The Ever-Changing Mohawk Language.

Another language-related quote from Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America (see this post for a quote from Jonas Michaëlius); Bailyn is discussing the dismay of Dominie Megapolensis (which he spells Megapolënsis — is that correct, and if so what does the ë signify?) at the difficulty he’s having with the local language; the quote is from A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians (1644):

One tells me a word in the infinitive mood, another in the indicative; one in the first, another in the second person; one in the present, another in the preterit. So I stand oftentimes and look, but do not know how to put it down. And as they have declensions and conjugations also, and have their augments like the Greeks, I am like one distracted, and frequently cannot tell what to do, and there is no one to set me right.

Bailyn says Megapolensis “half-believed the suggestion of the company’s commissary that the reason no one could understand them was because, to fend off outsiders, by common consent they completely changed their language every two or three years.” There’s a well-known sf story about aliens who fended off invaders by constantly changing their language; I’m sure it’s been mentioned here at LH, but I can’t remember title or author.

Comments

  1. You’re thinking of “Shall We Have a Little Talk?” by Robert Sheckley.

  2. I am indeed — thank you!

  3. “Myself.—Why don’t you make friends amongst your neighbours?
    Woman.—Oh, sir, the English cannot make friends amongst the Welsh. The Welsh won’t neighbour with them, or have anything to do with them, except now and then in the way of business.
    Myself.—I have occasionally found the Welsh very civil.
    Woman.—Oh yes, sir, they can be civil enough to passers-by, especially those who they think want nothing from them—but if you came and settled amongst them you would find them, I’m afraid, quite the contrary.
    Myself.—Would they be uncivil to me if I could speak Welsh?
    Woman.—Most particularly, sir; the Welsh don’t like any strangers, but least of all those who speak their language.
    Myself.—Have you picked up anything of their language?
    Woman.—Not a word, sir, nor my husband neither. They take good care that we shouldn’t pick up a word of their language. I stood the other day and listened whilst two women were talking just where you stand now, in the hope of catching a word, and as soon as they saw me they passed to the other side of the bridge, and began buzzing there. My poor husband took it into his head that he might possibly learn a word or two at the public-house, so he went there, called for a jug of ale and a pipe, and tried to make himself at home just as he might in England, but it wouldn’t do. The company instantly left off talking to one another and stared at him, and before he could finish his pot and pipe took themselves off to a man, and then came the landlord, and asked him what he meant by frightening away his customers. So my poor husband came home as pale as a sheet, and sitting down in a chair said, “Lord, have mercy upon me!”
    Myself.—Why are the Welsh afraid that strangers should pick up their language?
    Woman.—Lest, perhaps, they should learn their secrets, sir!
    Myself.—What secrets have they?
    Woman.—The Lord above only knows, sir!
    Myself.—Do you think they are hatching treason against Queen Victoria?
    Woman.—Oh dear no, sir.
    Myself.—Is there much murder going on amongst them?
    Woman.—Nothing of the kind, sir.
    Myself.—Cattle-stealing?
    Woman.—Oh no, sir!
    Myself.—Pig-stealing?
    Woman.—No, sir!
    Myself.—Duck or hen stealing?
    Woman.—Haven’t lost a duck or hen since I have been here, sir.
    Myself.—Then what secrets can they possibly have?
    Woman.—I don’t know, sir! perhaps none at all, or at most only a pack of small nonsense that nobody would give three farthings to know. However, it is quite certain they are as jealous of strangers hearing their discourse as if they were plotting gunpowder treason or something worse.
    Myself.—Have you been long here?
    Woman.—Only since last May, sir! and we hope to get away by next, and return to our own country, where we shall have some one to speak to.
    Myself.—Good-bye!
    Woman.—Good-bye, sir, and thank you for your conversation; I haven’t had such a treat of talk for many a weary day.”

