William McGregor – Linguistics, an introduction – (download, free, ebook, pdf)

BALEETED. but piratebay has one!


All in all, this is a fairly decent textbook covering most of the linguistic basics. I wud have liked more references to some of the claims made in the text. The author set out to do what he said in the preface:


My intention in writing this book to provide a basic introduction to modern linguistics

that conveys an idea of the scope of the subject, and a feeling for the excitement of doing

linguistics – the excitement of finding out about language and languages, including your

own. I hope it will stimulate an understanding of the subject, rather than rote memorization

of facts. I would also like to convey some appreciation of the reasons why linguists do what

they do, and for the approaches and methods they adopt in studying languages. The third

thing I would like to encourage is the development of your powers of observation, as well as

your critical and creative faculties.

There are many excellent introductory textbooks on linguistics. Why another? My motiva-

tion lies mainly in dissatisfaction with particular aspects of the existing textbooks. None

offers precisely what I desire in terms of manner of presentation, pedagogic philosophy, the

range and type of information presented and theoretical stance. As a result of teaching an

introductory course in linguistics in 2002,1 was convinced of the need to write my own text-

book to remedy these dissatisfactions.


and i think he succeeded reasonable well in that.


Below are some quotes and various comments to them. Quotations are in red, my comments in black.




Your lecturer or tutor can also be consulted on points you have difficulty with. But you

should first make a serious attempt to understand and attempt to formulate precise ques-

tions. Your lecturer or tutor will be able to answer a specific question, though they will be

hard-pushed to help you if you can’t formulate a question. It is very hard to help if you can

only say you don’t understand! I always advise my students to formulate at least one question

about each chapter to ask me or the tutor prior to the lecture or tutorial.


why is he wasting students time (for reading it) and money (more pages in the book) for writing this? it is obvius.


is this part of the childrenization of students? as they become less smart, more childish introductions are needed, or?



Linguistics as a science

What does it mean to say that linguistics is a science or scientific field of study? To begin

with, it says something about the approach taken to the subject matter. A scientific approach

to the study of language involves a critical and inquiring attitude, and refusal to accept uncriti-

cally, on faith, or on authority, ideas or ways of thinking about language. It strives for objecti-

vity, for developing hypotheses and putting them to the test by confronting them with

observations. This means that linguistics is empirically grounded: it is based on actual lan-

guage data, including observations of language use by speakers, and their intuitions about

their language.

Linguistics is thus descriptive rather than prescriptive: its primary goal is to describe

languages as they are actually spoken, indicating what they are like and how they are used,

rather than prescribe how they ought to be spoken. Many people are concerned about how

their language ought to be spoken, as a glance in a newspaper is likely to reveal: people often

comment on wrong’ grammar or pronunciation that people (usually others!) use.1

At school you may have learnt that you should say That is the child whom the dog bit and not That is the child who the dog bit. But in modern English (Indo-European, England)2

most people say the latter, and few could use the school rule consistently and properly without consciously thinking about it. Linguistics is concerned with what people actually say, not with what they should say.


while i agree that these ‘corrections’ and hypercorrection in general is annoying, he is wrong about prescriptive matters not being a part of linguistics. in his first test to reading this book, there is a question about whether prescription is part of linguistics, and i had to answer “yes” even tho i knew that he wud ‘correct’ me. fuck getting ‘correct’ wrong answers, truth matters.


linguistic prescription is much like medicine. there are good ways of treating conditions. likewise, there are good ways of dealing with language, and language change. linguistic prescription is a kind of applied linguistics. too bad that most of it is in the form of purism and other dumb stuff.


typically, prescription in english are things like:




Don’t split infinitives!

a. Do not say: I wanted to carefully explain to her why the decision was made.

b. Say: I wanted to explain to her carefully why the decision was made.




Don’t use double negation!

a. Do not say: I didn’t do nothing

b. Say: I didn’t do anything


(10) Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!

a. Do not say: A preposition is not a good word to end a sentence with

b. Say: A preposition is not a good word with which to end a sentence.


(11) Don’t use who in place of whom!

a. Do not say: Who did you talk to?

b. Say: Whom did you talk to?

(source = http://www.linguistics.ucla.edu/people/schlenker/ling1-06-ln-1a.pdf)


prescription is very much a part of linguistics, whether or not many people like it now a days.


see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_prescription



Linguistics is often regarded as a humanities (or arts) subject, though in many ways it

straddles the boundaries between humanities and sciences, with a foot in both camps. Links

to humanities include to language history and philosophy, as well as to ancient and modern

‘language subjects taught in universities, such as English, French (Indo-European, France),

German (Indo-European, Germany), Ancient Greek (Indo-European, Greece), Sanskrit

(Indo-European, India) and so on; links to social sciences include to sociology, psychology,

anthropology and archaeology. But there are also links to the ‘hard’ sciences such as biology,

physiology, physics and mathematics, most obviously in the production and perception of



surely he is right about this. something that i often have to explain. also, he didnt mention the more formal parts of lingustics that are more akin to math and logic, and there is also computational lingustics which is related to computer science – also a formal matter.



Saussure likened the sign to a coin: just as both faces are essential for a coin to count as

an object that can be used in economic transactions, so also are form and meaning both

essential to the sign as a unit in information exchange. Without a meaning we have no sign:

the letter h of the Latin alphabet has no meaning in written English words, and so is not a

sign: it can no more be used in information conveyance than the image of a head on a coin

can be used in a shop. Nor is a disembodied meaning or concept without a form a sign.


depending on whether he wants to include abbreviations, then surely “h” does have a meaning in many contexts. in math it often means ‘height’, in fysics it often means Planck’s constant, and surely there are many other contexts where it means something. even in the context he suggested by mentioning a coin. a coin has two sides, heads and tails, h is a common abbreviation for “heads”.


on page 87 he does explicitly include acronyms as words:


Acronyms are words formed from the first letters of a string of words. There are two types:

word acronyms and spelling acronyms.



