Monday, December 12, 2005

Th'Appalachia's the Thing--Not

Living as I did recently very close to Appalachia, and having had a professor a bit odd in his adopted obsession for it, I thought I'd draw attention to this post over at Language Log.

Every linguistic change is brought about by the majority of a language's speakers regardless of their knowledge of its history. This may sound like a truism, but aside the last five hundred years of changes, our language is exactly as it was in 1505. (Which isn't nearly as drastic a set of changes as those of the previous 500 years.)

Anyway, hence the gleaming truth of Sally Thomason's observation: "There are said to be features of Shakespeare's English that are preserved in Appalachian English but not in Standard English; but they would be noticeable only because they have vanished from Standard English. The many features of Shakespeare's English that remain in Standard English are not noticeable: they're just ordinary." Yet they're there. They're just not interesting enough to pass for urban legend. It'd be like saying, "Did you know that the language of Shakespeare's descendants has only one word for 'snow'??"

The error is not is the observation of many "archaisms" of Appalachian ("Southern Mountain") dialects. It is in forgetting that there are also many in standard modern English. For example, take the sentence: "Alfred was grim late in his life; his king dead, he sang of frost and blindness and death." This sentence is 100% archaic. With very few differences in pronunciation, it is exactly the same as it would have been a millennium ago. It is in fact an "Old English" sentence. (See more cool sentences like this, and hear their pronunciation, here.)

See also this LSA article, which calls the association of Appalachian and Shakespearean English one of "the most persistent myths about language."

For those interested (my old professor, for instance), here is an annotated bibliography of Appalachian English.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Hwæt, se boardgema in gear-dagum...

I like boardgames as much as the next guy. But I love Beowulf, definitely more than the next guy. So I was glad to see (thanks to Scott Nokes) a detailed and overall favorable review on Cinerati of a new boardgame, Beowulf the Legend, by Fantasy Flight. Artwork for the game is by John Howe, well known Tolkien artist.

This game looks interesting in that it seems like it might capture a certain flavor of the poem. The goal is very Germanic: glory. With each event, players gain fame, which is ultimately the goal: "In most of the episodes players compete for fame and awards ... Whoever has the most fame and the most treasure to their name becomes Beowulf's successor and wins the game." Compare the last three lines of the poem, spoken about Beowulf: "They said that he was, among all the world's kings, The most generous of men, and the most gracious, The most protective of his people, and the most desirous of honor [lof-geornost]."

Another interesting aspect is how the proud warrior-players handle situations. Players handle the various episodes (minor, major, and treasure: 36 total) by playing Activity Cards such as Travelling, Friendship, Wit, Courage, and Fighting. At certain episodes, you all play cards in turn, going clockwise from player to player, after the fashion of betting: your card has to be worth the same or more than whatever card's currently worth the most. I mean, your goal isn't just defeating the monster, it's that everyone might know that you defeated the monster--and in impressive fashion. So when you see how your companion is getting ready for the attack, you don't dare do anything less than he, or he'll get more of the glory! Think of how Beowulf's companions all went to sleep with their weapons waiting for Grendel, but Beowulf, before retiring, made sure everyone knew that he wasn't even going to use his sword to kill Grendel--that would be too easy!

There are also simultaneous play episodes (Hrothgar's Hall, Grendel's Attack), when "Beowulf" asks all his companions to tackle the situation together. There are episodes of Risk (Sail to Geatland) and Opportunity (Great Rewards, Break Ranks?, Many Friendships), which may leave you with fame, treasure, misfortune, or injury.

The rules (pdf) list the following episodes (running commentary sold separately):

King Hygelac's Court (hwaet, no Scyld Scefing?)
Sail to Denmark (keepin' your head above water...)
King Hrothgar's Hall (welcome to Denmark, Mr. Lambert)
Prepare for Encounter (can you stand the suspense?)
Grendel's Attack (Moor's Attacks!)
Great Rewards (will you get some?)
Celebration (yes, you can earn praise among men for how hard you party)
Sea-Hag's Attack (= Grendel's Mother)
Prepare Pursuit (gatherin' the posse)
Hunting the Sea-Hag (follow your hart)
Encounter the Sea-Hag (underwater and stuff)
Sail to Geatland (makin' a wave when you can...)
King Hygelac (who da man?)
Presentation of Gifts (no this isn't a Swedish Mass)
Raid against Friesland (many are killed but few are Frisian)
Swedish Betrayal (Westu hál; ferðu, Heardred)
Beowulf becomes King (aaah, he da man)
Strong Alliances (anytime you need a friend...)
Geatland Prospers (good times)
Peace Returns (Good Times!)
Many Friendships (will they last?)
Golden Goblet (what could possibly...)
Dragon's Rampage (o-oh)
Iron Shield (as opposed to the Steel Curtain)
Break Ranks (will you, too, leave me?)
Dragon Battle (fighting that pernicious Thread of fate)
Recover Treasures (you can't take it with you)
Death of Beowulf (will you, now, be da man?)

Looks like I'll have to add this to my Christmas list. :-)

Friday, December 2, 2005

Some Futhark for your Friday

Stumbled across this recently:

An English Dictionary of Runic Inscriptions in the Younger Futhark

Briefly, "futhark", from the first 6 runes--for f, u, th, a, r, k--is like "alphabet" from alpha + beta. (The th-sounds had their own letter: þ) The Younger Futhark are distinguished from the Elder Futhark by being a) a smaller set of letters (16, to the 24 Elder) and b) used for Old Norse, while the Elder Futhark inscriptions tend to be in a Proto-Norse language or dialect of proto-Germanic. They are also distinguished from the Anglo-Saxon set of runes, the Futhorc (the 4th rune is O not A), which number as many as 33. See also Wikipedia's main page on runes.

From the Description page comes this piece of information, which I guess I never realized and surprised me:

There are approximately 6,000 inscriptions in the younger futhark produced between AD 750-1500 in Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland, and the North Atlantic islands. The language of these inscriptions is the earliest recorded form of Old Norse, yet their evidence for Old Norse vocabulary has not been incorporated into the standard dictionaries of that language.

So, in the words of Uncle Argyle, that is something we shall have to remedy, isn't it?

(Also a surprise: I just noticed that Uncle Argyle played William Stryker in X-2.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trilogy Notes

[These are notes we put on the back of the program to "A Lay of Life and Loss".]

Many of the themes and lines of this "operetta" are taken from several, mostly old Germanic, sources.

The title on the cover is translated and written in the original Gothic script of Wulfilas, and the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet or "futhorc". In the Latin alphabet the Gothic and Old English run, respectively:

Liuþis Libainais jah Alausiais
Leoð Lifes ond Alætnesse

In the first song, the Gothic lines at the end, as well as the reference in English to the "mistress of the mountain", are adapted from the Gothic poem "Bagme Bloma", composed by J.R.R. Tolkien, and from [King Alfred]'s verse translation.

In the second song, the story of the battle is adapted from the poem fragment "The Battle of Maldon".

The first three lines of the Old English bridge in the second song are taken from the last three lines of "Beowulf" (ll. 3180-82). The fourth line consists of one half-line from earlier in "Beowulf" (l. 721a) and one original half-line. The whole bridge, translated, goes thus:

They said that he was, among all the world's kings,
The most generous of men, and the most gracious,
The most protective of his people, and the most desirous of honor,
Now, cut off from joy, I await my destiny (doom).

The third verse of the second song is loosely based on Old English poems "The Seafarer" and "The Wanderer".

In the third song, themes were borrowed liberally from the Old English poem "The Wanderer", especially ll. 93-97 (these lines also inspired part of the dialog and music for the movie The Two Towers) and ll. 40-54:

Where is the horse? Where the young warrior? Where now the gift-giver?
Where are the feast-seats? Where all the hall-joys?
Alas for the bright cup! Alas byrnied warrior!
Alas the lord's glory! How this time hastens,
grows dark under night-helm, as it were not!
. . .
When sorrow and sleep at once together
a wretched lone-dweller often bind,
it seems in his mind that he his man-lord
clasps and kisses, and on knee lays
hands and head, as when sometimes before
in yore-days he received gifts from the gift-throne.
When the friendless man awakens again,
he sees before him fallow waves,
sea-birds bathing, wings spreading,
rime and snow falling mingled with hail.
Then are the heart's wounds ever more heavy…

"The Lay" Unlocked: full text

Here is the Trilogy as Mikaela and I presented it on Nov. 19th. This is pasted pretty much straight from the program.

A Lay of Life and Loss

Song 1: The Wood & the Battlefield

Setting: It is the middle of WWI. A nurse is wearily tending to the dying soldiers being brought into the edges of the forest from the trenches. Her white apron is stained with their blood. As a soldier dies in her arms and another nurse urges her to rest, she walks further into the forest, singing.

