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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 1:29 pm 
Sanci
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While I've got all the linguistics under control (or at least I think so), I'm having trouble shaping the families into my conworld.

A few precise questions:

1) At which rate do new languages split off from their mother-language? To put a bit of context, it's a proto-language, not written, spoken by hunter-gatherers. That implies some other questions:

2) What size would the population speaking such a proto-language be? IIRC, Diamond's in Guns, Germs and Steel said that new-guinean tribes can have very different languages... but in the other hand he said their landscape didn't help. Could it be that some tribes of hunter-gatherers in the same region would speak a same language, maybe with tribalects? Actually my guess would be that it's how languages may began to separate: from tribes speaking the same language but not actively interacting with each other anymore.

3) I'm not sure how to handle neighboring families. Should I pay any attention to them even though they may eventually go off the picture without making any lasting thing, except for maybe one or two words in another language?

4) For that matter, how would you suggest I develop the linguistic history of a region? Starting with a few proto-languages, here and there with blank regions in-between and developping them, or populating the whole region with them and try to work out the dynamics between the different families? Obviously it depends on how much effort I'd be wanting to put in. And maybe I'm missing something overall.

5) Would it be helpful to read some books on Indo-European? I recently acquired a book by André Martinet, Des steppes aux océans ("from the steppes to the oceans"), which is about the expansion of the indo-europeans. Didn't begin reading yet but I will start soon. Any other similar books that could help me get a clearer idea on how to develop a (at least seemingly) naturalist linguistic history for my world's regions?

6) Any advice or report on how you did it yourself would be much appreciated. Of course, no need to mention Zompist's work... unless you think all my questions' answers are in there and I missed them.

If you think giving more accurate details on my current data (map, languages, what I want to do exactly, etc.) would help, I'd be pleased to do so.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 1:48 pm 
Lebom
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Opera wrote:
1) At which rate do new languages split off from their mother-language? To put a bit of context, it's a proto-language, not written, spoken by hunter-gatherers.


This will surely depend on how geographically disparate your people are, and things like that. If they all live together on one small island and never go anywhere, they could go for millennia without any languages "splitting off". If they build a vast empire, spreading their language over a massive area within a century or two, and then that empire collapses, there could be a very large number of mutually unintelligible dialects within what is (relatively) very little time at all.

So I'd say the rate at which new languages split off depends almost entirely on the rate at which sectors of the population migrate to new regions, the rate at which the tribe or whatever splits into distinct political identities, things like that.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 2:00 pm 
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Opera wrote:
While I've got all the linguistics under control (or at least I think so), I'm having trouble shaping the families into my conworld.

A few precise questions:

1) At which rate do new languages split off from their mother-language? To put a bit of context, it's a proto-language, not written, spoken by hunter-gatherers. That implies some other questions:


I think that generally the transition from the mother-language is gradual and that it follows the wave-theory anyway. I'm thinking about Italian dialects: they split off from spoken latin very early, also driven by substrate languages. In the Middle Age, they are separate linguistic systems with their own characteristics.

Opera wrote:
2) What size would the population speaking such a proto-language be? IIRC, Diamond's in Guns, Germs and Steel said that new-guinean tribes can have very different languages... but in the other hand he said their landscape didn't help. Could it be that some tribes of hunter-gatherers in the same region would speak a same language, maybe with tribalects? Actually my guess would be that it's how languages may began to separate: from tribes speaking the same language but not actively interacting with each other anymore.


Generally, we think at Proto-Languages as real spoken languages, with speaking population distributed on a certain space. But we must remember that they are only reconstruction, so I think that it really doesn't matter how big the speaking population is. We had to consider them more likely as indicative approximations from the geographic point of view.

Opera wrote:
3) I'm not sure how to handle neighboring families. Should I pay any attention to them even though they may eventually go off the picture without making any lasting thing, except for maybe one or two words in another language?


I think you have to remember about the substratum, adstratum and superstratum and work with them to generate linguistic relation.

Opera wrote:
4) For that matter, how would you suggest I develop the linguistic history of a region? Starting with a few proto-languages, here and there with blank regions in-between and developping them, or populating the whole region with them and try to work out the dynamics between the different families? Obviously it depends on how much effort I'd be wanting to put in. And maybe I'm missing something overall.


I make something between the two options you have: I sign approximate regions of spoken proto-languages, imaging blank and mixed regions.

Opera wrote:
5) Would it be helpful to read some books on Indo-European? I recently acquired a book by André Martinet, Des steppes aux océans ("from the steppes to the oceans"), which is about the expansion of the indo-europeans. Didn't begin reading yet but I will start soon. Any other similar books that could help me get a clearer idea on how to develop a (at least seemingly) naturalist linguistic history for my world's regions?


