The sci.lang FAQ

Frequently asked questions about linguistics


This is an expanded version of the FAQ posted periodically to the sci.lang newsgroup.
Original version written by Michael Covington.
Maintained by Mark Rosenfelder.
Version: 2.29
Last modified Mar 3, 2002

Recent changes: Added a question on etymology.

Note: This FAQ doesn't cover everything! Many good books and many important ideas are left unmentioned. All readers should be aware that linguistics is a young science and that linguists rarely agree 100% on anything.

Distribution: All contents are copyright © by the respective authors. This file may be freely distributed electronically, or as handouts in linguistics classes. Please retain the author attributions and addresses, and this paragraph. Before using it in print, please contact the authors.

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Linguistics: What it is
What is linguistics?
Does linguistics tell people how to speak or write properly?

What is sci.lang for?
What are some good books about linguistics?
What are some stories and novels that involve linguistics?
Where can I get an electronic IPA font (or other electronic resources)?
What are some linguistics-related websites?
How do I subscribe to the LINGUIST list?

Language families
How are present-day languages related? [Let's see a map]
How do linguists decide that languages are related?
What about Nostratic and Proto-World?
How likely are chance resemblances between languages?

What do those asterisks mean?
What is Noam Chomsky's transformational grammar all about?
What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?

How can I represent phonetic symbols in ASCII?
What are phonemes and why's it so hard to lose a foreign accent?

Writing systems
Why do Hebrew and Yiddish [etc.] look alike if they aren't related?
How do you look up a word in a Chinese or Japanese dictionary?

How did language originate?
What is known about prehistoric language?
Are all languages equally complex, or are some more primitive than others?
What is a dialect? (Relation between dialects and languages.)
Languages keep simplifying-- how did they ever become complex?

Particular languages
What about those Eskimo words for snow? (and other myths about language)
What about artificial languages, such as Esperanto?
How are tone languages sung?
Is English a creole?
Why do both English and French have plurals in -s?
How did genders and cases develop in Indo-European?
Why are there so many names for Germany?
Where did (some word) come from?

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