Linguistics

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

271 Comments

  1. 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?

  2. Itille

    Sorry, the Morgaine Cycle

  3. 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.

      • CJ

        goodness, I let this one go unanswered too long—Myya is mee-AH, chya is ch-YAh, Yla is ee-LAh. Hope that helps~!

    • 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!

  4. BlueCatShip

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. BlueCatShip

    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”)

        • BlueCatShip

          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.

  7. 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?

    • BlueCatShip

      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.

  8. Itille

    CJ, oh, thank you very much )

  9. paul

    I’ve always been confused by English’s posessives. When direct, they are formed by “apostrophe s”. But when indirect, “it”, there is no apostrophe, just “s”, and if plural an entirely different word, “their”.

    And as you may notice, because of my career in computer programming which requires strict “nesting”, I always place punctuation outside quotes unless it was actually in the original text being quoted. It just seems right to me! I find I can get away with that without too much complaint.

    • Hanneke

      I quite agree, on both counts!
      I too put the punctuation outside the quotes if it punctuates the surrounding sentence (e.g. the usual comma when a single quoted sentence is broken by the equivalent of ‘he said’), and inside the quotes only if it’s clearly meant as punctuation for the quoted sentence (like question marks and exclamation marks).

      And it took me a very long time to figure out the exception to the rule that ‘s means possession while -s means plural, namely that its means that it owns something, and it’s means ‘it is’ (I knew the last but not the first).
      Only after noticing on this blog how my apostrophes proliferated compared to others’ posts did I figure out this rule. I always thought ‘its’ looked wrong, because it is never plural.

      While we’re talking about this, is my use of the apostrophe by itself to denote possession on a word ending in -s correct (like above, in others’ blogposts)?
      Or is that just a Dutch rule I’ve misapplied to English?

    • CJ

      It’s actually because the pronouns are specifically ‘declined,’ ie, their spelling flexes according to use, and the -s where it exists is physically part of the word, not an attachment.
      Subject (Nominative case) I, we; you, you; he, she, it. Plural: they
      Possessive (Genitive case) my (mine, in terminal position); yours; his, her (hers in terminal position), its. NOT to be confused with the contraction for ‘it is,’ spelled ‘it’s’ as in, ‘it’s raining.’ ; plurals are: our (ours in terminal position), your (yours in terminal position); their (theirs in terminal position.)
      Objective (Accusative case) me; you; him, her, it; pl. them

      You can make a much neater table of this, but not with Word Press.

      • Hanneke

        Explained this way it even makes sense: he – his, it – its. Or at least as much sense as declensions of such often-used words ever do. It is similar to he, so it’s logical that it behaves the way he does, and not the way a name or noun does.

  10. Raesean

    Although I haven’t read up specifically on the history of English punctuation and spelling, punctuation in general is just a written affectation to help the reader distinguish visually what intonation and context generally provide to the listener in real time conversation. English spelling itself is just (petrified) convention for the visual reproduction of pronunciation. Because it has turned to stone over time (and no longer takes dialect much into account), spelling no longer reproduces pronunciation.

    So, “it’s”and “its” are pronounced the same and “his” and “he’s” are darned close. I suppose technically the apostrophe marks the dropping of the “i” of “is” in “it’s” and “he’s” but I prefer to see it as a visual way of distinguishing between different meanings of same/similar sounding words. The possessives “its” and “his” technically are full words in their own rights and so, going with this formal, contraction argument, therefore don’t have any apostrophe. “Whose” (denoting possession) and “who’s” (meaning “who is”) are other examples.

    More intriguing is the sound pronounced in my New England dialect as “uv”, heard in the very different phrases “I’d uv gone if I could” and “give me a piece uv cake.” The first is a contraction for “have” and the second means “of” (and has become a secondary way for English to denote possession or association). I remember in high school or college really puzzling over the etymology of the first “uv” because I knew I said it but couldn’t figure how to write it. At first I tried writing it as “I’d of gone” but didn’t think English used prepositions this way before past participles. I realized after much thought that it is an unemphasized pronunciation of “have” following the contraction but no teacher ever taught me how to write what is said every day in common speech for “I would have” or, to stretch out the slightly different example “she’ll uv”, for “she will have.”

