Friday, December 8, 2006

Unlikely Germanic Book Ideas

Because, you know, books are always my favorite gifts... ;-) Here are some unlikely gift/book ideas from Germanic history.

10. How to Win Friends and Influence People - by Aethelred the Unready

9. Dinner Guest Etiquette - by Grendel

8. One Family, One Land: Preserving Your Estate for Posterity - by Charles the Great

7. Peace and Mercy: Keys to a Happy Realm - by Ermanaric the Ostrogoth

6. "For I am Meek and Humble of Heart": A Treatise on the Passive Virtues - by Eirikr Blood-axe

5. Glories of the Frankish Realm - by Widukind the Saxon

4. Your Word is Your Bond: The Importance of Honoring Treaties - by Guthrum of Danish East Anglia

3. 101 Great Tips on Beauty and Diplomacy - by Egil Skallagrimsson

2. Keepin' it Real: Function Over Form - by Childeric III the Merovingian

1. Winning the Two Front War - by Harald of Wessex

Thursday, November 30, 2006

As if there had been any doubt

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

This actually was a pretty cool quiz: By which I mean I like it b/c it asks mostly about things I tend to listen for on my own. The Mary-marry-merry test is one of the first things I came up with when I moved from Brooklyn to Virginia--as most of my friends know.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Two cheers for the new Tolkien Encyclopedia!

Not three, b/c as Mike Drout relates, plenty of disappointments surround it. Nevertheless, it exists, and there is moderate rejoicing. It sounds like a worthy tome either way, but when you know the great height something could have been, it's adequacy often doesn't seem adequate. Regardless: thank you, Mike, for your hard work on what I'm sure is still an awesome accomplishment.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Internets and Englishes, Preciousss

Lauren over at Polyglot Conspiracy has an interesting post on a NYT Magazine article on the Internet and the Oxford English Dictionary. I'm a little surprised that there are still so few linguists that are internet-savvy; despite the strictness of the current attestation requirements that Lauren points out, still you'd think more people would be studying what must be one of the greatest conduits for language change (in English at least) since the Normans. For example, the article mentions how words extinct in one place (perhaps considered more "standard") may still survive somewhere else--i.e., the internet allows for documentation of the many world "Englishes". An interesting article and post.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Building a Fantasy Language Team

It's the early middle ages, and you and your friends are putting together your Fantasy Language Teams when a three-way deal starts to suggest itself. You're playing Old English, but your word eagðyrl, just hasn't been scoring the usage you'd hoped. You look over to Old Norse and see the word vindauga, who's languishing where he is, but you think, with a little retooling, a little training, he could have a place on your team and really become a household name.

Meanwhile, Team Norse is looking to replace vindauga with something else, but they're not interested in your eagðyrl. They're more interested in the Romance player fenestra. Fenestra's all the rage: he'll end up winning the Vocabulary League's highest prize--the Import Cup--both in France as fenêtre and in Germany as Fenster.

So what can you, Old English, give to Old High German or Old French to persuade them to send fenestra north, thereby allowing Norse to release vindauga? Well, there were many borrowings throughout history, but to pick one, let's go with Sonnabend. (You don't have to trade for the same position, after all.) The day before Sunday has several names among Germanic lands. One of the German words, Samstag comes from sabbath. If you say Samstag with a cold, you'll hear the inherent relationship between b's and m's: hence sabb[ath]'s Day > sab's Tag > Samstag.

In England, the day's dedication to pagan Saturn prevailed in the name Saturday--an irony, since the Christian missionaries to the continent preferred 'Sun-eve', or sunnanæfen, cognate of what would become the other German word for Saturday, Sonnabend. So the English word is Roman-influenced, but the German word is Old English.

<aside>Note that German did already have the Germanic roots for sun and eve. Strictly speaking, this isn't a word borrowing, but a borrowed translation. Case in point: The telephone allows you to hear things far away, hence its name from Greek tele-, far, and phoné, sound. The English word is put together from words borrowed from Greek. But German puts its word together from native Germanic roots: Fernsprecher = fern, far + sprecher, speaker. The same thing applies to Sonnabend: native (German) roots, influenced by Old English construction (sunnan + æfen > Sonn + Abend).</aside>

Anyway, with the contribution of OE sunnanæfen to German Sonnabend we can call our three-way Fantasy trade complete. Fenestra goes to Team Norse where it will become, e.g., Swedish fönster. Norse vindauga, literally 'wind-eye', comes to Old English where it will become window. OE eagðyrl is cut from the team. And Old English sends sunnanæfen to German where it becomes a household name every week as Sonnabend.

Bottom line: no one kept their original word for 'window', except possibly Old French. German and Norse took the Romance root. English has a Germanic root, but not the original Old English one. And while French kept the Romance root, it has plenty of words of Germanic origin as well (matter for another post some day).

Thursday, November 2, 2006

There are no A's buried in the cemetery

A little mnemonic device for All Souls' Day.

Speaking of mnemonic, here's a root that spans Indo-European. That odd pair of nasal consonants at the beginning of the word shows up in various forms all over the place. The word's Greek ancestor was mnémōn. It also comes into English (memory) from Latin memoria. Germanic languages had their own version, too. Old English had the verb gemunan 'remember', and its umlauted version gemyndgian, whence modern English mind.

Other relatives in this far-flung family include amnesia, money, monster, (auto-)matic, mandarin, mantra, Muse, and German minnesinger. For more, check out the entry in the Indo-European Roots Index.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cool Quotes #10: How to Read a Saga

If you've ever been annoyed by a friend who criticizes a book or a movie for not being realistic enough--if the words "Just be quiet and watch the movie" have ever dangled from your tongue--then know this is an age-old problem. The author of Göngu-Hrolf's Saga is right there with you.

Since this tale nor anything else can be made to please everyone, nobody need believe any more of it than he wants to believe. All the same the best and most profitable thing is to listen while a story is being told, to enjoy it and not be gloomy: for the fact is that as long as people are enjoying the entertainment they won't be thinking any evil thoughts. Nor is it a good thing when listeners find fault with a story just because it happens to be uninformative or clumsily told. Nothing so unimportant is ever done perfectly.

And the best line comes at the end:

I'd like to thank those who've listened and enjoyed the story, and since those who don't like it won't ever be satisfied, let them enjoy their own misery. AMEN.

Friday, September 29, 2006

German is Chic!

At least, "chic" is German, apparently. I've been periodically picking up the two volumes I have of Bastian Sick's Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, a sort of German version of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves I suppose. Since I'm such a sucker for interesting or ironic etymologies, I loved reading about the word chic (that's French for 'chic'), which was borrowed into German with the spelling Schick.

But where did French get the word? From Latin? Nope. Says Sick: "The middle low German word schick stood for likeness, form, custom; schicklich had the meaning 'appropriate, becoming'." So the modern German Schick is a German-French-German loanword. And you thought the French had the monopoly on chic!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

English: It's In There!

Looking back at the post I just wrote, my eyes (as always) gravitate toward the foreign words, and my mind (as usual as well) gravitates to any related words in English (or other languages.) I love how all 9 of the Latin, Old English, and Old Norse words in that post have cognates or descendants in modern English:

Villa is English, but so are villain + related forms, the -ville suffix, and nasty. Insula gives us insular of course, but also the 's' in 'island', which otherwise comes from Old English. No really: the 's' was added to iland by people mistaking the word's etymology as coming from French isle, from Latin insula. (Check out the Word Origins section at, s.v. "island".) Domus yields 'domestic' and related words.

The Old English words cot and hám, beget 'cottage', and 'home'. Seld is a tough one, but the same root can be found in familiar proper names like La Salle (one of many Germanic roots that survived in French).

