The Ancient Bookshelf.

I’ve discovered another interesting blog, The Ancient Bookshelf, whose motto (with which I cannot disagree) is “Old stuff is exciting!” It’s run by James Hamrick, and lately he seems to be concentrating on Ge’ez (classical Ethiopic), a language that’s always intrigued me but that I’ll probably never do anything about. He has a brief introduction to it here, and here he lists the few colleges that currently offer courses in it: Munich, Toronto, and Washington. Here‘s a Star article by Megan Dolski about the Toronto course that not only shows John 1:1 in Ge’ez but lets you listen to a reading of it, which is the first exposure I’ve had to it as a spoken language; thanks, Jeffry!

Comments

  1. Trond Engen says:

    Somebody should start a blog called The Youngish Ge’ezer.

  2. Ha!

  3. Trond Engen says:

    (Just because I didn’t want to let this post pass uncommented.)

  4. And don’t think I don’t appreciate it. I always feel bad for the uncommented posts.

  5. Trond Engen says:

    I wish I could say anything interesting about Ge’ez. There’s something deeply fascinating about its position as the outpost of the old literate world. I wonder why it didn’t have a deeper impact on the surrounding non-Semitic cultures. Or if it had, what impact.

  6. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Ge’ez is pretty important in the study of the apocrypha. Many important texts are only attested (in a complete form at least) in Ge’ez, being the translation of a lost Coptic text, itself often the translation of a lost Greek text. First Enoch is a good example, and its roots go back to Aramaic. That text is still current: I recently had an Ethiopian cab driver who was happy to talk about it.

  7. Etienne says:

    Trond: the trouble is that we have no direct (written) evidence on what Cushitic languages were like before the expansion of Semitic into what is today Eritrea and Ethiopia (Of course, for all we know perhaps Early Ethiopian Semitic expanded as the expense of various non-Semitic and non-Cushitic languages), and what we know of the closest Semitic relatives of Ethiopian Semitic (Old South Arabian languages) is certainly far more limited than one would like. I am thus amazed by the fact that most of the published work which exists on language contact between Ethiopian Semitic and Cushitic confidently tracks the origin/spread of various linguistic features despite these massive gaps in our knowledge.

    And unfortunately, the decline of historical linguistics means that Ge’ez does not attract much attention these days, and most likely will not in the near future: what would once have made it a prime object of study (as a link between Modern Ethiopian Semitic languages and other non-Ethiopian Semitic languages: incidentally, it is my understanding that Ge’ez is not the direct ancestor of any Modern Ethipoian Semitic language) is today utterly irrelevant to most linguists in Academia.

  8. *gnashes teeth*

  9. “The decline of historical linguistics” etc.: I don’t get it. Maybe there are only 10 faculty members around who are studying comparative Semitic with an Ethiopic emphasis, rather than 100 a hundred years ago or whatever. But for these 10 Ge’ez is as important as it was for those mythical 100! If anyone is seriously trying to figure out a Semitic etymology, a Ge’ez dictionary would be one of the first they’d reach for, and that means they’d have to know something about the language. I don’t see that this supposed decline of historical linguistics is killing off the study of Ge’ez any more than those of OCS or Manchu.

    The program for the 2015 International Conference on Ethiopic Studies has an interesting session, with 16 participants, on early Christian texts preserved in the Ge’ez canon.

  10. Note also that the special relationship between Ethiopic and South Arabian is uncertain.

  11. Yes. One of the good things about historical linguistics as a discipline is that you can pretty much study any languages you want, judging by the papers at academia.edu. There doesn’t seem to be any pecking order between different languages or families.

    Consequently, the next person to study Ge’ez will just be the next person interested in Semitics. It may take a while, but eventually such a person will arrive at the gates of the grove, saying, “I come to learn!”

    As for Ethiopic and MSA, as far as I know there are no shared innovations; “South Semitic” is just the paraphyletic relic left when the innovating Central Semitic languages have been taken out of West Semitic. (Each of the two families definitely has its own shared innovations, though; there is no doubt about their existence taken individually.)

  12. SFReader says:

    I also have nothing to say about Ge’ez since I haven’t studied it, but I have 813 pages long Comparative Dictionary of Ge’ez on my computer.

    Downloaded from certain sites which shall not be named. Just in case.

  13. Comparative Dictionary of Ge’ez
    Again, by none other than Wolf Leslau!

    There is also a book in two parts (in Russian) called Эфиопский язык by Олег Давыденков.

  14. it is my understanding that Ge’ez is not the direct ancestor of any Modern Ethipoian Semitic language

    Of the two other northern varieties of ES (=Ethiopian Semitic), Tigrinya, spoken in Eritrea and the northern highlands of Ethiopia, is more or less the modern continuation of Geez, whereas the northern-most Tigre (in Eritrea) represents an earlier branching of Northern ES.

    The Afroasiatic languages / edited by Zygmunt Frajzyngier, Erin Shay.
    p. cm. – (Cambridge language surveys)

  15. BTW, are upphaf, as in:

    1 Í upphafi skapaði Guð himin og jörð.

    and

    1 Í upphafi var Orðið, og Orðið var hjá Guði, og Orðið var Guð. ,

    and upheaval cognates?

  16. Lars (the original one) says:

    @juha, yes, except for the -al of course. In Norse the phrasal verb hefja upp seems to have acquired a sense of ‘initiate’ in contexts like ‘raise a quarrel’ which was since bleached to the point where upphaf could just mean ‘beginning’.

    In Danish the verb no longer has that sense, but ophav exists in the senses ‘main cause’ (as in ‘prohibition was the main cause of speak-easies’ and ‘parent’ (joke-archaizing).

  17. Trond Engen says:

    I meant to ask about the cultural implications of a literate society, but linguistics is perfectly OK.

  18. These prefixed verbs and their deverbal nouns are often false friends. My favorite example is Dutch opstanding ‘resurrection’.

