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Are Some Languages Better than Others?$
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R. M. W. Dixon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198766810

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766810.001.0001

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How languages work

How languages work

(p.23) Chapter 2 How languages work
Are Some Languages Better than Others?

R. M. W. Dixon

Oxford University Press

This chapter is an informal sketch of how a language operates, and how it relates to the social and geographical milieu in which it is spoken; how systems of vowels and consonants can be of varying size, and how word structures may be simple or intricate. It also looks at the value of tones and the reason why what is a distinction in the vocabulary of one language may be coded within the grammar of another. All modern languages have something which would have been missing from a putative primitive tongue—words which ‘shift’ reference depending on who is talking to whom, and where and when: demonstratives ‘this’ and ‘that’, pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’, and time words such as ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’. There is then discussion of word classes, and the advantages and disadvantages of one word belonging to two classes.

Keywords:   phonology, redundancy, tones, shifters, pronouns, demonstratives, word classes

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