Trask’s Historical Linguistics Online.

JC sent me this link, adding:

The publisher’s blurb says:

More detail on morphological change including cutting-edge discussions of iconization

Coverage of recent developments in sociolinguistic explanations of variation and change

New case studies focusing on Germanic languages and American and New Zealand English, and updated exercises covering each of the topics within the book

A brand new companion website featuring material for both professors and students, including discussion questions and exercises as well as discussions of the exercises within the book.

The editor, Robert McColl Millar, (a professor of linguistics and Scots at Aberdeen) writes:

It is also important that I pay tribute to Larry Trask, a man I never met, much to my regret. While a considerable part of this book has been formed by me, the general conception is Larry Trask’s. I suspect that I would not have been as capable as he was in producing such an impressive structure while not forgetting the small details so important to its success.

But surely this paragraph (addressed to the teacher) is ur-Trask:

The book is as atheoretical as possible: absolutely no knowledge of contemporary theories of phonology or syntax is presupposed, and such theories are not introduced in the book. Some acquaintance with the notation of classical generative phonology will be helpful for Chapter 3, but is not essential. The only theories introduced here are theories of historical linguistics and of language change.

And there is still plenty of Basque.

(See my 2004 obit post for Trask.) Thanks, John!


  1. John Cowan says:

    If you want this book, grab it while the grabbing is good, as it might go away. You can set up a free account as an independent scholar if you need one and you can download, or you can , drop me a line at

    Lyle Campbell’s Glossary of Historical Linguistics was up all too briefly, but I have a copy of that too. Here’s my blurb:

    It’s by Campbell, so it has to be used judiciously. It says Bad Things about any large proposal since Algic, but that’s easy to mentally filter out, and I’ve found it pretty good otherwise. The only truly tendentious definitions I’ve seen so far are for lumper and splitter. I’ve marked my emendations: the last sentence of splitter shows the lack of copy editing:

    lumper (the opposite of splitter) Linguist favorably disposed towards distant genetic relationships, towards grouping together languages not yet known to be related to one another in larger unsubstantiated proposals of linguistic kinship, so-called macro-families, often on the basis of inconclusive evidence; linguist who engages in making hypotheses of distant genetic relationship.

    splitter (opposite of lumper) A linguist thought to be reluctant to accept proposals of distant genetic relationship, particularly without compelling evidence to support the proposal. The opposite of splitter is lumper.

    These definitions also make no reference to the use of these terms with dialects vs. languages, which is about “are they different enough?” rather than “are they related enough?” You can be a lumper in one sense and a splitter in the other.

    The date is 2007, so naturally there is no mention of Dene-Yeniseian.

    I hadn’t heard of the second author, Mauricio J. Mixco, before, but Google finds lots of his stuff, mostly about Kiliwa and the Yuman–Cochimí family to which it belongs.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thanks, JC. Well found. Grabbed.

    BTW, Lyle Campbell’s original unemended version looks absolutely fine to me. Baaad lumpers! Naughty lumpers!

    (It’s always a comfort to read the works of someone who adopts an even more rigorous position than oneself on an issue on which one holds perhaps not completely centrist views. You get to congratulate yourself on your own sweet reasonableness and praiseworthy moderation.)

  3. Preach it!

  4. David Marjanović says:

    splitter: “if I can distinguish them, they’re different genera, and if I can’t, they’re different species” 🙂

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    Seems fair …

  6. John Cowan says:

    Baaad lumpers! Naughty lumpers!

    Well, fine. But dammit, those definitions are tendentious. Obviously the proposers (I’m thinking Vajda here) don’t think their proposals are unsubstantiated or the evidence inconclusive or uncompelling. Let me try again:

    lumper (the opposite of splitter) Linguist favorably disposed towards distant genetic relationships, towards grouping together languages not yet known [but see David M on proof and certainty] to be related to one another in larger proposals of linguistic kinship that Lyle Campbell thinks are unsubstantiated, so-called macro-families, often on the basis of evidence that Lyle Campbell doesn’t find conclusive; linguist who engages in making hypotheses of distant genetic relationship.

    splitter (opposite of lumper) A linguist thought to be reluctant to accept proposals of distant genetic relationship, particularly without evidence compelling to Lyle Campbell to support the proposal. The opposite of splitter is lumper.

    And since Campbell doesn’t find any proposal compelling that was made less than a hundred years ago, that isn’t much. But of course my version, which is not tendentious, wouldn’t pass the publishers.

    Algic squeaks through because Sapir proposed it in 1913. However, in the Algic entry he writes “It is made up of the large and widespread Algonquian subfamily and Ritwan, which contains Wiyot and Yurok of northern California”, and approximately nobody believed Ritwan was a valid node since well before 2007. So it isn’t splitting on his part, it’s sheer conservatism.

    It’s always a comfort

    That reminds me of this bit of Smullyan:

    I love to read the so-called “pessimistic” philosophers such as Schopenhauer and von Hartmann. They are really among my favorites! I once asked a literary philosopher why it is that I find the pessimistic philosophers not depressing or anxiety producing, but infinitely soothing. He gave the interesting answer, “I think this is because the pessimistic philosophers are really optimists at heart.” I also once asked another philosopher, “Why is it when I read the pessimistic philosophers, I feel so cheered up?” He said, “Of course, because you know it isn’t true.”

  7. David Marjanović says:

    “We are all going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”
    – Richard Dawkins

  8. “Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.”

  9. Epicurus: Death is nothing to us.
    Julian Barnes: There’s nothing to be afraid of.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    Epicurus and Julian Barnes had different audiences in mind: Epicurus was reassuring his acolytes that there can be no afterlife involving punishment or suffering; Barnes is whistling to keep his spirits up, and hopes you will join him.

  11. John Cowan says:

    “The best thing is not to be born at all, but how many of us are that lucky?” —Jewish aphorism

  12. Allegedly, according to medieval wisdom the best thing is to be born, be baptized, and die right away.

  13. Stu Clayton says:

    absolutely no knowledge of contemporary theories of phonology or syntax is presupposed, and such theories are not introduced in the book

    I know nothing about Trask or his works. The blurb, however, seems to be a crass BYOP invite to free-thinking trolls. Bring Your Own Paradigm. Start With The Facts. Discussions Galore. Win-Win.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    Allegedly, according to medieval wisdom the best thing is to be born, be baptized, and die right away.

    The essential part was dying as soon as you could after baptism, before you had a chance to rack up any sins. You could game the system that way. People at one stage left baptism as late as possible for that very reason; the tricky bit, of course, was getting the timing right.

  15. Stu Clayton says:

    There is a similar strategy for declaring income tax.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    People at one stage left baptism as late as possible for that very reason

    When was that stage? Catholicism continues to allow anyone who is barely Christian to perform an “emergency baptism” as soon as the head is at all accessible, so the baby can still go to heaven if it dies before the birth is over.

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    By late, I mean until you were a putatively moribund adult after a lifetime of merry sinning. This is why you get people like Constantine getting baptised on his deathbed.

    It was common in the early centuries of the church for people to remain catechumens for a long time. St Ambrose was famously not yet baptised before he was made a bishop.

    Malory’s “Saracen knight” Sir Palamedes puts off baptism as long as possible, despite being committed to Christianity.

  18. Stu Clayton says:

    Early evidence for ventriloquy. In West Gothic even !

    # Ambrose, who had recently been appointed consular governor of Liguria and Emilia, had the task of putting down the revolt. So he went to the church, and when he was addressing the people, the voice of a babe in the arms of his mother from among the people is said to have called out suddenly in a clear voice, “Ambrose bishop.” #

  19. Baptism, as described in the gospels and originally practiced by John the Baptist, involved the washing away of people’s sins with the water of the River Jordan. (This made the Jordan both the literal and metaphysical borders of the Promised Land.) This is shown vividly, for example, in Franco Zaffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth.*

    So it made sense for many early Christians to delay the cleansing baptism for as long as possible. On the other hand, some people wanted to baptise children as early as possible, in case they died young, and that practice eventually won out. To deal with subsequent sins, the church developed the rituals of confession and penance.

    One thing I have wondered about is what is supposed to have happened to the souls of people who were baptized by Saint John, but who died before the crucification. Despite this being a difficult edge case, I’m sure the Roman Catholic church has an official answer to this. However, nobody I have asked has ever known it.

    * I think it was Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, but it has been a very long time since I saw it, and I have seen at least one other Italian-produced TV movie about the life of Jesus. The other one used a lot of material from the forged Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the actual Gospel of Thomas, which, while noncanonical, is at least an authentic document of the early days of Christianity), with the protagonist possessing omnipotent powers even as an immature child.

  20. Stu Clayton says:

    @Brett: One thing I have wondered about is what is supposed to have happened to the souls of people who were baptized by Saint John, but who died before the crucification.

    That’s easy to answer. They were saved by faith, when they had it.

    # “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” # [Romans 4:3]

    Abraham is sipping a gin tonic on the far side of the Jordan. Baptism is a fee-generating burocratic nuisance where salvation is concerned. Of course the Catholic Church deems it important, even for dying children. It’s a moneymaker.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    In my own church tradition, this is a non-issue, as baptism is not a requirement for salvation; for Roman Catholics, it seems to be almost a necessity, but actually not quite a necessity:

    Para 1260 probably covers John’s baptizees.

    All the Church traditions I’m aware of regard old Testament figures like Abraham as having attained salvation (hard to do otherwise, when Paul uses him as the archetype of saving faith); there seem to be a number of theories within the mainstream traditions as to how this actually comes about, but no dispute about the matter itself.

  22. I just finished Merezhkovsky’s long and strange novel Leonardo da Vinci, which was all the rage in Western Europe and the US when it was published in 1901, and one of the plot points is Leonardo’s androgynous John the Baptist, which so overwhelms a Russian icon painter who’s come to Amboise as part of a sort of embassy that he puts Leonardo’s face on his own icon of the Baptist he’s been working on forever. His version has wings.

  23. Stu Clayton says:

    @David E: That sure is a passel of paragraphs. Luhmann remarked that speech has an almost inescapable fascination. I would put it like this: you get sucked in to any kind of SVO guff, even when it’s printed. Before you know it, you’re reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with no end in sight.

    These considerations are the reason why I make my comments as brief as possible. They may be guff, but they fit into a matchbox.

  24. Stu, What does SVO guff mean?

    That John the Baptist is pretty odd. Either you have to see it full size in the Louvre rather than backlit on a screen, to get more tone subtlety, or it’s been cleaned. But even then the structure of the face is going to be off (unless it’s the light, the enormous eyes don’t seem to be perpendicular to the direction of the nose). He seems to have dirty fingernails, I’d like to check that out at full scale.

  25. By the way for maximum confusion you can now buy:
    a tea cup that has London Review of Books printed on it
    a book entitled A Cup of Tea.


  26. David Marjanović says:

    St Ambrose was famously not yet baptised before he was made a bishop.

    …I had no idea.

  27. John Cowan says:

    I would say that the traditional view that John 3:5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” refers to baptism at all is rather dubious. The next verse is “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, which suggests to be that “born of water” just means “born biologically”, as a way of contrasting it with “born of the Spirit”. We are all born from water; in water all life begins.

    By the same token, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude” is worded rather carefully. There may be other means unknown to the Church; there may be other methods that permit, but do not assure, entry into eternal beatitude. “In my father’s house there are many rooms.”

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    The catechism pretty much says that very thing:

    God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

  29. One explanation I have heard is that those entitled to paradise who died before the crucification had to wait (not literally in Limbo, but somewhere like that, I suppose) before entering heaven. That story seems to run afoul of Elijah being carried away by a heavenly chariot.

    That story is where we get the expression of “taking up the mantle,” although it is not entirely clear what kind of covering garment Elijah left behind to be taken up by Elisha. Earlier in the story, the mantle, in a roll, stands in for Aaron’s rod in dividing the waters for the prophets to cross. It is also not clear which of the mantle’s roles in the story is older.

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think this is what you have in mind:

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    As a matter of fact, there is a pretty categorical dominical saying demonstrating that baptism cannot always be necessary for salvation: Luke 23:43.

    You may find various ingenious attempts to explain the plain meaning away if you have the fortitude to search online. They remind me greatly of an earnest tract I once read by one of the many Africans misled by (Protestant) American missionaries into believing that Christians must completely abstain from alcohol; this attempted to explain away the miracle of the wedding at Cana. (The wine tasted better because it was non-alcoholic …)

  32. David Marjanović says:

    is worded rather carefully

    As expected. This is how “there are reasons for prayerful hope” that limbo doesn’t exist without having to give up extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

  33. Again via JC, The Cambridge Dictionary of Linguistics by Keith Brown and Jim Miller ( download); to quote John, get while the getting is good.

  34. John Cowan says:

    “Saracen knight”

    Apparently the Saracens were originally a non-Arab people of the Peninsula. The OED2 says “The derivations < Arabic commonly given (of which the most usual is Arabic sharqī ‘eastern, oriental’, < sharq ‘sunrise’) are not well founded.” St. Jerome says they were originally Agareni, the people of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, who later took for their own the name of Sara, Abraham’s barren wife.

    Another damned thick square book: Martin Haspelmath and Andrea D. Sims,Understanding Morphology 2e.

  35. Don’t miss this Twitter thread on the etymology of Saracen (Σαρακηνός) by the always essential Ahmad Al-Jallad:

  36. That’s great — I’m going to post it!

  37. John Cowan says:

    Yet another damned thick square book: Clackson’s Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (2007). Grab etc.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    From the preface:

    Do we need another introduction to Indo-European linguistics? Since 1995 four have been published in English (Beekes 1995, Szemerényi 1996, Meier-Brügger 2003, Fortson 2004) and the ground seems to be pretty well covered. This book,however, aims to be an introduction of a different sort. Whereas the works mentioned give up-to-date and (usually) reliable information on the current thinking on what is known in Indo-European studies, here the aim is to present rather areas where there currently is, or ought to be, debate and uncertainty. Whereas previous introductions have aimed for the status of handbooks, reliable guides to the terrain presented in detail, this one aspires more to the status of a toolkit, offering up sample problems and suggesting ways of solving them. The reader who wants to know the details of how labio-velar consonants developed in Indo-European languages or the basis for the reconstruction of the locative plural case ending will not find them here; instead they will be able to review in detail arguments aboutthe categories of the Indo-European verb or the syntax of relative clauses. The result is that this book has shorter chapters on areas such as phonology, where there is now more general agreement in the field, and correspondingly longer sections on areas which are passed by more summarily in other introductions. Memory athletes may be disappointed by the reduction in data, but I hope that others will welcome the increase in argumentation.

  39. Interesting, thanks for posting that excerpt!

  40. John Cowan says:

    i see I used the same joke (with a little bit of cribbin’ from the works of Edward Gibbon) twice in a single thread. Baaad John! Naughty John!

    So it made sense for many early Christians to delay the cleansing baptism for as long as possible.

    Not only that, but baptism was preceded by confession, and the Church’s view at the time was that confession could no more be repeated than baptism could. They were part of a single process — confession (“I did it”), contrition (“I am sorry for it”), penance (see below), absolution (“Your sins are forgiven”), baptism — and all of it done in public. If you backslid after being baptized, (literally) to Hell with you, so postponing it until you were no longer likely to be able to commit any sins made all kinds of sense.

    It isn’t until early mediaeval times that reconciliation becomes a separate sacrament and thus repeatable. In addition, the order of events changed: confession, contrition, absolution, penance. The theory of the last two is that although absolution removes the guilt of sin, it does not change what we would call the character defects that lead to sinning in the first place, and that is the purpose of penance. And those who will not or could not do penance here must do it hereafter, hence Purgatory.

    Note that everyone in Purgatory has already been absolved, either in the Usual Way or directly by God at the moment of death, and therefore will go to Heaven eventually after their souls have been sufficiently scrubbed. To get into Purgatory and Heaven, it suffices to just think at the moment of death “God, for all my sins I am most heartily sorry!” and this counts as a full act of confession and contrition. That is why the Church says that no one knows which souls are in Hell or not, since such a confession in articulo mortis is not observable.

  41. John Cowan says:

    As long as keeps sending ’em, I’ll keep posting ’em (it seems to have put me on a list for “whole books on linguistics”). Today’s book is Introducing Language Typology by Edith A. Moravcsik.

  42. Stu Clayton says:

    The reader who wants to know the details of how labio-velar consonants developed in Indo-European languages or the basis for the reconstruction of the locative plural case ending will not find them here

    Just the book for me !

  43. AJP Crown says:

    For a month or two now has sent me all sorts of things about Mesopotamia. No idea why. They won’t let go.

    Maybe I asked them to?

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wish there were some sort of “delete your browsing history” feature on to prevent that sort of thing. I’m fed up with being presented with the oeuvre of the Man Who Thinks Linear A Is Hurrian; though admittedly that’s an improvement on the steady stream of Mormon investigators of pre-Columbian American history that I somehow conjured up a few months back.

    I suppose the best thing is to binge on all the stuff that JC has been helpfully linking to, which apart from its intrinsic worthiness should convince’s algorithms that I want quality stuff, thank you very much.

    Enjoying the Clackson book. I like the stress on unresolved problems and unsmoothed edges.

  45. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Their AI keeps telling me that it knows of ‘mentions’ of a Lars Mathiesen in papers in Historical Linguistics, to the which it will impart to me links for a low low sum (plus my soul and my two first born children, I have no doubt).

    When it was Molecular Biology or Statistical Mechanics (or whatever) it didn’t even pique my interest, but I admit that if I knew someone who has paid for premium, I’d ask them to check who the blighter is. (Short shameful: actually it did, but back then I could find the actual paper without paying and that Lars Mathiesen was US born and bred IIRC).

    Or did someone here namedrop me?

  46. Stu Clayton says:

    They track you, Crown. If you look at anything there they note it down, and thereafter send you notices about everything that was on that page. They overdo it, thank goodness – I got into such a rage that I cancelled all notifications, and now have peace.

    If they had merely nagged occasionally, I might have put up with it forever, not wanting to get out of bed to turn off a dripping tap that drips only one drop every five minutes.

  47. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are just so many Lars Mathiesenseses. You might have to adopt a sobriquet to distinguish yourself from the ruck in some way: perhaps Proto-Lars … or something …?

  48. Stu Clayton says:

    Their AI keeps telling me that it knows of ‘mentions’ of a Lars Mathiesen in papers in Historical Linguistics,

    Yeah, I was supposedly mentioned so often that I should be world-famous.

  49. Stu Clayton says:

    There are just so many Lars Mathiesenseses.

    I lost track of how many there have been here. There was a “Lars (the original one)” whom I caught redhanded in the process of dumping the qualification – he complained that Hat’s software wasn’t having any of this changing your moniker for the same email address.

    How many Larses have there been here ? I suspect only one, in various stages of molt over the years.

    *I* changed only once (if you discount Mabel).

  50. Yeah, as far as I can tell, the only viable option to stop them annoying you with utter crap is to unsubscribe from all notifications.

  51. John Cowan says:

    I get many notifications for papers mentioning John Cowan. Once in a while I participate in papers posted for commentary (usually by Haspelmath; he usually invites me), and so I do get mentioned in the en masse acknowledgements. But when I signed up for an account at ResearchGate, there were so many questions of the type “John Cowan is the author of X, is that you?” that I finally skipped the rest of the questionnaire before reaching the end.

    But the papers they send me are usually interesting to me, although I did have an infestation of Out-Of-India papers a few weeks ago.

    See also “Not This John Cowan”, woefully out of date as it is.

  52. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, there are lots of us — 58 in Denmark by last count — and conceivably another one might suddenly have become a published researcher in HistLing. I know it isn’t me. (I was namedropped in the CACM once, though).

  53. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Stu, I admit to plain Lars (most instances, at least) and the original one, and my current moniker. I don’t recall using others but that’s no proof, of course.

    I expect there will be a future one, though. Akismet (I think it’s her) is bearing a grudge — I can see cookies bearing my spammer suspect id when I post, and if any of name, email or IP address is know from earlier, I’m conflated with the old ID.

    As to molting: It got to where all my posts as plain Lars were rejected out of hand, but using “Lars (the original one)” got around that for a while, though I couldn’t post any links at all in the latter stages nor change my name. So I went off to sulk in the corner, and when I got back I posted as Lars Mathiesen sort of by mistake and it worked, even with links — maybe Akismet forgot my IP address, but I’m just along for the ride now and not trying to second-guess the thing.

    So expect my brand of irrelevant danicitas to appear under another name when the lady’s patience runs out.

  54. Stu Clayton says:

    But I like your brand of danicitas ! It’s just unnecessarily puzzling to hear monaural played in Dolby surround.

    I was pretty sure I was getting the same vibes from all the Lars, so I have for some time now been poised to pounce, as the media put it.

  55. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, thank you kindly, Sir! I will remember to clearly signpost any future name changes, though I do think that I have rarely if ever posted under two different names over significant intervals of time.

  56. John Cowan says:

    Either Lares or Larses, I should think, at least in English.

    Akismet (I think it’s her)

    As I posted at Sententiae Antiquae: “The ways of Akismet the Disgusting, Lord of Filth, Master of Spam, are beyond the ken of mere mortals. But [the Hat] is very good about rescuing the good stuff from the god’s Pit.” But perhaps Mistress is correct.

    Akismet looks to me like a minor Egyptian god, whereas Aximet/Aksimet looks like a minor Western devil.

  57. Stu Clayton says:

    Les prénoms épicènes

    Not one of her weirdest, but a good read.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    Either Lares or Larses, I should think, at least in English.

    Lartes, obviously. Like rhinocerotes (the only correct form.) You’ll be talking about octopi next.

  59. Bathrobe says:

    I don’t have a paid account, and I get constant notifications that someone with my inital and surname has been cited x number of times, or for such and such a field. I’ve figured that none of them refer to me.

    I also get constant suggestions for downloads, many of which are interesting or potentially useful. I now expect to be bombarded with suggestions for Indo-European historical linguistics. But if you wait long enough a certain topic will drop from their suggestion list. And sometimes they even ask me if their suggestion was useful or not.

    I have never subscribed and never have to log in. I also get notifications at another email address, and annoyingly it asks me to log in. Not sure how it works.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    Akismet is beyond petty human concepts of gender (just as he/she is beyond Good and Evil.)
    Akismet simply is.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Enjoying the Clackson book. I like the stress on unresolved problems and unsmoothed edges.

    Weird, though, that it presents Winter’s law (outdated Wikipedia article) as something the glottalists made up. The Leiden glottalists do think it’s a huge deal, but it’s quite independent of them, and the last few exceptions seem to have been eliminated when Kroonen’s work on Kluge’s law showed that Germanic roots in *-p, *-t & *-k do not require reconstructing PIE roots in *-b, *-d & *-g.

  62. @John Cowan: It should be no surprise that “Akismet” sounds Middle Eastern, at least. The name is short for “automatic kismet,” and kismet comes to us from Arabic, via Turkish. I do agree that the plug-in name does sound specifically Egyptian though (and not really Polovtsian at all).

  63. John Cowan says:

    Lartes, obviously. Like rhinocerotes (the only correct form.) You’ll be talking about octopi next.

    What? I never! Rhinoceroses and octopuses, both with that rare thing, preantepenultimate stress, and (in the first example) three schwa syllables in a row. But in practice rhinos, of course.

    automatic kismet

    I suspect it’s actually Automattic kismet, after the name of the company.

    Annoys the Hattic.
    In getting rid of the spam,
    It sometimes also devours the ham.

    (Ham actually was used for a while to mean ‘messages that are not spam’.)

    Oh yes: Routledge’s Dictionary of Language and Linguistics.

  64. @John Cowan: Autocorrect got me, since I was writing on my phone. It is indeed “Automattic,” as stated here. The spelling of the company name, “Automattic,” provided something that could easily be trademarked without changing the pronunciation, and it was a play on the name of the founder, Matt Mullenweg.

  65. Google won’t give me Charles Williams’ piece on the various plurals of “rhinoceros,” a marvelous plea for descriptivism.

  66. I can’t find it either — just his distich “The feet of your favorite Rhino / Are apt to leave marks on the lino.”

  67. Rodger C says:

    I recall that someone asked him which of the plurals in the dictionary was correct. “‘All of them,’ I answered gently. ‘It is why they are there.'”

  68. John Cowan says:

    Aranoff and Fudeman, What Is Morphology? (2e). The focus in the first part is on English, in the second part on Kujamaat Jola/Diola. The Jola languages are part of the Bak language family, which is “typologically Atlantic”, says WP. Who knows if that means anything.

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s quite a good (if brief) grammar of Diola-Fogny by David Sapir (son of Famous Edward.)

    I presume that the “typologically” is a mealy-mouthed evasion of the question as to whether “Atlantic” is actually a thing genetically at all. It seems to be accepted even by those who accept Atlantic as part of “Niger-Congo” (bad lumpers! naughty lumpers!) that it is so internally diverse that you’d be talking about the subgroups of Atlantic being individually on the same sort of level as all of Volta-Congo (which most definitely is a genetic group.)

    The evidence that “Atlantic” really does belong genetically with Volta-Congo is much more typological than based on any putative cognate vocabulary or morphology. Greenberg seemed to think that that was in itself pretty conclusive (perhaps ironically, given his own well-earned status as Mr Typology.)

    I could fairly easily that believe Fulfulde might turn out to be demonstrably related to Volta-Congo eventually; but Fulfulde is not at all close to Diola. The Mel languages are even remoterer.

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    The typological argument itself depends on similarities between the Atlantic systems and Bantu; a difficulty with that is that it is by no means clear that all the Bantu features in question (especially the exuberant verb derivation by stacked suffixes and the complex verb agreement) can actually be projected back to the Volta-Congo protolanguage; cf

    Incidentally, I particularly like this paper because it suggests that the Volta-Congo protolanguage was probably a lot more like Kusaal (or at least Gurmanche) typologically than Swahili or the like. Teeter’s Law!

  71. I get the feeling that Bantu has skewed African linguistics in a similar way to how Sanskrit used to skew IE studies.

  72. David Eddyshaw says:


    In the article, Güldemann has some interesting reflections on why this came about: obviously it has a great deal to do with the fact that work on Comparative Bantu has been the jewel in the crown of African historical linguistics pretty much from the beginning, much aided by the fact that there are an awful lot of rather similar languages in Narrow Bantu; but it’s also been the result of nineteenth/early twentieth century attitudes to language complexity. Languages with lots of exciting morphology, like most Bantu, or Fulfulde, were “advanced”, and spoken by superior human types; any notion that this elaborate morphology might have arisen from something a lot simpler was resisted by scholars who wanted to defend the linguistic honour of Africa, so that the much simpler systems of most of West Africa had to be characterised as “degenerate.”

    I was reading some ruminations of Roger Blench’s the other day on the thorny question of “Semi-Bantu”, and the awkward fact that there doesn’t really seem to be a clear boundary between Bantu, the so-called “Grassfields Bantu” languages (which are really only “Bantu” in the sense that Lithuanian is Slavonic) and languages like Tiv. In particular, he was suggesting that for even Proto-Bantu in the narrow sense the very stripped-down phonological system traditionally reconstructed is an artefact of choices made in comparison as to which languages to regard as central, and that the protolanguage probably actually had (for example) pharyngealised vowels and labiovelar stops. This would dovetail nicely with Güldemann’s idea that Narrow Bantu has ended up deviating greatly from its ancestor and relatives on account of spreading way beyond the West African Sprachbund and ending up typologically and phonologically peculiar.

  73. John Cowan says:

    some ruminations of Roger Blench’s

    A quick google finds this Oxford Handbook view; do you have a link to what you read?

    the so-called “Grassfields Bantu” languages (which are really only “Bantu” in the sense that Lithuanian is Slavonic)

    I love this. Perhaps the Baltic languages should be renamed “Sand Slavonic”.

  74. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think there are some questionable points in this, but it’s thought-provoking nevertheless.

    (He’s quite right about how you can reduce any tonal system to two tones if you apply enough ingenuity and are prepared to go all-out for abstraction: I did this with my own description of Kusaal initially before coming to the conclusion that I was really describing the historical origin of the tone system rather than the synchronic three-tone reality.)

  75. John Cowan says:

    you can reduce any tonal system to two tones if you apply enough ingenuity and are prepared to go all-out for abstraction

    Indeed: SPE is the ultimate version of this idea. But we first hear of it in the 14C as the first maxim of Roger Fenwick (founder of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick) was that “Aye” might be turned into “Nay” and vice versa if a sufficient quantity of wordage was applied to the matter. (Consequently, the national flag is “Argent, a double-headed eagle gules armed Or, the dexter [left] head grasping a banner argent bordered sable annotated ‘Yea’, the sinister [right] head grasping a banner argent bordered sable annotated ‘Nay’.” Or something like that.)