  19. Lars (the original one) says:

    Not helped by the conflation of two verbal nouns and a present participle in English, of course. Upstanding can only be the latter, which would be opstaand in Dutch if the senses matched.

    There can even be language-internal false friends — Danish opstandelse is both ‘resurrection’ and ‘commotion,’ learning one sense will not help if you encounter the other. The Danish version of the Apostles’ Creed has ‘the resurrection of the flesh’ (not ‘body’) which was a reliable source of schoolboy giggles back when schoolboys learnt it.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    juha: upphaf

    More surprisingly, perhaps: The second element is (believed to be) essentially the same as haf “ocean”. High sea, you know.

  21. The English noun upstanding is rare but extant: the OED finds four uses, two 16C and two 19C. It can mean either being or becoming erect (when applied to people, of their whole bodies). The adjective has quite a few meanings: ‘erect’ (at present), ‘having an erect carriage’ (generally), ‘honest, independent, straightforward’ (the usual sense today), ‘remaining intact or in good condition’.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    skapaði

    A weak verb? I’m surprised.

    German:
    schuf “created”
    schaffte “managed to [do stuff that needs to be specified in a separate clause]”

    While I’m at it:
    Aufstandinsurrection”
    Auferstehung “resurrection”

  23. Bathrobe says:

    Well, look no further than “oversight” and “oversight”.

  24. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    DM: A weak verb? I’m surprised.

    Zoega’s Old Icelandic dictionary (on Perseus) lists both strong and weak preterite forms for skapa. The strong form is skop.

    As for English, the OED has an attestation for the strong preterite of shape as late as 1650:
    Old Robin of Portingale xxxii, in Percy Fol. MS. I. 240 He shope the crosse in his right sholder of the white flesh & the redd.

  25. Lars (the original one) says:

    is rare but extant: I have a quibble with the tense here. Two 19C attestations doesn’t mean that upstanding is a cromulent noun today, and its incromulence does lessen the confusion with the Dutch noun.

  26. Chalk it up to the diachronic perspective: if a word has ever existed in Modern English, it still exists, even if disused. Here are the four quotations with orthography modernized:

    1535 Bible (Coverdale) Grant that at thy upstanding the Gentiles may be scattered abroad.

    1538 H. Latimer in Nichols Hist. Leics. (1800) III. 1065/2 He would be a humble suitor […] for the upstanding of his aforesaid house.

    1861 J. Edmond Children’s Church at Home xi. 166 There were many feelings expressed in that upstanding and applause.

    1886 C. H. Spurgeon Treasury of David VII. Ps. cxxxvi. 6 The original upheaval and perpetual upstanding of the habitable land.

    I think that all of these uses are pretty clear to educated contemporary speakers.

  27. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Chalk it up to the diachronic perspective: if a word has ever existed in Modern English, it still exists, even if disused.
    I have to wonder though if we’re looking at independent (re)coinings.

  28. Quite likely.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    “oversight” and “oversight”

    Until a few years ago I only knew “oversight” as meaning ‘failing or forgetting to notice’, so I was greatly puzzled when an administrator at my new job was reprimanded for “failing to exercise oversight”.

  30. What I find interesting about the polysemy of the noun “oversight” is that the verbs corresponding to the two meanings are distinct and unambiguous: “oversee” and “overlook.”

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, I did know those two verbs, but not the “overseeing” meaning of “oversight”.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Y: “the decline of historical linguistics” [Etienne] etc.: I don’t get it.

    I assure you that Etienne knows whereof he speaks.

    Maybe there are only 10 faculty members around who are studying comparative Semitic with an Ethiopic emphasis, rather than 100 a hundred years ago or whatever. But for these 10 Ge’ez is as important as it was for those mythical 100!

    The importance of Ge’ez and similarly “obscure” languages to individual specialists is not the point. As the (never enormous) numbers of these scholars are diminishing, where can a student go to study Ge’ez? how many professors will encourage a student to do so? what are such a student’s chances of getting a doctoral fellowship, and later an academic position, when retiring professors are not replaced because the program is considered marginal? Who will be left to continue their work on these languages and train new students? And before embarking on Ge’ez within a comparative/historical perspective, the student needs to have or at least acquire some training in historical methods as well as in varieties of Semitic, and very few linguistics departments (at least in North America) put much emphasis on either of these. Even in reasonably popular departments such as those of Romance or Germanic languages, historical study is likely to be an afterthought.

  33. Listen to m-l, she knows whereof she speaks.

  34. Trond Engen says:

    As much as I grieve the erotion of Historical Linguistics in Western Academia, isn’t this as much a failure of the semitophone world, and especially its more affluent countries? Why aren’t there hundreds of university departments in the Middle East and North Africa crowded with comparative semiticists and afro-asiaticists working from a keen interest in their own mother tongue and propped up by politicians and grant-givers with a nation-building agenda?

  35. That’s a good question.

  36. Etienne says:

    Trond, Hat: The answer is very simple. Historical linguistics, more than most other brands of linguistics, is poison to any form of nationalism. Let us imagine some Petro-monarchy whose ruler is exploring the notion of creating a department of Semitic/Afroasiatic linguistics, and YOU have been summoned by His Majesty to explain what sort of work such a Department would do. Well, what would such a department have as its core principles? Well, first, that Modern Standard Arabic, even that spoken by His Majesty and the aristocracy of the Petro-Monarchy, is in no way inherently/structurally superior to dialectal Arabic, however illiterate or non-prestigious its speakers; second, that Arabic is simply one among many Semitic languages; third, that Semitic itself in turn is a subfamily of languages which is neither superior nor inferior to other Afroasiatic languages; fourth, that the fact that most Afroasiatic languages are unwritten languages spoken by socio-economically marginal groups has no bearing on the reality of being equal to any variety of Arabic (or indeed to any language, no matter how prestigious); fifth, that languages are not bound to a particular geographical location or ethnic group, and thus that any attempt to equate language, people and land is nonsense from a historical point of view.

