The Cycle of Language
Languages are just like humans. As humans are born, unite, and die, languages are born, are sometimes merged, are constantly changing, and die. Again, similar to humans, natural human languages go through a cycle. The cycle of language, or more technically the Cycle of Grammaticalization, describes the stages that a language goes through in its life. To examine what stages a language go through, a little knowledge of linguistics will be helpful.
Natural languages are generally divided into three categories: agglutinative, isolating/analytic, fusional/synthetic. Both agglutinative and fusional/synthetic languages express grammatical features with affixes (words that are attached to another word). An agglutinative language encode only one grammatical meaning per one morpheme (a smallest understandable unit of word). For example, Korean verbs employ infixes to conjugate verbs to reflect tense and honorifics (존댓말 in Korean; used to encode the speaker’s respectful attitude toward the listener), as in 던지-시-었-다 ‘threw.’ 던지- contains the meaning ‘to throw’ and -시- encodes one feature, honorifics. Similarly, -었- encodes the past tense. As one can observe, one morpheme encodes one meaning in agglutinative languages. Fusional languages such as Spanish and French have more than one meaning to one affix. For instance, Spanish comí ‘I ate’ has -í affix, which indicates 1st person singular, past tense, and indicative mood. Isolating/analytic languages are quite different in that they do not use affixes to encode grammatical features such as tense, mood, etc. Instead they simply add another free standing word to express such meanings. For example, take Mandarin Chinese. wǒ chī fàn ‘I eat/ate’ does not inflect to encode past tense, but only by adding a time stamp, the sentence becomes past: wǒ chī fàn zuótiān ‘I ate yesterday.’ To summarize, there are three morphological types: agglutinative (one meaning per affix), fusional/synthetic (multiple meanings per affix), and isolating/analytic (no affix).
The Cycle of Grammaticalization involves all three types of languages, which means that at one point in time most languages will go through each of the three types. To mention just a few languages, English is at around 4 o’clock in the clock representation and is on the verge of becoming an isolating language like Mandarin Chinese. Such change is apparent if one compares Shakespearean English and modern English. Shakespeare would say Thou lovest me but modern English speakers would say You love me. The entire conjugation to mark second person singular is lost. Mandarin Chinese is actually moving toward agglutinative language at around 5 o’clock. Such trend manifests itself in constructions like le, which is attached to a verb and adds a meaning of completion; such attachment is agglutinative and not isolating.
The fact that languages evolve in cyclic fashion is fascinating and is a useful tool in predicting how a language might change in the future.
This is kind of a recycling of my previous post on this issue, but this article may be published on The Korea Times in a month's time.
Aren’t you going? If you have just heard this question, you are most likely to answer, “Yes, I am going.” But if you are asked in Korean, “너 안가?” (You not going?) then you are going to answer “응, 안가”(Yes, not going). Yes-no questions—referred to as “polar questions” among linguists—is an interesting feature found in all languages. There is a great variety of ways of forming polar questions in languages and even a disparity in the usage of “yes” and “no,” as shown in the aforementioned example.
One of the many things that confuses Koreans when learning English is that when asked a negative question like the one above (“Aren’t you going?”), the response is the opposite of what Korean would say. As a response to “Aren’t you going?” a typical English speaker would say, “Yes, I’m going” or “No, I’m not going.” Thus, yes is always followed by affirmative or positive (“I am going”) and no is always followed by negative (“I am not going”). However in languages like Korean and Japanese, the reverse of English is true. “너 안가?” (“You not going?”) will get either “응, 안가” (Yes, I am not going) or “아니, 가” (No, I am going) as response. Korean and Japanese focus on whether the responder agrees or disagrees with the questioner, whereas English and other European languages focus on whether the response is positive or negative. Fortunately, such difference is only shown in the case in which a negative polar question is asked. All three languages, English, Japanese, and Korean, agree when asked positive question (i.e. “Do you like coffee?” “커피 좋아해?”, for which one can answer, “Yes, I do,” “응, 좋아해”).
You might feel a little perplexed by the complexities of polar questions. It is understandable. And a few languages’ speakers have thought that “yes” and “no are confusing concepts. So they came up with an unambiguous way of answering polar questions: not having the words for “yes” or “no” in the first place. What? Is that even possible? Yes, it is, actually. You can state what you want and not use yes or no at all, as do Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese speakers. For example, when asked “ni xiang yao chi ma?” (Do you want to eat?), you would answer either “xiang yao” (I want to) or “bu xiang yao (I don’t want to). In Portuguese, “Você conhece o caminho que vai a São José?” (Do you know the way to San Jose?) would be answered with “Conheço” (I know).
Of course, languages employ both ways. When asked “가지 않을래?” (Do you not want to go?), the answers is usually either “갈래” (I want to go) or “안갈래” (I don’t want to go). Because answering with yes or no in this case is very ambiguous. English has a way of showing the responder’s agreement just like Korean yes “응.” It is the use of “yeah.” Though considered informal at times, “yeah” apparently has different function from that of “yes.” Consider this example: “Are you not going?”—“No, I’m not,” “Yeah, I’m not.” Here, “yeah” is used to convey that the responder is agreeing with the questioner, which is similar to Korean’s and Japanese’s yes and no.