    Another good example is the analysis of Mandarin as having three vowel phonemes /a/, /ə/, and /∅/. The null vowel stretches the three prevocalic glides [j], [w], [ɥ] into full vowels [i], [u], [y], and by itself surfaces as the fricative vowel [z̩].

    Perhaps this is also a good point to mention the historical evolution of vowels in the conlang Piat [pʲat]. The modern version of the language has the usual five vowels, CV(C) syllable structure, and consonants that come in triples of plain, palatalized, and labialized. (What would be labialized labials surface as plain labials, and there are no originally palatal consonants at all, thus making the question of palatalized palatals moot.) In Proto-Piat, however, there were three vowels A, I, U, (C)V syllables, and plain consonants only. How did we get from there to here?

    Because of the hiatus, vowel sequences could be A, I, U, AA, AI, AU, IA, II, IU, UA, UI, UU. The single vowels became short, the doubled vowels long, and the other combinations rising diphthongs, thus eliminating most hiatus except at morpheme boundaries. Then the fun began. The diphthongs AI, AU became long E and O, as in Gothic. The remaining diphthongs IA, IU, UA, UI switched to falling diphthongs. All final short vowels were dropped.

    In the standard language, vowel length was then lost. The glides of the falling diphthongs were absorbed into the previous consonant (palatalizing or labializing it), or lost if there was none, and all remaining hiatus was eliminated by the introduction of non-phonemic [ʔ]. And there we are.

    In the northern dialects, however, all short vowels were dropped, generating many Polish-class consonant clusters. The diphthongs UA UI became /va/, /vi/; (there is no /v/ in the standard, although [v] appears intervocalically as an allophone of /b/). The glides of IA II palatalized the previous consonants but remained as /j/ (not found in the standard) initially. All remaining hiatus was resolved in favor of the first vowel.

  76. John Cowan says:

    Elly Van Gelderen, A History of the English Language.

  77. Several university presses are offering content on Project MUSE for free until the end of May or June: Johns Hopkins University Press; The University of North Carolina Press; University of Nebraska Press; Temple University Press; University Press of Colorado; Utah State University Press; The Ohio State University Press; Vanderbilt University Press; and University of Georgia Press.

  78. John Cowan says:

    Clackson and Horrocks, The Blackwell History of the Latin Language (2007). Per the introduction, the book is a giant calque of Horrocks’s book Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers.

    Found at PG: an English translation of Braune’s Gothic Grammar by Gerhard Balg (18 The second sentence of the Author’s Introduction is given as “For this purpose the Gothic Fonology and Inflection ar, as far as possibl, set forth by themselves, without resorting to Comparativ Grammar for an explanation of the facts.” No explanation or justification for the spelling, and it’s that way throughout the book. The anonymous PG transcriber says: “Balg’s translation is a bit awkward. He knew quite a number of languages so well that he wrote books about them, but he had [h]is own view of English orthography.” Quite so.

  79. John Cowan says:
  80. John Cowan says:

    The Germanic Languages. As this is an anthology, I’ll list the chapter titles: The Germanic Languages, Gothic and the Reconstruction of Proto-Germanic, Old and Middle Scandinavian, Old and Middle Continental West Germanic, Old and Middle English, Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German, Yiddish, Pennsylvania German, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian [all three], English, Germanic Creoles.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    Morpurgo Davies festschrift (2004).

    Contains Jasanoff demystifying Lachmann’s mad-cackling law and obviating any need of glottalist explanations for it.

  82. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Jasanoff paper is indeed interesting, not least for the star part played by Paul Kiparsky in the discussion. I spent some time struggling with K’s famous objection to “absolute neutralisation” in the context of the fact that various Kusaal nominal prefixes of the absolutely identical form à- systematically differ in their sandhi with preceding words, until I finally realised that what I was looking at was a counterexample. As you can tell, I’m still bitter.

  83. Counterexample? Just add another epicycle, comrade!

  84. David Marjanović says:

    the star part played by Paul Kiparsky in the discussion

    And Chomsky by proxy, AFAICT.

  85. John Cowan says:

    Don’t underestimate counterexamples. A counterexample was an essential part of the Tortoise’s 1979 proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem (15 years before Wiles):

    Crab: Has someone at last managed to resolve this celebrated question?

    Achilles: Indeed! In fact, Mr. Tortoise has done so, and as usual, by a wizardly stroke. He has not only found a PROOF of Fermat’s Theorem (thus justifying its name as well as vindicating Fermat), but also a COUNTEREXAMPLE, thus showing that the skeptics had good intuition!

    Crab: Oh my gracious! That is a revolutionary discovery.

    Anteater: But please don’t leave us in suspense. What magical integers are they that satisfy Fermat’s equation? I’m especially curious about the value of n.

    Achilles: Oh, horrors! I’m most embarrassed! Can you believe this? The value’s at home on a truly colossal piece of paper. Unfortunately it was too huge to bring along. I wish I had them here to show to you. If it’s of any help to you, I do remember one thing — the value of n is the only positive integer which does not occur anywhere in the continued fraction for π.

    Crab: Oh, what a shame that you don’t have them here. But there’s no reason to doubt what you have told us.

    Anteater: Anyway, who needs to see n written out decimally? Achilles has just told us how to find it. Well, Mr. T, please accept my hearty felicitations, on the occasion of your epoch-making discovery!

    Tortoise: Thank you.


    Achilles: Well, in the mathematics of acoustico-retrieval, there arise questions which have to do with the number of solutions of certain Diophantine equations. But Mr. T has devoted many years to this problem, and came to the realization that the whole thing hinged on the number of solutions to the [Fermat] equation.

    Tortoise: I could explain, of course, just how this equation arises, but I’m sure it would bore you.

    Achilles: It turned out that acoustico-retrieval theory predicts that Bach sounds can be retrieved from the motion of all the molecules in the atmosphere, provided that EITHER there exists at least one solution to the [Fermat] equation …

    Crab: Amazing!

    Anteater: Fantastic!

    Tortoise: Who would have thought!

    Achilles: I was about to say, “provided that there exists EITHER such a solution OR a proof that there are NO solutions!” And therefore, Mr. T, in careful fashion, set about working at both ends of the problem, simultaneously. As it turns out, the discovery of the counterexample was the key ingredient to finding the proof, so the one led directly to the other.

    Crab: How could that be?

    Tortoise: Well, you see, I had shown that the structural layout of any proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem — if one existed — could be described by elegant formula, which, it so happened, depended on the values [illegible] solution to a certain equation. When I found this second equation my surprise it turned out to be the Fermat equation. An amusing accidental relationship between form and content. So when I found the counterexample, all I needed to do was to use those numbers as a blueprint for constructing my proof that there were no solutions to the equation. Remarkably simple, when you think about it. I can’t imagine why no one had ever found the result before.

    And the usual lagniappe: a proof that all higher roots of 2 are irrational:

    Let ⁿ√2 = a/b, where n ≥ 3.

    Then 2 = aⁿ/bⁿ.

    2bⁿ = aⁿ.

    This has no solutions, by Fermat-Wiles.

    Hence ⁿ√2 is irrational.

  86. David Eddyshaw says:
  87. Books on some Pamir languages (Shughni, Yazgulami, Wakhi, Rushani)(in Russian)

    I wonder what маринэс means:

    Как таджичка решает большие проблемы малых языков Таджикистана в Америке

  88. SFReader says:

    ‘Marines’ means ‘don’t forget’ in Shughni language.

  89. Thanks a lot!

  90. John Cowan says:

    Perhaps an additional motto for the U.S. Marines: along with semper fidelis, also ne oblitus sit (negative perfect subjunctive of obliviscor) or ne dedidiceret (the same, but dedisco is not deponent). It’s hard to say which is more awkward to say, but I suspect the first is marginally better.

  91. John Cowan says:

    Yet another book, this one over 1000 pages; The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages. That’s all of them extant in writing before 476 CE (the fall of the Western Roman Empire). Undeciphered (Proto-Elamite), uninterpreted (North Picene), and nothing-much-to-say-about-it (Primitive Irish) languages are treated in the Introduction. Here are the other chapters (sorry about the lower-case authors, they are small caps in the text):

    1 Introduction roger d. woodard 1
    2 Sumerian piotr michalowski 19
    3 Elamite matthew w. stolper 60
    4 Hurrian gernot wilhelm 95
    5 Urartian gernot wilhelm 119
    6 Afro-Asiatic john huehnergard 138
    7 Ancient Egyptian and Coptic antonio loprieno 160
    8 Akkadian and Eblaite john huehnergard and christopher woods 218
    9 Ugaritic dennis pardee 288
    10 Hebrew p. kyle mccarter, jr. 319
    11 Phoenician and Punic jo ann hackett 365
    12 Canaanite dialects dennis pardee 386
    13 Aramaic stuart creason 391
    14 Ge’ez (Aksum) gene gragg 427
    15 Ancient South Arabian norbert nebes and peter stein 454
    16 Ancient North Arabian m. c. a. macdonald 488
    17 Indo-European henry m. hoenigswald, roger d. woodard, and james p. t. clackson 534
    18 Hittite calvert watkins 551
    19 Luvian h. craig melchert 576
    20 Palaic h. craig melchert 585
    21 Lycian h. craig melchert 591
    22 Lydian h. craig melchert 601
    23 Carian h. craig melchert 609
    24 Attic Greek roger d. woodard 614
    25 Greek dialects roger d. woodard 650
    26 Sanskrit stephanie w. jamison 673
    27 Middle Indic stephanie w. jamison 700
    28 Old Persian rudiger schmitt 717
    29 Avestan mark hale 742
    30 Pahlavi mark hale 764
    31 Phrygian claude brixhe 777
    32 Latin james p. t. clackson 789
    33 Sabellian languages rex e. wallace 812
    34 Venetic rex e. wallace 840
    35 Continental Celtic joseph f. eska 857
    36 Gothic jay h. jasanoff 881
    37 Ancient Nordic jan terje faarlund 907
    38 Classical Armenian james p. t. clackson 922
    39 Etruscan helmut rix 943
    40 Early Georgian kevin tuite 967
    41 Ancient Chinese alain peyraube 988
    42 Old Tamil sanford b. steever 1015
    43 Mayan victoria r. bricker 1041
    44 Epi-Olmec terrence kaufman and john justeson 1071
    45 Reconstructed ancient languages don ringe 1112

  92. John Cowan says:

    The Origins and Development of the English Language, 6e. The original 1960 edition was by Thomas Pyles; this one has been rewritten by John Algeo. The chapters are on: language in general, English sounds, writing, the ancestors of English, OE, ME, EModE spellings and sounds, EModE morphosyntax, ModE, semantics, word creation, and borrowings, all in 250+ pages (plus bibliography, glossary, and indexes).

    I particularly liked the fact that the second chapter on the sounds of English doesn’t pretend that RP is the only accent worth discussing.

  93. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages

    This will help, I’m sure, for many a Wikipedia debate on whether language X is An Ancient Language.

    Good to see Ringe start off his article with the Uniformitarian Principle, too.

  94. David Eddyshaw says:

    The chapter on Etruscan is very good (not that other chapters aren’t, too …)

  95. That Ringe article is refreshingly sensible in general; some excerpts:

    Strictly speaking, a reconstructed language has no speaking population; yet something very like each competently reconstructed protolanguage must have been spoken by some group of human beings. We can learn something about their society by examining the vocabulary that can be reconstructed for the protolanguage. For example, we know that the speakers of Proto-Indo-European – more exactly, of the actual language that most closely resembled our reconstructed Proto-Indo-European–wore clothes, since we can reconstruct not only such forms as ∗w´estor “(s)he’s wearing,” *wos´eyeti “(s)he’s dressing [someone else]” (Rix et al. 1998:633–634), ∗yeh3s– “wear a belt” (Rix et al. 1998:275–276), and ∗h2wlh1no– “wool” (Peters 1980:23–26, fn. 18), but also ∗negwn´os “naked,” which implies that people customarily wear clothes.

    There are, however, obvious limits to what we can learn in this way. In particular, we can argue only from the presence of reconstructible words for a particular article or concept,not from their absence; the replacement of inherited words by completely different words is a universal and very common type of linguistic change, and that alone can easily account for the fact that there are so many gaps in our reconstructible lexica. This is clearest from a consideration of body-part terms. For example, no Proto-Indo-European word for “finger” is reconstructible; yet surely speakers of Proto-Indo-European had fingers, and (like every other human community) they must have had a word for them!

    The necessary methodology of comparative reconstruction imposes further limitations on what can be known about the prehistory of even the most solidly reconstructible protolanguages. For example, we are mathematically constrained to reconstruct a more or less unitary dialect as the ancestor of each attested family. Yet experience with living languages leads us to infer that most of these reconstructed dialects must have been members of dialect networks – all the other dialects of each network having more or less completely died out. Our ability to reconstruct the relative chronology of the changes that occurred as each protolanguage diversified into a language family is likewise limited: we can recover the relative chronology of those changes that interacted (one change producing the conditions under which another could then take place, or removing examples which would otherwise have undergone a later change), but changes that had nothing to do with one another cannot be ordered chronologically.

    Finally, an unpleasant fact of language change imposes the most drastic limitation on what can be known. All languages gradually replace their inherited vocabulary with completely different and unrelated vocabulary items, and also replace, lose, and restructure the affixes with which full words are formed. “Basic” vocabulary is, of course, replaced at a relatively slow rate, and inflectional affixes are also resistant to change; but in the long run every word will be replaced, and inherited inflectional patterns will be transformed beyond recognition. When the vast majority of even the most tenacious items have disappeared, the few remaining cognates shared by genuinely related languages will be indistinguishable from chance resemblances – so that the relationship will be undiscoverable, and reconstruction of a protolanguage will be impossible. There is, therefore, a temporal limit beyond which we will probably never be able to penetrate prehistory; and though estimates of that limit differ, it seems clear that a threshold even ten millennia before the earliest attested documents of a language family is beyond our reach for all practical purposes.

    Nice to see some familiar names in the T of C; I knew Stephanie Jamison at Yale, and I worked with Sandy Steever (Old Tamil) in the Printing and Design Department of Price Waterhouse back in the ’80s.

  96. SFReader says:

    Ancient Nordic

    I knew a Norwegian linguist wouldn’t call it Primitive Norse!

  97. PlasticPaddy says:

    “must have had a word for finger”-as you well know, it could be a word for finger/toe.

  98. True!

  99. David Eddyshaw says:

    Kusaal doesn’t have a word for finger: you say nu’ubil, which despite the standard orthography, is actually a formally transparent compound “little-hand”, and by language-internal criteria a noun phrase consisting of two words. Both components occur freely in other compounds (like nɔbbil “toe”: no prizes for guessing the meaning of the components.)

  100. David Marjanović says:

    it seems clear that a threshold even ten millennia before the earliest attested documents of a language family is beyond our reach for all practical purposes

    Beware of round numbers – this one barely gets you to Proto-Afro-Asiatic.

  101. David Eddyshaw says:

    Probably true for Proto-Niger-Congo too, especially given that the earliest attested documents there date only to the last few centuries. Or it would be, if Proto-Niger-Congo were actually a thing. [Exercises heroic self-restraint.]

    Nilo-Saharan, too, even though the documentation goes back to the tenth century CE there. But Nilo-Saharan really is a stretch. Not even Ethnologue believes in it.

    In fact, Afro-Asiatic is probably the exception that proves the rule.

  102. David Marjanović says:

    Not even Ethnologue believes in it.

    Neither, for that matter, does G. Starostin – he accepts the eastern 80% or so of it to some degree of probability, but Songhay is too far.

    In fact, Afro-Asiatic is probably the exception that proves the rule.

    I don’t think we have a good handle on that, because hardly anyone has even tried to go to comparable time depths (let alone beyond). And while what makes AA “just plain obvious” is its morphology, it does have basic vocabulary that is reconstructible all the way down as well.

  103. David Eddyshaw says:

    Proto-Australian, I suppose. Most Australianists seem to believe in it.

    But if you talk about that Bob Dixon will leap out from under the bed and eat you.
    (If you’re lucky, he may just hit you with his punctuated equilibrium.)

  104. this one barely gets you to Proto-Afro-Asiatic

    Lowest estimates I’ve seen are ~10K for the whole family = ~5K before the first attestations of Egyptian and Akkadian. Deep-end ~18K year approximations seem to follow the assumption that the family must include Omotic which has basically no resemblance to anything else in it (thus at least Ehret), with “Narrow Afrasian” aka “Erythraean” then being several millennia younger.

    Counting from first attestations, Cushitic and Chadic as diverse subfamilies attested only recently could even well turn out to be “older than” AA as a whole.

  105. David Eddyshaw says:

    Chadic is certainly very diverse, though as with Afro-Asiatic as a whole there’s a striking perseverence of weird typological features like having about two vowel phonemes (or less), and of course the phylum-wide glottalising of all the consonants.

    The only Chadic language spoken by about more than five people, Hausa, happens to be so unrepresentative of the group in various ways that there was actually a perfectly serious paper called “Is Hausa a Chadic language?”
    (spoiler: it is.)

    Cushitic is so diverse that there have been serious proposals which effectively make everything else branches of Cushitic.

    Omotic is Afroasiatic in the way Uralic is Altaic.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    Lowest estimates I’ve seen are ~10K for the whole family = ~5K before the first attestations of Egyptian and Akkadian. Deep-end ~18K year approximations seem to follow the assumption that the family must include Omotic which has basically no resemblance to anything else in it (thus at least Ehret), with “Narrow Afrasian” aka “Erythraean” then being several millennia younger.

    You just had a Tumblr post where you had a 16K date… which is older than what I had seen before (10K, 12K).

    Cushitic is so diverse

    Cushitic and Chadic are certainly underresearched in ways that will create surprises.

    Omotic is Afroasiatic in the way Uralic is Altaic.

    The trick here is that the similarities between Uralic and Altaic are shared with other language families of the region. With Omotic that’s not the case: some of its supposed AA features have a Nostratic distribution, but they’re not shared with “Nilo-Saharan” or apparently Hadza. (See this discussion; I have no idea how my name disappeared from the comments that are now “anonymous”.)

  107. 16,000 BCE = 18K total age, yes, the oldest age I’ve seen proposed for any halfaway serious language family. Not listed there because I think it’s accurate, but because I think this makes an at least somehow defensible terminus post quem for how far current historical linguistics might be able to reach (as opposed to pulled-out-of-the-author’s-sleeve estimates like Ringe’s).

    “the way Uralic is Altaic” is a slightly unfortunate analogy since the existence of an exclusive Altaic is itself under dout. A reading as “the last common ancestor of Turkic, Mongolic, … is also an ancestor of Uralic” makes an option that could still be on the table (this would just be likely to turn out to be some kind of an “Eurasiatic” that’s also the ancestor to a bunch of other families too).

    My prediction though is that if new deep language relationships within Africa will be discovered/defended over the current century, they will mostly involve families chipped off of Greenberg’s megagroups. E.g. if Mande is not nailed down as Niger-Congo and if Songhay is not nailed down as Nilo-Saharan, then there’s nothing stopping anyone from exploring a hypothesis that perhaps they’re related to each other instead?

  108. David Eddyshaw says:

    if Mande is not nailed down as Niger-Congo and if Songhay is not nailed down as Nilo-Saharan, then there’s nothing stopping anyone from exploring a hypothesis that perhaps they’re related to each other instead?

    That has in fact already happened, though the investigator in question (Mukarovsky) drew the bizarre conclusion that this supposed affinity thereby proved that (all of) Niger-Congo was related to (all of) Nilo-Saharan.

    There’s little doubt that Mande and Songhay are at any rate related by contact: for example, they (mostly) share the typologically peculiar SOVX word order; though Denis Creissels points out that things aren’t simple:

    It has been suggested, too, that Songhay is some sort of Mande creole relexified with Berber lexemes, but although the suggestion goes back to the doyen of Songhay studies, Robert Nicolaï, approximately zero other people seem to be persuaded of this.

  109. David Eddyshaw says:

    Actually, I just looked up Mukarovsky, and his suggestions were distinctly more off-the-wall than merely lumping Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan together (which indeed some fairly respectable scholars have suggested on other grounds.) Off-the-wall as in “Hans, don’t you feel that your undoubted talents might be better deployed in a different area of study?”

    Edit: and he did deploy them elsewhere: Basque is related to Afro-Asiatic

    Mukarovsky is actually cited with some approbation by the hardy souls who try to reconstruct Proto-Niger-Congo (in the broadest sense.) You can see why I keep a certain degree of scepticism handy.

  110. David Marjanović says:

    Is that the idea that Niger-Congo in the broadest sense is the sister-group of Songhay within a gigantic Congo-Saharan?

    Basque is related to Afro-Asiatic

    That’s off enough walls that I’m actually going to read it.

  111. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is that the idea that Niger-Congo in the broadest sense is the sister-group of Songhay within a gigantic Congo-Saharan?

    No (and I haven’t really represented his views fairly.) Basically his core entity is/was something he called “Western Nigritic”, which includes Gur and the Mel part of Atlantic inter alia but not “Senegalian” and, strikingly, not Benue-Congo (with its Bantu subgroup), both of which are sisters of Western Nigritic in a “West Sahelian Group”, which in turn is a sister to a Mande-Songhay family..

    The main problem with this, apart from the pretty random redistribution of the pieces of Atlantic, is separating off Benue-Congo form the rest of what is nowadays called Volta-Congo. That is ludicrous: it’s really not difficult to demonstrate a genetic connection between Oti-Volta and Bantu beyond reasonable doubt, whereas Mel is another matter altogether; but in fairness the proposal dates to a period where information on Gur was nowhere near as plentiful and reliable as it is now. It really just shows that, as the man said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

  112. David Eddyshaw says:

    A bit of context as to how someone like Mukarovsky, who was assuredly neither ignorant nor stupid, could get it so wrong:

    This all reflects serious problems with the whole field of Niger-Congo comparative linguistics (though the main problem above all is that so few people are even trying, as the late John Stewart, one of the few, rightly lamented.)

    (a) the data are often just word-lists, from languages with no adequate grammatical analysis, or more often no published grammatical analysis at all), so the internal structure of the words, whether they include flexional affixes, etc etc is unknown. The collectors of the word lists had often made no adequate study even of the phonology.

    (b) over and over, judgments of degree of affinity rely exclusively on the voodoo pseudoscience of lexicostatistics; while there are ways of minimising the wholesale unreliability of lexicostatistics, the quality of the basic data is generally too poor to do this effectively.

    (c) when people do attempt proper rigorous comparative linguistics, they once again run into the problem of poor quality of the primary data. Furthermore, they often, despite proven expertise in language description, are rank amateurs when it comes to comparative work. When I first became interested in comparative Oti-Volta (sparked off by the fact that Western Oti-Volta is a close-knit family of very obviously related languages, where reconstruction of a protolanguage should really be comparatively easy), I discovered that the only large-scale work (still extensively relied on in sources like Ethnologue) was by Gabriel Manessy, and he made elementary errors repeatedly (like missing conditioning factors for sound changes.) This is not atypical; time and again, when you succeed in tracking down comparative work, it turns out to be a sort of cargo-cult approximation of the methods of rigorous comparison without any real understanding of the pitfalls which (say) Indo-Europeanists have learnt to beware of through bitter experience over more than a century.

    It’s not like progress is not happening. The quality of the primary data is vastly improved over the past few decades, so the main roadblock is being steadily eroded. It’s still the case that there are far too few workers in the vineyard (hardly surprising, given that comparative work in general has been severely damaged by the Chomskyan cuckoo in the nest of linguistics – among other things.) And there are encouraging developments when it comes to comparative work on subgroups (Comparative Bantu, of course, always having been a showpiece of African linguistics.)

    Nevertheless, much that is said about the genetic classification of African languages rests on work that was carried out decades ago with scanty and unreliable data and methodology where enthusiasm all too often exceeded ability.

  113. Damn, that’s sad. I’m glad things are improving. We need some rich person to leave a billion dollars for African linguistic research…

  114. ə de vivre says:

    The Sumerian word for ‘finger’ is ‘šu-si,’ or ‘hand-tip’ (‘toes’ are ‘ŋiri-si,’ ‘foot-tips’). Sumerians loved puns, and they made full use of the fact that, as distinct words, both ‘šu’ (hand) and ‘si’ (pointy end of something) are used as semi-incorporated nouns in compound verbs of arranging or putting things in order. In the more common verb ‘si sá,’ ‘to arrange,’ the incorporated noun ‘si’ belongs to the logical object (the verb literally means ‘to make something’s ends [= si] equal’). But in the compound verb ‘šu-si sá,’ the verbally incorporated fingers belong to the person doing the arranging. The ‘si’ to ‘šu-si’ wordplay was probably a pun multiple people came up with independently, since the sources disagree on whether ‘šu-si’ is one word or two, that is whether it refers to the fingers of the one doing the arranging (šu-si) or to both the hand (šu) of the arranger and the tips (si) of the arrangee.

    On a completely different topic, I remember someone on LH linking to a really handy searchable database of proto-Semitic roots and their cognates in daughter languages, but I couldn’t find it again. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

  115. This sounds like not too much unlike the state of Uralic (or by then Finno-Ugric) studies up to circa 1880. What happened at that point was that researchers agreed that current data quality was a problem and banded together to fundraise for an extensive field research campaign. Which of course will be a lot more doable when facing a family of only a few dozen languages… or when the zeitgeist is that historical linguistics is agreed to constitute the “main” branch of linguistics. (It in fact worked well enough that for the last 120+ years we have not been constrained by raw data but by the availability of lexicographers to edit it.)

    I am not at all surprized to hear that there’s been a pre-Greenberg defense of Mande–Songhay, exactly why I hedged that with “/defended”.

  116. David Marjanović says:

    16,000 BCE = 18K total age

    Your post has “14000 BCE — oldest estimated age of Proto-Afro-Asiatic”.

    That’s off enough walls that I’m actually going to read it.

    I just did. It avoids a lot of the usual mistakes. Some of the comparisons are fairly flimsy-looking lookalikes, but with some, like “iron”, I’m wondering about Carthaginian loanwords in Iberian – not necessarily from Phoenician, but from Pre-Berber or who knows what (Carthage was the leading employer of mercenaries).

    What’s glaringly missing is any attempt to explain why the grammars of Basque and AA are so dramatically different.

    It in fact worked well enough that for the last 120+ years we have not been constrained by raw data but by the availability of lexicographers to edit it.


  117. David Eddyshaw says:

    an extensive field research campaign

    There’s a lot of positive stuff happening with language documentation in Africa; indeed, it’s for that very reason that reassessment of traditional ideas about genetic relationships is now highly possible if only there are people prepared to do it.

    In Oti-Volta alone, there are now extensive good dictionaries of Mooré, Toende Kusaal, Farefare, Buli, Nawdm, and Gurmanche, worthwhile if imperfect dictionaries of Agolle Kusaal, Mampruli, Dagbani and Waama, full-dress grammars of Dagaare, Mooré, both dialects of Kusaal (two grammars each!), Konkomba, Moba, and Gurmanche, and a fairly extensive treatment of Dagbani: when Manessy did his stuff there were none of the dictionaries, and only two highly unreliable and poorly organised grammars, of Mooré and Toende Kusaal respectively, which he doesn’t seem to have had access to anyway. It’s amazing he achieved what he did. But it wouldn’t be hard to do a better job than him given the so much more propitious circumstances.

    Jeffrey Heath has been a sort of one-man grammar-and-dictionary-and-text-collection-writing machine in West Africa, and trained up a cadre of worthy disciples to carry on the work. You wait decades for a decent Dogon grammar, and then four come along at once …

    It’s a pity nobody has pointed the Heath organisation at an Oti-Volta language yet. I think they prefer to go for the hitherto almost completely undocumented languages, which is a rational priority, after all.

  118. David Eddyshaw says:

    He should do Boulba/Nootre: it’s the most aberrant Western Oti-Volta language, and all there is to date are brief word lists and a SIL sociolinguistic survey report including a short tale in the worst possible (French-based) scratch orthography. It’s just enough to show that Manessy was right in allocating it to Western Oti-Volta. Tantalising and frustrating.

  119. Jeffrey Heath has been a sort of one-man grammar-and-dictionary-and-text-collection-writing machine in West Africa, and trained up a cadre of worthy disciples

    There’s definitely economics of scale to this stuff (and even more economics of expertise).

  120. John Cowan says:

    I don’t know where the Kay WIlliamson Educational Fund gets its money (certainly not from its eponym), but they do pay Roger Blench, who is certainly a comparativist and certainly works mostly, though not exclusively, in Africa. Their Facebook page is rather useless.

