Standard Average European
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Standard Average European (SAE) is a concept introduced in 1939 by Benjamin Whorf to group the modern Indo-European languages of Europe. Whorf argued that these languages were characterized by a number of similarities including syntax and grammar, vocabulary and its use as well as the relationship between contrasting words and their origins, idioms and word order which all made them stand out from many other language groups around the world which do not share these similarities; in essence creating a continental sprachbund. His point was to argue that the disproportionate degree of knowledge of SAE languages biased linguists towards considering grammatical forms to be highly natural or even universal, when in fact they were only peculiar to the SAE language group.
Whorf contrasted what he called the SAE tense system which contrasts past, present and future tenses with that of the Hopi language, which Whorf analyzed as being based on a distinction not of tense, but on distinguishing things that have in fact occurred (a realis mood encompassing SAE past and present) as opposed to things that have as yet not occurred, but which may or may not occur in the future (irrealis mood). The accuracy of Whorf's analysis of Hopi tense has later been a point of controversy in linguistics.
Alexander Gode, who was instrumental in the development of Interlingua, characterized it as "Standard Average European". The Romance, Germanic, and Slavic control languages of Interlingua are reflective of the language groups most often included in the SAE Sprachbund.
Standard Average European as a Sprachbund
- definite and indefinite articles (e.g. English the vs. a);
- postnominal relative clauses with inflected, resumptive relative pronouns (e.g. English who vs. whose);
- a periphrastic perfect formed with 'have' plus a passive participle (e.g. English I have said);
- a preponderance of generalizing predicates to encode experiencers, i.e. experiencers appear as surface subjects in nominative case (e.g. English I like music instead of Music pleases me, though compare Spanish Me gusta la música, which is of the form "Music pleases me");
- a passive construction formed with a passive participle plus an intransitive copula-like verb (e.g. English I am known);
- a prominence of anticausative verbs in inchoative-causative pairs (e.g. Russian inchoative anticausative izmenit’-sja 'to change (intransitive)' is derived from causative izmenit’ 'to change [something], make [something] change');
- dative external possessors (e.g. German Die Mutter wusch dem Kind die Haare = The mother washed the child's hair (lit. The mother washed the hair to the child), Portuguese Ela lavou-lhe o cabelo = She washed his hair);
- verbal negation with a negative indefinite (e.g. English Nobody listened);
- particle comparatives in comparisons of inequality (e.g. English bigger than an elephant);
- equative constructions (i.e. constructions for comparison of equality) based on adverbial relative-clause structures. E.g. Occitan tan grand coma un elefant, Russian tak že X kak Y, where coma/kak (historically coming from the adverbial interrogative pronoun "how") are "adverbial relative pronouns" according to Haspelmath.
- subject person affixes as strict agreement markers, i.e. the verb is inflected for person and number of the subject, but subject pronouns may not be dropped even when this would be unambiguous (only in some languages, such as German, French and Spoken Finnish, e.g. mä oon, "I am" and sä oot, "you are"); this feature is called null subject – pro-drop is sometimes mentioned in this context, but is technically a term for a more general phenomenon;
- differentiation between intensifiers and reflexive pronouns (e.g. German intensifier selbst vs. reflexive sich).
Besides these features, which are uncommon outside Europe and thus useful for defining the SAE area, Haspelmath (2001) lists further features characteristic of European languages (but also found elsewhere):
- verb-initial order in yes/no questions;
- comparative inflection of adjectives (e.g. English bigger);
- conjunction A, B and C;
- syncretism of instrumental and comitative cases (e.g. English I cut my food with a knife when eating with my friends);
- suppletivism in second vs. two;
- no distinction between alienable (e.g. legal property) and inalienable (e.g. body part) possession;
- no distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns ("we and you" vs. "we and not you");
- no productive usage of reduplication;
- topic and focus expressed by intonation and word order;
- word order subject–verb–object;
- only one gerund, preference for finite subordinate clauses;
- specific "neither-nor" construction;
- phrasal adverbs (e.g. English already, still, not yet);
- tendency towards replacement of past tense by the perfect.
