LANGUAGE IN PREHISTORIC EUROPE.

Don Ringe’s The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe is probably the most interesting thing I’ve read on the Log (no knock on the other stuff they write about over there, it’s just that they tend to be into phonology and comic strips and political use of language, and I’m into historical linguistics). Ringe and I were grad students in Indo-European together, and reading him gives me a pang of regret that I left academia; the reality-based reconstruction of earlier linguistic situations is exactly the kind of thing that got me excited about linguistics in the first place. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

The basic fact of pre-state language distribution is that no single language can occupy, for more than a few centuries, an area too large for all its native speakers to communicate with each other regularly….
Thus in pre-state communities every language spread automatically results in language fragmentation. Of course not all the fragments survive; pre-state language communities sometimes gradually abandon their native language and adopt the language of another community with which they are in intimate contact, as linguists working in the highlands of New Guinea have observed (Foley 1986:24-5). But the fragments that do survive continue to diverge, century after century, until the original connections between them can no longer be discovered with any certainty….
But not all pre-state areas are equally diverse linguistically; that was one of the many interesting findings of Nichols 1990… As Nichols herself notes (p. 488), it all boils down to scale of economy: in areas where a small group can support itself in a small area, small groups do exactly that, and over time their languages steadily diverge; in areas in which populations must range over a large area in order to survive, we find lineages occupying correspondingly larger areas—though the languages in question are not necessarily spoken by larger populations….
In prehistoric Europe, then, we should expect to find the following pattern of languages and families, roughly speaking:
* numerous languages, belonging to many families not provably related to each other, in the Mediterranean coastal zone, including virtually all of Greece and Italy;
* somewhat less, but still notable, diversity along the cooler Atlantic coast, including the British isles;
* still less diversity in the interior of the continent (though not markedly less, given the adequate rainfall that Europe enjoys)—except probably for the Alps and the mountainous parts of the Balkan peninsula, which are likely to have been refugia for small and linguistically diverse populations, much like the modern Caucasus;
* fairly little diversity in Scandinavia—though probably not less than exists today, with two different language families belonging to different stocks (!).

He goes on to show how “what we actually know about the distribution of languages in Europe at the dawn of history” fits with this picture, and concludes:

Given the number of areas that should have promoted modest diversity—the Atlantic coast, the Alps, the Balkans—it would be no surprise if the rest of the continent together exhibited a linguistic diversity similar to that of the Mediterranean region, with little overlap of families or stocks between the Mediterranean and the rest of the continent: perhaps sixty languages in Europe altogether, representing some forty families and thirty stocks… In the most general terms, aboriginal Europe should have exhibited a degree of linguistic diversity comparable to that of western North America, with the Mediterranean region comparable to aboriginal California, the Atlantic coast comparable to the northwest coast of North America, and the hinterlands very roughly comparable.

He then goes on to provide the most convincing short discussion of how the Indo-European languages spread across Europe, and finishes with this admirable peroration:

I find it hard to see what relevance anything much earlier than the Roman Empire can have for modern Europe; but if you’re a European and you see things differently, maybe you should think about the following. Unless you speak Basque, your native language was brought to where you live by immigrants — and unless you speak Greek or Irish Gaelic or Welsh, or are a native of one of a few selected provinces of Italy (such as Tuscany or Lazio), they weren’t the first known immigrants, either. Your ancestry is almost certainly mixed, possibly as mixed as mine. (I have known ancestors from Ireland, Spain, France, the Kingdom of Hannover, the Rhineland, southern Germany, the Italian Alps, Croatia, and Serbia. God only knows what mixture lies behind each of those lines of ancestry) You are the product of diversity because Europe has always been diverse.

My only quibble, really, is that he refers to “The language of the stele of Novilara (east of San Marino) and a few other fragments”; I had to google to find out he was talking about North Picene, as it’s generally known (or North Picenian, as it’s called in the wonderful Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe).
Oh, I should warn readers that the LL thread is disrupted by one of those annoying Dissenters who feels obliged to register his dissent repeatedly and at great length. I hope he doesn’t notice this post, but if he does: please, professor, no need to make the same points here, we can read them at the Log. Yes, not everyone accepts the standard picture of language development and of Indo-European; duly noted, and thanks in advance for your restraint in staying out of this thread.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

    And to wet it as well! <drool>

    Oh, I should warn readers that the LL thread is disrupted by one of those annoying Dissenters who feels obliged to register his dissent repeatedly and at great length.

    I’ll go over there and look if it’s a good idea to write “concern noted” or “we appreciate your concern, it is noted and stupid”…

  2. Cherie Woodworth says:

    Does Don Ringe’s construction extend to the Caucasus region? I’d sure like an explanation of how that area got to be so linguistically complex, and if the languages there are, as they claim, autochthonous.

  3. John Emerson says:

    As I understand, the Celts were imkigrants to the British Isles too. Though my sources may be obsolete.
    Did he mention the Dravidians?

  4. John Emerson says:

    As I understand, the Celts were imkigrants to the British Isles too. Though my sources may be obsolete.
    Did he mention the Dravidians?

  5. John Emerson says:

    The “decimation and proliferation” evolutionary model looks like it would work in interpreting this. During any tolerably long time period, a millenium or a few millenia I’d say, many languages will be created and destroyed.

  6. John Emerson says:

    The “decimation and proliferation” evolutionary model looks like it would work in interpreting this. During any tolerably long time period, a millenium or a few millenia I’d say, many languages will be created and destroyed.

  7. AJP Crown says:

    Thank you, Jesus.

  8. The basic fact of pre-state language distribution is that no single language can occupy, for more than a few centuries, an area too large for all its native speakers to communicate with each other regularly….

    I’m not so sure about “basic fact”. If you generalize the above claim, a rather banal idea appears:

    the practitioners of any kind of human activity or industry will tend to become different in their practices over time – after initially spreading over a large area, but one too large for all of them to interact with each other regularly over that time.

    In other words, regular interaction is pretty much a prequisite for maintaining homogeneity in any type of human activity.
    Of course banality proves nothing, neither a claim nor its contrary. Still, the author can at most claim that it has been particularly demonstrated, for language, that “inhomogeneity over time, over a large area, in the absence of regular interaction” is in fact what is observed. What’s “basic” about this is not clear to me. Perhaps this is a polemical counterclaim to some position I don’t know about.
    Another dubious part of the above quote, for me at any rate, emanates from the “can”, in “no single language can …” – i.e. every language must fail to …. What exactly is being sneakily hypostatized here? Why do so many people find it so difficult just to show that something is the case, without going on to claim that it must be the case? I thought history was one damn thing after another – are “historical laws” back in fashion?
    For many years, I was annoyed by writers who thought they could refute a philospher’s views by pointing to passage A in that person’s writing, and then to passage B, and then saying “this is a contradiction”. I thought: so A is incompatible with B, so what? Is syllogistic logic God Almighty? I began to suspect that Uncle Hegel was at the root of all this. Having now listened in on his lectures, I am fairly certain: not Uncle himself so much as the Marx and Engels engeance. Thank God for quantum physics, I say, even if most of us don’t know more than squat about it. At least it cast out the logic-lenders into outer darkness.

  9. AJP Crown says:

    I’m into historical linguistics
    Also literature. I hate fiddling with car engines, but quite enjoy driving. Linguists spend all their time under the hood, in the cold, getting their hands greasy, instead of driving the car.

  10. This all reminds me of the ancient quest for origins, where the original race lived on the original homeland with their original culture and spoke the original language. God that seems archaic, but it was only a century or so ago and you still see careless contemporary traces of it now and then. Even from me. (A good, common-sense, non-relativist, non-provocative example of the errors of essentialism and Platonism.)
    If I remember correctly, in one book Karlgren derive all of the modern Chinese languages from the standard language of ca 800 BC (Book of Songs), and in a later book he derived all of the the same Chinese languages from the standard language of 700 AD (T’ang dynasty). Once you start looking for origins, you can find as many as you want or need.

