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Why is this a question? with Paul Anthony Jones

Why is this a question? with Paul Anthony Jones

Update: 2024-05-301
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This episode delves into the intriguing history of grammatical gender in languages, tracing its roots back to Proto-Indo-European and its evolution into the masculine and feminine distinctions found in Romance languages. The episode explains why English, despite having grammatical gender in the past, lost it due to the simplification process following the Norman Conquest. The discussion then shifts to the surprising role of gestures in language, highlighting how hand movements can aid in language retrieval and even influence the words we choose. The episode concludes with a discussion about the letter Q and its unique history in the English language, tracing its origins back to Etruscan and its eventual adoption into the Latin alphabet.

Outlines

00:00:00
Introduction and Guest Introduction

This Chapter introduces the podcast host, Mignon Foggerty, and her guest, Paul Anthony Jones, an author and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Paul is known for his popular Twitter account, Hegard Hawks, which shares fascinating language facts. The episode focuses on Paul's ninth book, "Why Is This a Question?" and explores various language topics.

00:01:42
The Origins and Evolution of Grammatical Gender

This Chapter delves into the origins of grammatical gender in languages, tracing it back to Proto-Indo-European, the ancestral language of many European languages. The chapter explains how Proto-Indo-European divided nouns into animate and inanimate categories, which eventually evolved into the masculine and feminine distinctions found in languages like French and Spanish. The chapter also explores why English lost grammatical gender, attributing it to the simplification process following the Norman Conquest.

00:11:47
The Hardest Language to Learn and Why It's Not English

This Chapter tackles the question of which language is the hardest to learn, challenging the common misconception that languages like Japanese are inherently difficult. The chapter argues that difficulty is subjective and depends on individual strengths and weaknesses. It highlights the complexities of English, such as its vast vocabulary and dialectal variation, while also acknowledging its relatively simple grammar. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the concept of difficulty itself is a significant factor in language learning.

00:17:54
The Mystery of the Letter Q and the Role of Gestures in Language

This Chapter explores the unique history of the letter Q in the English language, tracing its origins back to Etruscan and its eventual adoption into the Latin alphabet. The chapter explains the rule that Q always has to be followed by a U in English, attributing it to the influence of Norman French scribes. The chapter then shifts to the fascinating role of gestures in language, highlighting how hand movements can aid in language retrieval and even influence the words we choose. The chapter discusses various types of gestures and their potential impact on language cognition.

Keywords

Grammatical Gender
A grammatical feature in which nouns are classified into categories, typically masculine, feminine, and neuter. This classification affects the agreement of adjectives, articles, and other grammatical elements with the noun. Languages like French, Spanish, and German have grammatical gender, while English lost it due to historical changes.

Proto-Indo-European
A hypothetical reconstructed language that is considered the ancestor of many Indo-European languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi, and many others. It is believed to have been spoken around the Black Sea region several thousand years ago. Proto-Indo-European had a system of classifying nouns as animate or inanimate, which eventually evolved into grammatical gender in many of its descendant languages.

Norman Conquest
The invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. This event had a profound impact on the English language, leading to the introduction of many French words and the simplification of English grammar. The Norman Conquest is considered a major turning point in the history of the English language.

Gestures
Nonverbal communication using body movements, especially hand and facial expressions. Gestures can convey meaning, emphasize speech, and even influence language retrieval. Studies have shown that gestures can aid in remembering words and that people who are unable to gesture may have difficulty accessing certain words, particularly those related to spatial awareness and movement.

Etruscan
An ancient civilization that flourished in central Italy from the 8th to the 1st century BC. The Etruscans had a significant influence on Roman culture, including their alphabet. The Etruscan alphabet is considered a precursor to the Latin alphabet, which is the basis of the English alphabet. The Etruscan language is now extinct, but its influence can still be seen in the English language, particularly in the use of the letter Q.

Parallel Linguistics
A field of study that examines the relationship between language and other aspects of human behavior, such as body language, eye movements, and social interaction. Parallel linguistics explores how these non-linguistic factors can influence communication and meaning.

Language Retrieval
The process of accessing and retrieving words from memory. Language retrieval is a complex cognitive process that is influenced by various factors, including the speaker's knowledge of the language, their emotional state, and their physical environment. Studies have shown that gestures can play a role in language retrieval, potentially speeding up the process of accessing and retrieving words from memory.

Q&A

  • Why do some languages have grammatical gender, while others, like English, do not?

    The presence or absence of grammatical gender in a language is often a result of historical changes. Languages like French and Spanish inherited grammatical gender from their ancestor, Proto-Indo-European, which had a system of classifying nouns as animate or inanimate. English, however, lost grammatical gender due to the simplification process following the Norman Conquest, which brought together English and French speakers who needed to communicate effectively.

  • What is the role of gestures in language?

    Gestures are not just a way to emphasize speech; they can also play a role in language retrieval. Studies have shown that hand movements can aid in accessing and retrieving words from memory, particularly those related to spatial awareness and movement. This suggests that there is a physical component to language processing, and that gestures can help us to connect words with their meanings.

  • Why does the letter Q always have to be followed by a U in English?

    This rule is a result of the influence of Norman French scribes who adopted the Etruscan letter Q into the Latin alphabet. The Etruscans used Q before a U sound, and this convention was carried over into English after the Norman Conquest. This is why we have words like "queen" and "quack" where the Q is always followed by a U.

  • Is it true that English is the hardest language to learn?

    The difficulty of learning a language is subjective and depends on individual strengths and weaknesses. While English has a vast vocabulary and dialectal variation, it also has a relatively simple grammar. The concept of difficulty itself is a significant factor in language learning, as people tend to find their native language easier to learn than others.

  • How can gestures help with language learning?

    Studies have shown that associating words with gestures can improve memory and retention. This is because gestures can help to create a physical connection between the word and its meaning, making it easier to recall. If you are learning a new language, try associating words with gestures to see if it helps you remember them better.

Show Notes

990. Have you ever wondered why English doesn't have gender like Spanish and French? Which languages are the hardest to learn (and why)? And why a Q is always followed by a U? We have the answers to those questions and more this week from Paul Anthony Jones, author of  "Why is this a question?"

| Find Paul Anthony Jones at https://www.paulanthonyjones.com/

| Edited transcript with links: https://grammar-girl.simplecast.com/episodes/jones/transcript

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Why is this a question? with Paul Anthony Jones

Why is this a question? with Paul Anthony Jones

Mignon Fogarty, Paul Anthony Jones