    I wonder if, in 150-300 years, English will have (or “English ull uv”) regrammaticized (itself not a word) this pronunciation into a new grammatical rule which requires the preposition “of” to be inserted before past participles.

  11. paul

    In America (perhaps in the “Great Western” accent) it’s common to hear “ta” for “to”, and “ya” for you, which I’m sure should be spelled “ye”.

  12. BlueCatShip

    Possessives, the genitive case, in English. First, the general rules, then the exceptions, because English has an exception for dang near everything. Heh.

    Nouns —
    * Possessive singular: = noun + -‘s unless the noun ends in S (or Z), in which case, it is noun + -‘ without a trailing s. For example: The boy’s coat. The prince’s ring. but the dowager empress’ cane, Capt. Ramirez’ log book.
    * Possessive plural: = noun plural + -‘ when the plural noun already ends in -s or -es, (or Z). If the plural noun ends in -n, -en, then add + -‘s. For example: The girls’ basketball team, locker room, etc. (Several girls, so just add -‘ to get girls’.) But men’s, women’s, children’s, (archaic) brethren’s, and oxen’s.
    * Possessive plural exceptions: If the plural noun is really exceptional, it still generally follows the above rules. There is a distinction between a single group of people and several groups of people taken as distinct groups, peoples. Singular group of people: people’s is the possessive; Plural, many different peoples as groups: peoples (nominative), therefore peoples’ (possessive).

    Family names: (singular) Mrs. Smith’s pies, because she alone made those pies. (plural) The Joneses’ house, car, etc. (More than one Jones, make the family name plural, then take the possessive.) Whether to use the plural of a family name is something you get a feel for in English. One could also say the Jones’ house, but it’s a choice that mostly matches how other European languages would distinguish this.

    American English tends to treat collective plurals as singular, unless specifically speaking of individuals within the group. So words like family, company, team, corporation, crew, and so on tend to be treated as singular: the family is coming over, the team is winning, the crew is concerned, captain. But the British / International preference is nearly always to treat these as plural. Just to make things extra difficult, American English allows this, makes a distinction between when to use the singular and plural for collective plurals. So the crew are concerned as a group of individual crewmembers, and so are the team and the company and the family…. Clear as mud, even to a native speaker. It’s something you get a feel for. British usage and American usage differ slightly. … And will likely merge again over time.

    Contractions —

    It’s = it is; who’s = who is; — Any time you can substitute it is or who is, the it’s and who’s forms are correct.
    Its and whose are pronouns, not contractions. Pronouns go by different rules in English. See below.

    Pronouns —

    First, a clarification. There are possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns, technically. If you can say, “It is mine, it is hers, it is yours, it is (pronoun)’s” then it is a possessive pronoun, when it takes the place of a noun. Otherwise, you use a possessive adjective: It’s your coat, it’s her coat, it’s his book, it’s their country, and so on.

    However, the difference is slight, and typically adds an -s, because these are inherited grammatical forms from earlier in the language.

    In general, pronouns do not have apostrophes. This is in part because the word forms change, and in part because the rules for contractiions take order of precedence. (Like operator precedence in programming or mathematics.)

    Exceptions: One’s, as the indefinite third person pronoun. One’s, someone’s, anyone’s. This usage comes from Saxon English and Norman French “on” (one).

    But in general, the possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes.

    Singular: my/mine, (thy/thine), his, her/hers, its, one’s; Plural: our/ours, your/yours, their/theirs; Interrogative: whose;

    It is mine, (thine), his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs. — These are used when you are omitting the noun that is possessed by someone or something else.

    When the noun is not omitted, you use the possessive adjective form, though these look like pronouns. (It’s a tricky grammatical jargon nuance of meaning.)
    That is my ring. Behold thy mother. Here is his horse. Her new job doesn’t pay enough. That’s its name. Where’s our ride? Is this your ride? Where are their manners?

    The interrogative: who, whom, whose; “whom” is almost moribund or archaic, but is still the more correct spoken and written form for the object (dative/accusative). If you can say, him, her, then whom is the correct interrogative form: Does this belong to her? This belongs to whom? To whom does this belong? Whose is this? — NOT Who’s is this? Because you are not saying Who is is this? Whose pen is this? Not who’s pen is this?