    “After gazing upon it for a few minutes I sauntered back to the square, or marketplace, and leaning my back against a wall, listened to the conversation of two or three groups of people who were standing near, my motive for doing so being a desire to know what kind of Welsh they spoke. Their language as far as I heard it differed in scarcely any respect from that of Llangollen. I, however, heard very little of it, for I had scarcely kept my station a minute when the good folks became uneasy, cast side-glances at me, first dropped their conversation to whispers, next held their tongues altogether, and finally moved off, some going to their homes, others moving to a distance and then grouping together—even certain ragged boys who were playing and chattering near me became uneasy, first stood still, then stared at me, and then took themselves off and played and chattered at a distance. Now what was the cause of all this? Why, suspicion of the Saxon. The Welsh are afraid lest an Englishman should understand their language, and, by hearing their conversation, become acquainted with their private affairs, or by listening to it, pick up their language which they have no mind that he should know—and their very children sympathise with them. All conquered people are suspicious of their conquerors, The English have forgot that they ever conquered the Welsh, but some ages will elapse before the Welsh forget that the English have conquered them.”

    “The Welsh is one of the most copious languages of the world, as it contains at least eighty thousand words. ”

    George Borrow, Wild Wales

  4. marie-lucie says:

    to fend off outsiders, by common consent they completely changed their language every two or three years.”

    Since every language includes thousands of words and these words include nouns and especially verbs which may also have many forms, it would be completely impossible to change one’s language to a great extent, and start again only two or three years later. What must have happened was that the people in question started to make a few deliberate changes, whether for fun or for self-preservation (or both). There might be some new words, but more likely deliberate changes consisting or adding afixes, changing a few pronunciations, reversing syllables, and similar processes, enough to disorient foreigners who only had a smattering of the language. Consider how difficult it is to understand Pig Latin, or “Javanais” in French, on first hearing them, yet the rules are quite simple. But a few simple rules would be quite enough to throw non-native speakers completely off the track, especially if their proficiency in English or French is limited to some “tourist” type useful phrases. Cockney rhyming slang is another instance of deliberate language change in order to confuse outsiders, even those speaking the same basic language. So is French “verlan”, invented by teenagers in some poor areas around Paris. Such changes rarely take permanent root in a language, and they are easy to replace once their usefulness has waned, after the keys to understanding have become widely known.

  5. Extreme language contact often results in a language changing in unrecognizable directions within just a couple of generations.

    For example, Siberian Eskimo managed to transform itself in such timeframe into a dialect of Russian.

  6. What must have happened was that the people in question started to make a few deliberate changes

    I think it far more likely that the commissary was simply spouting nonsense in order to excuse his inability to learn the language.

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    This (“One tells me a word in the infinitive …”) was the very passage from Megapolensis that I had alluded to in my second comment on the earlier thread — the version I was looking at did not lend itself to cutting-and-pasting and I lacked the energy to type it out in extenso.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    A few verlan words – mef < femme comes to mind – are now widespread in the colloquial register.

    But in this case, I’m sure the difficulty of the copious morphology suffices as an explanation.

  9. SFReader: What dialect of Russian is that? Has the same thing happened as with Copper Island Aleut? That would be very interesting. Menovščikov doesn’t mention anything like that in his grammar(s) of varieties of Siberian Eskimo.

  10. Megapolënsis with an umlaut would make a lot more sense if it were Megapolēnsis with a macron: that would indicate that the E is long in Latin, which is true, and would be an eta rather than an epsilon in Greek. (I believe all Es followed by NS are ‘long by nature’ in Latin, though you would have to ask someone who’s taken at least one linguistics course to tell you why. Certainly the Es in Latin mēnsa, ‘table’, mēnsis, ‘month’, potēns, ‘powerful’, and (most pertinently) Athēniēnsis, ‘Athenian’, are long, and I can’t think of an exception.)

    If Megapolënsis is a mistake for Megapolēnsis, it’s an unsurprising one with Michaëlius in the context: that’s a diaeresis, showing that the name is five syllables, not four. I take it they are both Greek names, and the transliterator is trying to help us out.

  11. No, I’m sure it’s not meant to be a macron; I suspect it’s just a mistake on Bailyn’s part (he’s presumably not an expert on Dutch orthography). There’s a plain e in the name in Megapolensis’ 1645 book, I can find no evidence for a dieresis elsewhere, and it makes no sense as far as I can see.

