The Mermaids who Dried Out.

Patricia Palmer,a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, King’s College, London, writes about English, Irish, and Ireland in an article first published in 2005; once again, the linked piece is long and complex enough it defies summary, so I’ll just quote a few bits to whet your appetite:

We lived in a landscape of strange and obdurate names. My grandmother came from Cumeenduassig, my grandfather from Tureenafersh. Years later, I would be bewitched by the transparency of English placenames: Juniper Hill, Milton-under-Wychwood, Woodstock; you knew, at one level at least, where you were. But to grow up in Kerry was to be at play in a landscape where names guarded their secrets closely. We swam in Coumeenoole, climbed Beenkeragh and sailed out to Ilauntannig from Scraggane Pier in the Maharees. In one sense, these places meant everything. But in another, they drew a veil over our world, locating us in a landscape of sound effects rather than sense. Of course, if we picked away at the Ordinance Surveyors’ haphazard nineteenth century anglicisations and reconstructed the original Irish name, we could lift the veil for a moment. My grandmother would come not from mesmeric but meaningless ‘Cumeenduassig’, but from Coimín dú easaigh, ‘the dark little coomb of the waterfalls’.

The poet John Montague speaks of a similar disorientation growing up in South Tyrone: ‘The whole landscape a manuscript / we had lost the skill to read’. What is lost when a placename becomes detached from meaning, and becomes just a sound, is the connection between a place and its history: space is set adrift from time. Irish history and mythology are written onto the face of Ireland to a degree that is unusual elsewhere in Europe. (You have to read the journals of Captain Vancouver, splattering the names of midshipmen and misadventures – Puget Sound, Deception Pass – all over the intimately named haunts of the Salish and Kwakiutl people on the Canadian Pacific to get a similar sense of place sacralised through naming – and a similar sense of loss.) Slieve Mish, which I look out on as I write, is not only a mist-covered hill, but a repository of memory. It was there, the ninth-century Book of Invasions tells us, that the Milesian invaders met Banba, a queen of the Tuatha De Danann, and her druids. And when the Milesians braved the magic mist of her tribe and wrested the land of Ireland from them, it was in that epic battle that Mis, a Milesian princess, fell, on the bare mountainside that still bears her name. To live in a landscape where rich, time-layered meanings swim in and out of view, at the mercy of placenames that block access and sound like melodic nonsense words, is to be made acutely aware of language. You learn that English alone cannot fully explain your world; and you are left haunted by the sense of a missing language.

* * *
Men like Walter Ralegh and Humphrey Gilbert, who had cut their teeth in the savage repression of the Munster Rebellion, were on hand to make that happen when they moved on to North America, carrying with them a pattern of linguistic imperialism honed in Ireland. Anyone familiar with the story of language in Elizabethan Ireland can only feel impatience – if not despair – at the latter-day triumphalism of works like Melvyn Bragg’s best-selling The Adventure of English. It retells an old tale about the unique fitness of ‘Shakespeare’s English’ to become a world language – a story which ignores the bitter fact that it is military might, not linguistic merit, that makes ‘a tongue of account’. Daniel, poet of empire that he was, had no time for such romanticising: all empires, he acknowledged robustly, ‘may thanke their sword that made their tongues … famous and universall’.
* * *
In her 1998 collection, Cead Aighnis, the poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill has a sequence entitled ‘Na Murúcha a Thriomaigh’, ‘The Mermaids who Dried Out’. The figure of mermaids who have come out of their element onto dry land, who have cast off their songs in order to prosper, allows Ní Dhomhnaill to meditate on losing a language. The mermaids have forgotten the confusion of the currents and the whale choirs of the deep; their scales dry out and flake off. One mermaid, in therapy, struggles to find words to convey the full intensity of what the word uisce – ‘water’ – means for her. But is it not just Ní Dhomhnaill’s mermaids who are on that headland: we, too, are poised between siren voices calling to us in Anglo-American and the promptings of the deep.

Go raibh maith agat, Trevor!

Comments

  1. By naming the names they rejoiced in the complexity and specificity, the wealth and beauty of the world, they participated in the fullness of being. They described, they named, they told all about everything. But they did not pray for anything. —Le Guin, The Telling

    Update: We now know that military might is neither necessary nor sufficient for the spread of language.

  2. In 2000 years someone will puzzle in agreeably melancholic prose over the mystery of “McDonald’s” as a place name. Nietzsche called it exoticism. It is a modern form of participating in the fullness of being.

  3. Which Native American languages did Raleigh make extinct? That would have been quite an achievement given how ephemeral the Roanoke Colony was.

    I’m surprised there’s no mention of Raleigh’s executioner, King James I, a guy who truly had it in for Goidelic languages. As James VI of Scotland, he had already tried to “plant” the Highlands and Islands before moving on to Ulster. According to his Wikipedia biography, “The Gaelic language, spoken fluently by James IV and probably by James V, became known in the time of James VI as ‘Erse’ or Irish, implying that it was foreign in nature. The Scottish Parliament decided that Gaelic had become a principal cause of the Highlanders’ shortcomings and sought to abolish it.” James “began a process ‘specifically aimed at the extirpation of the Gaelic language, the destruction of its traditional culture and the suppression of its bearers.'” It can’t have taken much adjustment to transfer the process to Ireland and the Irish language.

  4. Etymology often reflects power imbalances. Think of the present-day resonances of indigenous place names in the US, even centuries after their first inhabitants got exiled: Kalamazoo, Wichita, Chautaqua, Tallahassee vs. New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Washington DC…

    Maybe I’m stacking the deck with my selection of examples, but we can test this. I just made up two American towns in the same state, purely fictional as far as I know: Chesterfield and Amiskegan. What differences do you imagine between these two towns?

  5. What differences do you imagine between these two towns?

    None? Seriously, I have no idea what you are getting at here.

  6. George Grady says:

    George R. Stewart has his own take on the transparency of place names in “Names on the Land”. I’m away from home for Thanksgiving, however, so I can’t get at my copy.

  7. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Four out of the twenty largest metropolitan areas in the US have names with a native etymology: Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Tampa. Three of the twenty smallest metro areas in the US have names with a native etymology: Walla Walla, WA; Kokomo, IN; Pocatello, ID. It’d be interesting to check how the prevalence varies across the entire city size distribution, but it’d take me too long to do it manually and I don’t know how to automate the computation.

    In terms of my imagination, it’s names with a transparent English meaning that suggest small towns: Great Falls, MT; Midland, MI; Grand Island, NE; Grants Pass, OR; Pine Bluff, AR; Ocean City, NJ. That’s six out of the smallest twenty. There’s only Riverside, CA in the largest twenty—and it cheats, because the Inland Empire isn’t quite centered on the city of Riverside. The next one is Salt Lake City at #48.

  8. Giacomo: Thanks for the empirical testing! Thinking it through further, I wonder if my initial intuition actually reflects something about name length, whereby four-syllable monomorphemic names seem unlikely to refer to big places. There must be a queryable database of American place name etymologies out there somewhere…

  9. “Chesterfield and Amiskegan. What differences do you imagine between these two towns?”

    One sounds like it’s in New England and the other in the upper Midwest.

    Chinese place names cover this whole range of clarity and opacity. A lot of them go back to stories of one kind or another. Some are bluntly obvious, some only make sense in the context of the story and some are probably loans from the various languages spoken where some variety or other of Chinese is spoken. Something that happens fairly often is that names of regions and cities get changed, usually by government fiat.

    There are references to changes in place names in Ireland too, usually when something notable happens there and the place is referred to from then on for it. Come to think of it, that story f the naming of Slieve Mish goes to the very beginning of the Gaelic presence in Ireland but certainly it already had a name in some now lost language.

