An Interview with Sarah Thomason.

Sally Thomason (who occasionally posts at Language Log) is a wonderful linguist I’ve written about here more than once; last March Ryan Bradley interviewed her for the Paris Review, and it’s very much worth reading. An excerpt:

Are there languages that are better at adapting? When languages meet, does one “win”?

Sure. But that comparison has nothing to do with the structure or the vocabulary of the language, it has to do strictly with social factors. It’s not as if people come into contact and one crowd says, Boy, your language is a lot more efficient than ours! It depends on who’s got the power. The world I live in, the world you live in, Western Europe, the United States, highly industrialized countries, the paradigm we’re used to is colonialism—and then the indigenous languages are threatened. A lot of them have disappeared and the ones that haven’t are at great risk, so that seems like the norm.

But imagine a society—and again, these are mostly hunter-gatherer societies, but there are still a lot of those around—where the people practice exogamy, meaning you have to find a marriage partner outside your own group. Often the criterion is whether they speak the same language as you. If you have a society like that, you’re in contact with at least one other group and typically several relatively small groups—and it’s greatly to your advantage to maintain different languages, right? You don’t want to change your whole culture, you value your culture, exogamy seems like the way the world ought to be, and you certainly want to get married and you have this view that you shouldn’t marry your sister—then you preserve the languages.

How did you get started on Montana Salish?

I was working on language contact, and the Pacific Northwest—Washington, Oregon, neighboring parts of British Columbia, particularly—is one of the best-known linguistic areas in the world. There are languages in that area, some of them totally unrelated as far as we know, that share all sorts of structural features. Not vocabulary, so much, but structural features that they didn’t inherit from their ancestors, that have traveled from one language to another. There’s also a phenomenon where you’ve got three or more languages in the same area trading features through multilingualism.

My family was already spending summers one mountain range to the east of the easternmost Salish language—most of the Salish languages are on the coast. I thought I could find out about this linguistic area if I started studying this language, and the tribes wanted somebody to come and help them get used to the writing system, a new linguistic device for them, so I was going to be useful. I thought I’d find out about this language and then I would find out about the whole family, and then I would be able to study the histories—how these features got from one family, where they started, how they got from one family to the next. So in 1981, I started trying to learn about this language, and it took about ten years before I realized I need maybe another 150 years for that project, and then I’d only need another century or so to understand the linguistic area.

But in the meantime, I really got hooked on the language. It’s a wonderful language. I like consonants, and they have thirty-eight consonants. I like big, long, complicated words, and they have huge, long, complicated words.

Here’s a couple of piquant examples of Montana Salish’s reluctance to borrow:

The word they use for automobile means “that it has wrinkled feet,” which is, incidentally, an example of how the words you have reflect your culture. If you’re a tracker, you’re going to be noticing the tire tracks—the focus of that particular word. And the word for telephone means “you whisper into it.”

Great stuff, and here’s hoping for more interviews with linguists.

Comments

  1. It IS a great article.

    However, if I may reprise a comment from another forum:

    The throwaway remark about Māori only beating “the Brits” by three centuries and hence maybe not really being indigenous would be political dynamite in New Zealand. Firstly, it’s wrong by a couple of centuries at least (current thinking is around 1250CE for first settlement around the Wairau bar, the first non-Māori birth here was in 1815), and secondly, the idea that Māori are not indigenous feeds into a pretty ugly existing local narrative that seeks to de-legitimise Māori claims to sovereignty. A shame to see this in an otherwise interesting article.

    (To atone for what might otherwise be a derail, here are the relevant examples in te reo Māori. Television: pouaka whakaata, a mirror or display box. Car, disappointingly, is motukā, but lots of compound nouns for vehicle use “waka”, which is originally a canoe.)

  2. I’m curious what she meant about the wholesale gender switch of nouns in Uisai. How does one determine that? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around what comparison is being made with other languages in that family.

  3. Bill Boyd says:

    Thank you for posting. A few days ago, I’d seen reference to the interview here: http://www.metafilter.com/164295/A-Stubborn-Language. Believing it languagehat-worthy, I failed to take that next step not knowing how to suggest you consider the interview for L-H discussion.

  4. Believing it languagehat-worthy, I failed to take that next step not knowing how to suggest you consider the interview for L-H discussion.

    Just drop me a line at languagehat @ gmail.com! Many of my posts come from suggestions from readers who have discovered something languagehat-worthy.

  5. A shame to see this in an otherwise interesting article.

    I think that’s pretty overblown. On the first point (“wrong by a couple of centuries at least”), she made a minor error about a minor point; so what? It’s slightly worse than a typo, but hardly cause for shame. On the second point, with respect, a fact is a fact, whether or not it “feeds into a pretty ugly existing local narrative.” It’s the ugly local politics that need to be changed; surely you’re not suggesting scientists avoid talking about things that make people unhappy?

  6. Does anyone know why it took it so long for Polynesians to settle New Zealand? It just seems surprising to me that the date should be so late, even compared to Hawaii. Could it be because New Zealand is outside the tropics?

  7. marie-lucie says:

    quoting Ryan Bradley March 30, 2016

    The French government tried very hard to resist American loanwords like e-mail, promoting in its place messagerie électronique or courriel. They’d formed a whole agency for this purpose. Laws were passed and enforced. And yet e-mail prevailed—it was simply more efficient.

    In France, people are eager to display their knowledge of (especially American) English, while in Canada, French speakers are eager to display their knowledge of “standard” (often confused with “formal” or “academic”) French. The French government does not create an agency just for individual words or usages! the suggested words are mostly for official communications. And Québec has its own government agency.

    Actually, in France “e-mail” has been largely replaced by “mail”, often written “mel”, reflecting the current pronunciation of the word (as well as avoiding the ambiguity with the old word “le mail” /maj/ ‘mall’, plaza with trees), while “courriel” is the most common word in Canada for “email message”. “La messagerie électronique” belongs to a formal, administrative context, it refers to the modern type of communication, never to a single message.

  8. Very interesting, thanks!

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Could it be because New Zealand is outside the tropics?

    First, to find NZ, you need to sail in a seemingly useless direction for a long time. If it’s cold there on top of that, that could add further discouragement. Second, NZ is too cold for Polynesian-style agriculture; the Māori did eventually abandon it and become hunter/gatherer/fishers, but such wholesale changes in lifestyle aren’t something people are very good at. Perhaps NZ was discovered several times before it was first settled.

    (Similarly, northwestern Australia ought to have been known to all sorts of Arabs and Chinese; they must have bumped into it at some point. They just didn’t find the desert interesting enough to write home about it. Even farther east, around Darwin, agriculture simply doesn’t work without at least 20th-century methods, and it’s really hard even then.)

  10. David Marjanović says:

    stop me if I’m babbling too much.

    Never stop.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had never previously heard that story about Uisai before, and it’s pretty amazing.

    As to N.Z., Dr. Thomasson does say unequivocally “they were there first” while I guess suggesting that perhaps some people might disagree about whether the label “indigenous” (which she had just herself used before self-consciousness caught up with her) fits. If you’re working with a definition of indigeneity in which nothing other than temporal priority matters, she’s being overscrupulous but she has also conceded the issue, so so what. If others out there may be working with a more complicated or contestable definition, hesitation about committing oneself might still be unnecessary but it’s not necessarily a bad reaction in a scholar.

    I myself don’t dispute that indigeneity may be a useful concept even if (like many useful concepts) a bit fuzzily-defined, but one thing I dislike about the rhetoric of indigeneity is the way in which it often seems in practice to conceptualize the non-Western parts of the world as having been timeless and unchanging and frozen in some sort of pristine-but-static authenticity up until the moment when the first ship full of white guys with firearms came over the horizon. I think the history is more interesting than that.

  12. “I think that’s pretty overblown.”

    Not if you live here, which is how I qualified it from the outset. OMG just thinking about the headling “LINGUIST SAYS MAORI NOT INDIGENOUS” makes me shudder. I don’t think it’s a scientific position she took; it was a throwaway, inaccurate remark, which would have huge implications in another context. Which is all I wanted to point out.

    I guess it makes me wonder what else is kind of inaccurate, kind of significant in other contexts, that I don’t recognise.

