This has been around for almost nine years, but I’d somehow missed it until now.

Third, there is NO evidence that transitional languages ever existed. What use is half a language? A noun without verbs conveys no meaning! Sure, there is middle and old- English. But these are ENGLISH! A complete nontransitional language. We do not deny that micro-linguistics can happen, but this process can create only DIALECTS. There is NO EVIDENCE that a series of random micro-linguistic events can create a WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE. I’ll believe in Macro-linguistics when I see a video tape of a child growing up in an Eskimo village suddenly become fluent in Armenian!

Heh. (Via Taccuino di traduzione.)


  1. ThePedanticPrick says

    So the Intelligent-Design crowd is branching out into linguistics, too?

  2. It’s a parody of the I-D crowd.

  3. I do wonder whether “Old English” is a misnomer: surely the chage after the Conquest was so profound that it would be better to call the old tongue Anglo-Saxon, or something like that, and the new, simplified, part-frenchified tongue English, with a suitable adjective stuck on. I remember that at school we could read Chaucer with a bit of effort, but could make precious little of the old stuff we were shown.

  4. #3 Many object to the moniker “Old English” on the grounds that the dialects that resulted in Modern English are different from those that we read in Beowulf, Bede, etc.
    It’s similar to the reason Old Church Slavonic shouldn’t be called “Old Bulgarian”, since OCS was the language of the Slavs of Thessaloniki and modern Bulgarian is continued by a different set of dialects (as is obvious in words like OCS rabU where there’s lengthening and Bg. rob where no lengthening ever occured). Too bad the Bulgarians for nationalistic reasons won’t catch on.

  5. oh dear. Yes, this comes up from time to time. The most cogent formulation of this idea I’ve seen is by Graham Thurgood, who makes the analogy of Eldredge and Gould’s punctuated equilibrium and breaks in the fossil record with abrupt changes in languages. (It’s in his PhD published by Pacific Linguistics in 1989.) Still incorrect, I think, but considerably more cogent than the Inuktitut > Hayeren argument.

  6. Ian Myles Slater says

    I sympathize on the Old English versus Anglo-Saxon issue. The emphasis on continuity in “Old English” *is* misleading to the novice, although, frankly, I find it more annoying to have to tell people that, no, Shakespeare wrote in old-fashioned English, not OLD ENGLISH.
    In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Anglo-Saxon and Old English were used in a confusing variety of ways, not all of which I have ever managed to keep straight.
    Anglo-Saxon was sometimes a synonym of Old English, and sometimes used for particular set of dialects, during a particular time, to be distinguished from those others, which were to be known officially as Old English. (West Saxon versus Anglian, with permutations.) And, on the other hand, its use could be favored for the whole period and all regions, to denote a “special connection” to Old Saxon and thus to continental (Low) German, with both linguistic and political implications. “An Anglo-Saxon is already half a Saxon” was one Germanophile saying.
    The neater triad of Old, Middle, and Modern English, probably aided by two World Wars casting a shadow on the German connection, seems to have swept away a lot of the old clutter. Although it too, of course, is modeled on the preferences established by mostly German scholars!
    For some of the nasty in-fighting on the “correct” view of the German *or* Scandinavian affiliations of English, see Andrew Wawn’s “The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in 19th–Century Britain” (2000). It offers a valuable cultural study; to the disappointment of some reviewers, it does not deal in depth with actual philological developments.

  7. My favorite term is “Francien” for the Parisian dialect of Old French which was the predominant ancestor of French. When you use the word you sound like George Bush, but you’re right.
    “Old French doesn’t have rules, but tendencies”: my favorite line from any grammar, anywhere, anytime. Between historical changes, differing orthographic conventions, and dialect differences, you have to guess a lot, especially since there were subdialects and none of the dialects were standardized either.

  8. Andrew Dunbar says

    I remember reading somewhere (perhaps in a
    dictionary) that “Old” in this sense refers to
    the oldest recorded variety of a given language.
    So does anybody know if it was first used in this
    sense in “Old English” or for some other language
    such as “Old Norse”, “Old High German”, etc?
    It seems silly to use the “Old” formula for many
    languages but not English.

  9. Actuaally, Shakespeare DID write in old English.
    Not “Old English” but “old English” of course.
    Mind you, at the time it was pretty damned new English.

  10. Irasyllable says

    A noun without verbs conveys no meaning!
    Poppycock. (Which may be etymologically even worse than the other obvious response)

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