    (The rule about possessives after a word ending in -s or -es (or -z, -x) is often broken in spoken English and often broken in non-standard speech and writing. There is a general tendency to be “hypercorrect” and add -‘s in all cases. But that is not correct standard, formal, business, textbook English, neither in American nor in British / International usage.)

    Why do we put in the apostrophe? Why do the rules for nouns and pronouns differ, and what do contractions have to do with it?

    The apostrophe is just a punctuation mark. It was not orignally there. It was added when people invented punctuation very late in the game.

    Beginning in the 18th century and then into the 19th century, when English spelling and punctuation and grammar were standardized, the apostrophe was added.

    For nouns, it’s taken as adding a particle, a suffix, to the noun. Then contractions take operator precedence, order of operations. Then the pronouns are, in general, separate word forms entirely.

    Oh, and while we’re at it — Old and non-standard dialectal forms. These are holdovers from earlier stages in the language and from otehr dialects, and because non-standard speech differs a little from the educated standard forms.

    You will sometimes see these forms. They are dialectal, non-standard. — yourn, hisn, hern, ourn, theirn; You’ll see them spelled with -n or -‘n. These are also by analogy with mine and thine.

    My versus mine, thy versus thine. — In Middle English and in Early Modern English (Shakespeare, King James, Queen Elizabeth I), the rule was to use my or thy before a consonant and mine and thine before a vowel or silent h: To thine own self be true. But later Modern English (present day) treats my and thy as the possessive adjective and mine and thine as the possessive pronoun forms. Note this is similar to when we use a versus an. Use a before a consonant, an before a vowel or silent h. The exceptions with non-silent H are due to pronunciation changes by dialect or historical preservations.

    Finally, because it’s so often confused, even by native speakers —

    Y’all. You all = y’all. But ya’ll is an unstressed you + shall or will, like you’ll. — Trust me on the standard spelling and historical precedent. The correct form is y’all for the pronoun. It’s an elision, a blend.

    The form “y’all” is the plural you form in Southern American dialect, and has been spreading elsewhere as southern speakers (black or white or otherwise) moved elsewhere and stayed.

    Subject: Will y’all come to the party tonight? Object (dative/accusative) The book was sent to y’all. Possessive: Here is y’all’s card.

    The y’all form is dialect, not standard English, but it is so pervasive that most speakers who use it, will use it except in formal writing or speaking, and it often appears in spoken usage, even in formal settings. However, because at its roots, it’s a contraction (elision) of you all, and because in the possessive that becomes harder to analyze, and there’s history there with what’s standard and not — More typically, you’ll see a divide in usage levels. More educated speakers will say your, yours for the plural possessive you, with all appended after. Less educated speakers tend to say y’all’s. But that distinction can blur too. Even educated speakers may catch themselves saying, “Oh, bring y’all’s kids along, they’re welcome too!” Or you’ll hear “your all’s” or “all your/s”…and well, it gets into how you divide “you all” and the nouns beling used as possessives. Er, and then you get “all y’all” (all of plural-you) as opposed to just some of y’all. We all and they all never quite merged into similar forms. The y’all form arose to fill the conceptual, logical hole of having you (singular) and you (plural) instead of the old thou versus ye.

    Thou and ye — These were perfectly good, originally, singular and plural, respectively. But then thou became the familiar form (like tu, du) and ye became the formal form (like vous, Sie), while ye remained also the plural form. Gradually, ye/you/your/yours grew to be used more and more for a singular formal catch-all form, until thou/htee/thy/thine was limited to only the Deity or to one’s very closest family and friends. But then even those dropped, so that you became the form for singular and plural.

    That left a big hole in the conceptual scheme that English dialects have been trying to fill ever since. Youse, Y’all, You Guys. — You guys seems to be the most universal, across American and British usage. No one gets absolutely bent out of shape over it except for formal business and textbook usage. It’s fine for ordinary speech. But “Youse” is common in New England, parts of Canada, and parts of England. And “Y’all” is very common in the Southern USA and the Southwest, and has been gaining ground over the last few generations in other parts of the country…and beginning to pop up outside of the US because of mass media influence. — Check back in a hundred or so years and one of those will likely win out as the standard form for the plural you.