  10. ə de vivre says:

    And then there are all the Spanish and French names in the western United States—even in places that never had much of a Spanish or French colonial presence. The Strait of Juan de Fuca that separates Canada from the United States, and leads to the San Juan Islands; Boise, Idaho; the Nez Perce tribe. I enjoyed the irony when, a couple years back, there was that stand-off between a survivalist/white-nationalist militia group and the Federal Government at the Malheur (‘mæl.hjəɹ) National Forest.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Erse” is, of course, foreign, in the sense that the Gaels actually were invaders from Ireland originally (some of us had to learn all about Dal Riada in school.)
    Same as the English. Bloody foreigners. Come over here, steal our sheep … Britain for the Brythonic, that’s what I say! Send them back to Ireland/Jutland/wherever! Rerun Catraeth! Prydain am byth!

    Is it really the case that the term “Erse” only came in with James VI? Seems very improbable. Surely it’s just the original Scots word for “Gaelic”? What else would they have called it in 17th-century Scots?

  12. January First-of-May says:

    wherever

    Angeln.

    (It's in Denmark, close to Jutland.)

  13. per incuriam says:

    With all the writers and works cited how weird there’s no mention of Friel’s Translations of which the article could almost be a review.

    Is it really the case that the term “Erse” only came in with James VI? Seems very improbable. Surely it’s just the original Scots word for “Gaelic”?

    Up until about the 16th century Gaelic was known as Scottish and Scots as English.

    And of course Scottish itself meant Irish.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Up until about the 16th century Gaelic was known as Scottish and Scots as English.

    Ah. That would indeed make sense. I was wrong.

    Is this connected with the shift of the word “Scot” from its original sense of “Gael” to its current meaning? In that case, the adoption of “Irish” for “The Language Previously Known as Scottish” might be not so much a case of deliberate othering of the Gaels as a side-effect of a sort of previous cultural appropriation.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wikipedia on “Scots” asserts

    From 1495 the term Scottis was increasingly used to refer to the Lowland vernacular and Erse, meaning Irish, as a name for Gaelic. For example, towards the end of the fifteenth century, William Dunbar was using Erse to refer to Gaelic and, in the early sixteenth century, Gavin Douglas was using Scottis as a name for the Lowland vernacular.

    I don’t think James (horrid man though he be) and his gang can be credited with inventing the name “Erse” as a propaganda tactic. Moreover, James will have been perfectly well aware that he himself was descended from Gaels (indeed his claim to the monarchy depended on it), so it would have been impolitic to imply that the Gaels were ipso facto foreign elements in Scotland (also ludicrous.) This reads more like the all-too-familiar mindset that for centuries has been coercing speakers of minority (or just low-status) languages to give up their linguistic heritage “for their own good.”

  16. Chesterfield and Amiskegan

    Cheating just a little, Chesterfield and Muskegon are on opposite sides of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. They used to make Lionel Trains in Chesterfield, before manufacturing moved to China; it’s almost all white and voted for Trump. Muskegon is older and has seen an urban revitalization this century after flight to the suburbs in the second half of the last; it’s ⅓ African-American and voted for Clinton.

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    I can’t resist this snippet from Wikipedia’s account of my hero James IV:

    In July 1498 the Spanish envoy Pedro de Ayala reported to Ferdinand and Isabella that

    The King … speaks the following foreign languages: Latin, very well; French, German, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish; Spanish as well as the Marquis, but he pronounces it more distinctly. He likes, very much, to receive Spanish letters. His own Scots language is as different from English as Aragonese from Castilian. The King speaks, besides, the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and on the islands. It is as different from Scots as Biscayan is from Castilian. His knowledge of languages is wonderful …

    (The link to the original Spanish is unfortunately dead.)

    James IV was unique among British monarchs in that he not only encouraged the development of surgery but was himself an enthusiastic practitioner. Apparently they had to pay people to be his patients, though …

  18. David Marjanović says:

    It’s in Denmark

    Germany nowadays. Contains the infamous city of Flensburg, where the national file of traffic violations is kept; once you have “too many points in Flensburg”, you lose your license.

  19. January First-of-May has never accepted the results of the Second Schleswig War.

  20. A pet peeve of mine:

    Wikipedia articles for places in Ireland often begin…

    Rosclogher (Irish Ros Clochair, “wooded height of the stony place”) is a barony in County Leitrim, Ireland, blah blah blah blah blah blah

    …with no further information about any wood, height, or stony place. The gloss answers a question few readers will have asked by brandishing another question and refusing to answer it.

  21. And yet that is exactly the information I want. I don’t much care about the actual wood, height, or stony place. I care about words.

  22. If you look at what happened in North America, the French and the Spanish gave places their own names. (And the reason that there are a lot of French names in the upper Midwest is that French-speaking fur traders were the first Europeans to explore there–like Toussaint Charbonneau, husband of Sacagawea, who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition.)

    Anglophones tended to keep the existing names, although in mangled form, both in North America and Australia. But the peoples who created those names were pushed out. It’s the same process that took place in Ireland, except there the English didn’t manage to push the Irish on to reservations. They did destroy a lot of their culture though.

    The landscapes are left littered with names that people don’t understand, like Yarralumla, Tacoma, Nipissing, Coeur d’Alene, Las Vegas and Ballymackleduff.

  23. I note the different attitudes of different people toward place names left over by conquered people. In the Americas, genocide and contempt toward Native Americans were not an impetus toward systematic replacement of native names by European ones. In contrast, Arabic names in Israel have been expurgated from any place settled by Jews, in favor of either wholly new Hebrew names, or nearby biblical place names, or Hebraized versions of the older Arabic names.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that place names get replaced when the conquest is slow and difficult. On the other hand, if a people fades from memory within a generation, the words they left behind no longer cause feelings strong enough to overturn a habitual name.

  24. Is this connected with the shift of the word “Scot” from its original sense of “Gael” to its current meaning?

    I should think so. The Romans used Scot(t)i for all the Q-Celtic speakers they knew, whether in Ysl Flanc or in Lla Ysl di llo Maistr y llo Saeth. When the Latin term was specialized to refer only to the eastern Gaels, all was straightforward: the Irish were Irish, the Highlanders were Scots, and the Lowlanders were English. In the 8C, Johannes Scotus had the by-name Eriugena ‘Ireland-born’ to make his origin clear; this was no longer necessary for Duns Scotus in the 13C. But when the Lowlanders didn’t want to be English any more and took over the name Scots, it made some sense for the Highlanders to be called Irish, as they historically were, using the Scots word for ‘Irish’. (The DSL says the initial vowel of Erse < Eirisch is unexplained.)

  25. I was on a train in Inner Mongolia the other day. A young man working for the railway in that jurisdiction who was sitting with us told us we were near 土牧尔台 tǔmù’ěrtái. I told him it was Төмөртэй (ᠲᠡᠮᠦᠷᠲᠡᠢ) in Mongolian, probably meaning ‘having iron’. He didn’t have the faintest idea.

    I had a similar experience during July when a woman living in Hohhot (呼和浩特 hūhéhàotè) did not have the foggiest notion that the name of the city she lived in was Хөххот (ᠬᠥᠬᠡᠬᠣᠲᠠ), meaning ‘Blue City’, despite it being the capital of the ‘Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region’. The fact that Hohhot has the Chinese nickname of 青城 qīngchéng ‘Blue City’ does not even seem to have registered.

    I have also been told by people who care that Mongolian place names in Inner Mongolia (the names of small localities or locations) are gradually being replaced by Chinese names. There is a policy that signs in Inner Mongolia should carry both Chinese and Mongolian. In too many cases the original Mongolian name is being replaced by transliterations from Chinese.

    This appears to be a result of the domination of top positions in the government of the ‘autonomous region’ by Han Chinese or by Mongols who have been completely assimilated to Chinese culture and language and no longer know Mongolian.