  121. ktschwarz says:

    One word for finger/toe must be pretty common. As a diagnostic, I looked at translations of 2 Samuel 21:20, “a man of great size, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot”. The same word is used twice (or only once, i.e. “six fingers on each hand and foot”) in Slavic languages, Romance languages, Albanian, Tagalog, Japanese, Vietnamese, Hungarian, and of course the original Hebrew; there are two different (and monomorphemic) words in Germanic languages and Finnish; and I don’t know enough about Chinese to tell.

    I’m still boggled that anybody would replace their word for finger. Are there any historical examples that we know of?

  122. David Eddyshaw says:

    Roger Blench does indeed work hard.

  123. David Eddyshaw says:


    Not just finger: in Indo-European even “hand” seems pretty mutable.

    Talking of which, Kusaal nu’ug “hand” (where -g is a singular noun class suffix) and anu “five” (where a- is historically a frozen noun class plural prefix) look pretty obviously akin (the tones match too), and a similar relationship is very common cross-linguistically. However, while the “five” root is practically Pan-Volta-Congo at least, the corresponding “hand” root seems to be confined to Oti-Volta. So if they are cognate, everyone else has innovated a new word for “hand.” (Teeter’s Law strikes again.)

    Or the ancestors of the Oti-Volta speakers taught everyone else in West Africa arithmetic (not such a stretch, as the lower numbers are suspiciously similar between language families with precious little else in the way of common lexicon.) Or something.

  124. SFReader says:

    English didn’t quite replace, but nevertheless borrowed a word for “finger, toe” from Latin – digit.

  125. David Marjanović says:

    So if they are cognate, everyone else has innovated a new word for “hand.”

    Or the other way around? Finger seems to be “one of a set of five” and is definitely a Germanic innovation.

  126. David Eddyshaw says:

    The French have kept the Latin etymon for “finger”, but mostly have orteils on their feet nowadays.

  127. in Germanic languages and Finnish

    Finnish and allies, I’d say:

    We’ve discussed it at this site, if I’m not mistaken, but I can’t find the thread.


    It has 指 zhǐ (zhi3) ‘toe’ and 趾 zhǐ (zhi3) ‘finger’, with different characters and identical readings.

  128. David Eddyshaw says:

    Or the other way around?

    Could well be. I just like the idea of Kusaal as Ursprache.

    “Finger”, IIRC, is one of the Proto-World people’s exhibits: dik. As we more orthodox types say: sal, ber, yon, rosh.

  129. David Marjanović says:

    That’s just a phonetic merger – check out the Old Chinese reconstructions!

  130. John Cowan says:

    Roger Blench does indeed work hard.

    I take this to be derogatory. But I would point out that one man can’t substitute for a whole research tradition. Blench writes down what he finds out, points out what connections he sees, “does not [as far as i know, anyway] contradict what is known to be known” (part of Delany’s characterization of sf), and leaves the rest to the judgment of peers or posterity.

    Even if he does reject Penutian out of hand.

  131. David Eddyshaw says:

    It was perhaps a bit snide. But he does work hard, and I mean that entirely genuinely as a compliment.
    I’m not so taken with the analytical side of his work, which will hardly surprise you; but he has collected masses of primary data which nobody else would have done otherwise, and that is certainly no mean service to the Cause.

    And how right he is to reject Penutian out of hand …. *

    *I know (needless to say) nothing whatsoever about this. I just approve on general first principles. These long-rangers will be claiming that Welsh is related to Urdu next.

  132. David Marjanović says:

    State of the Penutian hypothesis as of 1997. I’ve only read it 1/3 of the way through yet.

    Look who’s cited…

  133. ə de vivre says:

    Biryani am byth!*

    *There must be a better pun out there involving the elements: biryani, Cymru am byth, and/or Prydain. I leave finding it as an exercise to the reader.

  134. David Eddyshaw says:

    Look who’s cited…

    Indeed. She’s talked about it here, too, as I recall.

    It’s certainly worth taking notice when the actual experts on the individual languages are the people who particularly tend to believe in a genetic connection (contrast Khoisan, for the opposite tendency.)

    I’d forgotten (or perhaps rather have a false memory of once having known) that Sapir included Mixe-Zoque too.

  135. ktschwarz says:

    “The French … mostly have orteils on their feet nowadays” — though not in the Bible verse, so maybe it isn’t a great test since it encourages translators to use parallelism, unless they really can’t as in Germanic. English wouldn’t use digits there because it’s in a technical-medical register. But words can change their registers: isn’t that how the Germans lost their Haupts?

    “Kusaal doesn’t have a word for finger” — we all know “word” isn’t a technical term in linguistics anyway; surely nu’ubil is “lexicalized” in Kusaal, and Ringe was technically claiming that finger (or at least finger/toe) is lexicalized in every language. But is it? WALS says there are some languages that don’t lexically distinguish finger from hand. How do we know PIE wasn’t like that?

  136. John Cowan says:

    Well, you can hardly mention Tsimshian without talking about m-l (where is she, anyway? I miss her), just as you can hardly talk about “California” Penutian without talking about Ken Whistler, now much better known as the Technical Director of the Unicode Consortium. Whistler 1977 is an amazing paper, not only in itself but in its role in the sociology of linguistics: it takes an accepted position, put forth by Sapir no less (“California Penutian is a thing”), and drops rocks on it so effectively that there has been neither a revival of Sapir’s view nor a young-Turk revision of it since.

  137. David Eddyshaw says:

    we all know “word” isn’t a technical term in linguistics anyway

    No, I don’t agree with that.
    It means whatever you decide it means, which is not by any means the same as saying it’s not a technical term. You make it a technical term in the course of your grammatical description: all that you have to be careful of is (a) that you tell your reader just how you intend to use the term (b) that you are internally consistent and (c) you don’t use the word in such a bizarre way that your usage is itself a problem for the reader.

    I deliberately used the mealy-mouthed hedge “by language-internal criteria” in my original statement exactly because word division actually is quite a bit more problematic than usual in Kusaal.

    Partly this is because of complications specifically due to the pervasive deletion of word-final short vowels in most but not all contexts in Kusaal, which leaves several common words (yup, words) consisting of a single consonant or of nothing at all segmentally; this has caused (very understandably) considerable confusion in the traditional orthography, which deals with the resulting problems in an unsystematic ad hoc way because the underlying unifying principles of the process have not been understood.

    In this particular case, the problem is, however, to do with some of the odd properties of compounding throughout the entire Oti-Volta language group. These languages use compounding continually. Some are of a familiar dependent-head type like bʋkʋʋd “goat-killer”, where the components are the “combining form” (stem, effectively) of bʋʋg “goat” preceding the agent noun kʋʋd “killer.” Such compounds can be formed at will; however, so far, so familiar (though there is a phonological catch, see below.)

    However, in the entire group, the standard construction for a noun with a modifying adjective or even a noun with a dependent demonstrative, is a head-first compound of the stem of the noun with the adjective or demonstrative, which inflects to show the number of the head: bʋkan “this goat”, bʋban “these goats.” There is no phonological difference at all between these two types of compound: the combining forms are the same, and the tone and segmental sandhi between the components are the same. Moreover, although noun combining forms are bound to the right, they are no different in phonological structure from the perfective aspect forms of finite verbs, which are also bare stems morphologically, but not bound to the right.

    Furthermore, both noun combining forms and perfective verbs are subject to the same process of final short vowel loss/final long-vowel shortening that affects unequivocal “words” in most contexts: the stem of “goat” is in fact bʋʋ, and the form that appears in compounds is reduced from that by the usual shortening rule.

    Again, compounds can include uncompounded elements: anzurifa nɛ salima la’amaan “maker of silver and gold items”, which is a compound of anzurifa nɛ salima la’ad “silver and gold goods” and the agent noun maan “maker.”

    Traditional orthography writes all these compounds solid, except where the combining form happens to resemble the singular segmentally: bʋkan “this goat”, but dau kan “this man”; this is basically a misanalysis, however (the combining form dau in fact does differ from the singular, having low tone instead of mid.)

    Although you could concoct a grammatical framework in which these various compounds were single “words” and the whole set of processes was assigned to word-formation instead of syntax, you can only do so at the cost of quite gratuitous horrible major complications of the description: the logic of the language itself clearly calls for compounds to be treated as consisting of several “words.”

    There remains your very reasonable point that nu’ubil ought to be considered a “word” because it has a specialised meaning which is not simply deducible from the sum of its parts. That is perfectly true; there are plenty of other examples too, like gɔn’ɔsabilig, which is the normal construction for “black thorn” but in fact specifically means “Acacia hockii.” But this is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon; tisabilim straightforwardly means “black medicine”, but it so happens (as a cultural, rather than a grammatical phenomenon) that “black medicine” is a particular preparation with a key role in traditional medicine [to the grief of my obstetric colleagues, as it’s a powerful oxytocic.] Nor is this potential for specialisation confined to compounds: fuug dɔɔg “cloth hut” specifically means “tent”; dɔɔg biig “hut child” means “cat.”

    The bil component of nu’ubil appears elsewhere as the usual adjective “little.” There is no language-internal reason in Kusaal to regard “little hand” as a single word because of its specialised sense any more than you would call dɔɔg biig “cat” a single word. As I said in my original comment, the traditional orthography conceals what’s going on.

    There’s a lot more I could go into, like the thorny issue of telling clitics from affixes (I linked to Zwicky and Pullum’s famous paper on that not long ago.) Happily it has no bearing on this particular issue, though.

  138. David Marjanović says:

    But words can change their registers: isn’t that how the Germans lost their Haupts?

    Sure, though that was from the other direction: judging from its etymology, Kopf must have been a dysphemism at first that eventually became normal just like testa, cabeza and all the Romance rest.

  139. David Eddyshaw says:

    “word” isn’t a technical term

    (I didn’t go into the question of lexemes, though it does bear on your point. My own feeling is that any potential for confusion between “word” in the sense lexeme and any other senses can be perfectly adequately dealt with by assuming that the reader possesses some basic common sense, and I have consequently developed a quite irrational dislike of the term.)

  140. John Cowan says:

    David E: The point of Haspelmath’s paper on word, syntax, and morphology is that word has no usable meaning as a comparative concept. Quite apart from semantic words, orthographic words, and phonological words, he identifies ten different morphosyntactic definitions of word[*] that have actually appeared in the literature. In short, it is a mess, and should be abandoned for comparative work. A consequence of this is that the morphology/syntax distinction is also not suitable for comparison, since these just mean ‘how words are constructed’ and ‘how words are combined’, and thus are dependent on the notion of words.

    Of course, there is nothing stopping the use of word in descriptive work: as you say, following Dumpty, a word means whatever you decide it means. But why use such an intensely polysemous word as a technical term? Is it productive of anything but confusion?

    It’s true that anything can be a technical term: boojum is both the common name of a tree and the name of a particular pattern that can arise in superfluids before softly and silently vanishing away. But at least these uses are not likely to conflict with each other or with the word’s application to snarks of a particularly potent variety. Better, I think, to leave word as a pre-theoretical concept with no particular role in linguistics, like life in biology. (Quine goes even further, arguing that there is no place in science for ideas, no place in epistemology for knowledge, and no place in semantics for meanings.)

    [*] Potential pauses, free occurrence, external mobility and internal fixedness uninterruptibility, non-selectivity, non-coordinatability, anaphoric islandhood, nonextractability, morphophonological idiosyncrasies, and deviations from biuniqueness.

  141. David Eddyshaw says:

    It is, I think, scarcely possible* to write a grammar without using the word “word” in whatever language you’re using, except by arbitrarily calling your “words”, “smeeps” or something; and then you still need to tell your reader exactly what you mean by it, make sure that you use the word “smeep” consistently etc etc. And then your poor reader will say to himself: “I say, when this grammarian cove says ‘smeep’, he seems to mean something very like my untutored pretheoretical concept ‘word’! I wonder why he feels it necessary to invent this bizarre neologism? Surely he’s just showing off his ideological purity!” And he closes the book in disgust and becomes a Chomskyite.

    The terms “phonological word”, “morphological word” etc, to say nothing of other terms like “affix”, “clitic” etc, all of which are in fact readily usable and constantly used in language comparison, are simply undefinable without some prior concept of “word.” Certainly, what constitutes a word is language-dependent: but why single out the inoffensive word “word” for excommunication in this way? Exactly the same is true of “aspect”, “tense” … “verb”, “noun” … How is our comparison of languages ever going to be communicable at all like this?

    When people start saying that a term has “no usable meaning” (after reaching for my revolver) my reaction is: Try harder.

    *Schütz’s Fijian grammar actually does attempt this, though he fails to maintain his purity of discourse throughout.

  142. I am with the Wizard of Oti–Volta in this matter.

  143. SFReader says:

    Many Russian foreign language dictionaries and textbooks, especially if published in 1960-70s, use term “lexical unit” for “word”.

    I took it as just a fancy way of saying “word” and never noticed any difference.

  144. John Cowan says:

    At one time, Haspelmath did indeed reject the affix/clitic distinction, but again, only for comparative work. For descriptive work, use what terms you like. He also has a capitalization convention to make clear which kind of term you are using: in English non-stative verbs, the present tense (comparative concept) is expressed by the Present Progressive (language-specific descriptive category).

    But he has resurrected affix to mean ‘non-promiscuous bound form which is a not a root’, where root means ‘morph denoting an action, thing, or property’. Now this does not mean that in the description of some particular language, Affix may not have a broader or even narrower meaning. In (one description of) Makassarese, Affixes affect stress and are attached to words (perhaps I should write Words), and Clitics do not affect stress, whereas Afficlitics do affect stress and are attached to phrases. (Even this three-way taxonomy is insufficient, Haspelmath points out.)

  145. John Cowan says:

    Sapir included Mixe-Zoque

    Sapir kept expanding Penutian, and his final 1929 recension did include M-Z and Huave as “Mexican Penutian”, but essentially nobody accepts that nowadays. Calls have been made to link M-Z and/or Huave and/or Totonacan and/or Mayan, but Campbell delivers on them all his usual Scottish verdict. (Is his skepticism tied to his ethnicity this way?)

    On the other hand, Campbell was one of the proposers of the idea that the Olmecs spoke an M-Z language, but one of the skeptics is a Stuart, so the reputation of the Scots is upheld after all.

  146. David L says:

    Quine goes even further, arguing that there is no place in science for ideas…

    Hey! In my brief career as a scientist, I had all kinds of ideas. Most of them weren’t any good, but they were definitely ideas.

    I suppose Quine is using the word ‘idea’ to mean something restricted and constrained and highly specific, and using that definition to show that the things we non-philosophical saps call ideas aren’t really ideas at all. This is why my intermittent attempts to read philosophy always end in exasperation.

  147. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think one can summarise this by saying that “word” is not a technical term in linguistics: it’s a family of technical terms. This is not surprising: it’s how language operates in general. Absolute precision of reference is unnecessary, which is fortunate as this is not only practically unattainable but based on a false notion of how language relates to reality in any case. “Technical” language does not operate in a radically different way from ordinary language when seeking enhanced precision, but uses the usual strategies of modification, metonymy, neologism and so forth.

    Haspelmath encounters the problem that he needs to generalise over the specifics of particular languages, and the specifics are often not completely congruent. Cases of complete mismatch are easy: there’s no need for a common term at all. The problem arises when there is a lot of similarity: what do you call the common feature? Using the same term as is used to describe the specifics of a particular language runs the risk that you will be taken to be wrongly attributing eccentricities of some particular language to the whole group. You can create a neologism, though if it’s too arbitrary it will be hard to remember. Or you could simply take over an existing term from a particular language and explain that you are in fact going to use it in a technical sense. Note that this does not mean that the existing term was non-technical or pretheoretical. It wasn’t. It’s just that you propose to use the same term in a new technical sense adapted to the purpose you have in mind.

    In the case of “word”, Haspelmath has concluded that it would obscure his purpose to adopt the term into his own technical jargon, because the incongruity across languages is too great. He makes good arguments in support of this. They in no way invalidate the use of “word” as a technical term in other kinds of linguistic work. His work is not prior to the description of individual languages, but derived from it. Only an arrant Chomskyite would get that backwards.

    (Proud to be a nominalist. Take that, Duns Scotus!)

  148. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is his skepticism tied to his ethnicity this way?

    I find that hard to believe …

    Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
    Who’s going to pay for all these entia we don’t actually need? They’re affy dear …

  149. John Cowan says:

    I suppose Quine is using the word ‘idea’ to mean something restricted and constrained and highly specific

    On the contrary, he says that it’s impossibly vague. What is it to have the “same idea” as someone else? It could mean, he says, that you have the same mental image, or the same plan, or the same belief, or any number of other things.

  150. David Eddyshaw says:

    No ideas but in things …

  151. John Cowan says:

    The latest Blench paper to pop up in my Academia feed is “Semitic upside-down”. It proposes a South Afroasiatic subfamily consisting of Cushitic/Chadic and Semitic, as identified by the originally shared but highly eroded features of the lateral fricative and the emphatic consonants. The core of this subfamily is Ethiopic, non-Southern Cushitic, and Eastern Chadic, all of which have lost these features. They appear scattered in non-Eastern Chadic and in the rest of Semitic.

    But the Semitic languages that preserve these features best are the Modern South Arabian languages. These are usually placed together with Ethiopic, and Blench agrees with that, but they are too similar to one another (he suggests a separation date of 500 CE, similar to Germanic or Turkic) to be a coordinate node. Instead, he proposes that they are a direct and highly conservative offshoot of Ethiopic, arriving on the south coast and the island of Soqotra direct from the Horn of Africa.

    But the coolest feature of the proposal, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that the word for ‘coconut’ is reconstructible to Proto-MSA, despite there being no coconuts native to the region. Blench’s suggestion is that it got into Proto-MSA when its speakers were carried from Ethiopia to Arabia in Sumatran bottoms, which were known to be in the area at the time!

  152. David L says:

    On the contrary, he says that it’s impossibly vague.

    But if the meaning of ‘idea’ is impossibly vague, how can Quine claim that there are no such things in science? You can hardly rule something out of bounds if you can’t say what it is in the first place.

    Perhaps he means that the idea of ‘idea’ is so vague that it’s impossible to attach any unambiguous meaning to an idea in science, but that’s a different proposition.

  153. David Eddyshaw says:

    Semitic upside-down

    I see …

    Myself, I was struck by his observation that the final -m of Eblaite baqalum “cattle” is “not attested elsewhere in Semitic”, which I found … illuminating.

    FWIW, Tamasheq has pharyngealised alveolar stops in native (i.e. not Arabic-derived) vocabulary. Admittedly they’re not ejective.

    Coptic had the glottalised stops p t k. All that Hyksos influence, I dare say.

    The methodology generalises: we can now see that the primary division of Indo-European is Indic versus non-Indic. The Hindutva guys were right all along.

  154. David Marjanović says:

    Berber is chock full of pharyngealized obstruents. They’re all voiced now, but judging from Arabic it needn’t always have been that way.

  155. The word hick is from Hyksos. You heard it here first.

  156. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Hausa the voiced “glottalised” consonants ɓ ɗ are in fact implosives, and the same sounds are found widely in Niger-Congo (including Swahili, for example.) Fulfulde has all the Hausa “glottalised” consonants except the (genuinely ejective) ƙ, in dialects which have never been exposed to Hausa influence, and not only in native roots but in flexions (Fulɓe!) And it really isn’t the case that glottalised voiceless stops are all that rare cross-linguistically.

    What are comparatively rare are the laryngeals, like ʕ ɦ (though we can all think of non-Afroasiatic languages which have them.) Egyptian had those.

    But this is irrelevant, of course. The fundamental problem is the idea that a single, extremely natural, phonological change (loss of glottalisation in consonants) is a good basis for genetic subclassification at all.

    Kusaal has contrastively glottalised vowels. So do its two closest relatives, Nabit and Talni. The only other Western Oti-Volta language that does is Farefare, which is part of the other major subdivision of WOV. The feature is undoubtedly inherited from Proto-Western-Oti-Volta, as its distribution matches almost perfectly in cognates, and there is no way of accounting for its distribution by secondary changes in particular environments. The only other language in all of Oti-Volta that preserves it is Nawdm (and perhaps its close relative Yom, on which I have no data.) All other branches (including Buli-Konni, which in other respects is much closer to WOV than Nawdm is) have lost it. But repeated independent loss of contrastive vowel glottalisation does not seem all that implausible

  157. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Pharyngeals like ʕ ħ, sorry.)

    Now that I think of it, the only Cushitic language I know much about, Somali, has all those funky pharyngeals like ʕ, and it doesn’t have any ejective (or implosive) consonants at all. I see that Oromo is the other way round.

  158. John Cowan says:

    And as Quine also says, no entity without identity.


    Emphatic was my error for ejective. But at least according to Blench’s charts, only emphatic /d/ and /z/ are reconstructible to Proto-Berber, in which case all the other emphatics are presumably Semitic in origin. Two notable things about Berber are that we have no information about what it looked like before one variety of Semitic or another sat on it, and that like the MSA languages, the Berber languages are too similar to have been distinct before Roman times.

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    I know nothing about Proto-Berber (invoking Lameen!) but I think Blench is right that it’s pretty close-knit as a family.

    I do think his individual facts are not all that factual in the very few cases where I’m in a privileged position of truly being able to tell, but it doesn’t really matter: the problem is the entire concept. That’s not how you determine genetic subgroups. It can’t be done like that. You need to establish common innovations, of a type which cannot be plausibly attributed to chance or to nigh-universal cross-linguistic diachronic tendencies. (But I’m preaching to the choir here.)

    Actually, invoking Lameen is a great idea. Let’s do it!

    The Eblaite thing is a dead giveaway about his method, incidentally, and illustrates what I was moaning about before: culling words from lists, with no knowledge of their structure. To be fair, you have to start somewhere; the problems begin only when you fail to follow through on the “more research is needed”, only only become fatal when you forget that you never actually did follow through. Sadly, examples abound …

  160. David Eddyshaw says:

    More to the particular point: I don’t think it’s actually the case that people think that MSA and the Ethiopic languages form a node at all nowadays. The evidence for this was basically the common regularisation of the 1st and 2nd person suffixes from k t to k k as opposed to the t t of Central Semitic, which is obviously a 50/50 call if you’re going to level the system at all; along with the preservation of the yVqattVl imperfective and the corresponding absence of yaqtVlu imperfectives: but these are common retentions from Proto-Semitic, as the evidence of East Semitic shows. It just shows that neither the Ethiopic languages nor MSA have participated in the innovations which mark out Central Semitic.

  161. SFReader says:


    Adding to my collection of linguistic euphemisms for “word”. Pretty high up in the list, right next to “lexical unit”.

  162. David Eddyshaw says:

    I would imagine that “lexical unit” is the same as “lexeme”, which unifies all the flexional forms under the same heading, so that “child” and “children” represent the same lexeme, as do “be” and “was” etc. It does therefore serve a genuine disambiguating purpose, as opposed to just saying “word”, though my own feeling is that you’d have to work pretty hard at it to get confused by the ambiguity in Real Life.

  163. John Cowan says:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” —Upton Sinclair (in various political speeches)

    I tried to mostly keep my own opinions out of my description of Blench’s paper, and I do think that MSA-Ethiopic looks like shared retention. I continue to think the ‘coconut’-story is pretty neat, though. Of course, since he doesn’t give the actual proto-lexeme, it might equally be an Algonquian ‘firewater’ story, where what looks reconstructible to the proto-language is the result of repeated episodes of calquing and nativization.

  164. John Cowan says:

    Mixed Languages. Probably not all the languages with chapters here are really mixed languages, but the only way to determine the boundaries of the applicable are to push past it into the inapplicable.

    Chapter list: Michif, various Romani mixtures, Town Frisian (Dutch with a massive West Frisian substrate),Maltese, Mednyj Aleut, Shelta, Javindo (Dutch-based creole spoken in Java), Island Carib (Arawakan, but with a Carib-based register used when speaking to men), Amarna Akkadian, Mbugu/Ma’a (Mbugu is an ordinary Bantu language, Ma’a is the same language but with many Cushitic roots with Bantu morphology), Media Lengua, Kallawaya (a secret language with Quechuan grammar, vocabulary from the extinct isolate Puquina), Ilwana (Bantu with Oromo vocabulary), Petjo (another Dutch-based creole), KiMwani (incomplete shift from Makonde to Swahili).

    No chapters on English as a mixed language (only ~1800 OE roots still surviving, everything else is borrowed) or on Kwarandzyey.

  165. John Cowan says:

    It’s certainly worth taking notice when the actual experts on the individual languages are the people who particularly tend to believe in a genetic connection

    Wellll…. I’d say that most people who work on Penutian (or “Penutian”) languages are skeptics: Americanists are skeptics by default, and m-l started out as a skeptic too. But as far as I know she is the only person to view Penutian through a Tsimshian lens, and that made it easier for her to see the morphology of the other Penutian languages as worn-down forms of Tsimshian morphology. In fact, the further north you go, the more conservative the Penutian languages seem to be.

  166. David Eddyshaw says:

    According to Aaron Rubin (in his grammars of Mehri and Jibbali), Hadramitic, the most divergent of the Old South Arabian languages, shares some significant isoglosses with MSA, while clearly not being their ancestor. If it belongs with MSA as a subgroup, that would undermine Blench’s scenario yet further (though leave the firewater-coconut possibility open, happily.) Apparently there is no evidence that Hadramitic had dropped the yVqattVl imperfective in favour of yVqtVlu (unlike other OSA), and John Huehnergard thinks this relationship is a possibility. But Hadramitic seems to be too poorly attested for anyone to be certain.

    According to Wikipedia, there is a Hadramitic inscription on Delos. I always like these proofs that the world has always been a place for intrepid travellers.

  167. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thinking about ancient loanwords into protolanguages reminded me of the Kusaal word for “cow”, naaf, pl niigi, which goes back to a stem *naag/nag easily recoverable by internal reconstruction in Kusaal itself (the “umlaut” in the plural is regular in that context) and readily confirmed by other Oti-Volta cognates.

    It looks uncannily like the Fulfulde nagge “cow” (stem *nag) and it seems pretty unlikely that this is sheer coincidence. However, Fulfulde is at best only very remotely related to Oti-Volta, and the Fulɓe are the cow experts of West Africa, so a loan from Fulfulde or its own ancestor looks likely. The etymon spreads right across West Africa, pretty much in the same zone as where you actually do find the nomadic cattle Fulɓe, so it All Makes Sense.

    However, the distinctive morphology of Kusaal sg naaf pl niigi is reconstructable not only right the way back to Proto-Western-Oti-Volta but to a period before Western Oti-Volta separated from the ancestors of Buli and Nawdm: it seems impossible to date this less than 2000 years ago at the very latest, and the current range of Fulɓe settlement is known to be the result of migrations over just the past few centuries.

    It’s of course possible that the forms are just plain cognate, but I suspect that what has happened is rather that the Oti-Volta words really are relatively recent loans, which in language after language have just adopted the morphology of the undoubtedly native noun for “snake”, Kusaal waaf pl wiigi. (The fu/i noun class is associated with the meaning “largeish animal, especially the sort that tend to be thought of collectively”, so the ending is not hard to explain. It’s also associated with “small round things, especially seeds.” Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger here.)

  168. David Eddyshaw says:

    Just looked up By Jingo!, of which I had fond memories as having been attributed to naughty Basque Atlantic sailors and picked up by the equally naughty Royal Navy; disappointingly, this seems to be a myth, and it’s a mere minced oath. Down with oath-mincers and their oath-mincing!

  169. David Marjanović says:

    intrepid travellers

    Wasn’t there a big, famous slave market on Delos?

    “small round things, especially seeds.”

    …that also tend to be thought of collectively?

  170. David Eddyshaw says:

    also tend to be thought of collectively?

    That has indeed been suggested as the common thread. The class also includes eyes, however, and speaking for myself, my concept of snakes is not very collective, but like the man said: all grammars leak.

    I think one needs to be a bit careful of being too creative, though: some of the current classes probably represent mergers of classes that were formerly distinct (especially in Western Oti-Volta, which only has a few scattered remnants of some of the original classes, eking out a pitiful existence as mere irregularities within other, more fortunate classes of which they were once the proud peers.)

  171. That’s not how you determine genetic subgroups. It can’t be done like that. You need to establish common innovations, of a type which cannot be plausibly attributed to chance or to nigh-universal cross-linguistic diachronic tendencies.

    As I put it in a Tumblr comment: “Irish is not closely related to Russian despite both having palatalized consonants aplenty; nor Greek to Spanish despite both having a full spirant series /f θ x v ð ɣ/ plus simple /i e a o u/ vowel system.”

