Some Principles for Language Names.

Martin Haspelmath has put online a paper (to appear in Language Documentation & Conservation 2017) that describes “some principles that one might use for taking decisions [concerning language names] when there are variant forms in use, or when one feels that none of the existing names is appropriate,” adding that the principles “arose from work on Glottolog, a English-language database of the world’s languages” (and how did I not know about Glottolog?). Here’s the abstract:

This paper discusses eleven principles of language naming, which may be relevant to language documenters in case a language does not have a stable name yet: (i) Language names (like city names) are loanwords, not code-switches; (ii) Names of non-major languages are not treated differently from names of major languages; (iii) Each language has a unique name; (iv) New language names are not introduced unless none of the existing names is acceptable for some reason; (v) Language names that many speakers object to should not be used; (vi) Language names in English are written with ordinary English letters, plus some other well-known letters; (vii) Highly unusual pronunciation values of English letters are not acceptable; (viii) Language names must be pronounceable for English speakers; (ix) Language names begin with a capital letter; (x) Language names may have a modifier-head structure; (xi) The usage of prominent authors is given substantial weight. Finally I note that it is not a principle that the English name needs to be close to the autoglottonym.

In general it’s quite sensible; it’s not always clear, however, whether he’s being descriptive (this is how we at Glottolog decided to do it) or prescriptive (this is how everybody should do it), and I got my back up at section 3 (“Each language has a unique name”):

Just as cities never have multiple names within the same language (and variation is exclusively handled by renaming, e.g. Leningrad > St. Petersburg, or Madras > Chennai), languages do not have multiple names (i.e. synonyms are not acceptable). Of course, sometimes multiple names are in current use, but this cannot be a general solution. When Madras was renamed to Chennai, the old form Madras was used for a while, but it became old-fashioned and is being used less and less. The situation is analogous with changes of language names; thus, when the language Papago was renamed to O’odham, there was never a period during which both names were acceptable to the community of linguists, or to speakers of American English. As soon as the new name was introduced, the old became obsolete. This does not necessarily imply that all members of the community obey the same norm and change their behaviour at the same time, of course, but the nature of the norm is that only one name is possible.

I do not see any way to read this, given the reference to “speakers of American English,” other than as a general, prescriptive statement: “There is One Right Way to refer to any language, and if you do not use it (after an appropriate transition period, during which you can be considered simply ill-informed) you are a Bad Person.” I reject this approach in toto and in the strongest terms; you can use whatever terms you like in your database, but don’t tell me how to use my own language. (Thanks for the very interesting link go to John Cowan.)

Comments

  1. Well, it’s addressed to linguists, who are supposed to meet professional standards when naming things. Ordinary folks may talk about the passive tense, but professionals (at least) should not. What got my back up was allowing English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German letters only, while disallowing all others. I can understand “English letters only” as a policy for the English names of languages, but to hand-pick a few colonial languages and exclude the rest of the 1400-odd Latin letters that Unicode provides for strikes me as Just Wrong.

    Also, I think that proper names for the most part do behave this way: nobody calls New York New Amsterdamor Atlanta Terminus. We don’t get stable absolute synonyms like furze and gorse, or spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (or Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease).

  2. Well, it’s addressed to linguists, who are supposed to meet professional standards when naming things. Ordinary folks may talk about the passive tense, but professionals (at least) should not.

    That would be fine, but he specifically says “acceptable to the community of linguists, or to speakers of American English.” (Emphasis added.) I agree about allowing English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German letters only.

  3. I have trouble seeing the sense in their approach. For Gabi Gabi they recognise only Kabikabi. Type in anything other than “kabi” or “kabikabi” and you’ll have trouble finding the language. For some reason its location is given on Fraser Island when it was actually mainly spoken on the Mainland (see Austlang).

  4. David Marjanović says:

    I sense an overreaction to the more extreme cases of synonymy and homonymy. For example, everything between the Urals and Mongolia has at some point within living memory been called “Ostyak”, sometimes with extra qualifiers which weren’t unique either, sometimes not.

  5. Mostly, but not always. Derry/Londonderry, Gaelic/Scottish Gaelic/Scots Gaelic, Irish/Gaelic/Irish Gaelic, Spanish/Castillian…

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re the claim that cities cannot have multiple names in current use in the same language, I should think Londonderry/Derry would be an obvious English-language counterexample and I expect there are others. My impression is that the Communist renaming of Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City never fully took over in actual when-the-authorities-aren’t-looking everyday use – continuing to use “Saigon” was not the same sort sort of marked affectation that saying Petrograd rather than Leningrad would have been after a decade or so of the new order. And didn’t something-that-sounds-like-Constantinople and something-that-sounds-like-Istanbul coexist as rough synonyms (maybe with register differences) for both Greek-speakers and Turkish-speakers for quite some time before a switch was made as to which was “official”?

