The start of a Robert Irwin review (intriguingly titled “Arabian Antwerp”) in the June 28, 2002 Times Literary Supplement:

“In his Origines Antwerpianae (1569), Goropius Becanus argued that not only was language divine in origin, but that its original form was Dutch. More specifically, he identified the Primal Language as a dialect of Antwerp. The ancestry of the burghers of that city could be traced back to the sons of Japeth, and the latter were folk who had not become linguistically confused by working on the Tower of Babel.”

There you have human egomania and illogic in a nutshell: My language is the best language, and the original language to boot! There are many examples, but I like the obscure specificity of this one.

Irwin continues: “Becanus’s thesis commanded more support in the sixteenth century than it is likely to receive today.” I love the TLS. (Wearing my editor’s hat, however, I must point out that the second “that” in the quoted paragraph would have been better omitted.)


  1. The sad thing about Goropism is that within it lie the seeds of the evil nexus of nationalism, racism, and linguistic chauvinism. Cf. the current brouhaha in Hinduist circles on the Aryan invasion myth. Also, see my entry on Becanus:

  2. Ah, excellent! Anyone interested in these matters should definitely read Jim’s entry, which provides further examples.
    (Note to Jim: See, my comments section allows HTML.)

  3. I’ve been meaning to turn on the HTML tags in comment, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. Now when are you going to turn on trackback?

  4. Ouch — the biter bit! OK, I’ll figure it out… when I get back from California.

  5. The oldest surviving Language Hat message, and very fitly named too! Of course, trackback still doesn’t work….

  6. But now it does!

  7. If you are like me and came here to marvel at antiquity, you will find that the links are 404ish.
    But the way of the WayBackMachine, Grasshopper, leads to joy:

  8. Jim-links that is—from the first comment

  9. marie-lucie says

    Thanks, RH-B

  10. David Marjanović says

    But the way of the WayBackMachine, Grasshopper, leads to joy:

    Nope! “Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt.”

    Why should a page that search engines aren’t allowed to find not be accessible in the archive after its death? This is massively wrong-headed.

  11. Worse yet, if someone else buys the domain they can block access to former pages with their own robots.txt.

  12. That’s silly, they should save the robots.txt when they do the archive. Or trust that the existence of the archive proves that there were no robots.txt restrictions at the time.

  13. I thought about that, but it would prevent people from retracting anything: it would mean that anything once published to the Web would be permanently accessible, however false, libelous, or copyright-violating. The trick is to distinguish between different incarnations of a domain name, something the IA currently doesn’t do.

  14. Well, if Google can handle requests for removal of personal info, then the IA should be able to do it by request as well, instead of relying on an exploitable hack. And the information should be put in a 50 or 100 year archive and become accessible to researchers after that time. (Actually I hope they do that already, keep the archived pages on their long-time storage and just block it from public access).

    That would also solve the converse problem, of wanting to forget something embarrassing you put on a domain you since have lost control over.

  15. What robots have against Languagehat?

    Surely we haven’t harmed them, if we did, it was entirely unintentional.

  16. Thanks to this and other discussions, the Internet Archive is changing its policy to ignore robots.txt. They still have manual opt-out for any site by email. I haven’t tested whether this works yet or not, but it is already said to be in place for U.S. government sites (with no complaints from the big baby, who probably hasn’t noticed).

  17. Excellent!

  18. David Marjanović says


  19. John Cowan says

    And sure enough, Uncle Jazzbeau’s page “Goropism rampant” is once more accessible to all, as well as three tree Goropian papes he links to.

  20. Here‘s the link to Uncle Jazzbeau.

  21. I like it that posts are not forgotten at LH, but followed up with dedication over 17 years! 🙂

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    So do I, especially as pretty much all thread revivers at LanguageHat do it knowingly, not just blindly following some link via Google Groups that a search has produced.

  23. Lars (the original one) says

    I for one am addicted to the “Random Link” at the top of JC’s Recently Commented page. And, well, thread necromancy is an unavoidable consequence.

  24. January First-of-May says

    I don’t really do thread necromancy as such (…might still have done it once or twice, now that I think of it), but I do like following up on different discussions in a recently bumped thread.
    (Which is to say, if a thread gets a recent comment, no matter on which topic, I’m quite willing to follow up on any topic discusses in that thread that I happen to have an idea of how to follow up on.)

    And if I ever do manage to finish my read-through of Language Hat (currently stalled partway through 2003 on the Recently Commented list – I’m doing it from the bottom up, so this is actually under 10% done), I intend to go through it again and actually comment on some stuff I noticed. Though admittedly it might somewhat break the list…

  25. By all means comment! I love seeing old threads revived. (For one thing, I’ve often forgotten all about them…)

  26. John Cowan says

    No thread is ever dead here, any more than a book sitting in a library waiting to be read is. While some of our discussions are topical, most of them are quite timeless.

  27. Goropism recrudescent: English is a dialect of Chinese. My Essentialist Explanations do say that English is essentially Chinese spoken entirely in the first tone, but that’s intended to be funny.

    Quotation, for when the article vanishes from the Net:

    Yellow” comes from the Chinese words for “falling leaves,” 叶落 pronounced yelou.

    “Shop” comes from the Chinese word 商铺 pronounced shangpu, meaning the same thing.

    “Heart” comes from the Chinese word 核心 pronounced hexin, meaning “core.”

    While Zhai [Guiyun, leader of the pack] acknowledges that a few similarities like these could be a simple coincidence, he says there are far too many of these examples to be anything but evidence of origin. Zhai notes that while English may not sound like a Chinese dialect, many currently accepted Chinese dialects sound quite different from each other, not to mention Japanese and Korean.