  11. This all reminds me of the ancient quest for origins, where the original race lived on the original homeland with their original culture and spoke the original language. God that seems archaic, but it was only a century or so ago and you still see careless contemporary traces of it now and then. Even from me. (A good, common-sense, non-relativist, non-provocative example of the errors of essentialism and Platonism.)
    If I remember correctly, in one book Karlgren derive all of the modern Chinese languages from the standard language of ca 800 BC (Book of Songs), and in a later book he derived all of the the same Chinese languages from the standard language of 700 AD (T’ang dynasty). Once you start looking for origins, you can find as many as you want or need.

  12. Grumbleby, the author was summarizing the results of a considerable study. Your comments seem formalistic, and not based on a reading of the study or a consideration of its argument and evidence.

  13. Grumbleby, the author was summarizing the results of a considerable study. Your comments seem formalistic, and not based on a reading of the study or a consideration of its argument and evidence.

  14. Grumbleby, the author was summarizing the results of a considerable study. Your comments seem formalistic, and not based on a reading of the study or a consideration of its argument and evidence.
    Furthermore, you don’t seem to have any interest in the history of language. You sound like someone mocking the theory of relativity (“Everything’s relative—how banal!”) without actually knowing anything about physics.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: I hate fiddling with car engines, but quite enjoy driving. Linguists spend all their time under the hood, in the cold, getting their hands greasy, instead of driving the car.
    But aren’t you glad that there are people who love fiddling with car engines so you don’t have to? (and that is not incompatible with a love of driving).

  16. Well, geebus!
    Language:
    Where in the world did you get the idea that I am not interested in the history of language?? I did in fact read Ringe’s article before writing my post. I am critical of how Ringe proceeds with his arguments – not dismissive of linguistics or language. Where do I suggest that “everything is relative”?
    To get one thing out of the way: my mathematical background is in algebraic topology, formal logic and set theory. I’m not a mathematical physicist, though many of my friends are or were physicists. I keep up a bit with physics, as they all do, through popularizing works like those of Greene and Penrose. I implied that I know at least squat about quantum physics, which is true – though no more than squat.
    And another thing: I speak (mother-)English, German, French, and Spanish (in decreasing order of fluency). I come from Texas, and have lived in Germany for the last 40 years. I studied Russian for 6 years (long ago), classical Greek for 3, and my Latin is passively serviceable. You don’t have to believe that, of course – if you think it’s important, try me.
    I took your excerpt from Ringe as my starting point because it contains in nuce what I objected to. Essentially, it was his claims for more than is necessary or useful – the hypostatization. He almost admits it himself in the final section:

    In the first place, if you want “reality-based” answers, take a scientific approach. Science may or may not reveal the existence of an objectively real world out there, but it does give results that can be replicated and answers that can be proved by anyone who knows how the system works. That’s good enough for me because I think it’s the best we can hope for.

    This is almost 100% Luhmann, who is my current golden calf. And “proved by anyone who knows how the system works” is a mathematicians’s standpoint, and mine. Except I think that Luhmann never uses the word “prove”, and he does not dither about “may or may not reveal the existence of an objectively real world out there”. Luhmann sez: no.

  17. gremekago says:

    Òû êàê îáû÷íî ðàäóåøü íàñ ñâîèìè ëó÷øèìè ôðàçàìè ñïàñèáî, áåðó!

  18. That’s pretty meta, though.

  19. That’s pretty meta, though.

  20. I’ve been putting off reading this even though it looked interesting–I usually just read the LL titles off my feedreader without reading the articles–and this one looked pretty long too. But now that Hat’s got it that gives me an excuse to read it. Kind of disappointing though, I expected maybe hordes with yoghurt sweeping across the steppes or something and what I read was common sense that wasn’t that sensible. I was also disappointed by the absence of Dravidians. Okay, Hat says it’s a distillation of a lot of research, and that’s cool. But still. I think a second reading is in order to fully appreciate it.

  21. Okay, maybe it’s not fair to just say I was not happy and run off. Part of what’s bothering me is how it starts in the middle with the Indo European languages somehow overtaking other languages …other languages?
    It’s like the part of the bible where Adam and Eve were the first man and the first woman and then they had two sons and then the sons married two women…hey wait a minute, where did their wives come from? As Clarence Darrow would say, was there a separate creation in the next county?
    So the edges are not nice and tidy, but I suppose knowledge about language isn’t particularly tidy either. And we come in at the middle of the story, when the Sumerians invent writing and suddenly there is a whole language (and a whole culture) that springs onto paper. What happened to language before that? We are missing an epic.

  22. I’m sorry to have stepped on toes. I did think to have tread cautiously, though:

    I’m not so sure ,,, What’s “basic” about this is not clear to me. Perhaps this is a polemical counterclaim to some position I don’t know about. …Another dubious part of the above quote, for me at any rate …

    Emerson:
    Yes, in a way, what I wrote is formalistic and “meta”. I confess to an interest in the forms of argumentation. This doesn’t touch Ringe’s work, however, but only his way of presenting it in that article. I doff my hat to Nijma, who makes my point more elegantly, in a much nicer way: … what I read was common sense that wasn’t that sensible.
    My nick “Grumbleby” is deliberately, and frankly, self-critical.

  23. Not elegant at all; it was curmudgeonly. But not enough so to get myself a new nickname…after all there is the second reading to look forward to.

  24. AJP Crown says:

    But aren’t you glad that there are people who love fiddling with car engines so you don’t have to? (and that is not incompatible with a love of driving).
    Yes, I certainly do, I even love the mechanics themselves, though I don’t love their absurd billing system, I just don’t want to be one.

  25. I doff my hat to Nijma who, with the words … what I read was common sense that wasn’t that sensible, would have been making my point more elegantly, in a much nicer way – if Nijma wuz me.
    If I had some ham, I could have some ham and eggs, if I had some eggs.

  26. I doff my hat
    If you have a hat, you’re in the right place.
    I just don’t want to be one.
    Every time I crawl under a car I get bloody knuckles or worse, but my billing system for my own labor is at least not absurd. It even sometimes gives me an excuse to lurk in hardware stores.

  27. Interesting article! I bought the Fortson book some time ago but didn’t read it yet. After I have read that one I probably should also read Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel and Language because I don’t really get this argument about elite recruitment yet.
    Is PCT the Austrian School of linguistics?

  28. AJP Crown (Mrs) says:

    And are you Bertil the crow, from Sweden?

  29. Where in the world did you get the idea that I am not interested in the history of language??
    My apologies; it was just that you gave no indication in your initial comment that you were. You leaped immediately to “homogeneity in any type of human activity” without discussing anything related to Ringe’s actual points as far as I can see. And in your followups you still seem to me far more interested in philosophy than historical linguistics. But of course I believe that you are interested in the subject and know several languages, and as someone who also has a mathematical background in algebraic topology and set theory, I recognize a fellow soul, even if you’ve drifted off in a different direction than I. Welcome to the Hattery!

  30. No, Mrs Crown. I’m Bertil the infrequent Languagehat commenter from Holland.

  31. Åùå áû ê ýòîìó òåêñòû ïàðó òåìàòè÷åñêèõ êàðòèíîê äîáàâèòü. Áûëî áû âîîáùå èäåàëüíî!

  32. AJP Crown (Mrs) says:

    Ok. I’m trying to track down Bertil the Crow from Sweden. If you were that Bertil, I wouldn’t answer your question. As it is, PCT is Paleolithic Continuity Theory.