Old Norse hýbýli became Norwegian hybel, and I'd be surprised if it isn't related to English 'hovel'. Hús, of course, is the same word in Old English that yielded 'house' (so that Scottish and Eastern Canadian pronunciation of house is really quite ancient), and garðr's Old English cognate geard had its 'g' pronounced like a 'y', hence the modern form 'yard'.

Postcasts and Podcards

Did I get that right? Anyway, I just got a postcard from Winchester from Agent 9, a friend whom I see too infrequently. It's got a picture of the statue of King Alfred I use as my avatar, as well as Winchester's High Street, and the Butter Cross (no, it's not a monument to Christian dairy farmers). Thanks, Nine! I deeply envy your trapsing around the British Isles while I schlepp around northern Virginia.

I also uploaded a bunch of files to the Bitter Scroll podcast. They're the recordings I made for the Gallery of Germanic Languages at, so they're not new, but at least they're all in one place. (Thanks to Aelfwine Scylding to hosting them for a while.)

Other news at AncientWorlds includes the continued development of "neighborhoods"; they're about to start beta testing the ability to "move in" to places, in any of three types of houses (social levels). So in Rome they'll have insula, domus, and villa. What's more, it sounds like the more multilingual "worlds" like Germania and the Orient will have terms appropriate to each location within it--i.e., that if you move into, say, Winchester in Wessex you'll be able to choose to live in a cot, a hám, or a seld, but if you want your persona to live in Trondheim, he may have a hýbýli, a hús, or a garðr to choose from. More interactivity will be good. There are always interesting things coming down the pipeline at AW.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Awesome Soccer Side-Effect

[slightly updated/edited]
These two articles, on a side-effect of the World Cup in the homeland I've never seen, heartens me to no end. I remember when the "collective depression" remark was made and was depressed for Germany; now I'm happy for her. Wow, do I wish I could be over there right now!

Feelings of patriotism stifled for decades by the Holocaust came to the fore...

Finally! I've always been patriotic both for the USA and for Germany, but when people around you have knowledge of German history that stops at 1944 ... It's hard to explain to some people how you can be patriotic for what's good about a country that's done something bad, or for what came after the bad. The answer, of course, can be gleaned from statements like this:

Germany was always full of friendly and optimistic people like Klinsmann -- it's just that they were often drowned out by all the complainers and pessimists.

The good was always there. It's just sometimes like trying to explain to a friend why you still love your brother, who hurt your friend deeply long ago, but has since grown better and wiser. Still, I wonder if this German patriotism wasn't still easier here than in Germany sometimes. (How do my German readers feel about this?)

You know something seismic has happened when England fans who came to Germany with inflatable Spitfires singing " 10 German Bombers" suddenly start supporting the German national team.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair pointed out this unprecedented phenomenon in an opinion piece for Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper, and declared: "The old clichés have been replaced by a new, positive and more fair image of Germany."

Again, I'm gladdened to no end, both that Germans are/feel different, and that people are starting to feel differently about them. I don't mind all that much that there are stereotypes of countries out there. Positive stereotypes, if rather useless, can be fun. (E.g., I now know to plan transportation for any outing with my friends, even ones I'm not technically organizing, and I'll just tell Mikaela it's b/c I'm half German.) ;-) Negative stereotypes, however, regardless of how often you think you see them coming true, are not only uncharitable, they're rather pointless and only hinder you from actually knowing someone.

Anyway, I'm glad Germany was able to put such a great showing of hospitality, friendliness, and yes, organization. They've done a lot to get past their somewhat recent history; now maybe everyone else can do the same in their preconceived ideas about them.

Said Britain's Times newspaper,

"Never mind the final, Germans are the real World Cup winners."

And this despite the temptations to despair and depression that preceded the Cup. A great line from the article:

It seems the only people who had any concerns ahead of the World Cup were the hosts themselves. In fact, capital-A "Angst" dominated the run-up to the tournament. Not just the normal jitters any organizer would have, but deep, ponderous Angst. The German kind.

Hm. Speaking of stereotypes, I guess I do get that quite a bit... At least I can also be organized when I need to be. And friendly. (When I need to be.)

Herzlichen Glückwünsche, Deutschland!

Update: The International Herald-Tribune has this article, perhaps a better expression of what has happened, and in context of Germany's "psychological journey" since WWII.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Simplified Spelling

From sauvagenoble's post on, I found this story about the ongoing desire to simplify English spelling. Here is an attempt to organize what I think about this.

1. Even if we start spelling English with the International Phonetic Alphabet, we will never be able to represent spoken English with complete accuracy. Every language, even more "phonetic" ones, like German and Spanish according to the article, has discrepancies between spoken and written forms. This comes about both from change over time and change across regions. How will you represent "talk"? With a closed aw-sound, like in England and New York, or with the more open ah-sound of the rest of North America? Will my three separate pronunciations of Mary, marry, and merry be taught as wrong if simplified spelling means there are no longer three different vowels (long a, short a, short e) in these words? Even the transcription on the IPA's own page chooses the r-less pronunciation of international, taking one side of a division that spans the entire Anglophonic world.

Language change over time is also a challenge to simplified spelling. Everytime we look at a word and realize we (or some of us) have changed how we say it, do we change spelling accordingly? It seems like simplified spelling will only reflect the pronunciation of those who enact it, at the time they enact it. And as for change over longer periods, simplifying spelling means Shakespeare--writing in early modern English and thus a challenging version of the same language we speak--will instantly become for students about accessible as Chaucer or even Beowulf.

The goal of matching spoken with written English will never be met because they serve two different purposes: Spoken language matches the varying situations of life, while written language holds them all together just close enough to preserve a fragile unity. We all have multiple versions of spoken language: public-speaking, job-interview, talking to grandparents, chatting with friends, talking to pets, cursing wayward computers, etc. And this doesn't just entail variance in vocabulary ("stupid" vs "ill-advised"; "not my F-ing problem" vs. "perhaps you should check with..."), but pronunciation as well ("gonna" vs. "going to", "nah" vs. "no", "yeah" vs. "yes"). And of course the fine line between what constitutes a different pronunciation vs. a different word (Southern "cuss" vs. standard "curse") itself only highlights the difficulty of trying to nail down standard English pronunciation into a simplified spelling.

2. Moreover, simplified spelling rests upon the idea of representing spoken speech in written. Certainly this has been the goal of writing throughout history, but in this age of literacy and electronic access to written data, the relationship between a word's spoken and written versions is more complex, with each affecting the other. E.g., when I see the word pin, my mind thinks of the word as it sounds when I say it. Yet when I hear a word spoken, my mind really does three things: 1) it registers the sounds it heard and classifies them based on the categories I've already formed (learning more languages here definitely broadens the mind), 2) it recalls the spelling of that word, and 3) it recalls how I pronounce it (the 'right' pronunciation, in a purely referential sense). So when I hear my New York friend M say pin, I hear the sounds in my head, imagine the word 'pin', and automatically compare what I heard with how I say it myself. Ah, but when most of gaetanus' family says pin, I know that's how they say the word 'pen'. It's the written form that helps us both know what we're saying, as is obvious from the very simple act of saying "How do you spell that?" when you don't understand a word spoken by someone with a different dialect from you. This easy solution, referring to the unifying written form of a word, would be lost with simplified spelling; and when we have to ask someone to describe what they mean, rather than simply spelling it, we are talking about a completely different word from ours, which can mean the difference between two dialects and two languages.

3. The article says of simplified spelling proponents:

They even picket the national spelling bee finals, held every year in Washington, costumed as bumble bees and hoisting signs that say "Enuf is enuf but enough is too much" or "I'm thru with through."

Thae sae th bee selebraets th ability of a fue stoodents to master a dificult sistem that stumps meny utherz hoo cuud do just as wel if speling were simpler.

[To transliterate the last sentence, "They say the bee celebrates the ability of a few students to master a difficult system that stumps many others who could do just as well if spelling were simpler."]