    We’re overdue for an official sea change to a new language stage, but now we have an entrenched (double) standard, with American and British usage, and the differences between the two are beginning to merge back together and form problems meanwhile in the interface. So although we’re overdue, we have a very large “user base” using the existing “old version” of the language software. — On the other hand, there is text messaging and texting shorthand, abbreviations for speed on those tiny, weird keyboards, plus a population of native language speakers who have a very, very iffy grasp of English spelling and grammar. So you have competing forces working to chnage the language.

    That, and admittedly, English as it currently stands is rife with weird exceptions and worse spelling problems (and two competing widespread dialects) that are merging and being changed over time by native speakers.

    People will speak ad write how they want to, regardless of the textbook rules. This includes educated speakers, who still have to use everyday speech and writing and who are just as annoyed by some of the exceptions or oudated rules. So people use what works instead, and that gradually will displace the older standards. “Thru” for instance, might become standard. “Whom” is often ignored or misused, even by most educated speakers, and almost completely absent for many people. The “-ly” ending and the adjective/adverb distinction seem to be dying out, even for strong exceptions like good and well, bad and ill or poor. I have seen a lot of cases where subject/verb agreement is missed, even or especially with forms of be or have. My guess is, in another hundred or two hundred years, the language will have changed to another stage entirely, after all.

    This might be too long for WordPress’ filters. We’ll see….

  13. paul

    “because English has an exception for dang near everything. Heh.”

    So perhaps my complaint is why I began my career in computing as a programmer, where language definitions are rigorous–and the computer is always right! 😉 I don’t care what you meant, what you bloody well said makes no sense.

  14. BlueCatShip

    About punctuation inside or outside of quote marks:

    As usual, American English and British English differ in how they handle this.

    Generally, if the original quotation had the ending punctuation in it, you leave it there. If it’s a question or exclamation, you definitely leave it there.

    The exceptions come up in dialogue, in which case, you may substitute an ending period (full stop) in a quote with a comma. For example: “I’ve seen that face before somewhere,” said the android. — “Are you sure?” asked the detective. — “I’m positronic,” said the android. — (pa-dum-pum.)

    When including punctuation that goes with the surrounding narrative / descriptive sentence, you put the closing punctuation outside the quotes. (Period, question mark, exclamation mark, sometimes a colon.) But non-closing punctuation, typically commas and semi-colons, go just inside the ending quote mark: “Thus;” or “Like this,” is how it’s written. (That is American English usage, and the rationale deals with typography and kerning and what looks nice, of all things, rather than any really necessary underlying syntax or semantics.

    British usage tends to put ALL punctuation outside the quote marks unless it’s part of the actual quote. This is technically and logically more sensible, even if it doesn’t kern well by typographic standards. Yes, this approach is also truer to how programming does it. — I personally like the programming and British rationale, but I have to live with American punctuation and typography standards.

    We still have separate US vs. UK standards on spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage. These, more and more, are clashing as people from both sides communicate in business and personal situations, and online. It’s starting to blur the lines in ordinary practice, as most people have little patience for that, and most are fuzzy on the rules in their native area, and unaware of the other (US or UK) area’s rules. What’s likely is that English usage will eventually, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of hair and garments, and some instances of fisticuffs, arrive at a single standard. Most likely, this will result in some respellings too, as both sides do know that current spelling is woefully erratic and outdated. (Typically, it’s a hash of Norman French spelling, Elizabethan spelling, and then earnest decrees from (ahem) dictionary compilers and grammarians of the 18th and 19th Centuries, on the American and British sides, who added Neo-Latinate respellings into the mess.

    Why do we have an American and British divide on spelling and such? Because the standards evolved simultaneously with, and after, the American Revolution, and because the Americans consciously made a decision to establish their own national identity as separate from, and more modern (they thought) than their British cousins. Several American revolutionaries and leaders in philosophical and grammatical thinking championed this, for various reasons that made sense to them at the time. (Noah and Daniel Webster, yes, of the dictionary, were chief among them.) But because people on both sides were trying to establish a standard for English spelling and grammar, we ended up with two separate and competing systems, even 200+ years later. And now it’s become a real problem for people on both sides.

    Note that even as late as the late 18th and early 19th century, there were no standards for spelling anywhere. The smaller percentage of people who were literate spelled things how they sounded to them, and often used different spellings, even in the same written piece.

