On Wednesday, September 15, 2004, at 05:35 , Rodlox wrote:

>  Please bear with me for a moment, as your reply to this will greatly
> expand
> my understanding of language groups & language evolution...
>  Assume that, tomorrow or the next day, you either encounter or create a
> (con)language which has the following features:
> * Indo-European word order.
> * Semitic grammatical rules.
> * Sino-Altaic phenomes.
>  into which group would you classify it, however tenatively?

I could not even tentatively classify it, I am afraid. I do not understand
two of the criteria & the most important criterion for group
identification is missing.

I want to be helpful but there are problems, of which IMO the more
important are:
What is Indo-European word order?
What are Sino-Altaic phonemes?
Where's the basic vocabulary coming from?

I mention these because:
(a) as Roger wrote on Wednesday, September 15, 2004, at 05:18:
> Usually a language is grouped according to where the bulk of the
> _vocabulary_ comes from.

Certainly the basic vocabulary. That's how the 18th & 19th century
linguists identified all the multifarious branches & sub-branches of the
IE languages.

> If the con-vocabulary is completely a priori
> (invented) then you'd just have to say it's "a priori, with X word order,
>  Y
> grammar, Z phonemes" (note spelling!).

Indeed you would.

> I'm not sure there's a typical Indo-European word order--

There simply isn't, as the IE languages exist today.

> Proto IE is
> assumed to have been SOV, most of the descendants vary between SOV and
> SVO.

Yep - I agree.

But there are many other variations & some are being noted in mails to the

(b) also on Wednesday, September 15, 2004, at 06:29 , Elliott Lash wrote:
> I believe he meant that most of the descendents have
> either "SOV" or "SVO" orders.

I'm certain he did!

> The Celtic Languages can have SVO or VSO orders, with
> VSO order being the theoretically more prominent
> order....

VSO is the normative (except in Breton where SVO is normative) - but focus
[sic] fronting is very common; then the verb follows the focus. This is
quite unlike German which has topic fronting, with verb following the
topic - at least in main clauses; subordinate clauses are SVO.

Classical Latin was basically SVO, but varied considerably, usually
because of topic fronting and shifting focus to the end.

> I think it's safe to say that SOV seems a little more
> prominent in the Older Languages,

Umm - I wouldn't class Modern Persian, Hindi/Urdu & other north Indian
langs as "older"! The SOV order is still strong and alive in the IE family.

> with SVO gaining
> ground in the last thousand or so years.

True of western languages.

So IMO there is no common "Indo-European word order" and different people
are likely to understand different things by this.

The Semitic languages are much more conservative than the IE langs. I've
heard it said that the variation among them is of similar order to that
between the Romancelangs, so you're probably on sounder ground with
"Semitic grammatical rules". But I'll leave that to the Semiticists on the

However, this has bearing on identifying the group. It has often been
observed that there are many apparent similarities between the grammar of
the IE Celtic langs and the Semitic langs (with some wild theories
accounting for this!).

I simply do not understand what you mean by Sino-Altaic phonemes. In any
case, the phoneme inventory is probably the least safe indicator of



>  also, which of those (rules/phenomes/order/other) is most prone to change
> through time?  which is least prone to change?

I'll first quote Roger again:
On Wednesday, September 15, 2004, at 05:18 , Roger Mills wrote:
> Most likely: sounds/phonemes, but in fact _everything_ can change, often
> as
> the result of sound changes. Slowest change probably in vocabulary.

I agree the most likely are the sounds. The sounds of the French language,
  for example, have changed tremendously from those of Old French. But, in
fact, as everything is liable to change.

Basic vocabulary is, as Roger says, the least likely to change, but
phonetic change can sometimes render the results as unrecognizable. For
example, the Armenian numerals for 1 to 10 below are derived from IE and
are (using CXS):
mek, erku, erek', tS'ors, hing, vets', jot', ut', inn, tas@

Some are vaguely reminiscent maybe of corresponding words in other IE
langs. But phonetic change has 'disguised' many. Who, for example, would
immediately connect _erku_ with PIE *dwo:u still less with our 'two'?

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UMBERTO ECO				September, 2004