  7. Worse yet, using the ISO 639 lookup on “gbw” returns nothing.

  8. Does anyone actually say Derry and Londonderry in the same breath, or adjacent breaths? I can understand changing the name you say according to your company, but using them quite interchangeably sounds unlikely. I’m pretty sure the same applies to español and castellano, except in contexts where the latter means ‘the dialect of Castile’.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    I thought the claim was “same language,” not “same individual’s idiolect, under identical sociolinguistic contextual circumstances.” While the choice between Derry/Londonderry is a bit of a shibboleth, it’s not one that distinguishes between two different languages or even dialects, is it?

  10. It’s true that nationalists and unionists in Derry lack an armey un flot, but they are different communities that speak different varieties of Hiberno-English, so the stricture doesn’t really apply.

  11. Does anyone actually say Derry and Londonderry in the same breath, or adjacent breaths? I can understand changing the name you say according to your company, but using them quite interchangeably sounds unlikely.

    That’s beside the point. The claim is that English does not contain two names for the same city or language, which is just as valid as Chomsky’s claims of universality. Let’s face it, there are people who are fatally drawn to the One Right Way idea.

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    But if you treat preferences as between synonyms as indicative of different language varieties you start going down a splittist pathway that becomes self-fulfilling. Presumably relatively few speakers of AmEng say “pop” versus “soda” (or “couch” versus “sofa”) with a random 50/50 distribution in their own speech, so if you declare that Couch-AmEng and Sofa-AmEng are different languages, then presto chango, you’ve shown that no single language has more than a single term for a given item of furniture. I hardly think Haspelmath’s claim should be read so narrowly as to permit “ok Slavicists in Indiana tend to call it Slovenian and Slavicists in Alabama tend to call it Slovene but that’s ok because they speak different varieties of American English so that’s not a valid counterexample to my postulated universal.”

  13. I think it’s pretty clearly prescriptivist in the context of Glottolog, and “advisory” elsewhere. I mean, check out the conclusion:

    This paper discussed some principles by which the Glottolog editors are guided, and which are probably more widely useful.

    Even the line Languagehat singles out, “there was never a period during which both names were acceptable to the community of linguists, or to speakers of American English,” seems to me more “incorrect descriptivism” than “misguided prescriptivism” with respect to US English. An allegation about facts that (apparently) is incorrect, in other words, equivalent to something like “Great authors don’t use the passive voice.”

    I will also stand up for the constraints on permitted characters (and non-standard pronunciations). This is explicitly presented as a matter of practicality rather than a judgment about “normalness,” and I tend to believe that. Unicode is certainly capable of handling much more, but the rest of the world has not caught up, and it’s a hassle to have to search for Yolngu, ‎Yolŋu, and Yolnu every time, for example.

    (I think there was a Languagelog post not long ago where someone made a similar objection to their policy of including accents and umlauts for just a few select languages like French and German, and ignoring them entirely for other languages. The answer as I recall was purely technical—they could only give the VIP treatment to languages fully supported by their typeface, or something like that.)

  14. Eli Nelson says:

    I agree with Matt about the character set. Acutes, umlauts, eñe are used in colonial languages, sure, but they aren’t picked for inclusion because they’re used in colonial languages; they’re picked because they’re somewhat familiar to many English speakers, unlike e.g. ɮ or ɣ. (They don’t actually include all the letters used in German, do they? I didn’t see ß listed as an acceptable character.)

  15. Bathrobe’s observation w.r.t. Gabi Gabi shows that the interface to Glottolog’s database violates the robustness principle “Be generous on input, and strict on output”. Bad though it may be, to prescribe one form and proscribe others, it is worse to deny users a route to the prescribed form from the other forms.

  16. The Kabikabi/Gabi Gabi thing is definitely a problem, but I don’t think it makes sense to call it a problem with their naming conventions as such. More a problem with their database, either because it isn’t set up to associate languages with any alternative names (can this possibly be true??) or because it lacks this particular alternative name.