    In fact, Chinese was the source of all Western languages currently spoken — French, Russian, German, etc. — according to Zhai, having been derived from English and Chinese.

  28. In light of past comments, it feels fitting to say:

    I recently decided to start reading (or re-reading) many serial websites from their beginnings, and just reached 2002 July 31. My plan is to catch up by my birthday in 2032.

    Do I remember right that LH formerly disallowed comments except on the most recent posts? Or am I thinking of Language Log?

  29. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    It used to be that Hat closed comments on older threads to keep the spammers away. Now we have Akismet.

  30. Yes, what Lars said. I hated having to do it.

  31. David Marjanović says

    LLog used to disallow comments on all, then most, then some posts, and still closes the threads quite early.

  32. Pullum, in particular, brooked no backtalk.

  33. LLog recently stopped closing comment threads: all posts since October 10 are still open. (David M, you’re there all the time, I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.) But I wonder if this was a decision or an accidental button-click.

    Until then, comments had been open for two weeks, which doesn’t seem early at all to me, especially since they rarely got real comments beyond three or four days, and almost never beyond a week. At some point in the last decade they used to leave comments open indefinitely, but late comments are usually spam (the LLog moderators are easily fooled by fake comments with the spam link in the username).

    Hat is a rare gem who both leaves comments open *and* clears the spam.

  34. Oops, there’s no “next post” link. Oh well. (My blog didn’t have them either, until an update broke my Theme.)

  35. How much spam-clearing do you actually do, Hat? I was under the impression that Her Divine Ugliness did it all, and your role nowadays was confined to rescuing the occasional perfectly good comment that had been swept up by the flabby claws (TM).

  36. Exactly. Akismet, however capricious, has relieved me of much unpleasantness.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    Wait … Akismet is a girl?

  38. JC may be privy to information withheld from the rest of us.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s just that I thought that Akismet transcended such petty human categories, although i suppose They can manifest in any form They choose. And who are we to say otherwise? [Performs frantic rituals of propitiation …]

  40. David Marjanović says

    David M, you’re there all the time, I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.

    Oh. I spend very little time there, usually just looking at the latest post; there’s no list of recent comments, let alone recently commented posts, and I don’t often take the time to seek out the threads I’ve participated in.

  41. “petty human”

    It is possible that genderedness is a Biological Universal over the Universe (statistically or in the sense of the Universal Biology).

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    We can reveal that this is not so (and we beiieve that Noetica, too, can confirm this.)

  43. Well, so said Lars the Original, and I accepted it as appropriate on the same post: “Akismet the Disgusting, Lord of Filth, Mistress/Master of Spam”. Not, however, “Lady of Filth”, for some reason not exactly known to me. However:

    To step into Le Guin’s Earthsea, or rather the fanfic based on it, in Raspberryhunter’s story “The Minnow and the Dragon”, the wizard Vetch of Iffish (a friend of Ged’s) and his sister Yarrow discover by accident that a dragon has, for the first time in centuries, landed on Iffish. Vetch prepares to protect Yarrow and try to kill the dragon, but it is Yarrow who figures out that the dragon is a juvenile who has been blown off course and lost in a far-eastern island. With Vetch interpreting into the True Speech, Yarrow gives the dragon sailing directions (which serve as flying directions too) back to the Dragon’s Run in the west, and she flies off, saying “I go, sister.” Anyway, in my comment on the story I applied the word dragonlord to Yarrow, and the author agreed, as Ged defines it as ‘someone the dragons will talk to and not eat’. And we both agreed that dragonlady would have been all wrong: McCafferty, not Le Guin.

  44. David Eddyshaw says

    ‘someone the dragons will talk to and not eat’

    Obviously there is a need for three further technical terms here, to cover the other possible combinations.

  45. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I have a friend who has changed her name to Sekhmet after the Egyptian goddess, and I believe that’s why I cannot help reading Akismet as akin to that. (I know that -t is a feminine suffix in Semitic, but I don’t know how general that is in Afro-Asiatic).

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    It was clearly part of the protolanguage.

    Final t was practically universal as the feminine noun ending in older Egyptian, but got reduced to /ʔ/ later (though still written as t in hieroglyphic etc): Middle Egyptian sn “brother”, snt “sister”, in Coptic respectively ⲥⲟⲛ ⲥⲱⲛⲉ.

    Most feminine nouns have suffixed t in Berber. though it is more consistent as a prefix.

    More widely, t appears in the feminine in prefixes and pronouns throughout AA; e.g. Hausa ya tafi “he’s gone”, ta tafi “she’s gone”, Somali yidhi “he said”, tidhi “she said.”

  47. Akismet = shortening of Automatic Kismet.

    Kismet < English kismet < Turkish kısmet < Arabic feminine noun قسمة
    (further details here:

  48. PlasticPaddy says

    bat in bat mitzvah goes back to PS *bint with regular change of the i to a and assimilation of n to t, acc. Wiktionary.
    re corresponding PS *bin Wiktionary says
    “Testen reconstructs *bn-, with an initial consonant cluster, which accounts for the r forms in Aramaic and Modern South Arabian. ”
    1. The r in bar mitzvah is due to borrowing from Aramaic.
    2. Why Hebrew ben instead of *ban? Note Samaritan Hebrew has ban.

  49. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @M, all that was covered in the thread that JC linked and the only outstanding question seemed to be why I wanted Akismet to be female and Egyptian without researching the actual origin. So I explained.

    (I’m not sure if I can assume that Sekhmet contains the feminine suffix, when a name like Set seems unlikely to do so. Well, looking it up it seems that his name was more like Sutekh; but the principle remains innit: I’d more or less have to find a masculine version without the -t to be sure [or “sure”] that Sekhmet was derived with that suffix).

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