10 Linguistics Myths And Misconceptions - Listverse (2022)

Compared to most subjects, linguistics can seem pretty democratic. Fields like physics, math, and history deal in the abstract, in otherwise unobservable things or events.

Linguistics, on the other hand, deals with something that we all have an intimate knowledge of. However, this means we tend to hold a lot of assumptions or even outright misconceptions. These can color the way we approach language as a scientific subject.

10 Inuit Words For ‘Snow’ And A Massachusetts Fire Inspector

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Linguistic relativity is a theory sometimes called the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.” It says that a language can influence how its speakers see the world. For those who like some spice with their science, it also comes in the strong version of “linguistic determinism.”

We often hear about it in reference to the languages of the various indigenous North Americans. We are often told that Inuit people understand snow differently than we do because they have a far bigger snow-related vocabulary.

At least, this is the idea that Benjamin Lee Whorf—a fire safety inspector and part-time language scholar—popularized in his 1940 article “Science and Linguistics.” This idea took the world by storm, even causing the coinage of “snowclone” in response.

However, it turns out that this claim is a little dubious. Depending on what we call a “word,” the Inuit languages seem to have a similar number of snow-related word roots as our languages do.

Furthermore, Whorf’s piece seems to make up several Inuit words. Otherwise, he really did not understand the source he was using. In fact, it seems that a lot of evidence Whorf used to prove his linguistic relativity is equivocal or even made up. These days, the “strong” version of the theory has been all but discarded.

9 English (Or French, Russian, Tamil, Etc.) Has The World’s Richest Vocabulary

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Another myth that we’ve all heard in class is that the English vocabulary is the richest in the world, that it has more words than any other language. The reason for this, we are told, is that English is a “mixed language,” with vocabulary from German, French, and Latin.

Of course, the number of words depends on where you look. Webster’s, for example, counts 475,000. The Global Language Monitor somehow managed to document English’s “millionth word.” They even gave June 10, 2009, 10:22 AM GMT, as a date! Unsurprisingly, other languages make the same claim.

The problem is that we do not know what a “word” is. In English, we might define it as whatever is surrounded by space in writing. However, we do not speak with spaces, we would have to include contractions like “can’t” as words, and we cannot apply this idea to many other languages.

The Inuit languages, for example, use inflections to make what they understand as single words that convey a lot of information. This also happens somewhat with German “compound nouns.” An infamous example of such a compound noun (without the hyphen) is donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitaten-hauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, which refers to a suborganization of the First Danube Steamboat Shipping Company.

8 Children Learn Languages More Easily Than Adults

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(Video) Top 10 Misconceptions

Another myth, and one that often disheartens adults, is that children are vastly superior at learning languages. This idea is a specious one at best. Children seem to go from a state of ignorance to being wonderfully eloquent.

This seemingly miraculous growth is fascinating and rather puzzling. However, it often leads to adults believing that learning a language would be too difficult after childhood. This is simply not the case.

First, it takes a lot of effort for a baby to learn how to speak. It is a process that lasts until around six or seven and, even then, a few grammar points can prove tricky.

However, it is clear that adults learn new languages far more quickly than infants. Some Internet polyglots can apparently do it in three months. So if you are a budding language student looking to pick up Italian, Czech, or Xhosa, go for it. You have already gone through the hard bit of learning your first tongue.

7 A Language Is A Dialect With An Army And Navy

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Most of us would be happy to accept the last few myths as false. But surely we all know what languages, dialects, and accents are? A language is a way of speaking and writing, a dialect is a weird variety of a language, and an accent is what you sound like. Well, not quite. At least, not to linguists.

Typically, we think of “Standard English” as a language and variations such as Southern English and African-American Vernacular English (AAVE or “Ebonics”) as dialects. But a linguist would call Standard English a dialect, too.

The difference between Standard English and nonstandard dialects is “prestige.” By definition, a standard has the “prestige” in society. For example, AAVE is not an inferior dialect of “normal” English, just a “non-prestige” variety.

