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Language as a Clue to Prehistory

lpetrich

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Even more evident is shared patterns of irregularity, especially  Suppletion - using different word forms for different parts of a paradigm.

English has some of that, like some verb conjugations and comparison paradigms, like go - went - gone, good - better - best, bad - worse - worst. For "to be", it's a mixture of suppletion and incomplete reduction of ancestral conjugations by the standards of English verbs.

Suppletive comparison paradigms are found in other Germanic languages, in Latin and Romance, in Celtic, in Slavic, etc.

Though other Germanic languages don't have the suppletion that English has for "to go", the Romance languages have plenty of suppletion there.
  • Italian: andare -- pres. vado, vai, va, andiamo, andate, vanno -- impf. andavo, pret. andai, fut. andrò
  • Spanish: ir -- pres. voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, van - impf. iba, pret. fui, fut. iré
  • French: aller -- pres. vais, vas, va, allons, allez, vont - impf. allais, pret. allai, fut. irai
The non-present tenses are much more regular than the present tense.

Suppletion can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European for some verbs, like the copula verb ("to be").  Indo-European copula

The two main PIE roots are *es- and *bhuH- (> is, be), joined by some others in some of the dialects, like *wes- in Germanic.

Dawn of Verbal Suppletion in Indo-European Languages -- discussing several examples. Suppletive verbs mostly have very general sorts of meanings, as do adjectives with suppletive comparisons in the dialects.


FIrst and second person pronouns are also suppletive in the dialects, with suppletion in them reconstructed for PIE. English I/me, thou/three, we/us. The PIE singular pronouns are *egho-/*me- and *tu-/*te-, with the plural ones being more difficult to reconstruct.
 

Swammerdami

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The Wikipedia article on Suppletion gives many examples, but every single example comes from an Indo-European language. And many textbooks devote little attention to the topic.

Even defining suppletion isn't easy. Igor Mel'cuk gives the English word 'close' (instead of 'unopen') to be an example!
And some examples that look like suppletion, such as yeux as the plural of French oeil (or IIUC, mice as the plural of English mouse) are the result of regular sound changes.

If you want a long write-up on Suppletion including examples from several non-IE languages you can get a PDF at
(That pdf is free. If you prefer you can pay $35 for the same file at other sites.)
 

lpetrich

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 Proto-Indo-European pronouns - the 1st, 2nd personal pronouns:

Case1sg2sg1pl2pl
Nominative*egoH*tuH*wei*yuH
Oblique Stem*me-*te-*nos-, *ns-*wos-, *us-
Verb ending*-m, *-oH*-s, *-eHi*-me*-te

Uralic:  Proto-Uralic language - I looked in the Finnish-language version: Kantaurali – Wikipedia (language name: Suomi) Appendix:Finnish possessive suffixes - Wiktionary  Finnish verb conjugation,  Hungarian grammar

I have included possessive suffixes and personal verb endings for Finnish and Hungarian. The latter has both definite and indefinite verb conjugations, depending on whether the object is definite or indefinite.

Language1sg2sg1pl2pl
Finnishminäsinämete
Hungarianéntemiti
Proto-Uralic*mi-*ti-*me*te
Finn poss-ni-si-mme-tte
Hung poss-om-od-unk-otok
Finn vb-n-t-mme-tte
Hung id vb-ok-sz-unk-tok
Hung df vb-om-od-juk-játok

Let's look at Altaic. With Personal pronouns in Core Altaic

Family1sg2sg1pl2pl
Turkic*bi*si*bis*sis
Mongolian*bi*ti*ba*ta
Tungusic*bi*si*bö*sö

There is a m-t pattern in them, though Altaic has m > b, and several members have t > s.
 

lpetrich

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Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic, and the Transeurasian languages also share subject-object-verb order and related word orders, like mainverb-auxverb, though such syntactical similarities can be areal effects, from language contact.

The hypothesis of their relationship is part of the Eurasiatic and Nostratic hypotheses -  Eurasiatic languages and  Nostratic languages - along with several other language families and isolates. Joseph Greenberg included in Eurasiatic Indo-European, Uralic-Yukaghir, Altaic, Korean-Japanese-Ainu, Chukchi-Kamchatkan, and Eskimo-Aleut, and Nostratic typically includes Kartvelian, Dravidian, and Afro-Asiatic.

Some similarities are the m-t pattern of personal pronouns, and among some of them, noun dual -k and plural -t.

Going even further is  Borean languages, with Nostratic,  Dené–Caucasian languages,  Austric languages, and  Amerind languages. This covers all of premodern humanity except for sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, and Australia.

Though that is *very* speculative, there is a rather entrancing feature of it. It covers essentially all the non-Negroid populations of humanity. That means that some offshoot population in Eurasia in the Upper Paleolithic had spoken Proto-Borean. This population had relatively light skin and straight or lightly-curled hair, though continuing to have black-colored hair and brown eyes. Light skin is an adaptation to low sunlight, but straight hair is less explicable. Was it an adaptation? Or sexual selection to distinguish some group? Or a result of Neanderthal admixture?
 

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Returning to much closer to our time, I've found Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan | PNAS
Given its size and geographical extension, Sino-Tibetan is of the highest importance for understanding the prehistory of East Asia, and of neighboring language families. Based on a dataset of 50 Sino-Tibetan languages, we infer phylogenies that date the origin of the language family to around 7200 B.P., linking the origin of the language family with the late Cishan and the early Yangshao cultures
That's about 5200 BCE. The Sino-Tibetan homeland is located on the lower part of the Yellow River, but inland from the coast and Beijing's location. The people there domesticated broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, pigs, and sheep.

That family's two main branches are the Chinese dialects (Sinitic) and the Tibeto-Burman languages, named from containing Tibetan and Burmese. Proto-Chinese speakers were Sino-Tibetan stay-at-homes, while Proto-Tibeto-Burman speakers moved westward and then southward. They reached Xishanping at the NE end of the Tibetan plateau at 5250 - 4000 BP / 3250 - 2000 BCE. The Proto-Tibeto-Burman people and the Proto-Chinese people then acquired horses and cattle and rice at around this time, the horses and cattle likely from Indo-European speakers to the west and rice from the Baligang people to the south, where it was domesticated since 8700 - 8300 BP.

Proto-Tibeto-Burman speakers continued southwestward into Tibet and southward into the mountains of Southeast Asia, and Chinese speakers expanded southward much later.

Interesting curiosity: the Chinese word for horse, ma, is likely cognate with English "mare", from Proto-Indo-European *mark-. Checking horse - Wiktionary, I find:
  • Sino-Tibetan: Chinese: ma, Old Chinese *mra:?, Tibetan: rta, rmang, Burmese: rmang
  • Turkic: Turkish: at, Azeri: at, Tatar: at, Kazakh: jılqı, at, Turkmen: at, Kyrgyz: at, jılqı, Chuvash: lasha
  • Mongolian: aduu, mori
  • Tungusic: Manchu: morin, Nanai: morin, Oroqen: murin, Evenki: murin, Jurchen muri, Proto-Tungus *murin
Reconstruction:Proto-Tungusic/murin - Wiktionary notes the similar words for this animal in Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, and some other Central and Southeast Asian languages. Seems like a Wanderwort, a "wander word", a word that travels with what it names.
 
