Language Families: finding relevance among languages

August 31, 2015 5:26 pm

Primary_Human_Language_Families_Map
According to Ethnologue, 7102 living languages exist throughout the world. These languages can be categorized into several language families such as Indo-European, Niger-Congo and Afro-Asiatic. In Europe, as most languages belong to the Indo-European language family, people can often find similarities and differences in other languages that they speak.

These similarities can be seen with examples from Romance languages, which is one of the language groups of the Indo-European language family. For instance, French, Catalan and Spanish are quite similar because they come from the same branch. If someone wants to learn Catalan and if s/he already knows French and Spanish, s/he can take benefit from the same root of the languages. Consequently, for such a person it is much easier to learn Catalan compared to those who do not understand any Romance languages.

Thanks to the same language group or language family, people often find it easy to learn another language. We can find similarities in grammatical rules, vocabulary as well as pronunciation. For instance, the number “six” in each language varies as six (FR) – sis (CA) – seis (ES), but they are still similar. In four Romance languages, for instance before you start eating you would say, bon appétit (FR) – buon apetito (IT) – que aproveche (ES) – bom apetite (PT).

Not all the languages can be categorized into a certain language family. The Basque language in Spain is just one example. Although there are some hypotheses with regard to the origin of Basque, it has not been determined exactly where this language comes from. Thus, a language like Basque is also called an isolated language.

Japanese is also a language whose origin has not been explained yet. Therefore it has been considered to establish a language group called Japonic languages including Ryukyu languages. Probably some people guess that it is related to Chinese. Of course, Japanese uses some characters which originally come from China, but pronunciations and grammar are quite different in Chinese and Japanese. As a result, the root of Japanese is very difficult to define. Same as Basque, there are many hypotheses which have not been settled in certain relations.

One of the hypotheses showed a connection between Turkish and Japanese as Altaic languages. Though Turkey and Japan are far away from each other, surprisingly, there are similarities in vocabulary, meaning as well as grammatical functions.

For instance, as regards vocabularies, “Iyi” in Turkish means nice, good. In Japanese, the word “Ii” has the same meaning. There are some words of the same spelling but with different meanings, for instance, “yama”. In Japanese it means mountain, while in Turkish it means a patch, which covers a hole on the cloth. Another example, “tane” means seeds or species in Japanese, while it means pieces in Turkish. The last example is “avare” in Turkish, which means unemployed or distracted. In Japanese, the close word is “aware” which means pity or miserable.

While a solid theory has not been proposed for the relation between these two languages, as you may notice, there are some words that have similar pronunciations or meanings.

Furthermore, not only vocabulary but also grammar is very similar. Based on the Turkish phrase below, the following examples show a direct translation word by word into Japanese. Also English has been added in order to show the meanings and grammar.

Ben dün mektubu yazdım (TR).

Watashi Kinou Tegami Wo Kaita (JP)
I Yesterday Letter Wrote (EN)

Watashi Wa* Kinou Tegami Wo Kaita (correct Japanese)
I wrote a letter yesterday (correct English).

*A particle should be added here.

As you can see the example above, the grammar in Turkish is similar to Japanese rather than to English. The grammar of Turkish and Japanese are based on SOV (subject+object+verb) in this case.

Turkish language is categorized into Turkic language group which belongs to the Altaic language group. While Japanese has not yet been proved to be an Altaic language, some scholars refer to this hypothesis. Then, if it is true, the examples shown above completely make sense. The Turkic language also spreads to Siberia and China. Possibly we might imagine that the Japonic languages and Turkic languages somehow influenced each other while people used them on the Silk Road. Historically, many of the facts concerning languages have been veiled in mystery. Why don’t we investigate the roots of languages?

 

Sources:

Ethnologue

Language Families

Romance Languages

Similarities among Catalan, Spanish and French

Romance Languages Vocabulary Lists

Article concerning the relevance between Turkish and Japanese (in Japanese)

Basque Language

Language Isolates

 

Written by Shunichi Hashikawa
Study Visit at TermCoord

Student at the University of Luxembourg

 

 

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