  26. -青城

    I am pretty sure the Chinese think that this means “green city”

  27. The settlers of New Jersey chose sensible English names with clear geographic references that are transparently false. Mt. Holly, Mt. Laurel, and Mt. Royal have nothing resembling mountains.

  28. The meaning of 青 isn’t very clear in Chinese, ranging from blue to green to black.

  29. Placenames seem to be a big thing in central Europe. As borders move back and forth and places like Bohemia and Slovakia go in and out of existence, everyone wants to change the placenames as sort of a sign of possession. Königsberg or Kaliningrad and so on. Whereas Americans are fine with taking the Southwest away from Mexico but keeping all the Spanish placenames. The examples from Inner Mongolia are interesting too.

    Another example is changing the name of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City.Triumphalism, no doubt. We have a lot of Vietnamese people here, mostly aligned with the old Saigon regime, and there was a huge controversy about whether a Vietnamese shopping district would be called Little Saigon. As though the Vietnamese government would be trembling in their boots because some Viet Kieu in California named a shopping district after the old name.

  30. Would they be happier with “Little Ho Chi Minh”?

  31. The name ‘Saigon’ is still used in Vietnam, although it apparently refers only to the inner part of the city, not the whole of Ho Chi Minh.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    The meaning of 青 isn’t very clear in Chinese, ranging from blue to green to black.

    Is хөх any clearer? The sky is gök/kök in Turkic, but grass is too, right?

  33. Хөх is clearer because it’s a commonly used colour term in Mongolian. 青 is not such a term in Chinese. For ‘green’ Chinese uses 绿, for ‘blue’ it uses 蓝. 青 is simply not used as an ordinary colour term.

  34. Placenames seem to be a big thing in central Europe.

    One of my prized possessions is this Erdely/Transylvania map, with multiple names shown for every geographical element.

  35. -grass is too, right?

    No, in Mongolian, sky is blue and grass is green.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    JC: (The DSL says the initial vowel of Erse < Eirisch is unexplained.)

    What about Erin vs. Eire? (Is Eirisch the German word?)

  37. per incuriam says:

    We lived in a landscape of strange and obdurate names. My grandmother came from Cumeenduassig, my grandfather from Tureenafersh. Years later, I would be bewitched by the transparency of English placenames: Juniper Hill, Milton-under-Wychwood, Woodstock; you knew, at one level at least, where you were. But to grow up in Kerry was to be at play in a landscape where names guarded their secrets closely. We swam in Coumeenoole, climbed Beenkeragh and sailed out to Ilauntannig from Scraggane Pier in the Maharees. In one sense, these places meant everything. But in another, they drew a veil over our world, locating us in a landscape of sound effects rather than sense. Of course, if we picked away at the Ordinance Surveyors’ haphazard nineteenth century anglicisations and reconstructed the original Irish name, we could lift the veil for a moment. My grandmother would come not from mesmeric but meaningless ‘Cumeenduassig’, but from Coimín dú easaigh, ‘the dark little coomb of the waterfalls

    Describing the Ordinance Surveyors’ anglicisations as “haphazard” is hardly justified. ‘Cumeenduassig’, for example, is about as close as you can get in English to the Irish pronunciation and given it reflects local speech is arguably less haphazard than the more generic Irish version. In fact the anglicizations of Irish placenames are a valuable resource for Irish dialectology, especially in areas where the language was lost early.

    That final consonant in ‘Cumeenduassig’ for example marks it clearly as Munster – the same placename elsewhere in the country would likely have final ‘y’ in English.

    Also, to anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Irish (most of the population) the country’s placenames are no more “strange and obdurate” than her Milton-under-Wychwood or Woodstock are to an anglophone. ‘Dublin’ to take an obvious example is a transparent combination of ‘dubh’ and ‘linn’, two perfectly ordinary words in modern Irish and whose meanings haven’t changed.

    Of course, as in the majority of placenames, the feature described – a ‘black pool’ – is no longer there to see, so the end result is pretty much arbitrary in any case.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t remember where exactly Blackpool is, but I hope it’s across the sea from Dublin…

    Is Eirisch the German word?

    No, it must be medieval Scots; the German is irisch… and schottisch was used for “Irish” in earlier times.

  39. per incuriam says:

    There are a number of Blackpools. The one on Cork’s northside is Irished as An Linn Dubh

  40. Describing the Ordinance Surveyors’ anglicisations as “haphazard” is hardly justified.

    I don’t think she meant to be insulting; it seems to me to mean here simply “using whatever transcription made sense to the transcriber rather than some sort of unified scientific system.”

    I can’t remember where exactly Blackpool is, but I hope it’s across the sea from Dublin…

    Indeed it is.

    the German is irisch

    Frisch weht der Wind
    Der Heimat zu,
    Mein Irisch Kind,
    Wo weilest du?

  41. per incuriam says:

    I don’t think she meant to be insulting; it seems to me to mean here simply “using whatever transcription made sense to the transcriber rather than some sort of unified scientific system.”

    It seems to have been quite a scholarly endeavour.

  42. Interesting, I didn’t know about John O’Donovan — thanks!

  43. The settlers of New Jersey

    … also named their counties after the English ones, but a bit oddly: Essex (where I was born and grew up) is in the east, and Middlesex is in the middle, south of Essex (Union intervenes), but Sussex is in the extreme north, something that always amused me at the time. “Names are but names.”

  44. Massachusetts also has a northerly Suffolk – comprising Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop – and a southerly Norfolk, which was split from the former in hoary days. This situation even stood to be replicated (if you squint) on Long Island, where there was a proposal to use “Norfolk” for the non-urban remnant of old Queens County, but they ended up using “Nassau” instead.

  45. Dunbar to Kennedy, ca. 1500:

    Thow lufis nane Irische, elf, I understand;
    But it schuld be al trew Scottis mennis lede:
    It was the gud langage of this land,
    And Scota it causit to multiply and sprede;
    Quhill Corspatrick, that we of tresoun rede
    (Thy fore fader), maid Irisch and Irisch men thin,
    Throu his tresoun broght Inglis rumpillis in;
    Sa wald thy self, myght thou to him succede.

  46. “Little Ho Chi Minh”

    Little Prey Nokor.

  47. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Rodger C:

    Exceptionally apposite catch: Dunbar calling Gaelic “Irish”, in a context where he obviously approves of it.

    Oops: Rapidly corrected on actually reading the thing: that’s Kennedy abusing Dunbar.
    http://www.thomondgate.net/docs/dunbar/dunbar3_flytingglossed.pdf

  48. David Eddyshaw says:

    Some remarkably – modern – rude words …

    If Kennedy actually wrote the anti-Dunbar bits (which seems not be altogether clear) it would still be an example of a positive statement about Gaelic that called the language “Erse”; if not, I suppose it depends on how you rate Dunbar’s powers of ventriloquy.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    Indeed it is.

    Ha! It gets better:

    Toponymy

    This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

    Blackpool gets its name from a historic drainage channel (possibly Spen Dyke) that ran over a peat bog, discharging discoloured water into the Irish Sea, which formed a black pool (on the other side of the sea, “Dublin” (Dubh Linn) is derived from the Irish for “black pool”). Another explanation is that the local dialect for stream was “pul” or “poole”, hence “Black poole”.

    People originating from Blackpool are called Blackpudlians although Sandgrownians or Sandgrown’uns is sometimes used[citation needed] (as too for persons originating from Morecambe and Southport) or Seasiders (although this is more commonly associated with Blackpool F.C.).

    Frisch weht der Wind

    “This video is not available.”

  50. “This video is not available.”

    Sorry, just a random Wagner clip; google the phrase and I’m sure you’ll find a rendition available to you.

  51. elf

    The semantics of this word are closer to ModE oaf, originally a changeling left behind by the elves when they stole a human baby.