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lpetrich

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Chinese is the oldest attested Sino-Tibetan language, going back over 3000 years.
A big difficulty is that Chinese writing is not phonetic but instead logographic, with one symbol for each word or morpheme (word part treated as a unit). But Chinese characters often have a phonetic part and a semantic part, like mother = woman + horse (kind of woman whose word sounds like the word for horse, "ma").

For Middle Chinese, one can look back with with the help of rhyming dictionaries, present-day words, words from Chinese in Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese, and borrowings into Chinese.

Middle Chinese grammar was much like present-day Chinese grammar in being mostly isolating, without inflections. However, Old Chinese had initial and final consonant clusters, something lacking from the present-day dialects. Reduction of these clusters induced the development of tones.
Most researchers trace the core vocabulary of Old Chinese to Sino-Tibetan, with much early borrowing from neighbouring languages. During the Zhou period, the originally monosyllabic vocabulary was augmented with polysyllabic words formed by compounding and reduplication, although monosyllabic vocabulary was still predominant. Unlike Middle Chinese and the modern Chinese dialects, Old Chinese had a significant amount of derivational morphology. Several affixes have been identified, including ones for the verbification of nouns, conversion between transitive and intransitive verbs, and formation of causative verbs.[4] Like modern Chinese, it appears to be uninflected, though a pronoun case and number system seems to have existed during the Shang and early Zhou but was already in the process of disappearing by the Classical period.[5] Likewise, by the Classical period, most morphological derivations had become unproductive or vestigial, and grammatical relationships were primarily indicated using word order and grammatical particles.
 

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Turning to other putative members of Dene-Sino-Caucasian, I take another look at Basque. I searched Google Scholar for "Vasco-Caucasian" and "Euskaro-Caucasian", and also more broadly.
Attempts to estimate the time of Basque-NC divergence yield the early Neolithic, about right for Basque-NC to be a language family spread by the European Neolithic farmers. Basque-NC words in Latin, Germanic, Slavic, and Greek imply a spread all over Europe, making it likely to be *the* language family that those long-ago farmers spread.
 

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 Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate
Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate refers to substratum loanwords from unidentified non-Indo-European and non-Uralic languages that are found in various Finno-Ugric languages, most notably Sami. The presence of Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate in Sami languages was demonstrated by Ante Aikio.[1] Janne Saarikivi points out that similar substrate words are present in Finnic languages as well, but in much smaller numbers.[2]

The number of substrate words in Sámi likely exceeds one thousand words.[3]

Borrowing to Saami from Paleo-Laplandic probably still took place after the completion of the Great Saami Vowel Shift. Paleo-Laplandic likely became extinct about 1500 years ago.[4]

The Nganasan language also has many substrate words from unknown extinct languages in the Taimyr peninsula.[5]
Lapland is the northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. The Taimyr Peninsula is on the northern coast of central Siberia.
Vladimir Napolskikh has attempted to link them to the hypothetical Dené–Caucasian language family, but later had to admit that these substrate words have no apparent parallels in any known language on Earth.[9]

Yuri Kuzmenko tried to compare them to the hypothetical Pre-Germanic substrate words, but found no similarities apart from the distinction between central and peripheral accentuation.[10]
So Paleo-Laplandic is related to no known language.

"Irregular correspondences among Uralic languages are frequent among some words, such as 'to milk' and 'hazelnut'. These are presumed to be non-native loanwords by Aikio (2021)"

Such irregular correspondences would be the result of sound shifts in the donor languages, sound shifts not parallel to those in recipient languages. I've seen the same argument about pre-Indo-European substrate vocabulary in Europe, that irregular correspondences mean borrowing from different languages.
 

Swammerdami

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There are many texts on historical linguistics available for free download on the 'Net. I'll track down some of the URL's if there's interest. Here are just a few:

(1) One interesting book, English: the Language of the Vikings, argues the case that Middle English is descended from Old Norse instead of Old English! Most will reject that as ridiculous but the book has much evidence and interesting discussion. I might conclude that Middle English was a hybrid of the two sources, but the idea of a hybrid is rejected by BOTH sides of the debate! :) Briefly, Danish residents of the Danelaw retained their language. When William the Bastard and the Normans arrived and the natives resisted, the English-vs-Danish political situation flipped completely. Since one's enemy's enemy is one's ally there was suddenly incentive to merge (or form a koine of) two languages which were already close enough to facilitate bilingualism; it was even politically expedient to try for a 50-50 combination! As London — just to the South of the Danelaw — became the new center of England (and underwent a big influx of immigrants from the Danelaw region), Anglicized Norse (or Norsified English in the traditional view) became the new standard of English.

A very large portion of English words have agreed-upon Norse or Danish etymology. In addition many words have cognates in both Old English and Old Norse and, since by default those words are usually assigned an Old English etymology, the true contribution of Norse/Danish to English may be even higher.

(2) Trask's Historical Linguistics is on-line and has been updated since his death. It may have little new to offer, but has an interesting account of how the discovery of Hittite confirmed Saussure’s laryngeal theory which had been thought of as a clever but unimportant conjecture.

Trask's book also gives this famous story:
By about 1500, it is clear that people were often finding it exceedingly difficult to understand English-speakers from other areas. In a famous passage from 1490, the printer William Caxton reports that a merchant from the north of England walked into a tavern to the east of London and asked for eggys, and was told by the tavern-keeper that she could not understand French. The exchange became quite heated before another man stepped in and explained that the merchant was asking for eyren. This little bit of interpretation did the trick, and the merchant got his eggs. Here the merchant was using a northern word with a northern plural ending, while the tavern-keeper only knew the southern forms typical of Essex and Kent.

(3) Language Classification by Lyle Campbell and William Poser is available on-line. Something I learned from that book is that Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz — the great polymath sometimes compared to Leonardo da Vinci — wrote several papers on historical linguistics beginning in the 1690's! If anyone tracks down one of these papers, please let me know. Here's an example of one of several mentions.
 

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 Substratum in Vedic Sanskrit - notes several substratum-derived features of that language. One of them is "retroflex" consonants, versions of (t,d,n) produced with the tongue at the roof of the mouth instead of at the teeth ("dental"). This is shared across the Indian subcontinent, and is clearly an areal effect, as linguists say. The Central Asian nomads who brought Sanskrit with them also picked up retroflex consonants when they settled down in India.
In 1955 Burrow listed some 500 words in Sanskrit that he considered to be loans from non-Indo-European languages. ...

