Dothraki and Valyrian.

I haven’t watched any of the HBO series Game of Thrones (though jamessal tells me it’s a must-see), but I found this Boston Globe piece by Britt Peterson, about the guy who invents its languages, quite interesting:

In the past, the people writing [languages for Hollywood] have been mostly academic linguists. But David Peterson, the inventor of Dothraki and Valyrian, is something of a new breed. The creator of 12 languages before he wrote Dothraki in 2010, Peterson is not just the first major language creator in Hollywood to identify primarily as a “conlanger,” or maker of constructed languages. He’s also probably the only professional language creator ever. [...]

Peterson [...] began inventing languages when he was an undergrad at Berkeley before going on to a master’s in linguistics at UC San Diego. In 2007, he helped form the Language Creation Society, a conlangers group. When the producers of “Game of Thrones” needed someone to write a language for the warlike, horse-loving Dothraki tribe in season one, Arika Okrent, a linguist and author of the book “In the Land of Invented Languages,” suggested they ask the LCS. Peterson rose to the occasion, and his Dothraki, with Russian, Turkish, Estonian, and other influences and a lot of words about horses, was the result. “It’s a native conlang conlang,” Okrent said.

Peterson argues that there are crucial differences in having a conlanger write your language, as opposed to an academic linguist. Conlangers are more aware of the history of other created languages, he says, a study that improves their artistry and tends to create languages that are less evocative of natural languages: “If you’re hiring a conlanger specifically as opposed to a linguist, what you’ll see is sources that can’t be as easily defined.”

If I ever get around to watching it, I’ll definitely keep my ears alert for those hints of Estonian!

Comments

  1. Intriguing. One of my daughters is in a “creating one’s own language” (complete with alphabet) phase.

  2. You should get her Okrent’s book, then; she’ll love it!

  3. I second the recommendation of In the Land of Invented Languages. Dothraki gives Game of Thrones an authentic edge, and the show itself is fun (though hyped to an absurd degree).

  4. jamessal says:

    I’d argue that Breaking Bad was hyped to an absurd degree whereas Game of Thrones, though it has a bunch of cool ads, hasn’t really gotten its critical due. Even Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece in the NYRB seemed to favor the books over the show, which moved me to write a letter to the editor (unpublished, unsurprisingly). The Mentalist is fun; Game of Thrones rewards multiple viewings. But to take this any further, we’d have to reveal more spoilers than the discussion would be worth. So I’m happy to agree to disagree.

  5. jamessal says:

    Watching GOT, I occasionally curse Peter Jackson for making those silly LOTR movies. LOTR could have been another amazing HBO series.

  6. jamessal says:

    The other must watch show of year is True Detective. This isn’t the most obvious comparison, but it’s kind of like a Terrence Malick movie, except whereas Malick employs Heidegger and Eastern mysticism to set the mood in his voice overs, True Detective leans toward Nietzsche, evolutionary pessimism, and some quantum theory the writers surely don’t understand but make work anyway. It’s also gorgeous, well-written, and a lot faster-paced than anything Malick’s done, though by no means rushed. And — the kicker — the first season (there’s only been one so far) is only eight episodes. So it’s not an investment like GOT.

  7. jamessal says:

    There’s a nice scene early on in GOT in which one of the main characters is arguing with a Dothraki lord over whether or not the world ends at The Narrow Sea, the body of water separating Westeros (where most of the action takes place) from the Eastern Lands (where the Dothraki roam). The Dothraki lord claims that the world does end at the Narrow Sea; the other main character, whose from Westeros, claims that it doesn’t, and as evidence starts to list the places she’s been in Westeros. Only she doesn’t know the Dothraki word for land, only dirt. So, to the amusement of the horse lord, her evidence is “the dirt where I was born, the dirt where I was raised.” That he corrects her gently shows a lot about the relationship, which shows a lot about the show, because the whole scene takes less than a minute,

  8. jamessal says:

    To elaborate, the invasion of a country hinges on the outcome of this argument, but instead of hammering that fact home, playing up the drama, the writers instead make a linguist joke and further develop a relationship in a scene you could have missed getting a glass of water.

  9. jamessal says:

    Sorry to keep going on, but this a scene I hadn’t thought twice about until this post. They’re all pretty much outstanding. Better than just fun, IMHO, but now I swear I’ll leave it alone.

