about the relevance of the highlighted categories to first language learning. Do we tell young Americans they have a special category of verbs to emerge, and that for accomplishment to be told apart from achievement?

Let imagine young Americans presented with following examples:

(7-33)      She dancing (activity)

(7-34)      And then a man coming … (accomplishment)

(7-35)      Well, I was knowing that. (state)

(7-36)      Other boys were shouting ‘watch out’! (achievement).

The link above shows page 208, with the examples. As I understand, they are purported to come from a study begun on children aged 8 years. For the developmental stage, kids can walk and shout. What is the natural difference between the ‘accomplishment’ (7-34) and ‘achievement’ (7-36)?

I think stative and dynamic verbs have imposed artificial dichotomy on grammars. Multiplying the categories is not the answer. Feel welcome to see Feelings.

I have been able to find the ‘punctual verbs’ mostly in contexts of Japanese or Slingish. The kids in the study above are reported as French and Dutch.

The French learners were overall less proficient than the Dutch learners and never reached the stage where they could use the regular past morphology productively. Transfer factors were also involved, in that learners appeared to be predisposed by basic distinctions in their L1 tense-aspect system to look for similar distinctions in the L2 input, specifically in the case of the past/non-past distinction, where Dutch is closer to English (page 209).

The study lasted for three years. It is longer than long enough to teach past tenses, in my ordinary experience.

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American President

I was not thinking about a particular group of people, as second language learners, working on my method. I worked on legally available materials about natural language acquisition, along with own learning, which began when I was a few years old. And I would encourage also an American:

Try the relativity :)

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