  12. IIRC the length mark in words like mēnsa represents a pronunciation like */mẽ:sa/.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    David M: A few verlan words – mef < femme comes to mind – are now widespread in the colloquial register.

    I think it is meuf: the vowel is the schwa at the end of the word, followed by the initial consonant.

    the colloquial register : I doubt that everyone is now using this word.

    (Mohawk): But in this case, I’m sure the difficulty of the copious morphology suffices as an explanation.

    The Dominie, a priest or minister, was obviously well-versed in Greek, as well as Latin, and able to do some morphological analysis, but frustrated by a morphology that was not only copious but probably not organized according to the same principles as that of the languages he knew. It is also likely that at least some of the consultants sometimes deliberately misled him.

    LH: I think it far more likely that the commissary was simply spouting nonsense in order to excuse his inability to learn the language. (rather than the people changing their language to mislead outsiders)

    Obviously both the priest and the commissary had acquired some facility with the language, but their purpose was different. The commissary was dealing with the business aspects – mostly trading. He therefore needed at least a basic vocabulary and useful phrases, such as different tribes also trading with the Mohawk also needed. These may already have been simplified for the purpose. It is quite likely that as the outside traders acquired this simplified version, and even became more proficient in the actual language, the Mohawk made some changes to it which required the others to become familiar with them, hence more changes, etc. The commissary obviously had been there for a number of years, since he could tell that the language changed “every two or three years”, and he could still communicate with the locals at least as far as conducting business was concerned. As to the language being “completely changed”, of course this cannot be right. Either a number of basic words were changed, or some more distinctive aspects were (as I suggested earlier), without (for instance) totally changing the structure of verbs. Many people tend to overestimate the differences between varieties of a language, for instance (as I have witnessed) “Oh, we understand each other, but theirs is completely different: we say gu but they say gwi” (a very common sequence – not the only pronunciation difference, but one that obviously strikes the speakers)).

  14. he could tell that the language changed “every two or three years”

    I think you’re giving too much credence to his frustrated outburst. I see no reason to think that the language changed at all.

  15. One tells me a word in the infinitive mood, another in the indicative; one in the first, another in the second person; one in the present, another in the preterit.

    Kóxoí smiled and said, “Tí píai,” which I immediately guessed to mean “Me too.”
    To check this out, I organized a few elicitation sentences to confirm my hunch, acting out and saying, “Kóxoí drinks coffee, Dan píai,” “Kóxoí drinks coffee, me píai,” and so on.
    I recorded examples and isolated the phrases for me too, you too, her too, and so on. Then I asked Kóxoí to repeat them to me so that I could verify their pronunciation.
    What he gave me was surprising and confusing.
    He repeated, “Tí píai.
    I repeated.
    He said, “Right, kí píai.
    “What did you say?” I asked with frustration and surprise. Why was he changing the pronunciation? Was there a more simple expression than I had thought?
    Kí kíai,” he repeated.
    Now I was beginning to question my own sanity. Three different pronunciations in three repetitions. I was sure that the k sound, the t sound, and the p sound were meaningful units of speech—phonemes—of Pirahã. Phonemes are not supposed to be interchangeable! Change Tim to Kim to Pim in English, for example, and you don’t just get alternative pronunciations, you get separate words.
    Kí kíai?” I asked.
    “That’s right, pí píai” came the exasperating answer.
    In other repetitions, Kóxoí then gave additional pronuciations (again, the x represents the glottal stop of Pirahã): “xí píai,” “xí xíai.
    […]
    I observed several other examples of this variation from many speakers. Some people gave me many pronunciations for a single word, like xapapaí, kapapaí, papapaí, xaxaxaí, and kakakaí for the English word head. Or xísiihoái, kísiihoái, písiihoái, píhiihoái, and kíhiihoái for liquid fuel (kerosene, gasoline, butane, etc.).

    —Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes

  16. marie-lucie says:

    LH, The actual language spoken among native speakers, probably not. But I suggest a simplified, almost pidginized version used among traders. The frustrated outburst is that of the priest, not the commissary.

    Another case of speakers of a morphologically difficult language deliberately simplified for trading in a multilingual region is that of Chinookan (spoken in 3 or 4 dialects along the Columbia River). Simplification worked for both communicating with other tribes and denying them the opportunity to learn the real language, thus preserving it for the exclusive use of native speakers, preventing others to ‘learn their secrets’.