  10. *edges nervously away*

  11. Don’t worry, Stan. James is just as geeky as the rest of us, it’s just that pop culture is one of the things he geeks out about.

  12. Oskar Sigvardsson says:

    In case you’re curious, here’s a clip of two characters speaking Dothraki:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J530vkmOtb4

    And here is a clip of the other invented language, High Valyrian:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvBXx2MZA5Q&t=2m25s

    In case you’re worried, the first clip doesn’t contain any real spoilers, but the second clip is from later in the series. It’s relatively spoiler free, but if you’re religious about having the plot of a show unsullied, maybe skip it.

  13. jamessal says:

    Thanks, John. My pop culture geekery is one part inclination, two parts necessity (or at least happenstance). I always liked movies as a kid — the inclination — and ever since my wife, Robin, began suffering extreme chronic pain (car accident) we’ve had a lot of TV playing in our house. She loves to read as much as the rest of us, but she needs pure distraction a bit more. I was surprised to discover how good TV has gotten over the past decade or so. I also need money to pay for medical bills, and writing about TV pays better than anything else I might have the knowledge to write about. Still, I’ve been scant in these parts the last year or so, so I totally understand Stan’s edging away after my six-comment outburst. Then again, though it was just a passing comment, from my perspective, he was wrong on the internet!

  14. What irked me most about the linguistic aspects of the GOTT was not the fully-invented Dothraki but the partly-invented English of the series. It’s got a good deal of invented vocabulary and puns and names but here’s the deal: in the 7 kingdoms, there isn’t an external center of cultural influence such as Rome or Greece or France or Christianity. Yet a lot of names, words, and concepts inherited by English from these sources persists (sometimes halfheartedly concealed) in the English of the Kingdoms, and I’m like, WTF, if you guys invented Dothraki, you should have invented everything else too, no?

  15. to the amusement of the horse lord, her evidence is “the dirt where I was born, the dirt where I was raised.”
    Poor back translation should have amused the pedestrians too, for it should be “Earth” rather than “dirt”

  16. des von bladet says:

    Surely it should be “GoT” with a lower-case “o”? Won’t somebody think of the children?!

    (Our own attempts at longform TV have fizzled out in the middle of Battlestar Galactica and Borgen, so the thing I am most pleased about with GoT is that I don’t find the setup even remotely tempting.

    I’m totally OK with the idea of longform TV usurping the 19th century novel, though, because if I’m honest I never really got on with that either.)

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Dmitry: dirt/Earth

    A literal French translation would not amuse or shock anybody: la terre can mean both (among other related meanings), but the natural substance in which plants grow is not considered dirty. La terre où je suis né(e) is slightly literary for ‘the land/region/country where I was born’. If you want to settle in one place you might buy une terre, even if it is only une petite terre on which to build your house and plant a garden.

    In English, the meaning of earth is more restricted but yet not limited to our planet as a whole: consider the rare earths found in a limited number of locations. (I guess the phrase must come from Latin or a Romance language).

  18. des von bladet says:

    As Goethe said*, “Meine Heimat ist die Erde, aber es geht um le terroir“.

    * Goethe did not say this.

  19. Stefan Holm says:

    OED says: Old English eorþe “ground, soil, dry land”, and I think that’s pretty much the meaning of the word all over Germania. So is even its later development as name of our planet. Thus ‘rare earths’, which are found in the ground, ie. the crust of the earth. (The Scandinavian cognate of Pgmc. *ertho is ‘jord’, with typical breaking.). Dirt in this meaning is just English. The word was borrowed from ON ‘drit’, which literallly means excrements.

  20. Dirt in this meaning is just English. The word was borrowed from ON ‘drit’, which literally means excrements.
    Could it possibly be due to the proposed etymological dualism of English word soil which, according to some sources, have been independently derived from different Latin words in its two meanings “to make dirty” and “area, ground”? (Likely Latin sus “pig” vs. solium “seat”?)

    Russian грязь “dirt, grime” (but not “ground, earth”), like soil, is etymologically something you mire in. But like in Germanic and Romance language, земля stands for “land area”, “dry land” and “soil, earth” in Russian. Myth heroes appeal to “Mother Moist Earth” and the chronicles debate the origins of “Russian Land” using the same word земля.