  17. More on the cities with multiple names issue: the claim that “When Madras was renamed to Chennai, the old form Madras was used for a while, but it became old-fashioned and is being used less and less” is facile and does not accurately describe the coexistence of multiple names for many cities in Indian English (as well as in other languages). Saying Madras vs. Chennai, Baroda vs. Vadodara, Calcutta vs. Kolkata, Banaras vs. Varanasi, and so on is not necessarily about whether one is old-fashioned or up-to-date, but is more often a political decision.

  18. “Ostyak”: see also some languages in Mexico called Popoluca, some closely related, some not.

    Khoisan language names have a long tradition of being spelled with special characters, and without any pretense of being pronounceable without the clicks they contain.

    I suppose there are some Swedish dialects which are far enough from the standard to be arguably separate languages, or which at least deserve separate Glottolog entries, whose names contain an å, which is not “English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, [or] German”.

  19. January First-of-May says:

    The proper name of Čakavian (and of Štokavian for that matter) includes a letter that isn’t English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or German either. But I guess they might not count as their own languages (and/or have standard transliterations).

    I’d be surprised if there are no pairs of accidentally identically named languages on different continents, given how many of them have short two-syllable names. If there are, though, I’m pretty sure that the linguists studying them (presumably, for the most part, two distinct sets) would rarely call them, e.g., Annapurna of New Guinea and Annapurna of Amazonia, because most of the time it would be obvious which one is meant anyway (the example is theoretical – to the best of my knowledge, there’s no Annapurna language at all).
    EDIT: the paper gives an actual example (Buru).

    I agree about Khoisan and their insistence of correctly-spelled clicks, incidentally.

  20. languages in Mexico called Popoluca, some closely related, some not

    Popoluca or popoloca is Nahuatl for “barbarian jabber.”

    I’d be surprised if there are no pairs of accidentally identically named languages on different continents, given how many of them have short two-syllable names.

    Bororo?

  21. Couch-AmEng and Sofa-AmEng

    Well, I’m bidialectal, because I do call that thing in the corner either one, as I am so minded. But Nationalist and Unionist run far deeper than a single vocabulary item, and anyway my claim only extended to proper names, not to common nouns.

    languages fully supported by their typeface

    That was the Economist, which uses a bespoke typeface (in print) and so has to pay through the nose for each and every glyph it uses (several hundred pounds, IIRC). Furthermore, they claim their copy editors aren’t competent to check names like “Łódź”, which sounds like a pretty damaging admission to me.

    somewhat familiar to many English speakers

    Sure, but if Portuguese, why not Italian, which gives you all the vowels with grave too? I mean, everyone knows í but only a few know ì? Give me a break.

    I didn’t see ß listed

    True, although the Swiss variety of Standard German does without it. Anyway, the rules for using it are highly German-specific (and used to be far more random before the reform): I doubt it would occur to any germanophone to use it in writing another language.

    Čakavian and Štokavian

    Chakavian and Shtokavian are usual.

    Buru

    Äynú language is a Turkic cryptolect which is sometimes written “Ainu” (as well as “Aynu” and lots of other forms), which leads to confusion with the much better known Ainu language or languages of Japan. An investigation of ISO’s standard names (which come from Ethnologue) shows the following coincidences:

