Second languages and sentence structure

Posted by Glenn Kempf on 00:46 6/24/02

In reply to: Second languages and sentence structure posted by Glenn Kempf on 00:45 6/19/02

Emai fsyem! Thanks to Mark and Hans-Werner for the suggestions, and especially to Tuomo for the input; it's always good to hear from peoplewho have first-hand experience in this area.

I took a look at Kalevi Wiik's page; my understanding of the whole thing was somewhat hampered by not knowing Finnish (a Finnish friend once tried to teach me a little, but we never got much beyond "Kiitos," "Terve tuloa," and "Hyvää ruokahalua"), but the pictures and diagrams were fairly clear, and I understood the point that Tuomo was talking about (it helped that the diagram was in English).

In second-language acquisition, it seems to me that the mode of learning--formal study versus casual contact or immersion, say, would play a role. (If I studied a language in the classroom and learn the rules of grammar and syntax that way, it would be quite different than if, say, I were simply dropped into a community and had to puzzle out the language based on listening to the people there.) Likewise, on a larger scale, contact via trade and diplomacy versus conquest (in which the new upper classes speak a different language, say) would have different effects.

An Almealogical question on the latter topic, by the way: in ancient Xurno, the Ezichimi conquered the Wedei, absorbed/were absorbed by them through a combination of slavery and intermarriage, and replaced their language with Axunashin--except that it doesn't seem as though there were that many Ezichimi originally; it seems surprising that their language would become dominant. After all, the Normans in England ended up speaking English once their ties with France weakened, rather than the bulk of the English adopting French--although the influence of French on the English language was enormous. Mark, you write that Axunashin was "heavily modified" by Wedei, just how profound was its impact? (I have a similar question with regard to the replacement of Skurendi by Tzhuro in Skouras.)

Perhaps I should say a few words about my own conlang/conculture setting, to give an idea of what I'm trying to do, particularly since I won't have my own Web page for quite a while. (Warning: entering lecture mode; feel free to skip ahead. :-) I have drafted a premodern fantasy setting with five major languages belonging to three separate families (plus at least two highly divergent dialects) and at least three distinct writing systems, as well as more distant peoples "off in the wings". (A real-world setting would almost certainly have even more, but I'm trying to keep it simple.) The major groups are four cultures distinguished by both language and geography: the seafaring people along the coast of the Halassin Daliu (the Bottomless Sea); the agrarian inhabitants of the Great Valley (Shamian), a fertile inland plain, separated from the former by coastal ranges; the pastoral nomads of the steppes further inland; and the nomadic and settled peoples of the highlands and the Great Desert, the Shadaha, to the south.

The key relationship is that between the Coast and the Valley; while the coastal peoples remained divided into a number of small states scattered across the coastal plains and offshore islands, the peoples of the Valley nto a centralized empire, reminiscent of imperial China (or in some respects, Byzantium or the Ottoman Empire, with more feudal arrangements in the rougher frontier regions), and eventually penetrated the coastal ranges to reach the states there. The Coast's largest city-state is now the Empire's chief port; the nearby coastal lands and the inner islands are part of the Empire, retaining their own language for most purposes while adopting a version of the Empire's writing system. The outlying areas remain independent, holding on to their own culture, religious practices, and script (in some cases, the use of the old script can be seen as a major political statement). Many of the coastal peoples are integrated into the Empire; they are less numerous than the Valley farmers and aristocrats, but play an important role in commerce (including shipping, obviously), as well as scholarship and philosophy. The steppe nomads and the desert peoples also have a long history of contact with the Valley and each other through cultural exchange, trade, war and conquest (sometimes successful), but without the same deep integration.

That's the bare-bones summary; I won't bore you with it any longer. If it rings any bells (or sparks any criticisms) with anyone, let me know.

A real-life example of two languages playing major roles within a multiethnic state is the use of Latin and Greek in the Roman Empire; does anybody know any good sources specifically on that topic? (Another real-life setting for someone interesting in language interaction--and a source of inspiration for a less detailed fantasy setting of mine--is the Caucasus region, with the Georgians, Armenians, Turkic peoples such as the Azerbaijanis, outside influences from Russia and Iran, and the dozens of languages of the North Caucasus. The Russian province of Dagestan has twenty-four official languages, including Russian, some with only a few hundred speakers, and none spoken as a first language by more than 10% of the population.)

An update on language-related questions here in Kazakhstan, by the way: a weekly newspaper included in its current issue a rather sarcastic editorial column about the work of the State Commission on Terminology, whose job is to come up with official Kazakh equivalents, using original Kazakh roots, for technical and political terms that have been traditionally been borrowed from Russian, now that Kazakh is the official state language. (I don't know how similar their work is to official language bodies in France, say, or those folks in the former Yugoslavia who are working to make sure that Croatian and Bosnian are as different from Serbian as possible...). One of the latest issues discussed by the commission was a list of 300 Kazakh terms related to firefighting; the columnist wondered whether the taxpayers' money couldn't be better spent. (The State Commission on Terminology, incidently, still uses the Russian term terminologiya in its name; evidently, they haven't agreed on a Kazakh equivalent yet...)

That's enough for now; if anyone has any comments on the mass of verbiage above, feel free...

Ad onlelán,
Glenn Icovei Cempf

Mark responds:

1. The Ezichimi conquest worked much like the Arab conquest of North Africa. For one thing, it was a true population movement, not just a replacement of the aristocracy (as in Norman England). Still, it's true that there were more Wede:i than Ezichimi. But the Ezichimi (like the Arabs) considered children of their Wede:i concubines to be Ezichimi. The result was that these children were taught Axunashin and were acculturated to be Ezichimi, and in the long run, that the pure Wede:i population vanished.

2. Axunashin has very nearly the same phonology as Wede:i, and it's adopted many vocabulary words... I should work a little harder, however, to add some syntactic influence. :)

3. The Tzhuro takeover was slower; here the greatest influence was Jippirasti. As the Skourenes converted, their cultural identification switched toward the Tzhuro, and for religious as well as socioeconomic reasons the converts were eager to learn Tzhuro.

4. Unfortunately, you didn't give enough verbiage for a sure diagnosis. :) A lot depends on patterns of interaction. For instance, did the Empire conquer or build that port? If the former, I'd expect its residents to keep their language and act as allies; if the latter, the Imperial language should predominate, and I'd expect a good deal of immigration from the Empire, reinforcing this.

Make sure the coast is quite ragged. I get this from Colin McEvedy, who points out that highly indented coastlines mean that coastal communities relate largely to other coastal communities; communities on straight coasts, however, relate largely to inland communities. (If that's unclear I'll have to draw a diagram!) A littoral community, oriented to fishing and sea trading, can end up with a very different culture than the interior... though the interior has a way of wanting to conquer those pesky coastal people; they make the map of the empire so untidy.

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