The drums of battle echo in darkness
And sleep eludes my eyes;
The sound of horses pounding past my window
Keeps me awake at night.
Every day they bring them to me
So many men lost to war.
Dying for the sake of dying,
Not knowing what they're dying for.

Here beneath the Mistress of the Mountain
The witness of my birth;
Now the trees look on as death surrounds them,
Mourning the bleeding earth.
On the wind a voice is calling.
Sweetness lingers on the air
As I leave this present darkness
and step into a place more fair.

Whose is the voice that calls me?
Where is the heart I seek?
Where is the valiant man
To make life whole again?

Through the forest then my footsteps wander.
The din of battle fades away
in the peaceful web of snow and branches
where once I used to play.
In this time where men are different
Life is death well met
Cup bestowed by queen at table
And sacrifice without regret...

She keeps walking up the mountain, her hands brushing each beloved tree as she passes through the wood. In the distance she glimpses an old ruin, where she loved to read of the heroes of the north in tongues long dead. The old words come back to her:

Fraujinondei fairguni sa bairka
Tulgus triggwa standiþ bandwa bairhta

which, translated, may be rendered:

Mistress of the mountain, the birch stands strong and true, a bright token.

Song 2: The Sea

Setting: The same, but no longer in ruins. Instead, the building stands at the height of its glory, and before it warriors are preparing to ride to battle. One Saxon warrior, arming himself, sings.

We were strong!
Every harp told the tales of our deeds.
We were skilled!
Giving shape to both metal and word.
We were proud!
And our hall was the envy of men
Our great hall
Where our lord gave out gifts to his men.
And we loved him and swore him our lives to the end.

They were strong
Landing ship after ship on our shores.
We fought long,
But our lands they ran red with our blood
We were brave
And we rode out and chanted of death
One last ride.
Then they cut down our king to the ground
And we lost all the things we held dear when he died.

Where is the strength that fails me?
Where is the life I've lost?
How can I go home
When all I loved is gone?

Cwæðon þæt he wære wyrolde-cyninga,
Mannum se milduste ond se mon-ðwærust,
Léodum se líðoste ond se lóf-geornost.
Nú dréamum bedæled, ic bíde mín dóm.

The setting has changed. The warrior no longer steers a horse, but a ship, small among the great waves of a winter storm. But he does not move. As if oblivious to the violent weather about him, he stares into the ocean mist and sings.

They have gone
And in exile I wander alone
On the sea
Where I think on the fall of my kin
I survive
But bereft of the death that I owed
To my king
And the thought is a shroud on my soul
And I cry with the gulls of the sea dark and cold.

Song 3: The Ruin

Setting: The mead hall, in ruins once again.

[Man speaks aloud:]

The clear-sighted man will know
How terrible it will be
When great walls fall to dust,
And all the wealth of this world
Stands waste...

As she makes her way to the former doorway of this once great edifice, she looks about her and sings.

Where is the horse
And his young rider?
Where is his master,
Ruler and Guide?
Oh! Alas!
For the brave man -
His heart torn asunder;
Oh! Alas!
For the Warrior
In his bright mail!

How could the mighty
Noble, lie fallen?
Wine-hall in runes
Mead frozen and gone?
Oh! Alas!
For the Noble
Truest of Lovers;
Oh! Alas!
Memory buried
His forgotten name!

See now past her face, inside the ruin. He is standing near the king's chair, pale image of the whole man. As he sings, he grows more solid, until he is fully flesh and blood.

When sleep and sorrow bind
The lonely man's mind -
In a dream he holds
His Lord of old;
But only wakes to find -
Icy wind that stings
Ice and Waves and Wings;
And his tears flow free
Into the sea
Of forgetfulness and pain!

They both sing, walking along either side of the wall, almost at the door.

[She:] Whose the voice that calls me?
[He:] Hwa, þe clypeþ me?
[She:] Where is the heart I yearn for?
[He:] Hwær seo geornde heorte?

They have both attained the doorway. As they look upon each other, they sing together.

Is this the Truth –
The love I have looked for?
Is this the peace
I've traveled to find?
Oh! At last! Sweet surrender!
One heart broken no more.
Oh! At last! Here in your eyes
I am finally home!
I am finally home!
Here at last I'm home!

At the same time:

Hér se magu,
hér þín dryhten,
beorn ond gíefa.
Hér líf ond strengþu.
Hér ic finde mín dóm.
I am finally home.
Here at last I'm home.

of which the ancient speech may be rendered:

Here is the rider,
here is your lord,
master and giver.
Here is life and strength.
Now I have found my destiny.

© 2005 Silver Scroll Productions

[Publishing it thus without hearing the music really doesn't do it justice, but we haven't recorded it, so you'll have to hear it live, or take my word that the music does do justice to the words, and to the sources that inspired them.]

Update: Notes

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Short-Lived Latin Letters

Spotted this on Tenser said the Tensor: Emperor Claudius proposed three additions to the Latin alphabet that were used briefly on inscriptions while he was alive:

1. Antisigma: a reversed sigma (Greek s) for use in clusters 'bs' and 'ps'. As Tensor comments, what's the use? Dunno, but it looks cool.

2. Digamma inversum: The former Greek letter digamma looked like an F and was used like a W, which is in essence a consonantal U, which is what Claudius thought to use this new letter for. I've wondered why the name sounds like it's related to Greek gamma, but I have noticed that 'gw' and 'kw' is a common consonant cluster in Proto-Indo-European words, yielding descendants with g (or k) sounds in one family, and w (or v or f) sounds in another. E.g., PIE gwem > E come but Latin venire; gwei > E quick but Latin vivus; PIE kwei > E cheetah (through Sanskrit) but poem (through Greek).

3. "Half-eta": To represent the Greek upsilon (more like a French u than an English or Latin one), Claudius took the long eta (H) and cut it in half. The commonality is that both are front vowels (your tongue is up front in your mouth, not back like in 'a' and 'o'), but the upsilon sound is rounded (lips) and higher (jaw) than eta.

Apparently the Claudian letters are likely to be included in Unicode.

UPDATE: Check out Sauvage Noble's discussion of these letters here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trilogy finished

The trilogy is indeed complete. As of last night the writing had stopped. My last bit of dissatisfaction with certain lines led to some final rewrites, and Mikaela and I worked out what was lacking in the melody of the first song, so I can confidently say that music and lyrics are complete for all three songs. Now I just need to practice between now and Saturday.

Next Tuesday is the Feast of St. Cecilia, so M's party is Saturday. If Cecilia is the Christian version of the Muses, I appreciate her help with our three songs in three barbarian tongues. :-)

Friday, November 11, 2005

We gemyndian...

"The spirit must be the firmer, the heart the bolder, courage must be the greater as our strength diminishes."

In honor of Veteran's Day / Remembrance Day in North America, here are some links to the battle poems I mentioned in my last blog. Particularly appropriate is the battle of Maldon, which apparently was well known in the trenches of WWI.

Battle of Brunanburh in OE
Battle of Brunanburh in English
Battle of Brunanburh in English, translated by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Battle of Brunanburh main site

Battle of Maldon in OE
Battle of Maldon in English
Britannia's Battle of Maldon page
Battle of Maldon main site

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Lay of Life and Loss

I've gotten myself into an interesting project recently. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a friend of mine (whose personality is at least as melancholic as mine) what I like about much of the Old English poetry I've read: the lamenting of what has gone before; the depiction of sorrow in a society that valued heroism; the times where the sounds of Old English words seem to match the meanings; even the appropriate, almost monotonous chanting of old Germanic alliterative verse. She was interested, but I had no idea just how hooked she was until, a week later, she had read the Wanderer, the Seafarer, and the poems on the battles of Maldon and Brunanburh (including prose translations and the verse settings by Ezra Pound [Seafarer] and Tennyson [Brunanburh]).

Add to this the fact that Mikaela (as I'll call her) writes music. Beautifully sad and wistful and, generally, minor key music. And she shares my affection for music like the Rohan violin theme from the LOTR movies, Loreena McKennitt, and (now) Grey Eye Glances.

Just add water. Salt water. And hail. And wind, and seagulls, and a lone seafarer, and memories of lost family, friends, and king. In the same week that she'd read those poems so voraciously, she already had lyrics and music for most of a song.

The resulting project is a trilogy of songs written in (mostly) English with some Old English appearing in various bridges or counterpoints or harmonies.

Now, to be clear: I can't write music. I can read sheet music enough to slowly identify notes, but the entirety of my musical arrangement ability can be found in a handful of old mix tapes and various mood-based winamp playlists (upbeat.m3u, lifislæne.m3u, ruhe.m3u, etc.).