These loanwords cover local flora and fauna, agriculture and artisanship, terms of toilette, clothing and household. Dancing and music are particularly prominent, and there are some items of religion and beliefs.[15] They only reflect village life, and not the intricate civilization of the Indus cities, befitting a post-Harappan time frame.[17] In particular, Indo-Aryan words for plants stem in large part from other language families, especially from the now-lost substrate languages.[5]
The sorts of words that settlers might want to borrow.
Mayrhofer identified a "prefixing" language as the source of many non-Indo-European words in the Rigveda, based on recurring prefixes like ka- or ki-, that have been compared by Michael Witzel to the Munda prefix k- for designation of persons, and the plural prefix ki seen in Khasi, though he notes that in Vedic, k- also applies to items merely connected with humans and animals.[9]: 12  ,,,

Witzel remarks that these words span all of local village life. He considers that they were drawn from the lost language of the northern Indus Civilization and its Neolithic predecessors. As they abound in Austroasiatic-like prefixes, he initially chose to call it Para-Munda, but later the Kubhā-Vipāś substrate.[5]
Some of this substrate vocabulary came in early, as Proto-Indo-Iranian nomads went south from their Sintashta homes and overran the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex before splitting up with some going into the Indian subcontinent and some going into Iran.
Terms borrowed from an otherwise unknown language include those relating to cereal-growing and breadmaking (bread, ploughshare, seed, sheaf, yeast), waterworks (canal, well), architecture (brick, house, pillar, wooden peg), tools or weapons (axe, club), textiles and garments (cloak, cloth, coarse garment, hem, needle) and plants (hemp, mustard, soma plant).[3]
Also, "There are an estimated thirty to forty Dravidian loanwords in Vedic" even if not much that can be identified from the Munda languages (east India).
 

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Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in Japanese in: Language Dynamics and Change Volume 7 Issue 2 (2017) by Martine Robbeets

She figures in a lot of the recent work on Transeurasian languages, especially with that name of them, instead of "Macro-Altaic" or something similar.
Bringing together data from linguistics and archaeology, this paper suggests an alternative way to reconcile prehistoric Austronesian influence with Transeurasian ancestry in Japanese. It proposes that Japanese underwent Austronesian influence at a time when the so-called “Japanic” ancestor of Japanese was still spoken on the eastern coast of the Asian continent, neighbored by a sister language of proto-Austronesian, called “para-Austronesian.”

... The specific interpretation of this hypothesis proposed here is that the Transeurasian homeland correlates with the early Neolithic Xinglongwa culture (6200–3750 BC), situated in Southern Manchuria from the seventh millennium BC onwards, while the homeland of Japanic is situated on the Liaodong Peninsula between the third and second millennium BC, with its speakers adopting rice agriculture from a para-Austronesian population within the Liaodong-Shandong interaction sphere. Sagart first hypothesized that a form of pre-Austronesian was spoken on the Shandong Peninsula during that time (Sagart, 1995), and he suggested that the linguistic ancestors of the Japanese acquired rice cultivation from speakers of an eastern language within the Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian macrofamily with whom they were once in contact (Sagart, 2011).
She first gets into Japanese-Transeurasian similarities.
Japanese and the other Transeurasian languages have a fair number of structural features in common, many of which are not shared with the Austronesian languages: e.g., vowel harmony, absence of initial velar nasals, absence of initial r-, preference for non-verbal strategies of verbal borrowing, mixed verbal and nominal encoding of property words, predominantly suffixing inflectional morphology, SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) sentence order, GAN (Genitive-Noun/Adjective-Noun) phrase order, extensive use of converbs, predominant use of locative existential construction to encode predicative possession, use of the ablative case form to encode predicative comparison, etc. (see Robbeets, 2017b).
The last two are constructions like "At me is a book" for "I have a book" and "Blankets from sheets are thick" for "Blankets are thicker than sheets".

A  Converb is a non-finite verb form that expresses adverbial subordination, like 'when', 'because', 'after' and 'while'.
Moreover, these languages can be shown to display a single set of regular correspondences for consonants and vowels, they have basic vocabulary and non-cultural vocabulary in common, count a large proportion of verbs among their cognates, share common verb morphology and spread their correspondences consistently over five branches (Robbeets, 2005, 2015).
She proposes (JK, Altaic) with JK: (Japonic, Korean), Altaic: ((Turkic, Mongolian), Tungusic)

Austronesian?
In contrast, the similarities shared between Japanese and the Austronesian languages, shown in Fig. 3, are of a different nature. Japanese has only few structural features in common with the Austronesian languages that are not shared by other Transeurasian languages as well (see Murayama, 1976, 1978; Kawamoto, 1985: 105–110; Robbeets, 2017b). Examples of these properties exclusively shared between Japanese and Austronesian are a small vowel inventory, open syllable (CVCV) structure, and reduplication to express plurality.

There are at least two different sets of sound correspondences between Japanese and the Austronesian languages, which has led Kawamoto (1984) to propose that Japanese was “Austronesianized” twice. Moreover, the proposed cognates consist mainly of cultural vocabulary and nouns (Kawamoto, 1984; Benedict, 1990; Sakiyama, 1996; Kumar, 2009).
This suggests at least two waves of borrowing.
 

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She has this table:
Japanese-TranseurasianJapanese-Austronesian
Delimiting structural featuresmanyfew
Sets of regular correspondencesImin. 2
Common vocabularybasic/non-culturalcultural
Word class of cognatesmainly verbsmainly nouns
Comparative settingfive branchesbinary
As an example of what she has in mind, I'll take English. Is it a Germanic language or a Romance language? From the large amounts of Norman French vocabulary in English, one might think that it is a Romance language. But most of its more basic vocabulary and its grammar are very recognizably Germanic.

After a long discussion of early-Holocene millet agriculture in the parts of China near the Korean Peninsula, she gets into rice cultivation.
3.3. The integration of rice and millet agriculture after 3000 BC

A second major demographic pulse in Northern China is associated with the integration of rice into the millet agricultural assemblage and a subsequent population spread. The Hongshan and Houwa cultures in southern Manchuria were contemporary with the Yangshao (5000–2800 BC) and Dawenkou (4100–2600 BC) cultures of the Yellow River Basin.
Who were they?
Whereas the Yangshao culture is generally associated with the homeland of Sino-Tibetan, some scholars such as Sagart (2008, 2011: 27; Sagart et al., this issue), Blench (2008) and Van Driem (1998: 93–94) suggest that the Dawenkou culture should be linked to a para-Austronesian presence.