    Now, you cannot know exactly what sort of work members of a department of Semitic or Afroasiatic languages/linguistics would do, but assuming you were honest with His Majesty you would need to stress that no serious scholarship could emerge from this hypothetical department unless ALL the above principles were accepted as axiomatic by all researchers working there.

    Perhaps I am an unusually cynical or negative person, but I frankly cannot visualize any monarch, however enlightened, who would accept to found and/or fund a department which would thus combine: A-Lack of any military/economic relevance, with B-An intellectual set of core beliefs seemingly designed to offend every individual and institution whose place is defined by/ founded upon class and national/ethnic distinctions.

    And indeed, in this era of cutbacks in the First World, where attracting students and funding is growing ever-more difficult, and where the uglier sort of identity politics is making a comeback (I trust I needn’t give examples?), it seems to me that serious research into Historical Linguistics is liable to become marginalized or even extinct. There is a certain irony in linguists seeking to preserve endangered languages, come to think of it – many if not all branches of linguistics are quite possibly more vulnerable than many an endangered language.

  37. Sigh. All too true…

  38. David Marjanović says:

    And on top of that, you might get a religious mob burning the department (and the king’s palace?) down anyway for daring to suggest that the language of scripture has a history.

  39. minus273 says:

    Quite orthogonal to nationalistic/religious concerns, even in non-Western countries with a good historical linguistics (basically East Asia and Mainland SE Asia), often with significant contribution from a pre-Western tradition, the best historical linguists are still West-educated.

    General uselessness (including low international prestige, cf. equally useless disciplines like mathematics, for which it’s possible to get a fantastic education without quitting East Asia) is a good enough explanation to me.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    The answer is very simple

    Yes. And still, the very foundations of historical linguistics were being laid in the universities of Western Europe at a time when most or all of that applied to their rulers or ruling elites, before and after the creation of the European nation-states. At least where I live Germanistics and Old Norse philology especially were embraced by the new nation state as means for national justification, and similar in Finland and the Slavic nations. One would think that the plutocracies of the different Arab states might make similar calls, to justify its own unique existence.

  41. Etienne says:

    1-Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil…I’d like to draw hatters’ attention to this thread and my two comments made on May 27, both of which are quite relevant to the discussion here:

    http://languagehat.com/sax-and-dagger/

    2-Trond: I’m not sure I can agree with your latest comment. Philology and Historical linguistics were not predominantly instruments of nationalistic agendas in nineteenth-century Europe: the success in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and a number of extinct Middle Eastern languages was a major scholarly triumph (involving collaboration between scholars from several countries, countries which at the time were often bitter political enemies), which served no nationalist’s agenda; both Romance and Slavic historical linguistics and Philology were born in German-speaking Central Europe, and in neither instance did German nationalism or geopolitical interests have anything to do with this scholarship.

  42. Etienne, that’s true, but it’s also true that 19C Old English study, notably that of Beowulf, was a nationalist war between Germans and Danes, with the English standing by in bewilderment. With specific reference to transliteration, which is part of the foundation of historical linguistics, see Nick Nicholas’s piece “What to transliterate into”, part of his wonderful Greek Unicode pages. Historical linguistics was part of establishing the patrimony of the German and Scandinavian nations, which is why the Grimms’ technical works sold almost as well as their fairy tales, and ceteris paribus for Grundtvig.

  43. I’m still not convinced. Perhaps there are anecdotal horror stories, but anecdotally I could point at any number of innovative papers on historical linguistics published in the last year alone. There are at least three newish journals in the field: Journal of Historical Linguistics (Benjamins, 2012–); Language Dynamics and Change (Brill, 2011–); Journal of Language Relationships (Russian State University for the Humanities, 2009–). Even here at LH, posts by Gąsiorowski on IE and by others on Uralic and other IE contact phenomena reflect an active field, drawing on work by many young researchers. Regional journals like IJAL and Oceanic Linguistics are rich in historical/comparative publications. The field doesn’t seem to me like it’s obviously dying. If anything, it’s the heavily formal Chomskyan and OT analyses, which appear ghettoized into their specialist journals.

  44. SFReader says:

    —where can a student go to study Ge’ez?

    Logical suggestion would be go to Ethiopia and learn the language in one of the religious schools of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which teaches Ge’ez to its priests and monks.

    That’s how European linguists typically learned Sanskrit in 19th century.

  45. Logical suggestion would be go to Ethiopia and learn the language in one of the religious schools of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which teaches Ge’ez to its priests and monks.

    Seriously? You think that’s a workable solution, the equivalent of buying a book and/or studying with someone in a nearby city?

  46. SFReader says:

    μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν

  47. Well, I guess it would weed out the riffraff.

  48. Lars (the original one) says:

    I’ve been hanging out with you guys for too long, I could identify that quote despite not having any Greek from elsewhere.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t. ἀτραπόν?

  50. ἀτραπός ‘short cut, (easy) footpath’. An interestingly obscure word. The Homeric/Epic variant apparently shows a different vocalisation of *, ἀταρπός. “[I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but] there’s no royal road to geometry.”

  51. Cognate with Atropos (she with the scissors)?

  52. marie-lucie says:

    Y, it is true that there is a fair amount of activity in historical linguistics, mostly in Europe. Not so much in the Americas.

  53. January First-of-May says:

    Is that Greek word by any chance cognate to Russian тропа “footpath”, which shows up in the Russian version of the saying?

    (BTW, I recognized the words for “king” and “geometry”, and guessed it was probably that one quote. If anything, the “footpath” word made me unsure, because I didn’t expect the Greek and the Russian to be so extremely similar.)

