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How Fast Do Languages Change? (Linguistics)
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Wile E. Coyote


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Ishmael wrote:
I was thinking about your proposal last night that the 10-month calendar originally began in March. According to this proposal, July and August would always have been part of the Calendar, and it was January and February that were added.

Something interesting happens when we adopt this proposal.
  1. March
  2. April
  3. May
  4. June
  5. July
  6. AUGUST
  7. September
  8. October
  9. November
  10. December
Notice the highlighted placement of the month of August. It is at the mid-point of the year. When the sun reaches its zenith! It is literally when the sun rises to its most august position.

I consider this definitive.


Yes, but it's both July and August.

Caesar and Augustus.
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Mick Harper
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Seven of the World’s Oldest Language Still Spoken
https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/7-of-the-worlds-oldest-languages-still-spoken-today-cdae8121ad09

Obviously I was drawn to this to find out, knowing what we know, i.e. what we don’t know, but I was still taken aback. This is the list

Basque
Tamil
Aramaic
Chinese
Arabic
Icelandic
Persian


I had to eliminate Chinese and Arabic on the grounds that if they are languages at all, they are modern constructs. I knocked out Tamil on the grounds of ignorance (oh, yes, there are still pockets) and ironically, according to me, Icelandic is the youngest language in the world since it is a spoken form of the alphabetically-constructed language of Old Norse.

But just starting with Basque one can see where the real problems lie. How old is Basque? Nobody knows. So it must be relative. Relative to what? No other languages are related to it so that doesn’t seem a very promising avenue. It's rather the reverse surely: the older the language the more likely it is to have related languages.

All right, what about relative to the other languages around it. Like Spanish. Even if you believe the orthodox version it is not possible to say Basque is older than Spanish since Spanish is supposed to be evolved Latin so where has that got you? You can say Latin is a different language from Spanish but then, since we don’t know the history of Basque, who’s to say that Old Basque is a different language and not as old as Old Spanish i.e. Latin. But then you just run into the oldest-anything problem where evolutionary trees are involved – everything is exactly as old as everything else and it’s just a question of arbitrarily cutting off a portion and saying, that’s different from that.

But as we know – and as this writer and the editors of medium.com and the let’s-count-the-chromosomal-mutations brigade seem not to know – the whole thing’s potty. Doesn't stop them erecting entire academic subjects on it though.
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Mick Harper
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One of our big themes is that languages don't change much -- it's an application of our 'The truth is always boring' doctrine -- but as we know academics hate this because it doesn't leave them much to do. One of linguists' favourite pastimes is the construction of proto-languages which they do by taking similarities in present day languages and piecing it all together. They then create evolutionary trees to show how present day languages are related by dint of their common descent from the the proto-languages which they have just made up. It may be an entirely circular exercise but it is an exercise and it can be taught to burgeoning classes of fresh linguists. After a couple of generations everyone has forgotten the 'making up' bit and everyone assumes it's a settled matter: that's the way the world is (or was).

We just say one language gradually morphs into the next door language and it's just a matter of finding which one came first (which unfortunately has been doing it own morphing during that time). It is true, we would have to concede, that the vast and complex variety of the world's languages does require some lengthy chains in order to come into existence but how that happened, we would also argue, is a matter for cryptologically-inclined mathematicians rather than crossword addicts to solve.

But anyway I was quite glad to come across a list here https://ctruth.today/2020/01/22/list-of-proto-languages/ of proto-languages our crossword aficionados have compiled. As I say, they like to keep busy

Africa
1. Proto-Afroasiatic 1.a. Proto-Semitic 1.b. Proto-Berber
2. Proto-Bantu

Europe, Near East, and Caucasus
1. Proto-Northwest Causcasian 1.a. Proto-Abazgi 1.b. Proto-Circassian
2. Proto-Kartvelian 2.a. Proto-Georgian-Zan
3. Proto-Basque
4. Proto-Indo-European 4.a. Proto-Anatolian 4.b. Proto-Albanian 4.c. Proto-Greek 4.d. Proto-Armenian 4.e. Proto-Indo-Iranian 4.e.a. Proto-Indo-Aryan 4.e.b. Proto-Iranian 4.f. Proto-Baltic-Slavic 4.f.a. Proto-Baltic 4.f.b. Proto-Slavic 4.g. Proto-Celtic 4.h. Proto-Germanic 4.h.a. Proto-Norse 4.i. Proto-Italic