Indications for an Austronesian connection to the Dawenkou culture come from various kinds of evidence: the use of pottery with supporting legs, house structure, myths on the sun, burial rituals such as the use of slab tombs (Zhang, 2009), cranial measurements (Wu and Olsen, 2009), and the shared ritual of tooth ablation, notably the extraction of healthy upper lateral incisors as a puberty rite (Han and Nakahasi, 1996: 47–48; Pietrusewsky et al., 2014). Moreover, it is more likely that Austronesian agriculture spread to Taiwan from Shandong than from the Lower Yangtze River, as previously suggested by Blust (1996) and Bellwood (2005), because millets and rice arrived as an integrated assemblage in Taiwan around 3000–2400 BC, while Lower Yangtze agriculture focused exclusively on rice until 2000 BC (Weber and Fuller, 2008: 80; Stevens and Fuller, 2017). The excavation of marine shell midden sites (Yuan et al., 2002) has further revealed that the Dawenkou was a maritime-focused culture, in contrast to the Lower Yangtze culture, which lacked marine sources. The extent of the correlations between the coastal cultures of Shandong and Taiwan remains to be investigated, but it is probable that the millet-rice agricultural assemblage was transmitted around 3000 BC from Shandong to Taiwan over a maritime route. In addition, Ko et al. (2014: 430) find evidence from mitochondrial DNA that supports a separation between Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan populations around 8000–6000 BC, well before Austronesian populations started to expand into Taiwan.
On the spread of rice farming,
Archaeobotanical studies such as Miyamoto (2009) and Ahn (2010) show that wet-rice cultivation came to Korea in the late second millennium BC (1300–1000 BC) via the Shandong and Liaodong Peninsulas. This marks the beginning of the Mumun culture (1300 BC–0 AD) in Korea. Rice agriculture was more popular in the central and southwestern regions of Korea than in the southeast, where dry-field crops including millet and soybean remained important.

...
The final spread of millets and rice into Japan is dated to the beginning of the first millennium BC, marking the beginning of the Yayoi period (1000 BC–300 AD). It is associated with an influx of farmers from the Korean Peninsula (Harunari, 1990; Nelson, 1993; Hudson, 1999; Crawford and Shen, 1998; Crawford and Lee, 2003; Harunari and Imamura, 2004; Barnes, 2015), who probably brought the Japonic language to Japan. Apart from rice, millets and various crops, Northeast Asian influences include pottery, stone and wooden agricultural tools, domesticated pigs, ditched settlements and megalith burials. It is clear that agriculture arrived in Japan as a “package” of Northeast Asian culture, even if this package had a southern, Austronesian-like touch. Wet-rice agriculture was ultimately derived from the south, and certain elements of Yayoi culture such as ritual tooth ablation (Han and Nakahasi, 1996: 58, Brace and Nagai, 1982: 405), tattooing with dragon figures to ward off monstrous fishes (Pauly, 1980: 82; Sasaki, 1991: 26–27; Solheim, 1993: 2; Bellwood, 1997: 108, 135; Oppenheimer, 1998: 77; Palmer, 2007: 51), and granaries with raised floors, curved roof-lines and gable horns (Pauly, 1980: 84; Waterson, 1997: 17; Arbi et al., 2015) indicate an Austronesian connection. As a result, the most parsimonious hypothesis, in my view, is the early, continental insertion of Austronesian elements into an essentially North East Asian cultural package, as illustrated in Fig. 5.
 

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Words for subsistence activities?
As illustrated below, common words indicative of cultivation and weaving can be reconstructed back to proto-Transeurasian, while shared maritime vocabulary and rice terminology are lacking (see also Robbeets, 2017c, for the reconstruction of additional vocabulary that associates proto-Transeurasian with broad-spectrum subsistence, including consumable plants such as nuts and roots and subsistence activities such as “grinding” and “kneading,” and indirect lexical evidence for pottery production). This observation supports the identification of the Xinglongwa culture with proto-Transeurasian. By contrast, Japanese and Korean share coastal subsistence terms, but they lack common rice vocabulary, an observation which supports the association of proto-Japano-Koreanic with the Neolithic Houwa cultures on the Liaodong Peninsula. Finally, the observation that some Japanic rice terms seem to derive from Austronesian supports the addition of rice to the earlier millet agricultural assemblage under influence of the—presumably para-Austronesian—Dawenkou culture.
There are also Transeurasian words for "to twine" and "to weave". Twining is how one makes string or cord or rope. Both activities are dependent on agricultural sources of fibers.

Japanese and Korean also share some coastal-subsistence vocabulary, like for boats and fish and crabs.

Then, rice.
The Transeurasian languages lack a common rice vocabulary. In Japonic many words relating to rice agriculture can be derived language-internally. For instance, OJ momi ‘hulled rice,’ OJ ipi1 ‘steamed rice, cooked millet’ and OJ nuka ‘rice bran’ seem to be deverbal nouns, from the original verbs underlying OJ mom- ‘rub,’ MJ if- ‘to eat’ and OJ nuk- ‘remove,’ respectively (see Robbeets, 2017a).

The analysis of OJ ipi1 ‘steamed rice, cooked millet’ along these lines is given in Vovin (1998: 371–372) and Robbeets (2005: 552). Interestingly, parallel formations of ‘cooked rice’ are found in Old Chinese and Austronesian.
Then some discussion of Austronesian connections of Japanese rice-related vocabulary.
 

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A complication in historical-linguistics work is areal effects, This can produce a  Sprachbund of languages that share a lot of features that their ancestors did not have, notably  Balkan sprachbund and  Standard Average European

 Classifier (linguistics) is a feature of eastern Asian languages that is most likely an areal feature. WALS Online - Chapter Numeral Classifiers with WALS Online - Feature 55A: Numeral Classifiers shows their distribution, which is rather curiously patchy.

 Chinese classifier and  List of Chinese classifiers - these words emerged over the history of the Chinese language, words that were originally distinct words.
Classifier systems in many nearby languages and language groups (such as Vietnamese and the Tai languages) are very similar to the Chinese classifier system in both grammatical structure and the parameters along which some objects are grouped together. Thus, there has been some debate over which language family first developed classifiers and which ones then borrowed them—or whether classifier systems were native to all these languages and developed more through repeated language contact throughout history.
"When a noun is preceded by a number, a demonstrative such as this or that, or certain quantifiers such as every, a classifier must normally be inserted before the noun."

"three cats" in Chinese is 三只猫 - sān zhī māo - three (animal) cat

Very similar systems are in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, Burmese, Bengali, etc.
 

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A complication in historical-linguistics work is areal effects, This can produce a  Sprachbund of languages that share a lot of features that their ancestors did not have, notably  Balkan sprachbund and  Standard Average European

 Classifier (linguistics) is a feature of eastern Asian languages that is most likely an areal feature. WALS Online - Chapter Numeral Classifiers with WALS Online - Feature 55A: Numeral Classifiers shows their distribution, which is rather curiously patchy.

