terça-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2010

The Meanings of Words Should Not be Allowed to Vary or Change

(The Meanings of Words Should Not be Allowed to Vary or Change, Language Myths, Peter Trudgill)

All languages change all the time. It is not very well understood why this is the case, but it is a universal characteristic of human languages. The only languages which do not change are those, like Latin, which nobody speaks. Language changes their pronunciations through time. Five hundred years ago, all English speakers used to pronounce the k in 'knee' – now nobody does. Grammatical structures also change.
English speakers used to say 'Saw you my son?' Now everybody says 'Did you see my son?' But perhaps the most obvious way in which languages change is in the usage and meaning of words.


Actually, the history of the word 'nice' provides a very good illustration
of the untenable nature of this way of thinking. 'Nice' comes originally from two ancient Indo-European roots, '*skei' meaning 'cut', which came down into Latin as the verb 'scire' 'to know', probably via a meaning such as 'be able to distinguish one thing from another', and '*ne' meaning 'not'. The combination of the two forms gave the Latin verb 'nescire' which meant 'to be ignorant of'. This led to the
development of the adjective 'nescius' 'ignorant', which came down into Old French as 'nice' meaning 'silly'. It was then borrowed from French into medieval English with the meaning 'foolish, shy' and, over the centuries, has gradually changed its meaning to 'modest', then 'delicate', 'considerate', 'pleasant' and finally 'agreeable' — a very long way in 6,000 years from its original meaning. No one in their right mind, though, would argue that the 'real' meaning of nice is, or ought to be, 'not cutting'.


(...) none of us can unilaterally decide what a word means. Meaning of words are shared between people — they are a kind of social contract we all agree to — otherwise communication would not be possible.


Words do not mean what we as individuals might wish them to mean, but what speakers of the language in general want them to mean. These meanings can and do change as they are modified and negotiated in milions of everyday exchanges over the years between one speaker and another. Language change cannot be halted. Nor should the worriers feel obliged to try to halt it. Languages are self-regulating systems which
can be left to take care of themselves. They are self-regulating because their speakers want to understand each other and be understood.

Analysis and interpretation

(Writing Systems: An introduction to their linguistic analysis, Florian Coulmas)

All writing system incorporate linguistic analysis, and all writing systems are linear. (...) analyticity and linearity can be, and often are, manifest on different levels. Recognition of this fact helps to resolve a number of confusions about the proper classification of some writing systems. (...) To say that writing systems incorporate linguistic analysis does not mean that first there was a proper analysis of speech and then there was writing. It just means that dissection of the stream of speech into constituent parts is indispensable for writing to occur. Only a few writing systems are the result of deliberate design and can accordingly be said to represent linguistic features that were found suitable for recording the languages in question. More commonly, the interpretation of written signs and the analytic understanding of linguistic structure have advanced together, one contributing to the other. A linguistic fit thus evolved. This explains the great diversity of the world's writing systems, which tend to highlight different units, reflecting the linguistic environments in which they developed. But no matter how we answer the question of whether writing they developed, preceded or accompanied the recognition of different levels of linguistic structure, it is clear that, by virtue of the fact that every writing system maps onto a linguistic system, it embodies and visibly exhibits the dissection of units of language and thus linguistic analysis.

However, since this analysis has in many instances evolved after the fact, it is not necessarily very systematic. Moreover, the breakdown inherent in the writing system may not reflect the salient units of the language very directly or very adequately, because language changes tends to disrupt the linguistic fit. Chinese offers a good example. When the Chinese writing system came into existence, Chinese words were predominantly one-syllable-one-morpheme units. This lexical structure is still reflected in today's Chinese writing, which treats individual characters rather than words as relevant units, although two-syllable words not necessarily consisting of two morphemes are very common in contemporary Chinese. Indeed, many Chinese characters do not make any sense but as part of a compound word. The lesson to be learned is that not every linguistic feature reflected in writing is always functionally relevant. More generally, a distinction has to be made between the unit of analysis - that aspect of linguistic structure encoded by the basic unit of a writing system - and the unit of interpretation - the constituent most relevant for processing a text and assigning it a linguistic interpretation. It is very common that there is no or only partial congruence between these two units.

Alice Faber (1992: 121), in the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter, alerts us to a particular consequence of the disparity between the units of analysis and the units of interpretation. Scripts are linear. Spatial succession corresponds in one way or another to temporal duration. This is true in a very general sense and does not mean that all graphic components are interpreted consecutively, one after the other. The direction of a script, from left to right, from right to left, or from top to bottom, mirrors the temporal flow of connected speech, but this does not imply that the basic functional units of writing always appear in the same linear order as the linguistic units they encode. The extent to which there is agreement between the linear order of units of speech and units of writing is agreement between the linear order of units of speech and units of writing is an index of the relative simplicity of the writing system.

to blog, bloggen, blogar

This Web Blog serves the purpose of archiving all interesting things I find.
Diese Weblog bedient den Zweck alle interessant Sage die mir gefallen hatten zu archivieren.
Este blog tem como objetivo arquivar tudo aquilo o que eu achar interessante.

Therefore there is no preferential language to be used.
Daher gibt es kein bevorzugte Sprache die muss sich benutzt werden.
Por este motivo não há língua preferencia a se utilizar.