First off: "th ability" ? Why not "the", or even "thee" in this case? And "fue"? Why not "fyu"? Granted, these were written by the reporter, not the proponents of simplified spelling, but I'd love to know what their system will be, because it's bound to have inconsistencies of its own.

Seriously though, the spelling bee isn't just a matter of fabricating a system for a few people to be good at, and then congratulating those few that they're good at it. The reason those talented young spellers are encouraged to be good spellers--and rewarded when they are--is because to be a good speller of English you must study a lot of worthwhile stuff from other languages. In learning the why behind the spellings of many even basic words, those bright young boys and girls learn a lot about Latin, Greek, Old English, German, Hebrew, French, Anglo-Norman, and myriad other languages that have contributed to the language we have today. They also learn rules for how English typically assimilates words from each language. One of the reasons English always seems like it has more exceptions to spelling and pronunciation rules than other languages is because we have multiple sets of rules we're drawing from.

(Note that I'm not talking about syntax, which in English has always been predominantly Germanic, even with non-Germanic vocabulary: Hence "attorneys general" is a construction that English speakers are generally aware of, but that always feels a bit foreign and awkward, hence the tendency to turn it from noun-adjective to compound noun and pluralize it as "attorney generals" (which is still currently grammatically incorrect). Anyway, the native Germanic syntax of English highlights again the absurdity of saying that we shouldn't split infinitives because they weren't split in Latin or some such. If we're going to not split infinitives, it should be for a reason internal to English, and be natural to native speakers, and serve some purpose related to communication: clarity, expressiveness, etc.)

Anyway, the rules of English are definitely complex, especially in America where foreign language are usually taught waaaay too late in school, and English is only taught as having a basic set of rules with a million exceptions, instead of several interacting sets of rules with a more typical amount of exceptions. As a learning tool, though, English can't be beat for what our own native words teach you along the way, and you might try teaching it better before you ditch its historical and international richness.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mass Metrics

[Update: fixed links]

caelestis over at sauvage noble has written a series of posts on the new draft English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass, not from a theological point of view, but from one of metrics. Check out his analyses of the mea culpa, the gloria, and the credo. Those who know me know how much I appreciate translations that capture the rhythm and feel of their original (e.g., Tolkien's Gothic poem, Bagme Bloma), so caelestis' analyses were relevant to me, perhaps more than to fellow Catholics of mine who focus on meaning alone. I really like the words I say every day/week to be pleasing to the ear.

On the other hand, I also acknowledge that theology is a science, and words that are synonymous in everyday usage can be the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, and I'd rather have people repeating something that's a little awkward metrically if it means they don't drift into an incorrect understanding of something important. Other bloggers, more qualified (or at least louder) than I, have already and will continue to pick apart the current (to be honest, kinda free and loose in places) translation of the Latin of the Mass. For my part, I can remember even as a kid looking at facing-page English-Latin missals and wondering if there was extra significance to phrases like "and with your spirit" instead of just "and also with you", or "that you should enter under my roof" instead of "to receive you". Knowing theology, there usually is--words mean things--and I hate that nagging feeling like I'm missing stuff, especially if it's because of a silly translation issue.

Maybe in a perfect world, or at least in the perfect language, what we say would be perfectly mirrored by our speech, so that words would always sound like what they meant. I suppose that would mean we'd be speaking a form of poetry all the time (maybe in heaven?).

I also noted caelestis' mention that English tends to have a higher register when more Greek and Latin/French-rooted words appear, versus a lower, more common feel when native Germanic roots dominate more. I'm sure this is an accepted observation by many linguists, and I've noticed it myself (before I heard others confirm my thoughts). I guess I just think it's interesting, and admittedly (given my stated interests), a wee bit gratifying, that after all this time, there's a deep-rooted, almost unconcious linguistic sense that Germanic words are more native or down-to-earth or something, even when the synonymous Latinate word has been around for centuries.

Finally, the Word Nerds podcast did an episode a while back about language registers, and (for example) how we are often able to recite prayers we have't said for decades, all because we remember that particular prayer-style rhythm it had. (Be forewarned: Howard Shepherd gangsta-raps the beginning of Beowulf!) I think this is related to the times in which religious training often proves useful in life: not just when we feel like talking or praying, or when we're deliberating what's right or wrong in a given situation, but (perhaps more importantly) when we're at a loss and don't know who to turn to, or when we don't deliberate about our actions. The reflex habits built into us, when done right, make us better prepared not just for the challenges life hurls at us, but for the challenges we breeze by and don't even recognize as challenges--but they would have been without a bit of training, or at least some vestige of a good habit (virtue).

Ite, blogga est.

[Go, it's gebloggedt!]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Old Germanic Sound Gallery & the Languages of the Franks

So I finally got myself to record something in six of the old Germanic languages that we have documents in (sorry, I didn't get to Old Frisian this time around) for a little event at AncientWorlds called the Thousand Years Faire. There's a thread there called the Gallery of Germanic Languages, and for each language I put together a little description, together with at least one audio resource. I'm the most confident about my pronunciation of the Old English since I've studied it the longest, then of the Gothic (just because I love its sound so much), down to the three Old High German dialects, which I'm the least confident about my pronunciation of. (Dangling preposition alert: deal with it.) :-)

Here are the posts for each (my persona on AW is Eirikr Knudsson, a nice Old English-Norse combo-name). Those of you who are actual current students or teachers of these languages are very welcome to correct my pronunciation (please). [Note: it's not supposed to work this way, but if you navigate to these links with Firefox, the embedded sound files of my readings start automatically (except for the OHG one).]


Old Saxon

Old High German

Old English

Old Norse

Old Frankish

I called "Old Frankish" any language/dialect associated with the Franks, which as you'll learn when you read the last post, were a span of dialects mostly mutually intelligible, but which fall into what are today classified as two separate "languages": Old Low Franconian and Old High German. (Old Low German is the same as Old Saxon.) Funny how much human knowledge tries to chop up into measurable units realities that are in fact fluid and stretch across spectrums.

I've been especially interested in Old Low Franconian and the Franconian dialects of Old High German recently--an interest sparked several months ago by my musing at the Frankish tribe's switch from a Germanic to a Romance language, and wondering what language Charlemagne spoke. Does anyone know anything solid about when this change took place? It seems to me that the Franks moving into Gaul would have meant a lot more contact with native Latin (and even Celtic?) speakers. But surely it takes a while for an entire nation to switch languages. I imagined Charlemagne would have done much to effect this change himself, both by his promotion of schools and learning, and his (family's) close relationship with the Catholic Church. (My namesake in the kingdom of Wessex had similar interests in both regards, but found himself so frustrated at the state of Latin education in his land that he had scribes translate important texts into his native English until such time as people's knowledge of Latin good enough to render translations unnecessary.)

Back to the language of the Franks, then: the earliest example of Old French is the Strassburg Oaths of A.D. 842. This Wikipedia article has a great description plus the original Latin/Old French/Old High German text. (Notice the German dialect used by Louis the German's troops is Rhenish Franconian: politically it's Frankish, but linguistically it's High German.)

So sometime between the arrival of the Germanic Franks into Gaul in the 3rd century, their conversion to Catholicism in the 4th, and the Strasburg Oaths in the 9th, this wholesale language change took place. My sources list the Old Low Franconian dialect I recorded as being "east", associated with Limburg and Aachen. Obviously these areas retain Germanic dialects today (Dutch and German respectively). Moreover, not only was Aachen Charlemagne's palace-home, but the Eastern section of the Frankish kingdom (Austrasia), covering roughly northern Germany and the Low Countries, was the home of Charlemagne's line of Mayors of the Palace (pre-Pippin) / Frankish Kings (post-Pippin). Thus my conclusion that Charlemagne's line would still have spoken Germanic dialects--something between Rhenish Franconian (=Old High German) and Old East Low Franconian.