 Chinese classifier and  List of Chinese classifiers - these words emerged over the history of the Chinese language, words that were originally distinct words.
Classifier systems in many nearby languages and language groups (such as Vietnamese and the Tai languages) are very similar to the Chinese classifier system in both grammatical structure and the parameters along which some objects are grouped together. Thus, there has been some debate over which language family first developed classifiers and which ones then borrowed them—or whether classifier systems were native to all these languages and developed more through repeated language contact throughout history.
"When a noun is preceded by a number, a demonstrative such as this or that, or certain quantifiers such as every, a classifier must normally be inserted before the noun."

"three cats" in Chinese is 三只猫 - sān zhī māo - three (animal) cat

Very similar systems are in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai, Burmese, Bengali, etc.

Basically, the way to look at classifier linguistics is to consider the distinction between mass and count nouns in English. Mass nouns do not incorporate a countable unit in their semantics, so "beer" in "I would like some beer" would usually be considered a mass noun, but "beer" in "I would like a beer" would be a count noun. When you say, "I would like five glasses of beer", that is the type of structure where a classifier is used with a mass noun. Those Asian languages that have classifiers are essentially languages in which most or all nouns are mass nouns. Such languages are not exclusive to eastern Asia, but that area has a lot of languages that treat nouns as mass nouns and require a classifier in contexts where countability is important in communicating a thought.
 

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I tried comparing lists of Eastern Asian classfiers, but I was not very successful.
  • Sheets: Ch. zhāng, Jap. mai, Kor. jang, mai (paper), Viet. tờ (paper), lá (small paper), Thai pàen, bai (paper), Burm. ywet, chat
  • Long / thin objects: Ch. gēn (rigid), tiáo (flexible), Jap. hon/pon/bon, Kor. ?, Viet. cây, Thai sâyn, tâeng, Burm. chaung
  • Small / round objects: Ch. méi, Jap. ko, Kor. al, Viet. quả/trái, Thai mét (?), Burm. loun
A lot of the classifier categories are rather specialized, and they don't seem to overlap very much. Seems like these classifiers were separately developed from existing words.
 

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I tried comparing lists of Eastern Asian classfiers, but I was not very successful.
A lot of the classifier categories are rather specialized, and they don't seem to overlap very much. Seems like these classifiers were separately developed from existing words.
Bear in mind that noun meanings are not inherently count or mass. Among languages that have a lot of count nouns, there can be lots of differences. For example, "information" seems inherently a mass noun to English speakers, but French speakers treat it as a count noun. So you will sometimes hear native French speakers using the plural "informations" when speaking in English. Languages that tend to have few or no count nouns need classifiers when they refer to the countability of things, but the classifiers themselves can also come with all sorts of other semantic baggage. So I don't think it is terribly significant that quantifying classifiers in different languages have conventionally different semantics. Languages always change over time, and they can change in arbitrary ways in speech communities that are isolated from each other.
 

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I think Copernicus' distinction between mass nouns and count nouns is a very good way to look at the issue, especially if mass noun includes nouns which are countable but the unit of counting is ambiguous. ("We'll have three beers please." Sarcastic waitress: "Three glasses or three pitchers? Three kegs?")

In Thai some words, e.g. 'finger,' are their own classifier. But you'd probably say "He show three finger," not "He show finger three finger." But the noun/classifier is sometimes repeated, e.g. for emphasis in "He kill person five person."

Many classifiers are based on shape. But 'automobile,' 'vehicle', 'spoon' and 'fork' all use the same classifier ('handled object'). I'll guess this is left over from a time when vehicles were handle-shaped, e.g. palanquin or buffalo-drawn cart.

English has one animal name that needs a classifier: you say "ten head of cattle", not "ten cattle." An English word that functions as a classifier is "train": you say "How many trains leave this railroad station every day?" not "How many railroads? (or cars?)"

Thai has a classifier /kha-buan/ meaning "train", but it's missing from Wiktionary's list of 145 Thai classifiers, perhaps because it's ONLY used with the nouns for 'rail-road' and 'parade.' I use it in the market when buying ears of corn: the little kernels of corn remind me of a parade! Another reason I use this whimsical classifier is that the correct classifier (/fak/) sounds just like an English obscenity. I can indulge in such whimsy since I am a foreigner; if I were a native they'd probably find me idiotic for hopelessly confusing a classifier.
 

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In English, "railroad" refers to the tracks or the owners of the tracks, not the vehicles that travel on them.

As to vehicles being related to handles, I think that it is from how one controls them: they have handled parts for controlling them, and one uses a steering wheel as if it was a handle.

"Train" and "parade" have in common their being sequences: sequences of railcars or marchers.
 

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In English, "railroad" refers to the tracks or the owners of the tracks, not the vehicles that travel on them.
Thank you, Captain Obvious! :cool:
I wanted to segue into my intended-as-humorous anecdote about the Thai 'train' classifier /kha-buan/ and noticed that in the English "a train of railroad cars," 'train' functions as a collective noun, much like "a pride of lions." Such collective nouns are akin to classifiers.
 

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Wiktionary - part of the Wikimedia family of sies: Wikimedia Foundation - "The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia and our other free knowledge projects."

Wikimedia Projects – Wikimedia Foundation has
  • Reference
    • Wikipedia - the well-known online encyclopedia
    • Wikibooks - online textbooks
    • Wiktionary - online dictionary
    • Wikiquote - online collection of quotes
  • Collections
    • Wikimedia Commons - pictures, videos, soundfiles
    • Wikisource - source texts and historical documents
    • Wikiversity - online learning resources
    • Wikispecies - species database
  • Technology
    • Wikidata - database used by Wikimedia projects
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Wiktionary looks comprehensive, and it also has etymologies going back to Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and other protolanguages. It also has word inflections, including reconstructed protolanguage inflections.

I recently got the idea of looking at words for "bridge", because of German Brücke being a cognate, but Latin pons and Slavic most not being cognates.

English bridge < Middle English brigge < Old English brycg
Cognate with Dutch brug and German Brücke, and descended from reconstructed Proto-Germanic *brugjôn and Proto-Indo-European *bhrew- / *bherw- “wooden flooring, decking, bridge”

Latin pôns, pont- "bridge" is obviously not cognate, and the Romance languages all have descendants of it: Italian ponte, Spanish puente, Portuguese ponte, French pont, etc. Romanian punte is a small bridge, and the laguage's more general word is pod, a borrowing from Slavic. They are all descended from the accusative or direct-object form pontem, something typical of Romance nouns descended from Latin ones that ended in -s.

That one is descended from PIE *pent- "path" with such descendants as English "to find" and Proto-Slavic *poti "way, path" with descendants pot / put / ... A derivative word is putnik "traveler" a derivative of that is sputnik "fellow traveler, satellite of celestial body".

The Slavic languages have most / mostu / mist, descended from Proto-Slavic *mostu. Likely from PIE *masd-to-s “aggregate of timbers/boards” and related to *mazdos "pole, mast" with descendants like English "mast"

Scottish Gaelic drochaid and Irish drochead are descend from Old Irish drochet, a compound meaning "wheel path".

