Comparative Typology as a branch of general linguistics

The subject of linguistic typology is language with comparison with other language or languages. Comparative linguistics is a relatively young discipline which offers many unexplored problems. It is the study of how languages are structured, how they are used and how they change through time. Typology of languages is a branch of linguistics which studies the structural similarities between languages regardless of their history and origin. The main questions studied by comparative linguistics are the following:

1. What features do all languages have in common;

2. In what ways do different languages differ from each other

3. How does the sound system of the native language differ from the sound system of the foreign language;

4. How do grammatical categories differ;

5. How sentences and phrases are built in different languages.

6. How are words built in different languages;


Language has been examined by linguists and philosophers from the time of ancient breeze until the present day. Human language is a highly developed signaling system all human languages have a limited set of speech sounds. The speech sounds are divided into consonants and vowels. The minimal units of language called phonemes are used for construction of morphemes and lexemes. Human language is a means of communication but it differs from signaling systems of animals. Human language has a sense of the past, the present and the future but animals (for ex: a dog) can’t tell his fellows about his past, parents, animals, can’t inform them or about their plans for the future. Besides animals don’t change their system in the course of history while human language changes.

Language is not inherited, it has a social nature, it depends on the society, while animals inherit their signaling system

Language has several functions:

1. Nominative function. It implies the capacity of language to realize concepts of our mind in the language.

2. Communicative function which implies that language is used to provide people with means for exchanging information.

3. Language esthetic function in poetry, advertising. We use language to express our emotions and to add additional positive emphasis.

4. Identifying function. Language demonstrates people’s identity. Members of social organizations, professions or groups use the same words, terms, as a mark of their identity.

5. Language has imperative functions . It is used to influence behavior or stimulate action. We may use imperative structures like Open the door; but we may also use could you please do smth.

6. Informative function . Is often considered to be the primary function of the language, words are combined into sentences which carry information.

7.Interrogative function . When asking people questions and obtaining information.



About 5000 languages are spoken in the world today. They seem to be quite different, but some of them have some similar features or principles: for ex. In languages like English French Italian words in a sentence take the following order – subject – predicate – object, but this principle is not shared by all languages. There are languages such a Turkic languages word order is subject- object –predicate. Languages which have the same or similar features are united into different types. These common features are called universals. We may speak about semantic universals, phonological universals, syntactic universals, grammatical universals. When the same principles are shared by several languages we speak of language types. The most familiar classification of languages by their structure contains 4 groups:

They are isolating, flectional, agglutinative and incorporating or polysynthetic, but languages are never pure types. They usually elements of variety of types. But still this classification is quite reasonable and it is accepted in typology. Type of language is one of the main notions in typology. In Russian in order to make a word function it is necessary to form it with a special morpheme. OY – in adjective – sing, masculine gender, without this morpheme a word can’t function. But flections in Russian have several grammatical meanings. If you take flexion – Aya – in – beautiful – number, gender and case. Flexion – s-takes – category of number, person, tense.

If we take Tatar language and we shall join affixes to a word kyz-kyzlar – the meaning of this affix is plurality.

The next type isolating one, the Chinese language is the brightest in these example of isolating languages. Words don’t change morphologically at all. In this case words don’t have morphological changes. The meaning of the sentence depends upon the word order, which is important.

Incorporating – polysynthetic languages – American Indians – in which there is no distinction between a word and a sentence. One word may embrace a lot of morphemes with separate semantic and grammatical meaning.

The history of typological system was studied by the German scientist Fridrich Schleggel (1772- 1829). He considered thath there was a sharp dividing line between flexional and non-flexional languages. He distinguished two types of languages. But his brother August Schleggel divided languages into 3 groups. Languages with flexions, languages which use affixes, and languages with any grammatical structure where word order has grammatical meaning. WILGELM Humbold another german linguist is considered to be the founder of typology. The 1st group of languages in schleggel’s classification he terms isolating

1. Isolating

2 Agglutinative


4. He introduced one more group incorporating or polysymphatic. He treated these groups as various stages of single linguistic development.

Another German linguist August Schleicher was the founder of naturalistic theory of language. He accepted three types of languages but also 3 types of languages have developed out of one another with isolating language as the starting point. He compares a language is an object of nature and like any object of nature (a tree) it appears, develops and dies.

Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829)

August Schlegel (1768-1845)

Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835)

Isolating languages

Agglutinative languages ( having morphemes without much coalescence)

Flexional languages

Polysynthetic languages (or incorporating)

August Schleicher (1821-1868)

Edward Sapir

hao zhen is a good person

Shigo hao – do good

Jio hao – old friendship

Khao darvih – very expensive

Zhen hao wo – a person loves me.