  54. SFReader says:

    According to Fasmer, yes, it’s Indo-European cognate of Russian ‘тропа’

    др.-русск. тропа, русск. тропа, тропи́нка, укр. тропа́, трiп «след», белор. троп, польск. trop «след, колея». Связано с тропа́ть, трепать. Родственно латышск. trара «толпа, куча», алб. trap м. «тропинка», др.-греч. ἀτραπός «тропа, дорожка».

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Ah. I barely know the saying in any language.

    Yet another feminine in -os. Greek seems to have a lot of those!

  56. As for the connection with Atropos the Moira (Ἄτροπος ‘inflexible’), it isn’t impossible if the initial ἀ- is also privative, and so we might try to etymologise ἀτραπός as ‘having no bends’, cf. τρόπος ‘turn, (new) direction’ from τρέπω ‘turn’. But if so, Homer’s metathetic variant ἀταρπός becomes difficult to explain. The phonetically regular reflex of * between obstruents is -ρα- (as in isolated words), and -αρ- is usually attributed to the analogical influence of related forms, such as the full-grade of CeRC roots. But here the root is *trep-, so what is -ταρπ- analogous to? My suspicion (pace Beekes, who as usual in such cases declares the problematic word substratal) is that ἀτραπός is secondary and folk-etymologically influenced by τρέπω, and that there was, at some point, a similar but unrelated root *τέρπ- reflecting PIE *terkʷ- ‘twist, wind’ (as in Lat. torqueō). Cf. (perhaps) τάρπη ‘big wicker basket’. The reflexes of *terkʷ- and *trep- were conflated in post-Mycenaean Greek. If this analysis is correct, there is no direct connection with Russian тропа and its Slavic cognates (which may be related to τρέπω, though), but there might be one with *torkъ (Russ. то́рок) ‘strap’.

  57. Yet another feminine in -os. Greek seems to have a lot of those!

    Hundreds (if not thousands). Compound adjectives (including those with the alpha privativum) do not have gender-specific stems in Greek (except for some of analogical origin). If they are thematic, the nom.sg. is -ος (m., f.), -ον (n.). So it’s always ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’, etc. When substantivised, such feminines remain o-stemmed, as in ἄλοχος ‘wife’ (literally ‘bedfellow’) < *sm̥-logʰo-. It’s an interesting archaic feature of Greek. Some uncompounded adjectives also behave in this way (παρθένος ‘virgin’, μάχλος ‘lustful’, etc.). And of course Greek (like Italic) has some simplex o-stem feminine nouns inherited from PIE, like νυός ‘daughter-in-law’.

  58. Ah. I barely know the saying in any language.

    “Reply given when the ruler Ptolemy I Soter asked Euclid if there was a shorter road to learning geometry than through Euclid’s Elements.”

    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Euclid#Attributed

  59. And the Royal Road was an actual thing, not just a vague metaphorical expression.

  60. True, though we owe Euclid’s “royal road” to a Renaissance translation into Latin of Proclus’s Commentary on the First Book of Euclid’s “Elements”, where the phrase regia via was used. The Greek original does not allude to the Persian Royal Road but speaks plainly of a “shortcut for kings”.

  61. Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil

    The English for that, by the way, is plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (there’s a Wiktionary entry for it). Is that still current in French?

  62. marie-lucie says:

    plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

    It’s the only version I know, but then I am very old-fashioned.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς

    I never noticed that one, somehow… probably because δάκτυλος is also the noun, familiar from Pterodactylus and many, many others.

    the Royal Road was an actual thing

    I knew that! Read a lot of history and fiction about the time in question when I was little. ^_^

  64. ἀτραπός may perhaps be feminine because it began life as an adjective modifying ὁδός “road”, which is a feminine noun. The “having no bends” etymology is ancient (Hesychius), but Chantraine suggests instead a connection with τραπέω “tread (grapes)”.

  65. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: “plus c’est pareil”/plus c’est la même chose” are to my ear quite interchangeable. On the relationship between historical linguistics and nationalism: yes indeed, there were and there remain many instances where various forms of nationalism influence(d) philology + historical linguistics. But to thereby come to the conclusion that nationalism was at the root of historical linguistics strikes me as unjustified: the study of Sanskrit, for instance, was central to the birth of historical linguistics, despite the fact that Sanskrit was not directly relevant to the identity of any European state.

    SFReader: You do realize that any type of large-scale comparative or typological linguistics would be impossible if scholars were required to acquire any/all “exotic” languages via traditional study? Also, how would you go about acquiring an extinct language which would have remained wholly undeciphered had it not been for the work of philologists/historical linguistics? Hittite, Luvian, Phoenician, Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamite, Eblaite, Old Persian, Old North and Old South Arabian languages, Ancient Egyptian, Classical Maya…it’s a rather impressive list.

    Y: There certainly is a lot being published ON historical linguistics, granted, but a very high percentage of this “work” is so poor that it does more harm than good: several instances of this kind of bad historical linguistics have been discussed here at Casa Hat.

  66. Chantraine suggests instead a connection with τραπέω “tread (grapes)”.

    That still leaves Hom./Ep. ἀταρπός unaccounted for. Cognates in other branches demonstrate that the ‘tread, trample’ root was *trep-.

  67. Etienne: I am not including the bad stuff. I’m saying I have seen a lot of superb and impressive work done on historical linguistics from many parts of the world, including by some younger present and past commenters at LH: Lameen Souag, Claire Bowern, Christopher Culver… I’ll mention the great advances in the understanding of the history of the African (“Khoisan”) click languages; the refinement of Sino-Tibetan; the recognition of contact phenomena, with all their subtlety and variety, in all regions of the world…

    Marie-Lucie, I’ll grant you that the historical linguistics of North American languages seems dormant of late. I blame the depressing fact that there’s less fieldwork to be done in North America now than there was a few decades ago. Historical linguistics in North American universities seems to be shifting its gaze more to Central and South America, judging from recent LSA talks.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    I did not mean to imply that nationalism was at the root of early historical linguistics, just that the new nations of Europe would establish their own academic fields of language, culture and history. This had multiple functions in the national project.:

    Universities in general would
    – provide education in the national language and establish a national scientific tradition.
    – show the non-backwardness of the new nation by making contributions to the international scientific discourse.