    David, gardening of sweet potato (kumara) is practical over many parts of the country and was part of traditional life up until European contact. Some were still growing taro and yam when Europeans arrived. Likewise, overfishing and hunting didn’t start to be a problem until a couple of centuries after arrival. So… I don’t see that NZ would have been abandoned swiftly for lack of resources. There’s no particular sign of that having happened before that 1250 CE dating either. Tradition is that the first arrivals went back to their home islands to pick up more people.

  13. I think the history is more interesting than that.

    Me too.

  14. Not if you live here, which is how I qualified it from the outset. OMG just thinking about the headling “LINGUIST SAYS MAORI NOT INDIGENOUS” makes me shudder.

    No, I appreciate that, but I bristle at any suggestion that linguists should watch what they say for fear of offending local sensibilities; linguistics in Eastern Europe has been pretty much ruined by that sort of thing, and in general political/cultural interference is never good for science.

  15. Jim (another one) says:

    “A shame to see this in an otherwise interesting article.”

    It’s a shame when political considerations trump scientific accuracy. That happens sadly to be epidemic these days. Sometimes it’s necessary, as in the case this refers to, but it’s still sad.

    And sometimes it’s arbitrary, or even biased. There’s a lot of that here. Why are the Navajo considered indigenous in the Southwest but the Spanish in New Mexico are not? The only likely reason is the Eurocentric tendency to see the arrival of Europeans as the start of history, with everything that happened before as one undifferentiated foggy mass of prehistory.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    Is it possible that Sally Thomasson prior to giving her 2016-published interview linked in this post had read the interesting 2015 piece linked in the prior LH post arguing that “indigenous” as a label for languages is fuzzily-defined and problematic (in terms of the implications for the rights of that language community vis-a-vis others that don’t qualify for the label) in other ways?

  17. So who’s *Sarah* Thomason then?

  18. Yuval, Sally is an English-language diminuitive of Sarah. I have noticed that the link isn’t necessarily as well-known as it was, at least in Ireland. I remember within the last couple of years getting annoyed with a nurse who hadn’t bothered to clarify that she had asked me to see Sarah Doherty, not the Sally Doherty in the bed beside her, the first encountered as one walked into the room.

  19. Holy smokes! Thanks Aidan.
    Will I ever master all these nontrivial diminutives?…

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Some were still growing taro and yam when Europeans arrived.

    Oh.

    Given that I just learned about kumara a few days ago, though, I’m quite surprised I blindly trusted something I read somewhere several years ago…

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Will I ever master all these nontrivial diminutives?…

    Sally is part of a small pattern with Molly ( < Mary) and Hal ( < Harry < Harold, Henry etc.). I only figured this out rather recently myself; my native [ʀ] isn’t similar enough to [l] that even toddlers would confuse them.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    Then there are the two-change combinations like Mary->Polly.

  23. Then there are the two-change combinations like Mary->Polly.

    Great heavens! How does that work?

  24. J.W. Brewer says:

    Polly for Mary and Peg/Peggy for Margaret (where again there’s another shift) are the only common English-language nicknames with an /m/->/p/ shift I can think of off the top of my head, but perhaps there are others?

    In a situation (no longer the case) where a quite limited stock of personal names are given to a very high percentage of kids, there is a market incentive to have multiple common nicknames for e.g. Mary to help disambiguate the Marys of the school or community. Elizabeth is another example where one bearer being Liz and another Betty and another Liza and another Betsy helped with disambiguation.

    Most if not all common Anglophone nicknames that involve an initial consonant change (see also Bob, Bill, and Dick) have alternatives w/o the change (Rob, Will, Rick … or Molly and Meg for the female examples given above) in concurrent use. Sticking consonants into nicknames where the underlying name is vowel-initial (Nell for Eleanor or Ted for Edward) seems like a different phenomenon and one I understand even less.

  25. Nan for Ann is supposed to be a metanalysis of mine Ann, back when my/mine alternated with the following sound in the same way that a/an still do. Nell for El(eanor) is probably the same thing.

    The origin of Ted for Ed{ward,win,mund} is still mysterious to me: in America this is avoided, and the usual short form is Ed. Milne’s “Mr. Edward Bear” as a formal name for Winnie-the-Pooh is a result of a misapprehension: teddy bears were in fact named after Theodore Roosevelt; Ted(dy) being for Theodore by default in the U.S. WP says Ted can also be a hypocoristic for Thaddeus, now a very rare name in America.

    But of course anglophones have nothing on russophones when it comes to diminutives! Most of us who are called by them have only one and use it for all purposes except legal purposes, as in the case of Jimmy Carter.

  26. What’s annoying about Russian diminutives is that they can represent multiple given names. Gesha could be Gennady or Georgy or Gerasim or German or Evgeny, Dima could be Vadim or Vladimir or Dmitry (or a dozen other less common names), Lina has over two dozen possibilities according to the handy index at the back of my Dictionary of Russian Given Names.

  27. @John Cowan:. You say “Milne’s,” but the Milne in question may not be the obvious one. I believe “Mr Edward Bear” was so named by Christopher Robin.

    And “Thaddeus,” when it appears, is usually shortened to “Thad” nowadays anyway.

  28. Well, perhaps so, but it still was his father who put it into print:

    “Are you,” he said, “by any chance
    His Majesty the King of France?”
    The other answered, “I am that,”
    Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;
    Then said, “Excuse me,” with an air
    “But is it Mr. Edward Bear?”
    And Teddy, bending very low,
    Replied politely, “Even so!”

    This poem predates the Pooh books.

    The 1990 census lists Thaddeus as 611th in rank, and Thad as 824th, but the latter are among those people whose legal names are hypocoristics.

  29. “It’s a shame when political considerations trump scientific accuracy.”

    But my comment is accurate, hers is inaccurate. Substantially so, both in terms of timescale (> 100% out) and in not hewing to the standard definition of “indigenous”. Otherwise this would be much less problematic.

  30. Also Tad at #935.

  31. Sally is part of a small pattern with Molly ( < Mary) and Hal ( < Harry < Harold, Henry etc.)

    I didn’t know about Sarah/Sally or Mary/Molly, so looking up the matter was a wild ride for me.

    I had heard of Hal, but as a sidenote I don’t recall ever seeing it used outside the very specific context of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” or a reference to same (in which category I include tabloid commentary on Prince Henry of Wales, but maybe I’m wrong there). Do people still use “Hal”?

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    I don’t know that it’s super common especially among the younger-than-middle-aged, but there are certainly still guys named Hal extant in the United States. I think it’s more typically a nickname for Harold rather than Henry, though. Henry, for its part, still sometimes yields the non-obvious Hank in AmEng.

  33. -OMG just thinking about the headling “LINGUIST SAYS MAORI NOT INDIGENOUS” makes me shudder.

    How about LINGUIST SAYS MAORI ARE NOT INDIGENOUS, BUT IMMIGRANTS FROM CHINA?

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Thaddeus
    A couple of days ago my local newspaper had a feature on babies born recently. One of them was called Thaddeus, apparently after a great-grandfather who had been the first in his family to immigrate to Canada. I suppose his parents will call him Tad. (I have seen the name written but am unsure about how to pronounce it).

    Margaret > Meg, Peg
    The well-known Canadian author Margaret Atwood grew up as Peggy.

    Nell(y)
    I thought that Nell was for Ellen, a much more common name than Eleanor.

  35. “LINGUIST SAYS MAORI ARE NOT INDIGENOUS, BUT IMMIGRANTS FROM CHINA”

    Then I would assume the person in question was not actually a scholar but had been reading that rubbish pseudo-history of the sort described at http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2008/07/hes-at-it-again.html

  36. standard definition of “indigenous”

    My point about the Germans is that applying the standard definition of “indigenous” can produce counterintuitive results: Germans are indigenous to Germany if anyone is indigenous to anywhere, but nobody calls Germans an indigenous people. (The English are not indigenous to England; are Americans indigenous to the Bonin Islands in Japan?)

    non-obvious Hank

    Hank < Henk < Hendrik, I think; part of the Dutch inheritance.

    Thaddeus […] unsure about how to pronounce it

    /ˈθædiʌs/.

    for Ellen

    Yes, of course, my bad. I have Eleanors on the brain lately.

  37. The story of how immigrants from China took over the Pacific in one map

    http://media.wiley.com/mrw_images/els/articles/a0020808/image_n/nfg003.gif

  38. Sharat Buddhavarapu says:

    No, I appreciate that, but I bristle at any suggestion that linguists should watch what they say for fear of offending local sensibilities; linguistics in Eastern Europe has been pretty much ruined by that sort of thing, and in general political/cultural interference is never good for science.