    The “Chinook Wawa” or “Chinook Jargon” arose from this simplified version, which soon acquired extra vocabulary from Nootka, and later more words from French and English. Why French on the West Coast? Because of the French-speaking Canadian employees of the fur trade.

  17. think of an exception

    carmĕn.

  18. The frustrated outburst is that of the priest, not the commissary.

    No: Megapolensis “half-believed the suggestion of the company’s commissary that the reason no one could understand them was because, to fend off outsiders, by common consent they completely changed their language every two or three years.”

  19. And of course he was a pastor, not a priest — the good Calvinist Dutch would never have sent a priest to supervise the spiritual welfare of their colonists!

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    Megapolensis’ own account is that he specifically argued with the commissary on the ground that the change-every-few-years theory couldn’t possibly be true, so Bailyn’s claim that he “half-believed” it seems quite a dubious handling of the evidence. If you google the distinctive string of words “and have their augments like the Greeks” you will find plenty of reprinted versions of the standard English translation (I believe from the mid-19th century) of the original Dutch account, and you can judge for yourself.

  21. MMcM:
    carmen has no S. I’m not saying that the sequence EN always has a long E in Latin, only the sequence ENS (if I’m not mistaken). Come to think of it, it may be any vowel followed by NS. Present participles and related words like dēns, dĕntis and amāns, amǎntis routinely have long E or A in the NS forms, short E or A in the NT forms.

  22. Megapolensis’ own account is that he specifically argued with the commissary on the ground that the change-every-few-years theory couldn’t possibly be true, so Bailyn’s claim that he “half-believed” it seems quite a dubious handling of the evidence.

    Ah, that’s interesting — thanks for checking! I wag a finger in Bailyn’s direction.

  23. What dialect of Russian is that? Has the same thing happened as with Copper Island Aleut? That would be very interesting. Menovščikov doesn’t mention anything like that in his grammar(s) of varieties of Siberian Eskimo.

    From Vakhtin’s article on terminal stages of Siberian Eskimo language extinction:

    Eskimo children, who practically do not speak Eskimo, but use only Russian, in their conversations with their elderly relatives who do not speak Russian well, are compelled, if not to speak, then at least to understand some of the simplest statements in Siberian Eskimo. This sometimes leads to counter-attempts by the children to say something “in the grandmother’s language” … in a number of cases, these attempts lead to a very interesting result, which could be called the beginnings of the creolization of the Siberian Eskimo. So, in 1988 in the village. Sireniki we managed to write down a few statements of a six-year-old girl addressed to her mother, who were built on the model: the Eskimo root morpheme + Russian inflection, cf. (15) to (16):

    (15) Mama, ya eto k’u:wayu?

    “Mom, I’ll pour it out?” (From Eskimo k’u:w – ‘pour out ‘)

    (16) Mama, mne eto ni:wat’?

    “Mom, do I have to pour it?” (From Eskimo ni:w – ‘pouring’)

    This model differs significantly from the classical Creole languages, such as Tok Pisin language, in which lexical units are borrowed from English, and grammatical units from indigenous languages. This is the model on which the language of the Copper Aleut was constructed.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    While I can’t identify the “augment”, the future and the conditional are each marked by prefixes that consist of a vowel, and there’s even something called the aorist.

    I think it is meuf: the vowel is the schwa at the end of the word, followed by the initial consonant.

    It is – I’ve just seen it spelled (etymologically) as mef, so I decided to stick to that.

    I doubt that everyone is now using this word.

    Not everyone, but “dysphemism” is probably too strong. “Schoolkid/student register”?

  25. marie-lucie says:

    SFR:

    This model differs significantly from the classical Creole languages, such as Tok Pisin language, in which lexical units are borrowed from English, and grammatical units from indigenous languages

    But in Tok Pisin etc, the people first borrowing the English lexical items were native, adult speakers of indigenous languages. The little girl speaking a Russian-Eskimo mix was a native speaker of Russian, incorporating Eskimo lexical items: the significant difference is that the composition of the mix is reversed. If that is what occurred in Copper Aleut, perhaps the social circumstances were similar.

