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In defence of learning dead languages
Posted: 19 September 2013 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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What do we think about the comment in the article that Sanskrit is older than Latin and Greek? This implies that Latin and Greek are newer, but the only real new languages are creoles.

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Posted: 19 September 2013 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I don’t think it would be widely accepted that Sanskrit is older than Greek.

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Posted: 19 September 2013 04:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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It’s a somewhat inaccurate generalization, but from a practical perspective Sanskrit is older. Vedic Sanskrit is roughly contemporary with Mycenaean Greek, but we have a lot more and varied examples of Vedic Sanskrit than we do of Linear B, which basically consists of a palace inventory lists. (The somewhat older Linear A is to date undeciphered.) So we have a much richer written record of early Sanskrit than we do of early Greek, and the Greek of Homer, which is what people think of when they speak of “ancient Greek,” is much later.

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Posted: 19 September 2013 06:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Let us not lose sight of the heading on this article, ‘In defence of learning dead languages.’

So, if we are examining this topic seriously, we should look at the relative merits of studying so-called dead languages, if there are any.
One might examine Latin, for instance, and conclude that the reason for learning it would be to understand the basis of many European languages that stem from or were influenced by that ancient language. Presumably, the student or scholar would then move on to modern European languages, utilizing Latin in the process of comprehension.
However, there would be individuals who just enjoy learning an archaic or dead language because of the challenge, or because of its inherent interest to them.

Take Cornish for example, which UNESCO classified as an extinct language some years ago. Recently, they reversed this classification due to a revival of interest in studying this Southwestern Brittonic Celtic language.

So, it seems that the main reason for learning a so-called dead language would be because of the interest element. And let’s face it, without human interest in anything, where would we be.

Arga

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Posted: 19 September 2013 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Ask a linguist, and the usual answer is that no language is older than another.

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Posted: 19 September 2013 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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By the same argument, no species (or other taxon) is older than any other.  The silliness of the argument is more apparent in that case.

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Posted: 20 September 2013 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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The full quotation from that site makes a bit more sense:

All languages are equally ‘’old’’, in that all are descended without interruption from the earliest beginnings of human speech. No language is ‘’older’’ than any other, and it is meaningless to ask questions like ‘’Which is the oldest language?’’ or ‘’Is language A older than language B?’’

Given the qualification that the linguist is actually speaking of language families, and not individual dialects, then that statement is correct. But it’s also disingenuous. It’s not answering what most people mean by the question. Dialects can certainly be dated, although the evidence for doing so may be absent in some cases and exactly where you draw that line between daughter and mother dialects is subjective. The language that we know today as “English” is not older than Latin, for instance.

I would also quibble with the use of “meaningless” here. The question is pointless, not meaningless. The question makes sense and is, in theory, answerable, but it serves no purpose. It’s just a linguistic pissing contest.

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Posted: 20 September 2013 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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from a practical perspective Sanskrit is older.

But it’s also disingenuous. It’s not answering what most people mean by the question.

I’m pretty sure we’ve had this go-around before, but I find your attitude strange for someone who runs a site dedicated to exploring and publicizing the actual facts of language as opposed to popular misconceptions.  Here, you seem to be supporting popular misconceptions and decrying any attempt to clarify the facts.  It is absurd to say Sanskrit is older than Greek or than any other Indo-European language; the languages are equally old.  The writing systems are not, but what does that have to do with anything?  It is a popular misconception that writing = language, and it is not “disingenuous” to try to counter it.  You might as well say “from a practical perspective posh comes from port out, starboard home” if that’s what most people believe.

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Posted: 20 September 2013 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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The fundamental problem is that “language” has no single meaning. It can mean a lot of things. So when someone asks “which language is older?”, the first response has got to be, “what do you mean by ‘language’?”

What I’m saying is that when people ask the question about which language is older, they are implicitly bounding the question by some kind of mutual intelligibility, i.e., a particular dialect. Mycenaean Greek is not the same thing as Homeric Greek, which is what most people think of when discussing learning “ancient Greek.” Vedic Sanskrit dates from an earlier period than Homeric Greek. What is “disingenuous” is reinterpreting the question to give the answer one wants to give, instead of providing the information the questioner is seeking.

As for writing, I was considering the question in terms of “learning dead languages,” which usually means the written language.

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Posted: 20 September 2013 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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How is it a misconception to believe that different languages exist and that they developed in different eras?

If Latin speakers existed before the time that English speakers existed, then Latin is older. How is that a misconception?

As Dr T points out, in the evolution of life, different species can evolve from each other. A protozoan, in a unbroken line of evolution, can become a human being, but humans and protozoans are separate species and they can’t interbreed. In the same way, English can develop from Latin, but that doesn’t make them the same language.

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Posted: 20 September 2013 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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” In the same way, English can develop from Latin”

SPLUTTER!

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Posted: 20 September 2013 05:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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happydog - 20 September 2013 12:54 PM

How is it a misconception to believe that different languages exist and that they developed in different eras?

If Latin speakers existed before the time that English speakers existed, then Latin is older. How is that a misconception?
.

because it seems to me that it implies that we can point to a date where one language turned into another, and we can’t. Speakers of the language that developed into what we call English did exist at the same time that speakers of the language we call Latin existed. Altho we assign different time periods to different languages, this seems like a convenient abstraction to me.

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Posted: 21 September 2013 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I think it makes more sense to say that the concept of a language is as meaningless (or meaningful) as the concept of a species.  It is an attempt to pigeonhole parts of a continuum.  While one can never definitely pinpoint the moment, e.g., Old English turned into Middle English or the moment Middle English turned into Modern English, to say that Oft him anhaga are gebideð, metudes miltse, is the language we speak today is as silly as trying to enter an eohippus in the Kentucky Derby.

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Posted: 21 September 2013 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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I go back to Dr. T’s analogy to biological species. We have no trouble accepting the notion that distinct species existed at different times. We can draw lines, admittedly subjective and somewhat arbitrary, between ancestor and descendant species along the continuum of development. The same applies to languages.

[Pipped by Faldage]

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Posted: 21 September 2013 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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We’ve gone from discussing dead languages to discussing when a language is considered to be “living”, to put it in layman’s terms (mine).  It seems from the discussion that we have no problem in saying definitively when a language is dead, but we do have a problem in saying when it was alive because there is no exact moment of conception. 

To a layman like me and others here, it’s an interesting question because we communicate by speaking a language. I therefore have a vested interest in wanting to know more about my means of communication.  I don’t actually need to know what “language” means because it’s something I use every day.  However, I can see that experts’ need for academic definition of “language” arises from their need for precision and I respect that.  However, the rest of us don’t expect anyone to say that eg Old English began on precisely 8 September 807AD because we actually do realize that nobody can be that precise.  What we are interested in is timescale: roughly when a language began to form - a hazy plus/minus 500 years will suffice, and thereby compare it with the timescales of other languages.

I don’t need to know how or why experts differ.  Just a rough idea will do for me.

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