  33. Bill Walderman says:

    David Anthony’s “elite recruitment” model for the expansion of IE up into eastern Europe along the Danube or Bug valleys suggests that IE communities with advanced horse-based technology established beachhead settlements and then recruited local populations to join them, leading the locals to drop their native tongues and start speaking some form of IE. It seemed to me a plausible scenario but not supported by any concrete evidence. Anthony, I believe, doesn’t maintain that this is necessarily the way it happened, but suggests it might have happened this way. I was impressed by his book but, despite Ringe’s endorsement of this view on LL, I’m still not entirely persuaded that the European homeland was located in the Pontic steppes. Not that I have a preferred alternative theory–I just don’t think it’s been conclusively established.

  34. Bill Walderman says:

    Though I can’t claim to be a linguist, I’m also a little uncomfortable with Joanna Nichols’ principles of linguistic diversity, which seem just a little too much like “historical laws,” as Grumbleby said. I suspect the linguistic pre-history of Europe, if it could ever be reconstructed, would turn out to be much more complex than anyone can imagine.
    “I was also disappointed by the absence of Dravidians.” That’s because they were living at the North Pole at the time.

  35. I’m still not entirely persuaded that the European homeland was located in the Pontic steppes. Not that I have a preferred alternative theory–I just don’t think it’s been conclusively established.
    Oh, I’m with you; in fact, I’m pretty sure it never will be conclusively established. I just enjoy seeing it discussed so sensibly.
    I think John Emerson is preparing a monograph on the North Pole Dravidians, one of the many shamefully neglected peoples.

  36. Hat:
    Thanks. A few feathers ruffled all round, no harm done. As an old soup-chicken, I really must remember not to do my fox imitation in the henhouse in the middle of the night.
    How funny that you also did topology and set theory. I studied them at the U of Bonn in the 70′s – if you can call it studying. I remember only playing bridge, eating home-made Frikadellen with easy-to-pick cranberry sauce and hot mustard, and drinking strong coffee – all with my Diplomvater and his wife. Then we did music – I was at the piano, Walter on the flute and Anne sang. We did little contemporary sonatas, Protestant hymns, Gershwin and the thruppence opera. Sigh.
    But I must get back to my bone-rattling …

  37. Not the “North Pole Dravidians” Rather “The Dravidians of the North Pole”.

  38. Several of Ringe’s facts and comments struck me as odd: in particular, he treats Italic and Venetic as separate branches of Indo-European (whereas if anything Venetic seems to share isoglosses with Latin-Faliscan not shared with Osco-Umbrian, and I tend, with Beeler 1966, to regard Osco-Umbrian and Latin-Faliscan as separate branches of Indo-European): so many of the “languages” he names are so poorly attested that it looks like a crude attempt to make the data fit the presuppositions (I’m always reminded of the sole known inscription in “Illyrian” found on a ring, whose interpretation generated a great deal of scholarly activity until it was shown that it was in fact written in Greek and had been read in the wrong direction): in particular, how can we know that there hadn’t been any number of language spreads in Europe immediately before the expansion of Indo-European in Europe? In South Asia, for example, it is clear that Dravidian expanded over the area just before Indo-Aryan did: doubtless, if Indo-Aryan had wholly replaced Dravidian, Ringe (invoking “uniformitarianism”, doubtless) would mock the notion that Indo-Aryan replaced a single language family over much of South Asia.
    Also, if anything he understates how frequently language shift took place in Europe: thus it seems clear that Basque, South of the Franco-Spanish border (i.e. where a majority of Basque speakers live today), is the result of a post-Roman invasion from the North. Likewise, in most of present-day Greece the local Greek is *not* a continuation of Ancient Greek: instead, most modern varieties of local Greek are outgrowths of transplanted Attic-Ionic koine (which is why Greek is a single language rather than a family of neo-Hellenic languages today). As for Tuscany, we know of two waves of invaders (the ones from Rome who brought Latin, the earlier ones from the Eastern Mediterranean who brought Etruscan) who imposed their languages on that part of Europe, so I’m not sure what he means by “unless you’re from Lazio or Tuscany..”
    In short, I’m quite unimpressed.

  39. The North Pole Dravidians were exterminated by the Great Vowel Shift. Pity, that. Little material remains. The bears got most of it.
    Genetic tracking of neutral markers (non-functional genes not under selection pressure) have come up with interesting results about migrations. Basques, Finns and Lapps are genetically different than most Europeans, but Bulgarians and Hungarians aren’t, suggesting elite replacement in the latter cases (with language replacement in the latter case). The genes of Anatolian Turks are not much like other Turks, suggesting a moderate level of migration, but mostly language replacement by the resident populations (Greek, Syrian, and many others).
    Iceland and Sardinia are genetically distinct, but in the former case and maybe the latter it was probably an “island effect”. There are no mysteries about the origins of the Icelanders, but they’ve had some horrible die-off bottlenecks during famines, etc., so their gene pool differs from the Norse-Irish genepool.
    The most interesting result was from the British Isles. According to what I read, British genes are mostly pre-Celtic, Celtic next, Anglo-Saxon next, Norse next, Roman Imperial last.
    Cavalli-Sforza is the big name. People have been working on this stuff for three decades or more, but it still requires the grain of salt.

  40. The North Pole Dravidians were exterminated by the Great Vowel Shift. Pity, that. Little material remains. The bears got most of it.
    Genetic tracking of neutral markers (non-functional genes not under selection pressure) have come up with interesting results about migrations. Basques, Finns and Lapps are genetically different than most Europeans, but Bulgarians and Hungarians aren’t, suggesting elite replacement in the latter cases (with language replacement in the latter case). The genes of Anatolian Turks are not much like other Turks, suggesting a moderate level of migration, but mostly language replacement by the resident populations (Greek, Syrian, and many others).
    Iceland and Sardinia are genetically distinct, but in the former case and maybe the latter it was probably an “island effect”. There are no mysteries about the origins of the Icelanders, but they’ve had some horrible die-off bottlenecks during famines, etc., so their gene pool differs from the Norse-Irish genepool.
    The most interesting result was from the British Isles. According to what I read, British genes are mostly pre-Celtic, Celtic next, Anglo-Saxon next, Norse next, Roman Imperial last.
    Cavalli-Sforza is the big name. People have been working on this stuff for three decades or more, but it still requires the grain of salt.

  41. I’ve always presumed that mountain peoples like the Caucasian peoples and the Basques survived in refuges. I know that’s true of the Alans. So the Basque “homeland” might have been elsewhere, but still not far away.

  42. I’ve always presumed that mountain peoples like the Caucasian peoples and the Basques survived in refuges. I know that’s true of the Alans. So the Basque “homeland” might have been elsewhere, but still not far away.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    I’d sure like an explanation of how that area got to be so linguistically complex, and if the languages there are, as they claim, autochthonous.

    Well, people say that in Tyrol there are some valleys with mutually incomprehensible dialects — and we’re talking about German here. Take that situation, let it rest for a couple thousand years, and the result will look much like the Caucasus with its one-village languages.
    The only languages in the Caucasus that are not Northwest or Northeast Caucasian or Kartvelian (South Caucasian) or Armenian are a scattering of Turkic languages around the margins, the Persian language Tat, and Ossetic, which came from the north, from the steppes, like the Turkic ones — its closest living relative is Yaghnobi, spoken high in the mountains of Tajikistan.
    Controversial but convincing research suggests that NW Caucasian and NE Caucasian are each other’s closest living relatives. In that case, North Caucasian (or just Caucasian, if you say “Kartvel” instead of “South Caucasian”) must be considered autochthonous as far back as can be reconstructed. While research on Dené-Caucasian, the next higher-level grouping, has progressed fairly far (pdf) considering how young (most of) the idea is, no attempts have yet been made to pin down the place where its protolanguage was spoken.

    Perhaps this is a polemical counterclaim to some position I don’t know about.

    Bingo! Several linguists have suggested that Proto-Indo-European was spoken in a vast area, for example all of the steppe from the Carpathians to the Ural (if not beyond) and the Caucasus, or about half of Europe; Ringe explains why this is “not just unlikely but impossible“.