    LH: And of course he was a pastor, not a priest — the good Calvinist Dutch would never have sent a priest to supervise the spiritual welfare of their colonists!

    Sorry, I knew that “priest” was probably not right, that’s why I also used “minister” at first, but I was not sure if “”priest was exclusively Catholic, or if there was another word for Protestant clergy I was not familiar with: indeed “pastor” must be the word.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    …Or I simply misremembered. Googling mef is useless (too many abbreviations etc. out there), but meuf brings up 8.95 megaghits, the first of which is a misleading Google translation as “girl”.

  27. Michael Hendry:
    My apologies; I misread NS as Ns.

    any vowel followed by NS
    Right

  28. David Marjanović says:

    This model differs significantly from the classical Creole languages, such as Tok Pisin language, in which lexical units are borrowed from English, and grammatical units from indigenous languages

    There are almost no “grammatical units” in Tok Pisin, and most or all of those that do exist can be derived straightforwardly from English (e.g. -im marking transitive verbs < him). Even the syntax seems to be mostly or entirely English. It’s in abstract grammatical categories that the local languages shine through: nothing inherent in English would ever lead the creators of a pidgin to come up with the idea that there should be such a thing as a first-person trial inclusive pronoun (yumitripela < you + me + three + fellow), or for that matter with the idea that a distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is something basic and fundamental.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    George Borrow was a major-league bloviator and linguistic fantasist, and “Wild Wales” bears no relation to the linguistic (or any other) reality of his or any other time.

    Ask any Welsh speaker familiar with the awful book. It’s Celtic Orientalism.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    David M: There are almost no “grammatical units” in Tok Pisin, and most or all of those that do exist can be derived straightforwardly from English

    Yes, I thought the sentence was odd, but I don’t know that much about TP.

    It’s in abstract grammatical categories that the local languages shine through:

    Yes, the lexifier often seems to be lacking in categories obligatory in one’s own language, so speakers find a way of indicating them.

    the idea that a distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is something basic and fundamental.

    This idea was basic in older English or Proto-Germanic, but English now has a strong tendency to use a single form for transitive and intransitive verbs. At least this is true in American English, even in the written standard.

  31. @marie-lucie, that calls to mind a passage I ran into on Chinook Wawa the other day that I’m sure some might find amusing:

    Sometime in the 1870s, a Chinese man Ling Fu was brought before Judge Cornelius Hanford in Seattle’s courthouse, accused of not having the proper citizenship papers. Facing deportation, Ling Fu argued that he did not need to carry papers: he had been born on Puget Sound. To test him, Judge Hanford quickly shifted his inquiry into Chinook Jargon, which had become nearly as common as Whulshootseed or English in Puget Sound country. “Ikta mika nem? Consee cole mika?” (What is your name? How old are you?), he demanded of Ling, who in turn replied, “Nika nem Ling Fu, pe nika mox tahtlum pee quinum cole” (My name is Ling Fu, and I am twenty-five years old). Clearly surprised, the judge responded, “You are an American, sure, and you can stay here.” He then turned to the bailiff and decreed, “Ling Fu is dismissed.”

    (in Native Seattle by Coll Thrush)

    In modern orthography, the Chinook Wawa portion would be “Ikta mayka nim? Qʰǝntsi-kʰul mayka?” “Nayka nim Ling Fu, pi mawkst-tatɬum pi qwinǝm kʰul.” All is of Chinook origin, except nim and kʰul, which come from English’s name and cool/cold, respectively, and “pi” which comes from Canadian French “pis” (France French, “puis”). Kʰul here being used interchangeably with “snu”, from English’s snow, implying “winters”.

    (Referring to comments on a post earlier this week, now there’s an orthography thought up by linguists… who’s going to know how to type ʰ let alone ɬ.)

  32. Fascinating, and a great story!

  33. David Marjanović says:

    This idea was basic in older English or Proto-Germanic, but English now has a strong tendency to use a single form for transitive and intransitive verbs. At least this is true in American English, even in the written standard.