  52. random Wagner clip

    Alternatively, Eliot reading his Wasteland (at 02:25).

  53. John O’Donovan was staggeringly knowledgable and productive, but his policy on spelling was not wholly consistent over the 20 years or so of the original surveying. Names are anglicised respellings of the Gaelic pronunciation, but there were patchy attempts to standardise the respellings of common components and/or to use as the source an idealised standard Gaelic pronunciation rather than the specific local pronunciation. A town in County Tipperary is “Cahir” to everyone except the Ordnance Survey and government agencies that rely on it: those use “Caher”, a standard angliced spelling of “cathair” also found in Caherdaniel, Caherciveen, etc — even though the usual pronunciation of “Cahir” is /ker/ nothing like “cathair” /kah@r/.

    What about Erin vs. Eire? The initial vowel of Irish “Éire” is /e/ as in English “Erin”; Recordings here. “Erin” is an anglised respelling of “Éirinn”, the dative case, which has the same vowel. Most Irish nouns have merged the dative with the nominative; in cases like “abhainn” ‘river’ the dative in -inn has replaced the nominative “abha”. In Connacht Irish, “Éirinn” has totally replaced “Éire” so perhaps English “Erin” originated in Connacht. But I think “Éirinn” had partially replaced “Éire” outside Connacht before the Gaelic revival upset the natural evolution of things.

  54. that’s Kennedy abusing Dunbar.

    I don’t know why I typed it the other way.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    mollymouly: Thanks for the explanation of Erin/Eire.

    in cases like “abhainn” ‘river’ the dative in -inn has replaced the nominative “abha”

    So is “abhainn” (related to) the reputed Celtic original of “Avon”?

    And is “abha” cognate with Latin “aqua” ‘water’?

  56. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t think so. It has to be from *h2ep-, which most historical linguists these days consider unrelated. The aqua word was restricted to Italic and Germanic. As much as I’d like it to be present in Celtic too, just for the simplicity of the isogloss, there’s not much help to get from the evidence. Here’s Piotr:

    Possible traces of a Celtic word reconstructible as *akʷā are few and hardly substantial: they include several European river-names ending in -apa (which might or might not be a Gaulish cognate of aqua, not confirmed by any Gaulish text), and a single occurrence of -akua as part of a longer sequence in an unclear Celtiberian inscription, where the context doesn’t rule out the meaning ‘river’ (but neither does it demand such an interpretation).

    .

  57. David Marjanović says:

    It has to be from *h2ep-

    It is. Read Piotr’s whole series 🙂

  58. Here’s the blog post devoted to the “Avon” root and the table of contents of the whole series.

  59. Same explanation of Erin, but with joke.

    I was going to paste Thomas Campbell’s lyric “The Exile of Erin”, but all the references are to Google Books, and I don’t feel like typing it all out. If you want to read it, search for “There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin”.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Piotr for the references! I read the Avon (etc) posts and comments.

  61. Stephen Downes says:

    Patricia Palmer wrote of “the transparency of English placenames”. Thinking about parts of the country I know well, I’m not convinced. Andover, Middle Winterslow, Laverstock, Ludgershall, Shipton Bellinger, Winterbourne Gunner, Fittleton, Chute Cadley …. Piddletrenthide, Godmanstone, Ansty, Mappowder, Melbury Bubb …. Gunnislake, Horrabridge, Wotter, Penquit, Freathy, Landrake, Portwrinkle …. Clyffe Pypard, Lydiard Millicent, Kingston Bagpuize, Noke, Islip, Worminghall, Britwell Salome …. Biggleswade, Wrestlingworth, Meldreth, Impington, Snailwell ….

    How transparent are these (and thousands like them)?

  62. That’s to be expected. Every English placename recorded before 15th century is, by definition, foreign placename.

    Since Middle English is essentially unintelligible to modern English speakers.

  63. I wouldn’t get too data-driven about it; she’s not writing a scientific comparison but describing the feelings of an Irish-person contemplating the vanishing transparency of Irish placenames.

  64. How transparent are these (and thousands like them)?

    In many cases they become more transparent if you check them up in early sources such as the Domesday Book. But sometimes even old records don’t help much. For example, here are the spelling variants of the two UK places called Islip, recorded between ca. 1000 and 1300:

    Oxfordshire: http://placenames.org.uk/browse/mads/epns-deep-23-b-subparish-000116

    Northamptonshire: http://placenames.org.uk/browse/mads/epns-deep-10-b-subparish-000241

    I would say that they only add to the confusion. The placenames are usually pronounced “ice-lip” but the surname derived from them is usually “izz-lip” (and these are not the only variants in circulation).

  65. J.W. Brewer says:

    U.S. toponyms cut-and-pasted from the map of England seem to be hopelessly opaque more often than not. Even ones that transparently look like combinations of known morphemes may turn out to be eggcorns, e.g. Braintree, Mass., the ultimate etymology of which is apparently contested and obscure (with many theories ruling out both “brain” and “tree” as actual components). And some suffixes that occur only in toponyms are more obscure than others — AmEng speakers may have a rough sense of -burg/-burgh/-boro/-borough as a freestanding morpheme with a meaning, but -ham, for example, has no discernible meaning and is more just “random syllable that ends lots of place names.” (Obviously you can *learn* the etymological meaning, but you can also learn etymologies of toponyms of Celtic or Algonquin or what have you origin, and I don’t think being an Anglophone yourself makes “Birmingham” any more transparent than “Tuscaloosa.”)

  66. My favorite transplanted Anglo-Saxon placename is Hwæsingatūn

  67. J.W. Brewer says:

    One oddity that just struck m e about the complaint in the original linked article is that it completely privileges orthography (and as I understand it the modern-standard orthography of Irish is not particularly phonetically transparent) over sound, which makes sense only in a world full of Anglophones who were taught to read and write Irish as an L2 in school rather than a world full of L1 Irish-speakers who might not be particularly literate in that or any other language. Thinking the “original Irish name” is a function of how it is spelled rather than how it is pronounced is such a huge category error that I Can’t Even.

    (I may have told here before the story of being in the Hebrides back in the ’90’s when they’d just gotten some EU grant money to change the road signs out in the countryside to the “Gaelic” spelling of toponyms rather than the “English” ones, which made things adventurous if you had a map that only had the superseded spellings. But the change also had the ironic effect of making many of the spellings less transparent or “authentic” because quite a lot of the local toponyms were etymologically Norse and the Gaelic orthography obscured that more than the English did.)

  68. which makes sense only in a world full of Anglophones who were taught to read and write Irish as an L2 in school rather than a world full of L1 Irish-speakers who might not be particularly literate in that or any other language.

    But that is the world we live in. I don’t understand your complaint.

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    Since Middle English is essentially unintelligible to modern English speakers.

    Depends: Chaucer (admittedly relatively late) is by no means incomprehensible to those (like me) who’ve never set out to learn Middle English like a foreign language. Old English, though, certainly needs learning as if foreign; and even earlier Middle English like Ancrene Wisse, come to that, if not to the same degree.

    The relative comprehensibility of later Middle English as written is perhaps partly an artefact of the conservative nature of the dreadful English spelling system; I very much doubt that I would be able to follow spoken Chaucerian without a great deal of additional practice at the very least.

    I’ve read that Middle High German is much harder for NHG native speakers than Middle English is for modern English speakers; no idea if this is true (but I’m certain others will be able to say…)
    I suppose the major MHG stuff is on the whole almost a couple of centuries earlier than Chaucer, which might be enough in itself to account for any such difference.

  70. You don’t count.

    I am talking about average modern English speaker who often has trouble understanding Shakespeare, let alone Chaucer

  71. Patricia Palmer wrote of “the transparency of English placenames”. Thinking about parts of the country I know well, I’m not convinced.