North Asia
1. Proto-Turkic
2. Proto-Mongolic
3. Proto-Korean
4. Proto-Japonic
5. Proto-Uralic 5.a. Proto-Finno-Ugric 5.b. Proto-Finnic 5.c. Proto-Mordvinic 5.d. Proto-Permic 5.e. Proto-Samic 5.f. Proto-Mansi 5.g. Proto-Khanty 5.h. Proto-Samoyed
6. Proto-Chukotko-Kamchatkan
7. Proto-Indo-European 7.a. Proto-Tocharian

South Asia
1. Proto-Dravidian
2. Proto-Indo-European 2.a. Proto-Indo-Iranian 2.a.a. Proto-Indo-Aryan

Pacific Rim
1. Proto-Pama-Nyungan
2. Proto-Trans-New Guinea
3. Proto-Austronesian 3.a. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian 3.a.a. Proto-Philippine 3.a.b. Proto-Oceanic 3.a.b.a. Proto-Polynesian
4. Proto-Kra-Dai 4.a. Proto-Kra 4.b. Proto-Kam-Sui 4.c. Proto-Tai 4.d. Proto-Hlai
5. Proto-Sino-Tibetan 5.a. Proto-Tibeto-Burman 5.a.a. Proto-Loloish
6. Proto-Hmong-Mien
7. Proto-Austroasiatic 7.a. Proto-Aslian 7.b. Proto-Khmeric

Americas
1. Proto-Eskimo-Aleut 1.a. Proto-Eskimo
2. Proto-Algic 2.a. Proto-Algonquian
3. Proto-Iroquoian
4. Proto-Uto-Aztecan 4.a. Proto-Nahuan
5. Proto-Mayan
6. Proto-Oto-Manguean
7. Proto-Tupian

So now you know.
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Mick Harper
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While checking this over for spacing and typos (an irritating habit of mine) I noticed that the only language that gets double-counted (indeed, triple-counted) is proto-Indo-European. Hatty, can you find out which proto-language the forefathers of the founding fathers of linguistics spoke?
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Mick Harper
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While double-checking for typos etc etc I couldn't find any reference to the largest group of language-speakers in the world, the Han Chinese. In fact I couldn't find where they are in the world since South Asia, North Asia and Pacific Rim doesn't quite cover them. Unless Han Chinese is the descendant of proto-Loloish which is descended from Proto-Tibetan-Burman which is descended from Proto-Sino-Tibetan. I hope not, that means it's curtains for Tibetan independence.

Hatty, while you are about it, can you find out which language is spoken by anybody who might be currently threatening the dominance of the other lot you're researching? You know, the people who brought us linguistics.
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Mick Harper
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There's an old (by AE standards) AE Rule called "never judge by results". The reason for this is if you're presented with a pint pot there's an irresistible desire to cram a quart into it if it's the only pot around. In linguistics there are precious few pots on account of pots not having been invented at the time.

Linguistic Detective Work What can language tell us about history? https://historyofyesterday.com/linguistic-detective-work-d5fe4d2edf6f Adam M Wakeling

Suppose you needed to figure out where English speakers originally came from, but you knew absolutely nothing about European or American history and had no access to a book or any other written source (a strange hypothetical, I know). How could you do it?

Read as far as you can before your personal limit is reached. I got as far as Brooklyn.
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Mick Harper
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It is our contention that languages don't change very much at all. An application of The Truth Is Always Boring. Linguists, in order for there to be much of a call for linguists, insist they rocket around like media billionaires. Anglo-Saxon for instance hardly seems to have changed for the (alleged) five hundred years of its literary existence so I was amused to receive notice of this

A HISTORY OF OLD ENGLISH LITERATURE
R D Fulk and Christipher M Cain with a chapter on saints’ legends by Rachel S Anderson
358 pages

Strewth, I thought, since there is so much uncertainty about what was written when, they're going to be hard-pushed to get 358 pages getting a history of it. I underestimated them. They've already gone a lot further than that

With this study we hope to serve the needs of those students and teachers who feel particularly committed to the changes that have characterized our field in recent years. The renewed emphasis on historicism and the decline of formalist aestheticism in medieval studies have rendered it desirable to have a literary history that attends more singularly to the material and social contexts and uses of Old English texts.