    My point with respect to GoT was that since dirt and earth are synonyms only specifically in English. the “Dothraki translation problem” could only be about proper English usage rather than proper Dothraki usage by the translators.

  21. What irked me most about the linguistic aspects of the GOTT was not the fully-invented Dothraki but the partly-invented English of the series. It’s got a good deal of invented vocabulary and puns and names but here’s the deal: in the 7 kingdoms, there isn’t an external center of cultural influence such as Rome or Greece or France or Christianity. Yet a lot of names, words, and concepts inherited by English from these sources persists (sometimes halfheartedly concealed) in the English of the Kingdoms, and I’m like, WTF, if you guys invented Dothraki, you should have invented everything else too, no?

    That’s a legitimate gripe. Martin sure ain’t Tolkien, and for all the show’s writers did to improve his dialogue, they didn’t fix what MOCKBA describes. There’s even a hint of prescriptivism, e.g., a lord correcting a less educated lord about the usage of less and fewer. Still . . . well, no still: I think my thoughts on the show’s overall quality are pretty clear.

    As for the dirt joke, yes, it depends on Dothraki having two corresponding words for dirt and land, and that may not be linguistically likely, but if the jokes were all aimed at linguists . . . well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be on HBO to begin with.

  22. Surely it’s legitimate enough to translate a joke with another joke. Anything else is over-literalism.

  23. Stefan Holm says:

    As for ’soil’, Dmitry, the dual Romance origin seems good enough. But incidentally there is also a Sw. verb ‘söla’, which means ‘make dirty’ or ‘roll around in dung or mud’. Swedish Academy’s Wordbook gives (among others) the cognates Goth: ‘bisauljan’, OHG: ‘bisuljan’, OSax and OE: ‘sulian’ and says that it’s ‘probably root connected to sur’ (sour). So maybe Chaucer and his contemporaries had a triple input for their soil words.

  24. test

  25. here is also a Sw. verb ‘söla’, which means ‘make dirty’ or ‘roll around in dung or mud’. Swedish Academy’s Wordbook gives (among others) the cognates Goth: ‘bisauljan’, OHG: ‘bisuljan’, OSax and OE: ‘sulian’ and says that it’s ‘probably root connected to sur’ (sour).

    Modern German has sich suhlen, meaning “wallow in [mud, muddy shallow stand of water]” as boars do. Die Suhle is the preferred wallowing-spot of a herd of boars – something a boar hunter likes to discover.

    There’s also sich sielen, a regional expression derived from suhlen. Sich im Bett sielen is to enjoyably flop about in bed, i.e. to wallow in it.

    Considering whether I know an English word for Suhle, I thought of The Slough Of Despond, But the OED says for slough: “OE slóh, of doubtful origin; perhaps ultimately related to slonk”. Slonk ? Turns out that is also of doubtful origin. Great.

    Ignorant, enquiring minds would like to know if Suhle and “slough” are nevertheless somehow related. After all, they are both Dreckslöcher.

  26. Drecksloch is a colloquial term equivalent to the English “dump”. What actress, in what old film, was famous for entering some house or room and saying: “What a dump!” ?

  27. des von bladet says:

    What actress, in what old film, was famous for entering some house or room and saying: “What a dump!” ?

    Bette Davis, Beyond the Forest, which tanked but spawned a catchphrase. (Will this be on the test?)

  28. No, the real test question will be multiple-choice: “What is the relationship, if any, between Suhle and ‘slough’ ?”

  29. des von bladet says:

    Multiple choice? I’ll go with b, please.

  30. I meant that there will be multiple questions to choose from, only some of which have answers. You’re on the right track with b, though.

  31. but if you’re religious about having the plot of a show unsullied
    I see what you did here. :-)

  32. The English for Suhle is wallow (the noun).

  33. Thanks, John. Who knew that there was such a noun ! In the Peanuts cartoons, Pigpen could have been given the name Willy Wallow.

  34. I find that there are several American towns with the name Bear Wallow.

  35. And there’s a Hog Wallow, Kentucky.

  36. OK, it looks like I knew the noun after all – in the sense that I would have recognized it as such in a place name like Hog Wallow.