    Thank God for quantum physics, I say, even if most of us don’t know more than squat about it. At least it cast out the logic-lenders into outer darkness.

    Not at all, no. It merely shows that reality is counterintuitive. For example, Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation does not say “position and velocity cannot be determined exactly and may change while you’re looking away”; it says “the product of the uncertainties of position and velocity cannot decrease below {Planck’s constant divided by 2π}”.

    I think that Luhmann never uses the word “prove”

    That wouldn’t surprise me. Of all scientists, only historical linguists ever use that word — outside of linguistics, as soon as you see “unproven theory”, you know you’re dealing with a creationist.

    Part of what’s bothering me is how it starts in the middle with the Indo European languages somehow overtaking other languages …other languages?

    Eh, of course. Not all languages are Indo-European. Only those that are Indo-European are descendants of the Proto-Indo-European language. Arabic, for example, is not IE, it is AA (Afroasiatic = Afrasian).
    While I am at it, some have suggested that the Yahwistic creation myth (Gen. 2:4b onwards) is only about the origin of the Hebrews and a couple of other peoples that were considered closely related, not about the origin of all humans together…

    in particular, how can we know that there hadn’t been any number of language spreads in Europe immediately before the expansion of Indo-European in Europe? In South Asia, for example, it is clear that Dravidian expanded over the area just before Indo-Aryan did: doubtless, if Indo-Aryan had wholly replaced Dravidian, Ringe (invoking “uniformitarianism”, doubtless) would mock the notion that Indo-Aryan replaced a single language family over much of South Asia.

    I know of evidence that Basque is the last remnant of just such a case. I’ll need to ask if it has finally been published, though, before I give any details…

  44. Well, if you draw straight lines from Arizona to the Caucasus to the Yukon, probably Dene-Caucasian originated quite a bit north of Hawaii.

  45. Well, if you draw straight lines from Arizona to the Caucasus to the Yukon, probably Dene-Caucasian originated quite a bit north of Hawaii.

  46. I am surprised that Ringe’s overview of European languages and (in particular) IE scholarship could have been written decades ago. This would seem to be, in part, because he chooses not to discuss anything that is not perfectly mainstreamed in the field. I am not surprised, on the other hand, at the commentary historical linguistics provokes.
    A highly attractive thesis Ringe does not address: IE spread like it did because it was the language of an enormously attractive new technology. PIE was spoken in northern Anatolia, around 7000 BCE. The technology was agriculture. IE is essentially a map of the apread of agriculture through Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

  47. Etienne: thus it seems clear that Basque, South of the Franco-Spanish border (i.e. where a majority of Basque speakers live today), is the result of a post-Roman invasion from the North.
    This author regards the Basques to be pre-Roman.

  48. AJP Crown says:

    reality is counterintuitive
    ‘Reality can be counter-intuitive’ is maybe a better way to put it. If not, see a doctor.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    Well, if you draw straight lines from Arizona to the Caucasus to the Yukon, probably Dene-Caucasian originated quite a bit north of Hawaii.

    On the North Pole, to be exact — which proves it’s actually just a subset of Dravidian. Why am I not surprised!

    This author regards the Basques to be pre-Roman.

    Sure they are — just their presence in the southwestern part of the Basque Country is not. (And, of course, so is their absence in most of Aquitania.)

    A highly attractive thesis Ringe does not address:

    He does, obliquely, by alluding to the common complaint that this would require language change to have been abnormally slow in the first few millennia of IE history.
    I am quite sympathetic to the idea of the IE homeland having been south rather than north of the Caucasus, but that alone doesn’t say anything about a time frame.

    IE is essentially a map of the apread of agriculture through Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

    The map of the spread of agriculture through the Indian subcontinent is Dravidian, not IE, which came a little later. Europe might have been in a similar situation.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    ‘Reality can be counter-intuitive’ is maybe a better way to put it. If not, see a doctor.

    Reality, real reality, is counterintuitive. Take the Casimir effect: two flat plates put very close together in a vacuum bend towards each other — because nothing presses them together!
    We just don’t notice that much, because we can’t see single elementary particles.

  51. David Marjanović says:

    he chooses not to discuss anything that is not perfectly mainstreamed in the field.

    Yep. All that drooling for nought. :-(

  52. We just don’t notice that much, because we can’t see single elementary particles.
    You can’t, maybe.

  53. We just don’t notice that much, because we can’t see single elementary particles.
    You can’t, maybe.

  54. [G.] cast out the logic-lenders … [J.M.] Not at all, no. It merely shows that reality is counterintuitive.

    I meant logic-lenders, as I said, not logic: the people who want to maneuver you into a dependency on some supposedly unavoidable way of thinking – Kantian ethics, essentialisms of all kinds, including scientific ones about “the subjective/objective world”, some *one* system of thinking which is supposed to do service in *every* context. “Eat up all your logic, Johnny, you know it’s good for you – and if you don’t, you’re not going to get any dessert”.
    J.M. rightly says that quantum physics is not illogical, nor has it made the “really real” world illogical – but I was not claiming the contrary. Pre-Heisenberg and Co., most philosophers/scientists etc. would have always argued, implicitly or explicitly, that their preferred system was at the very least an elaboration of “the only way to think”, i.e. at the very least that it was intuitive, i.e. that it was at least natural. They were simply teasing out, into a system, the way we think. There’s no way for systematic thinking to be counter-intuitive, right?
    The successes of quantum physics in making scientific predictions about the behavior of the scientific world, and then demonstrating the correctness of those predictions, shows that even intuitions must bow to recalibration, even basic restructuring – over time. There were real dog-fights about this among physicists, for decades. “Intuitive”, “natural”, “impossible” (see Ringe) – what loaded terms these are!
    One conclusion I draw from this is that it’s just not on to be rigid or rancorous about being right. It’s not even polite. Who will claim that politeness has absolutely nothing to do with veracity, under conditions of uncertainty? “What is truth? said jesting Pilate. And would not stay for an answer”. Has anyone ever wondered why he ran off like that? I myself think he was just going to grab his dessert before Jesus could start nagging.
    And no, this is not an attempt on my part to get Lacan, Jung, “creationists” et al. a free ride on the bus by sneaking them in the back door. Although it’s not very polite, I would at most consider letting them hang on outside at the rear of the bus, keeping an eye out the while to make sure they didn’t steal the license plates. On these topics, I highly recommend a book I just finished, by the French physician and biologist Henri Atlan – À tort et à raison: Intercritique de la science et du mythe. To my astonishment and alarm, I found that there are writers in the “Kabbalist traditions” who have had some very reconsideration-provoking things to say. Atlan sez: stay cool, Grumbleby, nobody’s going to take your dessert away. They’re just showing that it doesn’t have to be low-cal pecan pie.

  55. Sorry: D.M., not J.M.

  56. AJP Crown, Mrs says:

    We just don’t notice that much, because we can’t see single elementary particles.
    You can’t, maybe.
    David, really, I’m with Emerson, see a doctor.

  57. I got to this thread too late to have anything useful to say about the original point.
    However, I want to note that Language Log has a follow-up article about wheel and horse that is just as good as the first one. It gets pretty technical, and non-linguists like me can get lost in all the details, but that doesn’t really matter because it still illustrates that serious linguistic analysis requires careful attention to details, with a lot of knowledge of the history of different languages, and isn’t just a matter of hand-waving, as some of the crazier people at sci.lang (Franz Gnaediger and analyst spring to mind for some reason) seem to think.

  58. Is anyone else having problems reading the comment at January 8, 2009 10:20 AM?
    I presume it’s some kind of Cyrillic, as I can read (see?) the blog it links to. This Windows XP seems to take a lot more tweeking than Vista for languages. ( Some have noticed my odd-looking links from this computer that work nonetheless.) I’ve finally got it displaying Asian characters but the comment above looks (and pastes) like:
    Òû êàê îáû÷íî ðàäóåøü íàñ ñâîèìè ëó÷øèìè ôðàçàìè ñïàñèáî, áåðó!
    Before I google further, does anyone have any ideas?