Iconic signs in language

There are exceptions. Some words are iconic. The phonetic forms of words like woof-woof

cock-a-doodle-do, baa-baa, meow, ding-dong, pop and ping are quite suggestive of the mean-

ings, which are sounds, the sound made by dogs, roosters, sheep and so on. The spoken form

is somewhat similar to the sound it represents; such words are onomatopoeic. (The written

forms of these words, however, do not resemble the meanings.)


i really hate that term. it is too dam difficult to remember. i like “sound word”, which is immediately understandable and pronunciable by anyone who speaks english. not some old greek word with an impossible spelling and pronunciation.


Wikipedia has a huge list of cross-linguistic sound words. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-linguistic_onomatopoeias



This dimension is called syntagmatic. The signs that go together to make up an utterance

are not put together randomly, but are related in specific ways to one another. In I will never

forget that terrible day the order of signs plays an important function. The fact that I precedes

will tells us that the utterance is a statement. If these two words had occurred in the reverse

order, we would have a question, Will I never forget that terrible day?


sort of. there is also an added question mark. does it still count as a sygtagmatic change then?



The meaning of a sign in a language is dependent in part on the other signs in close para-

digmatic relationship with it. In English we means me and someone else; it contrasts with

Jin terms of the number of persons specified. Gumbaynggirr (Pama-Nyungan, Australia) has

four words for we, ngalii, ngiyaa, ngaligay and ngiyagay, as well as ngoya ‘I’. The first two

words, ngalii and ngiyaa, are used if the group includes the hearer; the second pair, ngaligay

and ngiyagay, if it does not. The first word of each pair is used if there are just two persons

in the we group, the second, if there are more. The Gumbaynggirr word ngalii does not

mean the same thing as English we partly because of the other words in paradigmatic

contrast to it.


yup. this is a cool feature. it is an annoying feature of germanic languages that they do not include this feature and instead leave “we” as ambiguos. see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clusivity



The communication systems of non-human animals, by contrast, are typically non-

productive, and do not admit new combinations of signs or the invention of new signs for

new meanings. The systems allow for the expression of a small set of possible meanings. The

honeybees dance that indicates the location of a nectar source (see §10.1) is restricted to

the horizontal dimension, and bees are incapable of communicating information about the

location of a nectar source vertically above the hive.


one of these words are redundant. u might think its “above”, but its not. the nectar cud be below the hive. but above and below both imply that it is vertically located in relation to the hive.



Languages written with alphabetic scripts ideally represent words by their sounds.

Some do this reasonably well, and you can make a good guess at the pronunciation of a word

from its written form, if you know the correspondences between letters and sounds. This is

the case for Spanish (Indo-European, Spain) and Hungarian. Other languages, including

English, French and Danish, have notoriously poor representations of the spoken forms

of words.


reading about spelling reform recently made me think about how it is possible to compare the orthografies of different languages computationally, so as to avoid purely qualitative judgements, or mere expert judgement. i agree with the author about these languages, altho i think FR has a better system from reading the Wikipedia article about FR orthografi.





surely this must be possible. ill have to work on that in the future if it hasnt already been done.


ETA. i stumbled upon this while looking for papers inre. my spelling reform proposal:


To date, there have been no comprehensive attempts to quantify and compare

the transparency of different orthographies, although some orthographies have

been subjected to a computational linguistic analysis. For the English language,

31% of all monosyllabic words have been found to be feedforward inconsistent

(in the direction of spelling to pronunciation; Ziegler, Stone, & Jacobs, 1997).

The corresponding inconsistency is reported to be 12% in French monosyllabic

words (Ziegler, Jacobs, & Stone, 1996), and 16% in German monosyllabic

words (J. Ziegler, personal communication, February 20, 2001). It is worthy of

note that the above-mentioned consistency calculations are based on spelling

body–rime correspondences and not grapheme–phoneme correspondences. Sey-

mour, Aro, and Erskine (2003) have presented a hypothetical classification of

European languages according to their orthographic depth at the level of graph-

eme–phoneme correspondences. Based on the expert opinions of COST A81

representatives, they suggest that, of the orthographies included in the current

study, English is the most inconsistent when placed on the continuum of ortho-

graphic depth. In degrees of increasing consistency, it is followed by French,

Dutch and Swedish, German and Spanish, and Finnish as the most consistent

orthography that displays regular and symmetrical grapheme–phoneme corre-



from: Learning to read English in comparison to six more regular orthographies

Applied Psycholinguistics 24 (2003), 621–635

see also http://lyddansk.dk/ortografi_laeseskrive



Most speech sounds are produced on a stream of air forced out from the lungs, through the

trachea or wind-pipe, and then through the upper vocal tract, where the airstream is modified

in various ways to produce different sounds. This stream of air is called an egressive pulmonic

airstream. Speech in English and most other languages is usually produced on egressive

pulmonic air.

It is also possible to produce speech sounds on air drawn into the lungs, on an ingressive

pulmonic airstream. This is like speaking while breathing in. Although not as often used as

egressive pulmonic air, in some languages it is used to convey certain emotional effects. For

instance, in Danish and other Scandinavian languages, words – particularly ja yes – are

sometimes produced on an ingressive airstream to indicate sympathy or commiseration.

Other airstream mechanisms used in human languages will be discussed in §2.4.


never heard of this, and dont think i succeeded in doing it when i tried to do it at will power. perhaps i do it sometimes without noticing it.




The pharynx is the chamber behind the back of the tongue, above the larynx, and roughly

at right angles to the oral cavity. Pharyngeal consonants are made by pulling the root of

the tongue back to narrow the pharynx so that the air passes through noisily. Pharyngeals

are not found in English; Arabic (Afroasiatic, Arabian peninsula and north Africa), however,

has them. So does Danish, in the r-sound of words like råd ‘council’.


this doesnt seem true. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/IPA_chart_2005.png the IPA chart marks the danish r-sound [ʁ] as uvular, not faryngeal.


i double checked with http://ordnet.dk/ddo/artiklernes-opbygning/udtale?set_language=da



Bound morphemes

Bound morphemes, by contrast, require the presence of another morpheme to make up

a word; they cant occur independently. The morphs -er, -s and -ling in our example sentence

are bound morphemes; all the other morphemes are free. Yingkarta -ku, -wu and -Iku

(see §3.2) are also bound morphemes.