Since the material and social context comes overwhelmingly from the texts, they really will be disappearing up their own bottoms long before 358 pages are covered. Again I was underestimating them

Although the need is greater than this volume can really satisfy, we hope that the present study will nonetheless prove useful to those who, like us, see literature’s relation to history and culture as our field’s area of chief pedagogical interest, and the respect in which it has most to offer literary studies at large.

If you can do all this with the meagre pickings of Anglo-Saxon literature, there's no limit to this new 'historicism' that's been let loose. Ooh, there are companion volumes

A History of Middle English Literature Andrew Galloway

Good luck defining that. And when you have, good luck trying to make a history out of what you're left with.

A History of English Renaissance Literature Donna Hamilton

An odd phrase. England famously doesn't have a Renaissance. It goes from nothing to Shakespeare. I wonder if he's included.

A History of Seventeenth-Century English Literature Thomas N. Corns

I wonder if Shakespeare is included. Still plenty to get your teeth into, Tommy. Apparently fifty times as much gets you the same gig as fifty times less.

A History of Romanticism Gary Kelly

I must protest. I don't mind historicism being historic i.e. this period or that period, but when you can pick and choose on the basis of what you call Romantic -- absolutely nobody agrees what that is -- then kindly call it something else. Like this for instance

A History of Victorian Literature James Eli Adams

But definitely not like this

A History of Modernist Literature: The British, Irish, and Anglo-American Traditions Molly Hite

Are you kidding? Everybody has their own idea of what 'modernism' is but but nobody would attach the word 'tradition' to any part of it.

A History of Irish Literature in English Terence Brown

As opposed to Irish literature in Swahili? They sure as hell can't mean Gaelic, can they? Flann O'Brien or Cú Chulainn? Anyway, not the other 000.1%

A History of Postcolonial Commonwealth Literature 1947–2000

Dear God. I'll leave this one for Barry McKenzie to chunder over.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Ortho might have hit on something interesting here, there are similarities between the "runic" and "punic" alphabet.

https://phys.org/news/2020-07-shillings-gods-runes-clues-language.html

That won't get traction around here, but Wiley has noticed he needs an explanation for runic symbols on A/S coins. Often it's the name of the "moneyer."

Languages change slowly.

Runes are marking systems that change quickly. There are continual new issues like coinage.
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Mick Harper
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An Old Yiddish Nayen Yohr Barry Dredze

I had never made any linguistic connection before between Yiddish and Hebrew so I was enticed in by this provocatively weird intro

To the slightly more than casual Jewish reader, Yiddish looks a lot like Hebrew. The alphabet is the same but the vocabulary and grammar are all but completely different.

Well, Indonesian and English have the same alphabet but I doubt a casual reader of any ethnicity would connect them. But do go on, Bazza, I'm all ears. Except he doesn't. In the entire article he doesn't once mention that Yiddish is German. A bit dialectical but still just German. You would think he would have popped that fact in somewhere along the line. A casual reader might have supposed it was Indonesian or something.
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Mick Harper
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Our unending battles with place-name theorists usually revolves around them saying this and that and us saying 'sounds like' is not a proper basis for claiming that this is definitely that. I got a paper from academia.edu about some promising developments on their side

Vindo- in Early Place Names Anthony Durham
An element Vindo- (or similar) contributed to dozens of geographical names across the Roman Empire. What did it mean? At present, most academic linguists believe that ancient Vindo- was the ancestor of words for ‘white’ in Celtic languages: Welsh gwynn, Irish find, Breton gwenn, Cornish guyn, etc. That name element is often cited as *u̯ind- (because Roman V was pronounced like W and handwritten like U) and translated as ‘bright, white, fair, pure’, said to refer particularly to flowing water under divine protection. This article explains why that doctrine is mistaken.

Just to say, before getting down to cases, that the use of the word 'doctrine' in this context is semantically linked with "I'm gonna give these creeps a right seeing-to, you see if I don't."
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Mick Harper
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Then our man shows signs that he might be our man

My detailed look at Vindo- began where (allegedly) the English language began.

