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Author Topic:   Languages
dwise1
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Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


(1)
Message 10 of 69 (631699)
09-02-2011 1:36 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Son Goku
09-02-2011 10:22 AM


Re: Languages
I started college as a foreign language student, earning a BA German, before switching to computer languages. I had tried Spanish in 7th grade without success, but immediately took to German in high school and continued on in college with what I was good at. Turns out that I don't really have an ear for languages, but I love to dig into what makes things work so my mind had a field day with languages' structure. My ex is Mexican, having grown up with Spanish and English, and was a French major when I met her and she also took some German and Russian. She learned by ear, so a couple decades later with no practice, she would have forgotten something whereas with my knowledge of the grammar I was able to reconstruct it.
My own language list:
1. English -- Grew up with it, still live where it's barely predominant (my So Calif hometown is now predominantly Mexican; you know when you've crossed into it by the billboards and store signs in Spanish)
2. German -- About 8 years in school. Worked two summers ('73 and '74) in the Black Forest area, which ironically is where my great-great-grandfather and the source of the family name was from. There's a German shopping center in L.A. which had a cinema when I was in school, so I watched a lot of movies there, but it's no longer there. Have never had much opportunity to use the language here and it's depressing how most of the German movies on Netflix are about the Hitlerzeit.
3. French -- 2 years in college. I got by OK in Paris and Brussels and can half-way follow the French movies I watch.
4. Spanish -- Nearly 30 years OJT during my marriage, though mostly at my in-laws' because my ex didn't have the patience for me to learn it in the home. When we visited family in Mexico City, I got by alright. 7 years post-divorce, I still slip into Spanish in casual conversation.
5. Russian -- 2 years in college. Interesting grammar, but I didn't take to it very well. I can still say a few things and catch a word here and there when it's spoken. And when I was in a Russian store in San Francisco with our XO and a fellow chief, I shocked them by exchanging a few sentences in Russian with the salesperson.
6, 7, 8. Latin, Greek, Hebrew -- one year each in college.
9. Welsh -- a couple months in a weekly informal seminar.
10. Old English -- one semester seminar.
11. Japanese -- Aikido and self-study. For three decades afterwards, I would still count off in Japanese for calesthenics.
12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Dutch, Gidhlig, Norwegian, Italian, Klingon. Short attempts at self-study, most out of curiosity though the Gidhlig is because of my Scottish ancestry. Couldn't get very far with it, though, since none of the books do a proper job of providing pronounciation. And the Norwegian was because a friend was considering a job offer that would have her moving to Norway; she decided against when she learned that they don't have any Trader Joe's stores there.
All that we can really say from that list is that I know something about 15 human languages. I'm most proficient, in descending order, with English, German, Spanish, and French. Though most of my use of those languages is in watching movies and TV and reading sites on the Web. And I can decipher Dutch mainly from my German and Italian from both French and Spanish.
A couple centuries ago, Lessing wrote: Man kennt die eigene Sprache nicht bis man eine fremde lernt. (You don't know your own language until you learn a foreign one.) What I found early on was that I learned more about English in two years of high school German than I ever did in 12 years of English classes. A language's grammar is the key to how it works and how to use it, but we don't appreciate that until we start to learn a foreign language.
In my first summer in Germany, I switched over to thinking in German, even recalling past events that had been in English but now cast to German. And after I returned, I would switch between thinking in German and thinking in English. Furthermore, I found that there was a difference at the pre-verbal level between thinking in the different languages. A pet theory among us language students was that language shapes how we think. This also came up recently when a co-worker told me of a friend with a deaf child who was fighting against having her go through the deaf curriculum in which she'd be instructed in sign. When they learn sign, they learn language as separate symbols with no grammar, no structure, and that affects their writing ability and their communication skills, which shows up now that they can text on their phones. Yes, there's exact signing that includes signing of grammatical endings, but the kids aren't taught that because they don't have the spoken English to model it on.
About two decades after my foreign language student years, something suddenly occurred to me. Related languages have a number of words in common, cognates, which come in rather handy for learning the new vocabulary. Now, English and German are closely related to each other, given that the original language, Old English, was the language of the Angles and Saxons, German tribes who settled in Britain. This close relationship really comes through in the verb system, which is very unlike the French and Spanish verb systems (which are themselves very similar to each other). And yet, it occurred to me that for many words the German word is completely unrelated to the English. The reason for this is, of course, the Norman Conquest which turned English into a blend of Anglo-Saxon and French -- ironically, the Normans themselves were Vikings who settled in the north of France and lost their own language. When we then consider French and even Spanish cognates, we find a much higher count, which makes learning French and Spanish vocabulary much easier for an English speaker than learning German vocabulary.
I heard a professor give the sizes of different languages' vocabularies:
quote:
English -- 616,000
German -- 185,000
Russian -- 130,000
French -- 100,000
He also noted that English adds about 5000 new words each year. And that only about 25% of English vocabulary comes from Anglo-Saxon roots.
Quotes:
English is the results of the efforts of Norman men-at-arms to make dates with Saxon barmaids in the 9th century.
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Son Goku, posted 09-02-2011 10:22 AM Son Goku has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 16 by Son Goku, posted 09-03-2011 2:39 PM dwise1 has replied

