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I was speaking with a polyglot the other day who can speak 10 languages, majority of them fluently. He said after studying linguistics it really improved his language learning ability. 


I wanted to know if anyone else has experience with this & if it truly does improve ones ability to learn languages, then what are some notable books in the field?

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Which ten languages can he speak?


If they are of the same language family then yes it might well help.


But I think Chinese is so different from say French that linguistics may help a bit, but would make that much difference.

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There is your answer then.


It is worthwhile studying Chinese grammar but linguistics is not so much about learning the language but the language itself, about how its acquired at what ages by which people, how the language has developed and so on.

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I think learning linguistics has helped me greatly with Chinese, because I now waste no time wondering about "why is it said this way? , why do they use this word and not this word?  or why isn't this logical."  I focus on learning how things are said, not why they are said a certain way.


The best source for the above that I've found is are the courses by Dr. John McWhorter, sold by the "the great courses" company.  I've read several of John's books, but I didn't find them very engaging.  However, this is likely due to the fact that he's the best professor I've ever heard in my life.  His writing can't compare to hearing from him.  In his lectures, he's funny, very credible, and I actually remember what he says.  He helped me understand how languages "work."  


Every language has lots of illogical elements.  When it's your own language, you tend not to notice. (e.g., when a native English speaker says "I"m correct, aren't I?" We don't think "your grammar is bad!" We don't even think about it.  In contrast, we would think you were strange if you used correct grammar:  "I'm correct, am not I?" (just to give one of John's many fun examples).


McWhorter's best is the "Story of Human Language".  His "Myths & 1/2 truths of language usage" and "Language A to Z" are also good.  All 3 of these can be audio only.  His "Understanding Linguistics" is DVD only and much deeper (and not quite as interesting).  Never buy the courses at full price.  They go on sale all-the-time.  


McWhorter is so good that when my son was in 9th grade, he said "I wish I could recommend McWhorter to my friends."  I doubt few college professors could appeal to 9th graders.  

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10 hours ago, roddy said:

I've never even noticed that,

This is one of the reasons I like McWhorter so much.  He points out lots things that have been in front of me all of my whole life and I never thought of.   Then I think, wow - that's interesting.


Also, he shows how these strange things can happen in any language.  

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On 1/28/2020 at 10:19 PM, Dawei3 said:

I now waste no time wondering about "why is it said this way? , why do they use this word and not this word?  or why isn't this logical."  I focus on learning how things are said, not why they are said a certain way.

Yeah, id like to be able to look at languages and see/think of them in this way. A formula, more or less. I'm also under the impression it'll help while learning new languages & shorten the learning curve. 


I've learned some of the basics of Japanese & Spanish, but can't find any solid resources like here on Chinese forums. Where a beginner can find & discuss answers to just about any question they may have about the mentioned target languages

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13 hours ago, TheWind said:

solid resources like here

One book I liked was called "The Chinese Language.  Its history and current usage " by Daniel Kane.  2006  (I had forgotten about this when I 1st responded).  However, I read it after multiple years of studying Chinese.  McWhorter's course helped me more.  


On 1/28/2020 at 9:43 AM, roddy said:

Wait, what. I've never even noticed that,

Your comment made me re-listen to McWhorter again.  Here's another example you may have never considered:


What does "-le" mean at the end of an English word?  Most people can't provide an answer, yet they actually know the answer.  




The difference between a drip and a dribble, a nip and a nibble is the -le happened many times in succession.  -le was originally another word commonly used with these words and it eventually "kluged" itself to the word (McWhorter's description).  That word, i.e., -le, has since been lost but we retained it in suffixes.  (and if you didn't know this before, now when you see -le at the end of word, wiggle, jiggle, giggle, you'll think "huh..... that's right.....I never thought of that."  McWhorter opens up a new view on language).


McWhorter notes that sometimes we even lost the original word, i.e., we say chortle, but not chort.   (Like anything in linguistics, this isn't 100%, there are some -le words that don't fit this model). 


Last night, I was listening to McWhorter's description about how tones happen in a language.  


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That is similar to the development of the a and the an . You say an whenever there is a vowel starting the word because it sounds awkward to say 2 vowels together, but the N from the AN used to be attached to the word. So onion used to be nonion, apple used to be napple but napkin hasn't lost its n.


All this is fascinating to me.


One other book about language in general that I enjoyed was Language Change by R.L. Trask  - ISBN 0-415-08563-2 

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QsHUOI5bBcoC&pg=PP5&lpg=PP5&dq=ISBN+0-415-08563-2&source=bl&ots=BpBBIgm4r-&sig=ACfU3U1cI0HU3aBlRU1JehREoaBHliJjOg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjo_4_0_6vnAhUUhlwKHbn5B7YQ6AEwAXoECA4QAQ#v=onepage&q=ISBN 0-415-08563-2&f=false


It deals with the fact that language is ever changing and these changes and indeed on page one the main heading is Language is Always Changing. Its not just about English.

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2 hours ago, roddy said:

That tickles.

That made me laugh because I hadn't thought of tickles (or even that tick & tickles were related, despite the obvious correspondence).  (And because it's good humor on your part) 


I think because -le is a suffix, not a prefix, I find it harder to think of all of the examples.  



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On 1/30/2020 at 6:57 PM, Shelley said:

So onion used to be nonion, apple used to be napple but napkin hasn't lost its n.


This is called "rebracketing". Actually "adder" (cognate with Latin natrix) and "humble pie" (cognate with Latin lumbus) are legitimate examples. Neither "apple" nor "onion" had initial n- in Middle English or in other ancestral language forms.

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For me personally, a complete amateur linguist,


1) I grew up learning IPA and being fascinated by accents. Any good introduction to general phonology would be appropriate, although I didn't have access to books, using the IPA sections of English and French dictionaries initially, then Omniglot, Wikipedia articles and Google Scholar when they came around! A good introduction to the phonology of your native language (e.g. for English) is a good starter. The "modern classic", Duanmu's The Phonology of Standard Chinese came fairly late to me, and not without controversy, and was quite a tough read.


2) Although the linguistics of orthography is a bit ... passé in modern academic linguistics, written philology is nonetheless the bedrock of diachronic linguistics. I really enjoyed using Omniglot for that, but I remember hours poring through The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. I also read a lot about the history of language change. Atkinson's classic Language Change: Progress Or Decay? on the academic side, Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves for the tabloid impact, Ostler's Empires of the Word for light storytelling.


3) A good grounding in TAM (tense-aspect-mood) was fun and very useful! My knowledge of English grammar started with the Longman series, although I did then go onto the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. I recommend the relevant article Oxford Handbook of Chinese Linguistics for that in a Chinese context, then moving onto the slighthly heavier Aspect in Mandarin Chinese: A Corpus-based Study.




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