    Having read Thomason’s comment in the context of the article, I am inclined to agree with Stephen Judd that it is an incendiary comment. It is nigh impossible to state a pure fact. You are almost always saying a thing for reasons, and the only discernible reason for Thomason to have an opinion on the indigenousness of the Māori language in that context is to compare it against a real indigenous language that has been in place for thousands of years instead of a mere 300. I don’t believe that she wanted to say that, but that might be an underlying assumption (a wrong one) that her expertise and knowledge base (much vaster than my own) have bequeathed her, and it’s as worthwhile to call out as a factual error.

    On the other hand, I agree with languagehat that notions of national/tribal identity can have a disastrous effect on public discourse, and I have a book recommendation on said topic that might be of interest to LH readers. A friend read it and raved about it, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy myself: The Myth of Nations by Patrick J. Geary. It is 40% from Princeton Press till the end of today. It looks at ways that modern European nations trace their origins back to tribes likes the Franks or Celts, essentially constructing themselves as descended from “one people”. Fairly sure there’s a substantial discussion of nineteenth century philology and its contribution to modern European nationalism.

  39. Thanks, that sounds very interesting!

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Germans are not usually thought of as “indigenous” because the concept (often invoked as a way of trying to justify political/moral claims on a given group’s behalf, which will always create stress on efforts to use it as a neutral/empirical/scientific category) doesn’t involve just here-firstness but here-firstness plus displacement/subjugation/marginalization-by-later-arrivals. If your first-arrived group has not (thus far) been displaced/subjugated/marginalized within its historical territory your efforts to promote its communal rights to its language and traditional culture will generally not get you labelled an indigenous-rights activist. To the contrary, you are likely to labeled a nativist, xenophobe, and/or racist. (I’m not saying this is an *inappropriate* double standard because it’s entirely plausible to view the situations as different in some morally salient dimension; I’m just trying to be descriptive.)

    The remaining ethnic-German population of e.g. Transylvania is perhaps marginalized enough to be closer to indigeneity, although they lack the here-firstness (even though some of their ancestors may have gotten there before the Maori’s ancestors first got to New Zealand) and are doomed to be hapless bystanders in heated debates between Magyar and Romanian nationalists about exactly whose ancestors lived where thirteen centuries ago.

  41. January First-of-May says:

    The remaining ethnic-German population of e.g. Transylvania is perhaps marginalized enough to be closer to indigeneity, although they lack the here-firstness (even though some of their ancestors may have gotten there before the Maori’s ancestors first got to New Zealand) and are doomed to be hapless bystanders in heated debates between Magyar and Romanian nationalists about exactly whose ancestors lived where thirteen centuries ago.

    I just tried to figure out which areas the (ancestors of) Germans had gotten first to, and got totally confused. I guess the overarching problem is that it’s unclear from which period we should count the “first”. (And aren’t the Neanderthal caves in Germany?)
    Perhaps the Maori are, in fact, one of the very few people who are (or, at least, are known to be) legitimately indigenous – in most of the other places, the actual original inhabitants had since died out and/or had been entirely displaced.
    (I’d guess that most of the other known examples are also Polynesian, or at least Austronesian; though we’d probably find a few more if we include the cases where the previous inhabitants have died out before the new ones arrived – including, yes, the Americans of the Bonin Islands.)

    Ed{ward,win,mund}

    “Эд – это просто
    Вместо имён
    Эд-гар, Эд-вард, Эд-монд,
    Эде-ла-и-да…”
    (from the song of Ed the Eaglet, in the Vysotsky musical version of Alice in Wonderland)

    Elizabeth is another example where one bearer being Liz and another Betty and another Liza and another Betsy helped with disambiguation.

    Thus the classic rhyme about Elizabeth, Lizzy, Betsy and Bess. (The Russian version talks about Maryushka, Marusenka, Mashenka and Manechka – the last three being extra-diminutive versions of existing Russian diminutives of [the Russian version of] the name Mary.)

    It also came up in a (somewhat whimsical) historical context – what to call the second half of the 20th century if “Elizabethan” is already taken? Someone (can’t recall who) suggested “Lizzian”, since Elizabeth II is often known as Lizzy (while Elizabeth I was more often known as Bess).

  42. January First-of-May says:

    I was distracted by further research and missed the editing time (by some seconds), so here are some further comments (with a few additions due to rewriting):

    The remaining ethnic-German population of e.g. Transylvania is perhaps marginalized enough to be closer to indigeneity, although they lack the here-firstness (even though some of their ancestors may have gotten there before the Maori’s ancestors first got to New Zealand) and are doomed to be hapless bystanders in heated debates between Magyar and Romanian nationalists about exactly whose ancestors lived where thirteen centuries ago.

    Of course, the Magyars are unlikely to be indigenous to anywhere, on the account of being Uralic. Not that it would stop the nationalists, obviously.
    As for the Romanians, hard to say; we don’t know enough about early medieval history to say who exactly are the descendants of the ancient Dacians (if any), and apparently Transylvania itself was conquered by a relatively rapid succession of assorted nations and tribes (“Carpi, Visigoths, Huns, Gepids, Avars and Slavs”, says Wikipedia – I don’t think any of those are Magyars, so maybe those too).

    from the song of Ed the Eaglet

    Ironically enough, his name is probably originally short for Edith (which is not on the list).
    Apparently “Ed the Eaglet” is an invention of Nina Demurova – he’s just Eaglet in the original (though still strongly implied to correspond to Edith).

    Thus the classic rhyme about Elizabeth, Lizzy, Betsy and Bess

    The punchline of which, of course, is that they are all the same girl (which is obviously also the case in the Russian version).

  43. The “Westerners” (by descent) of the Bonins do look an awful lot like highly assimilated indigenes. See “The Last Yankee in the Pacific” by Daniel Long and Peter Trudgill for what Bonin Island semi-creole English looked like.

    (As always, sci-hub.cc is your friend.)

  44. Jim (another one) says:

    “I just tried to figure out which areas the (ancestors of) Germans had gotten first to, and got totally confused. I guess the overarching problem is that it’s unclear from which period we should count the “first”. (And aren’t the Neanderthal caves in Germany?)”

    This is the crux of the problem with the term “indigenous.” And that’s not a disqualifying flaw; every term eventually runs out into incoherence. We just have to use these tools with some awareness.

    “Perhaps the Maori are, in fact, one of the very few people who are (or, at least, are known to be) legitimately indigenous – in most of the other places, the actual original inhabitants had since died out and/or had been entirely displaced”

    They almost certainly are. The Hawaiians certainly are; there is no doubt about that. I don’t think the arrival of the Maori occasioned the ecological disaster that the arrival of the Hawaiians dd.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    The origin of Ted for Ed{ward,win,mund} is still mysterious to me: in America this is avoided, and the usual short form is Ed.

    One exception was Edwin “Ned” Colbert, who has yet another extra consonant to offer.

    Maybe Ted is some kind of redupliduplication?

    And aren’t the Neanderthal caves in Germany?

    The one cave was there (the whole valley is gone, having been used as a limestone quarry), but nobody alive today is descended from its inhabitants. Europe appears to have been completely depopulated by the Last Glacial Maximum.

    What’s annoying about Russian diminutives is that they can represent multiple given names.

    German nicknames sometimes survive the extinction of their referents. Nobody has been named Josef in the last 50 years, but when there were two Johannes in the same class 20 years ago, one of them got the Classical Viennese nickname for Josef (apparently Hungarian-based, interestingly enough). One teacher even called him Josef on occasion. Similarly, nobody is called Franz anymore, but you can occasionally find a Franzi whose full name is Franziska – a rare to absent name in olden times, now moderately fashionable.

    extra-diminutive versions of existing Russian diminutives

    Polish may hold the record: Magdalena > Magda > Madzia > Madzi > Madziunia.

    Betsy

    *lightbulb moment*
    Is that the only extra-Austrian instance of the phenomenon that should totally be called “sigmatic hypocoristics”?
    Babsi < Barbara
    Gregsi < Gregor
    Dagsi* < Dagmar**
    Hubsi < Hubert
    Norbsi < Norbert

    Take the first syllable up to the nearest plosive, shorten the vowel, let a -s- drop from the heavens and then add the normal, productive nickname suffix -i***. I wonder about resegmentation of Franzi, where the [s] is of course part of the root.