    The language, culture and history departments especially would also
    – do sound academic research with a perspective different from that of the traditional ruling classes of the former imperial powers.
    – increase knowledge about the special ways of the new nation and its people(s).

    As the various nations’ fathers well understood, none of these goals are essentially chauvinist (although they may be supported (and distorted) by chauvinists) — and therein lay their power, because they do add up to a scientific justification for the national project. Even if academics and universities at times and places would bend to national chauvinism, some more than others, they also did what they were supposed to do, and gave us much of what we know today about the linguistic diversity of Europe.

    My question about the semitophone countries was based on the supposition that the post-colonial states in the Middle East or North Africa would have had the same need for justification. So why didn’t it find the same outlet?.

  69. the study of Sanskrit, for instance, was central to the birth of historical linguistics, despite the fact that Sanskrit was not directly relevant to the identity of any European state.

    Surely the fact that Sanskrit was not directly relevant to the identity of any European state made it easier, not harder, to study it scientifically and objectively.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    Y: I’ll grant you that the historical linguistics of North American languages seems dormant of late. I blame the depressing fact that there’s less fieldwork to be done in North America now than there was a few decades ago.

    I guess I am partially to blame for the dormancy since I have not made much effort to publish my work, but I am only working in one part of the field. On the other hand, most linguists working in American languages have not had much training in historical linguistics, especially beyond “looking for sound correspondences” between lexical items, something which is all right for “obviously related” languages but is fraught with sources of error for potentially distantly related ones.

    Yes, there is less fieldwork to be done, because of the disappearance of fluent native speakers, and granting agencies which supported fieldwork in endangered languages are less likely to prioritize comparative/historical work, which after all could now be done at any time using the previously collected materials.

  71. One of the smaller but fascinating families which has recently attracted some attention from historical linguists and on which considerable progress has been achieved is Japonic. I think it was easier for “Western” linguists to study the Ruykyuan languages objectively for their own sake than for their colleagues in Japan, who had had a long tradition of regarding Ryukyuan studies as a footnote to Japanese historical linguistics and dialectology.

    One cannot praise enough the quality of the work Australian historical linguists have done (not without external reinforcements, of course) on Austronesian and on the indigenous families of Australia and New Guinea.

  72. SFReader says:

    Arguably, Sanskrit was directly relevant to identity of at least one European state – Nazi Germany which chose to identify itself as Aryan nation.

  73. Arguably, Sanskrit was directly relevant to identity of at least one European state – Nazi Germany which chose to identify itself as Aryan nation.
    But the Nazis didn’t cause interest in Sanscrit; when they came in, most of the groundwork on Sanscrit philology had already been done. Their ideas were part of a milieu of chauvinist misinterpretation of the results of historical linguistics – the idea of a Indo-European speaking master race (the “Aryans”), of which the Nordic (and especially the Germans) would be the finest specimen, was around already before the NSDAP was founded. But there were also facts that never fit in, e.g. that the Slavic “subhumans” were fellow Indo-Europeans.
    And yes, IE linguistics got infected by nationalism – in the late 19th/ early 20th century, you could fairly predict where scholars would place the homeland of the Indo-Europeans by knowing their nationality. But nationalism was a pervasive cultural background for much of the 19th and early 20th century, so it would be strange if historical linguists would have been untouched by it.

  74. SFReader says:

    German linguists were notoriously chauvinistic, for example, they referred to Indo-European languages as “Indogermanische sprachen”.

    European linguists from other countries didn’t take this bait and avoided temptation to invent terms like Indo-Russian languages or Indo-French languages…

  75. Arguably, Sanskrit was directly relevant to identity of at least one European state – Nazi Germany which chose to identify itself as Aryan nation.

    … while the only Europeans with a legitimate claim to being an Aryan people — the Romani — were marked for extermination.

  76. Well, actually, indogermanisch is the slightly older term, based on the westernmost and eaternmost known languages at that time, and it was coined not by a German, but by a Danish-French scientist, as per Wikipedia:
    Thomas Young first used the term Indo-European in 1813, deriving from the geographical extremes of the language family: from Western Europe to North India.[8][9] A synonym is Indo-Germanic (Idg. or IdG.), specifying the family’s southeasternmost and northwesternmost branches. This first appeared in French (indo-germanique) in 1810 in the work of Conrad Malte-Brun; in most languages this term is now dated or less common than Indo-European, although in German indogermanisch remains the standard scientific term.
    So the only “chauvinist” part is that German scholars still use this term, while most other languages are using “Indo-European” nowadays.

  77. January First-of-May says:

    the only Europeans with a legitimate claim to being an Aryan people — the Romani

    That’s only true if you think North Ossetia is in Asia. (I admit that South Ossetia is.)

    Mind you, I doubt that the Nazis cared much about individual Caucasian ethnicities (and judging by the background and results of Operation Lentil, Stalin definitely didn’t seem to think the Nazis cared much about the Ossetians specifically).

  78. It was not for Iosif Vissarionich, Tsar of All the Russias and a Fucking Lot Else and absolute ruler of one seventh of humanity though he was, to draw the line between Europe and Asia. Which, anyway, is rather irrelevant in the Caucasus, as the line runs north to south and the salient line there runs east and west.

  79. -αρ- is usually attributed to the analogical influence of related forms, such as the full-grade of CeRC roots

    I assume there’s good evidence for this, but a priori it strikes me as a little implausible: if the phonological distance between two allomorphs CRaC and CeRC is a problem, the obvious way to fix it would seem to be leveling, rather than splitting the difference to create a new allomorph CaRC. But it’s hard to judge these things, of course. In any case, vowel-liquid metathesis is common enough that maybe no morphological account is needed (though invoking sporadic sound change is always unsatisfying).