    While English does take it unusually far, verbs that take the same form for transitive and intransitive meanings are not rare even in German, which has a productive reflexive pronoun and a productive transitivizing prefix (be-). Already prefixed verbs like verbrennen “burn completely” and niederbrennen “burn down” come to mind. And if there’s a trend, it may not be towards merging the categories; unprefixed brennen is now intransitive only, but 400 years ago it was as ambiguous as in English (Hexen brennen “to burn witches”, nowadays verbrennen). From the same era come metaphorical transitive nonce usages of verbs that couldn’t possibly take objects otherwise, as in the church song Tauet, Himmel, den Gerechten, / Wolken, regnet ihn herab “Dew, heavens, the Just = Righteous one, / Clouds, rain him down”; admittedly, that looks like it’s a literal translation of a psalm.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Speaking of [ɬ], Whul- in Whulshootseed is a really interesting way of writing [ɬə]!

  35. More like lu- is an interesting way of writing xʷəl-, as in xʷəlšucid.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    …You’re right, Wikipedia gives xʷəlšucid and dxʷləšúcid. I have no idea why I misremembered this so clearly and drastically. But at least the second form has the ə in the expected place.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    pc: Thank you for that CW story! Congratulations to the judge for his inspired decision!

    “pi” which comes from Canadian French “pis” (France French, “puis”)

    Many features of Canadian French (and of CW by extension) are identical with features of rural dialects of Northwestern France (where I grew up). Pronouncing “puis” as /pi/ is very common there, especially in the sequence “et puis” /e pi/ which is literally ‘and then’. It seems to me that ellsewhere in France the word “puis” alone is not so common in conversation. To me it sounds very old-fashioned.

    David M: Speaking of [ɬ], Whul- in Whulshootseed is a really interesting way of writing [ɬə]!

    I am not sure how to spell the name of the language (English “Lushootseed”) in the language, but I heard it spoken by a native speaker (Vi Hilbert) on several occasions. The actual name starts with the prefix dxw (with superscript w) before the lateral, which prefix also occurs in other place names. I suppose the “whul” component includes the xw, though not the d which may have been given up by more recent speakers. I don’t know about the rest, and the Lushootseed-English dictionary (Bates-Hess-Hilbert 1984) does not include the name although another example of a place name is provided in one of the entries for the prefix.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Y and David: Thanks for the Lushootseed spellings. It took me a little while to write my comment, and I only saw yours after posting mine.

  39. George Borrow was a major-league bloviator and linguistic fantasist, and “Wild Wales” bears no relation to the linguistic (or any other) reality of his or any other time.

    That was also my impression, but it’s a fun book nonetheless.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    David M: But at least the second form has the ə in the expected place.

    I am not very familiar with Salishan languages, but I seem to remember that the occurrence of /ə/ follows rules similar to those of its occurrence in French. Additionally, it can occur phonetically as a vowel coloured by the neighbouring consonants. These features explain zero or [u] instead of [ə].

  41. Of course, there’s no reason why a Chinese immigrant (who in those days could never become a U.S. citizen) couldn’t learn Chinook Wawa, either. What’s interesting is that this was some fifteen years before U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark [aːk] (1898), which established that a Chinese person born in the U.S. was a citizen just as much as a white or black person. There were a few earlier cases that didn’t reach the Supremes, but none as early as the mid-1870s.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    By speaking CW as fluently as the judge, the Chinese man showed that he must have grown up in the US, in the area where he was living, and was therefore culturally an American, not a recent, undocumented immigrant.

  43. That’s reasonable. But the question that remained open for fifty years was whether the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that everyone born in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof was a citizen by birth applied to American-born Chinese. The claim of the prosecution in Wong’s case was that because his parents neither were nor could become Americans, they were not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and so neither was he. This argument had been used to establish that Indians weren’t citizens (until Congress gave them all citizenship in 1924) since they were not taxed and not subject to U.S. law, at least when on their reservations. Wong of course was neither tax-free nor law-free, but neither were Indians living in white cities. It seems that Judge Hanford never even considered the question of law.