Bound morphemes which, like those discussed in the previous paragraph, go onto the

ends of words, are called suffixes. Another type of bound morpheme is a prefix, which pre-

cedes the morpheme to which it is attached. The bound morphemes un- and re- in English

are prefixes, as in un-happy and re-constitute. A third type of bound morpheme is an infix,

that goes inside another morpheme, as in Tagalog (Austronesian, Philippines) -in- past’ in

ib-in-igay gave’, which occurs within the morpheme ibigay give’. Collectively, suffixes, prefixes

and infixes are called affixes.


there are also circumfixes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumfix using Wikipedia’s example:


The circumfix is probably most widely known from the Germanpast participle (ge- -t for regular verbs). The verb spielen, for example, has the participle gespielt. Dutch has a similar system (spelengespeeld in this case).



However, twice does he refer to circumfixes, neither time explaining it. example:


The other types of affix – infixes, circumfixes and suprafixes (i.e. prosodic affixes) – are

far less frequent than prefixes or suffixes.




Blends involve the combination of parts of two separate words to form a single word. Usually

it is the first part (often syllable) of one word together with the second part of the other word

(either syllable or single final consonant), which occur in that sequence. The word motel is

a blending of motor and hotel; smog is a blending of smoke and fog; and bit is a blending of

binary and digit. Other examples are Channel (the tunnel under the channel between England

and France) from channel and tunnel, refolution a peaceful revolution from reform and

revolution, and names for various mixes of languages such as Franglais, which blends franqais

(French) and anglais (English), and Japlish a blend of Japanese and English. While speakers

undoubtedly realize the status of some of these words as blends, others are not so obvious.

Occasionally it is the first part of both words that are combined together, as in modem,

a blend of modulator and demodulator.


for some reason he doesnt mention the alternativ term for this: Portmanteau https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portmanteau

Quoting Wikipedia:

“Portmanteau word” is used to describe a linguistic blend, namely “a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings.”[4] This definition overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, but a distinction can be made between a portmanteau and a contraction by noting that contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not, whereas a portmanteau word is typically formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau word is meant to describe, such as Spanish and English, into Spanglish; or, indeed, port and manteau into portmanteau.




Major features of word borrowing

Borrowing, the process of incorporating into one language words from another, is perhaps

the most common source of new words. Words that have been borrowed are called



he doesnt mention the distinction between loan words and foreign words (DA terms: låneord og fremmedord). Wikipedia explains it well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loanword#Linguistic_classification


see also: http://emilkirkegaard.dk/da/?p=2014



later he talks about it again, almost getting at making the distinction clear:


Second, as described earlier, the word

applies to the specific case in which the word is incorporated into the lexicon of another

language, which usually means that it adapts to the phonological structure of the borrowing

language. A loanword is not just any word of Danish that I as a native speaker of English

living in Denmark might insert into my spoken English, although nothing in the meaning of

the words making up the compound precludes words of this type.



Sometimes certain phonemes or combinations of phonemes are felt by speakers to be

evocative of certain meanings. For instance, in many languages the high front vowel [i] con-

veys a suggestion of smallness or closeness in contrast with [a] or [u]. Compare, for instance

English ding and dong – which of these do you feel best describes the noise of a large bell?3

If I was a betting man I would bet you chose dong, and that you would go for ding for the

sound of a small bell. Interestingly, in Australian English a small dent on the body of a car is

referred to as a ding. And in English (among other languages) the lateral I has a tendency to

suggest liquids and fluid or uncontrolled movements.


this might not be an accident. different frequencies of ding-dong sounds are made depending on the size of the object that is being hit. high frequencies result from small stuff thus yielding a ding sound. low frequencies result from larger objects, like a church bell.




Euphemisms are indirect or evasive expressions used to avoid direct mention of unpleasant

or taboo ideas; euphemisms provide ways of avoiding being offensive by being evasive.

A few examples are: pass away and go to sleep for ‘die’; bathroom (American English) and

loo (Australian English) for ‘toilet, lavatory’; smalls and unmentionables for ‘underclothing’;

and girl, working girl, and woman of the street for ‘prostitute’. The word undertaker, which

originally meant odd-job man, was used as a euphemism for someone whose job is to bury

the dead. Its meaning narrowed to this sense alone, as often happens with euphemisms.

Now a new euphemism is now replacing it, funeral director.


The unpleasantness of touchy events or things is felt to be lessened by use of an indirect

term, because it reminds one of something more pleasant. Euphemisms are commonly found

in the domains around which taboos are often found, including sexual activity, sex organs,

bodily functions and products, death and killing. But they are not restricted to these domains,

and can be found for any sort of unpleasant reality: for example, honorariums instead of

bribes, campaign contributions instead of graft, make redundant instead of sack and tactical

withdrawal instead of retreat.


he doesnt mention the interesting thing about eufemisms, namely, that they tend to become taboo words themselves, and are thus replaced by new words. this goes on and on and on forever. the eufemism treadmill – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism_treadmill#Euphemism_treadmill




Contractibility is the potential for a string of words to be replaced by a single word. In (5-10)

we can replace the fisherman by he, the net by it, and on the fence by out or up: He hung

it out.

The idea behind this is that if the string can be replaced by a single word it behaves as

a single word, which we know is a grammatical element. Thus the string behaves like a single

grammatical item, and so the component words form a single syntactic group.

Again this criterion is imperfect: in (5-7) it is not clear that a single word could replace

through the mountains, or indeed the line through the mountains (it perhaps works marginally –

The train chugged along it). Nevertheless, replacement of non-groupings of words is not

possible. You cant replace chugged along the by a single word.


original = “The train chugged along the line through the mountains.”

“There is a line that goes thru the mountains. The train chugged along it.” works.

“The train chugged along the line now.” works.