  
dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 17 of 69 (631840)
09-03-2011 3:28 PM
Reply to: Message 16 by Son Goku
09-03-2011 2:39 PM


Re: Languages
Of course we were taught Hochdeutsch, but where I worked they spoke Schwbisch. First day on the job, I could swear that they were speaking a foreign language. While the US does have some regional differences, we haven't yet had the time to develop into separate dialects and I think that our moving around so much and mixing linguistically along with mass media also help to slow that process. Decades ago on PBS there was a series, "The Story of English", in which they had to subtitle a lot of the English dialects in England for the benefit of the English-speaking audience. My own English accent is from a Kansas/Texan/Illinois family raising me in Southern California, plus my picking up accents watching British movies which was, I think, influenced then by German. And having been stationed near the North Dakota-Minnesota border for 5 years, I'll sometimes slip into Minnesotan, don'cha know? And my German acquired a schwbischer Heimatsklang.
The Welsh seminar was a small group of students meeting with a linguistics professor (our first-year Russian prof) who was wanting to study the language and we worked from a "Teach Yourself Book". 35 years later, I only remember two sentences:
"Yr wyf i a gweithio." -- "There I am a working."
"Yr wyf i a darllen llyfr." -- "There I am a reading a book."
What I found interesting was that it seemed to be the source of that old "there I am a-" construct that would show up in regional English.
The problem with living in a bilingual US-English/Mexican-Spanish culture is that we don't have much opportunity to hear any other languages ... well, except for Vietnamese.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 16 by Son Goku, posted 09-03-2011 2:39 PM Son Goku has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 18 by Son Goku, posted 09-05-2011 6:20 AM dwise1 has replied

  
dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


(2)
Message 21 of 69 (632078)
09-05-2011 2:58 PM
Reply to: Message 18 by Son Goku
09-05-2011 6:20 AM