  59. One of the technical terms for such garbage is mojibake. Running it through online-decoder.com gives: Ты как обычно радуешь нас своими лучшими фразами спасибо, беру!

  60. Nijma, I think these “contributors” are only out to annoy, because they knows it teases. Let me explain.
    Take first the other gobbledygook example from “gremekago”, on January 7, 2009 11:14 PM. By looking at the HTML page source, I find the following Unicode for what displays:
    & #210;& #251; & #234;& #224;& #234; [and so on]
    To get this to display as you’re seeing it, I put a space between each of the contiguous & and #. Otherwise, the browser interprets it as Unicode (which it is) and you see
    Òû êàê [and so on]
    All the codepoints (the numbers) are in the upper half of the ASCII range 0-255, i.e. where we were in the 80′s with DOS. They were called “special characters”.
    The Unicode of the text sample probably is UTF-8, so I conclude that what you see is what was intended – namely really-truly garbage. I would be surprised it there were any language processor nowadays that tried to map some exotic language to ASCII. So it’s not mojibake.
    For the Unicode of a real language, I can take your nickname ripost ﻛﺮﻭﻦ to AJP Crowne (Mrs). This appears in HTML as
    & #65243;& #65198;& #65261;& #65254;
    The post you actually asked about, from “âÿçàíèå” on January 8, 2009 10:20 AM, appears like this in HTML:
    Åùå áû ê ýòîìó òåêñòû ïàðó òåìàòè÷åñêèõ êàðòèíîê äîáàâèòü. Áûëî áû âîîáùå èäåàëüíî!
    Here I could just cut-and-paste the entire text from the HTML, because Unicode is not being used – i.e. I didn’t need to doctor it by putting spaces between & and # (that’s why I showed only a few letters for “gremekago”, because it was too much work to doctor them all). In the post from “âÿçàíèå”, we see plain olde non-Unicoded, upper-half ASCII letters. From the letter frequencies, I conclude that somebody is just hammering away at one part of the keyboard (does this earn me a gold star for speculative linguistics !?)
    The post from “âÿçàíèå” is not “linked” to a website in any meaningful way. The “link” is simply whatever you enter in the URL field when you post a comment on languagehat. If you let the mouse pointer hover over “gremekago” in the January 7 post, you see that his/her URL is http:/// , which is not a URL at all.

  61. To continue a bit in the mode of homegrown speculative text analysis, with self-referentiality grit 440…
    Suppose I say that I notice that in the “word” äîáàâèòü, three contiguous characters áàâ appear which have contiguous ASCII codepoints 225, 224, 226 (that’s what I was thinking about when I wrote “hammering at the keyboard” – more like playing scales “asdfghjk”). When I say this, I reveal that I am interpreting what I see “in the ASCII scheme of things”. Moreover, when I say “contiguous ASCII codepoints”, I am applying a mathematical convention – the “natural ordering of numbers”. The numbers are near each other (“contiguous”) but not successive. The characters appear as contiguous and successive (reading left to right, which is an English convention).
    But ASCII codepoints are not numbers, in that it makes no sense to “calculate” with them (“today I paid 225 Eurocents for a box of eggs. Last week boxes also cost á Eurocents each”). In the same way, lottery numbers are not “really” numbers, but rather glyphs without any numerical ordering – still, crazy people still look for mystical / statistical “patterns”, in the hope of getting rich quick. Synesthetic folks for whom numbers are colors or smells are closer to the mark – as far as lottery numbers go.
    Moreover, if I say that äîáàâèòü contains three *almost successive* characters áàâ, then I am extrapolating from a “standard alphabetical ordering scheme” – in which I can say “abc contains three consecutive letters”, and “acb contains three almost successive characters” – on the basis of miscontruing ASCII codepoints as “ordered numbers”.
    What this all amounts to is that every attempt to “interpret äîáàâèòü” is based on any God’s number of assumptions, in that “interpretative schemes” are being applied, consciously or unconsciously. In IT, “protocol” is the genus of all such things as HTML, Unicode, cryptography etc.
    It’s difficult – some like Heinz Foerster and the system-theory, radical-constructivist bunch, claim that it’s impossible – to think in a certain way (work on assumptions) *simultaneously* with thinking about the way you’re thinking (working with assumptions). Grumbleby sez: bollocks! “Simultaneously” is a dodgy concept anyway. When we think, we flit from one thing to another, circling in and out of things (ok, ok, this formulation is not quite the one I would use in a doctoral thesis). I don’t see why I can’t land on one flower-thought, then on a meta-flower-thought, and so on. After all, I actually do this many times a day, and am doing it right now. Flit!
    This little excursion was prompted by your question about äîáàâèòü, and by Étienne’s remark in this thread:

    (I’m always reminded of the sole known inscription in “Illyrian” found on a ring, whose interpretation generated a great deal of scholarly activity until it was shown that it was in fact written in Greek and had been read in the wrong direction)

  62. Of course the insinuation that the “great deal of scholarly activity” was silly, it itself patently silly. All that activity culminated in the discovery that “in fact” the inscription was written in Greek.
    Without this scholarly activity, there is only a ring with marks on it that somebody *guesses* is an “inscription”. But the guess led to the activity.
    As for “in fact in Greek” – that will only hold until, 2000 years from now, some brilliant scholar turns up to demonstrate that the “inscription” is the postal code of an Ikea outlet in Erewhon.
    No, no, and no: I am not being “relativist” here. I’m not saying that there’s no point in scientific research because some results *may* be superseded some day. Rather, I’m arguing for more reflective explicitness about assumptions being used, and more reserve – that is, for less of the triumphalist “basic fact” mind-set that I questioned in Ringe’s article. You know, those remarks I made for which I got stomped on.

  63. AJP Crown says:

    an Ikea outlet in Erewhon
    Surely you mean an Ikea outlet in Flatland.

  64. Or an Ikea outlet where there is dancing with veils.

  65. Quite right, my apologies! As I was typing with my right hand, my left index finger apparently slipped down the bibliographical entries in the work I was citing: “Evidence for the common origins of Greek and Swedish”.

  66. Another slip-up: it’s “Evidence for the common origins of Greek and Swedish in the postal system”

  67. The post from “âÿçàíèå” is not “linked” to a website in any meaningful way. The “link” is simply whatever you enter in the URL field when you post a comment on languagehat. If you let the mouse pointer hover over “gremekago” in the January 7 post, you see that his/her URL is http:/// , which is not a URL at all.
    That’s because I deleted the spam URL while leaving the message itself. I do that occasionally, if I find the message amusing.

  68. That has spooky implications, Hat! I suppose that in interpreting ring inscriptions one generally assumes that “everything is there”, i.e. nothing has been filed away or deleted, unless somebody notices something suspicious like a chipped corner. This is one of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutic principles: if nothing appears suspicious, there’s no good reason to “delve deeper”, so don’t. In other words, hermeneutics should have priority over hermetics.
    In my edition of “Evidence for the common origins of Greek and Swedish in the postal system”, no doubt is cast on the completeness of the inscription. The new evaluation is based on complex arguments that I won’t try to summarize here.
    But what will be the general situation in which historical linguistics finds itself in 2000 years? It’s so *easy* to delete a URL from a HTML page. The very concept of “suspicious appearance” will have become useless.

  69. the sole known inscription in “Illyrian” found on a ring
    What about the reading Tilarios of the inscription on the spearhead of Kovel, as against the Gothic runic reading tilarids (Must, 1955)?