Indoeuropean may help for great geographic regions and italian dialects for smaller ones. Maybe Indian linguistic situation helps.

I hope I haven't said trivial things! :)

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 2:17 pm 
Lebom
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The answer to most of your questions is, "It depends". :-D

Opera wrote:
1) At which rate do new languages split off from their mother-language? To put a bit of context, it's a proto-language, not written, spoken by hunter-gatherers. That implies some other questions:

The rate of language change, and of splitting off of dialects, seems to be highly variable and complicated. Some languages barely change over thousands of years, others become almost unrecognizable in much less time. I'm sure there are many other factors, but one of the big ones for change seems to be how stable the society is. If you've got any kind of civil unrest (war, revolution, etc.) things are more likely to change than if everything is calm. But, if there's enough contact between different areas / groups, then changes will tend to spread through the entire population, and people will still understand each other. To get new langauges, you need to keep people apart (e.g. mountains, or some other obstruction), or give them some reason to not talk to each other much (e.g. social stratification).

Opera wrote:
2) What size would the population speaking such a proto-language be? IIRC, Diamond's in Guns, Germs and Steel said that new-guinean tribes can have very different languages... but in the other hand he said their landscape didn't help. Could it be that some tribes of hunter-gatherers in the same region would speak a same language, maybe with tribalects? Actually my guess would be that it's how languages may began to separate: from tribes speaking the same language but not actively interacting with each other anymore.

The size of the population would depend on the environment and how well the people use it. Hunter-gatherers aren't likely to have much population growth, without agriculture to produce lots of food, so they probably won't spread out and break up into smaller groups. But if there are enough resources, you could probably have a fairly large population split into lots of little tribes. Linguistic diversity would then depend on how much contact these tribes have.

Opera wrote:
3) I'm not sure how to handle neighboring families. Should I pay any attention to them even though they may eventually go off the picture without making any lasting thing, except for maybe one or two words in another language?

Depends on how much influence you want them to have. If they have any significant level of contact (and they will if they live close enough together for long enough), then there's going to be some amount of influence.

Opera wrote:
4) For that matter, how would you suggest I develop the linguistic history of a region? Starting with a few proto-languages, here and there with blank regions in-between and developping them, or populating the whole region with them and try to work out the dynamics between the different families? Obviously it depends on how much effort I'd be wanting to put in. And maybe I'm missing something overall.

That really depends on what you want to do with your conworld, and what you want it to look like.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:43 pm 
Lebom
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Opera wrote:
6) Any advice or report on how you did it yourself would be much appreciated. Of course, no need to mention Zompist's work... unless you think all my questions' answers are in there and I missed them.


I just made it up as I went along. This is not good advice for people who strive for diachronic accuracy, but if you just need a bit of background colour to the conlang/conculture then it'll do. Remember that pretty maps and tables can help add to the illusion of competence. Results here.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 10:48 am 
Sanci
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Opera wrote:
1) At which rate do new languages split off from their mother-language? To put a bit of context, it's a proto-language, not written, spoken by hunter-gatherers.


As others have pointed out, "it depends." However, my own unscientific survey of languages suggests approximately 500 years, give or take a couple hundred.

Quote:
That implies some other questions:

2) What size would the population speaking such a proto-language be? IIRC, Diamond's in Guns, Germs and Steel said that new-guinean tribes can have very different languages... but in the other hand he said their landscape didn't help. Could it be that some tribes of hunter-gatherers in the same region would speak a same language, maybe with tribalects? Actually my guess would be that it's how languages may began to separate: from tribes speaking the same language but not actively interacting with each other anymore.


I imagine the size would be pretty small. I'd guesstimate no more than 50 in a tribe. I'd expect there to be lots of tribes speaking very similar languages.

Quote:
3) I'm not sure how to handle neighboring families. Should I pay any attention to them even though they may eventually go off the picture without making any lasting thing, except for maybe one or two words in another language?


If the tribes interact then you should think about mutual influence. From what I've heard substrate languages tend to have structural effects (e.g. in phonology and syntax) while superstrates tend to loan words (primarily nouns).

Quote:
4) For that matter, how would you suggest I develop the linguistic history of a region? Starting with a few proto-languages, here and there with blank regions in-between and developping them, or populating the whole region with them and try to work out the dynamics between the different families? Obviously it depends on how much effort I'd be wanting to put in. And maybe I'm missing something overall.


Before developing a linguistic history you should develop a history. When did the tribes interact? Was it through trade? War? Do any of the tribes become sedentary?

