Why isn’t there a single Modern Latin language like Modern Greek?

How many months ago did you A2A me this, Zeibura S. Kathau? I’ve been clearing out my backlog.

The question really is not why isn’t there a Single Modern Latin, but why is there a Single Modern Greek.

  1. Actually, there is not a single Modern Hellenic language. Under no linguistically informed notion of language is Tsakonian or Southern Cappadocian the same language as Standard Athenian Greek. You have to be damned generous to say Pontic is. And if we’re being honest, basilectal Cypriot is pretty iffy too. But it is still fair to say that there is less diversity within the Hellenic languages than there is within the Romance languages.
  2. The area over which Modern Romance languages were spoken historically is much bigger than the area over which Modern Hellenic languages were. Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Romania, patches of the Balkans; vs. Greece, Cyprus, and patches of the Anatolian hinterland [EDIT: and some other bits: see Dimitra Triantafyllidou’s comment]. Greece may have been the Eastern Roman Empire’s lingua franca, but that didn’t hellenise the Slavs or the Syrians.

A rough guess at 800 AD dominion of Romance and Hellenic languages.

  1. There are lots of substrates at work in Romance, both Celtic and Germanic (and whatever the hell the substrate of Romanian is). That’s a large part of what has differentiated the Romance languages. Now, Greece has had its share of other peoples moving in too, and there’s a lot of adstratal effects on Greek: Greek is a part of the Balkan Sprachbund, especially on the Balkan mainland, and there have been clear contact effects—not all one way. But even though there were clearly substantial hellenised Slavic populations in the middle ages, Greek does not come across as a language with a whole lot of substrate going on.
    1. Tsakonian does; but Hesseling was pilloried for suggesting it. By town council meeting, no less.
    2. If an Egyptian Greek had survived, you’d be seeing a lot more substrate effects. They’re certainly quite clear in the papyri.
  2. The prestige of archaic Greek (particularly church Greek; much later on, written Greek in general) had a profoundly conservative effect on the language, in a way that was different to Western Europe. In fact, the Greek Aromanian linguist Nikos Katsanis has pointed out that the most extreme palatalisations that have happened in Greece were in Tsakonian and Aromanian. Both were so far removed from the language of the Church, that the language of the Church could not have any effect on their pronunciation.
    1. He left out Lesbos, where there’s been similar hi-jinx. But it’s a nice observation.

Why does the definition of one word recall other n words and m definitions?

The question is somewhat opaque, but OP is getting to the question of, why is the definition of a word such a complex, and potentially circular, graph of links to other definitions. Your original question, OP, was in fact about circularity.

The answer is:

  • Dictionary definitions aren’t particularly concerned about rigour or non-circularity: you’re assumed as a language learner to already have a baseline understanding of the definitional human language, which you can use to bootstrap any other definitions.
  • Attempts at a rigorous semantics of definitions will inevitably have to bottom out on a list of Semantic primes, a set of concepts that have to be taken as givens rather than defined themselves.
  • Identifying that list of primes, and using them for definitions, has not been a popular pastime. It’s work. Natural semantic metalanguage is an admirable initiative in that direction.
  • Unfortunately, NSM also wanted to use those primes in human-intelligible definitions. That makes things dirtier. The initial Spartan beauty of Anna Wierzbicka’s Lingua Mentalis had 14 primes; now it’s in the 60s.
  • Definitions of words in NSM are a valuable discipline to get into: they really force you to break concepts down. They are also a hilariously forced subset of English.

Look into Wierzbicka’s work, OP. Even if you don’t like the approach, it’s got some excellent insights. And start with the early stuff, including Lingua Mentalis itself.

Why aren’t brown eyes romanticized unlike other eye colors?

Several culture-specific factors, as others have pointed out: scarcity, attitudes towards ethnic minorities, constructs of beauty, yadda yadda.

I conducted the extremely scientific experiment of searching mavromata “brown-eyed girl” and galanomata “blue-eyed girl” on the Greek lyrics site stixoi.info. Brown-eyed win 87 to 20—despite blue-eyed Greeks being rather rare. And there is a definite cultural construct of brown-eyed girls in Greek song: that of the penetrating glance.

And yet, there’s that lovely poem by Dimitris Lipertis in Cypriot dialect: “Hey, blue-eyes, hark! They’re knocking!/ Oh mother, it’s just the pig.” (about a girl trying to cover up her nighttime tryst).

… OK, it sounds better in Cypriot.

Why are the generic male endings -er and -or accepted as gender neutral but -man isn’t?

The archaicness of -trix is indeed very very relevant to the topic.

I agree with Jason Whyte’s answer, I’ll just elaborate on it.

In the past of English, gendering was overt, and feminine actor suffixes were quite marked. –er was masculine and had a –ress counterpart; –or was masculine and had a –trix counterpart; –man was masculine and had a –woman counterpart (kinda).