It should be obvious by now that this approach will result in a very long list of different

structures. It is also obvious that important generalizations will be missed if the types are

merely listed. Thus, the examples so far show that when a clause begins with an INTER,

the first NP always follows the first word of the VP, which will be either the main verb or an

auxiliary. Recognition of this as a grammatical rule would lead us to predict that some

patterns – for example, INTER NP VP – are impossible. We can then search for examples to

test whether or not this is so, giving us a more powerful method of investigation than search-

ing randomly for new patterns. (Can you find grammatical clauses satisfying this pattern

predicted to be ungrammatical?)


“When the train comes” is a pseudoexample since the word “when” isnt an INTER here, and the sentence isnt a question-sentence.


“Which cars come?” works



There is an important difference between the relations of hyponymy and meronymy: the

property of transitivity Alsatian is a hyponym of dog, which is a hyponym of animal; Alsatian

is also a hyponym of animal. This often does not apply in meronymy. For example, nostril is

a meronym of nose, but not of face: we do not say that ones nostril is a part of ones face!

Hyponymy is a transitive relation, but meronymy is not.


im going to contest this one.


we may consider it odd to say, but that doesnt mean its not true. i fail to see hold transivity doesnt hold for merological relations as well as hyponymous relations.



The standard componential approach identifies semantic features that differentiate words

from one another. Consider the following a small set of nouns: bull, cow, calf, woman, boy, girl,

chair, man. Except for chair these words all have in common the concept animate’. We could

identify [animate] as a semantic feature with a value of either + for animate nouns, or – for

inanimate nouns. (It is conventional to put semantic features in square brackets.) Continuing

the comparison of the terms, we could also identify features [human], [male] and [adult].

Our eight words could be specified as follows:


A feature value is given as ± if the word is not specific on that feature: calf is [±male] for this

reason. Inanimates are given the value – , not ±, for the features [adult] and [male] because

they can’t be either adult or male.


i think im gonna go with it being nonsense to speak of a male chair. the appropriate symbol wud then be “?”, as in being confused by the nonsense, or * akin to denote ungrammatical sentences.




English has (presumably in common with all languages) a number of speech act verbs, verbs

like inform, promise, request, baptize and so on, that give labels to particular types of speech

act. Most can be used in sentences like the following, where they make explicit the speech act

the speaker intends to perform:

(6-6) I bet you any money you like that we’ll win on Saturday

(6-7) I resign

(6-8) I apologize

(6-9) I double dare you to hit me

(6-10) I pronounce you man and wife

(6-11) I order you to leave the premises

Sentences like the above that make explicit their illocutionary force by a speech act verb are

called performative sentences, or performatives.


strange that he doesnt mention the very short test for detecting a performative verb – namely that if one can insert “hereby” into it and it continues to be meaningful and not odd, then its a performative.


e.g. “I resign” → “I hereby resign”, makes sense still. but “I am tall” → ?“I am hereby tall” is very odd.


the test is from Fromkin et al p. 216 which the author has previously mentioned, so its strange that he doesnt mention it here.




As already indicated, reference is different from sense in that it is not what is inherently

associated with linguistic forms such as morphemes and words. Words as such do not refer;

rather speakers use them to refer. The claim on p. 112 that NPs refer is to be interpreted

in this way: that it is the specific instance of use of the NP by the speaker – the NP token

(see box on p. 133) – that refers.

How are these acts of reference achieved? All languages have words or morphemes that are

used to help pin down the reference of a stretch of speech (including writing and signing),

that facilitate the hearers identification of the intended referent. For instance, we can use

proper nouns (e.g. for animals and people Nim Chimpsky, Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles

Darwin; and places Sydney, Uluru), and, in languages like English and many other languages

of Europe, articles (the man on the moon, a puppy, the government). In most cases these

expressions do not identify unique individuals, except when used in particular contexts.


for those wondering who or what Nim Chimpsky is… its a chimpanzee named after Nom Chompsky.





There is a particular class of words or morphemes that are used to assist identifying

referents by linking them specifically to the context of the speech act; these are known as

deictic expressions. Deictic expressions identify things by relating them to the social, lin-

guistic, spatial or temporal context of an utterance, and include pronouns, demonstratives

and adverbs of space and time. The reference of these items varies with each context in which

they are used.

Personal pronouns such as I, me, you, we, our are deictic expressions since their inter-

pretation is always dependent on the speech context: their interpretation depends on

knowledge of who is the speaker and who is the hearer. As soon as the speaker changes, the

interpretation of I and you changes. Third person pronouns are generally also deictic: they

effectively point to someone or something other than the speaker or hearer. (There are excep-

tions, including use of it in It is clear that you are not listening to me.)

Demonstratives such as this and that are also deictics, effectively specifying referents by

indicating whether they are close to the speaker, or distant from the speaker. Thus you might

say this book to refer to the book you hold in your hands; changing speaker roles, I might then

refer to the same book as that book. Languages differ in the number of demonstratives they

have; for instance in some languages there are three (occasionally more) rather than two.

In Tongan, for instance, there are three demonstratives, eni close to the speaker’, ena close

to the hearer’, and ito ‘distant from both speaker and hearer’.

Demonstratives employ spatial deixis. Other spatial deictic elements are the adverbs here

and there. Expressions of temporal deixis include words such as today, tomorrow, now, then,

last week and so on, which situate the time with respect to the time of speaking, and change

their interpretation with changes in the speech context.

It is important to note that the deictic expressions discussed in this section have senses, for

instance, for pronouns relating to person, number, gender and case. Their full meaning how-

ever is only acquired when they are used in a particular context.




it is sort of strange that he doesnt mention the common synonym / very-closely related in meaning term: indexicals.


see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deictic#Deixis_and_indexicality https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indexicality http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/indexicals/




A presupposition is something that must be assumed to be true in order for a sentence to be

appropriately uttered. In each of the following examples, the a. sentence presupposes the b.


(6-13) a. The bus driver managed to stop in time.

b. The bus driver tried to stop in time.

