Thursday, January 17, 2008

The practical application of types of languages

The types of individual languages as posted on the SIL website names five types of languages. In my opinion there are only two of these types that allow for new terminology and still be the same language, they are the living and the constructed languages. In the definition of constructed languages reconstructed languages are specifically excluded.

The problem is, what do you do with reconstructed languages. How do you qualify a project from both a linguistic and from a language standards point of view that aims to write an encyclopaedia in Ancient Greek or one in Ottoman Turkish?

From my point of view, you reconstruct such a language when you want to discuss modern concepts. The concepts of existing words has to be morphed into something new in order for the words to fit. New words have to be borrowed from other languages or invented in order to express things like computer, satellite or television.

When you have people writing new texts in historic, extinct or ancient languages they should not qualify as being in this language. Then again, if you take Latin, a language qualified as ancient, you have a language that has been continuously used in the Roman Catholic church, a language that is the national language of the Vatican with a dictionary of modern words to help understand where classical knowledge does not suffice.

The question is how do you deal with modern texts in historic, extinct or ancient languages. How should they be tagged. It is clear that these modern variations are quite distinct from the original language. When you consider "Church Latin", according to Wikipedia it is the same language as the classical language. But given the continuous usage it should not be labeled as ancient.

In the Wikimedia Foundation the answer to these questions is what the decision to approve or deny a new language for most of the project types. The one exception is Wikisource, a library of source texts with translations and other supporting material.

In conclusion:
  • Should Latin be marked as an ancient language
  • How do you label efforts in reviving a language

1 comment:

John Cowan said...

"Reconstructed language" means things like Proto-Germanic or Proto-Indo-European. These are not languages, they are hypothetical posits: there is not, and cannot be, a single piece of text in any of them. (See's_fable for how much the scholarly consensus on a proto-language changes over time.)

If a language is reborn into full use, then it is a modern language (the only current clear-cut case here is Hebrew) with historic stages. Other modern languages also have distinguishable historic stages, though they get tags only if they have a literature of some sort, obviously.

It's also important to remember that 639-3 is founded on spoken languages. Latin ceased to be a spoken language in natural transmission a very long time ago, so it is an ancient language even if new texts are occasionally written, speeches given, etc.