2 Phonology
‘ Phonology is the study of how speech sounds are organized and how they function.
Phonological analysis can determine which sound differences are significant in a language.
Speech sounds tend to adjust to nearby sounds in systematic ways.
Speech sounds tend to vary around a norm.
The sound system of a language tends to be symmetrical.
Phonological analysis is an essential part of determining how to write a language.
A new linguistic science which came into being in Russia at the end of the 19th century and was developed by Russian and foreign investigators helps us understand the essence of the sound changes and the essence of sound itself. The name of this science is phonology, which is the theory of sound functions in general and deals with the study of phonemes.
The distinction between phonetics and phonology is now generally accepted.
It was observed long ago that not all the sounds in any language have the same value. The difference lies much deeper than the difference in the acoustic pronunciation of sounds. Two people speaking the same language and pronouncing individual sounds exactly alike could hardly be found. But this diversity is not noticeable by an average observer.
Sometimes sounds differ slightly in pronunciation but this difference is quite irrelevant, in English, for instance, the /t/ of time is distinctly different from that of sting, but the difference is not important. In such English words as back and bag , the meaning is different. What makes it different? Probably the two ending sounds.
All these considerations lead us to the conclusion that in language not all sounds have equal values. Sounds must be classified according to the function they perform in the language, and from this point of view speech sounds and phonemes ought to be distinguished.
Before going into an analysis of the phoneme, it is necessary to give some historical notes on the subject.
History Of The Phoneme Theory
Jan Baudouin de Courtenay
The first linguist to point 9ut the distinction between the “phone”
(speech-sound), Russian “zvuk”, and the “phoneme” (Russian “fonema”)
was Jan Baudouin de Courtenay (1845-1929), the famous Russian
philologist of Polish origin, who established himself in Russia, first as a

private docent at St. Petersburg then as Professor- for eight years (1875- 1883) in Kazan, where he created his famous school of linguistics. Later he held professorships at Dorpat (1883-1893), Cracow (1893-1900) and eventually St. Petersburg (1901-1918) where he continued to develop his teaching. He spent the last years of his life in Poland.
He worked out the fundamental principle of the phoneme during the 1870’s, from 1868 to be more exact, thus forestalling Western European linguistics by nearly 40 years. Baudouin de Courtenay stated more than once that the word “phoneme” was invented by his student Kruszewsky. Baudouin de Courtenay did not, however,

write on this theme, and in fact, no clear exposition of it appeared in print until 1894, when he published his Proba Teorj Alternacyj Fonelycznych. A German translation of this, Versuch einer Theorie phonetischer Alternationen, was published at Strassburg in 1895.
He proceeded from the assumption that the role of sounds in the mechanism of language, for communication between people, does not coincide with their physical nature, and that this non-coincidence makes the distinction between “phonemes” and “speech-sounds” necessary. In his theory, he subordinated the phonetic side of speech to the social function of language as a means of communication. He stated not only the mutual relationships of phonemes, but also the ways in which they are formed historically.
D. Jones
The well-known English phonetician D . Jones points out in his book The Phoneme: its Nature, Development and Origin that the term phoneme as used by Baudouinde Courtenay was a phonetic one. This phonetic concept can be viewed in two ways in his works—“psychologically” and “physically”. Viewed “psychologically”, a phoneme is a speech-sound pictured in one’s mind and aimed at in the process of talking. The actual concrete sound (phone) employed in any particular speech-utterance may be the pictured sound or it may be another sound having some affinity to it, its use being conditioned by some feature or features of the phonetic context. Baudouin de Courtenay recognized two kinds of phonetics: one was called psychophonetics and related to the pictured sounds; the other was calledphysiophonetics and related to concrete sounds actually uttered.
Viewed from the “physical” point of view, a phoneme is a set of sounds
uttered in a particular language which count for practical purposes as if they
were one and the same; the use of each member of the set is conditioned by
the phonetic environment, ie no one member ever occurs in a situation
reserved for another (for example, in English the /k/ sound of call never

occurs before an /i/; nor does the /k/ sound of king ever occur before /0:/

Baudouin’s theory of the phonological distribution of phonemes is very important, especially in its relationship to the construction of phonetic transcriptions, the devising of alphabets for languages and to the practical teaching of spoken foreign languages.

LV Scerba

Baudouin de Courtenay idea was developed by his immediate follower L .Scerba in 1912, in his book Russian Vowels in their Qualitative and Quantitative Aspects.

The definition of the phoneme given by Scerba as the smallest general phonetic representation of the given language which is able to associate with the meaning representation and to differentiate words was of a semantic character. In this definition L.Scerba emphasized the close connection between phoneme and meaning.


The phoneme is the smallest unit of language because it cannot be divided any smaller; but nevertheless, it is a complex phenomenon. It consists of a number of features which are not independent, but occur simultaneously in the phoneme; for example, the Russian /g/ may be considered as voiced or voiceless, soft or hard, nasal or non-nasal and so on. These distinctive features usually occur together in a bundle of sound- features of several at a time. Some of these features are distinctive, while others are not. The use of any particular feature is conditioned by the phonetic environment or by the position of the phoneme. In Russian , for example, the k of ruka ‘hand’ may occur before a,o, u, and at the end of a word but never before i, or e, giving us the k’phoneme; this k’ never occurs at the end of a word.

The same feature of a phoneme in different languages may have a different functional character: in Russian the voicedvoiceless feature is neutralized at the end of a word prut -twig; prud – pond/, whereas in English this feature distinguishes the meanings of such words as ba t and bad , hat and had.

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