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Old 18th September 2007, 07:21 AM
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Lingua Franca?

Having been around the block in a town where I have great difficulty communicating for the last week, I have been pondering the nature of Lingua Franca and indeed the nature of the knowledge we have about languages in general. I have reached a number of conclusions which are largely based on supposition, but have concluded that in general that is the nature of the beast.

In a fairly remote corner of Czech Republic, it is quite clear that the present Lingua Franca of Eastern Europe, which by most is assumed to English is barely understood, let alone spoken. Previous Lingua Franca of Russian and German also seem to have evaporated into the Ether. Czechs were under the Austrians for several hundred years and the adminstration was largely German. Russian under communism was an imposed Lingua Franca. Neither have really sustained, although Russian is apparently resurgent.

This tends to suggest that Lingua Franca are often barely skin deep, and of fairly transient. It would also suggest that economic need is a much better driver of language learning than politically driven iniatiatives.

What also seems to be clear is that whilst when mass immigration is done on a drip drip basis, large numbers of foreign language speakers can be assimulated over time, that where large groups are absorbed either through migration or the ceding of territory, that the original languages of those groups are sustained through established communities.

What is obvious, is that we know much more about what is written than we do about what is spoken. Because literacy was the preserve of the few until comparatively recently, this means that we have very little in depth knowledge of what languages have been used in the past by the general population.

Many find it difficult to understand how Latin apparently fragmented into many different languages in a comparatively short space of time. The answer probably rests in the fact that although our historical records show that the Latin was the Lingua Franca of the period, it was probably the language of the vast numbers of people within the Roman Empire. My guess would be that outside Italy, fewer than 1% of the population could actually read and write, and most of those that could not would have had little more than a smattering of Latin. Even in Rome it is likely that that vast majority of the populus would have spoken some kind of vernacular that would be totally unrecognisable by our classical scholars.

Of course as the only written medium of communication, Latin became the obvious vehicle of the Catholic Church for centuries after the fall of the empire, but it is likely that most of those press ganged into attending regular church services understood very little of the actual scriptures, and this would have persisted until the bible was translated in the Middle Ages.

Of course many would argue that the languages we see today in Europe clearly have a common ancestry, and indeed that is probably true, although it may well predate the age of Rome by a considerable margin. We should not be confused by the fact that most European languages are written in a modified version of the Latin Script. Even English uses letter that did not exist in Roman Times. Scripts are quite separate from languages, and indeed languages can be written in different scripts. Hindi, Chinese and Arabic have all been transcripted into Latin Characters. Serbian is written in both Latin and Cyrilic characters and this is a common experience in Central Asia. Czech converted from Cyrillics to Latin in the Middle Ages, probably along with Polish and various other Slavic Languages. In the same way, it would have natural for previously unwritten related languages to be established using the Latin Script. Their oral orgins, however, would have been much older and because there would be little by way of written records of these languages it is hard even for the academics to know how old they actually are.

Ok, you will all point to a lot of shared vocabulary, but much of this will be fairly recent. Much of modern Latin was probably synthesised during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so much of what we consider to be Latin, and which will indicate the common origins of the languages, probably actually does nothing of the sort. It may be that modern Italian, rather than being derived from Latin actually developed along side Latin in the Northern part of Italy. Latin itself will borrowed words from various language groups encountered by its users.

In brief, my supposition is that Latin is not the common ancestor or all European Languages, but was simply a Lingua Franca that existed during the period of the Empire that subsequently fell into disuse, much in the way that Russian did in Eastern Europe. The lesson is also that whilst English may be considered the business language of the World today, that should the economic dominance of the US go into decline, which frankly is an inevitability, that the status of English as a Lingua Franca is also likely to diminish significantly.
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Old 18th September 2007, 12:05 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

not sure if its all entirely to do with us dominance.

millions of people have spent trillions of hours learning english and even within the next biggest, obvious?, competitor - china, they have several mutually incomprehensible dialects. i would say that even though the US is in decline english will still be with us for another 50-80 years as the dominant world business language.

the problem as far as i can tell is that for non asians, which is the majority of the world, learning kanji is too time consuming and difficult. hell, half the japanese cant write their own language!

most people are familiar with the latin alphabet and this is one of the strong advantages of english or european languages compared to chinese which will help perpetuate english.

eventually it will change, but by then i think that humankind will be struggling to survive the impact of global warming and will have more important things to worry about.
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Old 18th September 2007, 01:13 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

I think language is just another invention that can be used by anyone, doesn't necessarily have to be linked to cultural identity.