    Aja in Benin (Niger-Congo) and in South Sudan (Nilo-Saharan), Ama in PNG and in Sudan, Amba in the Solomons and Uganda, Aruá in Amazonas State and in Rondonia State (Brazil), Asu in Nigeria and in Tanzania, Ayi in China and in PNG, Bada in Indonesia and Nigeria, Baka in Cameroon and Sudan, Bali in DRC and in Nigeria, Basa in Cameroon and Nigeria, Bati in Cameroon and Indonesia, Beli in PNG and Sudan, Bemba in DRC and Zambia, Bena in Nigeria and in Tanzania, Beti in Cameroon and in Côte d’Ivoire, Bina in Nigeria and in PNG, Bo in Laos and in PNG, Boano in Maluku and in Sulawesi (Indonesia), Bodo in CAR and in India, Boko in Benin and in DRC, Borna in DRC and in Ethiopia, Boro in Ethiopia and in Ghana, Buli in Ghana and in Indonesia, Bulu in Cameroon and in PNG, Buru in Indonesia and in Nigeria, Dendi in Benin and in CAR, Dera in Indonesia and in Nigeria, Dhanwar in India and in Nepal, Enwan in Akwa Ibom State and in Edu State (Nigeria), Eton in Cameroon and in Vanuatu, Fang in Cameroon and in Equatorial Guinea, Gbaya in CAR and in Sudan, Gimi in Eastern Highlands and in West New Britain (PNG), Guana in Brazil and in Paraguay, Gula in CAR and in Chad, Iranun in Malaysia and in Philippines, Isu in Fako Division and in Menchum Division (Cameroon), Jarawa in India and in Nigeria, Jimi in Cameroon and in Nigeria, Kamba in Brazil and in Kenya, Kami in Nigeria and in Tanzania, Kango in Bas-Uélé District and in Tshopo District, Kara in CAR and in Korea and in PNG and in Tanzania, Kare in CAR and in PNG, Karo in Brazil and in Ethiopia, Kela in DRC and in PNG, Kele in DRC and in PNG, Kituba in Congo and in DRC, Kol in Bangladesh and in Cameroon and in PNG, Kom in Cameroon and in India, Komo in DRC and in Sudan, Kono in Guinea and in Nigeria and in Sierra Leone, Koro in Côte d’Ivoire and in India, Koro in PNG and in Vanuatu, Kota in Gabon and in India, Kui in India and in Indonesia, Kulung in Nepal and in Nigeria, Kuman in PNG and in Russia, Laha in Indonesia and in Viet Nam, Laka in Chad and in Nigeria, Lango in Sudan and in Uganda, Lele in Chad and in DRC, and in Guinea and in PNG, Leti in Cameroon and in Indonesia, Loma in Côte d’Ivoire and in Liberia, Luo in Cameroon and in Kenya/Tanzania, Ma in DRC and in PNG, Maba in Chad and in Indonesia, Mada in Cameroon and in Nigeria, Maiwa in Indonesia and in PNG, Mak in China and in Nigeria, Mala in Nigeria and in PNG, Male in Ethiopia and in PNG, Manda in Australia and in India and in Tanzania, Mari in East Sepik Province and in Madang Province (PNG) and in Russia, Maria in India and in PNG, Marwari in India and in Pakistan (arguably the same language), Mashi in Nigeria and in Zambia, Mawa in Chad and in Nigeria, Mbara in Australia and in Chad, Mbo in Cameroon and in DRC, Mende in PNG and in Sierra Leone, Mina in Cameroon and in India, Moi in Congo and in Indonesia, Mono in Cameroon and in DRC, Mono in Solomon Islands and in USA, Mor in Bomberai Peninsula and in Mor Islands (Indonesia), Murik in Malaysia and in PNG, Mwera in Chimwera and in Nyasa, Nama in Namibia and in PNG, Ngando in CAR and in DRC, Ngombe in CAR and in DRC, Nisi in China and in India, Nugunu in Australia and in Cameroon, Nyiha in Malawi and in Tanzania, Nyika in Malawi and Zambia and in Tanzania, Okpe in Northwestern Edo and in Southwestern Edo (Nigeria), Pana in Burkina Faso and in CAR, Pyu in Myanmar and in PNG, Riang in India and in Myanmar, Sanga in DRC and in Nigeria, Sangu in Gabon and in Tanzania, Seke in Nepal and in Vanuatu, Sepa in Indonesia and in PNG, Tama in Chad and in Colombia, Taman in Indonesia and in Myanmar, Tembo — Kitembo and Motembo, Tewa in Indonesia and in USA, Tonga in Nyasa and in Tonga Islands and in Zambia, Toura in Côte d’Ivoire and in PNG, Ura in PNG and in Vanuatu, Wali in Ghana and in Sudan, Waray in Australia and in Philippines, Wom in Nigeria and in PNG, Yaka in CAR and in Congo and in DRC, Yau in Morobe Province and in Sandaun Province (PNG).

    So as you can see, not only do identically named pairs of languages coexist on the same continent, but even in the same country, and there can be up to four languages with the same name. The great bulk of them are indeed two-syllable names.

  22. Very useful list, thanks.

  23. I heard a BBC announcer presenting a programme from the UK City of Culture 2013 say “welcome to Derry~Londonderry”. That was a special case, since that was the official form used by the city council in its bid for the honour and in publicity during the year. Note the use of a tilde rather than a slash, to fend off the tired “Stroke City” witticism. (No, the announcer did not day “Derry tilde Londonderry”.)

    Of the 1026 townlands in County Dublin, ten have two official names in English, although only five of those have two official names in Irish. (S.I. No. 598/2011 – Placenames (Co. Dublin) Order 2011. Schedule; Section A; Chapter 1; Nos. 248, 345, 430, 707, 752, 774, 879, 884, 907, 973) Disappointingly, the Irish for “Slutsend or West Farm” translates as “West Farm”.

