New Foreigner Book!


a few hardcovers and pbs available from Closed Circle, signed. Latest: Moonlover and the Fountain of Blood, Jane Fancher short story. Chernevog, part 2 of the Rusalka trilogy co-written by CJ and Jane; and Orion's Children, a tetralogy from Lynn.


Link I Link II


Ok. I’m going to try to move some ‘comments’ to a new venue.

243 comments to Linguistics

  • Itille

    Execuse me, I’m not an english-speacking person so I have some problems with English texts. Is there some source containing information about transcription of names and qhalur words in the Morgain Cycle?

  • Itille

    Sorry, the Morgaine Cycle

  • CJ

    Welcome, Itille. I can answer some questions for you and I’m sure other readers can. Which names, in particular?

    • Itille

      Thank you )
      The main problem with several vowels going one by one, for example in clan names such as Myya, Chya, in the name Hesiyyn. As for Yla I’ve read it as aila, but in translation it was transliterated as ila or iaila, so I have some doubts. I can’t remember more offhand.

  • paul

    “Huh?” is a very odd universal expression in human languages world-wide according to the transcript of an NPR spot I just read.

    • chondrite

      I can say it in at least 6 languages. It’s universal! 😀

    • Raesean

      “Huh,” is not a word per se (as the short NPR article erroneously proclaims) but an example of “para-language” — a filler sound that helps the speaker convey an additional, non-word (i.e. non-symbolic) nuance to his/her communication. Other examples include “ummm…,” “oh oh,” etc. I’m fascinated by the way cultures augment their languages by these presumably, culturally-selected sounds. What’s cool about this article is that the sound itself appears to a physically determined dimension to it (easiest/”laziest” sound the mouth can make) and be so widely found in languages.

      Thanks, Paul, for spotting this!

  • One of the curious things about that class of words (or para-words) is that, on the one hand, they are universal: every language has some sort of equivalent for the sounds we make, which are basically “pre-vocalizations,” that is, sounds that pre-date spoken words. On the other hand, each language reshapes these, often hardly at all; other times, a little further.

    So we get “uh, ah, er, um, duh,” and so on. Or for a sudden painful utterance, we get, usually, “AI!” or “AU!” (OW!) with a few additions.

    Along with that, the imitative words we use for sounds from animals or nature get more variation, but they are still close enough, if we hear them in that language: “bow-wow” ends up as “vau-vau” or “hau-hau” approximately, for instance. The sounds for other familiar animals vary but are mostly recognizable across languages.

    It tells us there’s something going on at the border between old instincts, pre-intelligence, versus conscious, intelligent, language-using thought, and as Raesean and Paul said, that’s really fascinating.

    Then there are words you’d expect might be universal across nearly all languages and cultures, and yet they differ more than the imitative, onomatopeic words. You’d expect at least the baby-talk versions of mama and papa or dada to be fairly close across languages, but there is more variation there: “mama” may be “ama” in other languages, besides the English variations we could all think of. And there are a few variations besides “papa” and “dada” (and “abba, atta”). Or bubba and sissy for brother and sister. Or wawa for water, and so on. These may be baby-talk approximations of the adult words in the language, but it’s curious that there’s more differentiation for what you’d expect would be so universal that it would tend to stay the same, despite the diversification of languages over time. You’d think the equivalent for mommy, mamman, ma-maw, mama, mum, would be nearly universal or even instinctive, a pre-vocalization, a para-word, and yet even that one differs.

    Great subject. It ties together what it means to be human and how our languages and cultures arose, and what there is in common or different, across whole continents of people. Somewhere in there are a lot of the answers for how it is we humans managed to have spoken and gestural languages, and (much later) written languages.

  • Raesean

    The Ancient Egyptian word for cat was apparently “miu” — talk about onomatopoeic!

    Actually, I have always been fascinated by how similar the babytalk words for mother and father are, since the roots of the words themselves are Indo-European and shouldn’t have any strong similarities to words in non-I.E. languages, such as Semitic ones. Unfortunately, at this late hour, I can’t remember any… “abba” as Semitic for “father” may be one. Hungarian it is “apo” for “daddy,” I believe.

    Riffing linguistically off of “mother” here: one of my favorite Gaelic vocab words is “muime” (yes, pronounced darned close to “mummy”). It means “foster mother,” who is the mother you were particularly close to. “Aite” (pron. “atcheh”) is “foster father.” Etymologically, it is related to “daddy,” but Old Irish lost the initial “P” from its proto-Celtic word for father=(p)atir.