  172. SFReader says:

    my concept of snakes is not very collective

    “Ragnar Lodbrok and collectivity of snakes” could be a good title for a paper (or movie)…

  173. David Eddyshaw says:

    On a plane …
    Samuel Jackson was born to play Ragnar Lodbrok.

  174. @David Eddyshaw: That reminds of a discussion of the 2000 Shaft film, shortly before it came out. Somebody who was pretty enthusiastic about seeing it said something to the effect of, “Who besides Samuel L. Jackson could ever play Shaft?” My friend Solar and I turned to look at each other, then both turned back to face the questioner, and said, in perfect unison, “Richard Roundtree!”

  175. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: According to Wikipedia, there is a Hadramitic inscription on Delos.

    Where? That’s neither here nor there.

  176. David Marjanović says:

    my concept of snakes is not very collective

    The time-honoured insult “brood of vipers” comes to mind. 🙂

    (German: Otterngezücht, a properly morphological collective. Also, more prosaically, Schlangenbrut.)

  177. David Eddyshaw says:
  178. David Eddyshaw says:

    In a spirit of ruthless pragmatism and rigorous scientific enquiry, I have just counted in the text of the 2016 Kusaal Bible:

    waaf “snake”: 34 occurrences
    wiigi “snakes”: 16 occurrences

    naaf “cow”: 46 occurrences
    niigi “cows”: 159 occurrences

    Obviously this validates my understanding of snakiness at the highest level. Further enquiry would be superfluous (and quite possibly irreligious.)

  179. David Eddyshaw says:

    Which reminded me of Kiowa number marking:

    In this spirit, in my conlang, I shall express the accusative case by a prefix …. no, I won’t, that would be dull. I shall instead express number by a prefix, which will mark the unexpected number. Plural for snakes, singular for cows and paparazzi, dual for acceptable opinions on Brexit or on which is the expected number for “snake” …

    I shall express the accusative by unpredictable tone changes. Works for Maasai …

  180. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: Here

    Thanks. The language attested on Delos is Mino… sorry, Minaean, which was spoken in a few valleys in northeast Yemen and whose speakers I guess must have been involved in the caravan trade, having left inscriptions also in a couple of northwestern oasis towns and in Egypt.

  181. David Eddyshaw says:

    You mean Wikipedia is wrong? I shall need some time to consider the implications of this.

  182. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m just confused, but the Wikipedia article on Old South Arabian tells of a Minaean imscription on Delos, and so does the article on Minaean. But it may still be wrong. Citation is very much needed, and I’m still trying* to track down the reference for the Delos inscription.

    *) “Still trying” in the sense “not actually trying”. I’m too tired.

  183. Trond Engen says:

    Found it! Now I can go to sleep.

  184. Stu Clayton says:

    “Someone is sleepy on the Internet!” [xkcd variant]

    This is a metaphor for slacking off, instead of being wrong.

  185. David Eddyshaw says:

    All my Google searches on “Delos Hadramitic Inscription” that aren’t obviously irrelevant seem to point back to the Wikipedia article, in fact. Looks like a case of “citation needed” …

    Bummer. Still, even enterprising Minaeans are good enough to be going on with.
    Gbisim sʋŋa, A-Tɔrɔnnɛ.

  186. ktschwarz says:

    “‘word’ is not a technical term in linguistics: it’s a family of technical terms” — Looks like I’ve proved again that the best way to get an answer to a question (what is “word”?) is to post the wrong answer. Thanks, David E, and I’m now totally converted to your view. If I understand correctly, by “Kusaal doesn’t have a word for finger” you are not disagreeing with Ringe’s point, nor saying that he shouldn’t have said “word”, but rather using it as a springboard to talk about Kusaal compounding.

    The question I’m still asking is: How sure are we that PIE must have had a word for finger? I was wondering because WALS: Finger and Hand lists 72 languages as having a single word for both hand and finger, vs. 521 with different words (lexemes). The author, Cecil H. Brown, spells out that the finger lexeme does not have to be a single language-internal-word:

    In San Andrés Tzotzil (Mayan; Chiapas, Mexico), c’obil denotes ‘hand’ and an overtly marked construction based on the latter term, bic’tal c’obil, refers to ‘finger’. Tzotzil is considered a differentiating language since the base word, c’obil, and the overtly marked construction, bic’tal c’obil (literally, ‘little hand’), are different terms (although obviously nomenclaturally related). Similar examples of type 2 languages are Yapese (Austronesian; Micronesia), with paaq ‘hand’ and bugul ii paaq ‘finger’ (literally, ‘tip of hand’), and Choctaw (Muskogean; Mississippi), with ibbak ‘hand’ and ibbak ushi ‘finger’ (literally, ‘son of hand’) …

    However, on a closer look at the 72 languages, quite a few of them actually do have finger terms listed in online sources. The Hawaiian dictionary he cites glosses lima as ‘arm; hand; sleeve; finger’ and ‘five’, but also has manamana lima ‘finger’, literally ‘branch of lima‘. Presumably Tzotzil was classed as differentiating and Hawaiian wasn’t because c’obil *doesn’t* have finger in its dictionary gloss and lima does, i.e. the categories are really Obligatory vs. Optional Finger-Hand Distinction. But that strikes me as too subtle a question to be answered with a single bilingual dictionary — other Hawaiian dictionaries *don’t* include ‘finger’ for lima. I think you’d have to at least dip your finger in green dye and ask a group of speakers “What part of me is green?” and see if they all give the same answer, or start arguing about it — and then the result is going to be gradient, not binary.

    So now I’m neither convinced that (as Ringe claims) every human community has lexicalized fingers, nor that (as Brown claims) some of them don’t, since they may just be insufficiently investigated. Is that fair?

  187. David Eddyshaw says:

    Delicately put, kt: I perhaps succumbed to the politician’s vice of addressing, not the question you asked, but the question I wished you had asked.

    It certainly seems to be the case that lots of languages have terms for “finger” which are transparently analysable within the language itself rather than opaque/monomorphemic. Entirely possible PIE was the same, I agree.

  188. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wonder if this might be analogous to colour terms.

    In a three-colour language (like Kusaal, and many others) any colour at all can be correctly allocated to one of just three terms (the core meanings of those terms being “black”, “white” and “red”, though putting it like that already misleads, as colour terms mean as part of a system, in how they contrast with each other.)

    What this does not mean is that there are only three conventionalised terms for colour. “Grey”, for example, is “like ash” not only in Kusaal but pretty much everywhere in the zone, to the extent that it would certainly be reasonable to list this under the dictionary entry for “ash.”
    So if you want to describe something as grey, you can use a specific term; but you don’t have to.

    The more specific terms are typically (as here) analysable in-language (or sometimes loanwords); but nonetheless lexicalised.

    So, just as in English it’s an outright error to call healthy leaves “black”, but OK in Kusaal, so perhaps in Hawaiian it’s perfectly cromulent to say “I dialled the telephone number with my arm.” (But if the doctor asks you “Where’s the pain, exactly?”, you can nevertheless tell her “In my finger.”)

  189. David Eddyshaw says:

    You’re surely right, too, that conventionalisation is not all-or-nothing, but a continuum. I can’t think offhand of a different way in English to say “back of the hand” (apart from medicalese terms like “dorsum of the hand”), but the term still seems to have a rather ad hoc feel to it. It doesn’t seem comparable to “hand-child” = “finger.” Though it’s almost as metaphorical, when you think about it.

  190. SFReader says:

    Russian word for “finger, toe” is also a diminutive.

    “little stick”, I believe.

  191. back of the hand

    Cf tanagokoro . Is it one word or several? Or voimassaoloaika, for that matter?

  192. David Eddyshaw says:

    My dictionaries say 掌 means “palm.”

    Tanagokoro is pretty transparently “heart of the hand”, but both the form of “hand” and the not-completely-transparent meaning show that it’s conventionalised, so it merits its dictionary status. Whether you call it a “word” or not would be dependent on what you happened to be using the word “word” for at the time, I suppose. The orthography of Japanese is of course probably the most tangential to the whole question of “wordhood” that has ever been devised.

    Finnish I know from nothing. I would unhesitatingly declare that wordhood in Finnish is a matter for Finns.

    I wonder if any language does have an unanalysable word for “back of the hand”? (Nothing is impossible. French has one for “one-eyed-man” …)

  193. Well, voimassaoloaika is made up of voima-ssa ‘strength, power, force + in’ + olo ‘being’ + aika ‘time, period’, thus, ‘the period of being in force’, aka validity.

  194. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m not at all maintaining that there’s no such thing as a compound word: my disquisition above is only intended to show that a “compound” in Kusaal is best regarded as a particular sort of multi-word NP; in fact, that is a consequence of some cross-linguistically very unusual features of Oti-Volta (so unusual, in fact, that wise Chomskyans have proved by logic that they can never actually occur.)

    It certainly is the case that criteria for compound-hood are dependent on the language you’re talking about; moreover, if you have several criteria, you’re liable to find that they don’t all neatly align: and even when they do, there will be peculiar edge cases and arbitrary exceptions.

    It by no means follows that the entire notion of “compound word” is therefore vitiated, and that its very name should not sully the lips of right-thinking linguists. Exactly the same is true of the concept “subordinate clause”, for example, which continues to be permitted its life in the sun.

  195. Stu Clayton says:

    I am rather fond of insubordinate clauses. I slip them occasionally into otherwise respectful address, and before the interlocutor has time to click I’ve resumed bowing and scraping.

  196. David Eddyshaw says:
  197. David Eddyshaw says:

    Well, somebody has to say it:

  198. Stu Clayton says:

    “Insubordinated”, actually.

    # I will apply the term ‘insubordination’ to the conventionalized main clause use of what, on prima facie grounds, appear to be formally subordinate clauses. #

    Sounds less exciting than I expected …

    # In my definition above I used the hedge ‘on prima facie evidence’ to my criterion ‘appears to be a formally subordinate clause’. The need for this hedge generally arises because of the following paradox. Insubordinated clauses usually look like subordinate clauses, because of the presence in them of prototypically subordinate characteristics, such as infinitive, participial or subjunctive inflections on their verbs, subordinate word order, complementizers, and so on. But to the extent that, over time, they get reanalysed as standard constructions, those features will no longer be restricted to subordinate clauses, so that the term ‘subordinate’ means, at best, ‘having diachronic origins as a subordinate clause’. #

    This means: “Something is what it is when its diachronic origins are as it was”, right ?

    Finally an opportunity to protest against that word “reanalysed” ! In many of the examples people here have given over the years of something having been “reanalysed”, it has seemed to me that the opposite is equally plausible. A lack of analysis on the part of the speakers – in the sense of “not thinking closely about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it” – would also explain those shifts in meaning/function. The commenters on the phenomenon analyze the changes as “reanalysis” – on their own part. At any rate, they cannot prove that any mental changes took place in the speakers, because these are all dead.

    # The most detailed discussions of the phenomenon (though under different names) are in the literature on German, perhaps because the existence of special subordinate word order makes such constructions particularly obvious there (see e.g. Buscha 1974; Weuster 1983; Schwabe 1994; Reis 1995; 2002; 2003; Schlobinski n.d., and references therein). #

    That much I can see, from the examples that follow. But where is the cheek ?

    The way the examples are given supports my claim that there is no “reanalysis” being done by the speakers. The examples show parts of sentences being left out – by surrounding those parts with square brackets. That reflects what’s happening, on my simplified view of things – ellipsis with the expectation that hearers can fill in the repetitive bits. Nobody’s analyzing anything when they speak like that. I speak like that occasionally. It’s thoughtless, lazy and efficiency-minded.

  199. David Eddyshaw says:

    The paper actually is a bit disappointing: I think Evans has tried too hard to make it all Eurocentric and all.
    He originally came up with the idea as part of his analysis of the wonderful Kayardild language of Australia, in which verbs are inflected for case and nouns are inflected for verbal categories, and all the dependent words in subordinate clauses take case endings determined by the main clause verb, on top of their existing case endings; case endings can end up stacked four deep.

    He uses the concept of insubordination as a diachronic thing, to explain how the language got that way from a presumed starting point much more normal for a typical Australian language.

    I came across the idea in trying to understand narrative in Kusaal, which by any sane criterion consists of long chains of coordinated clauses, but in which the individual clauses have a lot of features normally only found in subordinate clauses. This is actually pretty common in Africa: Hausa and Fulfulde, for example, both use as their normal carrying-on-the-narrative tense a form which is otherwise characteristic of relative clauses.

    I eventually settled for just describing the facts and excised all my witterings about cross-linguistic parallels and the like as not really being terribly contributory; but the whole insubordination thing actually has much more convincing instantiations in non-SAE languages.

    It’s probably a pity Evans came up with the cutesy name “insubordination” instead of something like “desubordination”; but then he is Australian.

  200. Stu Clayton says:


  201. David Eddyshaw says:

    Too pithy. How could we maintain our reputation for arcane wisdom with talk like that?

    Anakinesis, now. That might do. And we might get a Star Wars tie-in, too.

  202. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Actually, the obvious choice would be upranking, especially as the opposite process is in fact already called “downranking” in Hallidayan grammar. Another Australian …)

  203. David Marjanović says:

    Insubordination and the establishment of genealogical relationship across Eurasia

    In this chapter, I investigate how our understanding of insubordination can add to the establishment of genealogical relationship between languages. The particular case that I deal with here is the longstanding affiliation question of the Transeurasian languages. The term “Transeurasian” refers to a large group of geographically adjacent languages, traditionally known as “Altaic”, that include up to five different linguistic families: Japonic, Koreanic, Tungusic, Mongolic, and Turkic. Comparing the diachronic developments taking place on two sets of deverbal noun suffixes across these languages, I ultimately derive these suffixes from a neutral deverbal noun suffix proto-Transeurasian *-rA and a resultative deverbal noun suffix proto-Transeurasian *-xA. The comparative evidence indicates that these markers originated as deverbal noun suffixes, marking a derivational process at the lexical level, were then extended to function as (ad)nominalizers in dependent clauses at the syntactic level, and were eventually – through a pragmatic role in discourse – extended still further to mark finite forms in independent clauses. I argue that the sharing of these historical developments on formally corresponding affixes supports the genealogical affinity of the Transeurasian languages.

    That’s a chapter in an edited book which is titled “Dynamics of Insubordination”.

  204. Actually, the obvious choice would be upranking

    I think we should honor the monosyllabic nineteenth-century forefathers by putting it in German. Aufrangierung?

  205. David Eddyshaw says:

    Yes! Perfect!

  206. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thanks, DM.

    I was particularly interested in the bit about Chumash relative clauses having undergone Aufrangierung and blossomed into main clauses, and the cited opinion of Marianne Mithun, which the author paraphrases

    This relative clause with al- has been extended one step further, to mark full, syntactically independent sentences which add supplementary information in discourse such as background, setting, commentary, general principles, asides, explanation, evaluation

    which seems neat. Jaggar’s (extremely good) Hausa grammar follows what seems to be the general trend among Hausaists of looking for some sort of common aspectual meaning to explain why the same verb forms appear in relative clauses and in narrative, which has always struck me as wrong-headed.

    However, it doesn’t work as is for Hausa and Fulfulde narrative clauses, which are those which carry on the storyline, and specifically not “background, setting, commentary, general principles, asides, explanation, evaluation.”

    There are also quite a few languages out there like Kusaal in which narrative clauses are like subordinate clauses but not like relative clauses (another one is the Nilo-Saharan language Anywa, of which there is a brilliant if somewhat intimidating grammar by Mechthild Reh. Anywa is quite closely related to Dinka: what did you expect? Simplicity?)

    So it’s only one possible mechanism, but the idea is interesting.

  207. David Marjanović says:


    Alas, rangieren is not derived from German(ized) Rang “rank”, but directly from French ranger “to tidy up, to put in order”, so the root keeps its French pronunciation (or as close as people can get). The word is glossed in the English Wiktionary as “(railroad operations) to shunt”; that is almost its only usage.

  208. So give us a good Teutonic alternative!

  209. We want something Bopp and Rask could be proud of.

  210. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Shunt” seems quite a good metaphor for the process. We could just pretend that that was what was intended all along. Upshunting. (In its technical linguistic sense,)

  211. David Eddyshaw says:


  212. Since I first heard this song, shunt has been an intrinsically funny word to me. (More in the same vein can be found here.)

  213. John Cowan says:

    Or, thanks to s-mobile, hypersnivellation.

  214. Stu Clayton says:

    This is essentially about precedence, or syntactic leading and following, right ? Which comes first, the cart or the horse? I propose hippothesis and karothesis.

  215. PlasticPaddy says:

    If you want German words, try Beförderung and Behinderung☺

  216. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Are there grammars of any of the languages that exhibit this, written in the languages themselves? Would be cool to use the term they use themselves.

    Cf stød.

  217. SFReader says:

    Searched Russian literature and found

    The author draws attention to the complete functional transformation of subordinate clauses — an important syntactic regularity of the modern Russian language. We are talking about the ability of subordinate clauses to lose their inherent syntactic role, i.e., the ability to be used in the position of insubordinate (pseudo-subordinate) clauses.

    He gives an example.

    Ya poidu togda, kogda zahochu (I will go when I’ll want to).

    can be transformed into

    Ya poidu. Kogda zahochu. (I will go. When I’ll want to).

    by omitting “togda” (“then”) and starting subordinate clause as a full sentence.

    Pseudo-subordinate clause is mnimopridatochnoe predlozhenie (it’s very unlikely to be borrowed in English language literature for obvious reasons).

    Besides, it’s found only in one article, so not a term yet even in Russian.

  218. David Marjanović says:


    “Transportation” and “promotion in a hierarchy”! Perfect.

  219. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @SFR, isn’t that more like the sort of thing that happens all the time in conversations? As I see it, the ‘ungrammatical’ independent clauses are used to imply the parts of an utterance that are just not very interesting.

    [I will do it] when I want.
    I could [if I wanted].

    The original topic was languages where you tell a story in a row of sentences in a mood vel sim that is normally restricted to subordinate clauses. “So that he could sleep that night. So that he could wake up and catch fish. So that he could continue his search.” (Fake optative here).

  220. David Eddyshaw says:

    Yes; Kusaal has both.

    For example

    M bɔ̂ɔd yê ò záb nà’ab lā. “I want him to fight the chief.”

    can be reduced to

    Ò záb nà’ab lā. “He should fight the chief.”

    This differs from

    Ò zàb nâ’ab lā. “He’s fought the chief.”

    in tone, because main clauses have a tone overlay on the verb: the absence of the overlay is by itself enough to force the interpretation of the clause as subordinate.

    However, you also say

    Kà ò záb nà’ab lā. “And he fought the chief.”

    where there is no ghostly ellipted main clause hovering about at all.

    The usual explanation of how Japanese has lost the distinction between attributive and predicative verb/adjective forms is that the attributive form has been generalised from cases where e.g. “the fact that A saw B” has been used for “A saw B”, with subsequent ellipsis of the modified noun; as Japanese does in fact do that sort of thing all the time, it seems pretty plausible.

    The issue is partly (not entirely) that ellipsis is not all the same. It varies in how far it has become conventionalised. For example, in Kusaal as in English informal conversation you would probably omit the subject pronoun in

    Nae yaa? “Finished?”

    But neither language is “pro-drop” (ugh), and if you asked an informant to repeat them they would probably put the pronouns in, and might very well say that the utterances they had just used were ungrammatical.

    At the other end of the scale are cases where only grammar nerds know that ellipsis was ever involved in the first place, like “please!” or the modern Japanese use of attributive for predicative forms.

    There is quite a spectrum in between.

  221. David Eddyshaw says:

    Korean panmal is a cool example, now I think of it.

    It began life as a sort of hedging way of avoiding committing yourself to a particular politeness level by just trailing off with a clausal conjunctive ending (Korean does the Japanese thing of inflecting verbs for politeness, but more so.) It seems to have essentially turned into yet another politeness level for the hapless foreign student to learn about, rather in the same way that attempts to create uniform standards invariably merely lead to the creation of yet another standard.

  222. Lars Mathiesen says:

    And that’s why IBM is always standards compliant: They have a big library of standards so they can find one that fits their product.

  223. John Cowan says:

    A similar process accounts for how demonstrative ‘that’ and cognates came to introduce subordinate clauses, per CaGEL (as distinct from CoGEL).

  224. Bathrobe says:

    Martine Robbeets also tackles the issue of Basic vocabulary in the Transeurasian languages, addressing “one of the major objections raised against the genealogical relationship of the Transeurasian languages, notably the paucity of basic vocabulary in both quantity and quality.” Can be found on Academia.

  225. David Marjanović says:

    Specifically, here.

    I’ve only begun to read it. It seems courageous! Best sentence so far: “About a century after Nicolaes Witsen (1692) and Phillip von Strahlenberg (1730) mooted the contours of the Transeurasian language family, the idea became criticized by the French sinologist and medical doctor Abel-Rémusat (1820), who was the first to explicitely use the lack of basic vocabulary as a counter-argument.”

  226. David Eddyshaw says:

    It seems courageous

    Reminds me of an old trainer of mine, who used “sporting” to mean “strikingly irresponsible.”

  227. John Cowan says:

    Befurthering and behindering, is it? The words practically invent themselves. The Anglish Wordbook does not list the former, but gives the latter in the sense ‘disable; disability’.

  228. David Marjanović says:



    The most alarming of them has two carbons, fourteen nitrogens, and no hydrogens at all, a formula that even Klapötke himself, who clearly has refined sensibilities when it comes to hellishly unstable chemicals, calls “exciting”. Trust me, you don’t want to be around when someone who works with azidotetrazoles comes across something “exciting”.

  229. Klapötke is an odd name.

  230. David Marjanović says:

    It is.

    The first page of Google results for klapot begins with a Czech noun for the kind of noise it sounds like, and ends with a Danilo Klapot who was born in Grodno around 1880 and emigrated to the US.

    Umlaut used to be quite ruthless, so if we can manufacture a *Klapotki, the problem is solved…

  231. David Eddyshaw says:


    When push comes to shove
    You gotta do what you love
    Even if it’s not a good idea!

  232. David Marjanović says:

    It seems courageous!

    I’ve read it now, and not only is it good, it is very cautious in omitting a lot of probably regular but somewhat more complex correspondences.

  233. ktschwarz says:

    David E on May 13: It was no vice! I believe Mr. Hat gives you license to connect anything to Kusaal.

    “In a three-colour language (like Kusaal, and many others) any colour at all can be correctly allocated to one of just three terms … you can use a specific term; but you don’t have to.” — That’s it, *now* I get it, that’s what WALS means by “a single word denotes both hand and fingers”. And Brown was inspired by color terms; his 1976 paper basically said he’s doing Berlin and Kay for body parts.

    “perhaps in Hawaiian it’s perfectly cromulent to say ‘I dialled the telephone number with my arm’ ” — That’s the kind of test that should be done. I’ve been looking through online sources for Brown’s hand=finger languages (lots are available, all praise to the internet!) and most of them are just bare dictionary glosses without that kind of supporting evidence. The best one is this beautiful illustrated dictionary of Seri, a language isolate on the coast of Mexico. The word inol is glossed as finger, hand, and arm, as well as appendages of squid, octopus, starfish, crabs, lobster, sea turtles, and cactus. There are transparent compounds with it for not only the thumb and each finger and the palm, but also the biceps and humerus. The same word inol is translated with different English words in different sentences:

    “Did it hurt when they put stitches in your cut finger?”
    “The old woman’s arm hurt.”
    “I fell on my arm, and my hand bent back.” (yes, inol used twice)

    I think those sentences must have been witnessed by somebody bilingual, otherwise they couldn’t have translated them, since the information isn’t encoded in the Seri sentence. But speakers *can* distinguish fingers if they want to: there are names for individual fingers, and inol has three different plurals that are specialized towards ‘fingers’, ‘hands’, and ‘arms’. The form inláz is not only glossed as ‘fingers’ but explained as what a horse doesn’t have, and rakes and forks do have.

  234. David Eddyshaw says:

    Your instinct is surely right. The introduction to Stephen Marlett’s (very good) Seri grammar mentions Mary Moser, who is his mother-in-law. The Mosers spent virtually their whole adult lives among the Seri, and their daughter Cathy grew up speaking the language.

    (Ah. I’ve just noticed it says that in the introduction to the dictionary too. So you knew that.)

  235. David Marjanović says:

    “I fell on my arm, and my hand bent back.” (yes, inol used twice)

    That’s more or less feasible in my dialect (where Arm doesn’t exist and is variously replaced by Hand or by more specific terms – “elbow”, “shoulder”).

  236. Same with Russian and рука.

  237. David Eddyshaw says:

    And with Kusaal nu’ug, but at this point that probably goes without saying.

  238. ktschwarz says:

    Hand-arm words are way more common than finger-hand. Brown suggests that people in cold climates are more likely to distinguish hands from arms because they wear long sleeves and gloves, but of course he has to acknowledge Slavic and Baltic languages as a huge exception!

    “Cover your cough with your arm, not your hand” should have been translated into every language in the world by now. How do you say it in Russian, Kusaal, Hausa? With a more-specific word such as elbow or forearm?

  239. I found a site that says “прикрывать при чихании рот и нос сгибом локтя,” which is good advice (‘with the bend of your elbow’).

  240. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Kusaal, “arm” as opposed to “hand” is kpʋkpauŋ (which also means “wing”, because, why not?) “Palm” is tatal or tasintal; I think the way you’d actually say this would be

    Fʋ ya’a kɔns, fʋn da ligini fʋ nɔɔr nɛ fʋ tasintallɛ; liginim nɛ fʋ kpʋkpauŋ ma’aa.
    “When you cough, don’t cover your mouth with your palm; cover [it] with your arm (only.)”

  241. Trond Engen says:

    That reminds me. The city council of my hometown put together this diverse collection of corona advice when the lockdown started. Some of them seem very different in both message and spirit, but what do I know?

    (The Kirundi one is my favorite.)

    Surely much larger cities did the same thing. I’d love to see one for New York.

  242. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Kirundi one is my favorite.

    I see what you mean. The guy has a gift. They should have got him to do all of them.

  243. John Cowan says:

    In somewhat the same spirit, here is Dr. Google’s collection of NYC coronavirus signs. One of those led me in turn to this curated collection. I should mention that the final picture on the latter page is set at a subway stop in NYC’s Chinatown, or rather the oldest of its eight Chinatowns.

  244. Re: the final picture of the curated collection. Even so, PRC flag, really? It is somewhat traditional to use flags of ethnocentric states as a reference to the ethnicity itself, but PRC has a communist flag and as Lazar Kaganovich reportedly said “I am not a Jew, I am a communist”. Another fine thing, “No ignorance, racism, or xenophobia allowed at this station at any time.” OK, I get the gist. But while racists and xenophobes may either skip the station or at least do not show their fine qualities while there, how ignoramuses are supposed to behave? The first sign of truly ignorant person is not knowing about their ignorance.

  245. Yes, the sentiment is admirable, but the execution is ham-handed. A sign of the times.

  246. Stu Clayton says:

    the sentiment is admirable, but the execution is ham-handed

    “The statements was interesting, but tough.”

  247. David Eddyshaw says:

    Could this be a US instance of the familiar UK-bucolic use of “ignorance” to mean “rudeness”? Or is that unknown there?

  248. David Marjanović says:

    “Cover your cough with your arm, not your hand” should have been translated into every language in the world by now. How do you say it in

    Standard German, which distinguishes Arm and Hand perfectly well?

    Literally “cough into the elbow”.

    “No ignorance, racism, or xenophobia allowed at this station at any time.”

    …oh… kaaaay…

    Does “ignorance” mean “rudeness” here?

  249. >”one of a set of five”

    So is the pinkie the fifth finger?

  250. Doesn’t surprize me, politics as morally obligatory and the associated need to pretend that every societal issue is extremely simple and could only be not understood by willful ignorance is a well-established position of Smug Yankee Liberalism by now. (We have always considered the ways of Eastasia to be bigoted.)

  251. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Anglos with four fingers have always been a mystery to me. Especially if the derivation from *penkʷ- holds up.

  252. John Cowan says:

    If I’ve had to learn to live with the UK flag as a symbol of the English language[*] on benighted websites, I think a metaphorical extension of the PRC flag to the Han is excusable. I doubt if anyone, however benighted, is attacking Uyghurs in the U.S. for originating or spreading the virus. (Indeed, we are told that the worst threat to Uyghur-Americans is the PRC government itself, a claim only too plausible given what is happening in Xinjiang.)

    [*] Obviously the best symbol of English is English, as the best symbol of the German language is Deutsch.

    The matter of ignorance is more subtle, and the dictionaries not much help. However, the use of ignorant for ‘stupid’ is old and widespread, and its meaning ‘ill-mannered’ also old but not as widespread (in the U.S. mostly used by Southerners and African Americans). I believe that this entire complex of meanings, along with the idea of willful ignorance, is being carried along here.

