Check out This Blog: Languages of the World

Languages of the World Blog

In working the last several months on building Linguisticator's blog, I've also been exploring other language-related blogs. There are a great many blogs dedicated to language, but only a small portion of these have consistently rich content. Among my favorites is Languages of the World by Asya Pereltsvaig.

Asya's blog is, as the name would suggest, dedicated to “languages of the world,” and bounces from language topics related to Indo-European philology - on which Asya Pereltsvaig is an expert - to features of modern languages from different families. What is most refreshing, however, is not just the breadth of topics covered, but the scholarly rigor with which those topics are explored in each blog post.

Among posts that will be of interest to all language learners, Asya's post on “Which language is the oldest?” is a particularly good read. I get this question all the time, as well, and even had to try to deliver a comparable explanation to several Libyan Colonels who wanted a definitive answer (and who only spoke limited English while I only spoke limited Arabic!). The answer is, of course, a non-answer, as human language developed long before our earliest recorded languages and any language spoken today is as old as every other language spoken. Asya summarizes this with the following line: “In fact, each and every language traces its ancestry back to Proto-Human. Therefore, all currently spoken languages are equally old.” Asking about the oldest attested language is a different question - and one worth discussing, but that's a different kettle of fish.

Another couple of good reads for a general audience are her posts about what makes languages difficult to learn. Referencing a few other articles on the subject, Asya explores the challenges posed by greater or lesser degrees of difference between languages in terms of their morphology, syntax, and written systems. The discussion is focused on linguistic aspects of language difficulty, rather than other factors. I'd add to her discussion that some of these other factors are equally important to determining a language's difficulty to learn. These include factors such as availability of good resources, ease of finding films, books, etc. in the target language, as well as availability of native speakers and their willingness to speak their own language to non-natives. At the end of the day the most difficult language to learn is the one you have no interest in learning!

On more specific topics, I also enjoyed Asya's post on Arabic dialects, focusing on linguistic features of Moroccan Arabic, including the influence from Berber and the loss of the construct state, which is a core feature of MSA. With our full map of MSA complete, I'm hoping Linguisticator will be able to develop maps of the major spoken varieties of Arabic over the coming years to enable similar cross-linguistic comparison on a large scale. The most grammatically complex variety is already mapped out, and will serve as a strong basis for developing maps of the other varieties. It would nonetheless be an enormous project.

Another couple of posts particularly interesting are those looking at the evidence for the Altaic language family. While I remember learning before about the connections between the Turkic languages, Mongolian, and even Korean and Japanese, I did not know that stronger evidence of such connections existed in these languages' present forms compared to their oldest attestations. Conceptually, I still find myself drawn to the idea of an Altaic family, but it seems the origins of these languages may not have been as unified as we'd like to believe.

On the topic of other language mysteries, Asya has more recently written on the genetic evidence for the origins of the Basque peoples published just within the last few weeks. After clarifying the author's mistreatment of Euskera as a linguistic anomaly (it is a language isolate, but there are many language isolates globally), Asya looks at the wider implications of the genetic study, namely that if the Basques were part of a second wave of migration across Europe, then Indo-Europeans must have been part of a third migration that eventually overran the Basques and reduced them to the smaller geographic territory where their language has survived to this day.

I encourage you to check out Languages of the World in particular for the refreshingly rigorous approach Asya takes to dealing with topics of both popular and academic appeal. In fact, it's inspiring me to write some posts for Linguisticator's blog that will be of a more academic nature, perhaps covering specific topics of philology, language development, and morphology that I've always found interesting.

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