Re: Languages
Most every foreign language textbook and self-tuition guide I've read will mention somewhere, usually in the foreword, what dialect they're presenting. For Japanese it's the Tokyo dialect, for French it's the Parisian, for Spanish it's Castellano, for Irish it's West Munster (as per Teach Yourself), and for English I understand it to be Oxford. Though I would assume that the teachers and textbook authors in different countries would choose different dialects according to their own needs and situations. For example, in the Americas a preference for a Latin American form of Spanish (I've had three semesters of Spanish between 1970 and 1999 -- it's difficult for a working person to find night classes for Spanish; that fourth semester was always in the afternoon -- and we never were taught Castellano) and I would assume that countries anticipating more dealings with the USA would choose American English over British -- of course, in Europe it would be British, which would explain those English-speaking Germans with British accents. And, as you noted about the French, there are also movements within a country's educational system to standardize the language to match one particular dialect. Which reminds me, I wonder how the French are doing in getting the people of Elsa and Lothringen (AKA Alsace and Lorraine) to speak French instead of German. In a university classroom which had German maps, a French teacher once asked me how the Germans had ever gotten "Lothringen" from Lorrainne. I was thinking too slowly and was also distracted by that "-ingen" place-name ending that is so common in Baden, or else I would have in turn pointed out that that's a German region so how did the French get "Lorraine" from Lothringen. Would'a, could'a, should'a.
Hochdeutsch is an artificial language constructed out of bits and pieces of various dialects, kind of like the American standard "Broadcast English", AKA "General American". In general, Hochdeutsch uses the vowels of the north with the consonants of the south (which are different due the the 2. Lautverschiebung that stopped around Kln). As I understand, it's the standard used in broadcasting and film and is taught in school and to foreigners.
And as we all know, the sure sign that you're talking to a non-native speaker is that he speaks your language too well, too correctly. I also participate in a C programming forum where we get many requests for help from non-native English speakers. The most attrocious violations of English are by the native speakers, whereas the non-native speakers, while their English is limited and the syntax and word order can get a bit strange, almost always use the right spelling of a word rather than a homonym (eg, English-speaker: "How do I do a Barber poll in C?" "What statistical method is that?" "You know, that twirly thing in front of a barber shop."). Though in one case, a Portuguese programmer had a question about using lights in multithreading. From my Spanish, I deduced that he meant "semaphore", which in both Spanish and Portuguese is what they call traffic lights (Semforo), so he had picked the wrong word from his dictionary.
A number of regional accents in the US can be traced back to where the original settlers had come from and the state of their language at the time of settlement. Kind of like the Indo-European languages seem to represent the state of development of the language in the Indo-European homeland (we think on the Steppes north of the Black Sea) as each group migrated out from it.
I found Old English interesting and very Germanic, similar to examples of Old High German and the like that we had looked at in our German linguistics class. However, the Great Vowel Shift (I had to look it up, being more familiar with German linguistics and the 2. Lautverschiebung) did not occur until three centuries after the Norman Conquest. A lot can happen in a spoken language in three centuries, especially under the influence of another official language. By the time the vowel shift had started, Old English no longer existed, having been Frenchified into Middle English, so the Great Vowel Shift marked the transition into Early Modern English.
I had a feeling that that construction was also to be found in other Celtic languages and not just in Welsh. My problem here is that all I have to draw from are self-study books. And one presentation each year at the Games, though my friend finds it boring so we have to skip it. And the only Irish I know is the "kiss my..." phrase, even though I don't know how to pronounce it. Though I was amazed to learn that some old thug slang, such as "puss" for "face" and "shiv" for "knife", came from the Irish, along with "shanty" from "sean tigh", "old house".
So much to learn. So little time and energy for it.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 18 by Son Goku, posted 09-05-2011 6:20 AM Son Goku has replied

Replies to this message:
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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 22 of 69 (632105)
09-05-2011 5:29 PM
Reply to: Message 20 by CosmicChimp
09-05-2011 1:50 PM


Re: Hochdeutsch and German film
Dwise1, I could perhaps help you to acquire some of the recent German films available. I rip, for personal use, several of them a year. Most are quite good.
That certainly sounds tempting. I've looked at amazon.de, but their DVDs are for Region 2 and in PAL instead of NTSC. I would assume that ripping circumvents the PAL-vs-NTSC problem. May I ask what you propose?
I visited Mnchen and would like to see das Deutsche Museum again.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 20 by CosmicChimp, posted 09-05-2011 1:50 PM CosmicChimp has replied

Replies to this message:
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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 26 of 69 (632253)
09-06-2011 4:21 PM
Reply to: Message 25 by caffeine
09-06-2011 9:01 AM


Re: Languages
It makes more sense to view the changing of stress in English where it changes the meaning. In linguistics we studied phonemes, sounds which differentiate meaning, as contrasted with phonology, which studies all the sounds in the language. To determine whether two sounds are phonemes in a language, you find a minimal pair, two words in the language which have different meanings and which differ from each other only in the sounds in question; eg, "map" and "nap". In English, there are two ways to pronounce a "t", one plosive as in "top" and the other not as in "stop". Now, if you were to pronounce "stop" with a plosive "t", you wouldn't change the meaning of the word; you would only sound funny.
Obviously, the idea of minimal pairs can apply to other things besides the sounds, such as tone and emphasis or stress. The examples of words that Brits and Americans stress different syllables are examples that are not phonemic; changing the stress does not change the meaning, but only makes you sound funny.
Prime minimal pairs in English would be the noun-verb pairs that are spelled identically but pronounced differently. The only two that immediately come to mind are:
REcord (noun) -- reCORD (verb)
COMbat (noun) -- comBAT (verb)
Needless to say, it hurts my ears to hear newscasters substitute the noun "combat" for the verb.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 25 by caffeine, posted 09-06-2011 9:01 AM caffeine has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 27 by caffeine, posted 09-07-2011 3:57 AM dwise1 has replied

  
dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 37 of 69 (632349)
09-07-2011 10:37 AM
Reply to: Message 27 by caffeine
09-07-2011 3:57 AM