The Modern Greek word for bridge is gefira, from Classical Greek gephura, with dialect variants bephura, dephura, diphoura. Its origin is unknown, but its suffix -ura suggests that it's from some pre-Hellenic language.

Armenian kamurj may have the same origin.

There's also a Sanskrit word for bridge, setu.

Though all the earlier dialects had words for bridge, most of them are unrelated, meaning that PIE had no clearly-reconstructible word for bridge.

-

I looked in other language families, and I found that the Finnish word silta was borrowed from a Baltic Indo-European language like Lithuanian, with tiltas. For Semitic, we have Arabic jisr, Aramaic gishra, Hebrew gesher, and Akkadian gishru. In Arabic, g > j often happened.

Proto-Turkic had *köpürüg, with descendants like Turkish köprü, and it was likely borrowed into Mongolian, which has güür.

I couldn't find much else that indicates much prehistory. Seems like making enough bridges to have a word for them is something that is not far before having written language.
 

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One thing to keep in mind about historical reconstruction is that we can only posit cognate sets--sets of words that we think might descend from the same protoword. Unfortunately, anything can mess up that assumption, most especially the possibility of regional  Sprachbund or a borrowing from a related language. One principle established from the 19th century has been that "sound change is regular". That is, the pronunciation of words does not usually change arbitrarily. Pronunciation changes across the entire vocabulary all at once. So valid cognate sets will obey the established rules of regular sound change--consonant and vowel shifts, for example. Hence, it isn't reasonable to speculate that similar words in related languages really belong to a given cognate set. They need to also involve regularities that apply to the pronunciations of a large number of words in cognate sets. The process of reconstructing a historical protolanguage is tedious and requires serious scholarship. Although it is fun to speculate about word origins, we need to validate it by linking the speculation to sound correspondence patterns at the very least.
 

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I recently got the idea of looking at words for "bridge", because of German Brücke being a cognate, but Latin pons and Slavic most not being cognates.

English bridge < Middle English brigge < Old English brycg
Cognate with Dutch brug and German Brücke, and descended from reconstructed Proto-Germanic *brugjôn and Proto-Indo-European *bhrew- / *bherw- “wooden flooring, decking, bridge”
Based on my completely unscientific anecdotal exhaustive survey, the most commonly appearing phrase in the Icelandic language is...

x800-ecb908f121d2e7630c46d036ce1537dc.jpeg


... "One lane bridge".
 

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Examples of sound changes and semantic shifts

Here's an example of four different English words, all meaning 'leader of a group' and cognates of each other: all derive ultimately from the exact same PIE root (*kaput) but with four different initial consonant sounds: head, captain, chief, chef. The four different initial sounds (H, K, CH, SH) are all due to regular sound changes but these words, despite having almost the same meanings, followed different trajectories. captain, chief, chef were all borrowings Latin->French->English but the ordering between sound change and borrowing matters. In addition to the change in initial consonant, a P>F transition has occurred in two of the words and those words have lost their third consonant (that's common: consider English 'captain' > 'cap' [slang]). Head lost the middle consonant from Old English 'heafod.'

These words have all changed their original PIE meaning, which was 'top part of an animal's body.' Just as many sound changes are one-way streets (K can mutate to CH but seldom vice versa), so this semantic shift is one-way. To fill the gap when a word shifts from 'top of animal' to 'leader', a word for 'jug or bowl' may come to mean 'top of animal' by shape analogy (German Kopf or English 'jughead'!) The French word tête has undergone both these transitions: 'cup' [Latin testa] > 'top of animal' > 'leader.'
 

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PIE *kaput, kapwet- > Proto-Germanic *haubudan > Old English heafod > Middle English hed > Modern English head
PIE *kaput > Latin caput, capit-
Latin caput > Late Latin capitâneus > Old French capitaine > Middle English capitain > English captain
Latin caput > Late Latin capus > Old French chief > Middle English chef > English chief
Old French chief > Middle French chief > French chef > English chef

English also has "capital" and "cattle" and "chattel" from Latin capitâlis and some Old French words derived from it.

Italian capo "leader" and Spanish cabeza "head" also have this origin, though the Spanish one is from interpreting the plural of caput - capita - as a singular noun.



Latin testa "earthenware pot" gives rise to Italian testa and French tête

That may be from PIE *ters- "dry" like Latin terra "land" and English "thirst".

Looking at Celtic, Welsh pen and Gaelic ceann are derived from Proto-Celtic *kwennom - a word of obscure origin

The words in Slavic languages, like Russian golova and Serbo-Croatian glava, are from Proto-Slavic *golva, in turn from PIE *gelH- listed in Wiktionary as "naked" and "head".

Appendix I - Indo-European Roots - couldn't find it there.
 

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Examples of sound changes and semantic shifts

Here's an example of four different English words, all meaning 'leader of a group' and cognates of each other: all derive ultimately from the exact same PIE root (*kaput) but with four different initial consonant sounds: head, captain, chief, chef. The four different initial sounds (H, K, CH, SH) are all due to regular sound changes but these words, despite having almost the same meanings, followed different trajectories. captain, chief, chef were all borrowings Latin->French->English but the ordering between sound change and borrowing matters. In addition to the change in initial consonant, a P>F transition has occurred in two of the words and those words have lost their third consonant (that's common: consider English 'captain' > 'cap' [slang]). Head lost the middle consonant from Old English 'heafod.'

Unidirectional changes of this sort are called "implicational universals", because they tend to hold across all human languages, although one does find occasional counterexamples. The point is that linguists discovered these types of universals in the first half of the 20th century, thanks to the famous Prague School linguist, Roman Jakobson. He published Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze from Sweden in 1941, which was the seminal work on these universals. (It was later published for the first time in English in 1968 as Child Language, Aphasia, and Phonological Universals, although the translator mistranslated "implicational universals" as "universal rules of solidarity". Big goof.) Jakobson was in Sweden, because he had to be evacuated as Hitler's troops marched into Prague. The Soviet Union wanted him to come back to his native Russia, but Jakobson feared Stalin as much as Hitler. (I actually met a Russian who claimed to have spent the night with Jakobson in a Prague hotel trying to convince him to return to Russia, and he claimed Jakobson would have agreed but for the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht. Jakobson's famous colleague, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, was later interrogated by the Nazis and died as a result.)

The point is that implicational universals of the sort Swammerdami mentioned had all kinds of implications for linguistics, because Jakobson pointed out that the sounds on the lefthand side of his universals tend to be the first sounds produced by infants during language acquisition. And that the sounds on the righthand side usually tend to be produced afterwards. He also pointed out that people suffering from motor aphasia (loss of pronunciation) tend to lose the last sounds acquired during acquisition first. So, if k>ch, then it will be common for toddlers to mispronounce it as "keese", but someone who suffers aphasia might also mispronounce the word in the same way. That's because the palatal "ch" sound tends to be mastered later than "k".

