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Thread: Is the Structure of the Indo-European Languages Progressive?

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    Question Is the Structure of the Indo-European Languages Progressive?

    While re-reading Orwell's 1984, I came across the phrase "if thought can corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought". This got me thinking about the importance of linguistics to the development of the human psyche and its influence on culture (in particular religion, philosophy, and the arts). Could it be that the structure of the Indo-European family of languages is particularly progressive? I'm trying to collect data relevant to this thesis, and would greatly appreciate it if some of you would be willing to help me in this. Basically anything related to the development, expansion and structure of Indo-European tongues would be welcomed, but also information contrasting Indo-European with, for example, Turkic and/or other languages.

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    Post Re: Indo-European Languages

    I don't know if you've read my post from a couple months ago.
    Basically, just the things I noticed in the way Finno-Ugric and Turkic people post.
    I don't remember where the post is, I just remember a real contrast between the order of thoughts and the level of rationality between native-IE speakers and others.

    You can visit also visit Dodona. The posts there would surely be interesting to you,
    and you can also pay attention to the way some Arabic members discuss things.
    I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it's there.

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    Post Re: Indo-European Languages

    The essence of the Sapir-Worff Hypothesis (which is very important for linguistics), is that language shapes perception and thought.

    I think the subject-verb form in Indo-European languages lends itself to a mechanistic/materialistic way of perceiving and handling the world. It tends to reduce things to discrete nouns (things). This goes along with the infamous Western atomistic materialism.

    I can't speak for many non-IE languages, but I've heard about how many Amerind languages, for instance the Na-Dene group, focuses more on verbs and processes rather than nouns.

    Of course, materialism has given us science, technology, and the whole Western world. Without it, these things would never have happened. The Western emphasis on "things" rather than feelings or intangible spiritual perceptions is directly responsible for this, and perhaps this is strongly related to the structure of IE languages.

    I suspect that both the structure of IE languages and Western materialism have a common root in distinctive neurological developments that possibly originated with Western/IE people.

    I consider typical "Impassive/Cold Business Logic" (which is distinctively White and Male) this form of thinking/perceiving in a very modern form. Note how even Western cultures that are less materialistic (Med cultures with more emphasis on feeling and passion) have not advanced materially/scientifically as much as the more N European cultures.

    I think Gunther's descriptions of various European cultures and their mental characteristics touched on some important truths about the variety of feeling/perception that exists at the subverbal level.
    "Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil." - F. Nietzsche

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    Post Re: Indo-European Languages

    Here is a thread about this thread:
    http://dodona.proboards35.com/index....013890&start=0

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    Post Re: Indo-European Languages

    Of course, not all IE languages are S-V. And in fact, probably began more as VS. But Proto-Indo-European is thought to have been in a transitional state between ergative and transitive structures, so that syntactical order was highly variable. In time IE languages have frozen a bit, like Chinese, to become heavily order dependent, dropping synthetics, grammatical affixes or at least reducing their meaning/importance. Celtic languages are normally verb-initial. Is there a difference with their sense of materialism? Interesting to note that it has often been stated in the difference between classical languages that Greek was more verb-oriented, Roman more noun-oriented. The classic distinction of orientalism draws the rational, concrete, material toward the west, the irrational, abstract, effeminate to the east. In early Germanic language, which was probably normally VO with moveable subject, much could vary in order depending on emphasis, narrative features, etcetera. It is tempting to relate the freezing of order with increased materialist thought, but maybe this is too simplistic? Appositive relatives as opposed to relative clauses were probably the norm in early Germanic (there is no extant common relative particle in the earliest stages); verbal prefixes seem to have arisen from free adverbials; there was a slow shift from postpositive adjective to prepositive adjective: all this seems to point to a significant change in how language was thought and used in the few hundred years preceding Christ to a couple hundred years after. While case synthesis, whose loss coincides with order-fixation, corroded in the west by the middle ages, in the east, slavic and baltic languages preserved older systems that allowed for a greater fluidity in thought structure. How should this then be viewed on these premises?




    Quote Originally Posted by Scoob
    I think the subject-verb form in Indo-European languages lends itself to a mechanistic/materialistic way of perceiving and handling the world. It tends to reduce things to discrete nouns (things). This goes along with the infamous Western atomistic materialism.

    I can't speak for many non-IE languages, but I've heard about how many Amerind languages, for instance the Na-Dene group, focuses more on verbs and processes rather than nouns.