Re: Languages
I've sat here for ages trying to identify any difference between the two sounds at all and can't.
That's mainly because you never had to learn to detect a difference, because those differences are not phonemic, they don't distinguish meaning. This is one of the hurdles in learning a foreign language which has phonemes that very similar, are not phonemes in English, and hence sound the same to an English-speaker. It takes time and practice to learn to distinguish the difference.
One example we were given in school was a Southeast Asian language (Thai?) which has two p's that a phonemic: one is aspirated and the other is not. English does not distinguish between them but an English-speaker learning that language would need to learn to distinguish between them.
In French phonology class, our textbook went through all the sounds of French and described them. Then for each sound the book would describe the kinds of difficulties speakers of other languages would have with that sound.

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 39 of 69 (632380)
09-07-2011 2:57 PM
Reply to: Message 32 by caffeine
09-07-2011 7:17 AM


Re: Languages
If anyone else is as confused as me by trying to work this out - I'll save you having to look it up yourselves - the 't' sound in 'stop' is voiced, whereas it isn't in 'top' - meaning your vocal cords vibrate to produce the first, whereas the sound for the second is produced only by the air released from your mouth. You can feel this by holding your fingers to your throat as you say it. Which means the 't' in 'stop' is actually pretty much the same sound as 'd'.
ABE: Which is a bit of an oversimplification, since further experimentation suggests that my vocal cords do vibrate to produce the 't' by itself, just slightly less.
Hrrrh? It's definitely not voiced when I say either word. English dialectal difference like what you complained about in Message 23 about descriptions of a Czech sound being similar to a particular English sound which is not pronounced as you would?
Now, the precise way in which a sound is pronounced depends on the sounds surrounding it. As nwr pointed out (Message 36), the preceding 's' in "stop" places the tip of the tongue in a different location for the start of the 't' than it's at with the initial 't'. In Spanish (the Latin American standard we're taught, at least, which does match the Mexican), whereas the 'd' is pronounced like a voiced "th", it changes to a normal 'd' sound when it follows an 'n'. And in Russian all the consonants in a cluster get voiced or unvoiced depending on the voicing of the final consonant in that cluster, hence the Russian accent pronouncing "disgusting" (wherein we unvoice the s and voice the g) as "dizgusting" (both voiced).
Which was a point that my Russian prof, of the Linguistics Department, once made. That when we're first encountering a new language (eg, when we are starting to learn it) we don't hear the actual sounds, but rather we hear the sounds of our native language which seem to come closest, so those are the sounds we use in trying to speak that new language, which is what gives us our accents in that language. Which is why in English somebody with a Russian accent sounds differently than somebody with a French accent, or an Italian accent, etc. Each is trying to apply the sounds and intonations of his own language to this foreign one.
That same Russian prof maintained that while you would want a native speaker as a teacher later on, you do not want one to teach beginners. Rather, you would want someone whose native language is your own, because that teacher would understand why you are making the common mistakes that you are, whereas the native speaker wouldn't understand why you're having difficulties with something so simple.
-----------------------------------
Bob Hope to a famous young Russian gymnast in a live TV interview via special satellite link-up:
When I was in Russia I was very impressed with how smart everybody was. Even the small children could speak Russian.
(the poor kid nervously glanced to the side, as if to ask his handler what that was supposed to mean.)
Edited by dwise1, : added Russian prof's second point

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 40 of 69 (632381)
09-07-2011 3:03 PM
Reply to: Message 38 by caffeine
09-07-2011 10:52 AM


Re: Languages
Pay attention to your apico placement -- where the tip of your tongue is. I find that for "stop" it's touching the back of my lower front teeth and stays there, whereas for "top" it starts at the back of my upper front teeth, then gets released in producing the 't' and then drops down to the lower teeth to produce the "ah" vowel sound of the 'o'.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 38 by caffeine, posted 09-07-2011 10:52 AM caffeine has replied

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 54 of 69 (636590)
10-08-2011 1:01 AM
Reply to: Message 53 by Blue Jay
10-06-2011 1:46 PM