    * Almost homophonous with Taxi.
    ** A very rare name.
    *** Shared not only with English, but also with Hungarian: Zoli < Zoltán.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t think the arrival of the Maori occasioned the ecological disaster that the arrival of the Hawaiians dd.

    ka ngaro i te ngaro a te moa

  47. January First-of-May says:

    Polish may hold the record: Magdalena > Magda > Madzia > Madzi > Madziunia.

    Russian might take that record back, depending on how you count: Aleksandr > Aleksasha? > Sasha > Sashura > Shura > Shurik.
    (Of course, the “Sashura” form is very rare today – I can’t think of anyone who goes by it other than that one LH regular – and “Aleksasha” appears to be even rarer.)

    One of my childhood friends was a girl named Aleksandra who was usually referred to as Shusha (Шуша); no idea where that came from, except perhaps as an imagined female version of Shura
    Her older sister went by a similarly unusual nickname, Veta (short for Yelizaveta, i.e. Elizabeth, obviously).

    Lina has over two dozen possibilities according to the handy index at the back of my Dictionary of Russian Given Names.

    My headcanon is that Linka from Captain Planet, who is canonically of unclear Eastern European origin, is actually named Polina, though it could probably easily be almost any of those other two dozen possibilities – or indeed something else entirely.
    Of course, whatever it actually is, I’m pretty sure her official name is not Linka – that just sounds too nickname-y.

  48. On the Maori: I remember reading (about 30-40 years ago ) that there were two Polynesian settlements of NZ, of which the second (ca. 15th century ) was by the ancestors of the Maori. I can’t find any reference to such a theory on the net, not even as a discarded theory, so I’m not sure whether I’m imagining things – has anyone here at the hattery heard of such a theory? Something like that might be the source of Thomason’s 300 years.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Name frequencies: When I was about 18 years old I was in a class with 40-odd other girls. Four were called Françoise, four Michèle, four Monique and four Nicole, among assorted other names including several Marie-Something. These then-popular names are now quite old-fashioned!

  50. I can’t think of anyone who goes by it other than that one LH regular

    And he doesn’t actually go by it (I asked once) — it was a joke form that he adopted as an online handle.

  51. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    The origin of Ted for Ed{ward,win,mund} is still mysterious to me: in America this is avoided, and the usual short form is Ed.
    It’s probably worth pointing out that the prominent example is/was Sen. Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy. I have met people who assumed he was a Theodore, however.

  52. Ted Cruz, too.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Hans: two Polynesian settlements of NZ, of which the second (ca. 15th century ) was by the ancestors of the Maori.

    I wonder if this hypothesis has something to do with the existence of the Moriori on the Chatham Islands, which although closest to NZ are still quite far from it. The name suggests at least a kinship with the Maori. Apparently there was no contact between the two populations for centuries, although they still knew about each other (or at least the Maori had some knowledge of the Moriori), but once the Maori acquired modern boats and guns an expedition went to those islands and casually massacred the inhabitants as “it was their custom”. The Moriori by that time had evolved into a small, simpler society surviving peacefully in those islands of few resources, and were completely defenseless.

  54. Eli Nelson says:

    four Monique and four Nicole

    @marie-lucie: Is the reduced frequency of these two names today possibly related to the vulgar word that can be formed by truncating them? I don’t know if it’s as salient to native speakers, but I immediately thought of that when you listed them. It looks like people have made jokes about the name “Véronique” (and another similar name is “Dominique”): http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/alors-véronique-ça-nique.3011790/

    Is that the only extra-Austrian instance of the phenomenon that should totally be called “sigmatic hypocoristics”?

    @David Marjanović: Perhaps “Patsy” < "Patricia" is also an example, although Patricia also has a sibilant in the full version. Wikipedia says “In older usage, Patsy was also a nickname for Martha or Matilda, following a common nicknaming pattern of changing an M to a P (such as in Margaret → Meg/Meggy → Peg/Peggy; and Molly → Polly) and adding a feminine suffix.”

  55. Ted Danson, Ted Koppel, and Ted Turner are also Edwards.

  56. Yeah, I think Ted-for-Edward pops up enough in the US that it can’t just be written off as a right-pondianism. Likewise, I’ve noticed a decent number of British Eds – like Ed Sheeran, Ed Milliband or Ed Balls.

    On the other hand, Ned-for-Edward seems largely absent from the US – but it’s been introduced to a lot of Americans lately, in slightly fantastical form, by the character of Eddard “Ned” Stark. (The given name of Ned Flanders, according to Wiki, is Nedward.)

    (Also: are comments with one link now consistently tripping the spam filter?)

  57. On Maori origins: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/ideas-of-maori-origins gives an overview of theories (click to the following pages for the details, particularly page 3 onwards), confirming that the theory of two separate migrations was once widely held but is now discredited.

  58. The theory of two widely separated migrations, that is. The current consensus seems to be that multiple migrations fairly close in time were responsible for the settlement of New Zealand in the 13C. About the Chatham Islanders there is no doubt: they were settled once in the 15C or so, and the settlers were Māori. The cold climate made agriculture impossible, and the Moriori returned to hunting and gathering until their conquest, enslavement, and genocide by the Māori (using European tools) in the 1830s.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, anhweol and JC.

  60. Trond Engen says:

    David: *** Shared not only with English, but also with Hungarian: Zoli < Zoltán.

    Don’t know about Hungarian, but pretty sure the -i suffix is common Germanic. It”s active or even qausi-mandatory in Icelandic (except I’m always wrong about Icelandic), and it’s also behind those ON names ending in -i: e.g. Árni and Gísli, and maybe Þórir, although that acquired a regular case ending.

    In Mainland Scandinavian it was regularly reduced to -e (Arne, Gisle, Tore). This -e can still be used to form hypochoristics, most actively in Swedish: Olof > Olle; Pär > Pelle, Karl > Kalle, Nils > Nisse, Hans > Hasse, Frederik > Fredde, Henrik > Henke; Niklas > Nicke, Joachim > Jocke, etc., etc. And I’ll bet it’s gaining ground with recent immigrant names. Abdullah > Abbe (or Dulle)? Zlatte Ibrahimović?

  61. NZ and Hawai‘i, by latest estimates, were both settled ca. 1200-1300 AD, a couple centuries after the Societies.
    Probably most Polynesian islands maintained contact with other island groups after settlement, to a certain extent. I don’t think anyone can distinguish multiple settlements in the archeological record, in the sense of later groups having a demographic impact comparable to that of earlier populations.
    And indeed, all the islands of East Polynesia had no earlier human populations, and in all of them Polynesian arrival had a calamitous impact on local ecosystems, particularly on flightless birds.

  62. Are γατούλα or κατσούλι the origin of Hebrew חתול?

    (Also, Hat, could you approve my comment above?)

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Cloud Atlas” goes on at some length about the Maori genocide of the Chatham Islanders.

    Isn’t the Icelandic -i just the standard weak declension masculine singular nominative? That would make it the use of the weak declension that was hypocoristic rather than the particular reflex in Icelandic. Same as in the Old English “Offa.”

  64. Trond Engen says:

    Well, yes, that might well be a better way to put it. I guess it depends on whether you see the -i as simply a weak declension nominative ending, I’ve been of the impression that the ending -i, of whatever origin, derivative or otherwise, triggered the weak declension.

  65. Also, Hat, could you approve my comment above?

    Done! Sorry about that, we were entertaining guests.

  66. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Trond Engen:

    I see what you mean; but the Old Icelandic examples seem to match similar uses of the weak declension in other older Germanic languages where the nominative forms end in -a or -o not -e/i (though other Hatters know much more about that than I do) so that suggests the relationship *in that time period* was perhaps the other way round. Regardless, it’s evidently Pan-Germanic now. Effi Briest springs to mind … I wonder how far back hypocoristic -i goes in standard German? Someone will know …

  67. Trond Engen says:

    we were entertaining guests

    Those are the best.

  68. And Ned Beatty isn’t an Edward either, Lazar. He’s just Ned.

  69. Those are the best.

    Ha! Man, English is a weird language. How do people ever learn it?

  70. The use of the weak declension (n-stems) to form hypocoristic names is not just Germanic, it is a common Indo-European feature.

  71. And thanks to Anwheol and JC for answering my question about NZ settlement!

  72. Trond Engen says:

    So the similarity with the -i elsewhere in Germanic is sheer coincidence? Are there hypocoristic mechanisms with historical origin in the -n-stems elsewhere in IE that are active today?