However, we must not get ahead of ourselves. He won't have heard of me. His attitude to Anglo-Saxon sources is both sceptical and trusting

In AD 449, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Hengist and Horsa landed at Ypwinesfleot. That was almost certainly the Gypsey Race estuary, in Yorkshire, but history books wrongly propose another location, so it is important to understand that name completely, including the ‑wines- part.

and starts dishing it out to the place-name lobby, sort of

Published analyses of river and place names containing win- are a complex mess, which began to make sense thanks to a tip-off by Academia.edu. Reiner Lipp (2020), together with Luke Gorton (2017), had explained that words for wine, with all their diverse spellings among European languages, descend from a word for ‘twiner, creeping plant, tendril, grapevine’ from PIE *wei-‘to turn, twist around’. That ancient root can also apply to winding rivers.

This is a fairly typical example of the 'academic leap'. First off, wine has a billion associations but being 'twiny' is not one of them. So the grape plant is twiny... so what? So are beans and a billion other plants.

Bean river, wider than a mile
I'm crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way
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And second off, rivers are not twiny

That ancient root can also apply to winding rivers. Basic school geography teaches that rivers tend to meander in their middle courses, thereby creating a band of relatively flat ground. That landform is the classic cradle of human civilization because it is ideal for growing crops or pasturing animals.

Only two errors. The geography books at my school taught that it was the estuarine end, not the middle course, that meandered. And my history books taught that ancient societies avoided the estuarine end like the plague because the soil was too heavy for ancient ploughs and everything tended to get swept away by floods from time to time.

But actually my objection is deeper rooted than that. The very idea of rivers being 'twiny' is a product of our map'n'satellite culture. Ancient people experienced rivers as ... er ... rivers. You know: curvy, man.
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The overall conclusion is unmistakable: Vindo- and its relatives in geographical names are associated with relatively flat ground subject to occasional inundation, as occurs near a meandering river.

It's unmistakable. Vin is etymologically linked with the flat ground of riverine estuaries. On such firm ground, our man -- as they always do -- heads for the place-name stratosphere

Beyond the 21 names verifiably recorded in Roman times that contain Vindo- (or similar) there are at least four other categories of related proper names collected by other investigators:
1. 25 formerly Vindo-something place and river names in France (Lacroix, 2007);
2. 17 English river names containing Win-/Wen-/etc (Ekwall, 1928);
3. 15 ancient “tribes” called Veneti, or similar (Loicq, 2003);
4. 10 English place names containing an element *winn ‘pasture’ (Smith, 1956)
.

This is the kind of thing we complain about. Vindo Roman names is fair enough but to link them with Win/Wen /etc English rivers is to change one consonant, drop the other consonant and allow them to be connected by any vowel you care to summon forth. However, our own interest in Veneti tribes makes (3) well worth following up. Are you free, Vinnie? Don't bother with the ten English place names with *winn whether they've got a pasture somewhere in the vicinity or not.
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One of the (few) justifications for having linguists is that they occasionally go out into the field and make dictionaries of languages that are either unwritten or going extinct. One of the (many) criticisms we level at linguists is that they often go back in time and create dictionaries of imaginary languages. Here's a book which did the latter without the linguist having to do the former

Pritanica: A Dictionary of the Ancient British Language Edward Hatfield
This dictionary represents a small fragment of what is known of the Celtic language spoken in Lowland Britain from the pre-Roman Iron Age (800 BC – 42 AD) until its displacement by Germanic dialects in the mid first millennium. This book is intended to serve as a foundation upon which a greater understanding and ultimate revival of this language can be based. All forms presented within are based either on first-hand evidence (attested personal, tribal, and place names) or reconstructed based on evidence from later Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, or Breton) and Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Reconstructable forms lacking a British source (those based purely on Goidelic or Continental dialects) have been excluded.

Or you could buy a Welsh dictionary.

Notice, by the way, that the blurb doesn't say what everyone was speaking from 42 AD until the mid-first millennium. If it was Latin, the author should say so. As he must know that it what the rest of western Europe was speaking preparatory to turning it into the Romance languages. They didn't have the benefit of an Anglo-Saxon incursion to provide them with a new language and had to make do with Huns, Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Lombards ... (continue until p 1066).
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Mick Harper
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And a lot more besides...

Proto-Indo-European (the ancestor of most European and Indian languages) distinguished nouns as animate and inanimate. This aligned with the animistic beliefs of the people at the time. As monotheistic religions became prominent during the Iron Age, nouns in many languages switched from animate and inanimate to feminine and masculine.
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