    The Norman French did this with Saxon English, and introduced many of the oddities of English spelling. This was later muddled by the Great Vowel Shift and a few consonant changes. But the curious thing is that Saxon English already had a better sound-to-writing correspondence, which the Norman French disdained to use, because, well, it was from the Saxon English they’d conquered, and of course Norman French was, to the winners, much more civilized. — But the Norman French are why we have wh-, th-, gh-, instead of hw, (thorn) and (etc), h and yogh. Though the double-u / double-v ligature W does make more sense than the English wynn, which looked way too much like a pointy P. The Norman French are also why we have ou versus u, and o and u doing odd things in odd places. They thought o and u looked better, prettier, in certain combinations in calligraphy, you see. The Normans had trouble figuring out what to do with several strange English sounds. So they did the best they could come up with. What we ended up with was a mess that mixed Saxon English and Norman French sensibilities, which differed, all while Middle English was forming.

    Then the Renaissance brought in learend Latin and Greek spellings, foreign words from foreign trade with entirely new places and some very old ones. And then after that, we got the Enlightenment, with far more Greek and Latin (and French) and far more new loanwords. Plus, they were inventing new things no one had thought of before. And English had begun to be important in world trade and learning and diplomacy, and was beginning to take the place of other European languages it had been competing with.

    The huge amount of change over a period of about a thousand years gave us our current messy system.

    R U sur U srsly gt all tht ? Who needz it! We can all txt stuff ths way & evry1 will get it, rite?

    LOL, sure they will. — But then again, I’ve tried typing on those impossibly tiny, complicated keyboards. That, and the smartphone and browser insist on auto-incorrecting perfectly proper English (and French, and….)

    So…we get our current mess, for our era and later to resolve. 😀

  15. P J Evans

    Seen at Making Light, and copying here because it’s relevant:

    #268 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2016, 08:42 AM:

    Some boasting for an open thread:

    A long time ago – after the internet but before the world wide web – I wrote myself a program which showed a Roman numeral digital clock. It looked pretty cute and I showed it to a friend, but instead of telling me how clever I was, he said “but that’s not how Roman time worked”, and proceeded to explain that the Romans counted 12 hours in a day, from sunrise to sunset, so every day was a different length…

    Many decades later, I’ve finally ticked something off my todo list: I’ve written a Roman digital clock which *does* keep time Roman style if you want it to. It also gives the date Roman style (so 9th October is “Ante diem Id. Vii October”, or “VII days before the ides of October”), and the help text is bilingual – English or Latin. As it says at the start of the help:

    “Sequens programmatiunculum ad Horologium Romanum pertinens conscripsi ut peregrinatoribus qui ab Imperio Romano ad haec tempora iter faciunt auxilio sit. Immo vero etiam aliis lectoribus forsitan utile esse possit.”

    or

    “Horologium Romanum – the Roman Clock app – was written as an aid to time travellers from the Roman Empire who have chosen to visit the 21st century. Even if you do not fall into that group you may still find it useful.”

    I hope that others in the Fluorosphere might find this as pleasantly pointless as I did. There’s some more details at:

    http://www.teapot7.com/roman-clock-app/

  16. BlueCatShip

    I have a couple of questions related to noun case declensions. I’m trying to understand the “instrumental” case, which I see gets used in atevi Ragi as well as human Latin and Greek and other I-E languages.

    “Instrumental” case is, according to the definition I saw, used when English would say “with” a noun. For example, “She hit the nail with a hammer,” and “He wrote the letter with a pen,” the noun-phrase “with a/an/the (noun)” is in instrumental case. (And I suppose within, without, and maybe inside and outside?) get this case too.

    But what about, “She danced with her partner” and “His friend danced with Marty” ? Although these look like a direct object in the instrumental, I could also see these as having a certain reflexive or mutual reciprocity. (She danced with him He danced with her; His friend danced with Marty Marty danced with his friend; ) So that this might need another one or two case markers (reflexive? or both nominatives?) — Or would it again be instrumental?

