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Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

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Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby gailr » Thu Jun 13, 2013 2:40 pm

I saw this short article on another look at how higher vs lower altitudes or warmer vs cooler climates may shape language.

Google News: http://news.discovery.com/human/are-lan ... 130613.htm
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Slava » Fri Jun 14, 2013 5:43 pm

Another shaper is terrain. If you live in a mountainous area, pre-phones and such, you might often have to bellow across a gully to your neighbors. Your language will evolve to have sounds that carry well.
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Jun 14, 2013 6:33 pm

Then there are the famous dozens of words for snow in Eskimo. I understand that's greatly exaggerated, but still, skiers talk of various kinds of snow, such as powder. I suspect wherever you live, there are extra words commonly used that relate to the environment.
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Jun 15, 2013 5:37 pm

Perry is discussing the geographical variation in the number of different words about the same thing in a language. This is definitely true. There are also cultural things that encourage and discourage vocabulary about a single item. The Germans found the word tier good enough for all the animals in the world, while English uses the word for a specific species, deer. Notice the number of words in English for horse. It proves that we Anglophiles are a horsy set.

The article Gail references is more about the physical effect of environment over word sounds. This too is true in cases, but it can be overdrawn. Someone opined that High German and Low German differ because of altitude. Since Low German is all but gone, altitude may not have been the determining factor. The shift was cultural. Luther translated the Bible in High German so the language followed suit. A hundred years ago, my old German linguistics prof saddened his mother by converting from High-German to Prussian during his university days.
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby bnjtokyo » Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:40 am

Dear Mr Lassiter:

Can we put the "Eskimo Words for Snow" myth to rest? According to Geoff Pullum, "C. W. Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) gives just two possibly relevant roots: 'qanik,' meaning 'snow in the air' or 'snowflake,' and 'aput,' meaning 'snow on the ground.'"
Mr Pullum then asks if you can cite any more.
"The great Eskimo vocabulary hoax"
See http://users.utu.fi/freder/Pullum-Eskimo-VocabHoax.pdf
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jun 17, 2013 5:49 pm

I did note it was exaggerated because I had read a similar article. However, my friends who go snow skiing have several terms to distinguish whether it's wet or dry snow and how hard it is packed. Also note that i referred to snow skiing, which seems redundant for many, but around here, water skiing is far more frequent.
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby bnjtokyo » Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:04 am

The many ways skiers refer to "snow" does not show that they have many words for snow, only the skiers identify many attributes of snow that a particular token of snow may display. That is "powder" and "corn" and "breakable crust" etc. are not words for "snow" per se but the attribute that is associated with a particular patch of snow.

On the other hand, English has at least three independent words for H2O: water (PIE root "wed-"), ice (PIE root "eis-"), snow (PIE root "sneigwh-"). But should we also include rain, hail and sleet?
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Jun 20, 2013 2:15 pm

Continuing with water in its different manifestations, there are fog, cloud, steam, dew, frost (hoarfrost), and more. Different languages have variable numbers of words for a specific meaning in its various manifestations. In English we have here, there and (for us Southerners) yonder to designate the physical relationship of a thing with the observer. Some languages have even more words for a positional description. While the Eskimo words for snow example is overblown, there are other examples from usually obscure languages of words that are in a family and vary only in proximity, physical state, application and other situations.
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Slava » Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:19 pm

The Atlantic has now also put out a piece on this idea. It may prove of interest: http://www.theatlantic.com/internationa ... es/277625/
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Re: Are Languages Shaped By Geography?

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Jul 12, 2013 3:21 pm

Interesting but not convincing.
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