  70. Actually, deletions could be detected, on the basis of knowledge about HTML structure, i.e. href uses, as then current on websites. But not modifications. There are no physical traces.
    If HTML pages came with checksums, then you could recalculate the sum and, in case of a discrepancy, reasonably surmise that something had been changed. It would not be a proof, since you can have the same checksums for different texts. HTML don’t come with checksums, but lower-level protocols have them.
    Well, I guess it’s not so spooky after all. There’s all kinds of stuff you could draw on – they’re just not file marks. It will be a different world, but not that different in a bird’s-eye view!

  71. Correction: You cannot prove that a text has not been changed after a checksum was calculated on the initial version, since a later, modified version can have the same checksum.

  72. It depends on the algorithm used, Grumbleby. See here.

  73. A.K.: Indeed. Thanks for the general clarification. I deliberately spoke of checksums for the general reader here. I thought: if anyone asks, I can give “casting out nines” as an example.
    As the Wikipedia article says, many people, even in IT, speak indiscriminately of hash functions, cryptographic hashes, digital signatures etc.
    My point was, 2000 years hence all the mechanisms of historical linguistics will still be there, in one form or another – “internal” and “external” evidence, for instance.
    One of Hat’s links, “Varieties of unreligious experience”, took me yesterday to the fabulous site of Conrad Roth. (I admit to a misplaced epithet in the last sentence, but just couldn’t bring myself to the impertinence of putting it where it belongs). The article “Misplaced Frühneuhochdeutsch, anyone?” made my day. I don’t really know what “historical linguistics” is (blush), but I know what I like. The whole site threw me from one swoon into another. Geebus!

  74. Everyone loves Conrad and some of us pray to him.

  75. It’s so *easy* to delete a URL from a HTML page.
    There’s still the Wayback Machine.
    “âÿçàíèå”
    With XP I can read http://textile art.ru/masterclasses/. Looking at the website with Google Translate, it appears to be a genuine needlework blog with lots of different instructors. I had no idea needlework was such a big thing in Russia.

  76. Nijma, please watch for the post following this one. I’ll create it, pretending to be ÆÐÐÑÂ, and it will have a genuine website behind it – namely languagehat.
    It all has nothing to do with XP or Vista. Are you using some kind of blogging software, or just a browser?
    Hat, hope you don’t mind this instructional sally. Feel free to delete that post later.

  77. ᇆᇇᇈᇉᇊᇋ

  78. Thanks for the link, MMcM, it did quite nicely. I have set my Cyrillic character encoding to Windows-1251, and can at least see the Cyrillic for the needlework commenter.
    I’m not sure if Russia has technology shortages now, but remembering the jokes in Europe about appliances in the eastern block from about that time, I can just imagine some Russian entrepreneur kluging together an early 90′s era computer for needlework.
    Oh, Grumbleby, is that your own six-pack on your website?

  79. Grumbleby the character encoding setting is Firefox; for the Asian characters I had to change something in WindowsXP control panel, I forget now exactly what.

  80. Hat, hope you don’t mind this instructional sally.
    Not at all, I quite enjoyed it.

  81. Nijma: Unfortunately not. Just a piece of beefcake from somewhere. (unfortunately? you don’t have to have something to have it, if you get lucky.) I get a kick out contrasting this with the quote from the astringent Gertrude. On the one hand, I’m rather a censorious sonofabitch myself – among others, see my addendum to the Wittgenstein quote under “Parrocites” on my site. On the other hand, what’s wrong with sighing, what’s wrong with remarks? We can’t be doing literature all the time, if we do it at all. The whole picture and motto set-up reflects my … what shall I say … personality?
    Anyway, after perusing Conrad Roth’s site, I’m feeling rather chastened, even demure, at the moment. So much Scharfsinn, Grazie und Gelahrtheit all at once really takes it out of a guy.
    I thought you were still trying to find a character-set to make sense out of âÿçàíèå. That’s why I went on and on about HTML, since I was convinced there was nothing behind âÿçàíèå. I know nothing about Asian character-sets on XP. I was surprised that I could copy your Arabic (is it?) word into the search box of Google, since I have never installed Arabic fonts (but of course it’s all unicode, so I have no cause for surprise). Among the search results I saw “Crohn’s disease” in English, so I guessed your word was a transliteration of Kron. I had some difficulty marking the word so as to copy it. After a *long* time I realized that I had to mark from right to left, for Pete’s sake! And that the initial . was a final period.

  82. AJP Commonest Pub Name in Britain. says:

    Kron comes from krone, which is the Norwegian (Norway’s where I live) for crown (my name at LH). It was just another invention of the massively-endowed Emerson brain.

  83. Evidence for the common origins of Greek and Swedish in the postal system
    I’ve come here late. What’s this about Greek and Swedish originating in the postal system? I knew there was something artefactual about this wild proliferation of IE languages. Bloody chain letters.

  84. David Marjanović says:

    Gelahrtheit

    Gelehrtheit.

  85. Nope! See Grimm. And Duden (who only cite the Süddeutsche: schwache Leistung!)
    Ge|lahrt|heit, die; – (veraltet, noch iron.): Gelehrtheit: Anders als sein mythischer Hochstapler Joseph neigte der Dichter zur Tiefstapelei jedenfalls im Hinblick auf seine G. (SZ 24.10. 92, 18). © 2000 Dudenverlag

  86. The context was my gushing about “Misplaced Frühneuhochdeutsch, anyone?”. Gelahrtheit is a special, inherited word. Like the family silver, I take it out only on special occasions, so it won’t tarnish.
    As the Brothers say (excerpt from a long article):

    c) im 17. 18. jh.: Philanderson, ein edler, sinnreicher, sehr gelahrter und bescheidener jüngling. SCHUPPIUS 3; der hochgelahrte mann. 8; gehet es ihm, wie jenem … schulmeister, welcher .. gelahrter sein wolte als sein pastor. 18; gott, welcher .. macht, dasz die ohren der zuhörer gelahrter sind als die lippen des predigers. 215; der meister mit der gelahrten zunge, der gewaltig predigte. 599; als ihn aber jederman den weisesten Socratem nennete, lacht er selbst drüber, dasz die leut ihnen einbildeten, er sei so gelahrt. 650; durch einen cavallier und durch einen gelahrten. 595, nachher magister; die gelahrten und weisen. OLEAR. pers. ros. 2, 28; etliche gelahrte und gesprächsame gäste. 2, 29; ein gelahrter und frommer mann. 7, 8; es schreiben die gelahrten. 7, 10;
    weil er in zauberei auch trefflich war gelahrt,
    und sie gebrauchen könt auf alle weis’ und art. WERDER Ariost VII, 44, 3;

  87. google hits:
    24,200 for Gelahrtheit
    30,500 for Gelehrtheit
    3,480 for Gelahrter
    1,340,000 for Gelehrter

  88. Pox populi! But interesting nevertheless. I wouldn’t have expected to see the word turn up so frequently.
    I admit that, on this site, I can’t complain about recourse to usage statistics as an aid to evaluation – without getting stomped on (stop harping about that, Grumbleby, you twit!). It’s just that I myself do historical linguistics in vivo, if I do it at all. When I write Scharfsinn, Grazie und Gelahrtheit, that’s state of the art.

  89. I’m still trying to figure out where the page source for âÿçàíèå came from. On my browser it looks the same as on the page. Yes, Kron’s nickname was in Arabic spelled phonetically from right to left. It’s a royal pain to get it from the character map to the page because it keeps reversing itself, but Kron is well worth it, even if he is short. The waw و doubles for both o and u; why they don’t have a separate letter for each I’ll never know, since they went to the trouble of getting 5 or 6 different forms of d and t for their alphabet.
    Since that’s not you or one of your friends in the beefcake photo, let me just say that it might be beefy but it’s not very cakey. The kind of muscle that comes from steroids isn’t attractive at all. A guy who works out with aerobics instead will have a more subtle muscle tone that looks good because you can tell he takes care of himself. The guy in the picture probably spends so much time in the gym doing reps with heavy weights that he doesn’t have time for a personal life, and he probably doesn’t have any strength either, since that kind of workout is for bulk, not strength training. This is not the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry.