  253. David Marjanović says:

    So is the pinkie the fifth finger?

    Any time you number them, yes.

    There is a bit of a debate going on in German about whether the thumb counts as a finger.

  254. AJP Crown says:

    If I’ve had to learn to live with the UK flag as a symbol of the English language[*]
    [*] Obviously the best symbol of English is English, as the best symbol of the German language is Deutsch.

    A good suggestion. The red & white St George’s flag is currently associated only with far-right groups, football and the Church of England. Nowadays one dreads seeing it. But it’s MUCH easier to draw than the UK flag is so, where appropriate, bring it back! (On the other hand it’s not very inclusive.)

  255. AJP Crown says:

    There is a bit of a debate going on in German about whether the thumb counts as a finger.

    Not just in German. The answer is “Not always”. No shades of grey, some people.

  256. If they’re giving prizes for the fattest finger, my thumb is a finger. If they’re chopping off fingers, it isn’t.

  257. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Danish has disambiguated the thumb by extending tommel to tommelfinger (matching pegefinger, langfinger, ringfinger, lillefinger). You can still tomle, I think, but hitchhiking isn’t very popular these days. I don’t know if Swedes think of tumman as a bona-fide finger, though.

  258. When my daughter was two, she took a tumble down the last two steps of our staircase and hit her head. She was crying and holding her head. To diagnose the seriousness of her head injury, I held gave her two thumbs up and asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

    “Those are thumbs!” Lillian said, and we concluded that she was going to be all right.

  259. John Cowan says:

    In this respect I think like a pianist and number my fingers from 1 = thumb to 5. I also count on my fingers this way. I’ve always wanted to learn to count in (binary reflected) Gray code, which allows you to count up to 1024 on your fingers without ever moving more than one finger at a time, but I’ve had no success with it.

    I was taught that British piano scores were sometimes notated X 1 2 3 4, along with all that hemidemisemiquaver terminology for note durations, but I never saw or heard either in in live use, thank the gods of standardization.

  260. In piano music, the thumb is 1 (out of 5), but for fingering viols, number 1 (out of four) is the index finger. In highly shifted positions, bass viol players and some cellists do use their thumb to stop the string. This is called, uncreatively, “thumb position,” although that does not actually specify where the thumb should be placed the way conventional positions do—e.g. third position tells a player to place their first finger in the place that would (most normally) be occupied by their third. When the sheet music indicates the use of “thumb” position to stop a note, it is normally just labeled “thumb” (or an abbreviation thereof) rather than with a numeral; there is probably an old-fashioned Italian word for the same thing, but I do not know what it is.

  261. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve always wanted to learn to count in (binary reflected) Gray code, which allows you to count up to 1024 on your fingers without ever moving more than one finger at a time, but I’ve had no success with it.

    Easy; though it’s also easy to get confused depending on how independently mobile your fingers are.

    Thumb alone up = 1
    Index finger up, thumb down = 10
    Index finger up, thumb up = 11
    Middle finger up, index finger down, thumb down = 100
    Middle finger up, index finger down, thumb up = 101

    …and so you’re already at 5, and one hand gets you to 31 while two should get you to 1023.

  262. Stu Clayton says:

    without ever moving more than one finger at a time,

    That’s the catch, David. The transition between your 1 and 2 configurations already requires two sons to be moved at once.

  263. John Cowan says:

    Yes, that’s counting in binary. Gray code at MathWorld.

  264. Let me phrase my question better. Is pinkie etymologically the fifth? Is it cognate?

  265. I guess there’s nothing closer than Old Prussian that had penk/pink for five in any timeline even close to realistic, so that’s out.

  266. PlasticPaddy says:
    “pinkie is a loan from Dutch, originally a provincialism, now part of the standard language. In Dutch it is, in all probability, an expressive word, like many others of a similar phonetic shape in Germanic and Romance.”

  267. Trond Engen says:

    Etymonline and Wiktionary agree that the word is a borrowing of Dutch pinkje, a transparent diminutive of pink “finger”. Wiktionary on Dutch pink also lists the senses “young calf” and “small fishing boat”, all of unknown origin. If these are the same word, I can see all senses derive from “calf”, but not from “finger” or “boat”.

    The first place to look for a p-word in West Germanic is Latin. Leafing through my Latin dictionary, I find pinguis “fat, greasy” and propinquus “close, near; related”. Both can be forced into a semantic development to “calf”, but neither of them is obvious; If otherwise, the lexicographers of Dutch would have made the connection long ago.

    If they are different etymons, pink “finger” looks like it could be formed from finger by some irregular process, maybe simply as a baby word. But that leaves “calf” and “small boat” unexplained.

    Or it could be one of those p-words that make people posit a Non-Germanic and not-quite-Celtic IE substrate in the Low Countries.

  268. David Marjanović says:

    Gray code at MathWorld.

    Oh. I didn’t know that, and can only stare at it blankly.

    Or it could be one of those p-words that make people posit a Non-Germanic and not-quite-Celtic IE substrate in the Low Countries.

    Interesting. What are the other ones?

  269. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know, but if I didn’t completely misremember, retained but ungrimmed *p is one of the defining characterestics of the Nordwestblock / Belgian.

  270. Trond Engen says:

    Which I of course could have supported by cursory googling. Wikipedia on Nordwestblock and Belgian.

  271. PlasticPaddy says:

    The suggested germanic substrate words in Dutch are more with initial b, e.g., corresponding to German
    Or English pig (Dutch big).

  272. There’s a Scottish etymological dictionary from 1807 that has pinkie, and also derives it from Dutch. Technically, he relates it to “Belg.” which is defined as Belgic elsewhere in the dictionary, but I’m assuming this was a quirky way Scots referred to the low countries back then, or an assertion that pinkje was dialectic in the Dutch speaking areas of Belgium. Much too early to have any relationship to theories of an independent ancient Belgic language or family.

    The connection to Dutch seems dubious to me without any evidence other than the existence of the word with the same meaning in both places. The story is just all over the place. Pink means squinty or narrow, and initially the word came as part of the phrase pink eye, “from Old Dutch pinck ooghen,” which meant a narrowing of the eyes. But magically, the sense of little finger followed later? I don’t know how a word of that type hops the North Sea, bypassing England. Reformed nursemaids teaching Protestant babies their finger words? I think it’s plausible to think it a survival of some sort in Scotland.

  273. David Marjanović says:

    The European “bean” words – Fake PIE **bʰaw-n- in Germanic, Fake PIE **bʰabʰ- in Italic and Slavic – are currently thought to belong to the agricultural non-IE substrate.

    pink eye, “from Old Dutch pinck ooghen,” which meant a narrowing of the eyes.

    Ah, related to pinch?

  274. Bathrobe says:

    Even so, PRC flag, really?

    Politically speaking, yes. Since most of the world adheres to the One-China policy, and the People’s Republic is mostly recognised as the legitimate government of that country, the PRC has an excellent case for asserting that its flag should stand for “China” in such contexts. Using the flag of the ROC would be tantamount to refusing to recognise the PRC’s claim to be the sole legitimate government of China.

    China always has impeccable logic in asserting its claims. The fact that the result is often a distortion of the truth is neither here nor there.

  275. Which is nicely summarized in the Dombrovsky novel I’m reading; the narrator is responding to a strictly Party-line superior who’s been telling him to do something he doesn’t agree with and says “So you think I’m a fool?”:

    – Нет, – ответил я искренне, – вы умный человек и говорите умно. Вот я даже не сразу соображу, что же вам ответить, хотя вы и не правы.

    “No,” I answered sincerely, “you’re an intelligent man and you talk intelligently. And at the moment I can’t even figure out how to answer you, even though you’re wrong.”

  276. AJP Crown says:

    China always has impeccable logic in asserting its claims. The fact that the result is often a distortion of the truth is neither here nor there.

    Really? I prefer:

    Often China’s claims result in a distortion of the truth. The fact that there is impeccable logic behind it is neither here nor there.

  277. David Eddyshaw says:

    The logic is unassailable:

    You don’t want to get hurt.
    Unless you accept my claims, you will get hurt.

    Therefore: You will accept my claims.

    It’s a syllogism in the mood of Barbara (not the scholastics’ one, but the patron saint of artillery.)

  278. Really? I prefer:

    Often China’s claims result in a distortion of the truth. The fact that there is impeccable logic behind it is neither here nor there.

    Really? The two statements are in practice identical. (I trust you’re not trying to paint Bathrobe, of all people, as a shill for the PRC.)

  279. My disbelief about using the PRC flag as a stand in for “Chinese” (scare quotes because I deliberately don’t want to go into saying Chinese what. I suspect that the designers of the poster didn’t know either) is not about the state itself. After all, PRC does encompass the majority of Chinese whatever it is neither poster designers nor I can articulate. My main problem is the use of the flag that deliberately doesn’t have any resemblance of national or ethnic or linguistic characteristics. It is a purely ideological flag.

    I think that the best way is to follow John Cowan’s advise and draw 中文, two symbols readily understood to be Chinese, simple enough to draw and comprehend and only very lightly ideological. Heck, I would even go with the single 中, it is simplistic and incomplete, but it dovetails nicely with a blur about what it is Chinese something the poster is talking about.

  280. AJP Crown says:

    SORRY, Bathrobe! I just saw the statement without getting that ‘is neither here nor there’ was sarcasm. They aren’t identical though: different things are ‘neither here nor there’. I wouldn’t try and paint Bathrobe, he’s very fine the way he is.

    There used to be a BBC radio quiz, Round Britain Quiz, I think it was, that had questions that had to be unwrapped like a cryptic crossword and so esoteric in their range that they could only be explained by a Fellow of All Souls, which luckily the quizmaster, Anthony something, was. I know nothing about the Barbara syllogism, hadn’t even heard of it, so my possible 10 points go to Mr Google. Is the artillery ref. to Barbara Undershaft, perchance? Otherwise, I’m stumped.

  281. @D.O.: Yes, “purely ideological flag” expresses what I think is wrong with using that image on that sign.

  282. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is the artillery ref. to Barbara Undershaft

    Nothing so complex.

    It’s only after you asked this question that I realised that Barbara Undershaft’s name must have been chosen by Shaw for this very reason.

  283. David Eddyshaw says:

    Chesterton wrote a very Chestertonian poem about the saint:

    I must confess this is actually the reason I knew that she was the patron saint of explosives. I’m not very clued up on such things in general.

  284. “Our guns were set towards the foe; we had no word for firing.”

    What does “we had no word for firing” mean?

  285. “We had guns, but our language was so impoverished we didn’t know how to use them”??

  286. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The order to fire did not come?

  287. David Eddyshaw says:


  288. Ah, of course.

  289. I kind of like my interpretation, though. “The Silent Guns, or How a Limited Vocabulary Can Cause Your Ruin.”

  290. Trond Engen says:

    Their language is so impoverished they have no word for, eh, for doing what you do with that thing over there.

  291. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s a bit like the old canard about the Mexicans not being able to see Cortés’ ships at all because they were just too alien.

    I have occasionally idly speculated that the reason there aren’t that many highly polysynthetic languages left is that by the time the watchman had constructed the word for “look out! our enemies are upon us!” and everybody else had parsed it, it was too late.

  292. John Cowan says:
  293. Bathrobe says:

    by the time the watchman had constructed the word for “look out! our enemies are upon us!” and everybody else had parsed it, it was too late

    That is, of course, when you leave your linguist’s hat off.

  294. Bathrobe says:

    My main problem is the use of the flag that deliberately doesn’t have any resemblance of national or ethnic or linguistic characteristics. It is a purely ideological flag.

    I’m afraid that objection doesn’t work. You see, the party is the state. “Being a patriotic Chinese” means “supporting the party” in Chinese Newspeak.

    That’s maybe why some “patriotic” Mainland Chinese put out false news (and falsified documents) about Taiwan at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak. They really thought they were being patriotic, or something. And as far as I know, the government of the PRC has not told them to pull their heads in.

    As for painting Bathrobe, the next time I go to China, I’ll have to try to find a red silk bathrobe with the five stars on it. That would be really fun to wear (especially in Taiwan) 🙂

  295. John Cowan says:

    Is the U.S. flag an ideological flag too?

  296. AJP Crown says:

    Oh, good. Flags!

    Is the U.S. flag an ideological flag too?

    Fifty stars, one for every state, and a stripe for each of thirteen original colonies. Red & blue, easy and cheap bright colours to dye on a white piece of cloth in the 18C. No crosses or other religious symbols. A sense of a national mission, e pluribus unum, without any use of political symbols or any wording (adding a motto is like beating people over the head with a crutch). Its abstraction leaves room for personal interpretation so that it’s relatively all things to all people. I’d give it full marx. Same for France’s and the UK’s: unaggressive patriotic ideology about unity and nothing too political.

    Compare that to the recent (and conspicuously unsuccessful, imo) New Zealand flag competition where the winning entry was a black & white image of a fern found only in NZ. It has none of the qualities of the American flag, and I expect that was intentional, but it was throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I’ve always liked the Swiss flag, for some reason, but not the Red Cross’s which is just its inverse.

  297. Bathrobe says:

    If Canada can have a maple leaf, why can’t New Zealand have a fern? (Yeah, the idea does sound a bit derivative).

  298. SFReader says:

    Russia’s tricolor is ideal then.

    No meaning whatsoever, just a variation of Dutch flag, originally ordered by Peter the Great to be used for Russia’s merchant navy for convinience (and made state flag after imperial and Soviet flags became politically incorrect).

  299. Lars Mathiesen says:

    A flag can make a statement just by what it is not. 🇬🇱 is not a Nordic cross flag even though most proposals were. (The flag is a link (SFW if you’re allowed to look at Wikipedia), there should be a red underline; and if you only see GL in strange fat letters, get a system less than 10 years old).

  300. AJP Crown says:

    I’ve never liked the Canadian a) for resorting to a figurative image and b) for claiming a bit of nature as its own. I make an exception for a rising sun or a star formation, I suppose it’s because they’re universal. And heraldic-figurative like lillies and dragons are ok (tradition, I suppose); but let’s say if Wales had a pair of whales instead of a dragon, I might object.

    Greenland’s is ok in principle. Large areas of white at the perimeter often look unbalanced in composition but maybe I’m just not used to this one. As for crosses & crescent shapes they should be disqualified from now on, it’s just asking for trouble to mix church & state.

    Russia’s tricolor is ideal then – if you mean it obeys my rules, then no, it’s rubbish because as you say, No meaning whatsoever, and it’s very bland red & blue. The French drapeau isn’t meaningless just cos it’s simple (and look at all the other beautiful French flags on that Wiki page, they put most other national flags – not the countries, obviously – to shame).

  301. AJP Crown says:

    Dammit. I refer myself to today’s Italics post.

  302. Heh. I fixed it just as you were posting that.

    Me, I ignore all alleged symbolism on flags. If it pleases me visually, I like it.

  303. AJP Crown says:

    Thank you!

    If it pleases me visually, I like it.
    A flag designer might want more feedback (you don’t say this book pleased me, I like it – end of), but I think visual symbolism exists, it’s not just alleged.

  304. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, just that I ignore it. I ignore lots of things. I say “alleged” not because I doubt its existence but because, since I ignore it, I have no way of judging to what extent any symbolism someone mentions is a real thing (intended by designers or understood by most people) or is the wild imagination of that particular person.

  305. I mean, of course I theoretically have a way, I could look it up, but I don’t care enough to bother.

  306. SFReader says:

    it’s rubbish

    But it’s absolutely devoid of any ideology as you wished.

    {thinking} on the other hand, perhaps there is – Russia’s ideology nowadays is to make money and be good capitalists like 17th century Dutch. Variation of bland Dutch tricolor fits it very well.

  307. AJP Crown says:

    it’s absolutely devoid of any ideology as you wished.
    You misunderstand me. I don’t wish for that; quite the opposite, in fact.

    I have no way of judging to what extent any symbolism someone mentions is a real thing (intended by designers or understood by most people) or is the wild imagination of that particular person.
    Is that any different from any other symbolism – in literature or plays for example? The more education you have in the subject the more the likelihood you have of understanding and judging, that’s the only difference. The only POINT (I’ve gawn off italics) of flags is as symbols. Symbols of countries, unions, companies, families: that’s what they are. Being fit for serving that purpose has to be a consideration. I might like a picture of a red maple leaf or a black fern, just not as a symbol of a contemporary nation and its culture. Whether the orange symbolises the colour of the first monarch’s eyebrows or whatever story’s been tacked on, that isn’t very important, I agree.

    I also think the LGBTQ rainbow flag could be improved. I suppose it’s intended to represent inclusiveness but it’s awfully ugly. With so many brilliant LGBTQ artists, writers and designers, you’d think something more inspiring could have been chosen.

  308. Is that any different from any other symbolism – in literature or plays for example?

    No, of course not. But I care about literature and I don’t care about flags.

  309. In Russia, avoiding ideology is an ideology itself. RF constitution, article 13
    1. В Российской Федерации признается идеологическое многообразие.
    2. Никакая идеология не может устанавливаться в качестве государственной или обязательной.

    1. Russian Federation recognizes ideological diversity
    2. No ideology can be established as state or mandatory one.

    Now, only coronavirus [my spellchecker still doesn’t know the word] has stopped that to change on paper, it is well on its way out in practice. Still, Russian tricolor remains the symbol of peaceful, civilian government. Not a small thing for a country with Russian history.

  310. John Cowan says:

    The older version of the rainbow flag with the hot-pink stripe on top looked even worse; it was dropped because it was hard to get enough hot-pink fabric.

    AJP, I don’t think of heraldic crosses as particularly Christian, except when they specifically denote a crusading ancestor or some such. Have you ever read The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch? If not (or even if so) I recommend it. The signs are beautifully drawn, the semi-Fraktur typeface (even in the English translation) works well and is easy to read, and the explanations are amazing. In particular, Koch points out that the cross is world-old and worldwide. (The translator, Vyvyan Holland, is the son of Oscar Wilde.)


    I wish that Canada had gone with the blue maple flag (de la mer a la mer brillant) instead of the red one: praps if the blue states accept their proper destiny and join up, the flag can be changed at that point, along with the (ugh) anthem. There is a translation of “America the Beautiful” into French , and surely the sentiments are unexceptionable (we agree not to mention the War of 1812 any more). Granted, the purple mountain majesties would be in the rump U.S., but shhhh. If we don’t like the melody, Auld Lang Syne works too.

    That would create a federation with six states, ten provinces, two commonwealths (Massachusetts and Pennsylvania), three territories, and one free city (Washington City). (The Rump can put their capital in Houston or wherever they like. Sorry, New Mexico, discontiguous countries go the way of Pakistan.)


    The flag of Sweden hurts my heraldically-tuned eyes: no color on color, people! (The Welsh flag gets away with it because it’s more a banner than a flag; it’s too complex to be a flag.)

    I think that after independence the flag of Scotland will be referred to as “the semi-Nordic flag.”

  311. David Eddyshaw says:

    Surely it is the duty of the blue states, in simple humanity, to remain in the Union in order to prevent the red states from disappearing into their own rump?

  312. David Marjanović says:

    and look at all the other beautiful French flags on that Wiki page

    I looked at the text, too, and found this gem on the importance of French flags:

    Following the overthrow of Napoleon III, voters elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly of the new Third Republic. This parliament then offered the throne to the Bourbon pretender, Henri, comte de Chambord. However, he insisted that he would accept the throne only on the condition that the tricolour be replaced by the white flag. As the tricolour had become a cherished national symbol, this demand proved impossible to accommodate. Plans to restore the monarchy were adjourned and ultimately dropped, and France has remained a republic, with the tricolour flag, ever since.

    I had no idea.

    I wish that Canada had gone with the blue maple flag (de la mer [à] la mer brillant[e]) instead of the red one

    The land on which the sun never sets: it sets in one ocean and rises from the other.

    Sorry, New Mexico, discontiguous countries go the way of Pakistan.

    You haven’t been following the polls of Arizona since the plague came upon the land, have you.

    (Check out Texas, too, since you mentioned Houston.)

    to prevent the red states from disappearing into their own rump

    The way the Senate is set up makes that pretty hard, actually.

  313. Lars Mathiesen says:

    What color on color? A golden cross in the summer sky, convenient vision to have when your archbishop can’t get a banner dispensed from on high.

    It’s the Faroese one that is dodgy. (Argent, a cross gules fimbriated azure).

    I tried finding out when the flags ceased to be symmetrical, but no luck. Banner designs originated as shield designs, I think, and the Arms of Denmark has a symmetrical cross of course. There is something about naval flags being easier to see if they are longer, but St George just stretches when the flag does — the nordic ones keep the upper cantons square instead. I don’t know if that has a name in English heraldic blazon.

  314. John Cowan says:

    Sure, but this is not going to be a wave election. This is at most an antifreak election, canceling out the previous freak election in a burst of photons. I love to death, and their methodology is clearly sound, but the day of the 2016 election (daily updates come at 7 AM EST) they forecast Clinton 317-215 and 6 too close to call (in fact it was Trump 310-228).

    “Brillant” was a typo-cum-thinko, “a” for “à” was this annoying Macbook Pro keyboard I’m stuck with right now.

    What color on color? A golden cross in the summer sky

    You’re right, of course. But for some reason it still hurts my eyes.

    when the flags ceased to be symmetrical

    WP s.v. “Nordic cross flag” says:

    The cross design represents Christianity, and the characteristic shift of the center to the hoist side is early modern, first described the Danish civil ensign (Koffardiflaget) for merchant ships in a regulation of 11 June 1748, which specified the shift of the cross center towards the hoist as “the two first fields must be square in form and the two outer fields must be ​6⁄4 lengths of those”.

    So some time before that, most likely.

  315. John Cowan says:

    Oops, ran out of time. That was the preliminary EV total: the final result was “only” 304-227, thanks to some faithless electors (those who don’t vote for the candidate a majority of their state’s votes were cast for).

  316. SFReader says:

    on the condition that the tricolour be replaced by the white flag

    – The French always surrender, they even have a white flag…

  317. David Marjanović says:

    the day of the 2016 election (daily updates come at 7 AM EST) they forecast Clinton 317-215 and 6 too close to call (in fact it was Trump 310-228).

    IIRC, not all states had been polled again since Comey’s October surprise; and averages all polls of the past week, so it must underestimate swings that happen faster than that.

    That’s before we get to all the hacked voter databases.

  318. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: I have never heard Canada’s national motto translated thus (“De la mer [à] la mer brillant[e]”) into French (it sounds like a bad translation of English “From sea to shining sea”): A MARI USQUE AD MARE is normally rendered as “D’une mer à l’autre”.

    As for your statement, regarding a Union of Canada and Blue States-

    “That would create a federation with six states, ten provinces, two commonwealths (Massachusetts and Pennsylvania), three territories, and one free city (Washington City).”

    -I am a little confused: what are the six Blue States you imagine would join us? All the proposals I have seen include more than six states (New York State, Minnesota and the five New England States other than Massachusetts are always included).

    Also, you do not mention the language issue: since I assume that there would be a massive influx of Hispanics and Hispanic migrants leaving the Red States, and since, as my anglophone Canadian fellow citizens never cease to remind me, institutionalized government bilingualism is divisive, unfair and expensive, I propose making French the sole official language. This would be fair to anglophone and hispanophone citizens alike, would save a fortune in translation costs, and inasmuch as the maple leaf was originally a specifically French-Canadian symbol, it would mean national symbols and language policy would be harmoniously aligned. I can’t imagine anyone would object. Surtout pas vous! 🙂

  319. David Eddyshaw says:

    I propose making French the sole official language

    I favour this solution for Wales, too, for similar reasons, but mainly because I like French. Moreover, all that is needed to preserve Welsh is to take out English, the ultimate Sprachenfresser; no need then to aggressively push Welsh on the foolishly unwilling and frighten them.

    On another topic: I still do a double-take every time I encounter the bizarre US usage “blue” = “all things good and progressive, sugar and spice” versus “red” = “neoliberal dog-whistling ranting xenophobia, slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails.” I have absolute confidence that John Cowan can explain this.

  320. David Marjanović says:

    US parties traditionally don’t have colors, but, when reporting on elections, the media used to have a convention of showing the incumbent in blue on maps and the challenger in red. In 2004 they suddenly forgot they had that convention and reused the colors from last time.

    …also, by mainland European conventions, only the left wing of the Democrats counts as red anyway, while the right wing counts as black; and the Republicans are turning browner and browner.

    it sounds like a bad translation of English “From sea to shining sea”

    It is, from the Coca Cola ad that was run during the Superbowl a while ago.

  321. Re: Blue states, red states

    The timeline is about right, but blaming confused election coverage on it is wrong. Famous BHO DNC speech (July 2004) : “The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.”

    The distinction was established some time between 2000 and 2004 elections.

  322. David Marjanović says:

    July 2004 was part of the 2004 campaign. As soon as there’s a campaign and polls to talk about, there will be maps.

    Even July 2003 was part of the 2004 campaign.

  323. @David Marjanović: There was no consistent tradition of using one color for the party in power and another party for the challenger. Different television networks used different assignments. (Some might have followed an incumbent/challenger rule, but not all.) Apparently by coincidence, however, on election night 2000, all the broadcast and cable news networks assigned Red to George W. Bush and blue to Al Gore in their electoral college maps. The uniform color scheme might or might not have stuck, but for the fact that the news programs were still showing those maps for weeks afterward, because the outcome in the decisive state of Florida was unclear. That was when the assignment of red to Republicans and blue to Democrats became fixed in some people’s minds, and the news media, aware of that, decided to stick with it for the 2002 midterm and 2004 presidential elections, after which it was fixed in virtually every American’s mind.

    Moreover, a permanent assignment of the color red to an American political party could only have come well after the end of the Cold War, since before that, the color was associated with communism. Since it ended up permanently assigned to the Republicans, that ceased to be an issue; had all the networks used it for the Democrats in 2000, it might not have become a permanent thing, because of the potentially unfortunate implications.

  324. David Marjanović says:

    not all states had been polled again since Comey’s October surprise

    What is probably more important is something the authors stressed a few Saturdays ago: the count of electoral votes in the top left corner is taking the mean results literally and strips away the error margins. If you counted just the states where the distance between the candidates in the polls was 5% or more, noted as “Strongly” or “Likely” in the top right corner, Clinton only really had 182 + 57 = 239 EVs in her pocket, distinctly less than the 270 needed to win. The count of 317 included 78 EVs from states where Clinton’s polling margin was less than 5%. In stark contrast, as of today, Biden’s 223 “strong” + 51 “likely” EVs add up to 274, meaning he is predicted to win even if every state with a margin of less than 5% – including Nevada and Minnesota, which Clinton won last time – were to break for Trump in the end.

    It wasn’t going to be a wave election. But then the economy crashed, 100,000 people died, and there’s no end in sight.

    The uniform color scheme might or might not have stuck, but for the fact that the news programs were still showing those maps for weeks afterward, because the outcome in the decisive state of Florida was unclear.

    *facepalm* Oh yes, I read about this before and managed to forget it.

  325. …chads…

  326. @David Marjanović: Another thing that was omitted in the last round of pre-election analyses in 2016 was that the errors in different states were probably not uncorrelated. If there was going to be movement toward Trump in Pennsylvania, that also strongly indicated there would be movement toward trump in Wisconsin and Michigan (as well as other states, like Ohio and Minnesota, where there were also similar shifts, although in those states, the move did not affect the outcome).

  327. David Marjanović says:


  328. John Cowan says:

    Argent, a cross gules fimbriated azure

    Fimbriation between a color and a metal has come to be tolerated since about 1950, even though in principle it should not exist.

    a bad translation of English “From sea to shining sea”

    So it is, but it has the advantage that it has the same meter and so can be sung to whichever tune is chosen for the new national anthem. I have not been able to see the Coca-Cola commercial or to find the lyrics anywhere. I do know that all of the various singers have marked American accents in whatever language they are singing in. I also think it certain that this was deliberate. In other words, it is not “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”, but a message to Americans (who are most of the Superbowl watchers, after all): we are diverse and here’s the evidence. (U.S. Superbowl commercials were still legally viewable in Canada at that time.)

    six states

    6 was an copying error for 16, but it actually should have been 17 because I miscounted a state somewhere as a commonwealth. In detail: Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California would be added to the Pacific Region (this might be a good time to break up California, by the way); Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois to the Central Region; Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Maine to the Atlantic Region, now to be called the North Atlantic Region; and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Free City of Washington in a new region, the Mid-Atlantic Region.