Feedback is welcome!! (Must ... refrain from ... obvious ... pun about ... being frank ...)

Friday, June 16, 2006

GGL Repost: Old English

Gallery of Germanic Languages: A Look at Old English

Old English is probably the most familiar (if any) of the old Germanic languages. Bede lists the tribes that sailed over to Britain in the fifth century as Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. the Angles came from the small area jutting out into the Baltic Sea called Angeln (named for the people's primary occupation of fishing—hence 'angling'—not for its shape, since this geometric meaning of 'angle' is ultimately Latin, not Germanic). The Saxon homeland, of course, was and still is in northern Germany; and the Jutes came from what is now mainland Denmark (Jutland, now called Jylland).

Besides these three tribes, it seems likely that the migration also included a fair number of Frisians, both because their home, Friesland or Frisia, lay in the Angles' and Saxons' path to the sea, and because Frisian even today is arguably the closest language to English.

The different tribes settled in different areas, creating the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, as well as different dialects. The Angles formed the kingdoms of East Anglia in the east, Northumberland in the north, and Mercia in the midlands. (JRR Tolkien, whose family was from the west midlands, made the Mercian dialect of Old English the language of his Riders of Rohan.) The Saxons settled the very logically named Essex, Sussex, and Wessex ("East Saxons", "South Saxons", and "West Saxons"). The Jutes settled in Kent and southern Hampshire.

The standard form of Old English first encountered by students today is West Saxon, due to the great efforts of King Alfred of Wessex, not just to increase learning, but also his shrewd policy of having important religious and cultural works translated into English until his subjects' knowledge of "book Latin" (boc-læden) had improved enough to make translations unneeded. See this post for more on the dialects of Old English.

In some ways, modern English has retained much of its Germanic heritage. Some sentences can be fashioned that are exactly the same in Old and modern English. E.g.: "Harold is swift; his hand is strong and his word grim." "His cornbin is full and his song is writen; grind his corn for him and sing me his song."* For the most part, though, Old English is undecipherable to the modern English speaker. Partly this is because of the influx of vocabulary from Romance languages that English experienced, even while its basic grammatical structure remained Germanic. Between the Norman Invasion in 1066 and the incredible influence of scholarly Latin in the Middle English period, English is like a Germanic tree with Romance leaves grafted over one side. (Approx. 25% of the English words in this post are ultimately of Romance origin.)

Old English has some characteristics in common with its long-lost cousin on the continent, Old Saxon, such as dropping nasals (n's and m's). Compare:

us: OEng/Sax ús/ûs, versus
OHGer. unsih, OFrank. uns, Gothic unsis.
OEng/Sax cúð/cûð, versus OHGer. kund, OFrank. kundo, Gothic kunþs.
OEng/Sax fíf/fîf, versus OHGer./Gothic fimf.

Following are several sound files demonstrating Old English. First is the Lord's Prayer, recorded by yours truly in the standard West Saxon dialect. I've recorded the same prayer in each of the old Germanic languages to make comparison easier.

The Lord's Prayer, in Old English

Fæder úre, ðú ðe eart on heofonum,
Sí ðín nama gehálgod.
Tó becume ðín rice.
Gewurde ðín willa
On eorþan swá swá on heofonum.

Urne dægwhamlícan hlaf syle ús tódæg.
And forgyf ús úre gyltas,
Swá swá wé forgyfaþ úrum gyltendum.
And ne gelæd ðu ús on costnunge,
Ac álýs ús of yfele. Sóþlice.

The second sound file is from the Lowlands-L website, dedicated to preservation of languages and dialects related to the Lowlands (Low German, Dutch, and the like).

The Wren, in Old English

The modern English version of this story is here. Samples of many other languages are here.

Finally, I read, translate, and discuss the first part of the Dream of the Rood in this episode of my Bitter Scroll podcast.

* Taken from Bruce Mitchell, An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England.

Monday, June 12, 2006

GGL Repost: Old Franconian

Gallery of Germanic Languages: A Look at Old (Low) Franconian

The Frankish tribes, and later, the Frankish Empire, spanned across Germany and France, and from the Netherlands to southern France. Obviously the language spoken by the people was bound to develop regional dialects. And although speakers of these dialects could all pretty much understand each other, in some of the Frankish dialects, people started pronouncing b’s like p’s, g’s like k’s, and in general, participating in the High German Consonant Shift.

Since this particular shift is what modern linguists use to distinguish the High German language from the Low Franconian (and Saxon) languages, we have the interesting factoid that some of the Franks spoke High German dialects, while others spoke "Low Franconian" dialects. But don’t worry—they didn’t know!! As far as they knew, they all spoke (with inevitable variations) roughly the same Germanic language: the language ‘of the people’ (diutisc, hence the modern word deutsch), or specifically ‘of the Franks (frankisc, hence the words ‘Frankish’ and ‘French’). Only when the language of the Franks was no longer Germanic, but Romance, did frankisc mean something different from diutisc.

The Frankish dialects that are NOT classified as dialects of the Old High German language are called Old Low Franconian. The dialect in the west (around Flanders, Brabant and north in Holland) would end up being the ancestor of modern Dutch; this dialect is called by the logical but long name of Old West Low Franconian.

The dialect in the east, probably what Charlemagne would have spoken, is the only dialect that we have anything written in (at least not until the "Middle" stage of its history); this dialect is called—you guessed it!—Old East Low Franconian. This dialect was spoken around Limburg, and Aachen, where Charlemagne had his capital.

Old Low Franconian as a language obviously shares many characteristics in common with Old High German (such as retaining nasals [n’s and m’s] where continental Saxon and Anglo-Saxon dropped them). It also shares others with its fellow "low" Germanic language, Old Saxon (such as dislike for diphthongs in some cases).

Here is one sound file in Old Low Franconian. The Lord’s Prayer is not documented in this language, as far as I could tell, so I’ve recorded Psalm 61 (60 in King James or Douay-Rheims bibles). Given the special relationship the Franks had to the Church, we can certainly imagine some young lad in a monastery or school around Aachen in the 9th century, struggling with his Latin and praying the psalm in his own Germanic tongue…

Psalm 61 (60) in Old Low Franconian

Here's the text of this Psalm:

2. Gehôri, got, gebet mîn, thenke te gebede mînin.
3. Fan einde erthen te thi riep, so sorgoda herte mîn. An stêine irhôdus-tu mi;
4. Thû lêidos mi, uuanda gedân bist tohopa mîn, turn sterke fan antscêine fiundis.
5. Uuonon sal ic an selethon thînro an uueroldi, bescirmot an getheke fetharaco thînro.
6. Uuanda thu, got mîn, gehôrdos gebet mîn, gâui thu erui forhtindon namo thînin.
7. Dag ouir dag cuningis saltu gefuogan, jâr sîna untes an dag cunnis in cunnis.
8. Foluuonot an êuuon an geginuuirdi godis; ginâthi in uuârhêide sîna uua sal thia suocan?
9. Sô sal ic lof quethan namin thînin an uuerolt uueroldis, that ik geue gehêita mîna fan dage an dag.

And here's the English:

2. Hear, O God, my supplication: be attentive to my prayer,
3. To thee have I cried from the ends of the earth: when my heart was in anguish, thou hast exalted me on a rock. Thou hast conducted me;
4. For thou hast been my hope; a tower of strength against the face of the enemy.
5. In thy tabernacle I shall dwell for ever: I shall be protected under the covert of thy wings.
6. For thou, my God, hast heard my prayer: thou hast given an inheritance to them that fear thy name.
7. Thou wilt add days to the days of the king: his years even to generation and generation.
8. He abideth for ever in the sight of God: his mercy and truth who shall search?
9. So will I sing a psalm to thy name for ever and ever: that I may pay my vows from day to day.