So we have worked together on adapting the texts of the poems I mentioned into modern-style songs. And then she composes the music for them. Sometimes just seconds after I've written new lyrics. I can't begin to describe the excitement I felt when I first heard the poetry I love so much set to music that seemed to capture its tone so well.

Mikaela has her own very enjoyable and very accurate description of what it's been like working on this at her own blog, where I am very generously referred to as Sullivan.

The plan is to play/sing our trilogy at her annual St. Cecilia party. Last year I was surprised at the feedback I got after reciting Grendel's approach to Heorot from Beowulf in Old English, and then in translation. This year I'm going to recite my translation of Bagme Bloma, and then give it in Gothic. (It really is a beautiful sounding language!). So we'll see how it all goes. If it goes well, we may do more with it, but even if not, it has been more rewarding than I ever expected to work on our little trilogy.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bagme Bloma: A Verse Translation

I just recently posted about Tolkien's poetic composition in Gothic, "Bagme Bloma" ["The Flower of the Trees"]. The translations that I've been able to find in English, while to some extent poetic, focus mostly on sense, so they definitely don't have the meter and alliteration and general flow of the original. Since I am very sensitive to sound and content matching or complementing each other, I set out to do my own translation in full poetic form. I'm indebted to the translation quoted in Shippey's Road to Middle Earth, Indûr's translation (about half-way down), and especially The Annotated Bagme Bloma for making sure I understood the basic sense of the poem. Also, check out this analysis (PDF; auf deutsch).

So following are the Gothic original and the first publication of the new Bitter Scroll Translation(tm). I would love to hear suggestions, critique, etc. I think it's pretty good, but I want to know what other people think, especially if I can improve it.


Brunaim bairiþ bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.

Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.


On glorious branches, glittering and
Pale green as she grows,
The birch tree bears her lovely leaves,
The flower of flowering trees,
Fair of hair and lithe of limb,
The mistress of the mountain.

The winds now call, soft winds are stirring,
She lowers her limbs in play.
Sleek and straight and white of bark,
She utters a trembling tongue.
Great mystery, bright token is she,
A blessing on my people.

The twilit sky obscured by clouds
Is bright again with lightning.
And standing strong and faithful while
Her lovely leaves take flight,
The birch will wait there, bare and white,
Still mistress of the mountain.


My goals in translating were as follows. I wanted a poem that came as close as it could to the smooth, flowing beauty of the original. So like the original, the translation has a specific meter (roughly, 3 stanzas each with 3 pairs of lines of 4 and 3 strong beats) and a certain degree of alliteration and internal and external rhyme. Tolkien's original does not quite follow the old Germanic device of one sound alliterating across a whole line (e.g., sometimes the first two beats alliterate with each other, and the second two with each other, as in Fagrafahsa, liþulinþi). So I felt justified in altering the structure slightly myself.

So much for form. As to content, I tried to craft a translation that, if on the surface less literal, is hopefully more accessible. "On the surface" because often ancient languages use one basic word where we have many quasi-synonyms with the same basic sense, but carry also connotations of emphasis or slight variation according to object. E.g., rodeiþ may be listed as "speak" in lexicons, but depending on context and even interpretation, in different circumstances may be better translated with synonyms like talk, declaim, utter, perorate, announce, speak up, speak out, declare, address, communicate, etc. Hence the use of 'great' for goda (good); 'glorious' for brunaim (shining, bright); 'the mistress of' for fraujinondei (ruling). If written in good Gothic, translate into good English. Thus my translation is necessarily a bit more interpretive than the others.

Finally, there are several words in the Gothic that do not exist in any Gothic texts or lexicons. It is very characteristic that Tolkien reconstructed these from words that exist in Old English, Old High German, or Old Norse. See, again, The Annotated Bagme Bloma. My translations differs only in that I interpret lindos as an adjective 'soft' used as a noun (as OHG lindos, 'softly') despite possible problems with form. This has windos and lindos related by both sense and rhyme (as old Germanic poetry often used alliteration to follow sense). I didn't see why Tolkien would, only in that line, talk about any other kind of tree.

For an interpretation of the poem in terms of the Literature-versus-Language (philology) struggle that went on at the U. of Leeds when Tolkien there, see Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth. Literature and Language were labelled respectively Track A and Track B in the English Department, but Tolkien likened them to the corresponding rune-names: A = ác (oak), and B = beorc (birch), or in Gothic, bairka.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ælfred se cyborg cyning

I found this neat little generator on Speculative Catholic. Heheh. I'm glad that even Alfred's cyborg is about learning.

Kinetic Intelligent Neohuman Generated for Accurate Learning, Forbidden Repair and Efficient Destruction


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bagme Bloma

"The Flower of the Trees" That's the name of the Gothic poem that Tolkien composed. It's got the alliteration traditional for old Germanic poetry (even though this was composed in 1936), and personally I really do like how it sounds (this page, despite a couple of typos, has .wav files so you can hear it).

To show you a bit of the fun I get from comparative philology, I just wanted to point out how many cognates this poem shares with modern English. Out of 55 words, here are 32 cognates for 34 words (2 appear twice) or 62% of the words in the poem. And this is just what occured to me on first glance (at 1am). The Gothic words below don't all do exactly the same job their English cousins do, but they're in the same field usually. Starring, in order of appearance, are:

bairiþ: bears ("beareth")
bairka: birch
bogum: bough
laubans: leaves
gilwa-groni: pale green ("yellow-green")
glitmunjandei: glittering
bagme: trees ("beam")
bloma: flower ("bloom")
fagra-fahsa: fair-haired ("fair" & "faxen", whence "Fairfax")
fairguni: mountain ("-berg")
Wopjand: calling ("weeping")
windos: winds
wagjand: shaking, moving ("wagging")
limam: limbs
slaihta: smooth ("slight")
raihta: straight ("right")
hweita-rinda: white-barked ("white" & "rind")
bairhta: ("bright")
runa: mystery, secret ("rune")
goda: good
þiuda: people ("Theoden", "Deutsch" [ok so this isn't English])
meina: mine
Anda-nahti: evening ("night")
liuhteiþ: lights ("lighteth")
laubos: leaves
fliugand: flying
lausai: free ("loose")
triggwa: faithful ("true")
standandei: standing
baza: bare
beidiþ: awaits ("bideth")

Some generalities to note in comparison:

In OE, the 'ai' or 'a' of Gothic often became 'æ', as in OE bær (from beran) for Go. bar (from bairan).

After vowels, the 'g' in OE tended to be pronounced like our 'y', so that "fair" was spelled fæger, but pronounced close to our own word. Gothic, however, pronounced the 'g' in fagr.

The OE 'g' also sounded like a 'y' in front of "front vowels" (æ, e, i, y). Hence gear > year; geard > yard; and, above, Go. gilwa- beside OE geolu > yellow ... BUT ... hard 'g' sounds at the front of 'glittering' (Go. glitmunjandei, OE glæteriende) and 'good' (Go. goda, OE gód).

Baza to English bare is an example of s's becoming r's. This is called rhotacization, after the Greek letter.

Finally, isn't it just more fun to pronounce the gutturals in words like slight, right, light, night? My favorite line of the poem, for sheer enjoyment of hearing the sounds, is slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda. Smúúð.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Leifing through the Web

In honor of Leif Erickson Day tomorrow, here are a few random tidbits:

The Icelandic Saga Centre

Viking Quest Game - How would you do as a viking?

Northvegr - some language resources.

This looks to be an interesting translation of the Elder Edda. Thanks to Scott Nokes.

The Germanic Lexicon Project - Working to digitize dictionaries for Old Norse and other Germanic tongues.

What went wrong with the Vikings' western colonies?

Here's a little snippet on viking swords.

And, of course, any excuse to post Viking Kittens

Friday, October 7, 2005

Some Tolkien for your Friday

Check it out: The Ring poem in Mercian Old English, and the Siege of Gondor in West Midlands Middle English.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Helping OE to Feel More Familiar

When I study languages, my mind latches onto similarities, even when they're veiled or indirect, of form or of vocabulary. For example, I will never be able to see the word pecuniary and forget that the first syllable is related (albeit 2000 years distantly) to the English word fee, and that while both mean money now, they both meant cattle 2 millennia ago.

That said, I've begun a little experiment. I contend that there is enough of the "feel" of the Germanic linguistic tradition left in English, that you can usually find something in modern English to make aspects of old Germanic languages feel familiar. For example, last week while I was home with my foot up after surgery, I started writing down how I would explain each of the seven classes of strong verbs if I were writing an "Old English for Dummies" book. For each class there are modern English verbs that exhibit the exact same series of vowels across their principle parts--either directly, or once you account for an Old-to-Modern vowel shift, which also can be shown to be an instinctual, home-grown English thing to do.