  37. Dirt in this meaning is just English.

    American English. “Dirt” meaning soil, turf, grass, earth etc. isn’t used in England, as far as I know, and therefore sounds a bit too dirty (in the black-fingernail sense) to me. “Yard” to mean garden isn’t generally used in Britain either, although I’ve got a suspicion it may be used that way in Yorkshire. I’d be interested from an architectural point of view to know how the US came to use these words and not Britain.

  38. Crown, there are plenty of (GB) English websites about “dirt bike” trails and “dirt running”. I wonder if these expressions are American imports ?

  39. …although I’ve got no evidence I’m wondering if yard’s got something to do with early American urban planning in places like Charleston or Virginia; or even earlier, particularly Wm Penn’s plan of Philadelphia. Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme, laid out a low-density grid of small farms and lots of green space (Penn had witnessed the Great Fire of London, which had spread because the buildings were packed together.) There would have been plenty of opportunity to use a word like “yard”.

    One alternative explanation of course is that Britain had been using yard for a private garden but dropped it, for some reason, probably in the 19C.

  40. Stu, yes, they’d be imports either straight from the US or via Australia. They have the advantage for being accepted that you & your bike do get really dirty.

  41. Stefan Holm says:

    Wallow became (through umlaut) välva in Swedish, meaning roll or generally move in a ’rounded’ way eg. about the ocean. From the same stem there is valv (valve) and (via Latin) revolution, revolver and the Chinese car Volvo (‘I roll’).

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Volvo, a Chinese car?

  43. Also vulva. My Georges Lateinisch/Deutsch says: “in ancient times sow pussy was considered a delicacy.”

  44. Oops, tripped up there on anatomy: sow uterus it was.

  45. “In August 2010, Ford completed its sale of Volvo Cars to the Chinese motor manufacturer Geely Automobile (Zhejiang Geely Holding Group) for $1.8 billion.”

  46. Rodger C says:

    I thought, or perhaps assumed, that Volvo was a Sephardic surname.

  47. Stefan Holm says:

    Volvo cars for the international market are still built in my home city, Gothenburg, while new plants in the Realm of the Middle mainly produce for domestic sale. By the way, Gothenburg should be changed into ‘Geatenburg’ in English, since its name (Göteborg) linguistically has nothing to do with the Goths but definitely with Beowulf’s people, the Geatas.

  48. Rodger C says:

    Or maybe Yetborough.

  49. Rodger, please explain these exquisitely learnèd jokey-poos (as I assume they are) !

  50. marie-lucie says:

    SH: Gothenburg should be changed into ‘Geatenburg’ in English, since its name (Göteborg) linguistically has nothing to do with the Goths but definitely with Beowulf’s people, the Geatas

    Very interesting! But ‘Geatenburg’ would not be pronounced in English as in Swedish (neither is ‘Göteborg’, for that matter). Would the names Yeats and Yeatman have anything to do with the Geatas?

  51. Stefan Holm says:

    I don’t think so, Marie-Lucie. The Swedish palatalization of ‘g’ before a front vowel to ‘y’ [j] is a modern phenomenon. The PGmc origin of Sw. göt- and Eng. geat- is *gaut- ( with the meaning cast or pour). The conservative Icelanders still name the city Gautaborg. Götar (geats) is one of the two historical Swedish main ‘tribes’ – the other is svear (‘swees’, swiones in Beowulf). There is a modern consensus, that the ‘götar’ have gotten their name from the river Göta älv (the ‘Geat river’), through which lake Vänern ‘pours’ its water into the Atlantic. Older national-romantic ideas were about them being good at ‘pouring’ their ‘seed’ and thus giving birth to many new geats.

  52. Rodger C says:

    This reminds me of a question that’s nagged me for a long time: Where does the D come from in “Sweden”?

    Stu, Ye(a)tborough or Ye(a)tbury would (I think) be the modern English reflex of Geataburg.

  53. Yeats, Yates are < the lost English cognate of gate (which is a borrowing). However, the Geats and the Goths are separated only by e/o ablaut, and there has been much speculation about whether the Goths were originally Geats or vice versa. Nobody knows. How, if at all, the Gutnish people (from the island of Gotland) fit into this picture is also unknown. Connections to the Getae and the Jutes seem unlikely.