GGL Repost: Old Norse

Gallery of Germanic Languages: A Look at Old Norse

Old Norse refers to the dialects of Old Germanic that made up the North Germanic branch—i.e., the languages of Scandinavia. (Do you remember what the two other branches are? East Germanic includes the speech of the Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, and other smaller tribes. West Germanic includes everything else: Old English, Old Saxon, Old Low Franconian, Old High German, Old Frisian, as well as the mostly undocumented languages of the Lombards and others.)

Strictly speaking, the North Germanic languages are collectively called Old Scandinavian. In this usage, "Old Norse" refers just to the Western dialect—that of Norway and places west, such as Scotland, Dublin, and Iceland. The Old East Scandinavian dialect covered Sweden and Denmark, and their related enclaves in places like Russia and Latvia. But when listing the languages of the entire Germanic family, Old Norse can refer to all the dialects of Old Scandinavian.

Very convenient indeed for students of old Germanic languages is the fact that the language of Iceland today is practically the same as what the Vikings spoke when they settled the island. Since the time of the founding of Iceland in the ninth century, most other Germanic languages have passed from "old" to "middle" and "modern" stages, each stage being essentially a different language. (In English: compare the language of, say, Beowulf, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, respectively.) In the case of Iceland, however, Old Norse and modern Icelandic are considered basically the same languages, the only real differences being, to a modest degree, in pronunciation and in spelling. (E.g., the name Eric is Eirikr in Old Norse, but Eirikur in modern Icelandic.) And in my humble and limited opinion, the Vikings share with the Goths the fascinating paradox of having a (perhaps) surprisingly soft, smooth-sounding language for a comparatively aggressive historical track-record.

And the sounds of their language did not go unnoticed by the Norse themselves. More than any of their linguistic cousins, the Norse not only contributed many great works in the great Germanic poetic tradition of alliterative verse (only Old English comes close to Norse in this regard), they also did the most experimentation and variation of their inherited poetic structure. Check out these posts (Part 1 and Part 2) for more on the poetic form inherited by all the old Germanic tribes, and this blog post for more on the variations peculiar to Old Norse. With the Poetic Edda and the many works of prose (the sagas and Prose Edda), the corpus of Old Norse literature vastly outweighs the corresponding "old" stages of all the other Germanic languages put together. (Old English literature is a clear second.)

Old Norse has many unique features that distinguish it from all of its Germanic cousins. For instance, the masculine –s ending that we see on many Latin, Greek, and even Gothic nouns survives in Old Norse, but in the process it got turned into an R. (Compare the following words for 'middle': Latin medius, Gothic midjis, Old English midd, Norse miðr.)

Also, Old Norse alone exhibits a form of "sharpening", where a word like proto-Germanic trîwa gets a hard g-sound, turning it into Old Norse tryggva; contrast with Old English triw (hence modern 'true') and Old High German triu (hence modern German treu).

Finally, many words that begin with a diphthong (two vowel sounds together) like eo or ea in English (old or modern) have been made into a consonant (a y-sound) in Old Norse, and are spelled j–. Compare:

earl: OE earl, ON jarl
earth: OE eorð, ON jörð
York: OE Eorwic, ON Jorvik

Notice also that the modern pronunciation of York shows Norse influence, since it was a Norwegian kingdom for a time.

Following is a sound file demonstrating Old Norse: the Lord's Prayer, recorded by yours truly. I've recorded the same prayer in each of the old Germanic languages to make comparison easier. (I admit some modern Icelandic pronunciation may have crept in.)

The Lord's Prayer, in Icelandic

Here's the text of the prayer in Old Norse:

Faðir vor; þú sem ert á himnum. Helgist þitt nafn. Til komi þitt ríki. Verði þinn vilji, svo á jörðu sem á himni. Gef oss í dag vort daglegt brauð. Og fyrirgef oss vorar skuldir; svo sem vér og fyrirgefum vorum skuldunautum. Eigi leið þú oss í freistni, heldur frelsa oss frá illu. Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

GGL Repost: Old High German

Gallery of Germanic Languages: A Look at Old High German

Old High German (Althochdeutsch) refers to the group of Germanic dialects that exhibited the High German Consonant Shift which originated in the highlands of southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and northern Italy. Some of these dialects include: Bavarian, Alemannic (southern rhine and Switzerland), Swabian (around Augsburg), East Middle German (around Erfurt), East Franconian (around Würzburg). Some dialects participated in this Shift only partially, so while they’re still "German", the dialects are called "Middle": such as Ripuarian Franconian (around Cologne) and Rhenish Franconian (around Frankfurt).

NOTICE! Even though many of these dialects have the word "Franconian" in their names, they are classified as dialects of Old High German, not of Old Frankish, since they participate (all in varying degrees) in the High German Consonant Shift. This is why parts of Germany are called Franken, ‘Franconia’. A different language entirely is Old Low Franconian (Old Frankish), which scholars identify as having at least two dialects, Old East Low Franconian and Old West Low Franconian. (See the lists below.)*

Old High German shares some characteristics with Old Low Franconian (language of the Franks and ancestor of modern Dutch): for example both tend to turn the vowel e into ie, and the vowel o into uo. (The second one’s just like Italian from Latin – compare buono, from bonus, ‘good’.) Both languages also retain nasals (n’s and m’s) where Old Saxon and Old English drop them: e.g. the words for ‘us’: Old High German unsis and Old Low Franconian uns, versus Old Saxon ûs and Old English ús (the same sounds, but with the respective long-vowel markers used by modern scholars).

Here are several sound files of Old High German: The first three are the Lord's Prayer in three different dialects, recorded by yours truly. I've recorded the same prayer in each of the old Germanic languages to make comparison easier. Obviously these dialects will sound very similar. But notice also how similar they sound to the Old Frankish recording, in the next post.

The Lord's Prayer, in the Bavarian dialect of Old High German

Fater unsêr, dû pist in himilum, kawuuîhit sî namo dîn,
piqhueme rîhhi dîn, uuesa dîn uuillo,
sama sô in himile est, sama in erdu.
pilipi unsraz emizzîgaz kip uns eogauuanna,
enti flâz uns unsro sculdi,
sama sô uuir flâzzamês unsrêm scolôm,
enti ni princ unsih in chorunka,
uzzan kaneri unsih fona allêm suntôn.

The Lord's Prayer, in the Alemannic dialect of Old High German

Fater unseer,
thu pist in himile,
uuihi namun dinan,
qhueme rihhi din,
uuerde uuillo din,
so in himile sosa in erdu.
prooth unseer emezzihic kip uns hiutu,
oblaz uns sculdi unseero,
so uuir oblazem uns sculdikem,
enti ni unsih firleiti in khorunka,
uzzer losi unsih fona ubile.

The Lord's Prayer, in the Rhenish Franconian dialect of Old High German

Fater unsêr,
thu in himilom bist,
giuuîhit sî namo thîn,
quaeme rîhhi thîn,
uuerdhe uuilleo thîn,
sama sô in himile endi in erthu.
Broot unseraz emezzîgaz gib uns hiutu,
endi farlâz uns sculdhi unsero,
sama sô uuir farlâzzêm scolôm unserêm,
endi ni gileidi unsih in costunga,
auh arlôsi unsih fona ubile.

Finally, the next sound file is from the Lowlands-L website, dedicated to preservation of languages and dialects related to the Lowlands (Low German, Dutch, and the like). Notice the name of the language on this page is "Diutisk". This is where the German word Deutsch comes from, and comes from the word for ‘people’ (diut in Old High German, þeod in Old English).

The Wren, in Old High German

(This seems to me to be in either one of the "Middle" dialects or in East Franconian, since past participle forms have the prefix ge-, like modern German, instead of ke-/ki-, which Old Bavarian and Old Alemannic tended to have.)

