27 Feb 2007

Linguistic conventions on Paleoglot

This blog strives to use the same established conventions as you would find in some snooty, ol' book in a university library. These snooty, ol' books have something that mob-rule sources of information like Wikipedia or Yahoogroups have never yet encouraged: long-term thought based on careful, logical reasoning. (Ouch!) Have you hugged your local librarian today?

In order to make this text visible online for readers with various computers and operating systems around the world, I need to use standardized fonts that you may not have installed on your computer yet. However, don't worry. They are available for free to download. If you see strange boxes instead of text, you might want to consider downloading these small font files and installing them for your ease.

Free downloadable fonts used by Paleoglot

  • Code2000 - Used for special linguistic symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which I may use for topics concerning language reconstruction or phonetics.
  • Coptic - Used for writing the Coptic language, a direct descendent of Ancient Egyptian. It was spoken as late as the 17th century but it's still used today in the Coptic churches within Egypt.

Words with a single asterisk before them

This means that the word is reconstructed (eg. PUr *käxli 'tongue'). A reconstructed language is often called a proto-language and usually is the parent of one or more later languages. Some linguists attempt to reconstruct substrate languages in cases where a language is suspected to have been replaced by another, with indirect evidence such as loanwords in differing languages of the same area.

These languages are reconstructed in part to help linguists remember and understand the subtle phonetic or grammatical relationships between languages. They are also a beneficial complement to archaeology and historical facts since they give us added glimpses of the general society and way of life of the people or peoples who spoke these tongues in a way that other disciplines may not be able to provide.

As an example, Latin novem, Greek ennea and Sanskrit navá all mean 'nine' and these three languages are known to be related to each other. The reconstructed parent language of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit is called Proto-Indo-European, a language thought to have been spoken about 4000 BCE in the areas north-west of the Black Sea. The original form of the word is therefore agreed upon by academic consensus to be *(h₁)néwn̥ 'nine' due to a strict methodology involving such things as analysing sound correspondences. For more details on the "comparative method" that linguists use here, read this article: Language Families [pdf].

Words with two asterisks before them

A double asterisked word means either that the word is really conjectural or it's terribly unlikely. It implies that the form in question is not agreed upon by academic consensus but an open matter of debate. For example, one might suggest a light-hearted idea that since so many languages around the world often have 1st person pronouns starting with 'm' that perhaps they all derive from some common pronoun many thousands of years ago. Let's say for fun, something like **mui. In such cases, the double asterisks signals the informed reader that this is not a valid reconstruction based on careful examination of facts as is the case of Indo-European *(h₁)néwn̥ but rather an idle or whimsical conjecture meant by the author to stimulate further discussion. A double asterisk to a single asterisk is like a vague idea you thought of while showering to a carefully thought-out theory that you've been researching for months or years.


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