Is EL&U the right place to ask linguistic questions that do not pertain to any specific language? E.g. questions on grammar that is shared by most every language.


According to the FAQ, "Languages other than English (including translation)" are "out of scope for this site".

But wait, don't click away, click here! And if you like what you see, then please do click on "Commit!"

Thanks a bunch.

  • @RegDwight: I did read the FAQ before posting, and this question was to clarify that point. There's a difference between a question on another language and a question on languages in general. For instance, this question does not regard English. – user4727 Feb 17 '11 at 16:19
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    I would actually migrate that question to Linguistics if it were up and running... I'll bring it to our very own linguists' attention and see what they say. Thanks for the link. – RegDwigнt Feb 17 '11 at 16:24
  • @Tim: The question you linked should have been closed, and it is closed now. There have been a couple of linguistic-theory-ish questions like this one; it focuses on English, but the crux of the question is essentially pure linguistics so I'm still really unsure if it belongs in EL&U. The only reason it can remain in limbo is because such borderline questions have been pretty rare. – Kosmonaut Feb 17 '11 at 16:38
  • @Kosmonaut, @RegDwight: Thanks, I'll wait for the Linguistics proposal then. – user4727 Feb 17 '11 at 16:51
  • This answer doesn't help me determine which questions to ask. I don't care about other languages; I want to know the answers for English. If I ask a question that is relevant to the English language, why should it be closed because it applies to more than the English language? As in, if I ask "how does this work?" I don't feel that it is appropriate to close it as off-topic because it works the same in more than one language. – MrHen May 11 '11 at 21:50
  • @MrHen: I catch your drift, but do you have actual examples of this happening? It's not like anybody's going around close-voting questions about English words on the sole ground of other languages having words, too. And once Linguistics goes live, the problem will pretty much solve itself. Read Kosmonaut's comment again. It's not about killing a question or two with fire, it's about finding them a better home. It's about redirecting questions to the most appropriate audience so as to get them better answers. – RegDwigнt May 13 '11 at 9:37

If the question pertains equally to English and any other language, but if it can be answered by referring mainly to English, I'd say it is fine. The question should also invite a response that is mainly about English; if it does not, it is borderline. For a good question of this sort I am thinking of something like this:

In many languages, the line between different kinds of modality, such as obligation and probability, tends to shift: modal verbs change in meaning over time, and new ones are born. Is there any theory that explains why this happens? I believe that English "can" is used to grant permission now more often than it used to be.

A good answer would use mainly English examples to elucidate the general phenomenon. If we cannot use universal patterns and comparisons with other languages, how can we hope to deal with English efficiently? We should only banish "interdisciplinary" knowledge if it is fully off topic. Of course this question could go the wrong way if the answers are not about English at all; but I feel that this is a risk we must accept.

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    This can be a slippery slope. It's simpler, and possibly more fair, to require questions to be about English specifically, not overarching patterns with English examples. – Marthaª Feb 20 '11 at 4:51
  • @Martha: Hmm I suppose it isn't the clearest of criteria. But couldn't we use our own discretion ad hoc? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 5:28

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