The English version of this story is here. Samples of many other languages are here.

* Just to recap, since I’m sure everyone’s confused, here’s a list of the main West Germanic dialects on the continent in the latter half of the first millennium AD, listed by language:

= Old Saxon (Dortmund, Hamburg)

Old East Low Franconian (Limburg, Aachen)
Old West Low Franconian (Flanders, Brabant, north Holland) [became Modern Dutch]


(a) "Middle" dialects:
Old Ripuarian Franconian (Cologne)
Old Moselle Franconian (Trier)
Old Rhenish Franconian (Frankfurt)
Old East Middle German (Erfurt)

(b) "High" dialects:
Old East Franconian (Würzburg)
Old Alemannic (Bern)
Old Swabian (Augsburg) [Swabian is sometimes classified as a subset of Alemannic.]
Old Bavarian (Munich, Regensburg)

GGL Repost: Old Saxon

Gallery of Germanic Language: A Look at Old Saxon

Old Saxon was also called Old Low German, since it was one of two languages spoken by West Germanic tribes in the lower-lying northern region of central Europe. It is distinguished from Old High German, which was spoken in the higher elevations to the south.

Old Saxon had Germanic neighbors to the south (Old High German), west (Old Low Franconian), northwest (Old English), north (Old Norse), and at least originally, east (Gothic). Old Saxon shares many characteristics with all of them, but especially the West Germanic languages (those of the Germans, Franks, and Anglo-Saxons). One thing that distinguishes Old Saxon from all of them is its almost universal dislike of diphthongs—turning one vowel into two sounds. Compare:

‘dead’: Old Saxon dôd, Old High German tôt, Old English dead, Old Norse dauðr, Gothic dauþs.

‘baptize’ (literally, ‘dip’): Old Saxon dôpian, Old High German toufan, Old Norse deypa, Gothic daupjan.

Here are two sound files of Old Saxon: The first is the Lord’s Prayer, recorded by yours truly. I've recorded the same prayer in each of the old Germanic languages to make comparison easier. [A special note about the Old Saxon version of the prayer in particular: unlike the other languages, this version is in typical old Germanic alliterative verse. This means that some words are added to fill up lines, but it also is a good chance to listen to how each line has one sound that tends to dominate by alliterative repetition.]

The Lord's Prayer, in Old Saxon

Fadar ûsa firiho barno,
thu bist an them hôhon himila-rîkea
geuuîhid sî thîn namo uuordo gehuuilico
cuma thîn craftag rîki
uuerþa thîn uuilleo obar thesa uuerold alla

sô sama an erþo sô thar uppa ist
an them hôhon himilo rîkea.

gef ûs dago gehuuilikes râd, drohtin the gôdo,
thîna hêlaga helpa, endi alât ûs hebenes uuard
managoro mênsculdio al sô uue ôþrum mannum dôan
ne lât ûs farlêdean lêþa uuihti
sô forþ an iro uuilleon sô uui uuirþige sind
ac help ûs uuiþar allun ubilon dâdiun.

The second sound file is from the Lowlands-L website, dedicated to preservation of languages and dialects related to the Lowlands (Low German, Dutch, and the like).

The Wren, in Old Saxon

The English version of this story is here. Samples of many other languages are here.

GGL Repost: Gothic

Gallery of Germanic Languages: A Look at Gothic

Gothic is the oldest attested Germanic language, the Gothic translation of parts of the Bible being dated to the 4th century, and the first instances of Old English, Old High German, Saxon, or Norse not coming until at least 4 centuries later. Because Gothic is relatively close to the original primitive Germanic language, it is of great interest to linguists.

Gothic differs from its Germanic cousins in many ways. It is the only Germanic language to retain (in some cases) the Indo-European –s ending for masculine nouns and adjectives: compare Gothic hunds ‘dog/hound’ with its cognates, Latin canis, and Greek kunos. (Notice how the Indo-European k got softened to an h in Germanic.) Gothic is also the only Germanic language that didn’t change any of its inherited s’s or z’s into r’s. Compare:

‘teach’: Gothic laísjan, Old High German lêren, Old English læren (‘lore/learn’).
‘hoard’: Gothic huzd, Old High German hort, Old English hord.

Here are three sound files for Gothic: The first is the Lord's Prayer, recorded by yours truly. I've recorded the same prayer in each of the old Germanic languages to make comparison easier.

The Lord's Prayer, in Gothic

Atta unsar, þu in himinam,
weihnai namo þein,
qimai þiudinassus þeins,
wairþai wilja þeins,
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,
ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin.

The second file is found here: it’s the first episode of my own occasional Bitter Scroll podcast, where I read and translate a poem composed in Gothic by Germanic scholar J.R.R. Tolkien. I think this poem in particular shows just how beautiful and melodic Gothic is.

The third sound file is from the Lowlands-L website, dedicated to preservation of languages and dialects related to the Lowlands (Low German, Dutch, and the like).

The Wren, in Gothic

The English version of this story is here. Samples of many other languages are here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Always a Godfather, Never a God ...

I have the distinct pleasure of being godfather to several of my friends' children, including all 3 of gaetanus' awesome kids, to whom I am known as Gaffer for reasons of etymology and ease of pronunciation. The older two (5 years old and below) always fascinate me with all the various ways they absorb and use language. For instance, when the second child, D, wanted to offer to the general public a gamepiece he didn't need, he announced, "Whobody needs a ....?" Sure, he could have just said "Who"--it's not like he didn't already know the word--but instead he chose to create the word "whobody" at 3 years old by analogy with words like nobody and anybody.

When I play hide-and-seek with members of my god-horde, I rarely count in English: it's a perfect opportunity to familarize them with other languages in a context that's fun, while not taking away at all from their understanding of what's going on, since they already know I'm counting. I did this recently, and while we were taking a break, I had the following exchange with the oldest, T. Oh, and keep in mind that her father, gaetanus, is a Semitics scholar.

Me: Do you guys know what language I was just counting in?
T: French!
Me: Very good! Now do you remember what language I used the first time I counted?
T: um....
Me: I'll give you a hint; this is what I said: eins, zwei, drei, vier, ... [etc.]
T: [after a moment's thought] Is it Coptic??

T is almost 5. Coptic is just more a part of her world than German is. (I promise to get out to their house more often and insert more German into her life.) :-)

One more story. T went through a phase a while back that reminded us of Tolkien's musing about why it was wrong to say "a green great dragon". Whenever she would get something new--shoes, a shirt, a jacket--she would say, "Gaffer, see my new nice shoes?" or "I got a new nice jacket!" I believe gaetanus' theory was that the adjective that we conceive of as more inherent to the nature of the thing tends to go closer to it. Hence we say "great green dragon" b/c a green dragon is a thing that may or may not be great. Greatness is more accidental, greenness is essential to what it is. So also with why we feel "new nice shoes" is "wrong": we say "nice" to indicate how we feel about the thing, not really to describe the thing, the way we use "new". But, for its part, "new" is only relatively essential; "green" is more so, so that we would say "Do you like my nice new green dragon?" (hypothetically, of course). Notice that I don't have a comma even though I have three adjectives. I think this is because a comma (replacing "and") would erroneously imply an equal footing or level of attribution for whatever words are so linked. We would never speak of a "green new nice dragon", and even T would at least have said "new nice green dragon".

The best part of the "new-nice" phase T went through came several months after we all spent a day checking out my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Somebody said something about the trip, which prompted T to add, "we got to see Gaffer's New nice York!"

That's right: It's my island! :-)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

American Inklings tonight!

Just a reminder for anyone in the area who's interested: the first meetings of the American Inklings is tonight in Reston, VA. Details here.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Internet Movie Dead-a-base

You know it's happened to you: You're trying to think of a movie, but you can't remember the title. You can't remember who was in it. You can't even remember when it came out. But thanks to one preposterously violent scene, you remember every detail of how that one guy died.