Quote:
5) Would it be helpful to read some books on Indo-European? I recently acquired a book by André Martinet, Des steppes aux océans ("from the steppes to the oceans"), which is about the expansion of the indo-europeans. Didn't begin reading yet but I will start soon. Any other similar books that could help me get a clearer idea on how to develop a (at least seemingly) naturalist linguistic history for my world's regions?


It can't hurt to study up on IE. But don't limit yourself to it either. Lots of languages just behave differently than IE languages. Use Google to find information on historical linguistics.

Quote:
6) Any advice or report on how you did it yourself would be much appreciated. Of course, no need to mention Zompist's work... unless you think all my questions' answers are in there and I missed them.


If your interest is more in developing the daughter languages than in the proto-language itself then I'd suggest making the proto-language simple and regular. Irregularities will then be introduced in a natural way via conditioned sound changes, grammaticalization, and even analogy (despite the fact that analogy tends to eliminate irregularities, e.g. English plurals are regularly formed by -s thanks to analogy but older formations like -n and internal ablaut which used to be regular are retained and are now irregular since analogy hasn't got to them yet).


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 4:06 am 
Sanci
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Thanks for the answers! I had to sort them out by question number to really get a big picture of what you were all saying. I also considered answering to everyone individually but that seemed counter-productive.

1) I expected that sort of complicated/not-so-sure answer. I figure topology will play an important role as well as cultural unity. The 500 years pattern seems a good basis.

2) I think I mis-asked. I meant how many people would speak a proto-language, not how many would make a tribe. For instance, I guess PIE was spoken by more than 50 people. Actually, Count Iblis' "I'd expect there to be lots of tribes speaking very similar languages" and Boskobènet's "Linguistic diversity would then depend on how much contact these tribes have." are what I was expecting.

The reason I ask is that, for example, NW North America had, to the extent of my knowledge, a very high linguistic diversity in a rather small region, compared to central North America where it seems the diversity was less in a bigger region. That may be due to the topology of NW NA which I'm not sure of to be honest.

So, based on what I read in Diamond's book and some other knowledge, mountains make for high diversity regions while plains for less diverse regions due to the relative isolation of tribes.

3) I totally forgot about stratums. I think they can add a lot of flavor to a family... Especially since the one I'll be focusing on in the next month is supposed to expand big time, eventually replacing or displacing other populations (and being replaced in some places).

The only issue is that it makes things even more complicated and intricate :P

4) I guess it also depends on the extent of the species. I have a few different species in my conworld, although 4 of them are from the same family; they don't live in the same areas (for now), so knowing their full extent at the (arbitrary) birth of language might point to some clues...

... which leads me to a question I believe is quite difficult and not to be resolved in the near future: how could it be explained that there's so different (and unrelated) language families? If we take the Out of Africa hypothesis, it would make sense that all languages are ultimately related or at least existed in some form in Africa. Else I guess it would suggest that language developped independently everywhere else.

(Though perhaps it's more gradual and wave-y: humanoids spread OoA, eventually language develops in a few places but not fully yet, then movements of population spread the development of language among all humans.)

Basically I have trouble finding a common ground between the fact of many unrelated (keyword) language families and a unique origin for a species. On the other hand, a multi-regional origin and a uniform development doesn't add up either.

That said I'm not very knowledgeable in that area, probably saying completely worthless stuff here.

6) Yeah, a regular proto-language is what I'm going for. Simple enough to create and interesting to then develop, as I don't plan on using it for anything else.

And yeah, I could use pretty maps and tables to cover up stuff still in the making :P

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 11:38 pm 
Sanci
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Opera wrote:
... which leads me to a question I believe is quite difficult and not to be resolved in the near future: how could it be explained that there's so different (and unrelated) language families? If we take the Out of Africa hypothesis, it would make sense that all languages are ultimately related or at least existed in some form in Africa. Else I guess it would suggest that language developped independently everywhere else.


It could be that language isn't as old as man and developed independently among different human groups. It could be that all natlangs are related and we just haven't been able to prove it yet. It could be that humans and close relatives, like Neanderthals, developed language independently and some humans began speaking Neanderthal languages instead of their native languages.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 3:24 pm 
Lebom
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Opera wrote:
The reason I ask is that, for example, NW North America had, to the extent of my knowledge, a very high linguistic diversity in a rather small region, compared to central North America where it seems the diversity was less in a bigger region. That may be due to the topology of NW NA which I'm not sure of to be honest.

So, based on what I read in Diamond's book and some other knowledge, mountains make for high diversity regions while plains for less diverse regions due to the relative isolation of tribes.


