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Do all languages have a "turning point"?

  Tags: Linguistics | History
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 Message 17 of 38
22 April 2015 at 9:24am | IP Logged 
robarb wrote:
Interesting. So, in Dutch schools, do you read many foreign old books
translated into contemporary Dutch? Or do
you read few or no old books at all? In American school, I remember reading several
19th century books (which was
never a big deal) plus many of the 16th and 17th century works of Shakespeare (which
were hard for us to
understand, but eventually we either figured it out or relied on notes and
translations). Another popular school book
which I've read, but not in school, is the 18th century Gulliver's Travels. And of
course our US constitution is another
18th century document that we still read.

We discussed them, but I don't think I have read a single Dutch book from before 1900.
As for English classes, I do not know what is routinely discussed in them (I took
bilingual education and certainly conformed with the standards, but we analysed
literature at a much higher level). I read 19th century English literature without
much ado "The Mayor of Casterbridge" for example, and Shakespeare is read by the
Dutch, but in annotated English with modern translations. Note that all English works
that we read were in the original English; this holds true across all levels of
English, as far as I know. (the university preparatory division of higher education
complies with B2-C1 on the CEFR scale with regards to English).

German and French I cannot speak for, as I didn't sit the central examinations; I took
sciences, but to my knowledge at least the literature is to be read in the original.
It used to be in any case, and I think my brother had to do it in German; but how he
coped I don't know because he hated German.

I have never read the Dutch constitution so I don't know the language contained


Actually Swedish language development has strongly paralleled that of Dutch; it would
be interesting to see a comparison. Both lost the masculine/feminine distinction, for
example, radically simplified their verb forms, and are quite open nowadays to loaning
words from English and French. I am not sure if it holds irrespective of language, but
the trends in Swedish and Dutch have always felt very similar in their mentality to

Edited by tarvos on 22 April 2015 at 9:27am

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 Message 18 of 38
22 April 2015 at 5:03pm | IP Logged 
Almost every non-european languages has not had strange turning points, if you observe
proto Algonkin, the descendants are all more or less similar. Sometimes a language
diverges and evolves different qualities over time, sometimes things get more complex but
a lot of languages families hover at a very plain level. Sometimes big changes can occur
due to contact and recomplexification having been a creole in the past (Japanese) or
becoming similar to surrounding languages due to contact (agglutinating mixed language/
dialects of Mandarin), but nothing as haphazard and uncontrolled seems to every occur out

Edited by Stolan on 22 April 2015 at 5:04pm

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 Message 19 of 38
22 April 2015 at 5:55pm | IP Logged 
Non-IE languages vary even more than the IE ones.
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 Message 20 of 38
23 April 2015 at 3:23am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
Non-IE languages vary even more than the IE ones.

And they all seem content with whatever they have, if they change then they change. If one prefers to eat chocolate
ice cream, they eat it, but if they switch to strawberry, then they switch. They do not drag arounds dozens of half
filled cups only adding more to the collection when they don't finish their new servings since they can't decide on
the new flavor.
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 Message 21 of 38
23 April 2015 at 4:16am | IP Logged 
I've read that the rate of change for non-written languages is generally high, and
that writing and literacy tend to slow down the rate of change. And so a tribal
language from 200 years ago might be incomprehensible to modern speakers, while most
major 'world' languages are still relatively easy to understand.

(I can't back this up; just passing along what I've heard).

To me, English feels modern from about 1800 on. Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, Jane Austen,
Mary Shelley, etc. are all pretty easy, and don't require me to shift gears to
understand them.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818) wrote:
Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I
live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had
so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my
feelings were those of rage and revenge. I could with pleasure have destroyed the
cottage and its inhabitants and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.

The 1700's are trickier and require more effort:

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1771) wrote:
Having emerg'd from the Poverty
& Obscurity in which I was born & bred, to a State of Affluence & some Degree of
Reputation in the World, and having gone so far thro' Life with a considerable Share
of Felicity, the conducing Means I made use of, which, with the Blessing of God, so
well succeeded, my Posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable
to their own Situations, & therefore fit to be imitated.—That Felicity, when I
reflected on it, has induc'd me sometimes to say, that were it offer'd to my Choice, I
should have no Objection to a Repetition of the same Life from its Beginning, only
asking the Advantage Authors have in a second Edition to correct some Faults of the

English in the 1600s is downright archaic. It's not just style; the grammar itself is

Oliver Cromwell, Speech to the Little Parliament (1653) wrote:
I suppose the Summons
that hath been instrumental to bring you hither gives you well to understand the
occasion of your being here. Howbeit, I have something farther to impart to you, which
is an Instrument drawn up by the consent and advice of the principal Officers of the
Army; which is a little (as we conceive) more significant than the Letter of the
Summons. We have that here to tender you; and somewhat likewise to say farther for our
own exoneration; which we hope may be somewhat farther for your satisfaction. And
withal seeing you sit here somewhat uneasily by reason of the scantness of the room,
and heat of the weather, I shall contract myself with respect thereunto.

My guess is that modern English might be going through another period of rapid change,
both due to globalization and to technological changes.

Edited by kanewai on 23 April 2015 at 4:32am

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 Message 22 of 38
23 April 2015 at 4:37am | IP Logged 
The only "archaic" features in Cromwell's speech is the presence of pronomial adverbs, a
combined adverb "withal", and and the older third-person present indicative conjugation
of "to have", which is "hath". But still to this day "thereunto" and "hither" is found in
books. I received an e-mail that had "hitherto" just a month ago.

In terms of style, it does sound a bit old-fashioned, but "We have that here to tender
you" can easily be used in Modern speech. It is a financial term in banking like to
"tender" money to someone.

In the UK, I am not sure about North America, but I think that in the Commonwealth as
well as the UK, the pronomial adverb "outwith", which I just read in an e-mail a few days
ago, is common and used in all registers.
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 Message 23 of 38
23 April 2015 at 5:07am | IP Logged 
I've never encountered "outwith" on this side of the pond (i.e. Canada and USA) and you might even be a little hasty to think that it's used throughout the Commonwealth. I just looked it up and it seems to be practically limited to Scottish English.
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 Message 24 of 38
23 April 2015 at 5:08am | IP Logged 
I am from Australia (a commonwealth country) and I don't think I've met anyone who has ever used hitherto or outwith - such language would make the person look pretentious and if I heard someone speaking like that, I'd assume they were mockingly imitating a brit.

Even with Frankenstein, whilst I can understand it the structure is very different to what I would be used to in a novel and I don't particularly appreciate the style that texts were written in in that period more than anything.

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