  90. that’s state of the art
    Art is in the eye of the beholder anyhow. When you get too far into theory, you start to lose any resemblance to life–and the usefulness of the theory. And if you take art too seriously you won’t enjoy it at all.
    Try not to think of it as being stomped on so much as a collaborative adventure.

  91. State of the artisanry, I should have said.
    Nijma, I disagree. I am beholden to art, but not to its beholders. Above, I urged “more reflective explicitness about assumptions, and more reserve”. The estimable Mr. Roth calls it modesty, saying:

    Something in my soul—is it a Platonism?—wants to safeguard the category of art. I cannot explain the mood, cannot give good reason for it. Still, it is there. I want to reserve art for the Rembrandts and Picassos—and for the bad artists too, the Renoirs and Rothkos—but not for the Richards and Conrads out for a jolly day around town with the old SLR. To efface that distinction, to deny any barrier between tekhne and empeiría, science and knack, art and craft, is to have become blind to the value inherent in each. A programmer once said to me, quite unguardedly, that he was creative, but not artistic, an admission in which I find a very admirable modesty: and by modesty I mean not the false humility of so many intellectuals, but a true understanding of the nature and the limitations of one’s own endeavours. Photography, and especially the photography of the static, like programming, is a creative activity, but not an artistic one: it aspires to be elegant and to give pleasure—but not to genius.

  92. I don’t know why, but I like “Gelahrtheit.” It has a rugged, craggy feel that says “you people wear whatever you want, I’ll stick to my morning coat and top hat, thanks.”

  93. AJP Crown says:

    Photography, and especially the photography of the static, like programming, is a creative activity, but not an artistic one:
    Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, John Coplans, Martin Parr, William Wegman, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Moholy-Nagy, Andy Warhol, Rodchenko, Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Alfred Stieglitz, El Lissitzky, Edgar Degas, Sophie Calle, Robert Irwin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Edward Steichen, Charles Sheeler, John Heartfield, Sylvia Plachy, Muybridge, Paul Strand, Henri_Cartier-Bresson, Andy Goldsworthy, Sally Mann, Sherrie Levine, Christopher Williams, Andres Serrano, Leni Riefenstahl…
    That’s just off the top of my head.

  94. Oh, Hat, so perspicuous, and so nicely said! There may be an association with Bert Lahr, yes.
    The mannerism of “Mr. Roth” – always referring to everone as Mr. This and Mrs. That – I picked up from Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant. I thought of this recently, when Pinter died. Someone took Mr. Pinter to meet Mr. Crisp once. Let us pause to remember them both.

  95. Kron is well worth it, even if he is short and can’t read

  96. Kron is well worth it, even if he is short and can’t read Arabic.

  97. Don’t forget Chicago’s John White. When he starts talking about handling a camera, you know you are in the presence of something.
    And now I’ll be busy googling the rest of Kron’s very distracting list.

  98. can’t read Arabic. oh, dear, كرون
    K- initial kaf ﻛ
    R- reh ر
    O- waw و
    N- noon ن

  99. David Marjanović says:

    Nope! See Grimm.

    Who cares about that brick full of words that were already obsolete 200 years ago. It’s chock full of words that nobody knows anymore or has ever suspected might exist.

    And Duden (who only cite the Süddeutsche: schwache Leistung!)

    WTF. I had no idea. And I still can’t imagine where that a might possibly come from. It just doesn’t compute. “To teach” is lehren, lehrte, gelehrt

    The waw و doubles for both o and u; why they don’t have a separate letter for each I’ll never know, since they went to the trouble of getting 5 or 6 different forms of d and t for their alphabet.

    That’s easy: the language simply doesn’t distinguish between o and u — depending on the surrounding consonants and the dialect, either or anything in between will actually get pronounced –, while it does distinguish between plain and “emphatic” (velarized to pharyngealized) t and d (and s and, depending on the dialect, several others); “velarized” means like the English “dark L”, and “pharyngealized” means the same, only more extreme, all the way back to ع.
    Osama bin Laden is Oussama ben Laden in French. Guess why.

  100. Good heavens, I was joking, does any culture really go out and obtain alphabets to assemble just like that, as if they were shopping at Ikea?
    But now that we’re on the subject, it does make the Nijmasson (Nijmasoon?) surname difficult to spell. ?ﻧﺠﻤﺎﺳﻮﻦ
    Doesn’t seem quite right.

  101. [Gelahrtheit] And I still can’t imagine where that a might possibly come from. It just doesn’t compute. “To teach” is lehren, lehrte, gelehrt…

    Think of “larned” and “learned”. But I know zilch about phonology. My approach is literary. Here are the Brothers:


    LEHREN [Lfg. 12,3], verb. docere.
    A. Formelles.
    1) goth. laisjan; alts. altnfr. lêrian, lêrean, mnd. nl. leren; ags. læran, altengl. lere, lear, im schottischen noch jetzt lare docere; fries. lêra; altnord. læra, schwed. lära, dän. lære; ahd. lêran, lêrran; mhd. lêren. das verbum ist causativbildung zu dem starken verbum goth. leisan, von dem ein prät. lais Phil. 4, 12 (griech. οιδα übersetzend, von GRIMM als präteritopräsentiale form gefaszt) erscheint, das die bedeutung erfahren gehabt hat …[weiter]
    2) seit der mhd. zeit findet sich neben dem prät. lêrte auch die form lârte, vorzugsweise in mitteldeutschen quellen (vgl. LEXER handwb. 1, 1884): und quam in sînes vater lant, her lârte si in iren synagôgen. Behaims ev.-buch, Matth. 13, 54;

    and


    GELAHRT [Lfg. 5,4], alte nebenform von gelehrt, mhd. gelârt, bes. in md. rede (s. u. lehren A, 2).

  102. Grumbly: I touched up your Grimm quote a bit (fixed the Greek, added a few words to enhance comprehensibility)—hope you don’t mind.
    I like gelahrt for the same reason I like Greek οιδα ‘I know’ (the word I fixed): an archaic chunk of word-stuff, unintelligible in terms of the current language but revealing of earlier linguistic goings-on.

  103. The needlework website link comment used octet values appropriate for Russian in Windows-1250; languagehat.com is served as ISO 8859-1, and the accented Roman-alphabet characters reflect the posted octet values in that encoding. Here’s what the spammer intended to post, with the link removed:
    Еще бы к этому тексты пару тематических картинок добавить. Было бы вообще идеально!
    Posted by: вязание at January 8, 2009 10:20 AM
    Google Translate tells me that it’s just the normal idiotic spammer text one expects.

  104. (I realise I may have just ruined the charm of the comment entirely!)

  105. Also, whoops, the encoding used in Russia is Windows-1251, not Windows-1250.

  106. Congratulations, AK! The text appeared mere garbage to me, but I just hadn’t found the “right” approach. I herewith award you the Graeco-Swedish postal medaillion.
    Hat: Thanks. After posting, I saw the Zeichensalat after “griech.”, but didn’t stop to check. I was supposed to be working just then, not surreptitiously flying into huffs on the internet.
    ειδω archaic? Depends on whom you associate with. No need to let yourself get distracted by these bright young things, for whom 200 years makes something “obsolete”. A brick full of words, indeed. Ουτινα οιδεν θεμιστα. I wonder if DM might change his mind if he knew that you can get it on CD for only 49 Eurons.

    [Grimm] … im schottischen noch jetzt lare

    Surely larned/learned is connected with this gelahrt/gelehrt business? The Brothers explain how lernen and lehren etymologically suck at the same teat (see the LERNEN article – physiologically they would come to blows, of course). Think of the dialectal American English “I’m gonna lern you a lesson you won’t fergit”, and “that’s just school larnin”.