When English ideologically moved away from gendering of roles, –trix was pretty marginal already, so people just forgot it was ever there: dominator/dominatrix is the only instance where -trix is alive and well. –ress is far from dead, but English is pretty ungendered much of the time, and it was easy for –er to generalise from masculine to generic. Not all the time: the US prefers she’s a server to she’s a waiter—but note, it’s still serv-er. The masculine connotation of -er was weak enough, and -er was generic enough already in meaning, that it could be ignored.

But –man? Well, it’s identical to man.

At this point, you could retort that –man in Old English meant “human being” (“man” was were), and people should have accepted that –man was generic. Well, they could have, but they didn’t. People interpret the meaning of morphemes in a synchronic paradigm (what other words and suffixes do I know right now, not historically). The synchronic identity of –man and man has been too compelling for people, and (this is also crucial) the use of –man as a suffix infrequent enough that it was never as generic as –er.

What is the Origin of idiolect?

If you’re asking about the etymology of idiolect:

idio-: from Greek idios “particular, individual”. Cf. idiosyncrasy, idiot (originally: private citizen, loner), idiom.

-lect: back-formation from dia-lect, originally “something conversed about/in”, from dia “through” and lektos “spoken”.


If you’re asking why there are idiolects, where they come from:

We like to abstract languages, sociolects, and dialects as the common property of a language community. But that is always an abstraction.

What occurs in reality is that each individual has their own mental model of a language, with their own influences from the people they’ve learned from and spoken to, and with their own individual variations.

Idiolects are the source of all language variation and change: those variations are levelled and grouped together because people talk to each other, and that’s how the higher groupings of languages, sociolects, and dialects are real.

What is known about the symbols on the Arkalochori Axe (possibly a script)? Are there any attempts to decipher them?

This question has been sitting, lonely and neglected, in my inbox for quite a while.

I’ll answer it so it can be out of my inbox. I don’t have any special knowledge about it, but:

  • Cretan hieroglyphs is a superset of Arkalochori and Phaistos; it also includes a bunch of seals.
  • The latest published corpus is J.-P. Olivier, L. Godard, in collaboration with J.-C. Poursat, Corpus Hieroglyphicarum Inscriptionum Cretae (CHIC), Études Crétoises 31, De Boccard, Paris 1996, ISBN 2-86958-082-7.
  • That corpus analyses Cretan hieroglyphs as:

96 syllabograms (representing sounds), ten of which double as logograms (representing words or morphemes). There are also 23 logograms representing four levels of numerals (units, tens, hundreds, thousands), numerical fractions, and two types of punctuation.

  • So while nutjob amateurs think Arkalochori and Phaistos look like belonging to the same script, professional linguists also think they belong to the same list.
  • Yes, there are nutjob amateurs deciphering Arkalochori, just as there are for Phaistos, and all the ones I’ve seen decipher it in Greek.
  • No I’m not going to link to them.

What are the functions of Language in general?

That’s a very open question, and I’m going to take the easy way out:

Jakobson’s functions of language

1. The Referential Function

corresponds to the factor of Context and describes a situation, object or mental state. The descriptive statements of the referential function can consist of both definite descriptions and deictic words, e.g. “The autumn leaves have all fallen now.”

2. The Poetic Function

focuses on “the message for its own sake” (the code itself, and how it is used) and is the operative function in poetry as well as slogans.

3. The Emotive (alternatively called “Expressive” or “Affective”) Function

relates to the Addresser (sender) and is best exemplified by interjections and other sound changes that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the Addresser’s (speaker’s) internal state, e.g. “Wow, what a view!”

4. The Conative Function

engages the Addressee (receiver) directly and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives, e.g. “Tom! Come inside and eat!”

5. The Phatic Function

is language for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact/Channel factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers. It also provides the keys to open, maintain, verify or close the communication channel: “Hello?”, “Ok?”, “Hummm”, “Bye”…

6. The Metalingual (alternatively called “Metalinguistic” or “Reflexive”) Function

is the use of language (what Jakobson calls “Code”) to discuss or describe itself.

“Language is used for communication” is what people default to thinking; that’s the referential function (what is in the world), the emotive function (how I feel about the world), and the conative function (how I want to change the world). And the metalingual function, if you’re talking to linguists.

The other two functions, the poetic and phatic, are not primarily about communication. Or at least, not just about communication.

Should Quora create a sister or sub site where all Questions with questionable sincerity may be posted?

Inb4 “If you want Reddit, you know where to find it”.

I am more of a libertarian than many of my fellows. (At least, many of my fellows that I feel political alignment to.) I loathe how BNBR is applied as a chilling effect (mostly by incompetent execution as lack of transparency, and complete lack of nuance). I delight in drawing cartoons of executioner Quorabots. I am, as my tag says, a Scott Welch-ite about Quora—except that Scott is much more enthusiastic about BNBR, and I just grudgingly accept it.