    I have a faint memory that there’s an alternate account of the -aR-~-Ra- variation based on accent position, but I don’t know the details.

  80. Etienne says:

    1-On Nazi Germany and “Aryans”: the meaning of “Aryan” as used by most non-linguists (including highly respectable people: Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance, uses it as a term to designate a “Christian European” as opposed to a Jew) during the first half of the twentieth century was *not* “Indo-Iranian”: it was used as a synonym for “Caucasian/European/Christian”, and was assumed to have been the autonym in the Indo-Europeans (supposed to have been the prototype of the white race), based on a (now very dubious) identification of the Indo-Iranian ethnonym ARYA-with the place-name EIRE (i.e. Ireland).

    Thus, it is I think quite anachronistic to claim that Sanskrit would somehow have been relevant to the national identity of Germany from 1933 to 1945.

    Tolkien, as a philologist, enjoyed playing with this ambiguity: when he was asked by a German publisher in the thirties whether he was of “Aryan” stock, he wrote back that

    “I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects.”

    Crucially, this answer would probably not have been penned by a non-linguist at the time.

    2-Piotr, Y: I certainly agree with you that some fine work on historical linguistics is being produced today: but tellingly, many of the scholars who produce solid, lasting work are either not employed within academia or, if they are, they often are not employed by Departments of linguistics. When I wrote about the “marginalization of historical linguistics” I was thinking about two kinds of marginalization: on the one hand historical linguistics as a field is losing ground within academia, and on the other those scholars who do produce worthwhile research are all too often excluded from Departments of linguistics, if not indeed from academia more generally.

    This was driven home to me quite forcefully a few years ago when I attended a conference on a non-Indo-European language family: while a majority of the presenters (excluding graduate students) were indeed employed by a Department of Linguistics, the minority of presenters whose work was (to my eye, at any rate) both methodologically sound and diachronic in scope all had one thing in common: not a single one had a full-time position at any University department.

  81. J.W. Brewer says:

    Within the wilder and occult-oriented subset of the Nazis and their hangers-on you can find a quorum of enthusiasts for a romanticized notion of India and Indians, and perhaps within the wilder subset of Hindutva enthusiasts today you can find individuals who are, at a minimum, not conspicuously anti-Nazi, even if the view of the late Savitri Devi that Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu is an outlier even within the worldwide People-With-Weird-Beliefs community. That the core referent of “Aryan” in pre-WW2 Europe was definitely not “person with South Asian physical appearance” is a separate point from whether or not some people with a perhaps unhealthy interest in Aryanness were willing to conceptualize such South Asians as fellow Aryans.

  82. David Marjanović says:

    if the phonological distance between two allomorphs CRaC and CeRC is a problem, the obvious way to fix it would seem to be leveling, rather than splitting the difference to create a new allomorph CaRC.

    Not if /a/ had become a “zero-grade marker”. There are plenty of Germanic examples where *CReC-*CRoC-*CR̩C, which regularly would have given *(C)ReC-*(C)RaC-*(C)uRC, actually shows up as *(C)ReC-(C)RaC-*(C)RuC, with the vowel in the same position throughout the paradigm.

    based on a (now very dubious) identification of the Indo-Iranian ethnonym ARYA-with the place-name EIRE (i.e. Ireland)

    Nowadays, the Proto-Celtic form of Éire is reconstructed as *īwerijū, which happens to make perfect sense in Phoenician as “copper island” (next to the famous tin islands). Latin Hibernia has had hibernus interpreted into it, which fits the climate; it helps that *-ū < *-ō implies a *n-stem.

  83. not a single one had a full-time position at any University department.

    We already have a plan. Now we just need funding. But none of us have gotten younger since 2012.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne to 2-Piotr, Y

    The situation described by Etienne may not fit the ones in Europe or Australia, but it does fit a number of instances in North America. Many linguistics departments which do include the study of indigenous languages do so within a more or less Chomskyan or at least syntactically-oriented paradigm. I have read (or reviewed) articles which here and there try to give a historical interpretation to some “awkward” syntactic or morphosyntactic phenomena, often with ludicrous results which make it obvious that the authors have no idea of the history of the language(s) in question, nor of even basic principles of comparative/historical methods. Meanwhile scholars who do specialize in historical linguistics are rarely hired on that basis rather than on their ability to teach something else, such as a modern language.

  85. SFReader says:

    Someone, someday, will make a lot of money inventing a program which extracts useful knowledge from Internet forums and compressing it into introductory college courses.

  86. Nowadays, the Proto-Celtic form of Éire is reconstructed as *īwerijū, which happens to make perfect sense in Phoenician as “copper island” (next to the famous tin islands). Latin Hibernia has had hibernus interpreted into it, which fits the climate; it helps that *-ū < *-ō implies a *n-stem.

    Fee, fi, fo, fum,
    I smell the style of Theo Vennemann.
    😉

  87. the historical linguistics of North American languages seems dormant of late

    Having visited the Canadian 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences just earlier this week, “dormant” seems like an understatement. I suspect I was the only person among the ~8000 presenters to give a presentation focusing on historical linguistics; no sign of the topic anywhere among the Canadian Linguistic Association (unless you think shallow longitudinal variational studies in sociolinguistics count), or the numerous “philological” associations such as the Canadian Association of Slavists, as far as I could tell…

    I can agree that historical linguistics as a field is not showing signs of slowing down and packing things up, but there seems to be a statistical paradox at work where just having a slower growth rate than academia in general can end up marginalizing even a generally vibrant subfield.

  88. David Marjanović says:

    Fee, fi, fo, fum,
    I smell the style of Theo Vennemann.

    😉

    Is that where I got it from? I’m sure he loves it, but I thought this one was more widespread.