  54. English Swede, Sweden, Swedish are borrowed from Low German, where they correspond to OE Swéo-þéod, ON (and Icelandic) Sví-þjóð ‘Swedish-people’ via the general sound change /þ/ > /d/ on the Continent. Compare Dutch Zweden, West Frisian Sveden, Standard German Schweden.

  55. Ah. Thank you.

    And my remark about Volvo wan’t a joke; I actually thought that, though now I find it isn’t true.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    SH, The Swedish palatalization [g] > [y] may be recent, but Old English already had that palatalization, so a Modern English equivalent of OE Geat would start with [y]. However, Modern English speakers seeing the word written “Geat” would interpret the written g as [g].

  57. Actually, I always pronounced it /dʒit/ until I looked up the proper modern pronunciation, which is /git/.

    Volvo was originally a trademark for ball bearings: only later did Svenska Kullagerfabriken start making cars. SKF is now the largest manufacturer of bearings in the world, though it no longer owns Volvo.

  58. Stefan Holm says:

    John is absolutely right about the ’d’ in Sweden and about the e/o ablaut alternation. But there is more than this in the reconstruction of Geat vs Goth: Geat from *gauta- is clearly a strong masculine while Goth and gut- (as in Gutnish) both seem to come from weak *guton-.

    But who am I to tell? One thing is clear though: English ‘ea’ and Swedish ‘ö’ are both from PGmc ‘au’ – not ‘o’ or ‘u’. With some varieties in spelling and semantics: Bean-böna, bleed-blöda, bread-bröd, breast-bröst, cheap/chapman-köpa (=buy), dead-död, deaf-döv, dream-dröm, east-öst, ear-öra, eye-öga, feed-föda, green-grön, hear-höra, hen-höna, leaf-löv, leap-löpa (=run), leek-lök (=onion), mead-mjöd, meet-möta, neat (=cattle)-nöt, red-röd, sea-sjö, seam-söm, seek-söka, smear-smörja, stream-ström, sweet-söt.

  59. Shippey records that Tolkien always pronounced Hengest (as in Hengest and Horsa, or in the “Fight at Finnsburg”) as /hɛndʒɪst/.

  60. Stefan Holm says:

    You’re even right about SKF and Volvo, John. It all started with the textile industry 60 km east of Göteborg along the river Viskan from Borås southwest to Varberg on the western coast. The clothes manufacturers there had been sneaking around in England during the industrial revolution for technical solutions. The surplus capital from their resulting mills was invested in Gamlestadens fabriker (‘The Old Town’s Factories’) in Göteborg with its Atlantic harbour.

    At the Gamlestadens fabriker the engineer Sven Winquist was annoyed by the eternal stops in the transmission chains driving the machines. So he invented the excentrical (ie. not stiff) ball bearing, which allows for movements in the structure (caused by vibrations, temperature variations etc.).

    It was a success and Winquist founded the SKF. In turn, some engineers there came up with the idea of making automobiles and – voila! – Volvo was established. Today Gamlestadens fabriker is but a museum, SKF is still owned by Swedes but with a charismatic Scottish executive, Tom Johnstone, and Volvo belongs to the giant People’s Republic with its economic muscles but is effectively run by Swedes. Haven’t we all come closer to each other? May Angela, Barack, Vladimir and their collegues realize this!

  61. Stefan Holm says:

    Beg your pardon for ‘excentrical’ – should be eccentric (Greek origin, not Latin). I hope you native speakers of ‘the’ international language will have an understanding attitude.

  62. Good lord, don’t give it another thought! You write English far better than I write any other language.

  63. Trond Engen says:

    Not all the listed examples are Gmc ‘au’. English ‘ea’ also corresponds to ON ‘ey’ (umlauted from ‘au’) as in ‘hear’, ‘ý’ as in ‘flea’, ‘ö’ as in “green” and ‘á’ as in ‘peacock’ (though I think at least ‘ö’ rather corresponds to ‘ee’).

    OE ‘ā’, nowadays mostly written ‘oa’, regularly corresponds to ON ‘ei’ < Gmc *a(:)i, as e.g. in 'goat'. (I wonder if ON 'bát' is borrowed from English.)

  64. The OED says yes: beit is found only in early Icelandic verse, and was completely replaced by English forms in all the North Germanic languages. It’s not clear whether Dutch, West Frisian, Low Saxon boot, boat are < English or are cognates; Standard German boot is < Low Saxon. French bateau could be from either English or Norse.