There are countless languages in the world. With those languages there are many exotic differences among languages, one example of which is discussed above. How different languages are surprising sometimes, but it is true of all languages that all strive to clearly convey what a speaker tries to convey. Isn’t it interesting how different and similar languages are?
How a notebook and a pen next to your bed can change your life
What can you do with a notebook and a pen next to your bed? What’s the point of putting them there? The answer is this: you can write a diary. A notebook and a pen next to your bed will encourage you to write a story your life for the day, a diary. Right before you go to bed, right before you turn the light switch off, you can reflect on your day just by writing down what you did or what you felt—even just what you want to write.
What’s the point of writing a diary after all? Diary does help you perceive your feelings. Isn’t knowing what you are feeling as easy as breathing for yourself? No, absolutely not. You might have heard people saying, “I’m not really sure how I feel about that” or “I feel so numb.” This ‘not knowing your own feelings’ or ‘numbness’ is caused when there are too many feelings and thoughts in your brain. Your brain is simply too confused and overwhelmed with emotions to feel anything at all. Writing those emotions in a journal or diary can help you sort out those feelings. “Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better,” said Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience, who led a study regarding the emotional effect of writing feelings down on people. The study found putting emotions into words has relieving effect on people, partly because doing so helps people sort out their feelings.
Secondly, writing diaries or personal journals creates your own history. If your life is not written down, then the details of your days and efforts won’t be recorded and thus forgotten. Once you write a diary, your history is created and you can reflect on and look back to past days of your life. Ten minutes of writing everyday will create a priceless and unique treasure of your own and the treasure will allow you to relive your past life in your brain simulator. I, personally, think this is a good deal. Using 10 minutes of time from your sleep or free time can create a history of “you”!
Lastly, keeping a diary lets you look back on your mistakes of that day and appreciate your successes today, making you a better person tomorrow. Those little improvements may seem infinitesimal at first, but “penny and penny laid up will be many.”
It won’t make much of a sense if you don’t keep your diaries after reading this article, because there is no reason to not keep a diary. Ten minutes of writing a day will bring you a relieving effect, your very own personal history, and improvements based on reflections and self-assessments. You will find you feeling proud of yourself, reading your own columns of your diary.
Response to a Sneeze: Cultural Differences
Written by Justin Jin Woo Won
There are many cultures around the world. Thousands of languages, cultures, and religions dominate each continents, nations, and even a local towns or villages. Among the many aspects that reflect the cultural differences, the response to a sneeze throughout the various cultures is very intriguing one. Here are some very interesting differences among different cultures in the respect to the response to a sneeze.
Prevailing majority of this culture of responding to a sneeze is saying words like “God bless you,” or “Health.” European and Arabian cultures have the culture of responding to a sneeze with the aforementioned words. “Bless you,” or “Gesundheit” (an obscure way of responding to a sneeze; means “health” in German) is used in English-speaking nations such as United States, Great Britain, and Australia. Other European countries have similar practices. For example, the Dutch sneeze-listeners say, “Gezondheid” (“health” in dutch), the French “vos souhaits” (“To your loves” in French), the Georgian “Itsotskhle” (“live long” in Georgian), the Italian “Salute” (“Health” in Italian). European cultures are among the cultures that do respond to a sneeze.
Middle Eastern and Indus cultures also do have the practice of responding to a sneeze. Persian speakers say “Afiat Bahsheh” (“May purity be bestowed upon you”). Arabic speakers say “Sahna” (“Health”). Though considered different languages, the members of Arabic language group overall have it a norm to respond to a sneeze. Similarly, Indian cultures such as Gujarati, Punjabi, and Hindi customarily respond to a sneeze with words meaning “Truth,” “May you be blessed,” etc. Indian, Middle Eastern, European, and American cultures all customarily respond to a sneeze, revealing people’s good will to wish good of others.
Although most cultures have a response to a sneeze, East Asian cultures, which consists of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese cultures, do not have such custom. For instance, in Japanese culture, it is a norm not to respond to a sneeze and it is normal to have an “awkward (to the Westerners)” silence after a sneeze. Chinese and Korean cultures similarly do not have the practice of responding to a sneeze. It is one of the possible reasons why Asians seem to people from other cultures emotionally detached and indifferent. It is very fascinating how what some people of a culture feel it necessary to say something to a person who sneezes and another people from a different culture feel it weird to respond to other person’s sneeze.
Distinct, different, and varied, cultures around the world are extremely engrossing subjects. A culture of responding a sneeze reveals a seemingly trivial but very entertaining example of cultural differences. Don’t you have an experience of feeling awkward and uneasy to sneeze because you feared somebody will say bless to you? I figure you do if you have traveled abroad, exploring an exotic culture of other countries of not your own.