Now, there are reasons why the implicational rules proposed by Jakobson work, but that's for people interested in the branch of linguistics known as phonology. The relevance of these universals here is that languages undergoing changes of pronunciation produce these universal patterns in daughter languages. So, if you propose cognate sets across a suspected family of related languages and discover patterns of sound correspondence, then you prove that the languages are related. But how do you know what the original sound was in the protolanguage? It is unlikely to be just any sound. If you have a knowledge of common unidirectional sound changes, you can infer the original sound by tracing back to it via implicational rules.

These words have all changed their original PIE meaning, which was 'top part of an animal's body.' Just as many sound changes are one-way streets (K can mutate to CH but seldom vice versa), so this semantic shift is one-way. To fill the gap when a word shifts from 'top of animal' to 'leader', a word for 'jug or bowl' may come to mean 'top of animal' by shape analogy (German Kopf or English 'jughead'!) The French word tête has undergone both these transitions: 'cup' [Latin testa] > 'top of animal' > 'leader.'

I haven't seen much literature on the subject of semantic implicational universals, and the reason for the phonological universals can be linked to the physical difficulties inherent in the articulation of sounds. So I would be much more skeptical that one can establish implicational universals for semantic shifts quite as convincingly as Jakobson did for sound shifts.
 

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In what order does a child learn phonemes? - Quora has one answer, with a detailed chart.
noting
When are Speech Sounds Developed? | Mommy Speech Therapy
noting
sound_development_chart - sound_development_chart.pdf

Which age learned: (initial), (medial), (finall) positions
  • p 232, b 222, m 222, f 334, v 665
  • t 333, d 243, n 223, th dh 777, s sh 555, z 755, ch j 555
  • k 333, g 333, ng _35
  • l 555, r 665
  • (initial only) y 5, w 3, kw 4, bl 5, br dr fl fr gl gr kl gr pl 6, sl sp sw 7
dh = voiced th
The r is the English r, not the French r or the trilled r (very common). English also doesn't have "kh" (velar fricative, an almost-k h-like sound), another common sound.

Anything on vowels?
 

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In what order does a child learn phonemes? - Quora has one answer, with a detailed chart.
noting
When are Speech Sounds Developed? | Mommy Speech Therapy
noting
sound_development_chart - sound_development_chart.pdf

Which age learned: (initial), (medial), (finall) positions
  • p 232, b 222, m 222, f 334, v 665
  • t 333, d 243, n 223, th dh 777, s sh 555, z 755, ch j 555
  • k 333, g 333, ng _35
  • l 555, r 665
  • (initial only) y 5, w 3, kw 4, bl 5, br dr fl fr gl gr kl gr pl 6, sl sp sw 7
dh = voiced th
The r is the English r, not the French r or the trilled r (very common). English also doesn't have "kh" (velar fricative, an almost-k h-like sound), another common sound.

Anything on vowels?
A more accurate way to look at these studies is to take them as claims about speech production. The two sides of language are perception and production, but the two sides are much further apart in child language learners than adult speakers. So researchers look at the sounds that come out of the mouths of babes, but they don't really have an easy way of knowing what the children are hearing or trying to say. There is considerable evidence that young learners try to pronounce pretty much the full set of adult phonemes, but that their articulation is impeded by the need to "tune" their muscular coordination to produce the adult repertoire. Most studies of language, however, are focused on cataloging sounds that can be detected in speech, not in the mind. This is particularly true of studies by language pathologists, whose job it is to get speakers to produce normal speech.

Added to this problem is the theoretical question of what a phoneme is. Since about the 1930s, the concept was defined as a type of perceived sound contrast. However, since the time that the word "phoneme" was coined (about 1887 in Kazan University by Baudouin de Courtenay) until the 1930s, it was mostly defined as sounds that speakers were trying to produce in speech (aka the "psychological phoneme"). So Baudouin allowed for the fact that the phonetic output could quite different from the phonemic input to articulation. He also noticed that there was a huge discrepancy in the speech of children and a lesser (but still significant) discrepancy in adults.
 

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Examples of sound changes and semantic shifts

Here's an example of four different English words, all meaning 'leader of a group' and cognates of each other: ... The four different initial sounds (H, K, CH, SH) are all due to regular sound changes ...

Unidirectional changes of this sort are called "implicational universals", because they tend to hold across all human languages, although one does find occasional counterexamples. The point is that linguists discovered these types of universals in the first half of the 20th century, thanks to the famous Prague School linguist, Roman Jakobson.
...
But how do you know what the original sound was in the protolanguage? It is unlikely to be just any sound. If you have a knowledge of common unidirectional sound changes, you can infer the original sound by tracing back to it via implicational rules.

These words have all changed their original PIE meaning, which was 'top part of an animal's body.' Just as many sound changes are one-way streets (K can mutate to CH but seldom vice versa), so this semantic shift is one-way. To fill the gap when a word shifts from 'top of animal' to 'leader', a word for 'jug or bowl' may come to mean 'top of animal' by shape analogy (German Kopf or English 'jughead'!) The French word tête has undergone both these transitions: 'cup' [Latin testa] > 'top of animal' > 'leader.'

I haven't seen much literature on the subject of semantic implicational universals, and the reason for the phonological universals can be linked to the physical difficulties inherent in the articulation of sounds. So I would be much more skeptical that one can establish implicational universals for semantic shifts quite as convincingly as Jakobson did for sound shifts.
I was intrigued by this comment. Semantic shifts may be much less regular than sound changes, but there are repeating patterns, and the changes may be unidirectional. For example the two changes I mentioned:
. . . . cup > head
. . . . head > leader
have occurred in multiple languages and, or so my intuition tells me, much less likely to occur in the opposite direction.

Here are some other semantic shifts mentioned in a Lyle Campbell textbook, observed in more than one language, and in most cases likely to be one-directional. The first three are shifts due to euphemism.

. . . . sleep/kiss/lay > copulate
. . . . medicine > poison
. . . . girl/child > prostitute

. . . . horse-rider > gentleman
. . . . silver > money
. . . . journal/daily > newspaper
. . . . cool > relax
. . . . excellency > you (polite)

Surely there are other, better, examples of common semantic shifts.
 

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PHOIBLE 2.0 -
PHOIBLE is a repository of cross-linguistic phonological inventory data, which have been extracted from source documents and tertiary databases and compiled into a single searchable convenience sample. Release 2.0 from 2019 includes 3020 inventories that contain 3183 segment types found in 2186 distinct languages.
It uses the  International Phonetic Alphabet but it is rather strict, distinguishing short and long vowels, and also modified consonants like aspirated ones.

One can see how common each phoneme is with PHOIBLE 2.0 - Segments

Looking under PHOIBLE 2.0 - Inventories I found PHOIBLE 2.0 - Inventory English (American) (UZ 2175) and PHOIBLE 2.0 - Inventory English (British) (UZ 2178)

Though /p/, /t/, /k/ are very common sounds, those pages list English as having the aspirated variants /ph/, /th/, /kh/ which are much less common: /k/ is 90% and /kh/ 20%. However, it lists those variants as having allophones /p/, /t/, /k/.