  65. Stefan Holm says:

    Goat vs Norwegian geit you say, Trond. That’s another excellent example of the superiority of the comparative linguistic method over eg. mass comparison. It’s when there are systematic differences between langugages, that you can start talking about kinship. In this case an original PGmc ‘stein’ among the Angels and Saxons became ‘stan’ and later ‘stone’. Among the low Germans and east Scandinavians it became ‘sten’. The west Scandinavians kept the ‘stein’ and the high Germans changed the ‘ei’ to ‘ai’ (in pronunciation – but kept the spelling). Thus another English-Swedish comparison:

    Alone-allena, bone-ben, broad-bred, doug-deg, drove-drev, oak-ek, oath-ed, one-en, own (adj.)-egen, own (verb)-äga, foul-fel (=error), goat-get, whole-hel, holy-helig, home-hem, hot-het, loaf-lev, more-mer, most-mest, no-nej, nose-näsa, older-äldre, oldest-äldst, poke-peka (=point), rope-rep, rode-red, shone-sken, stone-sten, soul-själ, token-tecken, who(m)-vem, wood-ved, work-verk (noun), world-värld, worse-värre, worst-värst, worth-värd, your (plural)-er.

    And thank you, Hat, for your kind comment upon my sometimes flagrant misuse of the English language.

  66. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks, John. I thought I remembered Bjorvand & Lindeman being silent on this, but they treat it thoroughly. I’ve been thinking about ‘bátr’ for years, so I must clearly have read the entry, but it was all gone.

    The short version is that all Germanic forms must be borrowed from OE (or perhaps Old Frisian, but the word isn’t safely attested there). That seems like the wrong direction, culturally, but for the word to have spread from Scandinavian, it would have to be from a substrate, since there are no relatives in sight. In OE it’s a straightforward verbal noun to ‘bite’, probably first denoting the act of “biting” into the waves, i.e. sailing into the wind, and then a ship designed for that purpose. They prefer this to an alternative semantic derivation from the same verb in the meaning “hollowing out”. ON ‘beit’ is neuter and thus no direct cognate, but can be seen as a semantic parallel supporting the derivation either way.

  67. Stefan Holm says:

    Besides ‘bite’ SAOB (Swedish Academy’s Wordbook) mentions the Latin stem ‘fodius’ (to dig) as an alternatively possible cognate to boat (as well as to both ‘bed’ and ‘fossile’). Phonetically it looks all right even if the semantics might be far stretched.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    “Dig” isn’t that far fetched, be it for a hollowed-out trunk or a ship sailing against the wind. B&L dismiss it, though, since they prefer a reconstruction with *-dh- for the ‘bed’ word.

  69. As we discussed some time back, Scots bate, bait has also been displaced by English boat. The Dictionary of the Scots Language last reports it in 1911 in Aberdeen, and says ‘common in fishing villages’, suggesting that it was not so common elsewhere.

    The DSL has many virtues, one of which is being freely available on the Internet, unlike the OED. Its worst problem, considered as a dictionary of Scots, is that it excludes all words which are the same in Scots as in English. Granted, any English word is available to Scots speakers for ad hoc borrowings, so a bright line is hard to establish, but a comprehensive historical dictionary without entries (or with entries that list specifically Scots forms and usages only) for half the words on the Swadesh list would be unthinkable for any other language. As an example, there is a full entry for nicht ‘night’, but for day the only forms discussed are the day ‘today’ and a month’s/year’s day ‘the space of a month/year’, along with many phrases. Granted, lexicographically it would be stupid to define day as ‘day’, but evidence of its use in ordinary contexts would be a Good Thing nevertheless.

  70. On Volvo: The passenger car division only was in the possession of Ford, and that is what Ford sold to Geely. The bus, truck, construction equipment and marine and industrial engine divisions, altogether far larger than the car division, remain in Swedish hands. Google [ volvo group ] for details.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    evolutionary pessimism

    What do you mean?

    consider the rare earths found in a limited number of locations. (I guess the phrase must come from Latin or a Romance language).

    Given the history of their discovery, the German version seltene Erden might be original. Erde is the planet as well as everything from loam to humus – though applying it to a particular ore is very poetic. (And, well, to apply it to a metal a salt of which is a tiny component of that ore is… quite an abstraction.)