Do not be too quick to take Jared Diamond's speculations on various issues as 'fact'. Coastal regions can (and do) produce high diversity linguistic regions, which would seem to negate the need for some form of separation/isolation to act as a driver for linguistic evolution.

Opera wrote:
... which leads me to a question I believe is quite difficult and not to be resolved in the near future: how could it be explained that there's so different (and unrelated) language families? If we take the Out of Africa hypothesis, it would make sense that all languages are ultimately related or at least existed in some form in Africa. Else I guess it would suggest that language developped independently everywhere else.

(Though perhaps it's more gradual and wave-y: humanoids spread OoA, eventually language develops in a few places but not fully yet, then movements of population spread the development of language among all humans.)

Apart from creationist types, the evidence suggests that language evolved in the Homo lineage at least 100,000 years ago. Some researchers hold to the view that you should add a 0 to that figure. For Homo sapiens sapiens we can construct a hypothesis - taking on board the idea that the Toba catastrophe caused a bottleneck in human evolution some 70,000 years ago - that all historical and modern languages arise from the language(s) spoken by the (2,000-20,000) survivors of that disaster.

The written evidence for language goes back no more than 7,000 years - in other words the written language covers just 10% of the (hypothetical) history of human language. The dates calculated for PIE are in the same ballpark. Which leaves at least 60,000 years of language evolution unaccounted for and, probably, unreconstructable. Which is plenty of time for many, many different types of language to develop, evolve, influence and thieve from neighbouring languages, devolve, and die out. Which in turn gives you plenty of room for many separate - and irreconcilable - language groups to turn up across the globe.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 3:37 pm 
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Opera wrote:
3) I'm not sure how to handle neighboring families. Should I pay any attention to them even though they may eventually go off the picture without making any lasting thing, except for maybe one or two words in another language?

An areal feature here, an areal feature there… and if nomads are involv'd, expect someone to invade and form a superstrate to someone else at least bicentennially.

Names of cultural innovations or trade items will commonly be Wanderworts. Obviously you don't (re)construct a word meaning "aluminium" into Pre-Proto-Wakaka-Yububu-Zififian, but it may be less evident that the same will probably be the case for "copper", "wool" or "ship".

Quote:
4) For that matter, how would you suggest I develop the linguistic history of a region? Starting with a few proto-languages, here and there with blank regions in-between and developping them, or populating the whole region with them and try to work out the dynamics between the different families? Obviously it depends on how much effort I'd be wanting to put in. And maybe I'm missing something overall.

My strategy has been to sketch a family, then ponder where it might realistically be located wrt. the others, then start filling in further details. If all the other languages in a region are pseudo-Polynesian, highly agglutinating with no consonants more complex than /l/, something that looks like a lovechild of PIE and Hmong is not going to fit in. Or vice versa. Repeat as necessary/desired.

Somewhat isolated areas like Australia, Ethiopia, Siberia or the Pacific Northwest are likely strongly dominated by areal effects; highly connected areas like the Levant or South-Central Asia will have all kinds of languages coexisting. As for how many languages to start with, I'd say there's no need to fill out *all* languages later superceded by the expansion of some family — starting from a situation where you have the basic branches of the family around and their immediate substrates/contacts still around should be sufficient. If you were a linguist on an expedition in 10,000 BC you probably couldn't tell which families are going to thrive and which aren't — but as a conlanger you get to decide.

Most conlangers even seem to be content with just deriving large parts of their lexicon from a distant proto-language rather than really considering loans etc. at all.

Quote:
5) (…)Any other similar books that could help me get a clearer idea on how to develop a (at least seemingly) naturalist linguistic history for my world's regions?

Nicholas Ostler's "Empires of the Word" is excellent reading on the topic, explaining not only the "what" (Sumerian overrun by Akkadian overrun by Aramaic overrun by Arabic) but also attempting to go into the "whys".

Opera wrote:
... which leads me to a question I believe is quite difficult and not to be resolved in the near future: how could it be explained that there's so different (and unrelated) language families? If we take the Out of Africa hypothesis, it would make sense that all languages are ultimately related or at least existed in some form in Africa. Else I guess it would suggest that language developped independently everywhere else.

They probably are ultimately related. Too much time has however pass'd since Proto-Human, or even the various original Exo-African protolangs (there may have been more than one!) to recover any of these in any detail; indeed corrently we cannot even hope to recover Proto-Amerind or Proto-Australian (and Eurasia itself is too much of a mess of invasions, substrates, loans upon loans, and language change that even Altaic is problematic).

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