Obviously there won't be a familiar ring to some aspects of the language--after all, there are things that make it different from its modern form (though less and less, it seems, the more I study it). For example, OE words that never made it much past the Norman Invasion won't seem familiar, although words that at least made it into Shakespeare have a chance of helping out here. Nevertheless, since we generally gain new knowledge by building on, comparing with, and filtering it through existing knowledge, it might be an easier point of access for the average Joe if different points of OE were introduced in terms of what he already knows. The closest I've seen is that many people introduce the language as a whole with examples of similarity, but then dive into the grammar like any other language, not really stopping to point out convergences along the way.

Some examples are in order.

From Old to Modern English, there was a general tendency for [a] to become [o]. We experience the relation between these sounds today. Listen to the two o's in "October". In some American dialects at least, the first 'o' is more like the a in 'farm', while the second is like the o in 'code'. (I've encountered this relationship everywhere from Russian to Hebrew, though I wouldn't include that in my grammar.)

The variation even occurs with the same letter, across dialects: I grew up pronouncing 'progress' with that short ah-sounding o, while many Americans give it a more closed 'oh' sound. So if you see a modern word like 'no', imagine pronouncing it like 'nah'. This should at least familiar. If you've done any bit of travelling, or met people from around the country, you've encountered people that pronounce words like this.

Now then, what if I tell you to pronounce the following words with that same St. Louis-sounding accent--with that real open 'ah' sound? (Like your father-in-law, gaetanus!)


They would probably sound very much like their Old English forms:


Then once you get used to that, it'll make sense to see how who came from hwa and soul came from sawol. It's just a matter of combining two things you're familiar with but aren't used to thinking about together. Like when two of your friends from different circles meet and start to date. Or like when they first invented Reese's peanut butter cups.

One more example: I could tell you that the OE strong verb Class III is conjugated like bindan: bindan--band--bunden. Or I could just get you to think about the verb drink--drank--drunk, and tell you to go conjugate swindan, sinnan, onginnan, winnan like it. Don't have the feel for this verb group yet? Recall how you instinctively change vowels for verbs like sing, sink, begin, ring, spin, sting, swim. They all have i--a--u, but if you're having trouble memorizing naked vowel sequences, then by all means, associate the verbs you learn with verbal clothing you're already used to putting on.

Is it just me? Has someone already done this and I missed it? I know I like to study from boring grammar books, but don't we want to make it easier for more people to learn this stuff--people unlike me?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Techno-Saxon, or, Not-so-old English

I've known about this page for a while and just thought to share it: Old English Computer Glossary. See, Old English is a practical tool for the modern world!

Ok maybe not. But it is fun to see how these words were formed. True to the Germanic tradition, this page builds words out of much simpler words and concepts which actually turn out to be pretty accurate. Much of the time this merely entails using the corresponding Old English words for the Latin and Greek roots we use now (a fun thing to do anyway). Some of my favorites:

anonymous: uncuðlic   'un-known'  (So anonymous people are uncouth!)
external: utweardlic   'outwardly'
frequently asked questions: oftgeacsunge   'oft-aksed'  (Yes, even in Old English people used to say 'aks' for 'ask'!)
hexadecimal: sixtynelic   'sixteenly'
kilobyte: þusendbita   'thousand-byte'
manual: larboc   'lorebook'
nerd: oferleornere   'over-learner'
pixel: leohtspecca   'light-speck'
spam: geondspiwan   'far-spewing'

Then there are all the cool tech words that are pretty much straight out of Wessex:

chip: cipp
freeware: freowaru
hardware: heardwaru
network: nettweorc
mouse: mus
thread: ðræd
upload: uphladan
web: webb

But none come close to how much this one just tickled me:

lurker: sceadugenga,   'shadowgoer', used to describe Grendel in Beowulf.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just Another GerManic Monday

Last week I skimmed the surface of the Gothic Language and suggested (in a comment) that all the old Germanic languages had a lot in common. I thought I'd show a little of the similarites (and predictable differences) between Gothic and Old English, which is a little more familiar to my readers.

To start off, let's look at the Lord's Prayer in both languages. First Gothic (in the Latin alphabet, for your sanity):

       Atta unsar, þu in himinam,
       weihnai namo þein,
       qimai þiudinassus þeins,
       wairþai wilja þeins,
5     swe in himina jah ana airþai.
       hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga,
       jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima,
       swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim,
       jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai,
10  ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin.

Now in Old English:

       Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
       si þin nama gehalgod,
       to becume þin rice,
       gewurþe ðin willa,
5     on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
       urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
       and forgyf us ure gyltas,
       swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum,
       and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge,
10  ac alys us of yfele. soþlice.

There are a lot of cognates in common (Go./OE): unsar/ure  'our'; þu/þu  'Thou'; in/on  'in'; himinam/heofonum 'heaven'; namo/nama  'name'; þein/þín  'thine'; qimái/becume  'come'; waírþái/gewurþe (from waírþan/weorþan)  'become'; wilja/willa  'will'; swe/swa  'as'; ana/on  'on'; aírþái/eorðan  'earth'; hláif/hláf  'loaf/bread'; daga/todæg  'day/today'; uns/us  'us'; weis/we  'we'; ak/ac  'but'; láusei/alys  'loose/deliver'; af/of  'of/from'; ubilin/yfele  'evil'.

Go. unsar beside OE ure happens because the 's' in Gothic became 'r' in many cases in all the other Germanic languages. This is called rhotacization, and can also be seen in the two languages that preserved a descendant of the Germanic noun ending -az: viz., -s in Gothic but -r in Old Norse. (So whereas OE has deað (death), Gothic has dauðus but ON has dauðr.)

Another predictable difference between Gothic and OE is a "breaking" of vowels. If you're from Manitoba or Wisconsin and travel to the Southern US, you will experience what the Goths must have thought the Angles and Saxons were doing to their vowels: creating diphthongs out of "pure" vowels. Look at the words for "earth" above: rþái in Gothic beside eorþan in OE; waírþan in Go. beside OE weorþan.

NOTE on 'ai' in Gothic: By Wulfila's time, the letters /ai/ in Gothic were probably universally pronounced with the "short e" sound in ModE "end", however this combination comes from two distinct etymological sources, so that scholars mark /ai/ differently in different situations. The combination /ái/ is pronounced like "eye", whereas /aí/ represents the e sound in "end". (Now in the US, when this short 'e' sound comes before an r, most people turn it into the 'a' sound as in 'air'; whereas growing up in the Northeast, I acquired a very distinct short-e sound even before the letter 'r' (i.e., I have different vowels for 'merry' and 'Mary'). In this, the Northeast is more like Gothic, where as the more standard American accent more approximates the shift that took place in Old English.)

Some more factors of comparison between OE and Go. are as follows:

1. OE, at least in West Saxon, isn't all that fond of the combination a + nasal, so it turns the a into an o. E.g.: mon for 'man'; ond for 'and'.

2. OE and its continental cousin, Old Saxon (=Old Low German), had a tendency to remove nasals before the letters f, þ, and s. E.g.: OE and OS fíf 'five' for Go. fimf; OE and OS us 'us' beside Go. unsis and Old High German uns; OE ure 'our' for Go. unsar (see above); OE cuþ 'known' for Go. kunþs

3. Vowels. OE tended to have e-related vowels where Gothic had a-related ones. The following vowel changes can often be seen from Gothic to OE:
  a) Go. áu becomes OE ea (a diphthong with the ae-sound of 'cash' plus the uh-sound of 'pun'). E.g.: Go. dauþus became OE deað
  b) Go. ái becomes OE a. E.g. Go. stáins became OE stán 'stone'; Go. hláifs became OE hláf  'loaf/bread'.
  c) Go. ê and a sometimes become OE æ. E.g., OE bæron 'bore' (plural) beside Go. bêrun; OE dæg 'day', beside Go. dags and ON dagr.

Hmm. dagr. Arrrrg.

That Makes My Parrot Fall Off!

Sweeping the Blogosphere like a Caribbean storm is the fact that today is "Talk Like a Pirate Day". In honor of this great day, if anyone has any files they'd like to share with me....

Seriously (sort of), my interest in this day comes from discovering how to speak like a pirate in German (nod to L.M. Squires). It focuses on vocabulary rather than accent (e.g., it doesn't recommend saying Arrr, ich sprrrrreche deutsch!), and includes some excellent idioms and pretty cool cognates. To show surprise at something, for example, you can say, Da[s] fällt mir doch der Papagei von der Schulter! -- literally, "That makes my parrot fall from my shoulder!" Then there are words like kielholen, to keelhaul; Brise, breeze; Landratte, land rat (landlubber); and the great insult to merchants everywhere, Pfeffersack, bag of pepper!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Little Gothic for your Thursday

(Wed. evening edition)

No, not this, or this, or even this. It occured to me that I could periodically post little snippets of the various languages I'm in love with. I mean, why should you be deprived of the little daily delights that come from my linguistic labor? Maybe you'll be interested and want to learn more. If so, future posts may (may) follow popular demand. If not, you probably found this blog by mistake anyway.