  73. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Hans

    True; there are all those Latin names like Porcius Slyboots and Ovidius Nosey, for example.

    Not so much hypocoristic as satirical, mind, with those Romans.

  74. Tully Chickpea is my favorite.

    I guess Slyboots represents Latro (n-stem from from latus/lateris?). It can mean ‘highwayman’ as well as earlier ‘bodyguard’, but nothing particularly sly about that. Unless it’s post-classical, but the man wasn’t.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    Cato.

    I think my favourites are the two great noble families from the same illustrious clan, the Prettyboys and the Studlys (the former being more important in the Republic, but the latter, of course, in the Empire.)

  76. David Marjanović says:

    Name frequencies:

    Oh, that still happens. I think there once were, as a weird statistical fluke, three Kerstin in my class of less than 30 children in total. There were usually two kids that shared a name in a class of 20 to 25.

    Perhaps “Patsy” > “Patricia”

    Of course! Patsy : Patty :: Betsy : Betty.

    David: For -sy in Greek and English, see the discussion of tsitacism, particularly in the comments, at Hellenisteukontos.

    Oh! Yes! I remember reading that post and the comments long ago. Lots of examples there!

    The given name of Ned Flanders, according to Wiki, is Nedward.

    N-ed-ward? Etymologically that’s perfect: he doesn’t guard his earthly possessions very well at all.

    Ha! Man, English is a weird language. How do people ever learn it?

    By relying on context and running screaming from newspaper headlines for the first 10 years of study. I vividly remember Dinosaur discoveries wow Boston, which I simply couldn’t parse till I found that wow can be used as a verb.

    So the similarity with the -i elsewhere in Germanic is sheer coincidence?

    Yes. N-stem nicknames (with Kluge’s law) give you Fritz from Friedrich, but they don’t give you the next stage, Fritzi. For more on n-stem nicknames, check out pages 81 and 82 of this book if Google lets you (if it doesn’t, change the top-level domain or the language a few times).

  77. David Marjanović says:

    I think my favourites are the two great noble families from the same illustrious clan, the Prettyboys and the Studlys

    They’ve got nothing on Naso.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    BTW, it seems that “individualizing” /n/ isn’t limited to IE. Various singulatives and other phenomena across Eurasia may be comparable.

  79. Lewis and Short adduce Cato to the good figurative sense of catus ‘sharp’, not the bad (which was indeed ‘sly, crafty, cunning, artful’) — and gloss it as ‘of high morality’. But they may be biased of course. Can we compromise on Porky the Sharp?

    Prettyboys and Studlys — yes, although Pulcher is an r-stem. But Nero fits the hypocoristic pattern, if derived (in Sabine) from *h₂nḗr.

    Name frequencies: Some 30 years ago I was working with three other people called Lars, in a group of 8 total. “Lars did it” was always a good bet.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Lars:

    True that “catus” is double-edged; still, the pattern of Roman noble family names is so strongly – well, rude – that I went with the (mildly) derogatory meaning. Also because it serves the rebarbative old Censor right. And because it’s funnier.

    @David Marjanović:

    Interesting Google Books link: thanks! Hence Offa …

  81. And I just learned that hypocoristic means ‘from teenage girl talk’. More or less. I’m now imagining a gaggle of giggling Roman girls dealing out rude nicknames to their elders.

    That’s the etymology of the word, of course, and on the way it came to mean ‘from babytalk’ and then ‘a nickname’. But it fits the Patsy for Patricia type better than true ekenames like “Pea-nose”.

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    They can be so bitchy …

  83. Hmm, TFoAK actually restricts hypocorism to informally used alterations of given names. What in Danish would be a kælenavn like Flemse as opposed to an øgenavn like Bamse.

    Do we have any fancy Latinate or Hellenistic terms for the latter, then?

  84. Trond Engen says:

    the pattern of Roman noble family names is so strongly – well, rude

    There could be some interesting history here. In what circumstances does a group of men calling eachother by rude bynames rise to power — and the prestige of belonging to that clique of rude bynames make their children take them up and carry them on to their descendants?

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Trond Engen:

    I have some vague memory of reading about this as being linked to the Roman love of Satire, reckoned by the Romans to be the only literary genre they had actually originated themselves. I wonder if it’s perhaps also tied up with apotropaic practices like the obscene verses at Roman weddings, and the similar verses Roman soldiers sang about their favourite generals. There’s one about Julius Caesar along the lines of “our bald motherf*er general is coming to town, civilians! lock up your daughters – and your sons!” (It may lose in translation.)

    On the other hand, the Junius Stupid family had an elaborate family myth to explain away the name as actually part of their glorious history in founding the Republic. So there was also some sensitivity on these points …

    In the Nkore-Kiga language of Uganda (according to the old Croom-Helm grammar, IIRC) *all* personal names are offensive, to avoid attracting the evil eye …

  86. I read somewhere that the name of the High Priest Caiaphas, קיפא ‘monkey’ was part of a tradition of unflattering names among Jews of the period, as was that of Kalba Savu‘a כלבא שבוע ‘sated dog’, the rich philanthropist and Rabbi Akiva’s father-in-law.

  87. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s also P Cornelius Lentulus Spinther, as noble as they come, whose nickname (which he and his son both proudly adopted) was given because of his resemblance to an actor of that name. This in a society that even a century later probably regarded Nero’s public acting career as ranking with his most heinous crimes. The name is also uncomfortably similar to “spintria” (male prostitute), a fact which I doubt would have passed unnoticed …

  88. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Y: I always had the impression that Caiaphas was a different Greek transcription of the same name as Cephas “rock”. Wikipedia gives this as one of three possible meanings, and describes the monkey thing as a play on words.

  89. What I have always wanted to know was whether the southern Italian traditional of giving important men insulting nicknames (known in American via an association with the mafia) was a direct, uninterrupted cultural descendant of the Roman practice of using cognomen; or whether it was reinvented in comparatively modern times, in imitation of the classical version.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    Real men wear pink? Or perhaps Boy Named Sue?
    If you’re important enough (or frightening enough) nobody is going to laugh …
    So perhaps a risible name can end up as scary by association.

    I get the impression that the avoidance-of-the-evil-eye thing is very much alive and well in Southern Italy too. Good candidate for cultural continuity – except that it seems to be very widespread cross-culturally anyhow.

    The Carolingians always sound like mobsters to me: Big Charlie, Bald Charlie, Dutch Louie … Peppy the Runt…

  91. On a recently found sarcophagus, supposedly of Caiaphas’s daughter, his name is spelled קיפא, not כיפא, consistent with ‘monkey’ rather than ‘rock’.

  92. @David Eddyshaw: You leave out my favorite, Charlie the Hammer (who could plausibly be a gangster), as well as Big Pepe, and Sanctimonious Lou (who doesn’t really sound like a mob associate).

    @Y: It seems like most inscriptions connecting archaeological finds in the holy land to potentially biblical figures turn out to be forgeries. At least, that has been my sense.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    DE: The Carolingians always sound like mobsters to me: Big Charlie, Bald Charlie, Dutch Louie … Peppy the Runt…

    Brett: Charlie the Hammer (who could plausibly be a gangster), as well as Big Pepe, and Sanctimonious Lou (who doesn’t really sound like a mob associate).

    I suppose that these are the ones known in French as;

    Charles le Gros, Charles le Chauve, Louis le Germanique** (not “le Hollandais”), Pépin le Bref (‘the Short” rather than “the Runt” which could suggest ‘the last born’)

    Charles Martel (who repelled the Saracen/Muslim advance into France), Pépin le Gros (?? I don’t remember that one), Louis le Pieux (‘the Pious/Devout)

    At the time, kings or similar leaders from the same (patrilineal) dynasty were differentiated by their nicknames rather than by numbers as became customary later. A few from the early era were known by both additions to their name.

    ** Louis le Germanique: He was one of Charlemagne’s grandsons, who was made the heir to the Eastern third of the empire, the other thirds going to his brothers (the West to Charles and the middle section to Lothaire). Since those people are only known from sources written in Latin, and probably mostly spoke a form of Frankish as well as some very late Latin, “le Germanique” is a modern French translation of whatever descriptive word was used to identify him.

  94. m-l: In a gangster, or just old-fashioned, context, Dutch means ‘German’ (i.e. Deutsch).