    This cropped up for me when I was thinking of things like mutual or reflexive constructions, or things like when two nouns are on the same level, or in which there is no specific directionality. In that latter case, I was thinking of how there could be directionality to case markers, to subjects and objects of a verb. For example, the subject has one direction, the direct object has another direction, relative to who/what receives the action of the verb or who causes the action. The indirect object has a third directionality. But the indirect object can have different sorts of directionality. That is, “to the tribble” implies going toward it; “from the tribble” implies going away from it or emanating out from it. “From the tribble” in the sense of, “the tribble’s quadro-triticale,” where the food belongs to the tribble, could imply either that same “going out or away from or emanating from” the tribble, or else it could imply another sort of directionality than that. Then “with the tribble” in the sense of “Scotty solved the problem with (about) the tribbles” has one direction; while “Uhura sat with the tribble on her console” or “She sat with the tribble” (together with it) has a second sort of direction to it; and “within / inside the ship” could be analyzed as the same as the “toward” direction, while “without (in the old sense of outside) the ship” would have the same direction as “away from the ship,” while “with (con, avec, mit) the cat” versus “without (sans, sin, night mit) the cat” would seem to be two other directions. — Hmm, and that’s way more directions than I’d initially been thinking of. I was initially only thinking of “No directionality; directionality toward the noun; directionality away from the noun; directionality with or beside, on the same level as the noun; and directionality of possessiveness (genitive, -‘s/-s’ ) as the only needed directions.

    OK, the whole digression on directionality might not need commentary, providing I was even understandable in my conception there.

    But as for the “with” examples and reciprocity or reflexivity (so two classes of relationships) — have I understood this properly? I feel like I’m confusing, conflating, different senses of the English word, “with,” where other languages that use an instrumental case would likely have distinctly separate meanings and therefore declensions.

    Then there’s the bit where verbs in other languages can include a preposition implicitly as part of the meaning. At the moment, I’m drawing a blank for an example or two, but English has a couple of common instances of this, where French and Spanish verbs that are cognate don’t use a preposition, because it’s included by default within the sense of the verb. There are opposite cases where other languages do use a preposition (and declensions) where English doesn’t have a preposition for some reason, because it’s included within the verb sense by default. (Nuts, about the only example that’s coming to mind immediately is, “to try, to attempt, to cover” for French “essaier (de/en)” or Spanish “tratar (de/en)”. I know there are a few common cases, involving things like looking or listening (to) something, but I’m not coming up with the one or two I most want to cite here.

    So I’m asking about these, mostly about the instrumental and the reflexive / mutual / reciprocal usages, to gauge how well I understand what the instrumental case is and how it’s used.

  17. BlueCatShip

    Another language question, moe concrete, @CJ and @Hanneke —

    Because I’ve gotten curious again about Dutch, I was looking for a good Engiish book on learning Dutch, with a usual grammatical language learning approach, and with good help on proper pronunciation, since I’m sure I don’t yet know enough about the accents and dialects.

    What I’ve found in Amazon Kindle editions are either not enough or only offer the grammar. One book tries to teach Dutch, but is vague or no help at all on pronunciation, where, as an English speaker who had a little exposure to German, and who studied some about older stages of English in a lit. survey course, I am unsure how Dutch does and does not do the same things, in cases involving things like the ge- prefix or hard and soft c and g and h/ch and gh and sh/sch. That is, English tended to go one way, German went another way, and Dutch presumably goes a third way with those sounds in historical developments from their common ancestor.

    At least two books are only tiny teasers for something else, or gimmicks, and not really covering learning in a beginner or intermediate course.

    The various audio CD learning courses all either want to teach fixed phrases without much real grammar and learning vocabulary to truly learn and generalize; or else they cost into the hundreds of dollars, with no idea of how much they really cover, and with not much written text that I see available to back up audio and vocal learning. (I mean, hey, you’d want to know how words are spelled, especially if you’re not sure you heard something correctly.)

    In print media, it’s somewhat better, but not a lot. I didn’t find much toward learning Dutch, unlike how you’d find all kinds of books and CD’s for learning, say, Spanish, French, or German.

    Of course, I can search on YouTube to find spoken Dutch, but I’d like to have other resources, and a good textbook that includes covering the language comprehensively, and covers such pronunciation issues, would help.

