What Does It Mean for Languages to Be Related?

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What does it mean for languages to be related and how can we tell if they are related? A language is related to another language if both of the languages have descended from a common ancestor language. The related languages are grouped into a language family. The common ancestor language is referred to as a proto-language. It is at the top of the tree of a language family. There are different ways to tell if two languages are related. The easiest answer to the question of how we can tell if languages are related is to look for similarities, but it isn’t always that simple. Similarities can occur by chance, or they can occur from contact with another language (areal influence). Linguists are looking for similarities that occurred from areal influence and not by chance. The technique used to separate the similarities by chance and by areal influence is referred to as the Comparative Method. The Comparative Method uses cognates and correspondences to try and determine a genetic relationship. Cognates are words that have comparable sounds and meanings in the languages, but there are also words that are false cognates that must be taken into consideration when one is comparing different languages. An example of a cognates in American Indian languages would be the words: la:na (Alabama), lakna (Choctaw), la:ni (Creek), and lakni (Hitchti). All of these words mean yellow. They contain variations on spelling and structure, but they have similar sounds and similar meaning, as a cognate should. Correspondences are patterns of sound variations and grammatical structures. An example of a correspondence would be that in Choctaw the sound [š] is in place of the [s] sound in Alabama, Creek, and Hitchti. This can be found in the cognates for the word melon: cocksi (Alabama), šokši (Choctaw), casi (Creek), and cocksi (Hitchti). One can see the pattern in this set of
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