(6-14) a. The baby has stopped crying.

b. The baby was crying previously.

(6-15) a. I regretted giving them the donation.

b. I gave them the donation.

(6-16) a. He realized that he had been tricked.

b. He was tricked.

If the driver didn’t try to stop, it would not be appropriate to utter (6-13a), that they managed

to stop; if the baby had not been crying previously, it would not be appropriate to say that it

had stopped crying, (6-14a); if the speaker had not given the donation, it would be inappro-

priate to say that they regretted doing so, (6-15a); and if he had not been tricked, he could not

realize this (6-16a). Thus in each case the b. sentence is presumed true in order for the a. sen-

tence to be sensibly uttered.


these look like regular implications to me.



again, someone mentiones the three different grammatical gender ways in Denmark. altho these seem to have very little basis in reality. being a native from Viborg (Almind) in the no-gender zone.. this is just not true. spoken danish has genders in Viborg. one needs to go way out of town to small local villages to find people speaking danish without genders. or even is bigish cities to the west, f.i. Skive.


i have no idea what it is supposed to mean that there are 3 genders in Zealand spoken danish. what is the supposed distinction between feminine and masculine? dictionaries dont mention these either. its not just becus the dictionaries are based on a different dialect, they are based on one from Zealand.


i have seen this claim many times about 3 genders, but it never made sense to me. i googled around and pretty much all sources mention only 2 genders, not 3.


Wikipedia also mentiones the 3 gender thing, but it is apparently only found at Bornholm. the rest of the country gave it up during the 20th centure. i have definitely never heard about it. Wikipedia gives no direct source, so difficult to say.



See also Den Store Danske http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Samfund,_jura_og_politik/Sprog/Dansk/danske_dialekter



Differences in speech between the genders are often a matter of degree rather than kind,

although in some languages there are features that are unique to either males or females.

In English the situation is of the former kind, that is, a matter of degree rather than kind.

A number of linguistic features tend to pattern differently for men and women. It is docu-

mented, for instance, that women tend to have, and habitually use, larger vocabularies of

colour terms than men, including terms such as mauve, lavender, crimson, violet, beige and

so on. Differences also exist in usage of non-standard grammatical forms such as double

negatives (as in I never did nothing), use of the /in/ allomorph of the -ing verb suffix (as in

eating), and non-standard past tense forms such as seen instead of saw (as in I seen it the other

day). Numerous studies have shown these non-standard features to be more common in the

speech of males than females.


i have heard this claima bout color usage before. if so, then it might be related to biology. i did a quick search:


Sex-related differences in peripheral human color vision: A color matching study



Abstract: There has been much controversy as to whether there are sex-related differences in human color vision. While previous work has concentrated on testing the central visual field, this study compares male versus female color vision in the near peripheral retina. Male (n = 19) and female (n = 19) color normal observers who exhibited no significant differences either in the midpoints or the ranges of their Rayleigh matches were tested with a color matching paradigm. They adjusted hue and saturation of a 3° test spot (18° eccentricity) until it matched a 1° probe (1° eccentricity). Both groups demonstrated measurable shifts in the appearance of the peripheral color stimuli similar to those that have been previously reported. However, females showed substantially less saturation loss than males (p < 0.003) in the green–yellow region of color space. No significant differences were found in other regions of color space. This difference in the perceived saturation of color stimuli was minimally affected either by the inclusion or exclusion in the analysis of potential heterozygous female carriers of deutan color vision deficiencies. We speculate that this advantage of female over male color vision is conferred by M-cone polymorphism.



as for word usage:


Sex-Related Differences in the Color Lexicon



Abstract: Two experiments investigated sex-related differences in the color vocabulary of college students. In the first experiment, students were required first to provide color names for a series of color stimuli and then to match color names with the same stimuli. Sex-related differences were found only in the matching task. Men used more basic color terms than women, while women were better able to match correctly elaborate color terms with the appropriate stimuli. In the second experiment, students described the colors represented by a series of elaborate color terms. Women not only described more terms than men, they also used more elaborate descriptions. The results indicate that college-age women have a more extensive color vocabulary than men. It is proposed that this difference in the color lexicon indicates that women possess more distinct internal representations for color than men.


most studies about this seem to be somewhat old. at least using the search terms that i used “color lexicon”, “color vocabulary” “sex-related” “sex difference”


i wud like to see an updated meta-analysis/systematic review


as for men using more non-standard language. cant come as a surprise. men are innovators. they need to. for get women, one needs to be special compared to other men. an easy way is to use language creatively to demonstrate intelligence.



Some linguists have predicted that if present trends continue unabated as many as

90 per cent of the presently spoken languages will either become extinct, or at least endan-

gered, within the next century. Opinions differ, however, and it is a fact that linguists’ prog-

noses have often been wide off the mark (Vakhtin 2002).


Many speakers of endangered languages and many linguists are concerned about this

situation, and efforts have been proposed or adopted to arrest the processes of shift in com-

munities around the globe. These efforts are referred to by a range of terms, including

language maintenance and revival (other terms are also used; sometimes the terms are used

to refer to different things, sometimes as synonyms). For instance, in Australia a number

of Aboriginal-controlled language centres have emerged since the mid-1980s, that are con-

cerned with determining community attitudes to the traditional languages, and how best to

serve them. In a number of cases communities have expressed determination that their tra-

ditional languages survive, or that a previously spoken traditional language be reintroduced.

Slightly earlier, in New Zealand, ‘language nests’ or kohunga reo, were established by the Maori

community in an attempt to promote the acquisition of Maori by children. In these language

nests older Maori-speaking adults, typically from the generation grandparental to the

children, worked as voluntary caretakers speaking Maori to the children. (This strategy has

subsequently been tried elsewhere.)

