Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Indo-European Language 1


1.  Compare and contrast the language you have chosen to study and your native language (and any other languages you have studied, if you like). Consider each languages' syntax and grammar, as well as vocabulary matters, such as cognates, derivatives or borrowed words. (minimum 300 words)
For the purpose of this course, I have decided to work with ancient Greek, the language of my hearth.  I will begin by saying that I do not currently speak Greek, although I do hope to be able to do so someday. The Greek alphabet, lexicon, and syntax can be traced in many modern languages (Adrados xiii).
The Greek language begins with 24 separate letters including both vowels and consonants.  Similar to English, the vowels have long and short pronunciations.  Ancient Greek also utilized diphthongs, or combined letters, to make specific sounds (Betts and Henry 1-3).  However, while English uses stressed syllables to emphasize the meaning of a sentence, classical Greek focused on the pitch of the words.  They would raise the pitch of a specific syllable or word to emphasize its importance (Betts and Henry 4-5).
            In English, there is a close link between the orders of the words in a sentence.  Saying “The cow jumped over the moon” is not the same as “The moon jumped over the cow.”  In Greek, however, the function of a word is determined by the form of the word itself and not by its position within a sentence.  This means that word order in Greek can vary much more than it can in English (Betts and Henry 14).  In English, if we wished to emphasize a specific word in a sentence, we would stress that word in our speech, or mark it in some way in our writing.  For example, in the sentence “The moon is big” the emphasis of a word could change the meaning of the sentence, even though the sentence structure never changes.  “The MOON is big” has a slightly different meaning than “The moon is BIG.”   In Greek, this emphasis is handled very differently, because they don’t rely on stressed words or syllables to relay their message.  Instead, the sentence itself is restructured to put the more important words toward the beginning of the sentence.  Simply put, the sentence would change from “The moon is big” to “Big is the moon.” 
            Despite all the differences in grammar and structure between English and Greek, the influence of Greek on English is still quite evident.  There are numerous base words used in English that are derived from words found in Greek. For example, the Greek word for book is “biblos”, while we refer to reference pages as bibliographies and call those people who love books “bibliomaniacs” and the Greek word for sound is “phone” which we use in many other sound related words, such as telephone and symphony.  So while thousands of years have passed since ancient Greek first began to be used, the influence of it can still be seen on words that we use today. 
2.  Based on what you understand about the language studied, linguistics in general, and your knowledge of the associated culture(s), briefly describe how the characteristics of the language may reflect the attributes, history or values of the associated culture(s). (minimum 300 words)
            Greek is one of the only languages that are still spoken after existing for 3500 years, which means it comes with a lot of history (Adrados).  You can find a lot of information about the Greek culture when looking at the history of their language.  The fragmentation of Greek into several dialects tells us of the political divisions and internal strife within the culture.   The fragmentation was increased by the arrival of other groups, such as the Dorians, who made the separation between dialects more accentuated.  These fragmented dialects were then spread overseas through the trade routes and travel of the Greek people.  This lead to the Ionic-Attic, Arcado-Cyprian, and Aeolic dialects that were even further subdivided as political power continued to fragment (Adrados).  After the expeditions of Alexander the Great, dialects began to be unified once again.  Through the use of written prose, the dialects began to transform into a Common Greek language.  The frequent interactions with other cultures are apparent through in all of these dialect fragmentations. 
            I believe that this unification of the language coming from written prose could show a division between those people who could read, and those that couldn’t.  This may have lead to a disparity between the classes because the languages used by the two groups were different, so even within this unification came diversification.  This occurred in the form of two slightly different dialects corresponding to “popular language” and “literary language” (Adrados 314).  This distinction lasted through the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. 
            Other hints about the personality of ancient Greek culture can be derived through the words themselves.  For example, Greek language uses the term “barbaroi” to describe those people who were not Greek.  This term shows us the pride that ancient Greeks felt in their own culture, and the belief they held that they were superior to all others.   


Works Cited

Adrados, Francisco Rodrigues. A History of Greek Language. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005.

Betts, Gavin and Alan Henry. Teach Yourself Ancient Greek. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2003.




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