    Of course that’s all 2004. At the present time Virginia would naturally form part of the Mid-Atlantic Region, and if Arizona actually goes permanently blue (which I doubt) then Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California if it is split, and perhaps even Colorado would form the new Southern Region. (What to do in that case about the Utah bits of the Navajo Nation, which would straddle the international border as Akwesasne does today, would hopefully be up to them.)

    I propose making French the sole official language

    My Anglo-Canadian collaborator[*] believes that an independent Quebec would be feasible, as it would no longer partition Canada given the reunification of the Maritimes and New England (after almost 250 years; insert a rousing chorus of “The Mary L. Mackay” here). He also thinks that Southern Alberta would want to join the Union (on which I have no opinion) and that San Diego and an east-west strip should be detached from California (to which I say the hell with that). That would make the language question nugatory. The country would have a funny shape, but so does Croatia.

    [*] I call him that here, but I must also add that he has never explicitly ratified my ideas.

    But failing such a separation, I am all for French as the sole official language, with the understanding that official Quebecker purism must go. This would be American French, bad French, modern Anglo-French if you will. After a generation or two, what schools throughout Canada would be teaching would have little to do with European or African French, either in speech or in writing. In addition, English as a subject matter would be even more important, if possible, than it is today.

    In any case, a continent-wide customs and currency union and a continent-wide baseball league are obviously the Right Thing. (I don’t know what to say about football, as it’s not one of my interests in any of its forms.) A capital city at Niagara Falls would be satisfyingly symbolic, and the new National Capital District “would benefit immensely by the replacement of tacky tourist attractions with the stately halls of government”, but I am unsure if it is practical.

  329. David Marjanović says:

    I have not been able to see the Coca-Cola commercial

    Voilà, quoi.

    I do know that all of the various singers have marked American accents in whatever language they are singing in.

    I’m pretty sure the Keres one doesn’t…

    and perhaps even Colorado

    Colorado has been solid blue since 2008, only slightly less so than New Mexico.

  330. AJP Crown says:

    Have you ever read The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch?
    Thanks for this, JC. I’ll see if I can get hold of it. He was a good typographer. I like the original Kabel: though it’s not quite Gill Sans (my favourite).

    I’m all for a blue maple leaf. It’s a big improvement for some reason that’s not just political (more contrast, perhaps). And I’m all for your internal reshuffle of North America though there may be a few details that still need ironing out (incidentally New Mexico could be seen either as East Pakistan if you don’t want it, or as Alaska if you do). A Federation California ought to be slimmer: places like Barstow and Lake Tahoe are very conservative. A precedent for a building at Niagara Falls is the 18C utopian C-N Ledoux’s drawing of a River Inspector’s house on the River Loue.

    One thing I don’t see is how the proposal is in the interests of the evil rightwingers who seem to be getting along just fine manipulating the current system (also they’re being stuck with all the hot bits but they don’t believe in climate change so maybe that’s ok).

  331. I like the original Kabel

    Me too, and that’s a really interesting article — thanks!

  332. AJP Crown says:

    Goodness, you’re welcome, I never know what you’re going to like with the visual stuff (“I don’t care about flags”).

  333. Well, it’s not like I hate flags or anything, I enjoy a pretty flag as much as I enjoy any other visual stimulus — I meant I don’t care about flags in a way that would cause me to be interested in the symbolism involved.

  334. AJP Crown says:

    A reasonable position. Hating flags would be weird.

  335. In general, I find it easy to ignore considerations external to the immediate esthetic impact of a work; I’ll happily sing Stephen Foster songs that people now regard as horrifyingly racist, not to mention fascist and Soviet songs. I wouldn’t do it around anyone I thought might be offended, but a good tune is a good tune, and “Die Wacht am Rhein” and “Широка страна моя родная” (“Wide is My Motherland“) are good tunes.

  336. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Marseillaise, easily the most singable of national anthems, has pretty horrific words. Like some of Schubert’s Lieder, it would be improved by not understanding the lyrics. Doesn’t stop it being deeply enjoyable, though …

    On the other hand, the intrinsically unexceptionable Heian poem Kimi ga Yo seems to have got irreversibly tarred by association.

  337. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, I agree, it’s the only way to live.

    Why, sometimes I’ve chanted as many as six football songs before breakfast.

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
    Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up.

  338. AJP Crown says:

    The Japanese argument seems to be about coercement rather than anything to do with the song itself.

  339. We sang the anthem when I went to school in Japan and I always liked it — not many words set to a simple, pleasing melody. I had no idea it was composed by an Irishman! How come that didn’t bother generations of nationalists?

  340. Trond Engen says:

    Maybe there’s too little of Fenton’s melody left. Wikipedia on the history of Kimigayo:

    In 1869, John William Fenton, a visiting Irish military band leader, realized there was no national anthem in Japan, and suggested to Iwao Ōyama, an officer of the Satsuma Clan, that one be created. Ōyama agreed, and selected the lyrics. The lyrics may have been chosen for their similarity to the British national anthem, due to Fenton’s influence. After selecting the anthem’s lyrics, Ōyama then asked Fenton to create the melody. After being given just two to three weeks to compose the melody and only a few days to rehearse, Fenton debuted the anthem before the Japanese Emperor in 1870. This was the first version of “Kimigayo”. This was discarded because the melody “lacked solemnity”, according to the Japanese government although others believe it is because the melody was actually “unsingable” for the Japanese. However, this version is still performed annually at the Myōkōji temple in Yokohama, where Fenton served as a military band leader. Myōkōji serves as a memorial to him.

    In 1880, the Ministry of the Imperial Household adopted a new melody composed by Yoshiisa Oku and Akimori Hayashi. The composer is often listed as Hiromori Hayashi, who was their supervisor and Akimori’s father. Akimori was also one of Fenton’s pupils. Although the melody is based on a traditional mode of Japanese court music, it is composed in a mixed style influenced by Western hymns, and uses some elements of the Fenton arrangement. The German musician Franz Eckert applied the melody with Western style harmony, creating the second and current version of “Kimigayo”. The government formally adopted “Kimigayo” as the national anthem in 1888 and had copies of the music and lyrics sent overseas for diplomatic ceremonies. By 1893, “Kimigayo” was included in public school ceremonies due to the efforts of the then Ministry of Education.

    (No relation to Kumbaya,.)

    Also, Japanese early 20th century nationalism had no objections to adopting Western technology and military organization. It would just assert that it did those better due to the natural superiority of the Japanese. I assume that view could be extended to the national anthem.

  341. “Die Wacht am Rhein” is 19th century nationalist song, and about defending from perfidious French attackers rather than conquering others. I am not sure it is objectively much worse than the “Star Spangled Banner“. Casablanca helped turned it into a Nazi song in the popular imagination.

    Of course you can always just sing “Bright College Years” instead – it is the same melody.

  342. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Fight Fiercely, Harvard!”

  343. Now, that would test my indifference to external considerations.

  344. AJP Crown says:

    Fenton is considered Irish because he was born in Kinsale, County Cork in Ireland in 1828.[2] He may also be considered Scottish because his father John Fenton (1790–1833) was born in Brechin, and because he lived in Montrose around 1881.[3] His mother, Judith Towers, was probably English. Journalistic writing on Fenton typically considers him a Briton [i.e. Welsh].

    Just not Japanese, then.

  345. @Vanya: “Die Wacht am Rhein” was hugely popular in German during the inter-war years. It was not specifically a Nazi anthem, and it was actually probably more popular in the 1920s than in the 1930s. However, the Nazis did use if frequently for official purposes; most notably, it was used at the beginning of news broadcasts about the progress of the war, from roughly the beginning of the Phoney War until Operation Barbarossa.

  346. J.W. Brewer says:

    Chinatown (in Manhattan, and I believe also elsewhere) is the site of conflicting flags or perhaps you might put it more positively as the site of vexillological diversity.

  347. SFReader says:

    Popularity of “Die Wacht am Rhein” in 1920s was no doubt aided by Franco-Belgian occupation of the Rhineland – France wanted Germany to pay reparations for WWI and when the Germans failed to pay them, occupied Rhineland region and attempted to extract reparations by force.

    For a while it sure looked like Rhineland would be separated from Germany forever and become French like Alsace or Lorraine.

  348. “Широка страна моя родная”

    As any good tune, it admits of different lyrics, such as:

    Широка ширинка у России,

    газов много в ней и ценных руд,

    и, хоть вы об этом не просили,

    я добавлю: а ещё и Бут.

  349. @SFRrader: Before that, at the Paris peace talks, the French had initially pressed for to have their border extended all the way to the Rhine. The other Allies correctly felt that that was absurd. Unlike the German Empire’s lost territories in the east, which had mixed German and Slavic populations, the Rhineland was thoroughly Germanic, and annexing it to France was probably a practical and cultural impossibility.

    Denied permanent possession of the left bank of the Rhine, the staging area for Germany’s last two wars of aggression against France, the French wanted something else done to ensure their security. Lloyd-George and Wilson offered a possible military defense pact, that would guarantee American and British aid if Germany attacked France again. It is not clear how serious either leader was about such a treaty, but neither of them was able to deliver it in any case. The U. S. Senate would not even ratify the Treaty of Versailles, because of the League of Nations provisions (Woodrow Wilson’s brainchild, ironically). After that failure, any idea of a formal defense alliance with the Americans was a dead letter. So by 1920, the French found themselves without either of the defense measures they had wanted.

  350. “Die Wacht am Rhein” was hugely popular in German during the inter-war years.”

    Of course. And the lyrics certainly have nationalist elements that seem provocative to modern listeners, especially in the context of WWII. Toxic nationalism has tainted a lot of artistic efforts, sometimes unfairly. The “Lied der Deutschen” is another song whose lyrics and original intent are far from the Nazi cult of the Übermensch with which the first verse is now associated. In the original context “Deutschland über alles” was a rallying call to place the cause of German unity above other concerns. Of course those river borders are now long obsolete, and were probably obnoxious even at the time (especially if you were Polish or Italian), but is asking Germans to band together against outside threats really worse than telling the world that Britannia rules the waves?

  351. David Eddyshaw says:

    is asking Germans to band together against outside threats really worse than telling the world that Britannia rules the waves?

    As you ask: No.

    Once the English bravely strike out on their own after shedding all three soft-on-the-EU other UK nations, they should really adopt Jerusalem as their national anthem. Unfortunately the sentiments expressed in the song are incompatible with the mindset in question.

  352. is asking Germans to band together against outside threats really worse than telling the world that Britannia rules the waves?

    Certainly not, and it’s a shame most national anthems have some combination of “our ruler is so great we’d do anything for our glorious ruler” and “we will happily shed our blood and the blood of those nasty foreigners whenever it’s convenient for the glory of our glorious land.” I give top prize to “O/Ô Canada” for its combination of singable, memorable melody and non-toadying/warmongering lyrics, but I also have to give credit to “Amar Sonar Bangla,” the national anthem of Bangladesh. In the first place, it was written by Rabindranath Tagore; furthermore, how can you resist a line like “The aroma of the mango orchard in Falgun drives me crazy”?

  353. David Eddyshaw says:

    The anti-Jacobite verse of the UK national anthem

    Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
    May by thy mighty aid,
    Victory bring.
    May he sedition hush,
    and like a torrent rush,
    Rebellious Scots to crush,
    God save the King

    (whose official presence at any time in the anthem seems, unfortunately, to be apocryphal) provoked a correspondence in the Times; definitively resolved by a retired Scots Major-General (as I recall) writing that he was perfectly happy to sing about crushing rebellious Scots – or rebellious English, for that matter.

  354. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m sure that if one grows up in England, that version of “Jerusalem” in the Parry setting is ubiquitous from early childhood, but I doubt that I’m the only American of my generation who was first exposed to it in their teens via a Monty Python sketch (“Buying a Bed” in the 8th episode, sez the internet).

  355. David Marjanović says:

    telling the world that Britannia rules the waves?

    It doesn’t, actually. It uses the subjunctive to express the wish that “Britannia rule the waves”.

    …which brings us right back to the wish that Germany wake up – Deutschland erwache, subjunctive likewise, and part of the same movement as the Deutschlandlied. The Nazis took that one, interpreted it as an imperative, and ran with it, but never once put the comma in (Deutschland, erwache!). To disguise this, they also always omitted the comma from their other imperative slogans, like Führer[,] befiehl, wir folgen “Leader, order, we follow/obey”, where the subjunctive is different (befehle).

    The upside is that whenever someone has failed to understand that commas are important people, we can literally blame the Nazis.

    (In spoken language, or anything outside literature and journalism, the present subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) is even deader than in English. That’s what made the confusions possible.)

  356. SFReader says:

    non-toadying/warmongering lyrics

    In the battle against negative forces
    may the auspicious sunshine of the teachings and beings of
    Tibet and the brilliance of a myriad radiant prosperities
    be ever triumphant.

  357. David Marjanović says:



    I’ve seen half of the lyrics before, but only now do I understand what they refer to!

    (Except I still don’t understand the “dark Satanic mills”.)

    Interesting how it uses both builded and built for metrical convenience.

  358. AJP Crown says:

    telling the world that Britannia rules the waves?
    You’ve got it wrong. It’s subjunctive exhortation like God Save The Queen, not a boast: “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;
    Britons never will be slaves.”
    The complacent and boastful (“wider still and wider”) one is Land of Hope & Glory.
    Jerusalem is also exhortation and by far the most popular of all. I think I read that they played it at Ronald Reagan’s funeral service. They may have changed the words, though I can’t see why they would mess with the Blake.

  359. AJP Crown says:

    David, you got there first with Rule Britannia.
    There’s one theory that ‘dark Satanic mills’ means churches and another that it refers to a fire at a flour mill in Southwark.

  360. J.W. Brewer says:

    In the olden days before stricter modern notions of copyright (cultural as well as legal) tunes often traveled independently of lyrics and sometimes were used with different sets of lyrics that would seem to be in considerable tension with each other. The Deutschlandlied, reflecting, or so it was asserted in the Weimar era, the “good” German nationalism of 1848 which was quote unquote liberal and anti-monarchist, nicked the tune composed by Haydn for the (rather more illiberal and monarchist) Hapsburg anthem. To the extent the Habsburg-less united Germany of 1871-1918 had an official anthem, it was just the repurposed Prussian anthem (which perhaps for that reason reportedly failed to find favor in the south) “Heil Dir im Siegenkranz,” which nicked the tune of “God Save the King/Queen,” also nicked in the 1830’s by the Americans (with the new words beginning “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) who had fought a whole revolution to disavow their allegiance to the monarchy the tune was associated with.

    And the Haydn tune continues outside the national-anthem genre to be commonly found in Anglophone Protestant hymnals (at least in the U.S.) to set the 18th-century text generally known as “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” Although wikipedia offers this wacky anecdote related to that use: “Because of the practice of singing the hymn to a tune used for other purposes it has sometimes elicited unusual reactions. In 1936, the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Joachim von Ribbentrop gave a Nazi salute in Durham Cathedral when the hymn was played and had to be restrained by the Marquess of Londonderry.”

  361. J.W. Brewer says:

    @AJP: I did watch the Reagan funeral on tv but had no particular memory of the hymnody. Turns out per some googling that “Jerusalem” as such was not sung, but the Parry tune that was used (almost a century after Blake’s death) to set those words was used as the setting for an entirely different text, “O Love of God, How Strong and True,” by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), onetime Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.

  362. Rodger C says:

    David, a better version is here:

  363. David Marjanović says:

    the tune composed by Haydn

    Well, modified by him. Here are several versions of the original (note the free word order), picked up by Haydn in his native Burgenland.

    The text he combined it with starts “God protect, God preserve our good Emperor Francis”, who was replaced by “our emperor, our country” when his preservation ended.

    Once the pleasant tune had been stolen by the perfidious, perfidious Germans and the monarchy was suddenly abolished in 1918, the Republic eventually picked a more difficult tune that was at the time thought to have been composed by Mozart (it wasn’t) and combined it with an 18th-century poem that mentions no ruler, mentions no bloodshed except for spending four words on the claim that Austria is fought about, lays the kitsch on thick though I’ve seen worse, and… ends with the claim that Austria has “since early ancestral days” been bearing the burden of a high mission. *facepalm*

  364. David Marjanović says:

    a better version

    Interesting for consistently lacking [g] in England.

  365. John Cowan says:

    As a patriotic American, I consider England in the poem to be pars pro toto the natural and unfallen world[*], and Jerusalem likewise for The City, whichever one it is that represents civilization-in-the-good-sense to the hearer. (You all know what it is in my case.)

    [*] “Wherever she was, there was Eden.” —Mark Twain (yes, really)

    And whatever dark Satanic mills meant to Blake or in Blake’s time, one only has to look around[**] at the works of civilization-in-the-bad-sense, now aggressively (or indifferently, which is worse) trying to destroy both England and Jerusalem, to know what it means today.

    [**] Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. Or as Barham translated it in the Ingoldsby Legends: “If you ask for his monument, Sir, come! spy! see!”

  366. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Both the DSL and the OED give pinkie in the finger sense as a development of a word ‘pink’, meaning ‘anything very small’ – although the OED thinks that ‘pink’ might be a Dutch borrowing, or might not!


    I don’t know how a word of that type hops the North Sea, bypassing England.

    Scottish contact with the contintent – sometimes the Low Countries, sometimes France – could have bypassed England quite deliberately at times. There’s supposed to be Dutch influence on the architecture of Fife, as well as the language, and Leiden seems to have been the traditional destination of Scottish students for a while.

  367. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    I was also first exposed to Jerusalem via the Python sketch in my teens.

    I like the way it was used here as well:

  368. @John Cowan: It seems pretty clear that Blake intended to contrast “England’s mountains green” of old with the present state of the country, with its “dark, Satanic mills.” Of course, he also seemingly intended the broader metaphor you describe, with England and Jerusalem taken as paragons of civilization.

    (I think more Americans first learned of the song from Chariots of Fire, which takes its name from Blake’s poem, and in which they all sing “Jerusalem” at the end, than from Mr. Verity having to stand in the tea chest and sing, because somebody said “mattress” to Mr. Lambert.)

    For those unfamiliar, the context of the Twain quote (from The Diary of Adam and Eve) is shown in Claymation here.

    And the full sentence on Wren’s tomb is: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice,” although for obvious reasons, when the quote is applied in more general contexts, the vocative to the reader is typically omitted.

  369. C’mon DM, the melody is a bit dopey (maybe they just sing it too slowly), but words are not bad, national anthems are not supposed to be High Poetry. American’s first verse is not bad, though hardly anyone can understand what it’s about. Famously, the melody has strong resemblence with Russian folk song Хасбулат удалой, which would make for a good anthem, but I don’t know of what (drunken parties, that’s for sure, probably they should start performing most popular drinking songs at sport’s competitions. Would make for a nice change). In Russian peasant tradition, singing is mostly women’s pursuit, but all Russian anthems I’ve heard of are decidedly on a bombastic side. Maybe that’s why Russia cannot get away from authoritarian rule. Someone should try something more lyrical the next time around.

    Speaking of Jerusalem. It always have put me in mind of this Tutchev’s verse (I don’t know a good translation). I wouldn’t suggest it for an anthem, though.

  370. AJP Crown says:

    David, a better version is here:

    Jen, thanks for the tip about the Royal Burgh of Fife and its buildings.
    I like the tiled roofs of Culross and I like its palace. It led me to The Pineapple, where I’d like to live. I’ll join the queue.

    John, I agree with all you say, except Blake by choice seems to have spent most of his life in London. I don’t think of him as wandering about in the countryside like Wordsworth, Coleridge & co. I see him as an urbanist, but it’s fun to speculate what he’d propose doing with the world’s countryside now (my current interest).

  371. J.W. Brewer says:

    Brett may be right re Chariots of Fire as a matter of overall numbers, but of course some of us are old enough to have already been exposed to the Python sketch before Chariots of Fire existed.

    I do think WASPs could sing the Parry setting of the Blake text and just (not necessarily consciously) treat “England” as a typological reference to “us” not unlike the way Christians in general often treat e.g. “Israel” in hymn texts as a typological reference to “us,” but I’m not sure that it ever made much headway in getting into standard rotation in U.S. Protestant hymnody.

    Of course, as David E. ought to have already pointed out, the “England” of Blake’s wording is somewhat anachronistic because as of the time of the supposed extra-canonical visit to Glastonbury of Joseph of Arimathea and/or Jesus Himself, the location was still what you might call Eastern Wales and the Angles and Saxons had yet to appear onstage.

  372. Lars Mathiesen says:

    And guess which tune (chorus only) Danish dinner parties use to usher out the first to leave:

    Nu går de gamle hjem

    nu går de gamle hjem

    nu gå-å-år de-e gamle hjem

    nu-u går de hjem!

  373. I may have been exposed to the ELP version first, though I honestly can’t remember. I had certainly known Parry’s tune for years by the time I learnt who Blake was. When I first read “Jerusalem” in English, a footnote told me that the dark Satanic Mills stood for the Industrial Revolution, which made perfect sense to me. I also saw the Python sketch before “Chariots of Fire”.

  374. Famously, the melody has strong resemblence with Russian folk song Хасбулат удалой, which would make for a good anthem, but I don’t know of what (drunken parties, that’s for sure

    And The Star-Spangled Banner was originally a drinking song, so it all fits.

    a footnote told me that the dark Satanic Mills stood for the Industrial Revolution, which made perfect sense to me

    Same here, and that’s still how I understand it. (Churches, really??)

  375. AJP Crown says:

    The Crown family was from Somerset until my ancestor was transported to Australia in 1817,* so I can speak for Glastonbury. Wasn’t Glastonbury Tor surrounded by marshes? The northeastern part of the county is still like that. It’s the Isle of Avalon, and it’s the Avalon name that comes from Welsh (= apple?). I don’t think Jesus did Glastonbury like Bowie or anything like that.

    *having been seen borrowing six chickens.

  376. David Eddyshaw says:

    as David E. ought to have already pointed out

    True; apologies. However, Blake’s “England” transcends mere geography (and history), as others have rightly said. A completely different place from the Brexiteer homeland.

    The poem does rather make one wish to invoke Betteridge’s Law. “No, William. No, they didn’t.”

    Every 23rd of April the BBC can be relied upon to tell us that St George came from Turkey (if he existed; if not, he presumably didn’t.)

  377. AJP Crown says:

    It seems pretty clear that Blake intended to contrast “England’s mountains green” of old with the present state of the country, with its “dark, Satanic mills.”
    No, it doesn’t.

    Churches, really??

  378. The ‘dark satanic mills’ were not, after all, as some imagine, the cotton-mills and steel-mills of the new, noisy and smoky industrial revolution. They were the great churches, like Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, which Blake saw as being hopelessly in thrall to the follies of the world, follies he saw all too clearly in the great thinkers of what was already calling itself the ‘enlightenment’.

    So says the Bishop of Durham, but I don’t believe it unless you can show me a tradition of calling churches mills. Pigs is pigs and mills is mills, says I.

  379. Blake was a nonconformist, and the idea that “dark, Satanic mills” was supposed to be a criticism of the Church of England has since become popular among other nonconformists (and even, apparently, some among the Anglican elite). However, the predominant view of the poem has always been that it described the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution. Speaking of “Jerusalem, builded here, amidst these dark, Satanic mills,” can be a powerful expression of ambivalence about the industry that simultaneously helped raise Britain to world supremacy and polluted its historical, pastoral beauty. Many commentators have made a specific connection between Blake’s regular use of the poetic name “Albion” for Britain (or Britain personified) and the fire-gutted hulk of Albion Mills. Albion had been the first truly massive steam-powered grain mill on the banks of the Thames, but by the time Blake composed the poem, it had been a burned out wreck and a notorious eyesore for well over a decade.

  380. J.W. Brewer says:

    There’s plenty of stuff in Blake that’s overtly critical of organized religion and the established Church that you couldn’t possibly misread as criticism of industrialization. Which doesn’t exclude that reading of the line in question, of course, but he wasn’t a writer who generally felt the need to veil the former sort of criticism in fuzzy metaphors that would give him plausible deniability if challenged.

  381. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe that’s why Russia cannot get away from authoritarian rule. Someone should try something more lyrical the next time around.

    I forgot what it sounded like, but I liked the Glinka tune that was Russia’s anthem for a few years before Putin, unsurprisingly, switched back to the tune of the Soviet anthem (with a new text of course).

  382. J.W. Brewer says:

    Bishop Wright’s piece linked above (although maybe he’s merely Dr Wright in UK style?) makes amusing reading even if you are skeptical of his reading of that one line. It even explicitly addresses the Betteridge’s Law point. And from what I know of Wright’s own POV, he could probably be said to share much of Blake’s critique of the rather slack and somnolent leadership of the C of E during the reign of Geo. III if that critique is stated at a high enough level of generality, although he and Blake might differ sharply on what the better alternative would have been.

  383. I like the Glinka piece too, but nobody could write the words and it is still mostly bombastic. By the way, “Wide is my country” is appropriately corny, only one stanza has something to do with fighting, and even that only indirectly, and though it is in 4/4, it would be hard to make a march out of it.

  384. Trond Engen says:

    I always liked the Soviet anthem. Also the East German. And the Italian march. This is from watching Olympic medal ceremonies.

  385. David Marjanović says:

    the East German

    denn es muss uns doch gelingen, dass die Sonne schön wie nie ||: über Deutschland scheint :||
    “because it must be possible after all that we can succeed at making the sun shine, beautiful as never [before], over Germany”

    Contrast Duce, tu fa la luce.

  386. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t believe it unless you can show me a tradition of calling churches mills.

    There’s no tradition afaik, and as a one-off metaphor it would seem misplaced. But it’s not one-off (Wiki): Satan’s “mills” are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: “the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell…To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible”.

    Brett, to me the idea that he’s on a rant about the Industrial Rev. is simplistic.

  387. Satan’s “mills” are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: “the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell…To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible”.

    That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t say “churches” to me. I’m a simple man, and I still prefer the simplistic explanation here. (I tend to ignore Yeats’s “gyres” too.)

  388. And while I’m being difficult, I’ll add that I think it would make a lousy anthem — it’s slow to the point of being lugubrious, and the melody is too difficult. I have no say in the matter, obviously, and the green-and-pleasant-land folks can do as they like, but I find the present anthem far superior in musical terms. (The US anthem is awful in pretty much all terms; nobody can sing it properly or remember the words. I say we should replace it with “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.”)

  389. AJP Crown says:

    No, it doesn’t say churches, that’s a bit of a stretch. If by simplistic you mean as I did “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”* (my online dic. – perhaps there are other meanings), then most explanations of anything in the Bible or to do with religion or God are far from simplistic and you’ll just have to put up with all sorts of qualifications.

    *Eg: the predominant view of the poem has always been that it described the ugliness of the Industrial Revolution

  390. AJP Crown says:

    I find the present anthem far superior in musical terms
    Are you talking about God Save the Queen? Because that’s the UK. There is no English anthem (yet). You’d have a hard time getting Dai the Eye or Jen in Edinburgh to sing about England’s green & pleasant wonderfulness.

    I’d go for an annually rotating list of titles starting with the Sex Pistols.

  391. The Sex Pistols would be great, and would work well with the Ramones across the pond. Let’s do it.

  392. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, do it regardless. On Youtube there are close ups of people at the last night of the Proms in London where the audience is singing Rule Britannia and they’re lips are moving to something completely different. We’ve all been there, after a couple of beers.

  393. David Eddyshaw says:

    the audience is singing Rule Britannia and they’re lips are moving to something completely different

    In 1974 you could have spotted me. We promenaders at the front had been queueing for two days and drinking pretty steadily throughout. My parents saw me on TV. They said I looked pale.

  394. AJP Crown says:

    Two days! Are there public toilets at the Albert Hall?

  395. Rodger C says:

    To me Blake’s mills are, in the first instance, mills mills, and then he extends the metaphor to everything else that grinds down. He certainly associates them with cogs:

    For Bacon & Newton sheathd in dismal steel, their terrors hang
    Like iron scourges over Albion, Reasonings like vast Serpents
    Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations

    I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe
    And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire
    Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
    In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works
    Of many Wheels I view, wheels without wheels, with cogs tyrannic
    Moving by compulsion each other; not as those in Eden: which
    Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony and peace

  396. Rodger C says:


    Well, it was my introduction to the tune (not the words) as a 25-year-old American who was probably stoned at the time.

  397. David L says:

    The US anthem is awful in pretty much all terms; nobody can sing it properly or remember the words. I say we should replace it with “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.”

    In present circs, “I wanna be sedated” seems more appropriate.

  398. The US anthem is in my top 3 or 4 anthems!
    My favourite rendition is probably by Stephen Colbert and congressman John Hall.–jordan-klepper/8tjdnz


  399. In present circs, “I wanna be sedated” seems more appropriate.

    Fair point, but I prefer to think we’ll move on to a better world, and a rousing, optimistic tune will help lead the way.