Remember that written japanese, korean, and vietnamese used to be purely chinese script, but no one would think they are writing chinese today.
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Old 18th September 2007, 01:50 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

taihou?
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Old 18th September 2007, 02:38 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

... Euro hits all-time high against the dollar...
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Old 18th September 2007, 02:43 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jose
... Euro hits all-time high against the dollar...

it's because of the cuts.
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Old 18th September 2007, 03:10 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Quote:
Originally Posted by touchring
I think language is just another invention that can be used by anyone, doesn't necessarily have to be linked to cultural identity.

Remember that written japanese, korean, and vietnamese used to be purely chinese script, but no one would think they are writing chinese today.
Again do not confuse language with script. Chinese and Japanese are unrelated languages. In the Far East it is the script that is mutually intelligible and because the symbols represent concepts rather than sounds, effectively the Chinese are able to read each other writing more or less, even though they could not hold a verbal conversation. They effectively have the same written language, even though to all intents and purposes the verbal languages are quite separate.
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Old 18th September 2007, 03:29 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubber Duck
Again do not confuse language with script. Chinese and Japanese are unrelated languages. In the Far East it is the script that is mutually intelligible and because the symbols represent concepts rather than sounds, effectively the Chinese are able to read each other writing more or less, even though they could not hold a verbal conversation. They effectively have the same written language, even though to all intents and purposes the verbal languages are quite separate.
The original language of Japan, or at least the original language of a certain population that was ancestral to a significant portion of the historical and present Japanese nation, was the so-called yamato kotoba (大和言葉 or infrequently 大和詞, i.e. "Yamato words"), which in scholarly contexts is sometimes referred to as wa-go (和語 or rarely 倭語, i.e. the "Wa words"). In addition to words from this original language, present-day Japanese includes a great number of words that were either borrowed from Chinese or constructed from Chinese roots following Chinese patterns. These words, known as kango (漢語), entered the language from the fifth century onwards via contact with Chinese culture, both directly and through the Korean peninsula. According to some estimates, Chinese-based words may comprise as much as 60%–70% of the total dictionary vocabulary of the modern Japanese language and form as much as 18%–40% of words used in speech.
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Old 18th September 2007, 08:27 PM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubber Duck
Again do not confuse language with script. Chinese and Japanese are unrelated languages. In the Far East it is the script that is mutually intelligible and because the symbols represent concepts rather than sounds, effectively the Chinese are able to read each other writing more or less, even though they could not hold a verbal conversation. They effectively have the same written language, even though to all intents and purposes the verbal languages are quite separate.

Ok, maybe i should use the word, script, instead of language. 300 to 1000 years ago, the script in korea, japan and vietnam was chinese script, there was no hanja, no kana, no romanized vietnamese.

As for sound, even different chinese dialect have different sound, in fact, sounds of some words in chinese dialects will sound more like japanese, korean, or vietnamese than mandarin. A good example is the word "embassy" and maybe the word "big".

The chinese script is just like an invention, which is being adopted by neighboring countries.

Last edited by touchring; 18th September 2007 at 08:33 PM..
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Old 19th September 2007, 05:14 AM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Actually in the modern age where computers are capable of dealing with the complexed characters, Chinese is a really brilliant concept. It is effectively a languageless writing system. English and Russian speaking peoples could learn to read it without reference to the spoken language or how it is pronounced.
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Old 19th September 2007, 08:26 AM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

It would be interesting to follow the current trend going on in France where more and more children are learning Chinese in anticipation - in their parent's minds - of the growing economic power of China.
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Old 19th September 2007, 08:49 AM
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Re: Lingua Franca?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doudou75
It would be interesting to follow the current trend going on in France where more and more children are learning Chinese in anticipation - in their parent's minds - of the growing economic power of China.

Conversational mandarin is more important than learning chinese characters.
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