“Accent” also confuses people. Our phonological peculiarities are often called accents, but these can also fall under the already-cloudy realm of dialects. Even more confusingly, “accent” is sometimes reserved to talk about the features of a non-native speaker’s speech.

There is some truth to the old Yiddish adage, a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot (“a language is a dialect with an army and navy”). It neatly describes how “prestige” dialects come to be seen as distinct “languages” as opposed to mere “dialects.” Yiddish is itself an example of such a “dialect,” at times being subordinated to German.

6 Some Languages Are Simpler Than Others

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The topic of language complexity is a controversial one. Many people assume that some languages (i.e., their own) are more complex than others. From a linguist’s point of view, however, it is difficult to determine how complicated a language is.

The consensus is the “compensation hypothesis.” David Crystal describes it thus: “All languages have a complex grammar. There may be relative simplicity in one respect (e.g., no word endings), but there seems always to be relative complexity in another (e.g., word position).”

The issue with this idea arises when people combine this view with linguistic relativity. Thinking of a language as simplistic can be problematic when you also think that language limits thought.

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An example of this combination is the treatment of Scots—a minority language spoken in Scotland. During the early 20th century, its usage was forbidden in education and it was described as “unsuitable” for teaching, despite many children speaking it natively.

5 Sign Languages Are Not Complete Languages

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Sign languages face the same misconceptions as above. Many people think that sign languages are mimed versions of spoken language. In 2011, the Italian Parliament tried to rename Italian Sign Language (Lingua dei Segni Italiana) as Language of Mime and Gesture (Linguaggio Mimico Gestuale), leading to an uproar in the Italian deaf community.

The fact is, sign languages are complete and expressive languages. For example, the grammar of American Sign Language (ASL) is distinct from English grammar. It has topicalization, which is seen in languages like Japanese and Chinese.

This leads to many different word orders which do not exist in English. ASL even has a complex conjugation system for its verbs with agreement and tense. Sign languages can borrow words from other languages—both signed and spoken—using finger spelling in the case of spoken borrowings.

4 Animal Language

Bee Dance (Waggle Dance)

There are many way in which animals communicate—birdsong, pheromones, and waggle dances. Of course, there are also many misconceptions. The most common is that these ways of communicating are linguistic, that they are primitive forms of human language. But this terminology can lead to some confusion. So we need to consider what we mean by “language.”

Two criteria tend to crop up when we try to define language. One is discreteness. This is the idea that a language has to be made of indivisible elements that can be put together.

This element is the morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning in a word. “Car,” for example, is a morpheme, as is “water.” You cannot split up these words. On the other hand, “typewriter” has three morphemes: “type” + “write” + “er.” “Undesirability” has four: “un” + “desire” + “able” + “ity.”

The other criterion we often see is productivity or creativity. According to linguist Noam Chomsky, this is how speakers take the discrete bits of their language and put them together to produce an indefinite number of phrases that other members of a speech community can readily understand.

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Basically, productivity is the ability to make a sentence of indefinite length that anyone who shares your language can understand. The combination of these two ideas is called “digital infinity.”

Digital infinity makes humans distinct from animals. As far as we know, animals cannot grasp morphemes at all and certainly cannot put them together. In fact, a one-year-old’s language is already far more sophisticated than that of any animal.

3 ‘Caught It,’ Not ‘Catched It’

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One of the most prevalent misconceptions concerns how children learn to speak. Those of us who are parents, older siblings, or aunts and uncles may have even experienced this one. We think that when we raise babies, we need to teach them how to talk. This means engaging in word games, asking for the names of things, and, of course, correcting errors like the one in the entry title.

This, however, is the misconception. A baby comes up with the rules of his or her language simply by hearing others speak. In fact, the problem of errors like “catched” or “foots” is a good example of kids’ ability to generalize rules they hear. You might argue, “Well, those are errors that we need to correct.”