    Yes, this is an Irish nationalist bugbear of some long standing, as expressed at agonising length in the awful play “Translations” by Brian Friel, which manages to incorporate pretty much every cliche of Irish romanticism, from brutal redcoats to old men waxing lyrical about the Odyssey, to the point where just as you’re thinking ‘at least he didn’t manage to shoehorn the Potato Blight in as well’, one of the characters runs in and starts gibbering about the Potato Blight.

    In fact it’s nonsense. Irish placenames are if anything more transparent than English ones, since they are virtually all based pretty closely on words in Irish, which most Irish people learn (to some degree) in school, and the process of transcription by the Ordnance (not Ordinance) Survey has done very little to obscure this.

    Compare England. Almost all the major placenames come either from Anglo-Saxon (which no one speaks), Latin (which no one speaks), Celtic (which no one speaks), old French (which no one speaks) or Norse (which no one speaks).

    Is the derivation of London really so obvious?
    OK, let’s take some other major towns. Newcastle, Bath, Oxford and Portsmouth, I grant you, but Bristol? Manchester? (Nothing to do with men, or chests.) Birmingham? (Nothing to do with ham.) York? Liverpool? Well, there’s a pool (or rather a harbour) there but what has it to do with liver? Reading? (It’s… got a library?) Chester? (Still no chests here.) Sheffield? (What’s a shef?) And so on.

    Even Milton-under-Wychwood, which she cites, is a faux ami – it has nothing to do with witches.

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Fair point; still, Middle English and Modern English are pretty similar: indeed, I have demonstrated by glottochronology that they can only have diverged from their common ancestor about three hundred years ago.

    (The Swadesh list unaccountably lacks “pardee.”)

    @ajay:

    Celtic (which no one speaks)

    Ahermmm!

  73. marie-lucie says:

    SFR: average modern English speaker who often has trouble understanding Shakespeare, let alone Chaucer

    A few months ago during a taxi ride (in Halifax, Canada, my city of residence), the driver (obviously a local man) complained to me about how he wanted to study the Bible but could not read it as the language was so odd. Obviously he was only familiar with the King James Version, in spite of dozens of translations available in varieties of Modern English.

  74. Reading? (It’s… got a library?)

    Why is it pronounced Redding?

  75. J.W. Brewer says:

    Curious about the morphemic transparency of Irish placenames, I looked up Ballinamallard in Co. Fermanagh, where one of my great-great-grandmothers was born. The normalized modern spelling of the name in Irish is apparently Béal Átha na Mallacht,* which wikipedia glosses as “ford-mouth of the curses.” On the other hand, google translate says that the English equivalent of Béal Átha na Mallacht is “Ballinacurry,” which I must admit I find rather opaque even assuming arguendo it’s English.

    *I’m gonna assume the “-allard” ending captures local pronunciation as of some relevant historical moment better than the “-allacht” spelling does, which may reflect the pronunciation of some standard/prestige norm spoken (at some relevant historical moment) elsewhere in Ireland.

  76. J.W. Brewer says:

    This indicates that by the 1970’s the Ordnance Survey (of the independent republican Irish gov’t) was striving to make its maps bilingual. https://www.osi.ie/education/third-level-and-academic/history-of-place-names/. I don’t know whether Prof. Palmer is old enough that this change postdates her girlhood sense of alienation from an opaquely-named landscape or whether the particular names she summons up didn’t make the cut to get Irish alternative spellings on the maps or whether the long tenure of the 19th-century spellings meant that the late-20th-century nationalist alternatives did not actually attract much attention or use.

  77. Why is it pronounced Redding?

    Apparently because of the early English tendency to shorten the first syllable in trisyllabic words. The OE name was Rēadingas ‘Rēada’s descendants’ (from a descriptive nickname meaning simply ‘red’). But these quantitative “adjustments” in ME were extremely capricious. Hæstingas, also originally trisyllabic but with a short vowel in the initial syllable, must have become Hāsting(e)s by the time of the Great Vowel Shift.

    Note that OE rēad has had its vowel shortened in ModE red. Such a shortening before dental and alveolar obstruents is sporadic but not infrequent (head, thread, bread, breath etc.). If the etymological connection between the adjective and the placename was still transparent to some speakers when the shortening was taking place, both would have been affected (like numerous placenames containing head)

  78. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve read that Middle High German is much harder for NHG native speakers than Middle English is for modern English speakers; no idea if this is true (but I’m certain others will be able to say…)
    I suppose the major MHG stuff is on the whole almost a couple of centuries earlier than Chaucer, which might be enough in itself to account for any such difference.

    It’s indeed mostly from the 13th century. That probably explains why the differences in vocabulary are so large.

    Other than that, much depends not only on the different spelling conventions, but also on what modern kinds of German the reader is used to. All the MHG diphthongs are still diphthongs in my dialect (unlike the standard), which helps; but half the long monophtongs are now diphthongs, too (like in the standard), where familiarity with Swiss or Low German would be much more helpful.

  79. I very much doubt that I would be able to follow spoken Chaucerian without a great deal of additional practice at the very least.

    When I was studying Chaucer in the original, my study partner (now my wife) and I read The Canterbury Tales, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Cressida to each other. I already knew how to read Middle English, and Gale learned it very quickly, so that we could understand each other while reading out loud.

    average modern English speaker who often has trouble understanding Shakespeare, let alone Chaucer

    My daughter, on the other hand, can understand Shakespeare only with a lot of help from me; her class used a facing translation into Modern English.

  80. So the name “Reading,” as pronounced, actually has a transparent meaning, if of a somewhat archaic form for modern English.

  81. On reading MHG – as someone who grew up in an area where Low German was still frequently spoken, the problem is not in the sound changes; there are few of them (/i:/ > /ai/, /u:/ > /au/, /uo/ > /u:/, /iu/ > /eu/) and for two of them (/ie/ > /i:/, lengthening of short vowels in some environments) the modern orthography doesn’t even indicate that something has changed (the /i:/ is still spelt “ie” and if you don’t want to read MHG aloud, you don’t need to know that e.g. the /a/ in MHG tage is short while it’s long in NHG Tage). One reason is that the modern standard is relatively conservative phonologically and morphologically compared to MHG. The issue, as DM points out, is more in vocabulary that hasn’t survived or changed its meaning. But in general, it’s possible to understand most of any MHG text knowing only Modern Standard High German.
    I must admit that I didn’t find Chaucer challenging; my edition of the CT had a glossary at the end which I occasionally checked when I encountered a passage that puzzled me. As for Shakespeare, I think the biggest danger is missing the changed meanings of words and misunderstanding what he’s saying.

  82. January First-of-May says:

    As for Shakespeare, I think the biggest danger is missing the changed meanings of words and misunderstanding what he’s saying.

    This all the way.

    I personally was able, with some difficulty, to follow Chaucer’s text in the Canterbury Tales (hadn’t read anything else by him), but I did end up stumbling on unfamiliar words and phrases a lot.

    I had a weird experience with Middle French about two years ago, though… while trying to figure out some amateur genealogy (again), I was reading (the Google Books copy of) a book from the 17th century, which happened to quote a 15th century text (a will of some kind, IIRC). I understood the normal text of the 17th century book just fine (with the occasional minor stumble), but couldn’t get anything from the quoted 15th century text at all – and I couldn’t figure out why.

  83. When I was studying Chaucer in the original, my study partner (now my wife) and I read The Canterbury Tales, The Parliament of Fowls and Troilus and Cressida to each other. I already knew how to read Middle English, and Gale learned it very quickly, so that we could understand each other while reading out loud.

    I assumed that “spoken Chaucerian” meant “the spoken language of Chaucer’s day,” in which case of course your ability to understand a fellow modern person using reconstructed pronunciation would be irrelevant. But I may have misunderstood what David Eddyshaw meant.