  95. Forgeries, yeah. That one apparently hasn’t been debunked yet.

  96. Pepin the Great (also Pepin of Herstal) was Charles Martel’s father, the Carolingian dynast and first Duke of the Franks.

  97. ‘the Short” rather than “the Runt” which could suggest ‘the last born’

    Not really, unless you live on a farm. I know “runt” in actual usage only as an insulting/affectionate term for a short person (or a child).

  98. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I knew the older meaning of Dutch but was unaware that it had been preserved by gangsters!

    Brett: Pepin the Great (also Pepin of Herstal) was Charles Martel’s father
    Merci Brett. In that case he was known as Pépin le Grand.

    As far as I know, after Pépin le Bref there were no more Pépins (at least none of any fame). The other names in the family were Germanic (Karl, Lothar), are there other known Pépins unrelated to the Carols?

    In French, un pépin is a small fruit seed, as in an apple or orange (like English pip, so possibly Germanic). Could that have been the (possibly insulting) origin of the Carolingian name?

    Le pépin also has the figurative meaning ‘snag’, an incident that causes annoyance and perhaps a delay but nothing really serious (e.g. a flat tire).

  99. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Wikipedia suggests that Pepin is related to some Germanic word meaning “tremble”, implying that others tremble before this person. There are a few Pepins listed after Pepin le Bref. Charlemagne had two sons named after his father: the elder fell out of favour and the younger was originally named Carloman, so you know that had to get changed.

    Maybe the name Pepin gave 9th century Franks the same impression a lot of people have today: sounds a little silly, not fit for a king. Thus, once the original intended meaning ceased to be transparent, it fell out of use for aesthetic grounds.

  100. The English borrowing of pépin is pippin, which originally also meant ‘seed’ but now mostly refers to varieties of fine-flavored dessert apples, or figuratively anything excellent. The most famous Pippin in modern times is probably now the character in The Lord of the Rings, whose formal name is Peregrin. Tolkien was surely not suggesting this as a legitimate etymology: rather, he wanted to contrast the long Latinate given name with the folksy English nickname, humoris causa.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    In the Nkore-Kiga language of Uganda (according to the old Croom-Helm grammar, IIRC) *all* personal names are offensive, to avoid attracting the evil eye …

    Common enough in southern China that Singapore has outlawed a whole bunch of such names.

    Charles le Gros, Charles le Chauve, Louis le Germanique […], Pépin le Bref

    Karl der Dicke, Karl der Kahle*, Ludwig der Deutsche, Pippin der Kurze. No doubt these are no more original than the French versions, but likewise translations of the Latin translations.

    * Karl [ˈkaːl̩] and kahl [kaːl] have ended up as a minimal pair for syllabic vs. nonsyllabic /l/ in, uh, not too western Standard German.

    and the middle section to Lothaire

    Lothar- + -ing- + Latin -ia > Lothringen “Lorraine”.

  102. @John Cowan: Interestingly, I don’t think Tolkien ever wrote down what Westron nickname “Pippin” was supposed to be a translation of. “Peregrin” was from “Razanur,” but Tolkien Gateway (which is generally very, very good about such things) does not give the Westron version of “Pippin” (whereas the forms corresponding to “Merry” and “Sam” were explicitly given in the appendices to The Return of the King).

  103. marie-lucie says:

    David: Lothar- + -ing- + Latin -ia > Lothringen “Lorraine”.

    Yes, but the current Lorraine (just west of Alsace which adjoins Germany) is much smaller than Lothaire’s territory, which in moden French is known as Lotharingie, an obvious adaptation from the Latin version of the Germanic name.

    Do you think the Germanic ancestor of Lothringen ended in a suffix cognate with Latin -ia? I think that in that case the modern French name would be something like *Lorringe rather than Lorraine.

  104. I remember noticing that Lothar is the only one of the famous Carolingians that does not have a notable nickname. When a cognomen is needed for him (for parallelism in a comparison with his brothers Charles the Bald and Louis the German), he is usually called “Lothar the Emperor.” I’m not sure whether the imperial title actually blocked the development of a suitable nickname for him in his own time though.

  105. January First-of-May says:

    Charles le Gros, Charles le Chauve, Louis le Germanique, Pépin le Bref
    Karl der Dicke, Karl der Kahle, Ludwig der Deutsche, Pippin der Kurze

    Карл Толстый, Карл Лысый, Людовик Немецкий, Пипин Короткий.

    As for Lotha(i)r, the Russian version is Лотарь, which (maybe due to the random soft sign – not really sure why it’s not *Лотар) doesn’t sound (or, at least, look) very appropriate for medieval Western Europe at all. That name made me mentally stumble every time I saw it in that one old book about French history.

  106. @Brett: Several online sources (e.g.) say Pippin translates razar “a kind of small red apple”, citing The Peoples of Middle-earth.

  107. David Eddyshaw says:

    Judging by “Lothario” etc the soft sign in Лотарь isn’t random. He seems to have been Lot(h)arius in Latin. I can’t find any source for what his name was in Frankish; might the second element be connected with *harjiz “army”? There are names like that in Old English, like Ælfhere. Is Lotha(i)r “Glorious Warrior?” As ever, there will be a Hatter who Just Knows.

    The man himself was evidently so boring that people could not even be bothered to come up with a nickname for him.

  108. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is “Luther” of the same origin? I should like to think the name had the same etymology as “Lothario.”

  109. David Marjanović says:

    Do you think the Germanic ancestor of Lothringen ended in a suffix cognate with Latin -ia?

    No; Latin -ia was borrowed into German early and now shows up as -en or -ien – you can even find Alexandrien.

    might the second element be connected with *harjiz “army”?

    More likely Continental West Germanic hariro > heriro “greyer”, an attempt to translate senior, ancestral to German Herr “lord, Mr.” and belonging to PGmc. *has- ~ *haz- (Verner alternation), which has also given us hare and German Hase “hare, default lagomorph”.

    I am currently confused by the Standard German homophony of lauter “louder; pure” and don’t have time to look things up right now. Louis does seem to be “loud warrior” (whose fame is shouted far & wide, or who just fights like a berserk, or something).

  110. marie-lucie says:

    DE: [Lothaire] The man himself was evidently so boring that people could not even be bothered to come up with a nickname for him.

    Alternately, his name was not as common as most of the other rulers’.

    He also did not last long: his territory was squeezed between those of his brothers, who lost no time in joining forces to deprive him of most of it.

  111. Then there’s Clotaire, the son of Clovis, which I suppose is the same name as Lothar, only some four centuries earlier.

  112. marie-lucie says:

    RC, You are probably right! kl- > hl- > l-

    His mother was Clotilde (Klot-hilda).

  113. There were Pepins for several more generations after the Short. Louis the Pious had a son named Pepin, as well as at least one grandson and great grandson. Pepin was actually Lothar’s closest ally in the family, but he predeceased their father and so was not part of the partition of the empire in 843. And beyond that generation, the Carolingians descend rapidly into obscurity.

  114. Luther and Lothario don’t seem to share an origin.

    Luther as a German family name is liut ‘people’, ‘tribe’ + heri, hari ‘army’ according the to OUP Dictionary of Family Names. There is an unrelated English family name from the Old English lyðre ‘bad’, ‘wicked’, ‘base’ .
    As a Christian name it is apparently in honour of Martin Luther.

  115. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Wasn’t Lothair’s byname Lothair du peuple des collines?

  116. David Eddyshaw says:

    Come to think of it, Louis is to Clovis as Lothaire is to Clotaire; and pushing the etymologising back to the Merovingians

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clotaire

    claims that the name is “hlut” = “fort” and “heri” = “armée.”

    Doesn’t give any references though.

  117. David Eddyshaw says:

    If “Luther” is from luit +heri, how has it ended up with its u vowel? Is that a Saxony thing?

  118. Hmm. I was surprised to learn, just now, that the standard German pronunciation of Luther is apparently [ˈlʊtɐ], rather than [ˈluːtɐ].

  119. WIkipedia claims [ˈmaɐ̯tiːn ˈlʊtɐ] but the audio sample is clearly [ˈmaɐ̯tiːn ˈluːtɐ].

  120. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I always thought that Luther was something to do with luthier. If it comes from liut-, then that part’s a cognate of the obscure English word lede “person, people”, Scots leid “language”, liberty, eleútheros.

