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Re: [ontolog-forum] (OT) German

To: edbark@xxxxxxxx, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2008 13:00:29 -0500
Message-id: <478CF4BD.1090606@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

To comment on your last point first:    (02)

 > I can't find a model for the domination of language that explains
 > the diverse effects of the Roman occupation of the Celt-Iberian
 > region and the subsequent Germanic invasions in both France and
 > England.    (03)

I highly recommend the following book, which is very readable:    (04)

    _Empires of the Word:  A Language History of the World_,
    by Nicholas Ostler, Harper Perennial, New York.    (05)

The paperback version is unavailable at Amazon, but they still have
a few hardback copies for $24.95.    (06)

That book is over 600 pages long, but you don't have to read it
straight through.  Chapter 7, which is about 40 pages long, has
the title "Contesting Europe:  Celt, Roman, German, and Slav".    (07)

Ostler makes the point that just conquering a nation very rarely
causes a change in the language of the region.  Islam, for example,
spread Arabic widely, but Arabic only became the established language
in areas that already spoke a closely related language.  Spain,
Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia retained their old languages.    (08)

The Romans spread Latin mainly in the cities they conquered,
but the rural populations retained their old languages for
many centuries.  In the first centuries BC and AD, Celtic was
sufficiently similar to Latin, that it was relatively easy
for people to learn it in the cities, and it gradually spread
through the countryside, but only after a long time.    (09)

In England, Latin was adopted in the major cities, but the rural
population kept on speaking Celtic.  After the fall of Rome, Latin
did not survive very long in England.  The advance of Anglo-Saxon
was probably the result of two separate, but related events:  many
more invaders came over to England, and a plague devastated the
Celtic population (who continued trading with what remained of
the Roman empire and therefore got infected rats from the ships).    (010)

 > I recently saw a PBS special about an archeological discovery
 > somewhere along the silk road in what is now Tadzhikistan (I think).
 > It is a bronze-age PIE site, and they believe it may have been
 > the birthplace/home of the people whose language came to dominate
 > much of Eurasia.  But that makes it c.2000 B.C., not 4000 B.C.    (011)

The date of 4000 to 6000 BC is the estimated date of a unified PIE.
By 2000 BC, the languages had already begun to spread and diversify,
and the version spoken in that region probably belonged to the
Indo-Iranian branch.  One of the languages spoken in that area
was an Iranian language called Sogdian. (Alexander the Great
married Roxanne, a Sogdian princess, partly for political reasons.)    (012)

 > ... horse-drawn vehicles were brought into northern India and
 > Mesopotamia around 1800 B.C. by an invading people.    (013)

One of the common PIE words was 'kwel', from which we get the
English word 'wheel'.  The duplicated form 'kwelkwel' became
the Latin 'circulus' and the Greek 'kyklos', from which English
borrowed the words 'circle' and 'cycle'.  The general Slavic
word is 'kolo'.    (014)

 > Estonian, which is apparently a cross between a Baltic tongue
 > and a Suomo-Ugric tongue, much as English is a cross between
 > a Germanic tongue (Anglo-Saxon) and a Romance tongue (Norman
 > French).    (015)

The word 'cross' is misleading because it suggests an equal and
parallel contribution from each, but there are two distinct
kinds of mixtures:    (016)

  1. When two unrelated (or distantly related) languages are mixed,
     the syntax of the base language remains unchanged, but there
     is an enormous borrowing of words (as happened with English
     and Norman French).    (017)

2.  When two closely related languages mix, the syntax of both
     tends to be simplified.  When the Danes invaded the eastern
     part of Britain, Old Danish and Anglo-Saxon were mutually
     intelligible, but they had different inflections on nouns and
     verbs.  So most of the simplification of English grammar was
     caused by the Danish invasion, not the French invasion.    (018)

     (That change is not recorded in the written form, because the
     scribes continued to preserve the old syntax.  It was only
     *after* the French invasion that the scribes began to write
     French or Latin, and the simplified syntax appeared when
     Middle English began to be written.)    (019)

 > Basque (Bizkaian/Viscayan) is assumed to be an Iberian language,
 > named for the peoples who inhabited the Atlantic coast of Europe
 > before the Celtic invasions of the 5th century BC.  The people the
 > Romans called Picti (painted) in what is now Scotland were probably
 > also Iberians, and there was an Iberian people in Cornwall until at
 > least the 1st century.    (020)

There was a Celto-Iberian language in Spain before the Romans arrived,
and it was related to the Celtic languages of the British Isles. But
it was totally unrelated to Basque.    (021)

Cornish was a Celtic language.  Scottish Gaelic is a version of Irish
Gaelic that the Irish monks taught to the Picts.  The Picts wouldn't
have learned Gaelic unless they already spoke a closely related
Celtic language.  There was undoubtedly a non-Celtic language spoken
many centuries earlier by the people who built Stonehenge.  It's
conceivable, but nobody knows whether it was related to Basque.    (022)

The Phoenicians were traveling as far as Britain long before the
Romans arrived, and if any Basque speakers showed up in Cornwall,
they were probably sailors who arrived on Phoenician ships.    (023)

 > Like John, I've always found this stuff to be interesting, but it
 > is not at all clear what value it may have to formulating ontologies.    (024)

I find linguistics in general (including historical linguistics) to
be helpful in understanding the structure, operation, and learnability
of any kind of notation, natural or artificial.  It provides some
perspective on what kinds of notations and ontological structures are
likely to be learnable and usable by meat-based computers (as Minsky
called them).    (025)

There's a lot more to be said about that point, but I summarized some
of the issues in my paper on the challenge of knowledge soup:    (026)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/pubs/challenge.pdf    (027)

John    (028)

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