    Of course, materialism has given us science, technology, and the whole Western world. Without it, these things would never have happened. The Western emphasis on "things" rather than feelings or intangible spiritual perceptions is directly responsible for this, and perhaps this is strongly related to the structure of IE languages.

    I suspect that both the structure of IE languages and Western materialism have a common root in distinctive neurological developments that possibly originated with Western/IE people.

    I consider typical "Impassive/Cold Business Logic" (which is distinctively White and Male) this form of thinking/perceiving in a very modern form. Note how even Western cultures that are less materialistic (Med cultures with more emphasis on feeling and passion) have not advanced materially/scientifically as much as the more N European cultures.

    I think Gunther's descriptions of various European cultures and their mental characteristics touched on some important truths about the variety of feeling/perception that exists at the subverbal level.

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    Post Re: Indo-European Languages

    My personal experience is that people who are trained in a business way of thinking have trouble even perceiving (and expressing) emotional moral significance of things. They similarly have trouble with higher-order concepts that transcend mere physicality: they are not good synthetic "Big Thinkers" but excell at practical thinking.

    Of course, in Western philosophy, both scientific/analytical/logical thinking has been very important, while mystical thinking has been given a second seat, especially since the Renaissance.

    And I've also noticed that people even in the West who are more inclined to mystical/moral "big picture" thinking tend to be much less achievement oriented, and accomplish less.

    While the Romans achieved more in the way of civilization-building than the Greeks, their philosophy and art seems rather trite.

    I've seen Asian Indian religious thinkers complain about how in India, people bring every problem back to the spiritual, and tend not to solve things in the material/practical world because that is seen as secondary.

    All of this makes me question what all that impressive "Wisdom" is really worth. Of course, it could be argued that formal logic itself was invented by the metaphysically-derived Greeks (Aristotle in particular) - so without all that metaphysics, there wouldn't be materialistic practical thinking at all.
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    Re: Indo-European Languages

    This is a fascinating older thread, and I'd like to address some of the issues that have been discussed in it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Siegfried
    While re-reading Orwell's 1984, I came across the phrase "if thought can corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought". This got me thinking about the importance of linguistics to the development of the human psyche and its influence on culture (in particular religion, philosophy, and the arts). Could it be that the structure of the Indo-European family of languages is particularly progressive? I'm trying to collect data relevant to this thesis, and would greatly appreciate it if some of you would be willing to help me in this. Basically anything related to the development, expansion and structure of Indo-European tongues would be welcomed, but also information contrasting Indo-European with, for example, Turkic and/or other languages.
    I think it is the case that the structure of the IE family of languages is particularly progressive. And I mean here not syntactic structure so much as morphological.

    There are three major groups of languages, morphologically speaking: analytic, agglutinative, and fusional. Analytic languages have very little inflection and a strong tendency toward having each morpheme be its own word. Agglutinative languages have a large number of morphemes in a given word, but each morpheme has just one meaning. Fusional languages generally have several morphemes per word (but fewer than agglutinative languages), but each morpheme might indicate several things, such as a single vowel in a verbal inflection indicating tense, mood, and number.

    One could picture these three groups on a circular spectrum, and any given language would be somewhere on that spectrum. Few languages are firmly in one of these three groups. English, for instance, is predominately analytic, yet we still have some inflection — a bit of person and number and plenty of tense in verbs; case, number, and gender in pronouns; and number throughout our nouns. Mandarin is much more solidly analytic than English is. German is still a bit more fusional than English is. Latin and Sanskrit were both much more fusional than living IE languages are. It is probable that PIE was a fusional language that has, in all its varieties, been moving toward a more analytic nature.

    Most of the most widely spoken languages of the world are the more analytic ones. The less prestigious languages (from a global perspective) tend to be more fusional or agglutinative. If I had to guess, I would say that agglutinative languages tend to be the least prestigious and therefore least widespread, but that is difficult for me, a student, to be certain of. And incidentally, the Turkic languages are very strongly agglutinative, and along with Swahili, are probably the most prestigious of the kind. Most of the agglutinative languages I know of are Amerindian languages (btw, that's why the Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow — in an agglutinative language, each word is like a sentence in an analytic language — would it be fair to say that we have at least a few hundred possible sentences to describe snow in English?).

    But I should add something here. The comparative Australian linguist RMW Dixon, in his book The Rise and Fall of Languages, writes of a commonly-held illusion "that people with a limited material culture must have a proportionately threadbare language." About this Dixon says that "the reverse tends to be the case" (p. 117). That is, the less prestigious languages tend to be the richest linguistically while the most prestigious tend to be relatively impoverished.