  121. David Marjanović says:

    kl > hl > l

    Well, [kʰ] > [x] is part of Grimm’s law and must have happened several centuries before Clovis. Indeed, he’s attested somewhere as Chlodowech. The interesting question is what exactly ch is meant to represent – native speakers of Romance wouldn’t necessarily use h for [h] – and when the shift from [x] to [h] happened; perhaps it happened later before consonants (n, l, r, w) than before vowels, or perhaps the Franks actually undid this shift before consonants; the western Norsemen not only undid it before v, but took the next step, so that hv is now pronounced [kʰʋ]!

    If “Luther” is from luit +heri, how has it ended up with its u vowel? Is that a Saxony thing?

    I blame the general Germanic confusion of *eu and . When the first round of umlaut turned *ei into shortly before Proto-Germanic times, the ablaut pattern *ei*i became *i, which led to the sporadic analogical replacement of *eu*u by *u (and, in Northwest Germanic, also to a few cases of *a). Although variants with are generally most common around northwestern Germany, each word has its own geographic distribution of variants with and *eu.

    *e(…)u > i(…)u is a specifically High German phenomenon.

    Hmm. I was surprised to learn, just now, that the standard German pronunciation of Luther is apparently [ˈlʊtɐ], rather than [ˈluːtɐ].

    Both pronunciations exist. As far as I’m concerned, th is a flourish for t, not for tt, so you get |lu.ter| > [ˈluːtɐ] rather than |lut.ter| > [ˈlʊt(ː)ɐ]. Thanks to Alex M., this turns out to be etymologically correct as well; [ˈlʊtɐ] is a *handwave* northern phenomenon.

    BTW, [aɐ̯] is mythical or nearly so; most, if not all, of the people who haven’t merged it into /aː/ altogether are fully or partially rhotic. And who manages to sustain a long [iː] right behind a stressed syllable? I know that Erwin ended up as Ervīns in Latvian at some point, and vowel length is srs bzns in Latvian; but Erwin Pröll very much does not have Vienna in his name or on his mind.

    (…I see the English Wikipedia article, to which I’m linking, doesn’t yet mention the corruption scandal that broke today. The German one already does. But I digress.)

  122. David Eddyshaw says:

    I know almost nothing about German dialectology, but it struck me that both [ʊ] and [u:] are peculiar outcomes from MHG iu; NHG has [ɔʏ̯], and Yiddish unrounds the vowel, which I think is also typical of Bavarian etc. I was wondering if this was something to do with the dialect of Eisleben. I’ve always thought of Luther as kickstarting modern standard German with all its High-German-pronounced-as-Low-German oddness, but it occurred to me I don’t actually have any idea about the German Luther himself (and his forbears) actually spoke. Is Eisleben far enough north that he actually would have spoken Low German himself?

  123. David Marjanović says:

    peculiar outcomes

    Probably not outcomes at all, even though the etymology is still correct anyway. My comment on this is in moderation for reasons that are beyond me.

    Is Eisleben far enough north that he actually would have spoken Low German himself?

    The usual lore is that Luther grew up in a transitional/mixture zone between Central and Low German. He did end up translating the Bible into Low German, too (two editions). Too bad he didn’t get around to translating it into Sorbian, too, which half the population of Wittenberg supposedly spoke at the time.

    [ɔʏ̯]

    [ɔɪ̯] is at least as common; I even wonder if “[ɔʏ̯]” is actually supposed to be [ɔʉ̯], with the northern value [ʉ] for /ɪ/ – in other words, I wonder if eu is composed of the local values of /ɔ/ and /ɪ/ wherever it isn’t pronounced differently altogether. (You’re right about Bavarian.)

  124. Nobody has been named Josef in the last 50 years

    My son has a Josef in his class in Volkschule, and it supposedly ranks 37 in “most popular baby names in Austria” so it’s making a comeback.

  125. “It isn’t the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble — it’s the attempted cover-up.”

  126. David Marjanović says:

    it’s making a comeback.

    *blink*

    *blink*

  127. Interesting indeed. Personally, I don’t know any Franz or Josef who is younger than 40.

  128. @ David Eddyshaw
    The Carolingians always sound like mobsters to me: Big Charlie, Bald Charlie, Dutch Louie … Peppy the Runt…

    John M. Ford rendered Charlemagne as “Big Chuck” in his brilliant rewriting of bits of Henry V (“Harry of Five Points”) in the style of Damon Runyon:

    So let me put it thusly, boss, and youse
    Who is the molls and goons and likewise guys
    To him who is your leader. You got nix
    To keep you outta French guys’ speaks and joints,
    But some bull from this mouthpiece Pharamond,
    “In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant,”
    “No doll can get the goods in Salic land,”
    Which neighborhood those Frogs make like what is
    The French North Side, which this guy Pharamond,
    Pulled out of his own keister, so to speak.
    Yet judges bought with their own moolah say
    This Salic property is German, like
    Up in Detroit and on the Pittsburgh side,
    Where Big Chuck having whacked the Saxon gang,
    They set up shop and started making gin.
    And, since they did not fancy German dolls
    (Though I got no such preferences myself)
    They made this regulation that no broad
    Can wear no pants up in no Salic land.

    [emphasis added]
    (A later bit refers to Edward III as “Crazy Eddie”)

  129. John M. Ford rendered Charlemagne as “Big Chuck” in his brilliant rewriting of bits of Henry V (“Harry of Five Points”) in the style of Damon Runyon

    Brilliant indeed, and I thank you for sharing it here!

  130. Greg Pandatshang says:

    What’s the context of kl > hl > l that turns Clovis into Louis? Limited to Frankish? Is it just a coincidence that this is the same common Germanic sound change that produced words like loud < hlūd? (i.e. Grimm’s Law + neutralisation of voicing contrast on liquids)

  131. What’s the context of kl > hl > l that turns Clovis into Louis?
    I think “kl” is a chimera here – “ch” seems to be an orthographic variant for “h” that has been used before resonants, and then was later interpreted as an orthographic variant of “c”. So the only development in the spoken language was /hl-/ (or perhaps /xl-/) to /l-/.

  132. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Thanks, Hans. Treating /x/ as /k/ makes sense as a Romance-isation and would give the impression of /kl/ > /l/ as the underlying /x/ disappears in that environment.

    I didn’t realise that, per Wiktionary, the first element in Clovis/Louis/Ludwig is the selfsame “loud” etymon.

    I’ve always found it slightly counterintuitive that the traditional numbering of French kings starts over after the Merovingians (in England, the Normans at least have the excuse of being foreign conquerors). Granted, the only affected names are Clovis/Louis and Chlothair/Lothair. To think, if Louis the Pious were counted as Louis V rather than Ier, the current king would be Louis XXIV already!

  133. Until 679, there is no single French or Frankish realm for the Merovings to be monarch of, except for a brief period under Clovis I. And by that time, the mayors of the palace are beginning to take over anyway. So ignoring everyone before Pippin the Short is reasonable.

  134. David Marjanović says:

    What’s the context of kl > hl > l that turns Clovis into Louis?

    My comment from January 10, 7:43 pm, is now out of moderation.

    BTW, there’s the idea that “the Short” is just minor, meaning “the Younger”; is there any evidence for or against this?

  135. Trond Engen says:

    Well, [kʰ] > [x] is part of Grimm’s law and must have happened several centuries before Clovis

    Another blow to the Clovis first hypothesis.

  136. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mr Engen, you are a bad, bad man. Ow!

  137. David Marjanović says:

    Seconded.

  138. David Marjanović says:

    …Oh. This site says “the young monk Martin changed the spelling of his surname from Luder to Luther to reflect the Latin name Eleutherius.” And then it shows us a picture of his signature in a letter from 1519, which says Μάρτινοσ ἐλευθέριοσ (…yes, with σ).

    And we were looking for a Germanic etymology. X-) Leuteheer my inkpot!

    This also means that the English pronunciation with [θ] isn’t as absurd from an etymological point of view as I thought a few minutes ago. The German short-vowel pronunciation still is, though.

  139. Wow, I was raised Lutheran and had no idea!

  140. David Marjanović says:

    Your mind is so blown that you haven’t let the comment you’re replying to out of moderation yet, though. 🙂

    (Not that I have any idea why it’s in moderation. Only one link, no Viagra or Cialis…)

  141. Tsk. I was not replying to the comment that was in moderation, I was replying to an earlier version of the comment that you apparently deleted and modified. Which is perfectly OK, but then you mustn’t mock me for replying to a comment in moderation!

  142. David Marjanović says:

    That’s not mockery. I just found it funny. 🙂

    I added the last paragraph after first submission.