  • Latin Question: What’s the opposite for the prefix “retro-” ? At least in English derivatived words, “retro-” is “backwards, back, behind”. Specifically, I’m looking for the Latin prefix that would pair as its opposite, “forwards, fore-, ahead”. Most specifically, I’m looking for what would imply the opposite of “retro” style; therefore a prefix to imply, “looking or going forward or ahead in time, forward rather than retrograde or retrospective.”

      • sanford

        I know it’s been two years but I have to respond. “Proto” is a prefix of Greek derivation meaning “earliest”, e.g. proto-humans. I think the prefix you are looking for is “pro”, as in “proactive” (vs “retroactive”)

        • Thanks, Joe and Sanford. But Pro- there is pro, as in for, in favor of, the opposite of contra, against. Pro- and Pre-, in the sense of before, earlier, is also not what I was looking for.

          Ante- also means before, as in antebellum, before the war.

          I’m looking for a Latin prefix that would be the opposite of retro-, and meaning something like forward, ahead, abow, future,

          Future, Avenir … Avancer … Advancer (?)

          Retrograde, retroactive, retrospective, a retro style — Then the opposites, a modern or futuristic style, a forward-thinking or forward-looking style. Prospective doesn’t have that forward meaning, it means a possible, coulda/woulda/shoulda subjunctive or conditional looking for something or someone. A prospective date, a prospective solution. Proactive means to act for, in favor of, some outcome, to take a positive action toward, looking forward to some desired outcome. To take action toward a given solution, rather than to react, which is to wait until the action happens, or some other agent / actor makes the action happen. Hmm. I think there’s an antonym for retrograde, but right now, I can’t think of it. Posigrade? That doesn’t sound right. Not Plugrade. Hmm.

          Thanks for the input. I’d set that aside as a title or keyword, since I didn’t find something that seemed like it suited the idea.

  • paul

    Dad said he thought there were no syllables longer than 5 letters in English. Ummm, that’s not true. 😉 I had some thoughts about that and came up with 8. Are there more examples?

    • English syllables longer than 5 letters? (Or rather, speech sounds?) More than 8 examples? Probably.

      String – 5 phonemes, 6 letters, ng as a single sound. So if we’re going by sounds (I would) then it only counts as 5.
      Spring – Ditto.
      Stamp – 5 letters, 5 sounds.

      Strings, Springs – 6 sounds, 7 letters.
      Stamps – 6 sounds, 6 letters.
      Strand – Aha! 6 sounds, 6 letters.
      Clamped – /klæmpt/ 6 sounds, 7 letters.
      Squeezed – /skwi:zd/ 6 sounds, 8 letters.
      Screamed – /skri:md/ 6 sounds, 8 letters.
      Scrammed – 6 sounds, 8 letters.
      Squozen – Oops, no, two syllables.
      Skewed – /skju:d/ no, 5 sounds, 6 letters.

      I was trying to work in a vowel pair (diphthong) or a glide (semi-vowel / semi-consonant) (Y, W) but didn’t come up with something right away.

      Knight – /nait/ no, 4 sounds, 6 letters. In Old English and Middle English, it would have counted as 5 sounds: /kni:çt/ cniht in Old English, knight in Middle English, or the gh would have been written with an h or a yogh, old letter resembling g and z and 3, source of the mispronunciation of Mackenzie in English.

      English (and Indo-European languages in general) has things like S + unvoiced stop + R/L + vowel or diphthong + nasal { M, N, NG, NY ) + voiced or unvoiced stop. … And a few other things besides. Those consonant pairs and triples can swap places too. English and many IE langs can also string syllables together, so you can get things like instrumental, with four consonants in a row across two syllables.

      There are also “syllabic” M, N, NG, NY, R, L, LY where these sounds have a schwa (uh) vowel before the consonant or essentially no vowel, so they form their own syllable: button, butter, bottom, bottle, etc.

      Interesting question. I’m not sure if there are more than 6 or 7 sound syllables in English, though. One note: English prefers to have at least one or two vowels in a syllable, except for those syllabic consonants.

  • Sgt Saturn

    Project Gutenberg just posted a copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Latin! It’s in HTML only, but I suppose that those who really want an e-book can use Calibre to create their own. Take a look at it at

  • Itille

    CJ, oh, thank you very much )

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