  44. J.W. Brewer says:

    It is possible that the dating of the anecdote is off (even if the rest is accurate) because Judge Hanford did not actually become Judge Hanford until 1890. On the other hand, he did briefly serve during the 1870’s as a United States Commissioner for the territorial court, a sort of sidekick judicial role that is ancestral to the current job of U.S. Magistrate Judge, so it could have happened them. https://www.fjc.gov/history/judges/hanford-cornelius-holgate (This official gov’t-sponsored bio notes his resignation in 1912 without giving the additional detail found in the wikipedia bio that Congress was in the process of deciding whether to impeach him when he made it unnecessary for them to make that decision.)

  45. J.W. Brewer says:

    Come to think of it, I’m not sure that there would have been a basis to bring Ling Fu before a judicial official to determine whether or not he had a right to be in the U.S. prior to enactment of the first iteration of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, so that itself may exclude an 1870’s date for the incident. And the requirement that Chinese (other than those who were U.S. citizens by birth, once that issue got resolved) carry the appropriate paperwork with them at all times may not have been added until 1892, after Judge Hanford was already on the bench. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geary_Act

  46. I’d say the date is correct; it’s unlikely that the Chief Justice of all Washington Territory, as Hanford was after 1890, would handle such a case, but a magistrate judge would be a different matter.

    You’re right about the date of the Act, but the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 already banned naturalization of Chinese subjects in America and American citizens in China. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, 1884, 1886, 1892, and 1902 (variously named) banned the actual entry of Chinese to the U.S., but left the prohibition on naturalization in place.

  47. SFReader: Vakhtin, of course! Thanks; I’ll look for the article.

  48. On brennen: there is still some residual transitive use in technical areas: Schnaps brennen “to distil liquor”, Ziegel brennen “to bake bricks”.

  49. Stu Clayton says:

    CDs/DVDs brennen. This is neither a residue of any tradition, nor residual in the sense of “on its way out”. It feels like a metaphor of Ziegel brennen, but more likely derives from “burn CDs”.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Yes on all the technical uses, and on the calque of “burn CDs”.

  51. Back to meuf – I just read Vernon Subutex and Despentes has characters in their 40s and 50s using Verlan words like meuf, rebeu, and keuf almost exclusively. Granted, these are mostly supposed to be aging Parisians from the entertainment industries and/or low-lifes. Maybe she is subtly mocking their aspirations to stay hip?

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Yvy tyvy:

    but it’s a fun book nonetheless

    True. It induces in me a sort of feeling that I’ve been culturally appropriated, but I should probably just man up. And to be fair, uncritical enthusiasm is better than indifference, and Orientalism is better than Gradgrindian indifference. These things can lead to genuine engagement eventually.

    John Sampson, author of the excellent and deeply scholarly Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales namechecks Borrow as part of the origin of his own confessedly romantic interest in the Welsh Romani.

  53. And to be fair, uncritical enthusiasm is better than indifference, and Orientalism is better than Gradgrindian indifference. These things can lead to genuine engagement eventually.

    I sometimes think I was started in Western-hemispheric studies by Disney’s Three Amigos. Not to be confused with the Steve Martin etc. movie.

  54. And of course many of us got started on a serious engagement with linguistics by means of Mario Pei and that other guy whose name I forget.

  55. Christian Weisgerber says:

    I just read Vernon Subutex and Despentes has characters in their 40s and 50s using Verlan words like meuf, rebeu, and keuf almost exclusively.
    How old are those words actually? I expect those middle-aged characters simply continue to use the language they grew up with. French singer Renaud (born 1952) was making use of Verlan on Laisse béton (= laisse tomber) in 1977.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    I hear they do second order Verlan these days. feume < meuf. But since I’ve heard about it’s probably not exactly new.

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    In the same spirit, I encode personal messages by applying ROT13 twice, for added security.

  58. per incuriam says:

    How old are those words actually?

    Some must surely be quite recent e.g. rebeu, a reverlanisation of beur. Though verlan itself ante litteram goes back centuries e.g. Séquinzouil for Louis XV.

  59. I was lambasting the NY Times about verlan a few weeks after the blog started.

  60. You probably know, but before rhyming slang, Londoners had backslang: sip was piss, the slops were the police, and yob was boy. Yob is still common.

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