  89. I’m pretty sure it’s ultimately Vennemannian. Problem is, if you take a Hebrew word meaning ‘island’ and combine it with one of several Akkadian words for ‘copper’, such a “Palaeosemitic” hybrid cannot legitimately be called Phoenician or attributed to Punic sailors. The normal Phoenician word for ‘copper’ (with cognates in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and Ethiosemitic, and present also as a loanword in Berber and Cushitic) was nḥš-t.

    The IE etymology (from *pih₁wer-ih₂ + -on- ‘fertile, abundant one’ > Proto-Celtic *(ϕ)īwerijō(n)) accounts at least for OIr. íriu (a feminine n-stem) ‘land, soil, earth, the world’ and Welsh Iwerddon ‘Ireland’. Slightly more problematic are OIr. Ériu ‘Ireland = MW Ywerdon, whose initial vowels seem to point to a different source — perhaps somethig like *h₁epi-h₂werijon- ‘land over the waters’ instead. It’s possible that two very similar words were conflated folk-etymologically and came to be used interchageably to refer to Ireland already in ancient times. Whatever the complications, there’s zero evidence that either of them had anything to do with a NW Semitic word for ‘copper’. John Koch points out that two prominent Milesian leaders in “The Book of Invasions”, Íth ad Iär, have names derived from the ‘fat, fertile’ root *peih₁-.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: Welsh Iwerddon ‘Ireland’

    This word immediately reminded me of Yverdon, the name of what I thought was a town or village in France but is actually in French-speaking Switzerland (but there might be more than one place of this name). According to Wikipedia, the Swiss Yverdon-les-Bains … [was] called Eburodunum and Ebredunum during the Roman era, making it perhaps more likely to be related to French Evreux and English York than to Welsh Iwerddon. But I am not a Celticist.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    one of several Akkadian words for ‘copper’

    Ah, so I misremembered on top of everything.

    nḥš-t

    Sounds nasty. 😉

    It’s possible that two very similar words were conflated folk-etymologically and came to be used interchageably to refer to Ireland already in ancient times.

    Makes plenty of sense, especially of the Welsh situation.

  92. marie-lucie,

    Eburodūnum = *Eburo-dūno- ‘Yew-fort’ (yew-trees played an important role in Celtic myth and culture hence such ethnonyms as the Eburones, and the Eburovici after whom Évreux was named). The Celtic name of York, Latinised as Eborācum (still Efrog in Welsh and Eabhrac in Irish Gaelic), in all likelihood also meant a place where yew-trees grew, but the Angles, who captured the post-Roman fortress in the 5th century, folk-etymologised its name as *Eβur-wīk- > OE Eoforwīċ(ċeaster) ‘Wildboar-residence’, which was then calqued by 9th-c. Old Norse speakers as *Jofur-vík > Jórvík and finally re-Anglicised as York.

  93. Piotr: When we last discussed this, nobody could say whether the Welsh and Irish names of York are survivals or reconstructions. Do you happen to know?

    Also, my understanding is that Jórvík is yet another folk etymology, ‘Horse Bay’, rather than a calque. After all, ‘Boartown’ makes no more sense: as m-l said back then, nobody would deliberately occupy land infested with wild boars.

  94. January First-of-May says:

    Now I’m wondering about a speculative linguistic question…

    According to the thread you just linked, the Modern English descendant of Eoforwīċ if it had not been displaced by Jórvík would have been *Eaverwich (pronounced “eve-ridge”).

    The version I have encountered elsewhere (and occasionally referred to) was *Efferwick, which was supposed to be pronounced “eff-rick”.

    Which of those versions is (more likely to be) correct, and (if it is possible to figure out) which misunderstanding, if any, might have led to the other one?

  95. I have no idea if the modern Celtic names of York continue the Old Brittonic original or are learned reconstructions. I’ll try to check (if possible). I don’t think the ON name was meant to be ‘Steed-whatever’; the Vikings would not have used an inflected nom.sg. in a compound, even a fake one (the final -r of jór is a desinence, not part of the stem); but sporadic loss of medial /v/ did happen in ON (as in bjórr ‘beaver’). Note also that in ON the ‘wild boar’ word (jǫfurr) had evolved into a poetic term for ‘king, chief’, giving any placename that contained it a royal flavour — very apt for a regional capital city.

    J-F-o-M, the spelling f in this word stands for voiced [v] which continues PGmc. *β (the voicing comes from Verner’s Law). In Early OE it was still distinguished orthographically from the intervocalically voiced allophone of OE /f/ (eofor is spelt eobor in early glossaries). Disyllabic words of this shape were often (though not consistently) affected by the Middle English open syllable lengthening, and indeed ME eauer ‘wild boar’ is attested (13th c.), though in an obscured compound I would rather expect a short vowel. In the Anglian North we typically find dispalatalised -wick rather than -wich, so the most likely development would have produced *Everwick (realised as /ˈevrɪk/, of course). This is supported by Anglo-Norman Everwic (12th c.), a name evidently coexisting with its ON counterpart.

  96. I’ve done a little checking. York was Cair Ebrauc in Old Welsh (Nennius) and Efrog in Middle Welsh, so the modern name is probably a genuine reflex of the old one.

  97. SFReader says:

    -Eburodūnum

    Hebrew Town

    Can’t resist this etymology 😉

  98. I shudder to think what folk-etymological connections Slavic-language speakers might come up with.

  99. David Marjanović says:

    In Early OE it was still distinguished orthographically from the intervocalically voiced allophone of OE /f/

    Is it possible that the voicing hadn’t happened yet?

  100. Unlikely. There are several lines of evidence (including occasional early spellings with u for [v]) showing that the voicing took place before the earliest OE texts. Rather than a voice contrast, there lingered a difference between a bilabial fricative written b and a labiodental one written f. They merged by the 9th century.

  101. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr, thank you for clarifying.

    in ON the ‘wild boar’ word (jǫfurr) had evolved into a poetic term for ‘king, chief’, giving any placename that contained it a royal flavour

    Very interesting! That explains the Norse interpretation of the city name.