However, young kids tend to ignore or misunderstand these corrections and will organically pick up the right forms as they age. A famous experiment by Jean Berko Gleason called the “Wug Test” demonstrated kids’ abilities to make generalizations by asking them to form plurals and past tenses using made-up words with colorful illustrations.

How children manage to accomplish the feat is still largely unknown. One of the current theories is “universal grammar”—the idea that humans have an internalized set of grammatical rules that undergo transformations to become normal phrases. This theory is not without controversy, however, and there is no consensus yet.

2 Text Speech Is Ruining Kids’ English

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To those of us who have young people on Facebook, this is no misconception. Perhaps you struggle with telling your “LOLs” from your “LMAOs.” It is self-evident that kids these days just do not talk or write as well as they used to. Well, not quite.

Without getting into the idea of mistakes, there is evidence that shows kids are doing just as well as they used to, linguistically speaking. In fact, there may be some reason to think they are doing better.

First, the notion that today’s kids cannot communicate as well as kids from previous generations is definitely not true. We need only observe a group of kids to know that they are perfectly capable of mutual comprehension.

Fine, you would likely agree, but can they really communicate with those of us unfamiliar with their “youthemisms”? Well, research shows that kids are actually quite good at using the appropriate register when needed. Surprisingly, the same studies also show that kids actually get better at writing the more they text.

A researcher involved says that the omission of punctuation and capital letters correlates with the development of spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills. The researchers argue that the tendency to abbreviate words means that young people tend to have a better understanding of spelling and how it corresponds to speech.

Perhaps this research should not be surprising. David Crystal points out that kids are now engaged with reading and writing on a level we have never seen before and it is because of their access to phones and computers. Kids are writing more than ever, and db8ing it seems silly.

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1 I Think You Mean ‘Figuratively’

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Photo via Wikia

Here we are, then, at what may be the most pervasive of all language myths. This myth is that of the pedant, the grammar Nazi, which is called “linguistic prescriptivism.”

Prescriptivism is the idea that “grammar” is a list of a language’s dos and don’ts—such as not misusing “literally,” not splitting infinitives, and not ending sentences with prepositions. The fact is, the reasoning of the pedant is wrong on two levels.

The first is that the vast majority of traditional grammar rules were imported from other languages (notably French and Latin) or were otherwise made up to suit someone’s tastes. The split infinitive rule, for example, comes from an 18th-century desire to make English more like Latin.

Infinitives are one word in Latin, but they are two in English. For example, habere in Latin is “to have” in English, amare is “to like,” etc. In English, it is possible to put a word—usually an adverb—in between the “to” and the verb.

Star Trek gives us the perfect example: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” A prescriptivist, in keeping with a more Latinate style, would correct that to: “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” It sounds weird, do you not think?

But the second reason that prescriptivism is wrong is linguistic. The fact is that there is no clear-cut definition of “error.” One could argue that language is about convention, and thus, usages that differ from the convention are erroneous.

The problem, though, is that language is a lot more diverse than we think. You need only compare the idiom of someone from Australia to that of someone from the Deep South to see this. A prescriptivist could put this down to dialectical differences and correct himself by saying “dialects have conventions.”

However, linguists also recognize “idiolects”—the features unique to an individual speaker. The fact is, prescriptivists have no authority on which to base their claims, other than personal tastes and the conventions that they have internalized. Linguists prefer to take a “descriptive” view of language.

Billy is a student of Spanish and Arabic, and he loves all things linguistic.

fact checked by Jamie Frater

A language is a way of speaking and writing, a dialect is a weird variety of a language, and an accent is what you sound like.. At least, not to linguists.. But a linguist would call Standard English a dialect , too.. For example, the grammar of American Sign Language (ASL) is distinct from English grammar.. So we need to consider what we mean by “language.”. One of the most prevalent misconceptions concerns how children learn to speak.. The researchers argue that the tendency to abbreviate words means that young people tend to have a better understanding of spelling and how it corresponds to speech.. Infinitives are one word in Latin, but they are two in English.. A prescriptivist could put this down to dialectical differences and correct himself by saying “dialects have conventions.”