    What I mean about how the consonants are sounded in Dutch: English, Frisian, Dutch, and German are all “West Germanic” cousin-languages that sprang from a common source sometime between about 500 and 0 B.C., and Old English dates back to (starts) around 500 A.D. or so, and ends with the Norman Conquest in 1066, when Middle English starts.

    So the cousin-languages split and developed separately, with some overlap from continued intermittent contact and migrations. They still share some things that developed in parallel after the split, but other things developed differently, unique to each daughter language.

    For example: English C was a K or a CH sound (king, child, cow) being modern descendants. English G either stayed G or changed to -Y- or -W-. C and G could also change to a J sound, such as in edge. And the prefix ge- went to y- and then got dropped or stayed as or merged with on- to become a-. (Yard, yellow, eye, egg, follow, and so on). To complicate things, there was a “yogh” or voiced blurry G fricative that was related to G, and developed the same way. English H/CH/GH stayed with us longer, lasting into H- before vowels or -GH after vowels, before changing after vowels, and getting lost or going to F. It had the same values as German CH, before the change. And English SC/SCH became SH unless it was borrowed from the Vikings and Danes, or from Latin and Greek.

    So all those cases mean that English did one thing and German did another. German nearly always kept a hard K, G, or strong HH (x) or palatal HH (ç) sound. The book I have does not cover nearly enough of what happens in these cases in Dutch. So I can’t tell if there’s supposed to be a hard G, a G turned to soft Y- (yard, yellow), or if Dutch kept that blurry GH velar fricative from the older stage. I’ve listened some on YouTube, and I hear a whole lot of voiceless H/CH (KH) but no voiced GH or its palatal, the voiced version of H/CH where a G would do what H/CH do in German in words like ice, night, Milch, Mädchen, and so on.

    And I have no idea what the Dutch letter Y does, either Ü or I, nor if J(Y) influences consonants before it (palatalizing them to things like TCH, DJ) for instance. And the book does not give me enough to know for sure what the vowel sounds do and how they’re spelled. The book gives English approximations, but no IPA sounds or German or French equivalents, which would tell me exactly what’s going on with Dutch vowels. It’s very vague about all of them. (I got the feeling IJ and EI are more like [æ:i:] than [a:i:] or [e:i:] for example, and I can only guess about [au] or [aü][ay] or where there might be Ö and Ü long or short … or if Dutch went to some different pattern instead. My best guess from the descriptions is probably wrong, because the book’s descriptions are too approximate and vague.

    I made it through a few chapters before deciding the book wasn’t giving me enough solid info to pick up pronunciation or grammar with enough certainty. On grammar, it looks like it’s taking a spiral approach, instead of, for instance, covering all the pronoun forms at once. (It has mentioned, but only partly covered, familiar versus formal you in singular and plural.) Several chapters in, and it still has not given the full present tense conjugation for “to be,” only “to have,” and nothing complete yet on the direct and indirect object pronouns. — Once I realized how much was incomplete, still held off until later, I put the book down in frustration.

    The impression I did get is that, while the pronunciations I have heard in a few YouTube videos are both very near and very far away from English, I’d have a better idea of the if I knew the printed text to follow along. — And that Dutch in what I have seen in the examples in the book is both as different from English as it is from German, while at the same time, it’s a lot closer to English and French than to German, with some things that do look like German. But that makes sense, given it’s geographically in the middle of English, German, and French, so it would be a middle ground (literally) between them, in speech. I don’t hear a voiced GH fricative much in the YouTube samples I’ve listened to, even though I know what that sound is like and how to produce it. And R appears to do multiple things.

    So I’m very puzzled but even more intrigued now, and want to get more into it.

    Book and audio recommendations for English speakers would really help a lot, please. I’m doing this out of a general interest and wanting to stretch my language muscles. If I can prove to myself that I can start picking up a cousin-language on my own, self-taught, then I’ll feel more confident towards trying others again. — I think I can do this, but really picking up much at any real pace, like Russian or (wow) Japanese, would be a much bigger endeavor.

    — Note: I didn’t ever study Old English in college, but I’ve read a little about it since.