  24. Graham Asher says:

    Searched for Yola (variant of English once spoken in S.E. Ireland) and got ‘spurious’; searched for Pictish and got ‘unclassifiable’. Not impressed so far.

  25. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    When Madras was renamed to Chennai, the old form Madras was used for a while, but it became old-fashioned and is being used less and less.

    Is that even true? The Indian I know best (who lives in Bangalore — not all that far from Madras) calls it Madras, and he also talks about Bombay and Calcutta. I doubt whether he ever says Bengaluru unless speaking in Kannada.

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    Wait, are we actually interested in actual anecdotal accounts of how actual speakers of Indian English handle the Madras/Chennai issue and similar ones? Linguistics has come to a pretty pass if we can’t just defer to the authority of the Herr Doktor Professor from Leipzig.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    So as you can see, not only do identically named pairs of languages coexist on the same continent, but even in the same country

    Some of those look like instances of the same language being enlisted twice, or at least of closely related varieties shariing a name.

    […], Aruá in Amazonas State and in Rondonia State (Brazil), […], Basa in Cameroon and Nigeria, […], Bemba in DRC and Zambia, […], Boano in Maluku and in Sulawesi (Indonesia), […], Dhanwar in India and in Nepal, Enwan in Akwa Ibom State and in Edu State (Nigeria), […], Fang in Cameroon and in Equatorial Guinea, Gbaya in CAR and in Sudan, Gimi in Eastern Highlands and in West New Britain (PNG), Guana in Brazil and in Paraguay, Gula in CAR and in Chad, Iranun in Malaysia and in Philippines, Isu in Fako Division and in Menchum Division (Cameroon), […], Jimi in Cameroon and in Nigeria, [etc.]

  28. David Marjanović says:

    Anyway, the rules for using it are highly German-specific (and used to be far more random before the reform): I doubt it would occur to any germanophone to use it in writing another language.

    I’ve seen a Yiddish-German dictionary which used a transcription where /z/ was s and /s/ was ß. I’ve also seen the joke spelling ßorry for a widely used loanword that doesn’t fit northern German phonotactics.

    The spelling rule for ss vs. ß nowadays is that ss is used behind short vowels, ß behind long ones and diphthongs. Before the reform (the transitional period was 1998 through 2005), there actually was a simple rule, but it was never taught! The rule was to use ss when you can separate syllables through it, ß otherwise. I only read about this several years after 2005. The way it was taught to me was indeed quite a bit more complex: ß at the ends of words and behind long vowels and diphthongs, ss behind a short vowel if and only if another vowel follows, ß otherwise…

    The old rule led to some maddening grammatical alternations: Fluß – Flüsse – Einfluß – Einflüsse – beeinflussen – beeinflußt “river/flux, rivers/fluxes, influence (n.), influences (n.), influence (v.), influences (3sg or past participle)”. Very few people consistently got that stuff right.

    searched for Pictish and got ‘unclassifiable’

    Isn’t that correct?

    Doktor Professor

    Wrong order! Dr. is treated as part of the name* and therefore always stays closest to it.

    * Many people believe it really, legally is, even though it’s not (at least not in Germany; don’t know about Austria or Switzerland). Apparently doctors were automatically ennobled back in the dreamtime, and titles of nobility had to be used at every occasion…

  29. Back when I read a lot about heraldry, I learned that the English Kings of Arms will issue Letters Patent for a coat of arms to any gentleman who pays the appropriate consulting fees to one of their Pursuivants — and a university degree is enough to make you a gentleman in their eyes. So surely a full Doctor must rank even higher.

    (In Scotland it seems to be enough to own a small parcel of land, according to offers I get in my email).

  30. Furthermore, they claim their copy editors aren’t competent to check names like “Łódź”, which sounds like a pretty damaging admission to me.

    But why? Obviously that claim doesn’t mean “None of our copy editors know anything about Polish and they are also incapable of finding a reference that will supply the correct answer,” it means “Since we don’t want to pay for additional and/or superhuman copy editors to support every human language’s naming conventions, we have to draw the line somewhere, and Polish is on the other side of the line.” Seems reasonable to me.

    Sure, but if Portuguese, why not Italian, which gives you all the vowels with grave too? I mean, everyone knows í but only a few know ì? Give me a break.