Ein anderer Mythos, den wir alle im Unterricht gehört haben, ist, dass das englische Vokabular das reichste der Welt ist und mehr Wörter als jede andere Sprache hat.. Das Problem ist, dass wir nicht wissen, was ein "Wort" ist.. Wir sprechen jedoch nicht mit Leerzeichen, wir müssten Kontraktionen wie „kann“ nicht als Wörter einschließen, und wir können diese Idee nicht auf viele andere Sprachen anwenden.. Eine Sprache ist eine Art zu sprechen und zu schreiben, ein Dialekt ist eine seltsame Vielfalt einer Sprache und ein Akzent ist, wie Sie sich anhören.. Jiddisch ist selbst ein Beispiel für einen solchen "Dialekt", der manchmal dem Deutschen untergeordnet ist.. Viele Leute gehen davon aus, dass einige Sprachen (d. H. Ihre eigenen) komplexer sind als andere.. Sie können diese Wörter nicht teilen.. Diese Theorie ist jedoch nicht unumstritten und es gibt noch keinen Konsens.. Erstens ist die Vorstellung, dass Kinder von heute nicht so gut kommunizieren können wie Kinder aus früheren Generationen, definitiv nicht wahr.. Das Problem ist jedoch, dass die Sprache viel vielfältiger ist als wir denken.

Il y a une part de vérité dans le vieil adage yiddish, un shprakh est un dialekt avec une arme un flot (“Une langue est un dialecte avec une armée et une marine”).Il décrit clairement comment les dialectes «de prestige» en viennent à être considérés comme des «langues» distinctes par opposition à de simples «dialectes».. En 2011, le Parlement italien a tenté de renommer la langue des signes italienne (Lingua dei Segni Italiana) en tant que langue du mime et du geste (Linguaggio Mimico Gestuale), ce qui a provoqué un tollé au sein de la communauté sourde italienne.. Une expérience célèbre de Jean Berko Gleason appelée le «test de Wug» a démontré la capacité des enfants à généraliser en leur demandant de former des pluriels et des temps passés à l'aide de mots inventés avec des illustrations colorées.. Le prescriptivisme est l'idée que la «grammaire» est une liste de choses à faire et à ne pas faire dans une langue - par exemple, ne pas abuser de «littéralement», ne pas séparer des infinitifs et ne pas terminer des phrases par des prépositions.. La première est que la grande majorité des règles de grammaire traditionnelles ont été importées d'autres langues (notamment le français et le latin) ou ont été élaborées pour répondre aux goûts de quelqu'un.

Webster má například 475 000 lidí.. Z hlediska lingvisty je však obtížné určit, jak komplikovaný je jazyk.. Skutečnost je, znakové jazyky jsou úplné a expresivní jazyky.. Samozřejmě, existuje také mnoho mylných představ.. Nejběžnější je, že tyto způsoby komunikace jsou jazykové, že jsou primitivními formami lidského jazyka.. Mohli byste tvrdit, "No, to jsou chyby, které potřebujeme opravit.". Ve skutečnosti může existovat nějaký důvod, proč si myslíte, že se daří lépe.. Infinitivy jsou jedno slovo v latině, ale dvě jsou v angličtině.

Una lingua è un modo di parlare e scrivere, un dialetto è una strana varietà di una lingua e un accento è quello che sembri.. Il problema con questa idea sorge quando le persone combinano questa visione con la relatività linguistica.. Il fatto è che le lingue dei segni sono lingue complete e espressive.. Questa è l'idea che un linguaggio deve essere fatto di elementi indivisibili che possono essere messi insieme.. Gli infiniti sono una parola in latino, ma sono due in inglese.. Il problema, tuttavia, è che il linguaggio è molto più vario di quanto pensiamo.

