Articles

It is the norm to divide dialects is into seven main ones, with the understanding that many others can exist in remote areas. Whether they are separate languages, or dialects or regional accents is a matter of socio-linguistics, involving political and cultural identities as well as speech. They are often said to be about as distinct as the...
Vowels. Italian employs seven vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /É›/, /i/, /o/, /É”/, /u/. The sounds of /e/ and /É›/ (and also the sounds of /o/ and-/É”/) are not reflected often in the written form of Italian. In some accents, the two "e" sounds and the two "o" sounds are pronounced the same. There are, however a few "minimal pairs" in Italian, meaning...
Officially, the Italian alphabet has 21 letters - the 26 of English, minus J, K, W, X, & Y. These letters appear in Italian writing when used for foreign names and words, but not for the standard Italian lexicon. For example, in the opening scene of Madama Butterfly by Puccini, one Yankee naval officer sings about scoffing at risks ("...
The first secular university in the West to be established in the Dark Ages was in Bologna, in 1088. The languages spoken at the time in Italy were all regional dialects of Vulgar Latin, with an attempt by the clerics and scholars to preserve a more classical form of the language. A century earlier, a document was written that signaled the first "...
Virtually all the words in Portuguese derive from Vulgar Latin. Almost no vestiges remain of the Celtic and Lusitanian languages that antedated the Roman conquest. Neither did the neighboring Basques contribute much to the vocabulary. But there are a few examples: "Cerveja," meaning "beer," appears to be of Celtic origin, not surprisingly. It is...
Portuguese has 9 oral vowel sounds and 19 consonants. In some places one or more of these sounds has merged with another, to render fewer. (For example, Brazilian Portuguese only employs 8 oral vowel sounds). Additionally, linguists have identified five nasal vowels, which correspond to five of the oral vowels. There are additionally ten oral...
The grammar of Portuguese is similar to that of other Romance languages, and quite close to Spanish grammar. It has similar features, like the subject-verb-object word order, and gender and number agreement for nouns and adjectives. It follows many of the same rules for the creation of tenses, and for forming commands. Unlike Spanish, Portuguese...
Within Portugal, a number of regional accents can be distinguished, though none wanders so far from the mainstream standard as to be a separate dialect. The same is also true in Brazil, though accent diversity between the extreme south and the far north often results in difficulties of mutual understanding. The difference between Continental...
Portuguese, like its Romance-language siblings and cousins, is an Indo-European language derived mainly from Vulgar Latin. At one point, Portuguese and Spanish (Castilian) were just local dialects of a provincial patois of Latin, brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Roman soldiers and civilian colonists. The pre-Roman inhabitants of...
An ancient Germanic word, "theodisk" was used to describe "the people's language" (that is, what they spoke, not the Latin of the upper crust). The “disk” part of this term has an ancient connection with words derived from Latin, like "diction." In German, "theodisk" was compressed and corrupted into Old High German, "diutisc" and eventually to "...
Articles Latin uses no articles, but Vulgar Latin does. It is not clear when exactly this change occurred, but the articles are clearly derived from Latin's demonstrative adjectives, ille and illa (and in the case of Sardinian, ipse and ipsa, which became su and sa). In all cases except Romanian, the article precedes the noun. (In Romanian it is...
A late 3rd century work, called the "Appendix Probi," goes to the trouble of advising against mispronunciations of formal Latin. It is assumed that these "mispronunciations" were common corruptions that came to form Vulgar Latin. Some of the problems identified in the Appendix Probi are: Merger of long /e/ and short /i/ (for example, saying "vinea...
Vulgar Latin is important in modern times, as it was the "proto-language" for all the modern Romance languages spoken today. "Vulgar" has come to mean coarse or crude, but its original meaning was "of the people." "Sermo Vulgaris" (literally, "folk talk") described the Latin of the early Middle Ages as it was spoken by the uneducated populace -...
The Vocal Tract The "Vocal Tract" is the area of the human anatomy responsible for making the sounds of speech. It consists of the lips at the opening of the mouth, and continues downwards to the vocal chords. The lungs provide the power for the process, and are also necessary to speech, though no sound is formed there. Starting at the bottom with...
The forms adopted for use in the IPA are purposefully designed to follow the Latin alphabet, with secondary recourse to the Greek alphabet. Sometimes an IPA character will be a modification of a letter from these two main sources. Finally, a fourth category of invented characters was added. For example, the "gelded question mark" (the punctuation...
In Paris in 1886 a small group of teachers and linguists formalized a meeting of like-minded educators into what was soon called in English the "International Phonetic Association" or IPA. This group created a standardized format for expressing the phonetic sounds used in the various spoken human languages. This format also became known informally...
The existence of two parallel writing systems for modern Chinese is something of a strange phenomenon. It is impractical to some extent, inconvenient, and it has some strong political overtones as well. For information on how the Traditional writing system evolved, go to [link to page on Traditional Chinese Characters]. For information on how the...
Min is another name for Fujian, a large province in southeastern China. The Min River is an important geographical and historical feature of the area. The main language of the Fujian Province is also called Min. People from Fujian who have migrated to Guangdong, Hainan, Zhejiang, Taiwan and a few islands east of Ningbo are also classified as...
Pinyin spells Chinese words a bit differently from the other systems that came before it. For example, initial "u" syllables are written with a "w" (as in "wang" instead of "uang"). The same approach is taken for initial "i," which converts to a "y" (as in "yang" instead of "iang"). Standalone "u" is spelled "wu," and standalone "i" is spelled "yi...
The Communist government created a commission in late 1949 to address the question of Romanization. It was understood that scientific and technical communication around the world required a reliable system of rendering Chinese, or else China would be marginalized by world technologies. The group of scholars included those who had created Latinxua...
What is Romanization? The practice of transliterating Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet is called "Romanization." For example, the words for "Chinese" in Chinese are 中文, which are rendered as Zhongwén in the system of Romanization used within The Peoples Republic of China. Unlike the letters in Western alphabets, Chinese characters do...
Unlike PIE (the proto-Indo-European language reconstructed by linguists), proto-Sino-Tibetan has proved very difficult to reconstruct. The Chinese spoken and written today is quite old by European standards - around two thousand years of development with ample written records. But earlier developments have proved evasive, particularly on the...
Castilian is regarded in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world as the standard for proper speech, and the RAE is viewed as the ultimate lexical authority. Most Spanish spoken outside of northern and central Spain does not employ the Castilian lisp or "ceceo" and other features of the Castilian accent. "Ceceo" is itself a shibboleth, as it...
Spanish is a great-grandchild of the Vulgar Latin spoken by Roman troops and their entourages during their occupation of Iberia. Added to this base is a layer of Gothic influence from the fourth century when the Visigoths, who had settled near Toulouse in France, rose up again against the Romans and invaded Spain. They defeated not only the Romans...
The traditional set of consonant sounds in Spanish is reported in the IPA table that follows. Alternate pronunciations are shown in parenthesis, and the two marked with an * indicate that they are often merged with their neighboring sound in certain accents or dialects. Several shifts in consonant pronunciation have taken place since medieval...

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