    I am inclined to believe this, and I have at least two ideas that attempt to explain it. One is along the lines of what Scoob has said — the less prestigious languages tend to have a huge amount of inflection on nouns and pronouns that explain the relationship not only between one thing and another in the sentence, but also the relationships among the participants in the speech act, other members of society, and the degree of involvement the particpants in the speech act have with the things being discussed. All that is programmed into the declension. I think that, as a result, such people tend to focus more on their social relationships than on things, and the materialism that would let them develop material wealth is itself quite difficult to develop.

    My second attempt to explain the negative correlation between linguistic wealth and material wealth in socities is a bit cruder: speakers of more complicated languages must invest so much more effort in speaking that little energy is left over for production — particularly joint production. Maybe my thinking here is a little too influenced by early exposure to Tolkien's Entmoot, but, after all, it's probably not too bad to get linguistics ideas from a linguistics professor.

    This all means, though, that the IE languages are particularly progressive because they have been becoming more analytic over time.

    It is also interesting to note that the language engineers of Ingsoc were working toward making the language much more analytic, sacrificing linguistic wealth for greater productivity.

    As an interesting side-note to the main idea here (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that is), my brother once told me (but didn't give me his source beyond "a study he had read") that native Spanish-speaking men in the United States have been found to perform at the same level as native English-speaking women in science and math, two areas where native English-speaking men normally excel relative to their women. I don't know whether the obviously possible other variables in the study were properly accounted for or not, but it was good food for thought. I can certainly say that you don't hear of many native Spanish-speaking scientists or mathematicians, at least in comparison to English-, German-, or French-speaking ones.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scoob
    While the Romans achieved more in the way of civilization-building than the Greeks, their philosophy and art seems rather trite.
    Another good and well-known example of a more prestigious language being also more linguistically impoverished.




    Quote Originally Posted by Theudanaz
    Of course, not all IE languages are S-V. And in fact, probably began more as VS. But Proto-Indo-European is thought to have been in a transitional state between ergative and transitive structures, so that syntactical order was highly variable. In time IE languages have frozen a bit, like Chinese, to become heavily order dependent, dropping synthetics, grammatical affixes or at least reducing their meaning/importance. Celtic languages are normally verb-initial. Is there a difference with their sense of materialism? Interesting to note that it has often been stated in the difference between classical languages that Greek was more verb-oriented, Roman more noun-oriented. The classic distinction of orientalism draws the rational, concrete, material toward the west, the irrational, abstract, effeminate to the east. In early Germanic language, which was probably normally VO with moveable subject, much could vary in order depending on emphasis, narrative features, etcetera. It is tempting to relate the freezing of order with increased materialist thought, but maybe this is too simplistic? Appositive relatives as opposed to relative clauses were probably the norm in early Germanic (there is no extant common relative particle in the earliest stages); verbal prefixes seem to have arisen from free adverbials; there was a slow shift from postpositive adjective to prepositive adjective: all this seems to point to a significant change in how language was thought and used in the few hundred years preceding Christ to a couple hundred years after. While case synthesis, whose loss coincides with order-fixation, corroded in the west by the middle ages, in the east, slavic and baltic languages preserved older systems that allowed for a greater fluidity in thought structure. How should this then be viewed on these premises?
    This is the first time I have ever heard anyone say that PIE was not SOV. The proliferation of case in PIE would tend to make one think it was verb-final, and the fact that Greek, Latin, and older forms of Germanic tend toward an SOV structure would bolster such a conclusion. I assume you know what you're talking about, so why do you say that PIE was probably VS?

    I had also never heard of ergativity in IE languages until now (except for a strange sort of concept I encountered once in a very philosophical semantics course about utterances like "the tower fell over"/"I knocked the tower over" where over can apply to both the intransitive subject and the transitive patient). Where is that attested? Or if it's an extrapolation from what is attested, what reasoning is behind that? Please, tell me more.

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    Re: Indo-European Languages

    Frans and I were discussing this one day about language shaping thought. I read an article for school that tested how language shapes thought in Mandarin Chinese and English speakers because of how each conceptualizes time. English speakers are said to think of time horizontally while Chinese think of time vertically.

    Look, I found the article so you can all read it. It is a very interesting article.

    http://psychology.stanford.edu/~lera...s/mandarin.pdf
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    Re: Indo-European Languages

    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer
    Frans and I were discussing this one day about language shaping thought.
    Isn't that pretty much related to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?

    You know a sort of update to Wilhelm von Humboldt's notion that language has controlling effects upon thought (Über das vergleichende Sprachstudium)...
    .

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