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Mom is a horse?!? Tones and Chomsky (吗)

Possible ways to refute the Nostratic hypothesis and Chomsky’s generative grammar hypothesis would be to investigate those African languages which are composed of clicks or to look at tonal languages such as Chinese. Perhaps African click languages use a different grammar, or vary significantly from Eurasian languages? In contrast, though one may claim that Chinese is sung, rather than spoken, and thus somehow fundamentally different from European languages tones also exist in European languages. So looking to refute the Nostratic hypothesis and/or Chomsky’s generative grammar theory is unlikely to result from an investigation of the use of tones in some languages like Chinese. African click languages are a better group to research to see if Nostratic and/or generative grammar hold true. Recall my position is that the nostratic hypothesis is true, which is consistent with Chomsky’s generative grammar hypothesis. However, unlike Chomsky, I postulate that languages are similar not due to inherent brain structures but due to a genetic bottleneck about 100,000 years ago.

Tones in English may be seen with the following examples. When a question is posed in English we use the rising tone. In contrast, when a command is issued in English we ordinarily use the falling tone. That corresponds in some respects to Chinese, where each tone carries with it a connotation; the first tone is the hopeful, the desired, the second tone is questioning, the third tone tentative, and the fourth tone indicative or even imperative.That is consistent with the nostratic hypothesis but also with generative grammar.

Yet, strictly speaking, though tone in spoken Chinese does appear to carry signification, Chinese grammar does not use tone to indicate questions. Rather, Chinese in principle uses particles such as “ma” () at the end of the sentence to indicate question. More importantly, unlike European languages, Chinese syntax does not appear to vary word order to indicate  a question. In Indo-European languages questions are usually indicated with Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). While Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) appears to be the usual a universal syntactic form for a declaratory sentence there are exceptions in languages which use case to indicate object. I do think SVO is the best argument for generative grammar, but even there we see exceptions in European languages, where SVO is varied for poetic effect or other stylistic reasons.  Furthermore, although European languages seem to always use VSO to indicate questions, that is not the case of Chinese, tending to refute generative grammar, but not refuting my Nostratic hypothesis because I aruge that human language evolves. Nostratic is our original language not because we are biologically predestined to one grammar, but rather due to the near-extinction of humans.

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