    Again, they refer not only to familiarity but also to technical issues. Maybe they’re 90% sure that Italian doodads will be fine in all the contexts (database searches, etc.) they consider relevant, but only 60% sure of Portuguese, and that’s where they draw the line. In the absence of any real information I’m inclined to believe them.

  31. Apparently German titles are sorted in decreasing order: there always have been plenty of people with doctorates, but Professor was a much less common title in the 19C, and thus came first. Consequently you don’t address someone as Doktor if he is also entitled to Professor, but you can use both in very formal circumstances.

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    Apparently my long-ago study of German and various brief sojourns in Teutonic lands were insufficient to disabuse me of a widespread urban myth (re “Herr Doktor Professor,” in that order) that is common among Anglophones: http://german.stackexchange.com/questions/25822/herr-doktor-professor-or-herr-professor-doktor.

  33. January First-of-May says:

    There’s a hilarious scene in Irregular Webcomic! where the Jones family (especially Minnesota Jones), having been captured by Nazis and due for execution, insist on being called by their full titles during the roll call (presumably to stall for time, though, IIRC, at that particular point the Joneses don’t really expect anyone to rescue them). Minnesota Jones has a lot of assorted British titles (mostly university related). More hilarity ensues when the Nazis finally get most of the titles right but use the wrong order, and Minnesota Jones has to correct them…

    They do get “Professor Doktor” right the first time, however. (And yes, the Joneses did end up rescued eventually, but IIRC the titles had ran out by then, and they had to stall in some other way.)


  34. The spelling rule for ss vs. ß nowadays is that ss is used behind short vowels, ß behind long ones and diphthongs. Before the reform (the transitional period was 1998 through 2005), there actually was a simple rule, but it was never taught! The rule was to use ss when you can separate syllables through it, ß otherwise. I only read about this several years after 2005. The way it was taught to me was indeed quite a bit more complex: ß at the ends of words and behind long vowels and diphthongs, ss behind a short vowel if and only if another vowel follows, ß otherwise…

    I guess that is a simpler way of thinking of it, but the traditional rule never seemed that complicated to me (although I don’t actually know German, so I might find it harder to apply in practice). It’s basically like the modern rule, except “ss” can’t occur word-finally or before consonants.

    Maybe it made more sense back when long s was used. Obviously ſſ can’t end a word, and it’s natural to replace ſs with ß, since the latter is (more or less) a ligature of the former.

    Fluß – Flüſſe – Einfluß – Einflüſſe – beeinfluſſen – beeinflußt.

    Although if you think of ß as ſs, it is odd that “ß” is used after long vowels or before t when normally single s is “ſ” in these contexts (e.g. reiſen, reiſt and bremſen, bremſt).

  35. One of my grad school professors at Indiana, the late Ulrich Weisstein, retired and had a second career at Graz, where he was reportedly a Professor Doktor Doktor. (And IIRC his signature contained an ß, but I’m not sure just how. Weißtein looks odd a priori, but Weißstein doesn’t match my vague memory. At any rate I mostly saw it as UW.)

  36. Weißstein is a village in Lower Silesia, now known as Biały Kamień: probably his ancestors came from there or another place of the same name. In any case, it’s the spelling you’d expect: weiß + Stein.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Although if you think of ß as ſs, it is odd that “ß” is used after long vowels or before t when normally single s is “ſ” in these contexts (e.g. reiſen, reiſt and bremſen, bremſt).

    Before t that’s just morphological: if a stem ends in ß when a vowel follows, this spelling is kept in all environments. This is a general feature of German spelling, which is therefore full of nnt, fft and so on.

    Between vowels it’s a phonological distinction with plenty of minimal pairs, e.g. reisen – reißen “to travel – to rip/tear”. Then there are fake ones which look minimal because we occasionally refuse to mark vowel length in writing, like Masse – Maße “mass – measures”, where Maß in all its forms has a long /aː/ which, by circular logic, doesn’t need to be marked because it’s in an at least graphically open syllable.

    Upper German in the strictest sense, i.e. excluding Upper Franconian, has the special feature of allowing long consonants to follow long vowels and diphthongs.* Long /fː sː xː/ were generated en masse by the High German Consonant Shift. Farther north, they were shortened in this environment already in OHG times, but apparently short /s/ had already become [z] by then**, so that the /s/–/sː/ distinction survived as a /z/–/s/ distinction. Thus, north of the White Sausage Equator, /z/ is spelled s, while /s/ is spelled ss behind short vowels and ß behind long vowels and diphthongs. Farther south, [z] does not exist***, but the length distinction remains except in Carinthian.