Well, you're in luck: Wikipedia has a list of movies organized by what kind of gory death they died. That's right, you can browse movies including death by chainsaw (Section 6), death from being eaten (Section 1), death from slicing by a sharp object where it takes some time for victim to fall apart (Section 19), even death by blendering (3).

This one's just for you, W.W. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 4, 2006


Got tagged by sauvage noble for another meme:

I am: King of Wessex and all England.
I want: my subjects to be better educated.
I wish: the Danes would stop attacking.
I hate: bad translations.
I miss: Rome (I barely remember being there as a child).
I fear: overattachment to the things of this world.
I hear: Asser's planning something special for me.
I wonder: who really wrote Beowulf.
I regret: my sins in this life.
I am not: as tall as that statue in Winchester.
I dance: but only after enough mead.
I sing: occasionally, but not in front of my scops.
I cry: when appropriate.
I am not always: as stern as I seem.
I made: the Danes withdraw from Wessex: Yay!
I write: less poetry than I'd like.
I confuse: Franks for Frisians (again, after enough mead!)
I need: more educated monks.
I should: build more Englisc ships.
I start: more translations than I can manage sometimes.
I finish: the priest's prayers in my own heart.
I tag: Emperor Charles of the Franks; Guþrun of the Danelaw; King Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Another Drop in the Meme Bucket

[I copied this from somewhere, and now I can't remember where.]

A. Four Jobs I’ve Had:
1. Course Development Director
2. Parish Youth Coordinator
3. Desktop Publisher
4. King of Wessex and of all England ;-)

B. Four Movies I’ll Watch Over and Over:
1. Serenity
2. The Matrix
3. various Muppet movies
4. zombie movies generally

C. Four Places I Called Home:
1. Front Royal, VA
2. Brooklyn, NY
3. North Hampton, NH
4. Toms River, NJ

Four TV Shows I Love:
1. Firefly
2. Law & Order(s) (but I much prefer Michael Moriarty as ADA to anyone else)
3. MST3K
4. SG-1/SG:A/BSG (considered as one show)

E. Four Places I’ve Been on Vacation:
1. Rhode Island
2. Michigan (even got to see the Dead Sea Scrolls that week)
3. Cape Cod
4. Alberta (one of the most beautiful places on God's earth)

[I'm adding the next one:]

E-2. Four Places I’ve Been on Pilgrimage:
1. Rome
2. the Holy Land (for Holy Week no less: wow)
3. Lourdes
4. Atlanta (World of Coke) ;-)

F. Four Websites I Visit Daily:

G. My Four Favorite Foods:
1. Dead cow that has been briefly introduced to a heatsource.
2. Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch
3. Pizza, but only if made in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or maybe Queens.
4. Coffee. (Caffeine's a food group, right?)

H. Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:
1. Rome
2. New York
3. Coast of Maine
4. Coast of pretty much anywhere

I. Four People I’m Tagging:
1. Whoever
2. Wants
3. To
4. Participate

J. Four CD's to which I have most recently listened
(I rarely listen to whole CD's, just playlists; but if I must:)
1. TMBG, Mink Car
2. Mozart's Requiem
3. BNL, Stunt
4. Arvo Pärt, Kanon Pokajanen

Monday, May 1, 2006

Linguistic May Day

From the Speculative Grammarian, this article is appropriate for the next 30 days. Below are some of my favorites.

Dates in the Month of May that Are of Interest to Linguists

James D. McCawley
University of Chicago

May 3, 1955. Mouton & Co. discover how American libraries order books and scheme to cash in by starting several series of books on limericks. The person given charge of this project mishears and starts several series of books on linguistics. No one ever notices the mistake.

May 5, 1403. The Great English Vowel Shift begins. Giles of Tottenham calls for ale at his favorite pub and is perplexed when the barmaid tells him that the fishmonger is next door.

May 7, 1966. r-less pronunciation is observed in eight kindergarten pupils in Secaucus, N.J. The governor of New Jersey stations national guardsmen along the banks of the Hudson.

May 9, 1917. N. Ja. Marr discovers rosh, the missing link for Japhetic unity.

May 11, 1032. Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II orders isoglosses erected across northern Germany as defense against Viking intruders.

May 13. Vowel Day (Public holiday in Kabardian Autonomous Region). The ceremonial vowel is pronounced by all Kabardians as a symbol of brotherhood with all speakers of human languages.

May 18, 1941. Quang Phúc Ðông is captured by the Japanese and interned for the duration of hostilities.

May 19. Diphthong Day (Public holiday in Australia).

May 23, 38,471 B.C. God creates language.

May 26, 1945. Zellig Harris applies his newly formulated discovery procedures and discovers [t].

May 27, 1969. George Lakoff discovers the global rule. Supermarkets in Cambridge, Mass. are struck by frenzied buying of canned goods.

May 29, 1962. Angular brackets are discovered. Classes at M.I.T. are dismissed and much Latvian plum brandy is consumed.

May 30, 1939. Charles F. Hockett finishes composing the music for the Linguistic Society of America’s anthem, ‘Can You Hear the Difference?’

May 31, 1951. Chomsky discovers Affix-hopping and is reprimanded by his father for discovering rules on shabas.

Carnival of Blog Translation!

Welcome, and thank you all for coming to the April [sic] Carnival of Blog Translations. First, a warm thank you to Bev Traynor at Em duas línguas for hosting last month's carnival. This month we have various sideshows, in the form of the various interesting links you'll find on the sidebar: everything from Old Frisian texts to an index of Indo-European roots to other, very fine blogs.

And now to our main attractions. Many of our contributors were held up by the harsh winter in their home parts. Or else the beautiful explosion of spring. Making it through thick and thin this month are the following:

Angelo Mercado, at sauvage noble, has the distinction of being the first-ever two-time-in-one-month participant of a Blog Translation Carnival: Check out his translations of Birth of a Curmudgeon (from Laudator Temporis Acti) into both Latin and Tagalog.

Yours truly (you will not help but notice) just posted a translation of a short post on the Inklings blog: a quote by C.S. Lewis describing his friend JRR Tolkien's general OCD-ishness with respect to revising and perfecting.

Four languages were represented this month: English (the source language for all three translations), Latin, Old English, and Tagalog.

Though garnering the smallest turnout, this month's translationfest has yielded many firsts: the first double contributor, the first time all originals are themselves quotations, the first carnival with no modern European languages represented among the target languages, the first carnival with any, much less a majority of dead languages among the translations, and the first carnival with all target languages as debutants to the Carnival scene.

If you worked on a translation but didn't finish in time, have no fear: you can post next time at the May Carnival of Blog Translation, at sauvage noble.

Thanks for coming, everyone, and please feel free to browse, touch, click, and ask questions. My subjects will be happy to show you around the castle. Westu hal!

Lewis ymb Tolkien

[It's still April somewhere, so this too-quickly composed post is for the imminently to-be-posted Blog Translation Carnival. From the Inklings Blog post Lewis on Tolkien. I can relate, too.]

Þæt is formicele man; his onasettode geweorc, ge gescieplice ge larcræftlice, scolde nu scylf magan afyllan; hwæðere he is þara þe nis na eaþhylde miþ gewrit. Unmicloste onasettodnesse tyhting þa andsware forþgeclipaþ: Gea, ic huru þurhseo þone ond æthrinum þurhteo -- seþe tæcnað soðlice þæt he eall þæt wiht gen onginnað.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tolkien at the OED

Just stumbled onto this book, which is going right to the top of my wishlist:

The Ring of Words : Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary

From Amazon's book description:

"Tolkien's first job, on returning home from World War I, was as an assistant on the staff of the OED. He later said that he had 'learned more in those two years than in any other equal part of his life.' The Ring of Words reveals how his professional work on the Oxford English Dictionary influenced Tolkien's creative use of language in his fictional world.