Re: Czech
I'm so jealous: my son refused to learn Chinese from me.
Of course not. Who else around him was speaking Chinese? Nobody, right? So he knew to not pay any attention.
Kids are lean, mean, language-learning machines. If they see two people using the same language with each other, that gets their attention, it is something important. If one of those people tries something different, but nobody else does it, then it's not important.
My sons, like their cousins, grew up in a mixed English and Spanish environment. So they not only learned both languages, but they also learned with language to use with which person, as well as which language was used in which household. I tried to expose my first son to German, but he paid no attention. He learned Spanish at his Lito's house (short for "abuelito", grandparent). My father had spent a number of years in Texas and so would sprinkle his talk with some Tex-Mex Spanish. Every time he did, my son would very sternly inform him, "No 'Spaol here!" Similarly, his cousine had worked out which grandmother to use which language with. Kids not only learn different languages, but they also learn where and when to use them. This is something that they work on near full-time.
Most interesting experience: Alone at home, I found "Ghostbusters" playing on a Spanish station. While I was watching it, my wife and sons came home and my older son, seeing what was on, sat down to watch it with me. After several minutes, he suddenly said, "Wait a minute. This isn't in English!" Currently, he's a police officer in the SoCal town he grew up in. Not only does he do extra duty as an interpreter for the other officers, but he routinely foils the attempts of people he pulls over who try to pull the old "No Ingles" trick on him. FWIW, he looks as Scottish-Irish as I do, only with slightly better skin.

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 55 of 69 (636591)
10-08-2011 1:06 AM
Reply to: Message 50 by caffeine
10-06-2011 7:30 AM


Re: Czech
If your native language is English, though, French is much easier than Czech (or, I'm sure, Slovenian), since it's so much more similar in grammar and vocabulary.
In vocabulary, yes, thanks to the Norman Conquest and its aftermath -- only about 25% of English vocabulary is Anglo-Saxon. In grammar, not as much. English is still a very Germanic language. The French verb system is very foreign to the English verb system, whereas the German verb system and the English are almost identical. The only other way in which English and French grammar are similar is that English has also lost different declensions based on case (ie, Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative).

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 56 of 69 (636595)
10-08-2011 1:58 AM


I do not know whether I had posted this yet.
I was a German major in a SoCalif university, though I also was learning other languages as well. In 1973 and '74 I spent both summers living and working in Germany. Like everyone else who has gone through a similar experience, I found myself thinking in German. But later, when I had returned to the USA, I found myself thinking sometimes in English, but also sometimes in German. Furthermore, I sometimes found myself thinking at a pre-verbal level in German -- when I then had to explain my train of thought in English, I stumbled, realizing that that train of thought had been non-English.
Among the foreign language majors at my university, there was a common conceit that one's language structures one's thought. We all felt it and had experienced it, but could not necessarily support it empirically. In the early 1980's, there was a remarkable popular science magazine, "Science '80", which was iterated each year to "Science '81", "Science '82", etc, until it finally folded and its subscriptions were given to "Discovery".
In an issue of "Science '80" (ie, it was in 1980), there was an article supporting our language majors' common conceit. A study had been done of which regions of the brain processed which kinds of sounds. The two groups being studied were Europeans and Japanese, with sub-groups of Europeans raised on Japanese and Japanese raised on a European language. The study found that distinctly different parts of the Japanese and the European brains were used to process the same kinds of sounds. Furthermore, the studies showed that the deciding factor was not genetic, but rather it was the language that the individual had been raised on.
Farm out! Right arm! And flunky!

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dwise1
Member
Posts: 5985
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 59 of 69 (638701)
10-24-2011 11:09 PM
Reply to: Message 58 by hooah212002
10-24-2011 8:00 PM


In the second half of the 1960's in So. Calif., when I was in jr and sr high, foreign languages were elective. High school (grades 10-12) offered Spanish, French, German, and Latin. Junior high (grades 7-9) offered German and possibly French starting in 8th grade, and Spanish starting in 7th, though the Spanish was a new program they were trying out just then. Nothing in elementary school.
When my ex taught Kindergarten and 1st for for one year, it was a bilingual English-Spanish class. The first year they assigned the kids seats so that their neighbors spoke the other language. Both groups of kids very quickly learned the other language and they played together out on the playground. The next year the school changed its policy and split them up into separate English and Spanish speaking classes. The Spanish speakers learned English more slowly, the English speakers didn't learn Spanish, and the two groups never played together during recess. BTW, most people like to blame the Mexicans for California's bilingual program, but it resulted from a lawsuit by a Chinese family.
We were taught that pre-puberty is when people are best at learning another language, yet our schools don't take advantage of that opportunity, unlike in other countries.

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