    Historically short /f/, if we don’t count the beginnings of words, is remarkably rare. (This probably tells us something fascinating about the history of Proto-Germanic.) Short /x/ was mostly eliminated (becoming silent h) north of Upper German or so once the Middle Ages were over. Therefore, German spelling gets away with not marking the length distinctions of /f/ and /x/ behind long vowels and diphthongs; I don’t think there are even any minimal pairs for these in any kind of Standard German.

    * BTW, the diphthongs can get quite short on the phonetic level. Austrian children tend to have lots of trouble with the spelling rules that treat the diphthongs as automatically long – it seems like an arbitrary decision! I can’t agree with the people who doubt that Old English could possibly have distinguished long and short diphthongs.
    ** All the early loanwords into neighboring Slavic languages seem to have /ʐ/.
    *** On the western edge of the German-speaking area, that’s a reversal: the Walser dialects spoken on top of the Aosta valley at the northwest corner of Italy preserve [v z] for short /f s/ to this day. I don’t know if there’s a way to tell how far east this voicing ever got.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    BTW, the /z/-/s/ distinction seems to be unstable in much of Germany. You can often hear [z] in such words as Diskussion.

  39. Before t that’s just morphological: if a stem ends in ß when a vowel follows, this spelling is kept in all environments. This is a general feature of German spelling, which is therefore full of nnt, fft and so on.

    What I was thinking is that if ß is conceptualized as a ligature of long and round s, it’s weird that it’s used in contexts where round s is normally not present (before vowels or before other consonants in the same syllable). I guess after long vowels or diphthongs, the “ligature of long s and z” interpretation might be a more useful way to think of ß. As you’ve mentioned, sː after long vowels or diphthongs originated from /t/ via the High German Consonant Shift, and from what I understand it used to be written with z/zz. But even this explanation isn’t really satisfactory, since with the old German orthography there are words like küſſen~küßt where /s/ just comes from geminate “s”. Overall, it’s kind of a mess.

    Historically short /f/, if we don’t count the beginnings of words, is remarkably rare

    I think this might be part of the reason for my previous misconception (which you corrected a while ago, in the “Indo-European controversy” thread) that Proto-Germanic /f/ had turned to /b/ in German intervocalically. I had gotten the relationship between English /f/ in words like “wife” and German /b/ in words like “Weib” backwards—I hadn’t realized that English /f/ in this word, and most others like it, comes from Proto-Germanic /ƀ/ with word-final devoicing.

    BTW, the /z/-/s/ distinction seems to be unstable in much of Germany. You can often hear [z] in such words as Diskussion.

    Hmm, interesting. Some English speakers use /z/ in the word “cosplay,” from Japanese “kosupure” built from English “cos(tume)” + “play”. I don’t know what the reason is; maybe it’s related to whatever causes the voicing in the Australian shortened words “mossie” < mosquito, "aussie" < Australian and "arvo" < afternoon.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Some English speakers use /z/ in the word “cosplay,”

    I wonder if cosmos is to blame.

  41. I guess that is another word starting with cos-. Contextually, /z/ is more natural in “cosmos” than in “cosplay”. There are a number of English words with syllable-final “s” as /z/ before voiced consonant sounds, but it’s unusual before voiceless sounds.

    Native English words that always have /z/ include husband, wisdom, Tuesday. Most borrowed words spelled with “sd” and “sb” follow this pattern, like “Dresden,” “Esdras,” “Bethesda,” though there are a few that are variable, like “asbestos”. (And some that generally have /s/, like “jurisdiction”, or any word prefixed with “dis-“). After a vowel and before “m”, “s” is almost always voiced. The only words with intervocalic /sm/ that I can think of are “isthmus” and the usual British English pronunciation of “asthma”.

    A weird word with /z/ before a voiceless plosive is “Aztec” (completely a spelling pronunciation, of course, based on the convention of writing Nahuatl /s/ with the letter “z”).

  42. January First-of-May says:

    I guess after long vowels or diphthongs, the “ligature of long s and z” interpretation might be a more useful way to think of ß.

    …as should be expected, because Eszett.

    (Note: I don’t actually know much about German orthography.)

  43. David Marjanović says:

    ß is historically a ligature of ſ and s (which was also found elsewhere, e.g. in Italian handwriting), but was early & often misinterpreted as a ligature of ſ and ʒ, as reflected in one of its names.