The Goths spoke the only East Germanic language that has survived, thanks mostly to Bishop Wulfila. It's the oldest Germanic language, and exhibits the most similarities to what scholars have reconstructed of the original pre-Germanic language, which itself was a tendril of the many-headed Serpentus Indo-Europeanus. One of the things I have enjoyed in studying all the various Germanic languages is finding the many similarities that exist among them, usually in vocabulary, but also in grammar. Here are some (somewhat) randomly selected Gothic words to give you an idea.

drigkan: to drink
qithan: to speak (cf. "quoth")
maúrþr: murder
waúrd: word
þiudans: king (= OE þéoden > JRRT "Theoden")
bindan: bind
kiusan: choose
fram: from, by
frijondi: friend
sáiwala: soul
daúr: entrance

[Note: In Gothic gg is pronounced, as in Greek, like English "ng"; gk is pronounced like "nk"; q is pronounced "kw"; is like the o in bore; and ái is pronounced like English "eye".]

Gothic, like English, has two basic ways of changing verb tense: umlaut or a dental suffix (-d, -ed). So you shouldn't feel too out of sorts when I tell you the principle parts of the verb for "to drink" are drigkan, dragk, drugk-, drugkans; and those of "to bring" are briggan, brahta, brahts.

When the Huns swept into Europe, many Goths entered the service of the Hunnish leader, whom they called "little Father" in Gothic (Attila, from Go. atta, 'father'); possibly this was because their king Ermanaric was so bad. When the Huns were finally stopped at the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields, there were Goths fighting on both sides.

Joining the Goths in the East Germanic Language Club were the Lombards, Vandals, and Burgundians. How many of their descendants are speaking Romance languages today?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bin gar keine Dark Wizard ...

[second edition, published with notes]

No, I'm not going to apologize like other bloggers for any decrease in posts now that the school year is on. They may decrease, or not, and when they appear, you will read them, or not. As an old vulcan once promised, the universe will unfold as it should.

Still, the spice must flow, so here is something to help you enjoy the desert: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Poet". The "Wasteland", one of my favorite assignments in college, is cryptic poetry. Harry Potter is popular prose. Put together they present an excellent parody (this from a connaisseur of parodies).

Now the warning: "The Wasteland" is the literary gnostic's Valhalla. The more literary works you've conquered, famous and obscure, from lands far and near, the more you get to drink of the sweet mead of poetry when you get here. To understand, you just have to know. There are so many allusions even Elliott felt it necessary to provide notes. And if these were necessary for critics in 1922, much more did mere undergrads require to understand and appreciate it 76 years later.

Anyway the same goes for the parody. With respect to its content, the more Harry Potter you know the more you'll "get" it and enjoy it. But there's even more to enjoy if you know the original enough to follow how "Half-Blood Poet" imitates its form. If you had the torturous experience of slogging through "The Wasteland" but never really got it, I'm sorry you got shortchanged of its richness. For you, this parody may feel like a stolen cup from the sleeping dragon of your memory, but consider this a free invitation to go back and try Elliott again. It really is worth it.

(It's not a cup, it's a bribe.)

Works Not Quite Cited:

Star Trek VI
A Man for all Seasons

Saturday, September 3, 2005

A dialect diaspora?

There have been reports of Louisiana residents relocating all over the country, from Texas to Tennessee to Virginia and elsewhere. (In particular, three cheers to Washington, DC, for this effort and to the Catholic Diocese of Washington for arranging for the incoming refugees not to stay at the Armory, but to find homes for them with area families and landlords with empty apartments they are willing to donate for a time.)

Depending on just how many people relocate, and how far, and how permanently, a very interesting phenomenon may result. 40 years from now, people all over the southeast will have a good chance of knowing someone whose parents moved from the New Orleans area. What effect will such a diaspora have on the language or accent of the South? Maybe none, or nothing much. Then again, maybe something. Just thinking about the Lousianans and especially the cajuns I've met, I have a feeling what makes their dialect so unique will not just die out. Also, as a New Yorker living in Virginia, in an area where many kids have parents from New York, I know one never completely 'blends in' in such circumstances. So with French words and other N'Ollins peculiarities popping up wherever generous souls have opened their homes to today's refugees--what change might this effect on southern accents as a whole? Imagine, say, a Virginian travelling through Alabama in 2040. He hears a cajun word, and understands it because his friend back home says the same thing. Maybe he doesn't even think of it as a cajun word by then.

Maybe it won't turn out to have any major effect, but it could be one small thing the Southern states find they have common with each other, and something else to differentiate them from the rest of the country. Has anything similar happened in history? What do you think? Tawk amongst yuhselves....

Friday, September 2, 2005

Alcuin on New Orleans

Or so it would seem. Quid nomen illius posts these striking lines written by Alcuin of York in a poem about an event that seemed to turn the Christian Anglo-Saxons' world upside down: the Viking sea-raid and sacking of the Lindisfarne monastery. It's funny how the Old English literature that usually swirls around in my head hasn't left even in this time of challenge and material loss. Heartfelt prayers go out to everyone suffering from Katrina, especially to those made unwilling Wanderers or even Seafarers in their own cities.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

utrum malum sit animalum domesticarum electronicer recordare?

Unlocked Wordhoard has the following loaded discussion topic: Pet Blogging: Evil, or Just Misguided? Imagine my surprise when I found the following relevant article from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae:

"Whether pet blogging is evil?"

OBJ. 1. It would seem that pet blogging is not evil. For blogging is a form of communication. Now communication is neither good nor evil per se, but only insofar as its matter is good or evil. Now any legitimate concern of man may be communicated without sin. But pets are given unto man’s dominion for his comfort by God, so they are a legitimate concern. Therefore pet blogging is not evil.

OBJ. 2. Moreover, in the hierarchy of being, God is above man, and man above animals. Now pet blogging is merely the making of a record of one’s preoccupation with lower beings. But the Bible is the record of God’s association with, and love for, a lower being, viz. man; so that the Sacred Scriptures are, in effect, the Divine Blog. Therefore it is not unfitting for a being to create a log about that being’s love for a lower being, and this includes pet blogging.

OBJ. 3. Moreover, blogging is done for two reasons, for others or for oneself. When done for others, it is an act of charity. When done for oneself, it is at least not a hurt to anyone. Thus, either way, pet blogging is not positively evil.

ON THE OTHER HAND, the Philosopher asserts that while individuals differ according to matter, the form or nature of an animal does not change; thus the natures of horses and cats are stable and fixed [respectively]. But God has no body, or matter; rather he is pure spirit. Thus pets are most like God in their natures, but not in any individual pets. But pet blogging glorifies individual pets. Now we should only do things which lead us to God. Therefore, since pet blogging leads us away from God, it is evil.

I RESPOND it must be said that evil is nothing other than a privation of a due good. This good may be either physical or moral. Now pet blogging is a moral evil, insofar as it is an act of frivolity, comprising a waste of resources and general poor stewardship of God's gifts. Moreover, as will be seen below, it unnecessarily puts animals on equal terms with man, which contradicts God's plan for man, who is destined for eternal life, while animals are only meant to serve man, not to be served by man. Yet pet blogging indicates an inordinate degree of service of animals, which service should be rather given to other things. Thus pet blogging is a lack of a due good, which is evil. Indeed also, pet blogs cause strain on the eyes and sensibilities of those who stumble upon them. These are physical evils; therefore pet blogging is also a physical evil.

Thus we proceed to the objections:

AD 1: It is true that communication is neither good nor evil per se, but only insofar as its matter is good or evil. However, the matter of pet blogging is not good, for while the proper care and keeping of animals is a legitimate concern of man, pet blogs keep both the owner and the reader from such care, by distracting both with endless pictures, which neither teach nor edify. Thus regular reading, and surely regular posting, to pet blogs must be classified as excessive, and this is evil.

AD 2: God associates with man, it is true, out of His infinite love for him. However this love is effective, in that it effects in us the Divine Love, and makes us more like Himself. Now, whereas by God's love man is raised higher than he can attain by himself, pets are not by our love raised higher. Moreover, as has been said above, pets are given to man for man's comfort. Therefore insofar as pet blogging demonstrates the consoling power of God, it is a legitimate activity. However, the means should not be esteemed as much as the end. Therefore, insofar as pet blogging demonstrates inordinate preoccupation with our consolation through a lower being, rather than He Who Consoles, a higher being, it is not legitimate.