  107. Think of the dialectal American English “I’m gonna lern you a lesson you won’t fergit”, and “that’s just school larnin”.
    It’s the other way around. “Lernin” as in “book lernin” is a noun; “larn” is a transitive verb. Just sayin’.

  108. Not where I come from. Texas be special that way.

  109. The text appeared mere garbage to me, but I just hadn’t found the “right” approach.
    The identification of the Russian website encoding as Windows-1251 was posted by me 3 days ago and the way to find the answer was in the post MMcM wrote also three days ago. If you had followed the links you would have found several Russian types of encoding listed and if you had used the decoding engine you would have seen that particular piece of mojibake or крякозя́бры identified as the 1990′s era Cyrillic ISO-8859-15 resolving to Windows-1251. If you had done something besides making “a mental note – but definitely not for later use” which apparently is the your default reaction to my comments, you would have had the answer much earlier. No gold star for you. No Miss Congeniality Award for you.

  110. “… definitely not for later use in speculating about Arabic“, Nijma. For Pete’s sake!
    I thought that I had more or less demonstrated that the text was garbage – I thought I had been right. AK went into the matter in more detail, and established that it is mojibake after all. So now AK is right, and I am wrong. I acknowledged this in my post. It’s like the Illyrian ring inscription. That’s the point of my putting “right” in quotes here. What’s regarded as “right” can change over time. I’ve been harping on that since I came to this site.
    I had already been to http://textileart.ru/masterclasses/, and saw plain old Russian, as far as I could tell. You said three days ago that you could now read the characters, after changed a setting. So everything seemed fine for everybody.

  111. No Miss Congeniality Award for you.
    Matt. 7:3

  112. Nijma: The way that sometimes, in your posts, you sort of sidle up real nice-like and dab a little oil on the waves has helped me enormously to pull myself together after a fit of huffing and puffing. Remember, for instance, when I was being bitchy to Noetica about the Johnson anecdote? Don’t fail me now.

  113. a mental note – but definitely not for later use in speculating about Arabic
    In that case there will be no objection if my answer is بوس طيزي .

  114. No Miss Congeniality Award for you. Matt. 7:3
    Although one might speculate on the utility of trading scripture citations with someone several circles lower in Dante’s scheme than oneself, I must say that first of all, I was not the one to cast the first stone, neither am I ignorant of the limitations of retribution, but I have neither picked up the stone that was flung at me and flung it back, nor sought to do other than point out the stone that was hurled and how undeserved it was. If someone disagrees with me, fine, let them say why, I am always ready to learn, but ad hom‘s (ad feminamses?) aren’t terribly helpful. I have also not had any occasion to single out any of Hat’s guests and insinuate that they were unreliable, as was done with me. That sort of meta is not generally conducive to discussion.

  115. I have also not had any occasion to single out any of Hat’s guests and insinuate that they were unreliable, as was done with me.

    What?? When I wrote “definitely not for speculating about Arabic”, you took this to mean I was impugning your credentials as to Arabic?? I know diddlysquat about Arabic, or any other language except German (with a few romantic ones on the side): I thought to have made perfectly clear, passim et ubique, explicitly and implicitly, since I first clomped into Hat’s site. As an example of pretty explicit implicitness:

    I was surprised that I could copy your Arabic (is it?) word into the search box of Google, since I have never installed Arabic fonts (but of course it’s all unicode, so I have no cause for surprise).

    I must again appeal in the name of Mr. Pete, Nijma. The point I was making (as a result of being teased by the diabolical Mr. JE, though I didn’t know it at the time) was precisely the opposite. JE wrote “who are we to say what is or isn’t German?” I replied with the rhetorical questions:

    So it’s just creative writing, is that what you’re saying? All the judiciousness in the contributions about German really is very misleading, then. You ask, who are we to say what is or isn’t German? Does “we” mean everybody? If so, why does anyone go to the trouble of citing anyone else on a point of German etymology?
    When Nijma writes “Jordanians can’t really understand Moroccan Arabic”, then anyone could have said that with the same weight? I can’t judge what Nijma says, yet occasionally I make a mental note – but definitely not for later use in speculating about Arabic.

    To make it even clearer: there are people who know what they’re talking about, when they’re talking about Arabic, and then there are the other people. And as far as I can tell (but who am I, knowing no Arabic), Nijma is one of those who know what they’re talking about. I make a mental note about Jordanian and Moroccan Arabic, but that’s the end of the road for me. I ended my rant with:

    Let a thousand nonsenses about German be nipped in the butt.

    That’s the only kind of nipping I’m qualified to do.
    Friends? I’ve even shed an “l” as a sign of goodwill.

  116. All RIGHT, already, Grumble-self-fulfilling prophecy-bee, you merry ray of frigging sunshine. If you say you weren’t trying to insult me, I believe you. Now I have to go do stuff they always want me to do the first week of the semester, some kind of syllabus thingies, inservices, oh lord I hope they don’t want lesson plans….

  117. If you say you weren’t trying to insult me, I believe you.
    This is not the first time you’ve had to go through this process. You might consider whether, just possibly, you are too quick to take offense.

  118. I’m not the only person to express unhappiness with what another commenter has said, but perhaps I don’t pirouette as nicely when I do it. I am certainly not going to join one commenter in attacking another commenter’s style. I prefer to sit back and watch the show unfold as one detail piles on another, and one person’s comments spark someone else’s creativity. A shame, really that this thread has become about personalities. I had hoped to reread the original article and try to make some more useful comment, but for now I have run out of time. There is so much publicly accessible information about language out there of the simplistic 19th century type that the propaganda spinners of the third Reich found so useful, but it seems the more studied academic approach is not all that accessible by the public or by other disciplines. And now I really do have promises to keep.

  119. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if DM might change his mind if he knew that you can get it on CD for only 49 Eurons.

    “Only”? In relative terms, I’m sure that’s cheap, but in absolute ones… nah.
    No, really, I don’t need something that would be the German equivalent to the OED if it had ever been updated. :-)
    BTW, Grumb(l)y, the “who are we to say German, let 100 flowers bloom” stuff was obvious sarcasm. I get the impression you took it seriously.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    The 19th century type of historical linguistics and the methods it developed are still the foundation on which the field is built. That some of its conclusions were grossly misused by “the propaganda spinners of the Third Reich” has nothing to do with their validity as language studies. The “more studied academic approach” currently used has added some technical details (especially statistical analyses) allowed by new technology but the overall principles are still the same, and the new technology does not yield foolproof results but can cause problems in that it focuses on what it can do (give rapid access to, and process, a vast amount of dictionary data) but does not help with what it cannot do (replace human study and interpretation of smaller but potentially crucial sets of grammatical data not amenable to statistics) and therefore it is easy to just ignore this complementary part of historical studies. In fact some of the analyses have been carried out by persons who are not historical linguists at all but belong to other disciplines entirely, so that they are not aware that lists of words are not the only thing that historical specialists must take into account.
    It is true that much of this information (new and old) is not readily accessible to non-linguists, but in any field of endeavour there are some technical aspects which can be taken for granted in communications intended for persons who already have the relevant background, and which therefore can be hard going if not totally incomprehensible for outsiders to the field (eg my having heard or read something about very basic quantum physics does not mean I can understand an article on some aspect of the topic in a professional physics journal). But there are also a number of books on linguistics, including the historical aspect, intended for the general public which give at least some of the basics needed in order for readers not to be completly lost and to feel they can trust the author to give them the latest thinking and some of the relevant data. The recent postings by Don Ringe on Language Log are somewhat in between the two types of communication (some of the other linguists posting on that log are obviously not terribly familiar with this subfield, which is not the most fashionable in linguistics right now, so that many professional linguists have no more than a passing acquaintance with it – yet this is the subfield that is most likely to draw the interest of outsiders).

  121. Yes, and I’m very pleased to see the fervently expressed interest in the comments.

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