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.