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine which strategies are likely to succeed either in

general or in particular cases, and few attempts have enjoyed much success. Widely regarded

as the most successful is the revival of Hebrew – which had not been used as a medium of

everyday communication for over a thousand years – in the late nineteenth and early twenti-

eth centuries. (See, however, Zuckermann (2006) for a different view.)


the primary function language is communcation. generally, one cannot understand people that speak a different language. seeing that it is useful to communicate over longer distances, why not get rid of some languages? after all, if the egalitarian dreams of all languages being equally good and expressive etc., then why not settle on a single (or a few) languages?



Language and thought: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

We discuss instead a related question: is there a relationship between the language one speaks

and the way one thinks about and conceptualizes the world? One highly influential idea

holds that the answer is in the affirmative: the structure of the language we speak does corre-

late with the way we think. This idea goes back a long way, at least to Wilhelm von Humboldt

(1767-1835), and more recently to Franz Boas (1858-1942), Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and

Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941). It is now referred to as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, often

just the Whorfian hypothesis.


The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis can be separated into two components. The first is the prin-

ciple of linguistic relativity, according to which lexical and grammatical differences between

languages correlate with non-linguistic cognitive differences. For instance, the existence of

a number of terms for similar objects in a language – say mound’, ridge’, ‘hill’, mesa,

plateau, cape and mountain – will correlate (according to this principle) with different ways

of habitually thinking about geographical projections, while if a single term is used it is likely

that the range of objects will be regarded as the same. The principle of relativity holds that

language and habitual modes of thought are correlated; it does not presume a causal relation

between them.


The second aspect of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the stronger principle of linguistic

determinism, the notion that differences in cognitive styles between cultures, differences

in their habitual ways of thinking, are due to differences in the grammatical and semantic

systems of the languages. Thus thinking about the geographical features mound’, ridge’, ‘hill’,

mesa, plateau’, cape’ and mountain as either different or the same would be a consequence

of the language system, in this case the lexicon.


Whorf is usually understood to have advocated linguistic determinism, though his

stance was often equivocal. His thinking was more sophisticated than simple examples like

the above might suggest. He considered that it was not only lexical features that are relevant,

but, more importantly, grammatical structures. Thus he contrasted the linear notion of time

shared by speakers of English, in which time progresses ever onwards into the future, with

a cyclic view of time he attributed to speakers of Hopi (Uto-Aztecan, USA). An aspect of

this difference, Whorf suggested, was related to the presence of tenses in English, which is

consistent with a time line extending indefinitely into the future, and their absence in Hopi.

(His analysis of Hopi as a tenseless language has been criticized by some later investigators,

notably Malotki 1983.)


This single difference between Hopi and English is not telling: absence of tenses does

not logically imply a cyclical view of time. Whorf sought not just single isolated lexical or grammatical features, but sets of linguistic phenomena that interlock in a system. In the

case of the Hopi notion of time, he linked the absence of tenses with other facts about

the language, including expressions used for quantifying time. Rather than measuring by

numbers of units such as days, they used expressions like ‘the fourth day’. This, Whorf averred,

was consistent with the notion of cyclical time, repetition of events of the same type in cycles

of days.


Wikipedia’s description seems better:




True, there are sometimes indications of boundaries in the speech signal. Words are

occasionally separated from neighbouring words by pauses. And an allophone of a phoneme

can indicate the position of the phoneme within a word. For example, great ape and grey

tape could be distinguished by an aspirated [th] in grey tape, that would not normally

occur in great ape. On the other hand, realization of the /t/ as [d] or [r] would be most likely

in great ape. (This is not to say that these minimal pairs would always be distinguished

in pronunciation.) By the same token, allophony also contributes to processing difficulties

since it means that quite different stretches of sound – for example, [nɒt?æt?ɔ:l], [nɒtætɔ:l]

and [nɒdədɔ:l] – must be recognized as representing the same sequence of words, not at all.

The third form, moreover, admits another interpretation. (What is it?)


<noded all>, yes?



Other factors are known to affect the identification of words. Frequency is one: high-

frequency words are processed more quickly and easily than low-frequency words, and are

more readily identified in noisy conditions. Also relevant is the existence of phonologically

similar words, which have the effect of slowing down identification through interference.

In one experiment it was shown that if word frequency is held constant, words with many

phonologically similar neighbours – that is, words differing from the target word by a single

phoneme – are identified more slowly than words with few neighbours.


how very interesting! and important for designing languages. avoid similarly sounding words.



Parsing begins immediately from the very beginning of an utterance: hearers do not wait

until the entire utterance has been produced before they begin processing it, as any self-

respecting grammarian would. Evidence from conversational interaction indicates that

interactants continually monitor what is being said, projecting what is to follow; they switch

speaker and hearer roles so rapidly that there is often no gap in speech. This would be impos-

sible if processing was delayed until the end of utterances.


There is a downside to beginning parsing so soon. In sentences like The horse raced

past the barn fell – called garden path sentences – beginning parsing from the start of the

sentence results in raced being interpreted as the main verb in the intransitive clause the

horse raced past the barn. But then the next word is inconsistent with this analysis; the only

possibility is that raced past the barn is part of an NP with the horse (i.e. the horse that was

raced past the barn).


that sentence hardly makes any sense to me.


the listed transitive meanings of <race> on Wiktionary doesnt fit with this either. Dictionary.com lists one that marginally fits, but ive never seen that use of the word. if other readers are like me, it wud probably be better to use another example. actually this sentence wud perhaps be more likely to be understand as having a misspelled word, <raced> for <raised> which does make sense. also works in speech.


besides, there is a more obvious kind of evidence of the non-holistic interpretation of utterances: people do not wait until the other person has stopped speaking to interpret the words. very often the response to an utterance begins before the utterance has been finished.


probably this wait until the end comprehension wud make it even more difficult to understand very long sentences.



Problems of interpretation

The account of aphasia presented in the previous subsections that links the type of aphasia

with language centres in the brain can be criticized on more than one count. As Sigmund

Freud pointed out, we can t conclude that a function is localized in a certain area of the brain

because damage to that area results in aphasia. It could be that the area is involved in a crucial

way in the task that is widely distributed across areas of the cortex; for instance, it could be

where several lines of connection cross.


wow?! Freud said something useful???