Some Basics about Linguistics: Many of you may have studied linguistics or applied linguistics as part of your training as a ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.. So then, what is linguistics?. Someone who studies linguistics is called a linguist.. Do animals use language?. Linguists are still not entirely certain of all the rules that govern how we put words together, but even a four-year-old child knows whether a sequence of words forms a proper sentence or not.. Kanzi's understanding seems to go beyond his ability to produce meaningful sequences, and he has even learned to understand spoken English, although he cannot produce it.. But the ability to understand language nearly always outstrips the ability to produce it, even in young children, and probably in your dog or cat.. The great apes, including Kanzi, have shown the ability to use word order in novel ways to create novel utterances, but only in very simple combinations of two or three words.. Displacement Animals communicate in the immediate time and place, the here and now, Humans can talk about the past and the future.. Productivity Novel utterances are always being produced with languages.. In particular, a child learning a language produces many utterances that they have never heard before.. Humans who are isolated from human speech will not produce an instinctive language.. When we produce those sounds in a particular combination, we have another level that produces meaning.

Only 7 percent have an advanced proficiency level.. Even Microsoft responds to the question “Can I replace a human translator with Microsoft Translator?” with an unequivocal “No”—explaining that machine translation has its place, where factors such as budget and speed are in play, but quality levels cannot meet the level of human translation.. Advanced language classes for medical and business students, among others, bring this practical approach to an even more specific career focus, giving learners the exact tools they will need to succeed in their sector.. Here in the United States, the capacity to learn more than one language has particular significance for students who live in homes where a language other than English is spoken.. Learning English while retaining and developing their home language is not only possible, but enormously advantageous to them.. Code.org founder Hadi Partovi points to the fact that coding represents only a fraction of the broader study of computer science and encourages educators to integrate coding into traditional language lessons so that students learn to write code in a language other than English, asserting, “While Code.org can’t tell states what to do, we vigorously oppose the idea that computer science is a foreign language.” As one incisive report put it: “Students will need to be ‘trilingual’ by the time they graduate from high school—English, a foreign language, and computer language.”. When considering a language, many students think it’s a no-brainer—they should study one of the more commonly taught languages such as Spanish or French.. In today’s competitive marketplace, having a proficiency in Turkish, Indonesian, Punjabi, Korean, or any other language designated a Critical Needs Language or Less Commonly Taught Language, will make you stand out, and not just with companies doing business in overseas markets.. The U.S. federal government, for one, has a particularly strong need for Critical Needs Languages among its military, intelligence, and diplomatic communities—with some agencies providing scholarships for students who pursue studies in these languages.. Moreover, thousands of U.S. companies, state and local government agencies, and nonprofits cater to the many millions of non-native English-speaking communities right here in the United States.

All teachers need to understand how children learn a second language (L2).. As any adult who has tried to learn another language can verify, learning a second language can be a frustrating experience.. This is no less the case for children, although there is a widespread belief that children learn second languages much easier.. So to apply this knowledge practically, teachers should not expect miraculous results from children learning English as a second language (ESL) in the classroom.. For example, a study of British children learning French in a school concluded that, after 5 years of exposure, the older children were better L2 learners (Stern, Burstall, & Harley, 1975).Similar results have been found in other European studies (e.g., Florander & Jansen, 1968).. However, an early start for “foreign” language learners, for example, enables children to view second language learning and related cultural insights as normal and integral.. Certainly, beginning language instruction in Grade 1 gives children more exposure to the language than beginning in Grade 6, but exposure in itself does not ensure language acquisition.. Over the length of the program, children in bilingual classes, with exposure to the home language and to English, acquire English language skills equivalent to those acquired by children who have been in English-only programs (Cummins, 1981; Ramirez, Yuen, & Ramey, 1991).. Researchers also caution against withdrawing home language support too soon and suggest that although oral communication skills in a second language may be acquired within two or 3 years, it may take 4 to 6 years to acquire the level of proficiency needed for understanding the language in its academic uses (Collier, 1989; Cummins, 1981).. Teachers should be aware that giving language minority children support in their home language is beneficial.. All teachers need to be aware that children who are learning in a second language may have language problems in reading and writing that are not apparent if their oral abilities are used to gauge their English proficiency.. Research on second language learning has shown that many misconceptions exist about how children learn languages.. In fact, although the research of the National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning has been directed at children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, much of it applies just as well to mainstream students.