  84. So the name “Reading,” as pronounced, actually has a transparent meaning, if of a somewhat archaic form for modern English.

    Yes, concealed by the conservative spelling. I suppose if it were spelt Redding, a connection with red would be more or less self-evident from a layperson’s point of view. Of course without some general knowledge about the origin of the -ing(s) type in English toponymy one can’t determine exactly how the placename was derived from the adjective. By the way, the closest neighbours of the Reading clan (Rēadingas) included the Sunningas (centred on the modern village of Sonning) and the Basingas (Old Basing and Basingstoke, Hampshire). There are plenty of such placenames in SE England. The retention of the strong masculine plural ending, as in Hastings, is pretty rare, though.

  85. per incuriam says:

    Yes, this is an Irish nationalist bugbear of some long standing, as expressed at agonising length in the awful play “Translations” by Brian Friel, which manages to incorporate pretty much every cliche of Irish romanticism, from brutal redcoats to old men waxing lyrical about the Odyssey, to the point where just as you’re thinking ‘at least he didn’t manage to shoehorn the Potato Blight in as well’, one of the characters runs in and starts gibbering about the Potato Blight

    Leaving all nationalist perspectives to one side, it would surely be odd for a play dealing with language change in nineteenth century Ireland not to reference the famine.

    And hard to think how the play could have worked without this and the other offending references.

    There are precedents though. An item on the German news here the other night marking the 75th anniversary of the movie Casablanca described how the character of Major Strasser was cut from the German release until 1975, as were all references to the Nazis and even to WWII. Captain Renault became an Interpol officer while Victor Laszlo was a Norwegian nuclear physicist working on “delta rays”. And people still watched!

    In fact it’s nonsense. Irish placenames are if anything more transparent than English ones, since they are virtually all based pretty closely on words in Irish, which most Irish people learn (to some degree) in school

    Well, sort of but let’s not over-simplify…

    Compare England. Almost all the major placenames come either from Anglo-Saxon (which no one speaks), Latin (which no one speaks), Celtic (which no one speaks), old French (which no one speaks) or Norse (which no one speaks)

    Just as England had Anglo-Saxon so Ireland had Old Irish. Common placename elements such as ‘cill’ and ‘ros’ for example are not part of the modern language. And Ireland too has experienced a number of foreign invasions/settlements which left their mark on its stock of placenames.

    I looked up Ballinamallard in Co. Fermanagh, where one of my great-great-grandmothers was born. The normalized modern spelling of the name in Irish is apparently Béal Átha na Mallacht… I’m gonna assume the “-allard” ending captures local pronunciation as of some relevant historical moment better than the “-allacht” spelling does, which may reflect the pronunciation of some standard/prestige norm spoken (at some relevant historical moment) elsewhere in Ireland

    This would actually serve as a better example of the article writer’s point than the names she cites from her own locality since here the anglicisation does indeed distort and obscure the underlying Irish. I suspect that perhaps the Ballinamallard spelling was well-established among a local settler population before the OS people got out and about. In certain varieties of Ulster Irish -cht could (and still can) be easily mistaken for -rt by an anglophone. The problem here is with the English spelling, not the Irish.

  86. An item on the German news here the other night marking the 75th anniversary of the movie Casablanca described how the character of Major Strasser was cut from the German release until 1975, as were all references to the Nazis and even to WWII. Captain Renault became an Interpol officer while Victor Laszlo was a Norwegian nuclear physicist working on “delta rays”.

    !!!

  87. I quite agree with Hans that the risk of misunderstanding Shakespeare because of the “changed meaning of words” is huge, especially since Shakespeare’s status as THE most famous English writer means that students feel that they really OUGHT to understand him, even if they do not.

    This reality was driven home to me once (at a University I would really rather not name) when I ended up having to explain, in a French grammar class (!), that “Wherefore” (As in “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”) meant “why”: a majority of my students thought the line was simply incomprehensible, and a minority (which included all the English majors) thought that “wherefore” was an archaic form of …”where”, and that Juliet was having trouble seeing where Romeo was (!!). Which, I hasten to add, was 1-a more reasonable interpretation than others they came up with, involving other famous Shakespearean verses and quotation, and 2-not due to any failing on their part: indeed the impression I had was that in their English classes they were and had been systematically discouraged from asking any question relating to the basic meaning of anything deemed “Classical” by their teachers.

    Thus, I think whoever was responsible for John Cowan’s daughter learning Shakespeare by means of a facing translation was quite right: unless they have systematically studied Elizabethan English, Modern English speakers, especially of the younger generation, quite simply cannot understand Shakespeare.

  88. Oh, I agree. I myself learned it in modernized (not First Folio) orthography and with plenty of lengthy footnotes on each page.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    wherefore vs where or why

    Where ?, a question word, has two easy answers: There and Here, and those three words have remained intact in nouns and meaning through hundreds of years. Add fore to them and that’s when things become a lot more complicated.

    But Wherefore ? can be paired with Therefore, which is still in common usage (although not in everyone’s speaking vocabulary), so the question/answer pairing is the old equivalent of modern ‘Why ? / Because (of that)’. But over the centuries Wherefore ? somehow lost its place in favour of the simpler Why ?. There must have been a Herefore ‘Because (of this’, probably lost early, but Heretofore which still occurs in some registers seems even more difficult to justify as Wherefore ?.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    I recall some twenty years ago a letter to the Spectator (British weekly magazine) from the President (? logothete, whatever) of the Prayer Book Society, an organisation which proclaims its mission as preserving the language and doctrine of the Anglican Prayer Book against the forces of darkness who might suppose that it was in any way desirable to prioritise comprehensibility in these matters.

    He was objecting to the change by the Church of England powers-that-be of the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer from “Our Father, which art in heaven” to “Our Father, who art in heaven”, on the grounds that “which” was more appropriate, as it reflected the fact that the Father was not “personal” in the same way as the Son.

    There seemed to be a pleasing irony in the fact that the man was betrayed into a seriously heretical statement by his misunderstanding of the language of the Prayer Book.

  91. J.W. Brewer says:

    The so-called “Liturgy of Comprehension” was a latitudinarian heresy when first proposed in 1689 and it hasn’t gotten any better since. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1689/BCP_1689.htm Down with comprehension!

  92. David Marjanović says:

    a minority (which included all the English majors) thought that “wherefore” was an archaic form of …”where”, and that Juliet was having trouble seeing where Romeo was (!!).

    Yup, that’s the most widespread interpretation by far. Only people who read a lot, it seems to me, have ever encountered therefore, let alone being familiar enough with it that they could use it to understand wherefore. Also, nobody understands or teaches commas.

    (And there was desking of heads and palming of faces.)

    Commas are important people!!!

  93. “Leaving all nationalist perspectives to one side, it would surely be odd for a play dealing with language change in nineteenth century Ireland not to reference the famine”

    Since the play takes place ten years _before_ the famine, it would not be odd at all!

  94. “Celtic (which no one speaks)

    Ahermmm!”

    Yes. Effectively no one in England, except for a few Irish, Welsh and Highland visitors and some academics, speaks any Celtic language.

  95. David Eddyshaw says:

    @ajay:

    no one in England, except for a few Irish, Welsh and Highland visitors and some academics, speaks any Celtic language.

    Apologies: I had not appreciated that “no one” was under the scope of “Consider England.” Thus interpreted, your statement is (sadly) true. I blame the Battle of Dyrham. Also Chomsky.

    @J. W. Brewer

    That is fascinating. Thanks. I note especially that the changes included

    In Matrimony, the ring is “used only as a civil ceremony and pledge”, and some of the more earthy language altered.

    I think we can all agree that this was profoundly wrong-headed.