  400. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I have no particular objection to singing about England’s green and pleasant land – I’ve walked over a reasonable amount of it, and mostly it is.

    Although if the OP, who I can’t be bothered to trace back, means Swing Low Sweet Chariot, it’s certainly more fun to sing!

  401. David Marjanović says:

    My favourite rendition is probably by Stephen Colbert and congressman John Hall.

    Not available outside the US. Can you suggest search terms for YouTube?

  402. The description at that page is: “Newly elected New York Congressman John Hall, who narrowly won his congressional seat thanks to the Colbert Bump, sings the national anthem with Stephen.”

  403. Huh, but… I’m watching it from Serbia! (No VPN or anything.)
    Anyway, this was from November 8th, 2006 (episode 173).

  404. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, maybe Germany’s copyright-collection agencies have struck again.

    Searching YouTube for stephen colbert john hall eventually finds someone called Tamron Hall, but not John Hall. 🙁

  405. J.W. Brewer says:

    Those of you who can’t see the clip because of European copyright issues are probably also less likely to understand a key part of Congressman Hall’s backstory, which is that three decades before his brief political career (he was elected to Congress in 2006, unseating the incumbent, reelected once, but then defeated in turn by a challenger in 2010) he was the lead singer of the popular-in-the-mid-Seventies soft-rock band Orleans, who had two Top 10 hits in the U.S. that may not have charted at all in Europe (they apparently had some modest success in Australia & New Zealand, though). And Colbert shows his viewers (it might have been new to the younger ones) a copy of the 1976 album cover on which the future Congressman and his bandmates are all posing shirtless, as can be seen here:

  406. John Cowan says:

    “Newton & Bacon & Locke” are Blake’s symbols of single vision and single truth, so they tend to be the bad guys. But it is also Newton who blows the trumpet that brings on the Last Judgment, of which Blake says: “Whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth [which for Blake is fourfold] a Last Judgement passes upon that Individual.”

  407. J.W. Brewer says:

    Not as up-tempo as the Sex Pistols, but if the English were looking for an appropriately dystopian and post-modern anthem free of militarism and grandiose boasting, D.R.G. Davies (who unlike his brother has not yet been compromised by being given a knighthood) is there for you:

    All the stories have been told
    Of kings and days of old
    But there’s no England now (there’s no England now)
    All the wars that were won and lost
    Somehow don’t seem to matter very much anymore
    All the lies we were told (all the lies we were told)
    All the lies of the people running round
    Their castles have burned
    Now I see change
    But inside we’re the same as we ever were

  408. AJP Crown says:

    Only joking, Roger. I’d never heard it.

  409. AJP Crown says:

    Well played, JW. I was thinking must be the brother of Peter Maxwell Davies.

  410. David Marjanović says:

    may not have charted at all in Europe

    And if they did, I wouldn’t know anyway.

    it is also Newton who blows the trumpet that brings on the Last Judgment

    That fits him very well, actually.

  411. Rodger C says:

    The Druid Spectre was Annihilate loud thundring rejoicing terrific vanishing
    Fourfold Annihilation & at the clangor of the Arrows of Intellect
    The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in Heaven
    And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakspear & Chaucer
    A Sun of blood red wrath surrounding heaven on all sides around
    Glorious incompreh[en]sible by Mortal Man & each Chariot was Sexual Threefold

  412. To me, the weird thing about the tune used for “The Star-Spangled Banner”—given that it originated as a club drinking song—is that, at some point, it became expected that the part beginning, “And the rockets red glare,” should be pitched an octave higher than what is natural. That’s what makes the song hard to sing, and I’m sure that a bunch of drunken London classicists did not sing it that way.

  413. AJP Crown says:

    I’m sure that a bunch of drunken London classicists did not sing it that way.

    It sounds fun, more like a bunch of drunken London musicians. Haydn came to a meeting:

    Each meeting began at half past seven with a lengthy concert, featuring “the best performers in London”.

    Afterwards there were miniature puppet shews. Wiki says there was one singer:

    The Anacreontic Song served as the “constitutional song” of the Society. After the initial concert and meal, the Song would be sung in order to open the after-supper, more light-hearted part of proceedings. The verses, which are difficult to sing because of their wide range, would be sung by a solo singer, with the entire Society joining in the refrain.

    Here are the bawdy lyrics.

  414. That’s what makes the song hard to sing, and I’m sure that a bunch of drunken London classicists did not sing it that way.

    Recreational group singing (I know nothing of choirs) doesn’t preclude any individual to shift an octave up or down however they see fit. I would say, if the register is too hard for someone, they are well within they right to shift some good harmonic interval (say, a fifth) and sing there. America, in addition to the purple mountain majesties, is much blessed with singing talent and obviously such a simple melody has inspired various experiments. They should not be considered the baseline.

  415. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, maybe the guys at the Crown & Anchor liked it like that, it’s in the earliest sheet music I could find (1790).

    The adaptation to Scott Key’s text is pretty straight-forward, it just changes some old-fashioned rhythms and adds a little flourish at the start. And for some reason puts it in the relative Lydian where the Vorlage is in a major key (that F# when the tonic is C). But it was already popular with other non-Anacreontic lyrics, so whether those changes were in the earlier local versions I don’t know.

  416. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @D.O: Most modern songs has been composed with some key and some chord sequence in mind, and from the melody line alone it is usually clear how things resolve. Adding a parallel fifth will mess that up fiercely — I know from experience that it will confuse me so much that I simply stop singing and let the rest of the company sort it out. (Octaves are another matter, it is standard procedure for men and women to be an octave apart when singing in ‘unison’ — tenors do overlap with altos, but there is not much useful range for a true unison performance).

    But then I have been singing in amateur choirs for 25 years.

  417. David Marjanović says:

    A very wide range appears to be common in drinking songs.

  418. John Cowan says:
  419. David Marjanović says:

    From there:

    ‘Laurie Bauer’s Handbook is a truly unique, as well as a wonderfully original resource for students coming to grips with the ins and outs of modern linguistics. Bauer does what few linguists are able to do well: write in a down-to-earth way about the subject matter. The Handbook is not just about linguistics and its leading ideas, however. It is brimming with all kinds of useful information to help students understand the very practical side of doing linguistics, such as how to spell diphthong, gloss examples, write assignments in linguistics, and make sense of linguistic notation. The Handbook helps the student of linguistics with all the things that the instructor doesn’t quite get round to.’
    Professor John Newman,University of Alberta

    Part III Reading linguistics
    20 The International Phonetic Association 127
    21 Reading phonetics and phonology 131
    22 Foreign expressions 137
    23 Letters, accents and diacritics 139
    24 Journals 142
    25 Linguists’ names 147
    26 Laws and principles 150
    27 Statistics 162
    28 Some on-line resources for linguists 171

    Part IV Writing and presenting linguistics
    29 Essay writing 177
    30 Glosses 185
    31 Use versus mention 190
    32 Reification 192
    33 Spelling 195

    Part V Bibliographies
    34 Citation etiquette 199
    35 Reference lists 208

  420. Sounds like a very useful book!

  421. David Eddyshaw says:

    It gives the sex of various famous linguists generally known by their initials …

  422. January First-of-May says:

    It gives the sex of various famous linguists generally known by their initials

    The gender, not sex, I hope (sexual identification issues aside, pretty sure that the grammatical version is called “gender”), though I suspect that there are no or extremely few famous linguists for which they differ.

  423. Stu Clayton says:

    Do linguists have grammatical gender ? Does it change when they change the language they are speaking in, or about ? Does anyone give a flying ?

  424. J.W. Brewer says:

    Haven’t clicked through so I don’t know how facetious D.E. is or isn’t being. Of course, giving a full name (or at least full first name) rather than initials is usually helpful in English because most but not all such names are reasonably strongly correlated with one sex/gender or the other. Or at least helpful if you’re a native speaker of English and thus know all of those correlations. Come to think of it, I suppose in Slavic languages etc where surnames are routinely inflected by gender the whole only-using-initials dodge doesn’t have the obscuring effect it does in English.

  425. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t know how facetious D.E. is or isn’t being

    I’m hurt – hurt – by this baseless slur. My comments were (as always), plain unvarnished Truth.
    Several names in the helpful list do in fact have disambiguating Slavonic surnames. More advanced students would presumably find their inclusion redundant.

    One name actually is given as M/F, but, disappointingly, this just turns out to be Mr Bauer’s little joke.

  426. David Eddyshaw says:

    Do linguists have grammatical gender ?

    A truly dedicated field linguist has no time to express their own gender.

  427. January First-of-May says:

    Come to think of it, I suppose in Slavic languages etc where surnames are routinely inflected by gender the whole only-using-initials dodge doesn’t have the obscuring effect it does in English.

    West Slavic, maybe. East Slavic surnames are quite often uninflected.

    Obligatory-ish: Покойная Гамалея (as usual for folk stories, many other variations exist).

  428. West Slavic, maybe. East Slavic surnames are quite often uninflected.

    Oh, come on. By “quite often” you mean “occasionally”; the vast majority of Russian surnames are clearly masculine or feminine. Yes, I’m aware of the exceptions.

  429. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks, John. This is a very nice book and perfect for people like me who know very little.

    Danish and Swedish,which (with some good will) are mutually comprehensible but are usually termed different‘languages’
    This morning my wife called the Danish police (something about virus rules and dogs) and was asked if they could revert to English because the police official didn’t understand Norwegian. And yet most Norwegians understand Danish and Danes are the ones who leave out half the consonants when they speak (so spoken Norwegian is much like written Danish). Seems odd.

  430. John Cowan says:

    So basically the Danish cop could only understand Danish when it wasn’t spoken in Swedish.

  431. January First-of-May says:

    Oh, come on. By “quite often” you mean “occasionally”; the vast majority of Russian surnames are clearly masculine or feminine. Yes, I’m aware of the exceptions.

    Russian (in -in and -ov) yes, Ukrainian and Belarussian (e.g. in -ko) much less so, I believe.
    Quite unlike the likes of Czech and Latvian, which put gender endings even on foreign surnames.

  432. Ukrainian and Belarussian (e.g. in -ko) much less so, I believe.


  433. John Cowan says:

    I just found this on r/norsk, by EnIdiot (but did not copy-edit it):

    The closest English analogy I can say is that if you were to take a deep-south American Redneck speaking pure hillbilly, a Scots English speaking person speaking Glaswegian, and a Cockney speaking London East-ended and threw them into the same room with these folk for the first time. They would have issues understanding each other for a while, but they would eventually get it. It would be specious to call them speaking different languages.

    However, give them each an army, and suddenly they claim they are speaking different languages. Hell, the Redneck coalition might even claim that they were TWO languages, “Book-Talk” and “New-Redneck.” So, they may even require subtitles like “Jeet?” when someone said “Did you eat?” on the TV. The Cockney would be stuck up about how “pure” and beautiful their language was. And the Glaswegians would just talk without understanding each other as they asked for a “Bicycle Tyre” and end up ordering 100 liters of milk

  434. Yes. And it’s not only -ko. There are a lot of Ukrainian last names that are just fixed-at-some-point nicknames. They also don’t have gender markings. Correction: well, they do, they just not changing them between he/she.

  435. John Cowan says:

    Would the personal pronouns in the case of someone referred to only by an invariant surname agree with the gender of the surname or the gender of the person?

  436. Person. Also verb and adjective agreement is with the gender of the person.

  437. AJP Crown says:

    Darn, I ought to have mentioned I was talking about Norwegian, not Swedish. It was just that sentence from The Handbook* that reminded me.

    *I’d have called it The Vade Mecum.**

    **Because, why not?

  438. January First-of-May says:

    Person. Also verb and adjective agreement is with the gender of the person.

    Pretty much, and IIRC this is even true for most nicknames.

  439. J.W. Brewer says:

    Please accept my regrets for not having sufficiently hedged my earlier statement to make it uncontrovertible. I did throw in the etc to avoid the “but Latvian isn’t a Slavic language” sort of objection, but I should have done something else to make it clear that I meant whatever subset of Slavic languages fit the description and not those that didn’t.

  440. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re pronouns, there are IIRC some interesting examples in Greville Corbett’s book in the Cambridge textbooks series I think called simply “Gender” of complications that can ensue with pronoun choice in heavily gender-inflected languages when e.g. a gramatically feminine noun is used to refer to a biologically (or socially-constructed or what have you) male human, with not all languages all solving the difficulty the same way. If I recall, Corbett uses this to help illuminate a broader issue about whether pronouns are anaphoric (i.e. referring to a prior noun in the discourse) or deictic (i.e. looking through the antecedent noun in the discourse and referring to the thing-in-the-external-world that was the referent of that antecedent noun in the discourse), with the point being that they can in principle be either and not all languages solve the tension the same way when an anaphoric use would suggest a differently-inflected pronoun than a deictic use.

  441. Stu Clayton says:

    whether pronouns are anaphoric (i.e. referring to a prior noun in the discourse) or deictic (i.e. looking through the antecedent noun in the discourse and referring to the thing-in-the-external-world that was the referent of that antecedent noun in the discourse)

    In German, such deictic practice is a reliable sign of furriners. But in fact they usually don’t look through the antecedent noun, because they can’t locate it, the poor dears – not knowing its “gender”. Furriners are deictic to a fault by default.

  442. John Cowan says:

    Up to a point, Stu. But when people go on talking about them long enough, les personnes become ils and not elles (unless all of them are women, of course).

  443. David Marjanović says:

    In German, such deictic practice is a reliable sign of furriners.

    Well. I remember having to read Das siebte Kreuz in school and being amazed at the consistency with which das Mädchen is referred to as es, not a single time as sie. The book is set around the author’s home region on the middle Rhine, and I later learned (as I’ve gushed about here at least twice) that this anaphoric practice extends to using the neuter article with women’s names there (personal names take definite articles in the dia- and mesolects of the region).

    Elsewhere, people use anaphoric agreement (in gender and number*; English is notoriously deictic for number agreement, too) as long as the noun and the pronoun aren’t separated by too many other words. Once they’re far enough apart, say in the next sentence or so, deictic agreement takes over.

    (That said, “they” appearing to refer to a grammatically singular group generally isn’t meant to refer to the group as a unit, but to all the many idiots in it.)

    *…well, gender bzw. number, because there are no gender distinctions in the plural – to the point that some grammarians say the plural should really be treated as the fourth gender, rather Bantu-like.

  444. ktschwarz says:

    On pronouns for grammatically feminine nouns that refer to male humans, marie-lucie gave some excellent examples from French in this thread:

    elle est, la sentinelle? Elle devait être à son poste il y a dix minutes … Montrez-moi le registre: ça dit Untel: bon, où il est passé, Untel?
    (Where is the sentinel? They should have been on duty ten minutes ago. … Show me the list: it says SoandSo: OK, where did he go?)
    (I used “they” at first because “the sentinel” refers to a role, which could have been filled by any one of many individuals – the main thing was having a sentinel in place, not a particular soldier; once the man who should have been on duty is identified, “they” is no longer suitable, “he” is used to refer to the actual man).

    as well as:

    la Mort, ce spectre affreux, cette figure hideuse

    where each noun keeps its own gender for article and adjective agreement, even though they all refer to the same thing. marie-lucie also disagreed with the claim that les personnes would become ils unless the noun also changed.

  445. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve never seen deictic agreement with Person in German either, but the word is less common than in French, let alone English.

  446. PlasticPaddy says:

    What German is uneasy about, is masculine job titles with feminine holders. It seems to create a tension. So Bundeskänzlerin and lately Vorständin. For me I would have to make it “zur Vorsätzin” to say Frau Vorständin instead of Frau Vorstand. Otherwise I might forget.

  447. David Marjanović says:

    -kanzlerin, because umlaut doesn’t carry that far (except when it does).

    Also -rätin.

    However, Merkel’s default hand position, the “chancellor lozenge”, is called Kanzlerraute; Kanzlerinnenraute would probably be too long and too explicitly plural – for some reason, the prefix form of -in is -innen-, which is also the plural.

    French has greater difficulties. There was a TV series Madame le Proviseur.

  448. Huh, I didn’t know or had forgotten the word proviseur:
    head ⧫ ≈ head teacher (Brit) ⧫ ≈ principal (USA)

  449. And I’ll probably have forgotten it by tomorrow. It just doesn’t make sense to the English-trained ear.

  450. David Marjanović says:

    The Linguistics Student’s Handbook.

    P. 65: “In a deservedly widely ignored paper, Halle (1957) appears to argue that because binarity works in many places it should be used everywhere. […] The question of binarity has never been definitively settled within phonology, although modern versions of feature geometry seem to ignore it.”

  451. David Eddyshaw says:

    Reminds me of Roger Blench’s point that any tone system can be reduced to just two tones given sufficient ingenuity.

  452. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Do people just say Der Hund wirft without feeling any dissonance or is Die Hündin wirft better?

    Prescriptively, Spanish bitches are los perros hembras but I think people mostly say las perras.

  453. David Marjanović says:

    It’s definitely better. And when special terms for the sexes are not available, the usual solution seems to be to talk about “the male” and “the female” – but, in a cruel twist, these are both diminutives and therefore neuter: das Männchen, das Weibchen. They have neuter agreement throughout, and no dissonance is felt.

    (Semantic dissonance is felt when talking about very large animals for which a diminutive is misleading. But many of those have special terms available.)

  454. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Danish has en han and en hun — substantivized pronouns and both common gender. Gender-specific are hanhund and hunhund unless you are a hunting type and insist that tæver are not hunde.

    Chickens are haner og høns, singular hane and høne — the latter’s plural is suppletive from collective *honizin-, it seems, not an alternate plural morpheme — but though formed to the root of L cano and cognate with E hen, they probably had a reinforcing effect on the first two.

  455. David Eddyshaw says:

    As everyone will be aware, in the Lavukaleve language of the Solomon Islands, which has three grammatical genders masculine/feminine/neuter, just one word for male persons is feminine: ruima “old man.”

    It always takes the feminine definite article, usually takes masculine personal pronouns and demonstratives, but usually takes feminine adjective and verb agreement. And why not? It’s their language …

    Terrill says “speakers hesitate over which agreement pattern to use, and frequently use a combination of both, or use one gender for agreement, then repeat themselves using the other gender” (she then cites a case referring to the same old man successively with masculine and then feminine pronouns.)

    The only other human-reference noun where grammatical gender does not mirror sex is tutul “baby”, which is neuter, and “invariably takes neuter agreement.”

  456. The only other human-reference noun where grammatical gender does not mirror sex is tutul “baby”, which is neuter, and “invariably takes neuter agreement.”
    As in German: das Baby. (Didn’t we discuss that recently?)

  457. January First-of-May says:

    The only other human-reference noun where grammatical gender does not mirror sex is tutul “baby”, which is neuter, and “invariably takes neuter agreement.”

    Russian дитя is neuter, and, IIRC, takes neuter agreement, though its other synonyms mostly aren’t neuter.

  458. Alon Lischinsky says:

    I must confess this is actually the reason I knew that [St Barbara] was the patron saint of explosives. I’m not very clued up on such things in general.

    I learned that from sailing novels, since in Spanish a ship’s magazine or powder room is called a santabárbara. I learn now that similar terms exist in the other Romance languages, but I can’t easily figure out the ultimate origin.

  459. John Cowan says:

    Two books today:

    What Is Morphology?, by Mark Aronoff and Kirsten Fuderman.

    The Indo-European Languages, ed Mate Kapović (2017). This is formally a replacement, says the introduction, for Ramat & Ramat 1998 (itself a translation of R &amp R 1993, in Italian). Only two of the chapters are revisions; the rest are completely new and written by new authors (some of the authors in the older work are dead, notably Watkins and Winter).

    There are chapters on PIE phonology, morphology, syntax, and typology, and then the ten traditional branches, one chapter per branch. There are also short “pre-chapters” on Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic.

    Snarf and enjoy!

  460. David Marjanović says:

    From The Indo-European Languages: “Pashto – the official language of Afghanistan”. Ouch. That’s not how Afghanistan works.

  461. You might as well talk about the official religion of Lebanon.

  462. John Cowan says:

    Well, put it this way. The officially recognized Government of Afghanistan says there are two official languages, Pashto and Dari Persian. After all, the warlords of 1912-1949 China and of modern Somalia all used Mandarin and Somali as their official languages.

  463. Owlmirror says:

    @John Cowan: I suspect that in your final sentence, either you did not write what you meant to write, or you did not mean what you did write.

  464. David Marjanović says:

    two official languages

    So Pashto is “an official language”, not “the official language”.

  465. Lars Mathiesen says:

    suspect: Maybe JC was channelling from an alternate timeline when he wrote that. Those warlords would have to be pretty long-lived to manage it, though.

  466. John Cowan says:

    It might have been clearer to add “respectively”; but if that’s not the problem, I’m still not seeing it.

  467. It sounds very much as if the warlords in both countries used both Mandarin and Somali as their official languages.

  468. ə de vivre says:

    Was browsing through The Indo-European Languages and came across this: “Furthermore, if the high vowels *i and *u are analysed as syllabic allophones of the glides *y and *w, we are left – at least in Early PIE – with a binary vocalic system with only *e and *ə ….” Is it normal to say that if a vowel has a glide allophone that it doesn’t count as a vowel? Or is there more reasoning to the claim that the vocalic allophone is a secondary or marginal phenomenon in PIE?

  469. Owlmirror says:

    Were I charged with rewriting the sentence I pointed to, I would phrase it as: “After all, the warlords of 1912-1949 China all used Mandarin, and the warlords of modern Somalia all used Somali, as their respective official languages.”

    I might still quibble with “official”, or set it off with quotes. Did any warlord anywhere ever make a declaration of official language, or did they just keep using the language they were already most familiar with?

    The archive of the Ethnologue page for Afghanistan actually references the source that makes the official languages official:

    Dari: Status: 1 (National). Statutory national language (2004, Constitution, Article 16(1))

    Pashto, Southern: Status: 1 (National). Statutory national language (2004, Constitution, Article 16(1)).

    (What the heck happened to Ethnologue? The non-archive page says that I can “Unlock this profile” for “only $ 480 /year “?????. . . . . . .$!!$)

  470. Stu Clayton says:

    # In December 2015, Ethnologue launched a metered paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven pages of data per month must buy a paid subscription.[11]

    In 2019, Ethnologue disabled trial views and introduced a hard paywall.[13] #

  471. Lars Mathiesen says:

    *i and *u: It’s bound up with your theory of Ablaut, and as far as I can see it gets a bit circular. If you assume a zero-grade morpheme whenever you see one, of course they are always allophones and the underlying form has an *e and a glide. If not, not.

    I think I’ve seen one of the few people who are willing to speculate about Pre-Pre-Proto-IE posit ‘real’ high vowels in some cases (endings?), but I forget where.

  472. David Marjanović says:

    Is it normal to say that if a vowel has a glide allophone that it doesn’t count as a vowel?

    Well, you can interpret /j/ and /w/ as consonant phonemes that have [i] and [u] as their syllabic allophones (which appear in PIE zero-grade syllables), or you can interpret /i/ and /u/ as vowel phonemes that have [j] and [w] as their subsyllabic allophones. Under the first option, the PIE short-vowel phoneme inventory consisted just of /e/, /o/ and controversially /a/.

    The way to decide seems to be to look for *[i] and *[u] that cannot be interpreted as zero-grade.

    I can only think of one morpheme with irreducible *[u]: the locative plural ending *-sú. Not only doesn’t it have an identified full-grade relative, but it is inherently stressed, while zero-grade was a phonological process in unstressed syllables that had only recently begun to acquire exceptions by PIE times.

    There are a few candidates for irreducible *[i]. Oddly, not only are they all inherently stressed, but all of them seem to be in a kind of unique ablaut relationship with the undisputed vowel phonemes. Page 22 of this paper contains a list:

    pronoun                                             adverb
    PIE *ḱí- ‘this here’                         ~ PIE *ḱe ‘here (to)
    PIE *dí- ‘that (over there)’           ~ PIE *de ‘there (to)’
    PIE *í- ‘that (mentioned before)’ ~ PIE *e ‘back then, at that time’

    to which should be added the interrogative pronoun stem *kʷi- ~ *kʷo-, though if these two forms originally had different meanings cannot be reconstructed at present.

    Anyway, what all this shows (once again – and like, incidentally, the rest of the paper I’m linking to) is that the often repeated claim that “we can only reconstruct phonemes, not sounds/allophones” is bullshit. It’s not a rare occurrence that it’s easier to reconstruct sounds than to figure out which phonemes they belonged to.

  473. John Cowan says:

    Well, the Nationalist government (which was in effect a warlord government) certainly had an official language, as it still does on Taiwan.

    I’d like to see a dynamic map of that era of China showing who controlled what, year by year (or perhaps month by month), even if the boundaries would inevitably be vague.

  474. ə de vivre says:

    The way to decide seems to be to look for *[i] and *[u] that cannot be interpreted as zero-grade.

    What would distinguish a word that is zero-grade + [i/u] from one that’s just [i/u]? Would you need a hypothetical form in the shape *CIC that alternates with *CC-es? It feels a bit hand-wavey to say /i/ and /u/ weren’t PIE vowels because they appear in zero-grade syllables and define PIE vowels as the ones that never appear in zero-grade environments. But I guess overall morphological parsimony is the motivation here?

    the rest of the paper I’m linking to) is that the often repeated claim that “we can only reconstruct phonemes, not sounds/allophones” is bullshit

    I know generativism is verboten here, but OT and its children have given up on the phoneme as a theoretical primitive entirely.

  475. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have no problem with generativism at all, so long as it

    predict[s] novel and hitherto unexpected facts […] and … some of the new “facts” …. turn out to be true.

    (nicked from

    Most of the papers I have read which are heavy on Optimality Theory add nothing of any substance to the straightforward description of the phenomena; they serve, rather, to demonstrate that the author has demonstrated the ability to fit the data into the Approved Framework. Can’t blame them: if I had to worry about getting tenure in a linguistics department, I would probably produce similar papers myself. A linguist’s gotta eat …

    Having said that, I (in my simplicity) also have a problem with the idea of phonemes as “theoretical primitive entities”, namely that there is often more then a single way to phonemicise the sounds of a single language, with no conceivable experimental way to choose one over another. It doesn’t bother me on a philosophical level, on account of my being a dyed-in-the-wool nominalist in any case, and hence not committed to believing that any such entities are real in the first place.

  476. David Marjanović says:

    Would you need a hypothetical form in the shape *CIC that alternates with *CC-es?

    Or one that does not alternate.

    I know generativism is verboten here, but OT and its children have given up on the phoneme as a theoretical primitive entirely.

    Eh, of course it’s not always that simple. For starters, we definitely need at least two levels, more or less “phonemic” and “morphophonemic” or “word-level” and “stem-level” or whatever, to describe a large number of languages (notably English).

    I’ve seen a few useful applications of OT. The concept of ranked constraints that can contradict each other is definitely a good idea.

  477. Whether or not you independently posit /i u/ as phonemes in PIE, I don’t see how you can do without positing /j w/ (with syllabic allophones [i u]), since these sounds occur in verb roots, and PIE verb roots are consonantal.

  478. David Eddyshaw says:

    Marlene Dietrich expresses the nominalist viewpoint:

  479. Stu Clayton says:

    From a nominalist viewpoint, a noun shouldn’t be substantive – but it is one !

  480. @John Cowan: China, for centuries prior to the Communist’s conclusive victory, had a governmental system rather like that seen in late medieval feudal European states. There existed a nominal central government, with suzerainty over a large number of substituent states. The strength of the central authority waxed and waned, depending on interpersonal, political, economic, and military factors. In times of strength, and against outside military incursions, the central government could call upon the military assistance from many of the local lords. However, the local polities jealously maintained their historical privileges, and when the central government was weak, the warlords were effectively the rulers independent states, which were only enfiefed to the central authority on paper.

    Moreover, the Chinese central government also maintained a overlordship over adjacent regions that were ethnically different but had either been directly conquered or more subtly coerced into accepting the suzerainty of Beijing. This is where the question of an official language issues becomes tricky—and where there are still political controversies to this day. Like the French kings at times controlled tributary territories in largely non-French speaking regions (in Flanders or the Basque country south of the Pyrenees), the Chinese empire included Mongolia and Tibet. These were, historically, essentially completely non-Han states, and whether they were part of “China” was, as a pragmatic matter, unclear. They were certainly not subject to most cultural policies that might have originated with the central government. Like the Swiss Confederation, which first stopped paying taxes to the central government and later official separated from the Holy Roman Empire/Germany, part of historical Mongolia, broke away (with Soviet support) from early-twentieth-century China, when the central government could not assert its control over the region. Tibet at the same time was also effectively independent, but when the Communists asserted a greater degree of governmental control over the former Chinese empire’s territory, Tibet was unwillingly drawn back into Beijing’s orbit. It would have been absurd, in 1875 or 1925, to claim that Mandarin was the “official” language of Tibet, even though The People’s Republic of China now claims that Tibet has always been part of China.