… and all that said: Quora Dark would be really popular with question askers. Question answerers would not want any part of it. Not to mention that Quora Inc would not want its brand tainted by association. You’re talking about the company that allows discussion of porn, and then makes sure as few people as possible see it.

Is the use of the word “niggardly” acceptable and politically correct?

There’s several perspectives one can take on the whole sorry-ass saga of niggardly, on which as always see Controversies about the word “niggardly”.

There’s the perspective of the linguist, the language-lover, the activist, and the anti-American.

The Anti-American first, so I can get it off my chest:

Christ, I’m glad I don’t live in your country.

Australia has a bad history with its Indigenous people, with the Melanesians it colonised, and now with the Somali refugees who are the latest marauding evil criminal youth gangs (it was the Vietnamese 20 years ago). But…

Christ, I’m glad I don’t live in your country.

More on that later.

The linguist:

If a critical mass of people within a language community think the word is unacceptable, well, then it’s unacceptable. Enough people here and in related threads have indicated that it is.

It doesn’t mean they’re etymologically right; but etymology is only one factor in how words work. There’s any number of connotations words acquire without being informed by etymology: language is a synchronic system, and connotations works synchronically.

Of course, my fellow personas Anti-American and Language-Lover don’t particularly feel they’re in the same language community as the people who object to niggardly, or even the same planet. But that’s not how it works. The word’s become a trigger for a critical mass of people, and is resulting in people reporting comments on Quora: Why would one of my comments be reported because I used the word niggardly?

Back to the Anti-American:

FFS, I don’t live in your God-forsaken country; do I have to put up with your “Is X random ethnicity white” and “niggardly is a bad word” bizarre racial obsessions here too?

The linguist:

Yes. Yes you do.

Well, not the former one. But yes, because you’re still part of the same language community.

The language-lover:

Niggardly is a useful word. And it’s useful because of its added connotations: it says things that miserly doesn’t. In particular, it (probably) comes from the same Scandinavian word as niggling does, and it has the connotations of niggling that miserly does not: pedantic, fussing over details, penny-pinching.

The linguist:

Yeah. But connotations work both ways. And now it has the added connotations of “that word that that guy in DC got fired over”, and “that word that sounds like nigger”. Because connotations work synchronically and not just etymologically.

The Anti-American:

In fricking America it does. And not to all Americans either, just a vocal minority of whingers.

The linguist:

And you’re still stuck in the same language community as them.

Note also that the negative connotations have taken over, because niggardly was not a common word to begin with.

The activist:

The Anti-American:

Nick, pull the other one mate. You’re not an activist.

The observer of activism:

I note with interest the initial reaction of the late Julian Bond, head of the NAACP at the time, to the Ground Zero incident in 1999, where the guy was fired: (Controversies about the word “niggardly”)

Julian Bond, then chairman of the NAACP, deplored the offense that had been taken at Howard’s use of the word. “You hate to think you have to censor your language to meet other people’s lack of understanding”, he said. “David Howard should not have quit. Mayor Williams should bring him back—and order dictionaries issued to all staff who need them.”

Bond also said, “Seems to me the mayor has been niggardly in his judgment on the issue” and that as a nation the US has a “hair-trigger sensibility” on race that can be tripped by both real and false grievances.

Now I like what Bond said for a couple of reasons. One, because I’m a libertarian in matters of free speech—more so than is usual in contemporary Australia. In fact, you might even say…

The Anti-American:

Don’t! Don’t do it! Don’t say anything good about America EVERRRR!

The observer of activism:

Two, because politically, I don’t think you win the battle of ideas by censorship, or by being seen as hypersensitive (“false grievances”): you win the battle of ideas by argument, not by distractions.

The language-lover:

Three, because Bond liked dictionaries. In fact, he thought all staff should have them.

The Anti-American:

Yeah. Sounds like Bond was a great American, and displayed many of the virtues some people grudgingly admire about Seppoland. (Not me of course.)

The linguist:

Australian English Seppoland < Seppo < Septic tank < Rhyming slang for Yank < Yankee < Dutch Janke < Jan < Latin Ioannes < Hebrew Yohanan.

The language-lover:

Language. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Anti-American:

Christ, I’m glad I don’t live in your country.

If I learn the Greek language, will it help build my English vocabulary?

Latin would help more. And it’s a bit of a sledgehammer to adopt with your English vocab: you certainly don’t need all the Greek grammar that goes with learning Greek. It helps in scholarly vocabulary, but Greek is no longer a very productive source of new coinages; it would be more helpful just to familiarise yourself with particular technical vocabularies, where you’ll see the same Greek roots recurring.