  96. Isn’t Cornwall part of England?

    I recall there are some speakers of Cornish there, so one could argue that at least one living Celtic language is natively spoken in England

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Revived Cornish. Or Zombie Cornish, depending on how cynical you’re feeling.
    I’d lay long odds that they’re outnumbered by Welsh speakers living in England, alas.

    In my grandfather’s time there was actually a fairly significant Welsh-speaking community in Liverpool (capital of North Wales), of which he himself was part (though actually born in Argentina.)

  98. David Marjanović says:

    The boundary between Wales and England is a bit odd; the Welsh-speaking area extends into England even today. That was on John Wells’s blog lo these many years ago.

    Heh – edit: I don’t mean Liverpool!

  99. Isn’t Cornwall part of England?

    The English say yes, the Cornish say no.

    What caused the decline of the Cornish language? (read both answers).

    I like the idea of Liverpool as the capital of North Wales! Back when Wales extended to the Scottish border through Yr Hen Ogledd, it might well have had a princely capital on the Mersey.

  100. @David Marjanović: “Therefore” is a perfectly ordinary word in present English; certainly all native speakers know it. However, “wherefore” is essentially obsolete, known almost exclusively through Shakespeare. And until the present discussion, it had never occurred to me that there was any connection between “wherefore” and “therefore.” (I also find it a bit curious that there the standard German cognate to “wherefore” is unremarkable with the same meaning as it has in English.)

  101. known almost exclusively through Shakespeare

    And as a noun in the fossilized expression, “whys and wherefores.” Of course, by definition, users don’t need to be clear on what the pieces mean(t).

  102. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Wherefore” survives as a fossil in at least US dialects of lawyerese, but only in highly conventionalized boilerplate phrases that tend to get used without the users necessarily being able to parse or gloss them to a degree that would enable them to give a coherent explanation of what syntactic or semantic labor “wherefore” is actually performing in context. See, e.g., http://paralegalsubstantivelaw.com/online/immigrationlaw/lab/lab/summons/wherefore.htm.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    DM: Only people who read a lot, it seems to me, have ever encountered therefore,

    Brett, thank you for confirming the still living status of therefore. It does not occur in the lowest register of English, but it is used both orally and in writing.

  104. per incuriam says:

    Since the play takes place ten years _before_ the famine, it would not be odd at all!

    There were several crop failures and famines in 19th century Ireland (as elsewhere in Europe) culminating in the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Crop failure affected Friel’s Donegal at the time of the Ordnance Survey activity there in the early 1830s. Presumably all these episodes brought their share of death, disease and disruption.

    But even if that particular year’s crop failure wasn’t worth “gibbering about” in itself, it did forespell the doom of the language community and its way of life. Which is the theme of the play.

    Similarly with your reference to old men waxing lyrical about the Odyssey (I wasn’t previously aware of this as being a cliche of Irish romanticism – sounds more like a cliché of this place!): the play is set in a “hedge school”, many of which had a strong focus on the classics. The demise of these indigenous schools to be replaced by “national schools” established and supported by a GroKo of British government and Catholic church is widely recognised as being another key factor in the replacement of Irish by English.

  105. “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
    Now wherefore stopst thou me?”

    Incidentally, why is not more recent than wherefore. Hwī functioned in OE as the instrumental of hwæt and was frequently used with the same meaning as today — a natural extension of ‘by what (thing)’. It could be accompanied by pronouns: tō/for/be hwī (cf. archaic for why). Both hwī and hwǣr are very old adverbial derivatives (quasi-locatives) of the pronominal root kʷo-. In Old English (and in Germanic in general) prepositions could sometimes follow their complement (like cum in Latin mēcum), especially if the complement was a personal pronoun, a simple adverb of place (þǣr, hēr) or a corresponding interrogative or relative (hwǣr). Such combinations, if they survived into later English, became univerbated. In ME (as well as later) we find both whę̄r-fore and whī-for.

    Fore ‘for, on account of’ was an OE and ME doublet of for, so in ME there was no contrast between whę̄r-for and whę̄r-fore; both could mean ‘for what reason’. The artificial distinction made now is reinforced by contrastive stress; this is probably why modern users of English may fail to interpret wherefore as part of the same pattern that we see in hereby : thereby : whereby. Herefore ‘for this reason’ (not to be confused with heretofore ‘before this time’) was used until approximately 1700; then it was ousted by therefore, which meant practically the same thing.

    The collocation why and/or wherefore is also old; it existed already ca. 1400.

  106. Trond Engen says:

    Home: In ME (as well as later) we find both whę̄r-fore and whī-for.

    Danish hvorfor, Swedish varför, Nynorsk kvifor (dial. also ~kvarfor).

  107. Hwī functioned in OE as the instrumental of hwæt

    Hmm, that got me wondering what an English with the current sound laws from Old English but much less analogical destruction of morphology would look like.

  108. David Marjanović says:

    …Sure, some of the morphology was destroyed by incoming Vikings, but the rest of the destruction follows inevitably from the reduction of unstressed vowels like in German or Dutch.

    Such combinations, if they survived into later English, became univerbated.

    This may even be productive in Standard German, where wo(r-), da(r-) and rarely hier (in the legal register hie-) can play prefix to what seems like any preposition. Wofür, wozu, wovor, wodurch, worüber, wonach, wogegen, wohingegen

    The English confusion of for and -fore is mirrored by that of für and vor, which have firmly settled down as “for” and “in front of”, respectively, in the Standard, but only did so some 200 or 300 years ago.

  109. Hmm, that got me wondering what an English with the current sound laws from Old English but much less analogical destruction of morphology would look like.

    More or less like this:

    Common gender: nom. who, acc. whone, gen. whas, dat./instr. wheam;
    Neuter: nom./acc. what, gen. whas, dat. wheam, instr. why.

  110. I tried to don tho noun declension, and realised that it readeth rather like plain Middle English:

    singular nom/acc stone, gen stones, dat stone
    plural nom/acc stones, gen stone, dat stonen

  111. I love wheam — a very satisfying word.

  112. > Danish hvorfor
    > Hwī functioned in OE as the instrumental of hwæt

    Right, Danish uses “hvorfor” and “derfor” as the standard modern way of saying “why” and… ehm… “that’s why”, I guess? “As such”?

    But Danish also has “hvi” and “thi”, both quite archaic but not to the extent that nobody knows them. The latter is also a conjunction meaning “for” (in the coordinating “because” sense, I remember we discussed that recently), and is probably better known in this sense. I was older than I’d like to admit when I realized that the fossilized legalese prelude “Thi kendes for ret:” means (something like) “Therefore it is considered just (that…)”, and not “For it is considered just (that…)”.

    Oh, and English has “thy” (meaning because) too, I just learned from the Webz. Shortened form of “for-thy”. In Danish, “because” (subordinating) is “fordi”, so all that’s enough to satisfy my full-circle-aha-experience hunger for today.

  113. Never mind the why and wherefore,
    Love can level ranks, and therefore,
    Though his lordship’s station’s mighty,
    Though stupendous be his brain,
    Though her tastes are mean and flighty
    And her fortune poor and plain,
    Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
    Rend the air with warbling wild,
    For the union of his/my lordship
    With a humble captain’s child!
    —W. S. Gilbert

    On the shores of Yellow Paint,
    After winter, cold and chill,
    When the spring-time strikes its focus,
    By what magic hocus-pocus
    Come the primrose and the crocus,
    On the meadow and the hill?
    Whyfore buds the hamamellis [witch-hazel]?
    Whyfore twining up the trellis,
    Whyfore, from the painted lattice,
    Does the columbine peep at us?
    If you answer this, I’ll fill
    You with ardent spirits gratis.
    —Eugene Fitch Ware (“Ironquill”)

    I don’t think for why is archaic, just not high-register: googling finds a listicle entitled “9 Reasons For Why You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night”.

