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Eureka: The unknown origins of some languages unveiled
by Jay Gutman
2017-10-29 11:38:30
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What is the origin of the Finnish language? Of the Hungarian language? Of the Turkish language? Of the Korean language? Of the Japanese language?

I currently live in Algiers. Several languages are spoken in the city. Mainly four languages. Algerian Arabic. French. Kabyle and Mzabi. Some are bilingual, others trilingual.

langu01_400Arabic was the dominant language of Algiers spoken by its Muslim and Jewish communities until the arrival of Muslim and Jews from Spain where the use of Spanish was used by the first generation of Andalucian exiles but died out through the generations, probably because the number of Spanish speakers was not very high. Then people came from the Ottoman empire, but again not in large numbers. Then the French came, in large numbers.

Now imagine that in this day, there was no television, the French were either gone or assimilated, there was no telephone, no way to practice the French language in Algiers. Imagine transportation was mainly done with horses and ships and that it took several hours to travel anywhere. What would have happened in Algiers?

The new generation of Algerians would probably be speaking a creole mixing French and Arabic. In some cases, if you do careful linguistic studies, that already exists. A mixture of Arabic and French vocabulary, and simplified Arabic grammar. I can see the confused looks so let me explain.

I know a lot of people in Algiers speak perfect French and code-swich with Algiers Arabic, using each language interchangeably. But let's look at the variety of Arabic spoken in Algiers more carefully.

A lot of the vocabulary is French, and such words are used even by those who don't speak French. The grammar got rid of a lot of standard uses of Arabic, notably has no “muthena” or dual marker. That is you only have the singular and the plural in Algiers Arabic when many Arabic versions have the dual marker. Phonology and prosidy borrows a lot from the Berber languages, and there are some words borrowed from the Berber languages and French. Let me give you an example of how this works out in an imaginary conversation held in Algiers:

-Saha kho wash rak? (Hi brother what's up?)

-ça va mashia wantaya (doing good, things are working, yourself?)

-labas. U lfamilya kifash (doing good. How's your family?)

-ça va. Aya nsherbu café bien serré (doing good. Let's go get espresso coffee)

-anta tkhelsshali? (are you paying for it?)

-mala kifash bien sur kho (why wouldn't I of course brother)

-Merci 'alik kho (thanks brother)

Now notice that you have several French words used in the conversation that don't always have meaning in the French variety spoken in France. In France “ça va” meaning “I'm doing OK” but the French prefer “comment vas-tu?” “ça marche” or “ça roule.” “ça va” comes off as old French in some cases in France. Notice the word “familya” which is a hybridation of the French “famille” and the expression “bien sûr” which is also used in France but more frequently in Algiers. “Merci” is also used, but with Algiers phonetics.

Now to Finnish, Hungarian, Turksih, Korean and Japanese. Imagine the Mongols invaded in the 13th century. Imagine they settled in Korea, Japan, modern day Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghistan, Azerbaijan, Hungary and Finland. Imagine the first generation of Mongols spoke Mongol, but there was no Mongol television of Mongolia chat dot com or phone calls to make back in Mongolia. Children could not visit Mongolia as frequently as they wanted.

What happens in such cases is the children are not bilingual, but use a hybrid of the local language and Mongolian. In Korea and Japan the dominant language was probably of the Sinitic family, but the Mongol presence must have been very strong because the languages retained the agglutinative characteristics of Mongol, while retaining a mix of Mongol and Sinitic vocabulary.

In the Turkic languages, the ancestor language was probably a Semitic language, Semitic vocabulary was retained, but the agglutinative features of Mongol were kept grammatically. In Turkic languages as well as Korean and Japanese the phonology and prosidy was borrowed from Mongol.

Finnish was probably a Germanic language that retained Germanic vocabulary along with Mongol phonology, prosidy and of course the agglutinative grammar. Same for Hungarian, except that the original language was Slavic.

Now in Algiers Muslims always outnumbered the French which is why Arabic is still the dominant language in terms of grammar, and the phonology and prosidy is mostly Berber, probably a vestige to the presence of Berbers before the Arab invasions. Sounds like “p” and “v” which are non-existant in Arabic exist in the Algiers version among other consonants. Another Berber heritage of the language is the existance of syllables that have no vowels, just a succession of consonnants.

This means that Mongol settlers probably outnumbered the local population in the languages I have mentioned above. The Mongols kept vocabulary for words they did have, while borrowing from the local language for concepts they did not have. In some cases two number systems exist, one Mongol and the other Sinitic or from the local language. This is a common feature among creoles. In Algerian Arabic you can almost interchangeably use un, deux, trois or the Arabic wahed, zouj, tlata.

Of course I would go more in detail if I could. I can see the confused looks. I know some countries were build around the idea of uniqueness and isolation and liked to claim that their languages were isolated from the rest.

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Emanuel Paparella2017-10-29 22:36:15
Interesting empirical positivistic stuff, no doubt, but what would interest a humanist more is the question of what do all languages have in common at their origin, known or unknown? That is to say, what is there about language per se which humanizes us and makes us the kind of animal that can reflect upon his/her actions, deal with symbols and interpretations of actions and events, with rationality and ethics, and make us substantially qualitatively different from animals which communicate but do not speak a language...? Could it be that when a language becomes just a means of communication for utilitarian practical purpose, already a process of decay in a society or civilization has already begun?

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