Let's Revise

Let's Revise - Languages in Danger

Language Structures


1. What characterizes function words?

Function words do not refer to things or actions, rather, they express grammatical categories or are used to combine words and phrases. They are typically short words. In speech functions words tend to fuse with the preceding or following word, for example English don’t = do not, I’ve = I have. Some languages have many function words, while in other languages grammatical meaning is rather expressed by inflectional endings, suffixes or prefixes.

2. What is ambiguous in the following English sentence, said by John to Mary:
We will go to the opera tonight.
Think of two different situations which show the ambiguity. In some languages, for example Chamoro, this ambiguity does not occur. Why?

The word we is ambiguous: it may refer to John and Mary or to John and someone else. The first meaning is called inclusive, the second exclusive.

- Example for a situation where the word is used in inclusive meaning: It’s Mary’s birthday. John says to Mary: Here is my present to you: we will go to the opera tonight!
- Example for the exclusive meaning: Mary says to John: Maybe you and Lily want to come over for supper tonight? John answers: Sorry, we can’t. We will go to the opera tonight. (here we = John and Lily)
Chamorro is a language where inclusive and exclusive ‘we’ are expressed by different pronouns.

3. There are 6 logical possibilities for the order of subject, object and verb in a clause (John hates cats, John cats hates, hates John cats …). Which are the two constellations that are found most often in the languages of the world and which are the two that are very rare? What do the two frequent constellations have in common, what do the rare constellations have in common?

The most frequently found word order is Subject Object Verb, followed by Subject Verb Object. Rarely found in languages are the constellations Object Verb Subject and Object Subject Verb. Thus, frequent are the constellations where the subject is at the beginning of the clause, rare are those where the object is at the beginning of the clause.

4. Which technique of marking questions is more often found in the languages of the world:
(a) using a question particle, such as Polish czy in 'Czy on jest chory?' - ‘Is he ill?’ (vs. 'On jest chory' ‘He is ill’);
(b) word order, such as in English 'Is he ill?' (vs. 'He is ill')

he use of question particles is very common in the languages of the world. Word order changes such as in English Is he ill? are rarely used to mark questions – this technique is mostly found in some European languages.

5. There are two basic ways how possession is expressed in sentences, the ‘have-type’ and the ‘be-type’. Explain these types with examples. Which type is more frequently employed in the languages of the world?

The “have-type” means that there is a special verb with the meaning ‘have’, for example English I have a cat. In Europe, German, Dutch, French, Polish and many other languages belong to this type. Languages of the “be-type” don’t have such a verb, but express possession with the verb ‘be’, for example, as ‘there is cat at me’, ‘to me is a cat’. In Europe, Russian, Latvian, Hungarian, Welsh and many other languages represent the “be-type”. All over the world, the “be-type” is more frequently found than the “have-type”.