  481. ə de vivre says:

    Or one that does not alternate.

    Ah, I see. So all roots with *i and *u show alternations between CiC, CejC, and CojC?

    Does anyone know how people studying other languages have dealt with similar situations? The book compares the PIE vowel system to NW Caucasian languages, but the situation doesn’t really seem analogous. In Ubykh, for example, surface-level [i] and [u] seem to always be explainable as /ə/ taking on new qualities due to its environment (with perhaps second-order sandhi after that). In PIE, whether [u] and [i] are “real” vowels or not, when they do surface as vowels, their quality is part of the underlying representation and not acquired from the environment.

  482. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Chadic linguistics, several languages have been analysed as having word-level palatalisiing or labialising “prosodies.” A palatalising prosody, for example, may cause all the underlying alveolar consonants to be realised as palatals and all underling back or mid vowels to be fronted. The justification for calling these things word-level prosodies rather than systems of vowel or consonant harmony is that they can be applied en bloc to mark grammatical categories like number or aspect.

    You can end up with very small underlying vowel systems (and indeed some proposals for the Chadic protolanguage have no vowel contrasts at all.)

    William Foley’s remarkable Yimas grammar does something a bit similar. There are, on the face of it, four contrasting Yimas vowels /a i u ɨ/, but /i u/ are for the most part in complementary distribution with /j w/ and /ɨ/ is usually an epenthetic vowel breaking up impermissible consonant clusters. Foley does need to posit a labialising prosody to explain some instances of /u/. Although there are a few awkward issues, he adopts the view that in principle the only unequivocal vowel phoneme is /a/.

    The general idea works like autosegmental analyses of tone, but with vowel features like rounding or fronting as autosegmental features instead of pitches.

  483. ə de vivre says:

    But in PIE, the features stay put (or at least they do in this particular case insofar as historical reconstruction allows us to see). The autosegmental solution would be that ±consonant isn’t a part of PIE’s underlying phonology, and is acquired depending on where in the syllable the phone winds up. This makes PIE look more East Asian than NW Caucasian, what with all these syllabic consonants…

  484. David Eddyshaw says:

    Well, /m/ /n/ do the same thing as /j/ /w/ in PIE, after all.

    The Chadic thing was me going off-topic, sorry (provoked by the mention of NW Caucasian, where what seems to have happened historically is that features have been progressively stripped from vowels and given to adjacent consonants; the same thing seems to have happened in the Chadic language Margi, which can give any NW Caucasian language a run for its money on vast numbers of consonants vs very few vowels.)

    The Yimas example is probably a better analogy for PIE; the way that /j w/ turn into /i u/ when they need to seems to be entirely parallel in that language to the insertion of /ɨ/ to break up impermissible consonant pairs in the case where neither of the consonants is /j/ or /w/.

  485. And PIE too seems to have epenthesized some kind of schwa sound to repair bad sequences where there was no sonorant available to be syllabified (the so-called schwa indogermanicum).

  486. David Marjanović says:

    since these sounds occur in verb roots, and PIE verb roots are consonantal.

    If you mean they consist exclusively of consonants like in Semitic (and indeed like the traditional analysis of Sanskrit), I don’t think that quite works out. If I haven’t misunderstood something major, there’s a largely consistent distinction between */CYEC/ and */CEYC/ roots, i.e. it isn’t always predictable where the vowel goes when a root contains more than two consonants. (Regular metatheses do happen if yet more consonants follow the root within a word.)

    So all roots with *i and *u show alternations between CiC, CejC, and CojC?

    AFAIK, yes (though not all three grades are attested of every such root) – or *CiC, *CjeC and *CjoC as mentioned.

    However, on p. 31 of this textbook is something important I had forgotten:

    Syllabic variants appear mostly in predictable positions:
    -CR̥C- (gen. sg. *ḱde/os ‘heart’), #R̥C- (gen. sg. *udne/os ‘water’), and -CR̥# (*yēkw ‘liver’). In other positions, asyllabic variants appear: -VRC- (*ḱērd ‘heart’), -CRV- (*ǵʰweh₁r ‘beast’), #RV- (*wodr̥), -VR# (*ph₂tēr ‘father’). However, the occurrence of an asyllabic variant was not always completely predictable – cf. the initial resonant clusters like *wr- (not **ur-) or *ml- (not **m̥l-) (p. 52). The general rule in case of two potential syllabic resonants in a coda (-CRRC- or -CRR#) was that the second one became syllabic (“the *RR̥ principle”), cf. instr. pl. *ḱwn̥bhis ‘with dogs’ (Ved. śvábhis, not **ḱunbhis) (p. 41). The exceptions here were cases with the present infix *-n- (p. 95), which was always asyllabic (cf. *yung- > Lat. iungō ‘I yoke’, *linkʷ- > Lat. linquō ‘I leave’ and not **iwn̥g-, **l̥yn̥kʷ-); accusatives *-im/-um (not **-ym̥/-wm̥, p. 72–73) and pl. *-ins/-uns/-tr̥ns (not **-yn̥s/-wn̥s/-trn̥s, p. 72, 74–75); and cases with Stang’s Law like the acc. sg. *dyewm (not **dyewm̥) > *dyēm (p. 72). All this means that syllabic resonants were really separate phonemes in the last phase of PIE and not just allophones of their asyllabic variants (although still regularly alternating with them in many cases). In any case, the reflexes of syllabic and asyllabic resonants are completely divergent and have to be analyzed separately.

    The standard work on the PIE syllable (thesis version here) explains the *wr- and *ml- clusters by simply positing that a sonority plateau was allowed in the onset (and only the onset) of PIE syllables, so there was no reason to increase the number of syllables there; the “*RR̥ principle” is not only accepted, but explained as an instance of a much more general avoidance of syllable codas*; but for the infix cases (and, IIRC, the accusatives) it introduces a constraint (in the OT meaning of that term) to keep morphemes recognizable by keeping them aligned with syllables. The term phoneme isn’t mentioned in this context, but of course another way to put this is as in the quote: syllabicity of resonants had become morphologized and thus phonemic.

    * This entails, as is made explicit, that all four of /m n l r/ occupied a single slot in the sonority hierarchy. Compare my kinds of German, where /l r/ are more sonorous than /m n/, so that word-final |Crn Cln| surface as /Cɐn Cl̩n/, overriding any preference for coda avoidance that might exist.

  487. DM: you’re right of course that PIE roots aren’t quite like those of Semitic, but they still only contain consonantal phonological material. You might have to specify for a given root where the template vowel goes, but never what the vowel should be (in this respect they’re even more consonantal than Semitic roots, which sometimes come with unpredictable / root-specific template vowels). You could say that a PIE root consists of two C* slots containing one or more consonants, whereas Semitic roots consist of C slots that each contain one consonant.

    (In modern Hebrew, loan verbs actually behave as if consisting of C* slots, which can contain consonant clusters if needed even when the template normally doesn’t allow for them.)

    (Is the traditional analysis of Sanskrit roots vowel-free? I thought it took the reflex of the zero grade as basic, and that’s always vocalic in Sanskrit and often contains a, which has no consonantal equivalent.)

  488. David Marjanović says:

    The Yimas example is probably a better analogy for PIE; the way that /j w/ turn into /i u/ when they need to seems to be entirely parallel in that language to the insertion of /ɨ/ to break up impermissible consonant pairs in the case where neither of the consonants is /j/ or /w/.

    Incidentally, this opens the possibility that [i u] are really /jɨ wɨ/, and I have wondered if that was also the case in some kind of PIE (as it is in generic Northwest Caucasian). After all, the collective waters aren’t **udār in Hittite, but wedār ~ widār, with e ~ i supposedly indicating some kind of /ə/ (/e/ was always stressed, so shouldn’t occur here anyway).

    That would bolster the idea that PIE roots (or content words or whatever) had to begin with a consonant, so that the ones traditionally reconstructed as vowel-initial all need to be reconstructed with *h₁ even in the absence of further evidence.

    Semitic roots, which sometimes come with unpredictable / root-specific template vowels

    Interesting! I didn’t know that.

    (Is the traditional analysis of Sanskrit roots vowel-free? I thought it took the reflex of the zero grade as basic, and that’s always vocalic in Sanskrit and often contains a, which has no consonantal equivalent.)

    Sorry, I got confused, you’re right – it takes the zero-grade as basic, which is not vowel-free except with /r̩/ and the one case with /l̩/.

  489. John Cowan says:

    This reminds me of the three-vowel model of Modern Standard Mandarin, by which there are three vowels, /a/, /ə/, and zero, and three prevocalic glides, /j/, /w/, and /ɥ/. The zero vowel stretches the glides to [i], [u], [y], and /wə/ turns into [o]. When there is neither vowel nor glide, you get the default-default vowel [z̩].

  490. John Cowan says:

    And a third book yesterday too: Linguistics For Dummies. Like the rest of its series, this is a serious but non-intimidating introduction to the subject. The topics here are what language is and isn’t, language as communication, phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, typology, language birth and death, acquisition, perception, production, writing, and the standard For Dummies “ten things” section, in this case ten myths busted.

    That’s pretty complete, and may be useful for those Hattics over whose heads much of the conversation here whizzes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Here are the topics of the not-randomly-chosen historical linguistics chapter: uncovering family ties, identifying related languages, understanding why language changes, sharing language traits, reconstructing Indo-European, applying the comparative method, reconstructing the language, surveying the world’s language families, tallying up family lineages, locating language families.

  491. SFReader says:

    Unfortunately the title prevents me from reading this apparently useful book.

    Now, if it was only called “Short introduction to linguistics for busy, but otherwise extremely intelligent persons”…

  492. That’s its real title, the one you see is a misprint.

  493. David Eddyshaw says:

    The French versions of the series are called X pour les nuls. Much better!

  494. AJP Crown says:

    Nearly ten years ago when she saw me reading this blog, my teenaged daughter, knowing I could barely speak English let alone draw phonetic squiggles bought me Linguistics for Dummies. It was a thoughtful present but the writing wasn’t up to much and I don’t think I read it. It’s a category mistake, the title. Both title and writing should be along the lines of “Linguistics Made Very Interesting.” ‘For Dummies’ ought to be the group of things you don’t understand but really need: the Highway Code, Plumbing, Western Philosophy, How to Work Computer Programmes, that sort of thing. No one NEEDS to understand linguistics; you study only because you’re interested.

  495. David Eddyshaw says:
  496. AJP Crown says:

    Subject Mathematics, Satire

    That’s more like it; a tasting menu.

  497. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The maths we learned in school does not stand up to even a prodding finger — first the sugar coating flakes off, and if you’re just a little more persistent the thing bursts open and you’re sat like a baby in the middle of a room with the cogs of its first disassembled alarm clock strewn all around.

  498. Owlmirror says:

    The maths we learned in school does not stand up to even a prodding finger — first the sugar coating flakes off, and if you’re just a little more persistent the thing bursts open and you’re sat like a baby in the middle of a room with the cogs of its first disassembled alarm clock strewn all around.

    Oh, for . . . !! Look at this mess! Sets and vile ints, all over the place! How many times do I have to say NO DIVIDING BY ZERO!? Or did you use the Principle of Explosion? Never mind. We will just have to put it back together again, from the beginning. We’ll use the manual. Again.

    *pulls down Principia Mathematica*

  499. David Eddyshaw says:

    No! Please no! Not the Theory of Types! I’ll be good! I promise!

  500. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Ooh, can we try it without that silly choice thing this time?

  501. John Cowan says:

    I’ll take the theory of types any day over ~~ shudders ~~ type theory.

  502. David Eddyshaw says:

    can we try it without that silly choice thing this time?

    That’s not an option.

  503. David Marjanović says:

    Day saved.

    (And I did not expect there to be jokes about the Axiom of Choice. What next, the Spanish inquisition?)

  504. John Cowan says:

    That’s not an option.


  505. John Cowan says:

    John Holm, Languages in Contact: The Partial Restructuring of Vernaculars. The languages discussed are African American English, Afrikaans, Brazilian vernacular Portuguese, non-standard Caribbean Spanish, and Reunionnais.

    However, the book is not structured that way. Rather, there is a general introductory chapter with six sections, one on each language and a comparative one. Each of the following chapters on sociolinguistics, the verb phrase, the noun phrase, and the clause structure has the same six sections. Finally, there is a conclusion chapter.

  506. David Marjanović says:

    From The Indo-European Languages: “Pashto – the official language of Afghanistan”. Ouch. That’s not how Afghanistan works.

    Ha, they all just copy from each other! Google Books preview of Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (the Leiden School book); p. 19: “Pashto, the official language of Afghanistan”!

    Incidentally, this opens the possibility that [i u] are really /jɨ wɨ/, and I have wondered if that was also the case in some kind of PIE (as it is in generic Northwest Caucasian). After all, the collective waters aren’t **udār in Hittite, but wedār ~ widār, with e ~ i supposedly indicating some kind of /ə/ (/e/ was always stressed, so shouldn’t occur here anyway).

    Likewise, the non-collective genitive singular is not **udnes or **udenas, but wedenas ~ widenas.

  507. ə de vivre says:

    The term phoneme isn’t mentioned in this context, but of course another way to put this is as in the quote: syllabicity of resonants had become morphologized and thus phonemic.

    I guess that depends on how you think about the interaction between phonology and morphology. The sounds /n̥/ and /n/ truly are underlyingly distinct if the generalization “resonants that come from inflectional affixes are never syllabic” means that “all inflectional affixes happen to be underlyingly /n̥/ and none of them /n/.” But if that generalization means “inflectional affixes obey different rules of syllabification than roots, such that resonants can’t be slotted into the nucleus,” then you still don’t need to posit any underlying ±syllabic specification. I don’t think the first interpretation is directly falsifiable, it just makes you posit a less parsimonious phonology; but the second would be falsified if there were any resonants whose syllabification couldn’t be predicted by positional and morphological context.

  508. Ha, they all just copy from each other!

    I just checked my (much-annotated) copy of Lockwood’s A Panorama of Indo-European Languages (Hutchinson, 1972) and found what may be the source of the copying:

    In 1936 Pashto, in older writings often called Pushtu, replaced Persian as the state language of Afghanistan, and since then the administration has pursued a policy of afghanisation in all parts of the country.

    If you search for “In 1936 Pashto” at Google Books, you get all sorts of later books saying things like “In 1936, Pashto was declared the national language of Afghanistan by royal decree” and “In 1936, Pashto was declared the official language of Afghanistan” (alongside more accurate statements like “Pashto became an official language of Afghanistan in 1936″ [emphasis added]); I suspect Lockwood was copied and simplified by later IE surveys.

  509. David Marjanović says:

    inflectional affixes obey different rules of syllabification than roots

    That would be about the same as the proposed OT constraint to keep morphemes recognizable by keeping them aligned with syllables.

    But how does the hearer know where to expect the morpheme boundaries? In part by hearing which |n| is syllabic and which is not (the prefix is, the infix is not). As far as I can tell, we need both a “morphophonemic” or “stem” level and a “phonemic” or “lexical” level in phonological description, in addition to the level of phonetic (allophonic) detail.

    Admittedly, applying that to PIE leads to a few odd consequences. The PIE *ḱí- “this here” cited above comes out as morphophonemic *|kʲí|, phonemic */ˈkʲj/ and phonetic *[ˈkʲi]: there is an underlying |i| in this morpheme, not |ej| or |je|, but the phonetic [i] doesn’t tell you that, so every [i] has to be considered /j/.

    (I’ve taken the liberty of spelling the inherent stress as high tone in the morphophonemic interpretation because it doesn’t necessarily surface as stress.)

    I suspect Lockwood was copied and simplified by later IE surveys.

    That must be it!

  510. Comparative Semit[i]c Linguistics: A Manual.

    the often repeated claim that “we can only reconstruct phonemes, not sounds/allophones” is bullshit

    The natural level of phonology in language comparison would seem to be mostly what I call “allophonemic” and which roughly corresponds to “broad phonetic” transcription. But only mostly: the input and the output can be different levels of coarseness in individual cases. E.g. it’s often easier to tell that [VtV] ~ [Vd̥V] ~ [VdV] should be reconstructed as */VtV/ than if this was phonetically *[VtV] or *[Vd̥V].

  511. David Marjanović says:


  512. ə de vivre says:

    But how does the hearer know where to expect the morpheme boundaries?

    As far as I can tell, we need both a “morphophonemic” or “stem” level and a “phonemic” or “lexical” level in phonological description, in addition to the level of phonetic (allophonic) detail.

    I don’t think I follow you here. I don’t see how the existence or not of two underlying /n/ and /n̥/ phonemes impacts learnability.

    In your remarks after the quote about PIE syllabic consonants, I understood you to say that differences in syllabification are due to the presence of different underlying phonemes in roots and affixes, that is, PIE had both /n̥/ and /n/ in its underlying phonology. Or, schematically, [ḱwn̥bhis] comes from /ḱwn̥/ + /bhis/, whereas [yung] comes from /yug/ + /n/. I was suggesting that you don’t need to posit two different phonemic “n”s for [ḱwn̥bhis] and [yung] as long as you have rules for syllabification that are sensitive to morpheme edges. My point is that once you accept syllabification rules can see morpheme boundaries, positing /n̥/ and /n/ becomes superfluous. Both interpretations involve underlying and surface representations, but differ in what information in contained at the phonemic/underlying level. The hearer wouldn’t even necessarily “hear” the boundary per se. Nothing in the cases so far suggests that there was any audible difference between [n̥] and [n] themselves.

  513. David Marjanović says:

    The example I always use to illustrate contrastive syllabification is Charles the Bald in southeastern Standard German: Karl is [ˈkaːl̩], kahl is [kaːl]. They’re both monomorphemic, so morpheme boundaries can’t explain this away. If this were English, you could explain them away as /kaːəl/ vs. /kaːl/, and that probably works in other Standard German accents, but not in this one, unless you’re willing to posit an /ə/ that literally never surfaces as a phonetic vowel. You either have to assume a rather abstract phoneme /./, the syllable break itself, so you get /kaː.l/ vs. /kaːl/, or you go with a phonemic /l̩/ that contrasts with /l/.

    Only the latter seems to work for PIE, at least this late at night. Let’s first consider a whole word like *yunékti:

    |jewg-〈né〉-t-i| (root-infix-3sg-present; underlying accent spelled as high tone)


    [juˈnɛkti] or perhaps [jʊˈnɛktɪ] or whatever

    So far, so good. Actually, now it occurs to me that perhaps we can explain the |i| as an underlying |ej| whose vowel never surfaces because, being inherently unaccented and always word-final, it always happens to be in zero-grade.

    Now consider *yungénti:

    |jewg-〈né〉-ént-i| (root-infix-3pl-present)


    [juŋˈgɛnti] or whatever

    Why [juŋˈgɛnti] and not [iwŋ̩ˈgɛnti]? After all, it is independently established that PIE had a pretty strong dislike of syllable codas, and [wŋ̩] would be an open syllable, ending in its nucleus. The only explanation I can come up with is that this /n/, unlike others, cannot syllabify, like the /l/ in kahl, and that makes [juŋg]- the only remaining option for how to pronounce /jwng/-.

    Unlike in my German example, this contrast need not be projected onto the morphophonemic level, because it only emerges from the zero-grade process that is part of the derivation of the phonemic from the morphophonemic level.

    Finally, to the dogs:

    |kʲwon-bʰís| (see below for |í|)



    Here, nothing stops the gruesome oppression of syllable codas, and the nasal ends up syllabic instead of the /w/ that precedes it. Something distinguishes this nasal from the one in the infix: this one is potentially syllabic, the one in the infix is not.

    (The |í| I have to assume to explain Vedic śvabʰís is probably not even PIE. Rather, the ending was originally |mós|, but -|n-m|- assimilated to -/mˈm/- and then dissimilated to -/mˈbʰ/-, and finally, in Indo-Iranian, the /bʰ/ was reinterpreted as belonging to the postposition *bʰi, whose /j/ was then inserted into the case endings, all while the underlying accent of the original |mós| was kept. Or something like that.)

    once you accept syllabification rules can see morpheme boundaries

    The trouble is that the decision which sonorants to render as syllabic happens at the phonetic level, too far removed from the morphophonemic level.

    The speaker tries to convey the information that is contained in the morphophonemic level, aims at the phonemic level, and actually says the phonetic level. The hearer hears the phonetic level, filters it (mostly unconsciously) to reduce it to the phonemic level, and then reconstructs the morphophonemic level from that.

  514. I know that PIE syllabification and vocalisation rules are normally reconstructed as working from right to left, but I am wondering whether another restraint may be an avoidance of sequences #R.RR.C with R = consonant allophone and R. = syllabic allophone of any phoneme that has syllabic and non-syllabic allophones? So **iwn.g-enti would be impossible for that reason.

  515. David Marjanović says:

    So, a rule “don’t syllabify more than necessary”? Perhaps. If you find the time (I currently don’t), see what other predictions it makes.

    The current standard work on PIE syllabification seems to be an inaccessible book, directly descended from this thesis and condensed here to 15 pages in a way that omits all the Optimality Theory but also skips some necessary argumentation. On top of that, here’s a paper arguing that PIE, like Iranian and Balto-Slavic, had an even stronger preference for open syllables than previously supposed.

  516. Seems like there’d be a pretty strong analogical force in favor of [juŋˈgɛnti] whatever the phonological rules were, given that the other forms of the verb would all have had initial [j-].

  517. David Marjanović says:

    If so, that makes the [j]-[i] contrast and/or the [w]-[u] contrast phonemic.

    That said, maybe /j/ and /w/ weren’t vocalized at the Proto-Indo-Anatolian level, but instead got an epenthetic vowel: [jə], [wə]… in that case, the analogy could only work later.

  518. John Cowan says:

    Next book: Arabic and contact-induced change.

    In the first part there are chapters on Old A., Classical A. and MSA, Mesopotamian A., Khuzestan A., Anatolian A., Cypriot Maronite A., Nigerian A., Maghrebi A., Moroccan A., Andalusi A., Hassaniyya A., Maltese (bulbul is a co-author, of course), A. in the diaspora, and A. pidgins and creoles. The second part talks about A.-influenced languages: the Modern South Arabians, Neo-Aramaic, Berber (Lameen, of course), Beja, the Iranian languages, Kurdish in particular, Northern Domari, Jerusalem Domari, and the Lingua Franca.

    The third part is about the domains of contact-induced change and is more general, but there is one chapter on the A. of Ammann, Jordan, a city which did not exist until about 100 years ago and therefore speaks a Jordanian-Palestinian koine from many locations in both places. It may be justly compared to New Zealand English.

  519. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Nigerian Arabic bit is very interesting. I’d wrongly thought of Nigerian Arabic as being creole-like, which it isn’t (not a bit like Juba Arabic, for example); on the other hand, it’s fascinating to see obvious West African Sprachbund effects in Arabic, especially in the part about semantics and idioms.

    I was a bit surprised to see that Jonathan Owens finds these effects to be theoretically problematic – so much the worse for the theory, I’d say (which is basically what he says himself.) I’m so used to seeing closely parallel semantics in a whole range of West African languages, related genetically or not (including local English, and, of course, Nigerian Pidgin) that it just seems entirely natural that West African spoken Arabic would share such features too. Still, things which seem natural may still very well require explanation … (and may turn out not to be so “natural” after all.)

  520. January First-of-May says:

    See also “Not This John Cowan”, woefully out of date as it is.

    I immediately thought of this page when I saw a post on FiveThirtyEight mention one “neurosurgeon Dr. John Cowan”; I highly suspected that he was not you, but wasn’t actually sure.

    Turns out that this particular John Cowan, who is running for the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 14th congressional district (in a runoff that took place today is apparently still ongoing as I write this), is not, in fact, you (in particular, as far as I can tell, his middle initial is A), but he does not appear to be any of the people listed on that page either.

  521. It’s true I am not the surgeon among us.

    After a long and inexplicable delay, today I have the Blackwell Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. Here are the sections and chapters:

    The Sources: Linear B tablets, the Greek alphabet, inscriptions, papyri, manuscripts.

    The Language: phonology, morphology and compounding, semantics and vocabulary, syntax, pragmatics.

    Greek in Time and Space: Greek and PIE, Mycenaean Greek, Archaic and Classical Greek, Greek and the languages of Asia Minor, linguistic diversity in Asia Minor during the empire, Egyptian Greek, Jewish and Christian Greek, Greek/Latin bilingualism.

    Greek in Context: registers, female Greek, forms of address, technical language (science and medicine).

    Greek as Literature: inherited poetics, language and meter, literary dialects, epic, lyric, tragic, philosophy/history/oratory, Atticism

    The Study of Greek: Greek philosophers, grammars by Greeks, language as a system

    Beyond Antiquity: Byzantine, mediaeval and early modern, modern.

  522. While I’m at it. here are the 11,271 words of Reviews Of This Book (2001, n.p., n.p.), whose conceptual author, if you will, is Douglas R. Hofstadter.[*] Our perhaps its title is Reviews of “Reviews Of This Book”; I’m not quite sure. In any case, the reviews are all there is. Here are the titles and authors of them:

    An unusual book (Andrew Jenner)

    A New Take on the Written Word (Richard Herley) [the editor]

    Reviewing Their Possibilities (Michael Kelly)

    Sartre, Lenin, Hartree and Fock: quantum physics and the ontology of Marxism (Charlene V. Babbage, Reader in Philosophy at the University of Muskateegee) [“withdrawn at the request of the author”]

    A Beautiful Idea Abused (Natalie Praed) [a critique of the previous]

    Cool it, Natalie (Paul Vermeyer) [a critique of the previous]

    Praed of Ignorance (Veronica Smoot-Hawley) [another critique of Praed]

    “Sartre’s Cat”: A Hermeneutic Approach (Janet Ingram)

    Cristy Gottberg [unclear if this is the title, the author, or both]

    A Review That Has Little To Say About the Previous Reviews Which is Something of a Challenge Given the Content of Reviews of This Book and is Excessively Titled (Bren MacDibble)

    My Cat (Erwin Schrödinger) [also a reminiscence of Professor B. “A pint of plain is your only man” O’Nolan]

    A Review of Reviews of This Book (William Alan Rieser)

    Forensic Phrenology (Dr S.A. Murphy PhD)

    A short note (Don Stockbauer)

    Charlotte’s Blank Page (Charlotte Brewster) [“Review to follow —ed.”]

    Polytemporal Discourse: A Digression Of Humorous Origin (Greyston R. Cindertoke)

    Reviews worth a re-view? (Helge Jensen)

    Review of ‘Reviews of this Book’ (Charles Fox)

    There is also an afterword, Notes on “Reviews of This Book” (Richard Herley), and ten comments by randos on the Internet wise and intelligent commentators, including at least one of the reviewers.

    [*] What would have happened if he had called himself D. Richard Hofstadter, as he would be perfectly well entitled to have done? Would the power of nominative determinism have struck?

  523. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Fascinating, but what I want to know is who let this Helge Jensen type use my uncle’s name?

  524. How do you know it isn’t your uncle?

  525. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Statistical analysis of the punctuation (which is actually a bit non-standard in that section, but not in a specifically Danish way). I’m pretty sure that Helge Christian Jensen, born 1921, left school after 7 years, and if he had second language classes they were in German (but foreign languages were not required until 1937). Also I don’t think he ever had to learn to use the Internet. (He died in 2006 when paper mail was still a thing and you could go to the bank office and get things done).

  526. Hmm. Plausible, but not probative.

  527. Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers by Geoffrey Horrocks. This is the second edition of the Horrocks book mentioned above, so that the order of his books is Horrocks on Greek, Clackson and Horrocks on Latin, Horrocks on Greek again.

    The book is intended, the author says, to pay attention to both the internal history of Greek (how the language changed) and the external history (how its speakers change). Horrocks takes the center of Greek to be Koine Greek, I think rightly, and spends many of his pages on it. He pays attention to both pre-Koine and post-Koine dialects, beginning with Mycenaean and ending with the contemporary varieties of spoken Greek.

    The only nits I have to pick are that with just half a thousand pages to cover seven times as many years, he must be concise, but this does not mean he avoids all detail. In addition, the Greek font is too thin and spindly, something Horrocks probably had no influence over. Names are generally in reconstructed rather than traditional Latinized romanization, which some may dislike but I prefer; per contra, all romanized Greek words whatsoever show the stress with an acute (hurrah! hurrah!).

  528. John Cowan says:

    my concept of snakes is not very collective

    Snake mating balls.

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