So I'd have to download the databases and look through them for languages with neither /k/ is 90% nor /kh/.
 

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WALS Online - Home has some such results.

WALS Online - Chapter Consonant Inventories -- the smallest is of Rotokas, with /p t k b d g/ -- all stops, no nasals (/n/, /m/, /ng/, ...), no fricatives (/f/ /v/ /s/ /z/ ...), no affricates (/ts/ /dz/ ...), ...

WALS Online - Chapter Voicing in Plosives and Fricatives -- does it treat (for example) stops /t/ /d/ as separate? Or fricatives /s/ /z/ as separate? Voicing in fricatives but not stops was not as common as the three alternatives.

WALS Online - Chapter Absence of Common Consonants -- the large majority of languages have fricatives, nasals, and bilabials (/p/ /b/ /v/). 1/10 of them lack fricatives, some 1/50 lack nasals, and some 1/100 lack bilabials. There was only one each of languages that lack nasals and either bilabials or fricatives.

WALS Online - Chapter Voicing and Gaps in Plosive Systems -- of /p/ and /b/, /p/ sometimes drops out. Likewise, of /k/ and /g/, /g/ sometimes drops out.

WALS Online - Feature 19A: Presence of Uncommon Consonants - (/th/ /dh/) fricatives, notably present in English, are present only about 1/10 of the time that they are absent. Likewise, labial-velar stops (/k-p/ /g-b/) are present only about 1/10 of the time that they are absent. They are mainly present in West Africa and in eastern New Guinea, but seldom elsewhere.

WALS Online - Chapter Vowel Quality Inventories - languages differ in how many phonemically different vowels that they have. English has a relatively large number of vowel phonemes, and Spanish an average number.
 

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WALS Online - Chapter The Velar Nasal - the "ng" sound.

About half of the sample does not have /ng/ as a separate phoneme, though it may have it as an allophone of /n/ or /m/.

Of the other half, 2/3 of them can have /ng/ be an initial consonant, and English is one of the 1/3 which can't.

WALS Online - Chapter Syllable Structure -- English is on the complex side, allowing plenty of initial and final consonant clusters, like "stink" -- CCVCC (C = consonant, V = vowel).

The type that is always present is CV. Some languages add V (vowel alone), combined as (C)V.

Moderate complexity is CCV, CVC, CCVC, VC, usually with the second consonant in a cluster being limited to liquids /r/ /l/ or glides /j/ /w/ (/j/ is English y).
 

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If one studies articulatory phonetics, then it is possible to rank sounds in terms of the complexity of articulation required to physically produce a sound or sound combination. Logically, the most complex sounds will come with the greatest number of ways to mispronounce them. For example, a voiceless consonant like bilabial [p] is produced by closing the lips and releasing them as air passes through the oral cavity. Air passes freely across the glottis without phonation (vocal vibration). The bilabial [b] is produced the same way, except that phonation is required simultaneously. Therefore, [b]is more complex. It can be mispronounced by failing to maintain simultaneity of lip closure and vocal vibration.

Why is this significant? Because it explains why a lot of languages have devoicing processes--for example, final devoicing in languages like Russian and German. English-learning children may tend to mispronounce /b/ as [p] in the early stages of language acquisition by either failing to voice the /b/ or failing to shut down or start up phonation at the same time as lip closure. To acquire English /b/, the child must suppress the tendency to mispronounce it as a voiceless sound. However, Russian and German children don't have to suppress devoicing when the sound comes at the end of a word or syllable, so their language ends up with a final devoicing process. And that is why Russian and German adults tend to devoice final sounds when they learn English. As a person gets older, their ability to acquire fine details of muscular coordination degrades, especially after puberty. So learning English later in life makes it harder for Russian and German learners to pronounce final voiced sounds.

Generally speaking, all of phonology can be understood, if you understand this very fundamental fact about how pronunciation evolves in language learners. The suppression of mispronunciations is extremely important in acquiring a mature pronunciation of a language, and the ability to suppress mispronunciations degrades rapidly, especially after puberty, when the brain undergoes significant changes. One can then understand why typological patterns occur in the phonemic inventories of languages and why some sounds occur in most languages, but others do not.
 

lpetrich

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Children's Consonant Acquisition in 27 Languages: A Cross-Linguistic Review | American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
I had to look in  International Phonetic Alphabet to see what's what in it.

The ability to make most phonemes is acquired very early in life, around 2 to 4 years, with some of them acquired as late as 6 or 7 years. The basic stops and nasals are acquired early, around 2 to 3 years of age. Fricatives /h/ /f/ /x/ (the kh fricative) are acquired a little later, and sibiliants /s/ /z/ /S/ (sh) and /Z/ (zh) and affricates /ts/ /dz/ /tS/ (ch) /dZ/ (English j) around 3 to 4, though some others are acquired very early. Fricatives /th/ /dh/ (English voiceless and voiced th) are acquired relatively late, at 4 to 5. Semivowels /j/ (English y) /w/ are acquired around 2 to 3, /l/ around 3 to 4, and /r/ (trilled r) around 4 to 5.

This early acquisition of language suggests that we have some adaptations for generating spoken language, adaptations that are absent from even the closest living species. The first attempts to teach human language to chimpanzees yielded "mama" "papa" "cup" "up" -- very phonemically limited. That's in part to the top of the windpipe (trachea) sticking well into the mouth. Human babies are born with that condition, but the top soon moves downward, allowing the tongue more freedom of motion, and also making it easier to choke.

The greatest success in teaching chimpanzees language has been with sign language, and they can learn a large number of individual signs. But the most they can do beyond that is 2-sign or 3-sign compounds, like watermelon "drink fruit" and radish "cry hurt food".


Also, every well-documented full-scale human society has language, with no known exceptions. I say "full-scale" to exclude societies of deaf people. Being unable to hear makes it difficult to generate spoken language.
 

Copernicus

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I would say that the ability to pick up phonemes does not depend all that much on having the same general architecture in the oral cavity. Children born with severe defects learn to compensate. The skill that human children have in rapidly acquiring speech articulation is likely a genetic predisposition.

One thing to bear in mind is that one's ability to articulate sounds is severely limited only when attempting to produce speech. That is when native phonology constrains pronunciation, and it is the main reason why adult language learners have trouble acquiring sounds not native to their dominant language. So people attempting to "speak in tongues" (glossolalia) have a very limited range of sounds that they think of as "foreign". They don't tend to produce exotic sounds that we hear in genuine foreign language articulation. If one is trying to just make noises with the vocal tract, no such limitations apply. You can produce any sound that exists in a foreign language unhindered. It is just when you try to speak what you think of as words of a real language that the articulatory "programming" kicks in automatically.
 
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