    Dirt in this meaning is just English. The word was borrowed from ON ‘drit’

    Oh, so that’s why there’s no German cognate! :-)

    One thing is clear though: English ‘ea’ and Swedish ‘ö’ are both from PGmc ‘au’ – not ‘o’ or ‘u’. With some varieties in spelling and semantics: Bean-böna, bleed-blöda, bread-bröd, breast-bröst, cheap/chapman-köpa (=buy), dead-död, deaf-döv, dream-dröm, east-öst, ear-öra, eye-öga, feed-föda, green-grön, hear-höra, hen-höna, leaf-löv, leap-löpa (=run), leek-lök (=onion), mead-mjöd, meet-möta, neat (=cattle)-nöt, red-röd, sea-sjö, seam-söm, seek-söka, smear-smörja, stream-ström, sweet-söt.

    German has generally kept this au, changing it to long o under circumstances I can’t quite remember. To wit: Bohne, [see below], Brot, Brust [yeah, no idea], kaufen/Kaufmann, tot, taub, Traum/träumen, Osten, Ohr, Auge, füttern, grün, hören, Henne, Laub, laufen, Lauch, Met [?!?], –, –, rot, See, Saum, suchen, schmieren, Strom, süß.

    “Bleed” is bluten without umlaut in Standard German, but my dialect does have umlaut here: blood/bleed = [b̥lʊɐ̯d̥]/[b̥lɪɐ̯tn̩]

    ‘ý’ as in ‘flea’

    German Floh, confusingly enough.

    and the high Germans changed the ‘ei’ to ‘ai’ (in pronunciation – but kept the spelling).

    It’s more complicated than that, in that Standard German but very few if any dialects has merged this ei with the long i. Thus, in Austrian Standard German, this fusion product is pronounced as a barely lowered [ɛ̞ɪ̯] – because that’s the value my dialect (and few others) have for the old long i, while the old ei is [a] in eastern Austrian dialects (vowel length isn’t phonemic) and [oɐ̯] in the rest of Bavarian.

    Alone-allena, bone-ben, broad-bred, doug-deg, drove-drev, oak-ek, oath-ed, one-en, own (adj.)-egen, own (verb)-äga, foul-fel (=error), goat-get, whole-hel, holy-helig, home-hem, hot-het, loaf-lev, more-mer, most-mest, no-nej, nose-näsa, older-äldre, oldest-äldst, poke-peka (=point), rope-rep, rode-red, shone-sken, stone-sten, soul-själ, token-tecken, who(m)-vem, wood-ved, work-verk (noun), world-värld, worse-värre, worst-värst, worth-värd, your (plural)-er.

    Allein, Bein, breit, Teig, treiben, Eiche, Eid, ein, eigen, –, [see below], Geiß [specifically female goat in Standard German], heil, heilig, heim, heiß, Laib [the homophone Leib means "body"], mehr, meist-, nein, Nase (!), [see below twice], –, Reifen “tyre”, reiten, scheinen, Stein, Seele, Zeichen, wem, Wald (!), Werk, Welt [the r was still there in MHG], –, –, Wert, euer.

    Older/oldest must be recent regular replacements for elder/eldest. Foul doesn’t belong: German has faul for “rotten under lack of oxygen” (it’s used to translate “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”) and “lazy”, while “to be absent” is fehlen and “mistake” is Fehler. “Your” must be from io- or something.

    ON ‘beit’ is neuter and thus no direct cognate

    …So is das Boot just analogous to das Schiff?

    would be unthinkable for any other language

    I wonder about the Schweizer Idiotikon.

  72. Older/oldest must be recent regular replacements for elder/eldest.

    Indeed.

    Foul doesn’t belong

    German is the odd one out here: Etymonline says:

    Old English ful “rotten, unclean, vile, corrupt, offensive to the senses,” from Proto-Germanic *fulaz (cognates: Old Saxon and Old Frisian ful, Middle Dutch voul, Dutch vuil, Old High German fül, German faul, Gothic füls), from root *fu-, corresponding to PIE *pu-, perhaps from the sound made in reaction to smelling something bad (compare Sanskrit puyati “rots, stinks,” putih “foul, rotten;” Greek puon “discharge from a sore;” Latin pus “putrid matter,” putere “to stink,” putridus “rotten;” Lithuanian puviu “to rot”).

