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Re: question - Turco-Japanese (British Vikings, 400 AD)

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Friday, November 26, 2004, 3:05
From:    John Cowan <cowan@...>
> Cowbert von Moo scripsit: > > Not to speak of the English grammar. It's not like _that_ came from > > German, French or Latin. It's pretty much wholesale Norse. A Norse > > friend of mine, who was on a MUD I was building for, once challenged > > me to find a sentence I could say in English that required changing > > the word order into Norse. > > But English did not *borrow* its grammar from Norse. The similarities > that exist are a result of the common descent of the two languages > from Proto-Germanic, or in some cases are due to parallel but independent > developments. In general, and with only a few and doubtful exceptions, > languages do not borrow syntax from one another.
I find this claim rather too strong in its absolute form. There are many well-attested cases of languages borrowing grammatical patterns, even if such borrowings are overwhelmed by the frequency of lexical borrowings. Akkadian, is almost universally held to have borrowed its SOV wordorder from Sumerian or, less likely some unknown substrate, or perhaps IMO Hurrian*. Nahuatl also probably did not have extensive subordinating structures until contact with Spanish; the frequency of verb serialization in West African languages is probably a result of language contact; the lack of infintival constructions in the Balkans is almost certainly not a case of independent innovations. One could go on and on. But I will agree with you that, yes, borrowing of syntactic constructions and features is more unusual, and yes, it is probably not the case with English and Norse. Such borrowing requires usually very intense language contact and multilingualism. *(In the opposite direction, and more controversially, the VSO order of Celtic languages is sometimes attributed to some Afro-Asiatic substrate. I am given to understand that this is not in fact the loony idea that it sounds like, since this substrate was held to exist in Spain. Another less than clear case of syntactic borrowing is probably the ergative constructions of Iranian languages, at an early stage of contact with Hurrian, Urartean, or Elamite, all ergative languages spoken in and around modern Iran.) ========================================================================= Thomas Wier "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally, Dept. of Linguistics because our secret police don't get it right University of Chicago half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of 1010 E. 59th Street Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter. Chicago, IL 60637