  143. I was being funny myself!

  144. David Marjanović says:

    Finally I remember the sigmatic hypocoristic I had forgotten:

    Peter [ˈpɛd̥ɐ] > [ˈpɛd̥͡sɪ]

    I wonder if the pattern is in analogy to Hansi (which was once very common) once that was derived from Johann (which used to be the most common form) rather than from Johannes or Hannes.

  145. marie-lucie says:

    “In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant,”
    “No doll can get the goods in Salic land,”

    If it had not been for this law, kept through the centuries, the succession of Louis XIV (who lost all of his sons and grandsons while daughters and granddaughters lived to respectable ages) would not have been such a problem. The only male heir left was a great-grandson, who was 5 years old when he became Louis XV.

    Apparently there were a few exceptions to the Salic law, though not in the royal succession: in one of Balzac’s works (I don’t remember which one) there is a reference to a family in which le ventre anoblit ‘the belly (here meaning “womb”) ennobles’, meaning that nobility is passed on through the women.

    there’s the idea that “the Short” is just minor, meaning “the Younger”; is there any evidence for or against this?

    As a native French speaker reasonably familiar with French history, I would never have thought of this interpretation. Le Bref can only mean ‘the Short’, a physical description; ‘the Younger’ would be le Jeune. For instance, the Roman Plinii (uncle and nephew) are referred to as Pline l’Ancien (the Elder) and Pline le Jeune (the Younger).

    The adjective bref/brève, now somewhat old-fashioned, is no longer used in describing a person (nor an animal or object), but (like English brief, a borrowing from French) mostly in referring to something abstract (for instance a conversation, a letter) which takes a short time to unfold or experience.

  146. Apparently there were a few exceptions to the Salic law, though not in the royal succession: in one of Balzac’s works (I don’t remember which one) there is a reference to a family in which le ventre anoblit ‘the belly (here meaning “womb”) ennobles’, meaning that nobility is passed on through the women.
    I don’t know about Balzac, but this is part of the plot of Molière’s “George Dandin” – the titular hero, a rich commoner, has married the daughter of a noble family, so that his children will be nobles as well; the young wife didn’t want that marriage and constantly avoids the fulfillment of her marital obligations, preferring a dalliance with a young nobleman instead. In the comments to my edition (“Amphitryon. George Dandin. L’avare”, edited by Georges Couton, Gallimard 1973, p. 294, note 3 for p. 139) it says that le ventre affranchit et annoblit “the belly makes free end ennobles” is a custom exclusively of the Champagne.

  147. BTW, there’s the idea that “the Short” is just minor, meaning “the Younger”; is there any evidence for or against this?

    Minor is the suppletive comparative of parvus, which means ‘little, small, petty, puny, inconsiderable’ rather than ‘young’. The use of it in English public schools to discriminate members of the same family (Paley major, Paley minor) reflects the idea that the younger child is normally also the smaller of the two.

  148. David Marjanović says:

    Well, what did it mean in 8th-century Barbarous Latin?

    One more sigmatic hypocoristic in English: Reince, from Reinhold. – I can’t figure out if Heinz from Heinrich is somehow connected; (High?) German has an unusually well-developed distinction of /ns/ and /nts/.

  149. Somebody on another blog pointed out that “Reince Priebus” sounds like a name that should really only exist in an Isaac Asimov story.

  150. marie-lucie says:

    JC: parvus, minor vs bref

    Parvus did not mean the same as brevis. The Pépin in question is remembered as le Bref ‘the Short’, not le Petit (which might be ambiguous) or le Jeune.

    Victor Hugo, who admired Napoléon 1er (the first one), referred to Napoléon III as Napoléon le Petit, not because of his stature (the first was probably the shorter one) but because of his lesser mental endowments.

  151. David Marjanović says:

    should really only exist in an Isaac Asimov story

    Like the man himself…

  152. January First-of-May says:

    As far as Latin Minor = “junior” is concerned, there’s Faustina Minor (or Faustina II, or Faustina the Younger), the daughter of Faustina Major (or Faustina I, or Faustina the Elder).

    As for Pepin – the English Wikipedia article seems to attribute his nickname to his short hair.

  153. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Reince Priebus” sounds like a name that should really only exist in an Isaac Asimov story.

    Jack Vance, rather. The sixth Demon Prince.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_naming_conventions#Women.27s_names

  154. Reince Priebus, the Woe?

    And then is he human?

  155. J.W. Brewer says:

    Fun onomastic fact: Reince Priebus’ full name is Reince Hercules Priebus. The middle name may be *slightly* less weird if you know the ethnic angle: his mother’s maiden name was Pitsiladis. He may be the most prominent Lesbian-American in the new administration. (His mother was born in the Sudan to parents who had immigrated there from Lesbos/Lesvos. Whether that also makes him at least in part African-American is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  156. OMG just thinking about the headling “LINGUIST SAYS MAORI NOT INDIGENOUS” makes me shudder.

    Pff. Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no need for hypotheticals; the BBC has an article with the headline “English language ‘originated in Turkey'”.

  157. @J.W.B.: Wiki says he’s Reinhold Richard Priebus. It does mention his Sudanese-born Greek mother, though.

  158. “Reince Priebus” sounds like a name that should really only exist in an Isaac Asimov story.

    Charles Pierce (I believed) generally applies the epithet “obvious anagram” to the name.

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    Penis Brie Cure? [OK, I cheated. Thankyou, Wired.]

  160. Wordplays.com to the rescue. “Inscribe rupee” is first and definitely best, but “ice pen bruiser” isn’t bad, nor “berries ice pun”. nor “I rue brine spec”. “Pee burns icier”, well ….

  161. marie-lucie says:

    His mother was born in the Sudan to parents who had immigrated there from Lesbos/Lesvos.

    Could the parents have been missionaries, rather than immigrants? Some years ago I read an article (probably in National Geographic) about an unusual couple: a Sudanese woman raised in the Greek Orthodox faith who had come to the US for advanced studies in theology, and a Greek-American man who had been planning to be a missionary. The man’s parents, themselves Greek immigrants, were delighted that their African daughter-in-law could speak Greek. (This happened a number of years before the horrors of the civil war).

  162. marie-lucie says:

    January: As for Pepin – the English Wikipedia article seems to attribute his nickname to his short hair.

    I find this quite unbelievable, but the article refers to a work by a French scholar.

    But Wikipedia.fr has the usual interpretation: l semblerait que son surnom, apparu assez tard dans l’historiographie, soit dû à sa petite taille, « bref » signifiant « court » à l’époque.

    ‘It would seem that his nickname, which appears rather late in written documents, was due to his small size, as “bref” meant “short” at the time.’

    I am not sure if ‘bref’ could possibly have referred to hair rather than overall appearance.

  163. Is that the only extra-Austrian instance of the phenomenon that should totally be called “sigmatic hypocoristics”?

    Perhaps “Patsy” < "Patricia" is also an example, although Patricia also has a sibilant in the full version

    In Ireland, “Patsy” can also be short for “Patrick”. Also “Pats”. Both are old-fashioned, perhaps because there are fewer Patricks and thus “Pat” and “Paddy” offer enough choice.

    Also:

    Ann > Nan > Nancy

  164. marie-lucie says:

    more on “bref”

    The TLFI has bref at first referring to short duration. About a person’s size, it cites Pépin’s nickname referring to his short stature. About “body part”, it gives one example with stature as the noun, but stature cannot really be called a ‘body part’: it is an abstract word referring to size, as in English. Another example of bref has it among other adjectives describing a man’s whole body, not any individual parts. Most other examples refer to duration or expanse. All this make a “short-haired” meaning for the nickname rather implausible.

  165. Norse nobles’ nicknames were not always as evocative as the Carolingians’. Gorm the Old was long-lived (probably). Some of them were striking but incomprehensible: Sigurd Snake-In-The-Eye or Ivar the Boneless (who may or may not have actually been brothers).

    However, I just noticed that the last Norman duke who held the duchy separate from being king of England was Robert Short Shorts.

  166. marie-lucie says:

    Robert Short Shorts.

    This was Robert Courteheuse, and heuse (in Old French huese, says the TLFI) did not refer to shorts but to leggings/gaiters or boots. He was short, so were his legs and the boots or gaiters made for him.

  167. David Marjanović says:

    Hose, then – which is the generic word for legwear in German nowadays (no longer plural).

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