Positron emission tomography scanning or PET scanning involves injection of a harmless

radioactive isotope (often oxygen-15) into the blood stream. Since neurons in the more active

areas of the brain require more oxygen, blood flow to that region increases. The PET scanner

detects the locations of the radioactive isotope; greater concentrations will be recorded

in regions where blood flow is higher. Thus the regions of the brain that are most active in the

performance of a task can be mapped in three dimensions.


actually pretty cool. oxygen-15 decays with β+ decay (that is, antielectron/positron). this positron is ofc the antiparticle of the electron, so when it loses enuf speed from traveling, it annihilates with an electron in the brain tissue. this produces two gamma rays that travel in approx. opposite directions. these are then detected. due to them being in approx. opposite directions, it is possible to elimate from the data any other gamma rays that lack a partner. clever.





PET scanning suffers from certain disadvantages, most of which are too technical to

discuss here. One that we can mention is that since it involves the injection of a radioactive

isotope, ethical considerations limit the number and duration of tests an experimental sub-

ject can be exposed to.


hardly. more likely that overprotective regulatory rules slow down research.

also, note the seeming contradiction between “harmless” in the previous paragraf, and this one.


Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Unlike PET scanning, functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI is a non-invasive

technique: that is, it does not require the injection of anything foreign into the blood stream.

In fMRI, brain activity is measured indirectly through changes in oxygen levels in the blood

stream, measured via different magnetic properties of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood.

fMRI has certain advantages over PET: it is faster, gives better spatial resolution, and does not

suffer from such severe restrictions on the amount of time, or number of times, a patient can

be in the scanner. It is also cheaper.


he is wrong about the contrast invasiveness between fMRI and PET scans. both are non-invasive.




Children vary considerably as regards the times they reach the various stages, some enter-

ing the stages very early, some very late – for example, Albert Einstein is said not to have

begun talking until five years of age. Regardless of whether the child is fast or slow in the

acquisition of language, in the long run it seems not to matter: late talkers end up with full

control of the language. Moreover, it should not be presumed that the stages are rigidly

distinct; they merge into one another. Below we discuss these six stages in order.


i know the author only writes that “is said”, but such passing remarks about Einstein keep the myths alive.




from the link:


But in the entrance exam to the Polytechnic, that he took after only half a year of French lessons at the Gymnasium, Albert had to compete with Swiss graduates who had at least six years of French study. And the statement with respect to the Hebrew language was the realistic evaluation of a 43-year-old scientist who had no use for that particular language and, therefore, no motivation to learn it. Ten years later, the American immigrant was well able to acquire the necessary knowledge to communicate with his new compatriots. Would anyone be surprised that at the age of fifty-five he did not reach the same high level in English as he did in his mother tongue, and had, another decade later, to admit that he “cannot write in English, because of the treacherous spelling”?




the egalitarian view about early and late learnings is certainly wrong. great intellects were often child prodigies, learning learnings very quickly. and all natives do not end up with the same control of the language.



Overextension refers to the child’s generalization of the meaning of the word beyond

the sense in the adult language. The word might be extended to all things sharing a general

feature of colour, shape, size or whatever. For example, the word daddy might be used to

refer to any man, doggy to all four-legged hairy animals, or moon to all round things.

Overextension need not necessarily apply equally to the production and comprehension of

a word. For example, one child used the word apple to refer to other similar round objects

like balls and tomatoes, but was able to correctly pick out the apple from a collection of such

items when asked to identify the apple.


the example with the Moon is pretty bad, since the Moon is not in fact round all the time (well, it is, but it doesnt appear to be), not even in fiction. more likely <moon> wud be overextended to some other meaning like ‘all bodies in the sky’ or ‘all large bodies in the sky’ – refering to the Sun and the Moon, since they are visible larger than the stars that all appear to be the same size.


as for the apple example. it seems more easily interpreted in a prototype theory. the apple is the prototype of a medium-small sized, round object, while balls and tomatoes are less representative examples. when asked to pick “the apple”, the person will ofc pick the most representative object.



Also relevant are the circumstances and manner in which the L2 is learnt. Sometimes

a distinction is drawn between foreign-language learning (in which the L2 is learnt outside of

the community of speakers, for instance, Hungarian and Finnish (Uralic, Finland) in Denmark)

and second-language learning (where the language is learnt in its speech community). It

seems reasonable to believe that the latter situation is more conducive to L2 acquisition than

the former. But things are not always as simple as this. In the Netherlands and Scandinavian

countries adult monolingual speakers of English can experience difficulties in entering into

speech interactions in the language of the country because speakers immediately switch to

English when a foreigner is present.


true, and this will be ever more the case in the future.



These two questions are of interest in relation to the origins of human language, which we

deal with in §10.3. If we can show that non-human animal communication systems exist that

share features of human languages, and that our closest biological relatives have systems that

most resemble human language, this would count as evidence in favour of the evolution of

language from animal communication systems, and that language differs in degree rather

than kind from these other systems. Even if we could find evidence that other species can

learn human language to a significant degree, this might count in favour of the evolutionary

development of human language from systems of animal communication. Not finding such

evidence does not, however, argue against an evolutionary story: it may be that there are no

living species sufficiently close to us biologically to reveal the continuity. Our lineage diverged

from our closest biological relatives the chimpanzees some five to six million years ago; the

only remains of the intermediate species that emerged and lived during these millions of

years are fossils; the species themselves are extinct.


there is another possibility. that there are differences between language skills between various human populations. they have after all been separated for thousands of years. it might be that there are no differences, or there might be. especially if language ability is strongly related to general intelligence, which is found in different amounts among the human populations.



Involuntary signs like the erection of hair or feathers are indexical signs or indexes, according to the

classificatory scheme developed by the American philosopher Charles S. Pierce (1955). Indexical signs are characterized by association between form and meaning that arises through habitual co-presence; the form as it were points to the meaning. Other examples are smoke, which is an index of fire, and the first person pronoun /, which is an index pointing to the speaker.


sounds like bad terminology as it overlaps with “indexicals” as mentioned earlier in this review.


a word like “indicator” is better.