    — Also Note: In high school, I was out sick when the ASVAB (sp?) test was given both times. This apparently including further testing of language ability and other skills. I do know how I tested on the SAT and ACT tests for language skills, or other standardized tests. I’m not sure if I’m officially a latent polyglot, but my personal leanings always include amateur interest in language issues. I get the feeling I can fill out my fluency of Spanish and French again and improve from there, or pick up more from the little bit of German I had in my first languages course back in junior high (12 weeks each of Spanish, French, and German). I’d tried a little bit of Japanese a few years ago now, and thought I’d try Russian, but I fell by the wayside. — It looks like I could have good luck with Dutch as a gateway into more language learning.

    So…well, if I do have a latent polyglot ability, I’m interested to find out. My curiosity and my prior training make me think anyone can pick up a couple of languages with enough study, and my training makes me think that after that, it’s all building on that basic skill, so one could learn multiple languages if applying oneself. But then, my brief bit with Japanese showed me that there’s a whole lot of memorization before you get familiar enough with the patterns underlying a completely unrelated language. And that’s the real test. Learning even Russian is a distant cousin to English. Heck, Sanskrit and Hindi are distant cousins to English. But Japanese is entirely different from English. So if I could get used to it, really learn it, that would really show me if my ability is that proficient.

    Also Note: Chondrite had sent me a wonderful book and CD on Hawai’ian, but it is (I fervently hope) among the items packed diligently that were supposed to be moved into my storage space. Therefore, it’s waiting (I sure hope) to discover there. If and when I rediscover it, it will go on my shelf to read through fully and begin study. — And I’d had the idea to study Cherokee too, but my internet connection back then, and the online class, kept dropping, plus my grandmother was ill at the time, so…so that is something I want to try again, in the future.

    So…yeah, overly ambitious there, but I got enthused again about Dutch, and want to see how far I can get, just to see if I can learn enough to follow it, written and spoken. If so, then I’ll know I can give more exotic languages a try, to see if I’m up to that big a challenge.

    Heh, if my juniror high and high school language teachers only knew I was picking it all back up and trying to get fluent again, plus pick up something completely new to me, they’d be thrilled.

    I thought, in college, I knew what I was doing by staying with English and wanting to switch to computer science. My French prof really urged me to switch to languages. I possibly should’ve listened to Dr. Hunting. — But whichever way I went, I wish most of all that somehow, I’d reconciled my inner struggles and come out, back then, even if I hadn’t come out to my parents at the time. I believe that if I could have, somehow, done that, it would’ve cleared up enough that I could’ve gotten back on track and stayed in college the first time around, and completed a bachelor’s then. The trouble with that idea is, I don’t know what would have gotten me to do that, I was so caught up in an infinite loop about it all in my head, and avoided really settling it.

    The funny thing about it is, even with how things actually went, I still stayed mostly on course and used my English and language and computer training throughout my work life and personal life, just not in the way or to the degree I’d thought I would. And I think my family situation would’ve eventually put me in almost the same situation I ended up in with my grandmother, even if my parents were still alive. (They’d be in their upper 80’s now and I’d be taking care of them if so, unless we’d entirely separated over some issue, such as being gay.)

    So life is very strange, in those roads not travelled, and in what paths we do travel to get where we end up. — And here I am, curious and wanting to try something new, while I have font-production and writing as still goals in progress, still to be realized, and with my eyesight still up in the air, to be settled, I hope. — Life is so strange, and yet we somehow get through it if we keep at it. (I’m danged stubborn in sticking around, even though I get depressed. I’ve still got stuff I want to do, goals not yet reached.)

    So…well, I went very far afield there, didn’t intend to, but that’s where I am right now.

    When I last looked at calculus, I discovered just how much I’d lost of it since college, but I was also very surprised how much was still there, albeit fuzzy in places. — My programming skills, though, are likely irrelevant nowadays. (I learned HTML and CSS long after college, and those are current.) But Pascal and C? Hahaha, ouch, I’m sure those are outdated, and Fortran, oh, wow, ancient history. — I need to learn PHP, though.

    Time to feed my two cats before they both come unglued. The one is convinced if I don’t feed him this instant, he’ll disintegrate or some such. LOL, no, he’ll be fine, but I’d better feed them before they get more radical about it. Little cat protest signs? Kitty sit-ins? LOL.

    • P J Evans

      My somewhat-blurry understanding of instrumental is that it’s ‘with’ as in by-means-of or using, not ‘with’ as in accompanying or associated.

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