"Here three senior editors of the OED offer an intriguing exploration of Tolkien's career as a lexicographer and illuminate his creativity as a word user and word creator. The centerpiece of the book is a wonderful collection of 'word studies' which will delight the heart of Ring fans and word lovers everywhere."

Contents (from the page at Oxford U. Press):
1 Tolkien as Lexicographer
2 Tolkien as Wordwright
3 Word Studies
Epilogue: Tolkien's influence on the English Language

Friday, April 28, 2006

Procrastinator's Respite

I know you. I know what you're doing. You're half-way through a translation and it's already the day for the Blog Translation Carnival. Well, you're in luck! You've got two more days to finish those translations! April's Carnival of Blog Translation will occur on Sunday, April 30 -- National Honesty Day. Don't be left out: get translating!

The American Inklings

For all those in the D.C./Northern Virginia area:

Announcing the first meeting of the American Inklings

When: Wednesday, May 10, 7:00pm,
and every 2nd and 4th Wednesday

Where: Cosi's, in the Reston Town Center
11909 Democracy Drive, Reston, VA (Map)

The original "Inklings" were a group of mostly university colleagues who got together to discuss literature and poetry--either things they'd read or things they'd written. Theirs were the first ears to hear original drafts of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and theirs the first mouths to offer critique.

Modeled after that group, the American Inklings are artisitic souls who meet twice a month to share, critique, and possibly collaborate on various creative projects: poems, stories, songs--whatever the Muse inspires!

There's no commitment: Come as you're able, share your writings or ideas, or just listen and be inspired!

For more on the original Inklings:

For more on the founders of the American Inklings:
King Alfred:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gratulerar, Sverige!

There's a new member of the Swedish orthographic family: It's a W! The Swedish Academy has officially granted the letter W its own section in the dictionary. (Note the article's file photo of an actual W! :-P

Until now, words beginning with W were listed in the V section, since they are pronounced the same in Swedish, and any words with W were foreign borrowings anyway.

We usually think of the V sound in English as characteristic of Germanic accents (Nordic, German, Dutch, etc.), but in fact, the W was original to all Germanic languages in the beginning, even though only English preserved the sound. (Compare Lat. ventus; Eng. wind; Ger. wind; Sw. vind)

The German and Scandinavian dialects underwent the same change, from [w] to [v]. German, using the latin alphabet kept the w-spelling, while Norse changed to v. The original Germanic runic alphabet, the Elder Futhark had from the beginning a separate rune for W, but not for V. The letter V was sometimes represented by F (in Old English, where F surrounded by vowels was pronounced like v: hence knife/knives, wife/wives, etc.), sometimes by W (in places where it would end up becoming a V). Notice in the Dalrunes set of Younger Futhark how the runic V is simply a modified F.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Germanic Genealogy #3: Watch!

Waiting witches keep watch on vigorous vegetables.

Well, ok, maybe they don't, but this sentence is interesting nonetheless: All the adjectives and nouns in the sentence are traceable to a common great, great, very great grandfather. The Proto-Indo-European root weg- led to words in Old English, Old High German, Old French, Middle Dutch, and Latin, and sure enough, modern English has drawn from them all. Among others, it gave us the words:

wait: from Old North French waitier, to watch;

witch: from Old English wicca, sorcerer, wizard (feminine wicce, witch), from Germanic *wikkjaz, necromancer (< “one who wakes the dead”);

watch: from Old English wæccan, to be awake, from Germanic *wakjan;

vigorous: from Old French, from Latin vegēre, to be lively, from suffixed (causative) o-grade form *wog-eyo-;

vegetables: from Latin vegēre, (see 'vigorous')

The common thread is strength/liveliness: To wait meant to watch, which meant to be awake, which meant to be lively. A witch was one who wakened/enlivened the dead. Vigorous still means lively/strong. And vegetables are things that are alive (before the dinner plate stage, obviously). The two main strains come to us through Latin, preserving the meaning of being lively, and through Germanic, with the main idea of being awake.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Last Call

Last call for translation for the Blog Translation Carnival this Friday. Post your translations and send me your links in the next couple of days!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Cool Quotes #9: For Lange Frigedæg

For Good Friday ("Long Friday" in OE), here's an excerpt (and loose translation) from the Dream of the Rood. I covered this part in my last podcast, for which see the link on the sidebar. (For the rest of the poem, I've decided to break up into two separate podcasts so I have more time to look at individual lines and words (by request). I had thought to get at least one up before Easter, but this whole podcast experiment, while fun and fruitful and totally worth it, is still a little more work than I planned, and anyway most of the rest of the poem is about the resurrection or afterwards anyway.)

Update (about 20 minutes later): I've colored the words in the translation that are alliterated in the original. As I mentioned in the last podcast, this may approximate the subtle way alliteration causes the words to be connected in the reader's mind. Sometimes the colors jump out, other times they're hardly visible; this just makes it match the effects of alliteration all the more.

Syllic wæs se sigebeam,     ond ic synnum fah,
forwunded mid wommum.     Geseah ic wuldres treow,
wædum geweorðode,     wynnum scinan,
gegyred mid golde;     gimmas hæfdon
bewrigene weorðlice     wealdendes treow.
Hwæðre ic þurh þæt gold     ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin,     þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.     Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe.     Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum ond bleom;     hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange,     hwilum mid since gegyrwed.
Hwæðre ic þær licgende     lange hwile
beheold hreowcearig     hælendes treow...

      Gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyhðe,     þa he wolde mancyn lysan.
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte.     Ne dorste ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum,     ac ic sceolde fæste standan.
Rod wæs ic aræred.     Ahof ic ricne cyning,
heofona hlaford,     hyldan me ne dorste.
þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum.     On me syndon þa dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas.     Ne dorste ic hira nænigum sceððan.
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere.     Eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed,
begoten of þæs guman sidan,     siððan he hæfde his gast onsended.

Feala ic on þam beorge     gebiden hæbbe
wraðra wyrda.     Geseah ic weruda god
þearle þenian.     þystro hæfdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum     wealdendes hræw,
scirne sciman,     sceadu forðeode,
wann under wolcnum.     Weop eal gesceaft,
cwiðdon cyninges fyll.     Crist wæs on rode.
(ll. 13-25, 40b-56)

    *     *     *

Wonderful was that victory-tree     while I was spotted with sins,
maimed by my defilements.     I beheld that tree of glory
adorned with vestments     shining so beautifully
decked with gold;     gems had
honorably clothed     the tree of the Almighty.
Yet, through that gold,     I came to discern
the former strife of wretched men:     and that it first began
to bleed on its right side.     I was overcome with grief;
afraid before that fair vision.     I saw that noble symbol
change its robes and appearance:     now it was wet with blood,
drenched from its bloodflow,     now it was adorned with jewels.
I lay there yet     a long while
gazing in repentant sorrow     at the tree of the divine Healer...

      Up the high gallows He climbed,
bold, in the sight of so many,     for now mankind he meant to redeem.
I trembled then, as the hero embraced me;     yet I dared not bow to the ground,
dared not fall to the surface of the earth;     I was to stand firm.
A cross was I raised,     the powerful King I raised up,
the Lord of heaven;     I dared not bend.
With dark nails they ran me through,     my wounds visible to all,
open, treacherous wounds;     yet I dared not harm any of those fiends.
They derided both of us together.     I was drenched with blood,
which gushed from the side of the man,     when he had sent forth his spirit.

Often on that hill     I have had to endure
terrible deeds.     I beheld the Lord of hosts
stretched with violent force.     Darkness then
did cover with clouds     the corpse of the Lord,
a radiant twilight;     a shadow went out
strove under the clouds.     Then wept all creation,
mourning the fall of its king.     Christ was on the cross.