  114. No, that’s not an example; it’s 9 Reasons For [Why You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night], where the part in brackets can be replaced by anything whatever.

  115. Sixths page of Google search for “for why”

    1) The simple explanation for why ESPN did not fire Jemele Hill but did …

    2) An Amazing Hypothesis for Why the Trappist-1 System Hasn’t – Gizmodo

    3) ‘Me’: Donald Trump’s simple explanation for why the stock market is at …

    4) Nintendo’s Excuse For Why Mother 2 Isn’t On The Super Famicom Mini

    5) 9 Men Offer Honest Explanations for Why They Cheated

    6) Is This the Worst Explanation for Why Trump Won? – POLITICO …

    7) [Shakespeare]

    8) A Simple Explanation for Why Alabama’s Roy Moore Will Get Elected …

    9) [irrelevant collision of words]

    10) [The Complete Recipe for making Shakes from Pears]

    Diagnosis: alive and well

  116. Is “reasons for why” grammatical? Google Ngrams shows it’s on the rise, but still far less common than “reasons why”.

    The English construction “reason why” is syntactically interesting. Historically, why must have been a relative pronoun, i.e. “reason for which…”. But synchronically, maybe it’s been reanalyzed as an interrogative adverb, as in “talk about why it happened”, which might explain why some find it natural to insert the preposition, e.g. “reasons for why …”.

    Tangentially, in English there might be a reason “for” something, and you can do something “for” a reason. Both “for”. But in Danish, the former situation uses “til” (lit. “to”) and the latter uses “af” (lit. “of”).

  117. Like LH already said, the reason/explanation/hypothesis/excuse for [why …] really isn’t the archaic form. Those nouns always take for and the clause could just as well be what or how or various other kinds of embedded questions.

    Shakespeare, on the other hand, is probably a real occurrence. But, even there, in the quartos, “the rites for why I love him” was “for which.”

  118. marie-lucie says:

    D.O. for why

    In all those examples, the two words occur one after the other but they do not form a unit. In JC’s example, and in most of yours, for is followed by the complete clause Why (such and such is true), but it is not a part of it.

  119. > Those nouns always take for

    I’m not a native speaker, but the examples have multiple occurrences of “explanation for why”, where I would say “explanation of why”, and Google Ngrams confirms that the latter is indeed (still) more common.

    My Sprachgefühl tells me that, say, “an explanation of life” could be an objective description, whereas “an explanation for life” could dive more into underlying reasons. So “explanation for the reason” and “explanation for why” feel a bit redundant to me, but I’d like to hear what native speakers would say.

  120. MMcM and Marie-Lucie, yes of course it is not the forwhy of yore. It is just that this run on is deprecated in the formal speech, but leaves on in informal one.

  121. Oh, and I completely forgot to mention my main point.

    Sure, in “the reason why …”, why can be analyzed as a relative pronoun, which is why it’s not really redundant (as some prescriptivists claim), just a fossilized way to say “the reason for which”. But in “the reason for why …”, I cannot help but feel there’s redundancy. It sounds like “the reason for the reason”.

  122. And I’ll tell you for why occurs several times in Mark Twain’s prose, e.g. in “Jim Baker’s Bluejay Yarn”:

    You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure – because he’s got feathers on him, and don’t belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I’ll tell you for why.

    It can still be used for the sake of local colour, and for why? is not so rare as a colloquial version of what for?. Even if substandard, it’s impeccably grammatical in OE terms. Cf. Ælfric’s Colloquy:

    Sē smiþ ondwyrt: Ēalā, trēowwyrhta, forhwī swā spricst þū, þonne ne furþon ān þyrl þū ne miht dōn būtan mīnum cræfte?

    The blacksmith replies: Hey, carpenter, why do you speak like that if you could not even make a single hole without my craft?

  123. 1. the reason for it[s] happening

    2. the reason [that] it happened

    3. the reason why it happened

    4. the reason for why it happened

    1 and 2 are unexceptionable, 1 being more formal. 3 is arguably a pleonasm, 4 doubly so, but 3 is well established (perhaps aided by conflation with “theirs not to reason why”?)

    If you replace “reason” with “explanation” then only 1 is unexceptionable; “for” is obligatory and 4 seems a little sloppy to me. I guess some people can say 3 but not me.

  124. David Marjanović says:

    4 is no stranger than Obama’s the-thing-is is.

  125. Tangentially, in English there might be a reason “for” something, and you can do something “for” a reason. Both “for”. But in Danish, the former situation uses “til” (lit. “to”) and the latter uses “af” (lit. “of”).

    And, to complicate things further, English also has "reason to" as well as "reason for" – the distinction is between forensic and deliberative. Things that have already happened have a reason for happening, things that haven't have a reason to happen.

  126. 4 is no stranger than Obama’s the-thing-is is.

    That’s not strange at all, and it’s not “Obama’s”; it’s universal these days, just like counterfactual “may have” for traditional “might have.” I even catch myself saying it.

  127. Might have has not yet perished, as long as we still live!

    In any case, I agree with danichi: “the reason for [why X]” would mean “the reason for the reason for X”, whereas if we take “for why” as a simple redundancy, basically merging “the reason for X” and “the reason why X”, then there is no such semantic oddity of reasons for reasons.

  128. In Old English (and in Germanic in general) prepositions could sometimes follow their complement (like cum in Latin mēcum)

    “What for did you do that?”

  129. @ajay

    Ah, right. I probably should have made my point clearer. English allowing “for” in both positions adds to (or at least fails to resolve) the confusion about whether “for” is heading a clausal complement to “reason”, or heading a relative pronoun referring to “reason” in “the reason for why…”.

    @hat
    > counterfactual “may have” for traditional “might have.”

    Wah! I didn’t know that was a thing. Is that really universal? I’m trying to Google for it, but not having much luck.

  130. May have for might have certainly exists, whereas before it did not, but it is the Frequency Illusion to say it is universal.

  131. Hm… so if I’m not mistaken, “might have done” and “could have done” are already ambiguous between “maybe did” and “maybe would have done”, so “may have done” is being added to that list, am I understanding it correctly? I guess “may” and “might” are gradually being reanalyzed as completely separate modal verbs.

  132. I guess “may” and “might” are gradually being reanalyzed as completely separate modal verbs.

    Isn’t it just the way the modals evolve? Their (originally complete) paradigms decay, with some forms sinking into obsolescence and various modal functions being redistributed among the survivors. Can and could are also already semi-independent, as are will and would, and especially shall and should. We need linguists to tell us that ought used to be the preterite of owe, and that the old participles of can (which a modal is not supposed to possess), are still visible in cunning and uncouth.

  133. David Marjanović says:

    Even in German, where modal verbs have infinitives and participles and everything, some dictionaries already list a curiously infinitiveless verb *möchten “would like to”.

  134. I have wondered whether the emergence of möchten as a separate modal has anything to do with the fact that mögen seems to have evolved farther in meaning than any of the other German modals. The may-like meaning is mostly limited to idioms like, “Das mag sein.”

  135. I don’t know. After all, the main meaning of mögen in contemporary German is “to like”, and möchte “would like” (or often simply a polite form of “to want”) is not so far from that. I think it has more to do with the fact that möchte is used outside of the residual usages that the subjunctive II still has in German (irrealis, expression of doubt in reported speech).

  136. May have for might have certainly exists, whereas before it did not, but it is the Frequency Illusion to say it is universal.

    No, it may be a slight exaggeration but it’s no illusion. Believe me, I listen for it and have ever since I first noticed it; maybe once a month I hear someone on the radio use “might have” and call out to my wife and do a little jig of happiness, but the overwhelming majority of people now use “may have.”

  137. David Marjanović says:

    I agree with Hans.

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