  73. jamessal says:

    evolutionary pessimism

    What do you mean?

    Yeah, sorry about that. I was going to write pessimistic naturalism, with Schopenhauer in mind, but now they’re fighting over what naturalism means too, and the once voice-over I had in mind did invoke evolution, so out came the phrase. Essentially, one of the main characters believes that human consciousness was an evolutionary mistake, that we shouldn’t be sentient and only go on day to day because of “our programming.” One of the ways this isn’t all ponderous and boring, aside from the writing and acting, is this main character’s foil — his partner — who after listening carefully to a long speech about the nature of value judgments, a speech that begins “When the sentient meet, they makes sense . . .,” sits silent for a second and then asks, “What’s scented meat?”

  74. Stefan Holm says:

    ’Ful’ [fʉ:l] is alive and kickin’ in Swedish. Modern meaning is either ‘ugly’ or ‘immoral’, ‘evil’. HC. Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, Da. Den grimme ælling is in Sw. Den fula ankungen (with triple marking of the definite case: Den …-a …-n).

  75. There’s a Yiddish expression, foileh shtik, roughly meaning “rotten goings-on”, in which the ‘foileh’ component is surely akin to English ‘foul,’ Swedish ‘ful’ and so forth.

  76. Trond Engen says:

    ‘Ful’ is normal also in Norwegian dialects, especially eastern, I think. German ‘faul’ and English ‘fowl’ are both regular from *fu:l, aren’t they?

  77. Stefan Holm says:

    ’Fowl’! A typo, Trond? Thats the pan-Germanic word for ’bird’: Ger/Du Vogel, Sw fågel, Da/No/Icel fugl, even though the English have reduced it to some domesticated birds. It’s a derivative from the same root as fly, flow, flee, flea, float, fleet, flood etc.

  78. Trond Engen says:

    A thinko rather than a typo, but yes. I was thinking about the fact that ‘foul’ and ‘fowl’ are homonymous in English and ‘ful’ and ‘fugl’ in urban Norwegian, but the latter not as a regular development but by phonological nativisation (fu:L) of the Danish form, a sociolinguistic compromise, no doubt through school. Genuine dialect around here, southwest of Oslo, has ‘faul’ [fæUL ~ fævL] for “bird”.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    in which the ‘foileh’ component is surely akin to English ‘foul,’ Swedish ‘ful’ and so forth

    Yep, German faul again (plural ending -e); Yiddish consistently turns au into /oj/.

  80. ‘Fowl’! A typo, Trond? Thats the pan-Germanic word for ’bird’: Ger/Du Vogel, Sw fågel, Da/No/Icel fugl,..rom the same root as fly, flow, flee, flea, float, fleet, flood etc.

    A flea and a fly in a flue
    Were imprisoned so what could they do
    Said the fly let us flee
    Said the flea let us fly
    So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

    This sieve of a memory recalls reading that fowl, Vogel et al are in fact not related to flight, flug and so forth. Can anyone confirm?

  81. des von bladet says:

    Whence: “A sound-change in late Old English days eliminated all the (not very many) fn- words in English, changing them to sn-words

    The studie of speeches hystorie here findes its rewwardes
    It is since the dayyes of Chaucer that man cannot see the fnordes

  82. Stefan Holm says:

    Etymonline says, that the Gmc ‘fowl’ words probably are dissimilated from *flug-la-, ‘flyer’. The PIE origin would be *pleu-, to ‘flow’ or ‘swim’, may it be through water or air. While the ‘float’ sense is all over IE ‘fly’ seems restricted to Gmc. although with at least a semantic connection as obvious as fly→fowl.

  83. A thly and a thlea in a thlue …

    Not to spoil the fun, but it’s not actually clear which cluster is original in that correspondence (Gothic thl- : other Germanic fl-). I think these days it’s mostly assumed that the change was fl- > Goth. thl-, with the few Gothic words beginning fl- getting explained away in some fashion.

  84. Trond Engen says:

    It just struck me that No. (nn) gut, (bm) gutt “boy, (obs.) unmarried man” looks llike you’d expect a reflex of the “Goth” word to do. And the etymology is essentially the same, from ON gjóta “cast, unleash”.

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