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.