AD 3: The principle of double effect requires that we take into account evil consequences of morally good or neutral acts done with good intentions. Thus, e.g., walking is neither good nor evil, and when done to help someone may become good, but that good must be commensurate with the foreseen evil of stepping on people as we walk. Now of the three aspects of human actions that must be accounted for in making moral judgements, act, intention, and circumstance, pet blogging is not evil in act, since communication is morally neutral. Moreover, it is possible for the agent to avoid evil intentions. However in circumstance, pet blogging is most definitely evil, given the foreseen consequences of waste of time, undue glorification of lower beings to the detriment of higher beings (whether man or God), unpleasantness to the ocular sense, offense to man's inborn sense of order, contravention of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty, and morbid fascination with irrational animals. Therefore the argument of not intending evil is not sufficient to prove that pet blogging is not evil.

From this it should be evident that pet blogging is not an act of charity, but against it, and those with informed consciences refrain from such activities.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

OT - survey meme

[Rare Off Topic Post]

I've decided to reply to a sort of blog-version of one of those chain-email personality tests, mainly I suppose because I was tapped personally (by derek at haligweorc), unlike those ever-so-impersonal send-to-address-book emails. I even put myself at the bottom of the "list", though the fact that it's numbered seems pointless given the outspreading nature of such memes. Still, I suppose people want to know what all these new bloggers are like, so I am perfectly happen to let two imperfect tests do the job that a normal conversation should.


Overview: This post is a community experiment with two broad purposes. The first is to create publicly accessible data about bloggers' personalities, which may have sociological value in addition to being just plain fun. The second is to track the propagation of this meme through blogspace. Full details and explanation can be found on the original posting:

Instructions (to join in the experiment)

1) Take the IPIP-NEO personality test and the Political Compass quiz, if you have not done so already.

2) Copy to the clipboard that section of this post that is between the double lines, and paste it into your blog editor. (Blogger users may wish to use 'compose' mode to preserve formatting and hyperlinks. Otherwise, be sure to add hyperlinks as necessary.)

3) Replace the answers in the "survey" section below with your own.

4) Add your blog information to the "track list", in the form: "Linked title - URL - optional GUID".

5) Any additional comments should go outside of the double lines, including the (optional) nomination of bloggers you wish to pass this experimental meme on to.

6) Post it to your blog!


Age: 28
Gender: Male
Location: Sterling, VA, USA
Religion: Christian (Roman Catholic)
Occupation: Church Youth Director
Began blogging: (dd/mm/yy): 07/07/05

Political Compass results:

Left/Right: 0.25
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -0.31

IPIP-NEO results:


Track List:

1. Philosophy, et cetera - - pixnaps97a2
2. Parableman - - p8r8bl9m8n18
3. Rebecca Writes -
4. Ales Rarus - - ales2112avis
5. Here I Stand - - exiled323catholic
6. Bending the Rule - - regulabenedicti
7. lutherpunk - - lutherpunk
8. haligweorc - - derek
9. The Bitter Scroll - - king alfred


I don't nominate anyone to continue this survey, unless you decide while reading that you'd like to, in which case, consider yourself tapped.

As for the results, of course they're not true--completely. But it never hurts to ask yourself those questions for their own sake, even if the results are off a bit.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Long Lost Evil Twin Contest

One of the comments on the discussion of convergent etymologies at Tenser, said the Tensor (see below) got me thinking. The comment, by Q. Pheevr, ended as follows: "Of course, if you took away the "same spelling" requirement, the possibilities would expand tremendously—we'd let in shirt/skirt and otter/hydro/vodka/undulate/whisk(e)y and all sorts of others...."

So here's the contest: Who can post the most interesting, ironic set of related words? What I'm looking for is a set of words that are ultimately related etymologically, but which have come down through different paths to become quite opposite (or at least seeming unrelated) in meaning. So, the shirt/skirt group wouldn't count--they're the same category of thing--but the idea that otters are related to whiskey and vodka is pretty interesting.

Rules of the contest: Post the most interesting or ironic set of words you know or can find, and we will all enjoy them. I will decide who I think are the winners, tell no one, and award them nothing. (Oh come now, if you're going to post in such a contest, you probably think studying words is its own reward anyway, nicht wahr?)

To get you started: Also related are these two previous posts.

Long Lost Word-Relatives

There’s a totally fascinating and fun little exercise posted over at Tenser, said the Tensor, and I can’t wait to see what people post in reply. This current blog post was originally going to be a reply, but quickly got a little large and unwieldy, so I thought I’d just link.

The long and short of it is this: Tensor is looking for words that have two different pronunciations, which mean two different things, and are not simply morphologically-meaningful variations on essentially the same word (like record: REH-cord vs. re-CORD) ... and yet come ultimately from the same etymological source. In other words, he wants two long-lost relatives that still look related after all these years. Below are some possibilities, although I don’t know how recently he’s looking for. (At least one of the words below has to go back to an Indo-European root to explain its divergent meanings.) I used the online American Heritage dictionary for etymologies I didn’t know.


1. PRO-cess (A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result): Middle English proces, from Old French for development, from Latin processus, from past participle of procedere, to advance.
2. pro-CESS (To move along in or as if in a procession): Back formation from procession, from Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin processi.


1. DE-zert (like the Sahara): Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin desertum, from neuter past participle of deserere, to desert.
2. de-ZERT (to abandon, leave empty): French déserter, from Late Latin desertare, frequentative of Latin deserere, to abandon.


1. BOH (for shooting arrows): Middle English bowe, from Old English boga, from Indo-European bheug-.
2. BOW (rhymes with OW!): Middle English bowen, from Old English bugan. These are the Old English noun and verb forms of essentially the same word. But there’s a third, possibly from a different Germanic source:
2A. BOW (front of a ship): Middle English boue, probably of Low German origin, from Indo-European root bheug-.


1. mi-NUTE (tiny): Middle English, from Latin minutus, past participle of minuere, to lessen.
2. MIN-ute (60 seconds): Middle English, from Old French, from Medieval Latin (pars) minuta (prima), (first) minute (part), from Latin minuta, fem. of minutus, small.

1. at-TACH-ez (verb): Middle English from Old French attachier.
2. æt-tæ-SHAYZ (unaccented plural of attaché): from Modern French, from Old French attachier.
Attachier is itself an alteration of estachier, from estache, stake, of Germanic origin.

1. BAY-seez (plural of basis): Middle English basis, from Latin, from Greek.
2. BAY-siz (are belong to us): Middle English base, from Old French, from Latin basis, from Greek.

1. FEE-nay (end of a piece of music, e.g.): from Italian, from Latin finis, end, supreme degree.
2. (rhymes with wine): Middle English fin, from Old French, from Latin finis, end, supreme degree.

(This one goes way back!)
1. TAX-eez (plural of taxi): short for taxicab, short for taximeter cab. Taximeter: French taximètre, alteration of taxamètre, from German Taxameter: Medieval Latin taxa, tax, from taxare, to tax, from Latin, to touch, reproach, reckon, frequentative of tangere, to touch, from Indo-European root tag-.
2. TAX-iss: Greek, arrangement, from tassein, tag-, to arrange, from Indo-European root tag-.


Either from verb put (place) or from verb putt (as in golf), which was originally a variant of put.

Should I count refuse? The noun and the verb both come from French refuser, to refuse, where the relationship is the same as the two pronunciations of reject, but both forms were subsequently imported into English, where the relationship is not exactly the same.

Also, if proper names count, then we have the adjective august and the month of August, named after the man, named after the adjective.

If you have any others, go over and post them here.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

NYT's Law of Non-Metavulgarization

This post over at Language Log is a good follow-up to gaetanus' Law of Vulgarization below. Apparently, avoiding using certain words isn't enough; we must now avoid using words that remind us of said vulgarities. This reminds me of the last dog I had, and oddly, I think it happens to people, too. It used to be that after a while of saying, "Do you want a bone?" our dog learned what that meant. But if my mom wanted to ask me if we had any more bones, he would hear the word bone and get excited. So we started to spell it: b-o-n-e. Then he picked up on that, so we would spell it backwards: e-n-o-b. He learned that too. In fact, he got so good at knowing what sounds were usually associated with either getting a bone or going outside that we literally couldn't ask each other questions starting with "Do you want..." without him getting excited.

Relevance to language: This same seems to happen with taboo words: Familiarity breeds contempt. If we start using a euphemism long enough, it becomes just as associated with its referent as the word we're avoiding, and then that word becomes taboo, and we must use another one...until that one gets "contaminated" (to use Language Log's term). It seems like society has a built-in need to have words you shouldn't say (in situations the slightest bit formal at least), and if one word is avoided successfully enough--too successfully--by the majority of society, or by the right caste of society--there becomes a need to stigmatize whatever has become the euphemism. Usually it's because we need a way of talking about unpleasant things without "rubbing our noses in it", to use another dog analogy. If a euphemism becomes so familiar that it ceases to remind us of another word, but of the concept itself, it has lost its usefulness, and now itself requires a euphemism.

