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.

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