Lingvistiken å andra sidan handlar om något som vi alla har en intim kunskap om.. En annan myt som vi alla hört i klassen är att den engelska ordförrådet är den rikaste i världen, att den har fler ord än något annat språk.. Vi pratar dock inte med mellanslag, vi måste inkludera sammandragningar som "kan inte" som ord, och vi kan inte tillämpa denna idé på många andra språk.. Det leder emellertid ofta till att vuxna tror att att lära sig ett språk skulle vara för svårt efter barndomen.. För det första tar det mycket ansträngning för en baby att lära sig hur man talar.. Men säkert vet vi alla vilka språk, dialekter och accenter som är?. Ett språk är ett sätt att tala och skriva, en dialekt är en konstig variation av ett språk, och en accent är vad du låter som.. Men en språkvärd skulle kalla Standard English en dialekt också.. Det finns en del sanning i det gamla jiddiska ordet, en shprakh iz a dialekt mit en armey un flot ("Ett språk är en dialekt med en armé och marin").Det beskriver noggrant hur "prestige" dialekter kommer att ses som skilda "språk" i motsats till bara "dialekter".. Naturligtvis finns det också många missuppfattningar.. En av de vanligaste missuppfattningarna handlar om hur barn lär sig att tala.. Faktum är att problemet med fel som "catched" eller "foots" är ett bra exempel på barnens förmåga att generalisera regler som de hör.. Denna teori är emellertid inte utan kontrovers, men det finns ingen konsensus än.. Infinitiv är ett ord på latin, men de är två på engelska.. Problemet är dock att språket är mycket mer mångsidigt än vi tror.

Language is everywhere.. So then why do some adults succeed at learning a foreign language while others don’t?. “Oh, so it’s for people who already know the language, then?”. You’ll never achieve conversational fluency through books or apps alone.. People say they want to “learn a language,” but languages don’t really matter.

Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity when his kite was struck by lightning in 1752.. In fact, electricity was already well known at the time.. She probably said a lot of things she later regretted, but Marie Antoinette never suggested hungry French mothers who had no bread should eat cake.. Contrary to popular belief, Abner Doubleday did not invent the game of baseball .. In 1697, when French writer Charles Perrault wrote "Cendrillon," his version of the tale, the word vair had vanished from the French language.. According to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were evicted from Paradise for eating "the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden.". There's no mention of any apple!. The first reference to her naked ride doesn't appear until around 1236, nearly 200 years after her death.

De reden hiervoor is dat Engels een 'gemengde taal' is, met woordenschat uit het Duits, Frans en Latijn.. We spreken echter niet met spaties, we moeten weeën zoals "kan niet" opnemen als woorden, en we kunnen dit idee niet toepassen op veel andere talen.. Een taal is een manier van spreken en schrijven, een dialect is een vreemde variëteit van een taal, en een accent is hoe je klinkt.. Veel mensen gaan ervan uit dat sommige talen (dat wil zeggen die van hen) complexer zijn dan andere.. In feite is het probleem van fouten zoals "catched" of "foots" een goed voorbeeld van het vermogen van kinderen om regels die ze horen te generaliseren.. In feite kan er een reden zijn om te denken dat ze het beter doen.. Goed, je zou het waarschijnlijk eens zijn, maar kunnen ze echt communiceren met degenen onder ons die onbekend zijn met hun "jeugdemismen"?. Het probleem is echter dat taal veel diverser is dan we denken.

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