Now the Aristotelian mean seems to lie between the two extremes of being too willing to offend sensibilities by using taboo words, and forgetting or misunderstanding the reason for euphemisms in the first place, and that language is ultimately an arbitrary human convention, and not being able to tolerate even harmless "winking" by people who have the stomach to acknowledge what euphemisms are in the end: a linguistic work-around for a human weakness.

(I have a friend, definitely of the "winking" type, whose bathroom door is adorned with a pretty little sign labelled, "The Euphemism".)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


That is, cinematic depictions of Beowulf. Dr. Scott Nokes picked up on the Lambert post below and further made note of this version of Beowulf, and points to dkp's fuller treatment of it. The movie is currently in production for the big screen via the dubious magic of motion capture (à la Polar Express and Peter Jackson's Gollum). It is directed by Roger Zemeckis and includes, inter alia, Anthony Hopkins in its cast.

Not to be confused with Zemeckis' film is the live action Beowulf and Grendel (imdb), also currently in production. It is being filmed in Iceland (as perfect a place as any outside of Denmark itself) under the direction of Sturla Gunnarsson. The writer, a Latvian (woohoo!), has a blog about the movie here on blogspot. I'm not too terribly confident so far in his knowledge of the themes of the poem.

Then, finally, there's this version, which I only just stumbled across on imdb and know nothing about.

I'm not really sure what I think of all this. I guess I'm glad for the exposure for a poem I love so much, but I suspect most moviemakers don't look to it for the same things I do, so who knows how any of these will turn out. The story can so easily become merely a vehicle for FX, but it would be nice if somehow out of all this came a movie that allows a glimpse at the old Germanic world with some human substance to it. Beyond the imaginative world of monsters and myths that Germanic lore has contributed to modern fantasy, I would love to see a movie that looks at what it was like to live in the culture that produced that mythology, for good or ill, what traits, virtues, and vices it tended to promote (or discourage), etc. But in the end, I'll probably have to settle for getting this from my own reading, and eye candy from the theater.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hwæt! A movie review!

There is a brilliant, er, "translation" of select passages of Beowulf in this review of the Christopher Lambert movie Beowulf. (Note: in the last sentence, the words "Christopher Lambert" convey more information about the movie than the word Beowulf.)

Be sure to keep glancing at the Old English that is being translated; the reviewer plays a little freely in his textual criticism, but given the situation and end result, I think the needs of the interpretive community outweigh the intention of the author--just this once. ;-)

Seriously, read the whole thing, even if you think the poem starts out slow (Dryhten forbid). A dragonhoard of humor shall you find ere the end.

Note how, even in the suspect manuscript used, Beowulf still dies in the end. But not in the movie! After all, there can be only one! (Oh, wrong movie? Eh, it's all the same, really.)

I got pie

Mmmm...agapai! Thanks to how my friends and I in college used to add unspoken "contexts" to words, I now always a) think of pie when I hear the plural of the Greek word agape, and b) laugh to myself when I see or even think about pie. Ah...I love pie. And linguistic inside jokes.

Speaking of PIE (Proto-Indo-European in this case), as a relatively new blogger and blog reader, I've been having all sorts of fun with this recent post by sauvage noble. Now, I've never "studied" Indo-European, only a bunch of its descendants. So I was simultaneously gratified and mildly disturbed (ok, not really) at my ability to understand most of this comic. Admittedly, the man's speech was the hardest part. Also, there seems to be a proto-Germanic cat at the end. Thanks, sauvage.

Monday, August 8, 2005

The Law of Vulgarization

King Alfred pointed me to this post which examines the grammatical status of such phrases as "butt-crack of dawn." He sides with one Prof. Pullum as opposed to one Prof. Liberman in calling the phrase as a whole a "folk metaphor" as opposed to seeing "butt" as an intensifier.

Some time ago I considered phrases such as these and came up what I called the "Law of Vulgarization" in order to explain them. The Law of Vulgarization states that any syntatically correct phrase or statement may be made more emphatic by the substitution of one or more of its words: a vulgar word for a non-vulgar word. The new vulgar word need not make sense in the context, and the resulting phrase or sentence need not make logical sense in its new form: it derives its sense from its previous, implied form and its new degree of intensity from the degree of vulgarity of the substituted word.

The particular phrase which occasioned the creation of this law is a good example: I was asked to explain the derivation of the phrase "half-assed". After some thought, I concluded that the phrase could only be a modification of the phrase "half-hearted". Now, saying that something was done "half-hearted"ly makes sense: the heart is considered the seat of desire, so that to do something with half your heart is to do something with less than full desire to see the deed done. But saying that something is done with half an ass just makes no sense. It was clear to me that the sense was the same, however, but that "half-assed" is a bit more emphatic: more typically used when angry or frustrated at the performance of a job.

Now, I think this phenomenon is similar to "metaphor", in that a certain stylistic flair is often evident in the choice of the substituted word: "butt-crack of dawn" is a good example of that, connecting the unpleasantness of a time with the unpleasantness of a thing, and thus evoking resonances with the phrase "a shitty time of day". But I think, overall, that intensification is really the name of game, given many examples where any real meaning conveyed by the new word is absent. For example (and this was another one of my favorites, spontaneously created by a friend of mine): "everyone and his butt is going to be there." This is obviously redundant, since one would expect everyone coming "there" to also bring their butt. Further, this redundancy actually works against the logic of the original metaphor, "everyone and his brother will be there", in which it is important that one would not expect more people beyond "everyone" to be "there", but that more people (the "brothers") will in fact be there. So, changing "brother" to "butt" and hence, in strict logic, reducing the number of people implied to be "there", one, in simple logic, reduces the effect of the phrase. But in fact, by the Law of Vulgarization, the substitution in fact adds emphasis rather than subtracting it, as the meaning of the word "butt" in the new context is unimportant.

Note that this example also illustrates a corollary of the Law, which is that since the fact that the sense of the transformed phrase comes from an implied previous phrase, the implied previous phrase should still be fairly obvious after the substitution. Hence, you will most often find the Law in operation on fairly common stock phrases.

Now, why does vulgarizing a phrase make it more emphatic? This is easily enough understood. Vulgar words, by definition, have polite societal restrictions on use. The use of such words, therefore, often (if not always) implies a degree of emotion on the part of the speaker: a certain state in which the speaker is not inclined to care about societal niceties. Hence, the natural and spontaneous use of these words as intensifiers is perfectly understandable.

Twisting Words

Several years ago I read in a book on JRR Tolkien by Tom Shippey about a set of words with widely varying definitions but all of whom had or may have had etymological common ground. The words writhe, wraith, wreath, wroth, and wrath all share a the common notion of twisting. Respectively, they might be described as meaning: to twist in pain, a being that is twisted (inside, in his soul), a twisted branch for decoration, twisted with anger, and the state of being twisted with anger.

I was reminded of this little linguistic family the other night when gaetanus told me of a similar family of words in Syriac; so I did some actual looking-into and found much more than I bargained for. I looked through all the wr- words in Old English (J.R. Clark Hall et al., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary), and found a ton of words I deemed likely candidates for being related, so I grouped them as follow below (in no particular order). Question marks mean I wasn't sure, but was interested in learning more. No question marks mean I was pretty sure I would find a connection. Since I really love finding connections between words and roots, I have to constantly remind myself that just because I can see how words could be related doesn't mean they are (although my instincts generally serve me well).

Group 1: wriðan, to twist; gewriðelian, to bind; wriðels, bandage; gewriðing, binding; wriða, band, collar, ring; wræd, band, wreath; wrasen, band, tie, chain.

Group 2: wrað, wroth, furious, hostile, evil; wraðmod, angry; gewraðian, to be angry; wraðlic, grievous, severe, bitter; wræððo, wrath, anger, indignation; wræðan, to anger, get angry, be angry, resist violently.

?Group 3: wræne, unbridled, loose, lustful [so, I figured "morally twisted"]; wrænnes, luxury, lust, wantonness; wrænsa/wrænscipa, wantonnes; wrænsian, to be wanton.

?Group 4: wrid, shoot, plant, bush [I figured plants twist and turn--at least they were often portrayed thus ornamentally]; wridan, to grow, thrive; wridian, to grow, spring up; gewrid, thicket?, husk. Perhaps here also belongs wyrt/weort, plant, root (e.g., St. John's Wort).

Group 5: wrætt, ornament, work of art, jewel; wrættlic, artistic, ornamental, rare, wondrous [I included this because of the vague impression that most AS art seemed to be twisting or intertwining forms, along with the recollection of how they distinguished formed, ornamental gold (say, a ring) from raw gold, by calling the former 'twisted gold'. Cf. Group 8.]