    In Western Europe the wild boar is still the most fearsome animal. I guess that using the boar as a symbol of royal power corresponds to using the lion for this purpose in the Eastern Mediterranean. The wolf is perhaps more characteristic of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, while the tiger was supreme farther East.

  102. David Marjanović says:

    Rather than a voice contrast, there lingered a difference between a bilabial fricative written b ad a labiovelar one written f.

    This is the first clear evidence for a bilabial fricative anywhere in Germanic I’ve encountered – thank you!

    In Western Europe the wild boar is still the most fearsome animal.

    Well, less so than bear and probably wolf, but much more common than either.

    There’s also the German name Eberhard, still current a generation ago, where hard is interpreted as “strong”.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    David, there are not many bears and wolves left, but plenty of wild boars, that you don’t want to meet.

  104. David Marjanović says:

    Sure, but the bears and wolves were hunted to extinction or nearly so only very recently, too late to have an influence on feudal symbolics.

  105. There are so many wild boars where I live that we could call this village York. I meet them regularly but they mind their business and I mind mine. They have recently grown quite synanthropic in Poland, moving into city parks and looking for lunch in waste containers. Despite frequent contacts with humans, I recall only one fatal attack in recent years (road accidents involving wild boars have claimed more victims on either side).

  106. there lingered a difference between a bilabial fricative written b ad a labiovelar one written f

    Aaargh… what a mess! Read: “and a labiodental one”.

  107. Fixed. (Interesting to think about a labiovelar fricative!)

  108. January First-of-May says:

    Interesting to think about a labiovelar fricative!

    Apparently the sound spelled hw in Old English was, if not exactly a labiovelar fricative, something very very similar.

  109. “Labiovelar” is a traditional cover term for labialised velars like [kʷ] and doubly articulated labial–velars like [k͡p]. That makes [xʷ] a labiovelar fricative, and its weaker cousin [ʍ] a voiceless labiovelar approximant.

  110. Ah, right. I was picturing something different, and less possible.

  111. David Marjanović says:

    Wild boars are regularly encountered in parts of Vienna and Berlin, too.

    [ʍ] is the Scottish wh; the American one, for those few people who haven’t merged it into w, is [hʷ]. I don’t know if [xʷ] survives anywhere in Germanic other than that Family Guy episode about the pronunciation of cool whip (which was linked to on the LLog once, I think).

  112. Indeed, if one wants to be pedantically technical, compounds describing articulations should identify first the active articulator and then the passive one: apicoalveolar, dorsopalatal, labiodental etc. Traditional terms like palatoalveolar, alveopalatal or labiovelar (which may seem to describe impossible articulations) break out of this pattern, but they are familiar to anyone who has studied phonetics and therefore have the advantage of being readily understandable. We can say “domed laminopostalveolar” or the like if extreme precision is required, but “palatoalveolar” will suffice in most situations.

  113. David, [ʍ], [w̥] and [hʷ] can be regarded as synonymous notations. Scots wh, quh is often realised as a bona fide labialised velar fricative [xʷ] rather than a voiceless approximant.

  114. David Marjanović says:

    [ʍ], [w̥] and [hʷ] can be regarded as synonymous notations

    Ah, I keep forgetting that [h] is supposed to be some kind of disembodied friction/approximation. My native /h/ (distinct from /x/: Ahorn “maple”) is the preaspirated version of this “voiced glottal approximant” thing, and the American wh is the rounded version of my /h/, quite distinct from the Scottish [ʍ] = [w̥] that I’ve encountered.

    Edit: I do use actual [h] when I whisper, because my usual substitute contains an inevitable voice onset.

  115. SFReader says:

    -There are so many wild boars where I live that we could call this village York.

    New York translates into Polish as Nowy Dzików

  116. Our favourite onomastic beast is the aurochs (tur), commemorated in placenames such as Tur, Turowa Wola, Turowice, Turowiec, Turów, Turówka, Tursk, Tursko, Tury, Turza, Turze, Turzec, Turzepole, Turze Rogi, Turzyn etc. They are sometimes derived directly from the animal’s name, but more frequently from Tur used as a nickname/surname (silny jak tur ‘as strong as an aurochs’ is still a standard comparative idiom).

  117. So Scott Turow is ultimately named after the aurochs! I wonder if he knows that?

  118. Turze Rogi
    Tauragė?

  119. Well found. From Wikipedia:

    In Lithuanian, Tauragė is a conjunction of two words: Tauras which means aurochs, and ragas which means horn, hence its coat of arms. The city is known as Tauragie in Samogitian, as Tauroggen in German, Taurogi in Polish, טאווריג/Tovrig in Yiddish, and Тауроген, Тауроги/Taurogen, Taurogi in Russian.

  120. What’s the current thought about the IE etymology of ταῦπος, PBSl *taurós, etc.? I read somewhere an idea that the Greek word is a borrowing from Aramaic tōr-ā, but the path from there to Balto-Slavic is hard to explain, especially whan applied to a wild animal like the auroch. The Semitic word is old, with cognates in Akkadian as well as NW Semitic.

  121. Whatever its origin, it’s interesting that the Balto-Slavic words means specifically and exclusively ‘aurochs’ (not ‘bull’ or ‘ox’) and is never used of anything domesticated. The same goes for Germanic *ūru- or *ūran-.

  122. David Marjanović says:

    An often-repeated claim (e.g. Wikipedia somewhere) is that a PIE *táuros can be reconstructed, despite the unexpected *a, that it’s a loan from Proto-Semitic *θawru, and that this fact may have a religious background (lots of bull cult going on in the Neolithic through Bronze Age). I have no idea how far it can really be traced (e.g. is it represented in Anatolian?) and how we should imagine a loan from Semitic into PIE to work geography-wise. Or for that matter how robust the Proto-Semitic reconstruction is. Are there similar words in Kartvelian or Caucasian…?

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