An old question

Jacob Baltuch jacob.baltuch at EURONET.BE
Fri Jul 17 21:41:28 UTC 1998

Robert Zydenbos wrote:

>> Here's a simple test which you may or may not find relevant
>> to your purpose: a language that has native speakers has
>> an *independant* phonology.
>> Similarly for Sanskrit. People speak it with a Marathi,
>> or a Bengali or a Kannada or some other accent. No such thing as
>> a "Sanskrit accent" in the 20th century. (This should allow me to
>> rephrase my question about Sanskrit in a simplistic way: Until
>> when was there such a thing as a "Sanskrit accent"? When did
>> Sanskrit cease to be a language with an independant phonology?)
>This is actually begging the question. The phonemics of literary
>Dravidian languages like Telugu gand Kannada was thoroughly
>Sanskritised, and thus they do not have a completely "independent
>phonology". One could also ask where Marathi etc. phonology comes

That's not the "in/dependence" I had meant. I meant something quite
circular: I understand the independence of a phonology to be that
feature that only the phonology of a language that has native speakers
possesses. Logically I was just saying: a good way to tell if a language
has native speakers is to see if it has native speakers. That's because
I was not aiming at a logically tight definition but was trying to elicit
recognition of a something that was I thought basically clear to everyone.

Ok, "test" is not so good. I should've said: "A simple way to get a feel
for the difference between a language that has native speakers and one
that doesn't is..."

For example I might say: a good way to get a feel for what "green" is to
look at grass. To which some will probably answer: "But how do you know
that the grass is green?".

So by that "definition" of independence the phonology of literary Kannada
as spoken by a native speaker (assuming there is such a thing) who would
have acquired those Sanskritized features the same way they've acquired
any other feature of their language would be as independent of Sanskrit
as it is of Basque.

On the other hand the phonology of a language spoken as a non-native
language by someone would be dependent on the phonology of their native
language. That in fact could be (almost) the definition of speaking a
language as a non-native speaker, or we would not be talking about a
non-native speaker, but a bilingual, i.e. someone who'd have mastered
that language, for all intents and purposes, like a native speaker.
Almost, because there's more to mastering a language than just mastering
its speech habits, but in fact in practice this is so difficult to acquire
thru non-native acquisition that it can almost be taken as a test. Again,
I agree, completely circular. In fact all "definitions" of "native speaker"
I can come up with are either circular or too restrictive or ad hoc or
impossible to verify effectively. In practice though, this is no problem at
all. Everyone seems to be able to tell who is what for English, French or
Hindi. It's only when we start talking about Latin or Sanskrit that some
people seem to start having problems.

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