There is also a broad agreement in the following parameters (not listed in Haspelmath 2001):
- absence of phonemic opposition velar/uvular;
- phonemic voicing oppositions (/p/ vs. /b/ etc.);
- initial consonant clusters of the type "stop+sonorant" allowed;
- only pulmonic consonants;
- at least three degrees of vowel height (minimum inventory i e a o u);
- lack of lateral fricatives and affricates;
- predominantly suffixing morphology;
- moderately synthetic fusional morphological typology;
- nominative–accusative morphosyntactic alignment.
The Sprachbund defined this way consists of the following languages:
- Germanic languages;
- Romance languages;
- Baltic languages;
- Slavic languages;
Not all the languages listed above show all the listed features, so membership in SAE can be described as gradient. Based on nine of the above-mentioned common features, Haspelmath regards French and German as forming the nucleus of the Sprachbund, surrounded by a core formed by English, the other Romance languages, the Nordic languages, and the Western and Southern Slavic languages. Hungarian, the Baltic languages, the Eastern Slavic languages, and the Finnic languages form more peripheral groups. All languages identified by Haspelmath as core SAE are Indo-European languages, except the Finnic languages. However, not all Indo-European languages are SAE languages: the Celtic, Armenian, and Indo-Iranian languages remain outside the SAE Sprachbund.
The Standard Average European Sprachbund is most likely the result of ongoing language contact in the time of the Migration Period and later, continuing during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Inheritance of the SAE features from Proto-Indo-European can be ruled out because Proto-Indo-European, as currently reconstructed, lacked most of the SAE features.
- "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language", published in (1941), Language, Culture, and Personality: Essays in Memory of Edward Sapir Edited by Leslie Spier, A. Irving Hallowell, Stanley S. Newman. Menasha, Wisconsin: Sapir Memorial Publication Fund. p 75-93.
Reprinted in (1956), Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamins Lee Whorf. Edited by John B. Carroll. Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press. p. 134-159.
Quotation is Whorf (1941:77-78) and (1956:138).
The work began to assume the character of a comparison between Hopi and western European languagwes. It also became evident that even the grammar of Hopi bore a relation to Hopi culture, and the grammar of European tongues to our own "Western" or "European" culture. And it appeared that the interrelation brought in those large subsummations of experience by language, such as our own terms "time," "space," "substance," and "matter." Since, with respect to the traits compared, there is little difference between English, French, German, or other European languages with the 'possible' (but doubtful) exception of Balto-Slavic and non-Indo-European, I have lumped these languages into one group called SAE, or "Standard Average European."
- Alexander Gode, Ph.D. "Manifesto de Interlingua" (PDF) (in Interlingua). Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- "Language Typology and Language Universals" accessed 2015-10-13
- "§ 716 Minä, sinä, hän, me, te, he" (in Finnish). Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- Marja-Liisa Helasvuo (January 24, 2008). "Competing strategies in person marking: double-marking vs. economy". Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- Haspelmath, Martin, 1998. How young is Standard Average European? Language Sciences.
- [Haspelmath, Martin, 2001. The European linguistic area: Standard Average European. In: Martin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wolfgang Oesterreicher and Wolfgang Raible (eds.),Language Typology and Language Universals. Sprachtypologie und sprachliche Universalien. Sprachtypologie und sprachliche Universalien: La typologie des langues et les universaux linguistiques: An International Handbook: Ein internationales Handbuch: Manuel international, 1492–1510. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter.]
- Haspelmath, Martin. 2001. The European linguistic area: Standard Average European. Language Typology and Language Universals (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft vol. 20.2). Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 1492–1510.
- Heine, Bernd and Kuteva, Tania. 2006. The Changing Languages of Europe. Oxford University Press.
- Van der Auwera, Johan. 2011. Standard Average European. In: Kortmann, B. & van der Auwera, J. (eds.) The Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A Comprehensive Guide. (pp. 291–306) Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.