Perhaps it is a mere accident that animals did not develop communicative systems as

elaborate as human language; maybe some animals actually do have the capability of acquir-

ing human language. Numerous instances have been reported over the past century of ani-

mals acquiring human language, as well as of performing a range of other complex mental

operations, such as arithmetic, that one thinks of as uniquely human. In this section we focus

on attempts to teach a human language – or a simplified version of a human language – to

apes. But before we embark on this, we look briefly at the linguistic ability of one non-primate

species, one with a long history of domestication.


Dogs’ understanding of human language

Dog owners often speak to their pets, which they believe are capable of understanding much

(if not everything) that is said to them. For example, an owner says heel, and the dog returns

to its owner; or fetch and it fetches a thrown ball.


dat pun!



In the following subsections I outline with a very broad brush a few of what seem to me to

be the more interesting recent proposals about language origins. No attempt is made to be

comprehensive: there are far too many theories to mention in an introductory survey; some

are too complex to summarize in a few paragraphs, and have been left out for that reason.

Nor do I attempt to be critical – all the proposals are based on circumstantial evidence, and

can be fairly easily critiqued on the grounds that they leave unexplained a rack of known

facts about the structure and/or functions of human language. In other words, at best they

might account for the emergence of a communicative system of complexity less than that of

human language; all take recourse to much hand-waving.


Gestural origins

One popular notion, with a long history, is that human language originated in bodily gestures

that were later transferred to the vocal medium. Our ancestors such as the australopithecines

may have communicated with bodily signs before their vocal tracts were capable of speech.

One attraction of this idea is that apes have intentional control of manual gestures but not of

vocalizations (see §10.2), and the same was presumably true of our common ancestor, and

likely also of some of the descendant hominid species. Following Max Miillers lead, we will

refer to this theory as noddy’.


oh god these puns!



If the ‘Oops!’ theory is correct, a single gene ought to be responsible for language. A possi-

ble candidate for this is the FOXP2 gene, the first gene to be shown to be relevant to language.

A mutation in this gene was shown by geneticists in 2001 to be associated with a type of

language disorder – called Specific Language Impairment (SLI) – characterized by articula-

tion difficulties and grammatical impairments. However, it seems increasingly likely that it

cannot be a single gene that is responsible for language,5 which counts against the single mutation scenario, and in favour of the natural selection scenario. Thus, language is not com-

pletely wiped out in those individuals showing the mutation in FOXP2, and other genes have

been shown to be associated with SLI. Furthermore, an investigation by a team of geneticists

into the distributions of the FOXP2 gene across a range of animal and human populations

revealed that the most likely scenario is that the gene has been the target of selection during

recent human evolution (Enard et al. 2002).


the author does not make it clear that genes do not have their effects alone. genes are not like a blueprint. genes are like a recipe – they play together in ways that are hard to predict.


it doesnt make sense to say that a single gene gave rise to the LAD. one has to take into account the genetic environment (the other genes) as well.





the author uses the word “score” quite a few times to mean “20”. i rather he just used the numeral instead of an obscure word for the same thing. same applies to “dozen”



A distinction can be drawn between characteristics that are shared by all languages (so far as

we know) and characteristics that are exhibited by many though not all languages. Thus we

can talk – with some poetic licence – of absolute and non-absolute universals. The shared

characteristics can be either specific linguistic features such as vowels, or logical relationships

between features such as ‘if a language uses the velaric airstream, it also uses the pulmonic

airstream’. (Note that the inverse implication does not hold: if a language uses the pulmonic

airstream it need not use the velaric airstream.) Correspondingly we can distinguish non-

implicational from implicational universals.

All languages have X

In all languages if X then Y


these are both implications in logic:




altho one can use a fancy interpretation with domains to make the formalizations fit the natural language more:



and then let domain(x) refer to ‘languages’.





much envy much?



This type of explanation is based on physiological processes for which no further explana-

tions are proposed – we have not attempted to explain why some gestures were lost, some

gained and others became simultaneous: they just happened. The actual changes are not

predictable like the motion of the planets; at best they are more or less explicable in hindsight.

In most circumstances different outcomes could have eventuated, some more likely, others

less likely. It is not suggested that all sound changes can be explained in this way.


what kind of useless theory one ‘explains’ things after they have occured? theories are most useful when they can be used to predict things.



Linguists usually use the term in a different way, and employ the criterion of mutual

intelligibility. If speakers of one form of speech can understand the speakers of another

without having to learn it, the varieties are said to be mutually intelligible, and they are dia-

lects of a single language. British English and Australian English are mutually intelligible, and

so are dialects of a single language, English, according to this definition.


whats the threshold for mutual intelligibility? its not a all or nothing thing, its a continuum. pretty much all danes can read bokmål. or does only speech count? in that case swedish and norwegian may be norswegian? i can certainly understand swedes from Malmö, in a dialect continuum kind of way. does that mean that there is a common scandinavian language? well. maybe.



We now discuss some of the methods linguists use to establish language families. It should

be cautioned that genetic relatedness of languages has, in principle, nothing to do with the

biological-genetic relatedness of their speakers. Speakers of genetically related languages

need not be closely related biologically; a child will acquire the language spoken in its social

environment, not the language spoken by its biological parents, if they are not present in the

social environment. Thus, English is spoken as a mother tongue by humans of diverse bio-

logical ancestry On the other hand, speakers of genetically unrelated languages may belong

to the same genetic groups. Hungarian is not genetically related to the neighbouring lan-

guages, although the speakers of Hungarian are not distinguishable as a population in terms

of biological-genetic features from speakers of nearby languages.


yes they are. author needs to look into population genetics. even danes and swedens are distinguishable with enuf markers. moreover, the reason why the uralic languages (finnish, estonian, hungarian) are so spread is probably due to a population split in past times. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finno-Ugric_peoples


the most odd thing is that the author does cite a population genetics book. he shud then also know that one can separate people from various populations. im guessing he didnt read the book.


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