  44. Marja Erwin says:

    “Just as cities never have multiple names within the same language (and variation is exclusively handled by renaming, e.g. Leningrad > St. Petersburg, or Madras > Chennai), languages do not have multiple names (i.e. synonyms are not acceptable).”

    What?

    This is a “just as the sun rises in the west” argument.

    Where I live, I can’t travel with my disabilities, but the nearst major city has three common English names, two of which are in local use, plus rarer names, plus “the city.”

  45. January First-of-May says:

    This is a “just as the sun rises in the west” argument.

    More like “just as the sun rises in the east” as opposed to the southeast-ish that it’s rising at over here (at least, at this part of the year).
    In other words, what they’re describing is definitely the standard, but it hardly ever happens as such in reality.

  46. I didn’t know that so much could be said about when-to-use-ß. I merely remembered what came my way: beeinflussen – beeinflußt. The practice then fell into patterns.

    To this day, though, a strange, evil inner voice occasionally tries to impose a rule on me that I never learned (because I never learned any ß-rules). It whispers: sei konsequent, schreib “beeinflußen” !

  47. “I heard a BBC announcer presenting a programme from the UK City of Culture 2013 say “welcome to Derry~Londonderry”.”

    How did they pronounce the tilde? Victor Borge’s Audible Pronounciation didn’t cover the more obscure typographical marks. My preference would be a swanee whistle noise.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    sei konsequent, schreib “beeinflußen” !

    Lots of native speakers used to do that, of course.

    My preference would be a swanee whistle noise.

    The computer whistle sound of Star Trek comes to mind.

  49. No, that whistle is obviously the equivalent of quotation marks, because you always hear it immediately before someone starts talking.

  50. That whistle isn’t a Star Trek thing, originally. The boatswain’s whistle was used to indicate that a communication was about to come through the speaking tubes on early submarines. It was adapted for television, and all the Star Trek shows made a point to show the whistle being used for other purposes as well (such as when greeting dignitaries or at crew funerals).

  51. David Marjanović says:

    Ah. Good to know that it’s another Space Is An Ocean thing. 🙂

  52. Chiming in rather late here, but I live in New York, or New York City, or the City of New York, or NYC, or the Big Apple, or the five boroughs; and specifically I live in Brooklyn, which is also known as Kings County. All of those names are in current use, and many serve overlapping purposes, including official ones. I mean, yes, it’s a little weird to have a city made up of five counties and that’s going to lead to some unusual nomenclature, but I’m sure this can’t be the only place where such things happen. And I do think it’s valid to include nicknames when they’re specific and unambiguous and in wide use not only within the city but outside of it. If I say “the Big Apple” or “the Windy City” you don’t need to ask me which one.

  53. New York is also notable for being so nice it was named twice (Kenny 1978). Both names remain in use (often in the same sentence), but as they are also identical this constitutes a rather degenerate case of the phenomenon.

  54. Rose Fox: I admire your ability to live in the five boroughs: I can only manage to live in one. For me the five boroughs does not mean ‘New York City’, but rather ‘all of New York City’; that is, it is not a name. Note for off-islanders: locally the city means Manhattan.

  55. This just reminded me that in Earthsea, there was real disagreement among the wizards whether anything could have more than one true name. Did the name for “all the seas” really refer to all of them, or just the ones that did not have names of their own? And in Earthsea, of course, that was a fundamental cosmological question.

  56. That reminds me of the Baldur story where Frigg couldn’t ask ‘all plants’ not to harm her son, but had to elicit a promise from every separate kind of plant (and stone and metal and so on). And of course she missed one.

  57. Ogion is pretty clear that inien (Avert!) refers only to the parts of the sea that have no names of their own, and he was both Roke-trained and locally trained. That’s why you can’t set a spell on the whole ocean (near enough the whole world): too many names.

  58. Marja Erwin says:

    But if they’re basing language-naming practices on city-naming practices, then they have to accept multiple names in each language for each language.

    If it’s an approximation, where each city only ever has 1 name because the typical city has 2 or 3 names [I don’t know the exact figure], then they have to accept the corresponding approximation, that each language with 2 or 3 names conforms to their strict rule that it can only have 1 name.

  59. Bathrobe says:

    Coby Lubliner has a great article on the process of naming languages in Europe (plus South Africa and Brazil) and the various ways that newly independent languages were based on dialects that were as different as possible from the language that independence was being declared from at Adventures in Glossonymy.

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