Group 6: wrencan, to twist, spin intrigue, devise plots; wrenc, wile, deceit; modulation, melody.

Group 7: wringan, to wring, twist, squeeze, press out; wringe, (oil) press; gewring, liquor, drink; gewrinclian, to wind about.

Group 8: wræstan, to wrest, bend, twist, to be or make elegant; wræstlere, wræstliend, wrestler; wræstlic, pertaining to wrestling, delicate, elegant; wræstlung, wrestling, struggling.

?Group 9: wrixlan, to change, barter, exchange, lend; wrixl, exchange, barter; gewrixlung, change, loan; gewrixlic, alternating.

Group 10 [misc.]: wrigian, to go, turn, twist, struggle, press forward; wrist, wrist; wræðstudu, column, pillar (This works if they were usually adorned with twisting patterns); wreðian, to support, sustain, uphold; wraðu, prop, help, support, maintenance (the last two based on wræðstudu).

Finally, I also wrote down a few words thinking merely "wouldn't that be cool if these were related somehow, too": weorðan, to happen, become; wyrd, fate (>weird); weorð, worth, worthy (together with weorðscipa, worship).

Given these groups, I tried to imagine what common root they might all have come from (remember, I haven’t studied linguistics formally yet, and what follows are my own reconstructions). Based on patterns of sound change I’ve noticed throughout the Germanic languages and elsewhere, here’s what I came up with:

Start with a hypothesized root *wrenð. Subsume the nasal n into a lengthened vowel and you get *wrêð. That long ê could easily either open into wræð (Group 2) or close further into wrið (Group 1). From the former could have come wrætt (Group 5) by losing the aspiration of the final dental, and wræst (Group 8) by a sibilization of the same dental. Nasalizing the dental of Group 5 yields wræne (Group 3). Unaspirating the dental of Group 1 yields wrid (Group 4).

Alternatively, from the original root *wrenð, palatalize the final dental and you have wrenc (Group 6), sounding like ModEng. ‘wrench’. Subsume the nasal n into the vowel and give voice to the medial consonant, and you get something like wrigian (Group 10). Harden the ‘ch’ sound on wrenc to a ‘k’ or ‘g’ sound and you’re on your way to wring- (Group 7). The hardest to connect is wrixl- (Group 9); perhaps it came from a medial form *wrisc from *wrist, or perhaps wring followed the succession *wrig, *wrigs, *wrics (=wrix).

Having done all of this supposition and speculation, I recently found this family tree of words stemming from the IE root *wer-[2]. According to this outline, Indo-European *wer, with assorted final sounds, yielded the Germanic roots wrð/werð/wurð; wrið; *wurgjan; *wreng; *wrig; *wrihst-; *werp-; and *wurm.

In other words, not only are all my original ‘writhe’ words related, but I found whole new branches of the family: Wrong meant crooked or twisted. Worry originally meant to strangle (twist the neck). Weird, from OE wyrd, meant fate, or that which happens to one, from weorthan, to become or ‘turn’ into something. (So a ‘twist of fate’ is ultimately redundant.) And a worm is something that twists and writhes in the ground. And the long lost non-Germanic relatives of this family range from Latin vers-/vert-, to the Celtic root in briar, to Greek rhombus.

To wrap up, it may seem weird or even perverse that a conversation on the roots of so many words in prose and verse should be worth studying, but don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with a little subversive wordplay among bookworms, as along as you divert the wrath of those who writhe at your introversion.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Taking apart words, or taking words apart?

So my friend gaetanus and I were in a bar the other night, drinking beer, discussing Germanic and Semitic linguistic patterns, and studying German. We're reading through parts of a German translation of The Lord of the Rings to help us brush up since we both know the English text almost by heart. And I got to thinking about those separable-prefixed verbs German has. My thoughts are far from being fully worked out or refined; I'm just posting where they are at the moment.

Here's the situation: German has verbs with separable prefixes, like ausgehen, 'to go out'. 'I go out' is, simply enough, ich gehe aus. In the presence of other modifiers, the prefix is sent to the end of the sentence, hence Ich gehe morgen abend mit Elsa aus, 'I'm going out with Elsa tomorrow evening.'

I've always been fascinated by these verbs in German, and by what I think is a related issue of the distinction between adverbs and prepositions. In a way, prepositions are like adverbs that have a particularly strong association with a noun (its object). Hinter [behind] is a preposition when it has an object, and an adverb when it lacks one. I mean, why make new words for basically the same thing? 'You've fallen behind' (adverb) vs. 'You've fallen behind me' (preposition).

In the English sentence, I'm going out, 'out' is clearly an adverb. In the German sentence, Ich gehe aus, the word aus is part of the verb, but when separate it plays what boils down to the same role: it modifies the verb.

Ok, now watch what happens when I translate this sentence into German: 'The landlord delivers to Frodo the letter.'--Der Wirt stellt dem Frodo den Brief zu. You want to say that zustellen means 'to deliver [something] to [someone]', but be careful. The zu in zustellen does not correspond to the to in deliver to. In English the to is a preposition, and is grouped grammatically with its object; only as a whole does the prepositional phrase 'to most hobbits' modify 'applies' adverbially. Zu, on the other hand, modifies the verb directly, and the Hobbits are left to be an indirect object of the verb, rather than an object of a preposition.

So musing that the separable prefix is essentially an adverb that is now permanently associated with the verb, I went further and thought: Could the prefixes of some of these verbs have originally (i.e., in a pre-modern stage of the language) begun their lives as prepositions?

In Old English, there are two ways to construct prepositional phrases. Sometimes you find the preposition before its object as in English ("I walk along the beach"), but other times you will find the preposition after its object (as if to say "I walk the beach along"). What's that? Oh, yes, good catch: it is, of course, more properly a postposition. Either way, pre or post, works once you know what's going on. In fact, as gaetanus pointed out, the postposition construction has the convenient added feature of boxing in the modified text, so it is clear that it doesn't modify anything outside the box. What's more, the box is framed by verb + postposition, two elements working together from afar to do the same job: like parents at church sitting at opposite ends of a pew, with all their kids between them so they can keep them in line.

See if this works with our letter-delivery example. (Hopefully we'll have that letter fully delivered by the end of this post, so Frodo can get on with his story, and we with our own.) If we were to use a postposition instead of a preposition, the sentence would look like this (the German sentence follows again, to show the similarity):

The landlord delivers Frodo the letter to.
Der Wirt stellt dem Frodo den Brief zu.

So the successive stages of how words like to/zu were conceived may have gone thus: 1) 'To' is an adverb (thus modifying the verb) indicating direction of delivery, and is essential to the meaning of the verb (it cannot be omitted). 2) When the sentence contains more information determining the verb (like objects), the essential adverb may go before or after it (probably convention will settle on one of these options). 3a) The essential adverb begins to be associated, in the minds of speakers, less with the verb and more with its object. They form one unit, a 'prepositional phrase' which as a whole, modifies the verb. OR: 3b) The essential adverb is associated with the verb so closely it is now considered 'part' of it: a multiple word predicate, just like 'will be going'.

So, if any of this is plausible, it seems English followed the path to 3a, while German took the road to 3b, but really they both started out doing the same thing. I'm not an expert, of course, and this could all be wrong as likely as not, but it's something to look into.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kine is money

Cattle was money in the ancient world. This sounds like a cultural statement, but it's a linguistic observation too. In Hebrew, one of the words for cattle, miqneh, also carries a connotation of 'purchase' (cf. Gen49:32). The Latin word pecu meant cattle originally, but money generally, as we see in English words like 'pecuniary'. 'Pecuniary' is a fancy word meaning 'related to money'. The Germanic words that survive in English are much more down to earth: 'fee', for example, or 'gold' (cf. German Geld, 'money').

Here's the cool part. 'Fee' comes from Old English feoh, which also means 'cattle, money'. It is how the Anglo-Saxons ended up pronouncing *fehu, which is what Latin pecu sounded like when the original Germanics got hold of it. So you have the same root from Indo-European coming into English twice: once straightaway, as it was forming as its own separate language, and again over a millennium later when modern English was on a linguistic shopping spree, taking words from Latin for scholarly purposes left and right. (Well, maybe not 'right', but 'left' came directly into English as sinister.)

We see this again in the concept of "above, over." English started out with over, ofer, but that wasn't enough for the fine nuances English vocabulary would come to be capable of. So in addition to our own word, we have taken no less than three words or prefixes from other languages: German ueber-, the Latin super-, and the Greek hyper-. These didn't just mean the same thing (roughly) in their respective languages, they were the same word! It is oddly appropriate that the commercially-minded English, who gave the particularly commercial connotation to the word 'fee', should receive such a rich return-on-linguistic-investment.

These are the same English who ruled half the world with said commercial empire.

Resistance is futile. Your words will be assimilated.