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Matters Arising (The History of Britain Revealed)
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Mick Harper
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along with their reluctance to research it

This is always a weird one. It must surely occur to Ianto that it is more rather than less difficult to research revisionist books than straight ones, if only because we need to research the straight version as well in order to revise it. But that is by the by because I'm sure that even Ianto understands that I would have done... what?... ten times, a hundred times more research on the subject than he has. Which is essentially 'none'. There are not many people out there researching the origins of English and I very much doubt that Ianto is one of them. By God he would have mentioned it if he were.

But notice the inversion of the 'tyranny of knowledge' principle. Disagreeing with Ianto is prima facie evidence that I can't have very much knowledge. Ianto (unconsciously but reasonably) believes himself to be in possession of, as it were, all valid knowledge on the subject by virtue of knowing the orthodox case. Since this is always assumed to be of the 'the evidence is overwhelming' and 'tantamount to be being self-evidently true' which attach to all paradigm theories, he does have an (internal) point.

PS Last night's family Zoom quiz: "The next five questions are words beginning P- A- R. Number one, a set pattern, giving a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model." Answer: Paradigm. M J Harper nul points. H L Vered: un point. What a swot.
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Mick Harper
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I got this courtesy of academia.edu and is a bit long in the tooth, but I cite it here because, though very hostile, it is notably fair and that is something worth celebrating in this day and age.

In this curious little book Harper proposes a radically revisionist view of the history of the modern English language, continuing his record of promoting dramatically nonstandard historical theories.

It was actually the first but my fame had spread into other nooks and crannies by this time.

Here he argues that Modern English, while related to Old English, is not descended from it (and that Middle English never existed, except as a highly artificial literary variety).

I don't quite say that but it's close enough.

Modern English, according to Harper, has been in existence since ancient times, and is in fact the ancestor of most modern western European languages.

My only serious quibble. I make it abundantly clear that this is speculation on my part and only advanced because it 'fits the facts' rather better than the current model. On reflection, I probably shouldn't have done so for tactical reasons. What is a fact is that academics always claim that revisionists 'believe' the line they are pushing. It makes them sound like religious zealots. Only academics 'speculate', 'hypothesise', 'propose models' etc etc

On page 134 he presents a family tree in which English, at the apex (or root), splits on the one hand into French and thence into Provençal, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and (in parentheses) Latin, and on the other hand into German, from which Anglo-Saxon springs. In Harper’s schema, Latin was thus not the ancestor of the Romance languages, but was instead an invented language.

Absolutely true. Are the authors going to engage with this theory? Marks out of ten, why it's invalid, that sort of thing? Are they heckaslike

A further upshot of all this is, as he himself emphasises, that the vast majority of etymologies traditionally given for English words are wrong. His book thus challenges all scholarly opinion on the subject. But it does not fulfill the standard obligations of scholarship: there is no scholarly apparatus of any kind. For instance, and perhaps most strikingly, there are no references to the scholarly literature in the book, and opposing views and scholars are mentioned only to be dismissed with often facetious contempt.
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Mick Harper
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The paper is long, overlong, but I would like to fillet out two things because they are at the heart of AE. First is the assumption held by all human beings (even us, I'm afraid)
(1) "If you disagree with me, you don't know as much as I do"

and the corollary
(2) "I'm now going to point out examples of this"

Actually dissentients almost invariably know more simply because they have to know the orthodox case in order to dissent from it. The examples will almost invariably be a simple re-statement of the orthodox position because it is assumed the dissenter doesn't know them and since the arguments are 'manifestly true' the dissenter will be suitably educated and/or chastised. Anyway dealt with without need of further examination of the issues at issue. I'll start with the phrases that indicate (1) because they are couched in a particular kind of English.
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Mick Harper
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On the evidence before us his knowledge of linguistics is definitely not adequate for the task he undertakes here

He is out of his depth in both factual and theoretical linguistic matters

Like many amateur critics of the scholarly mainstream, Harper repeatedly seizes on individual ‘anomalies’ as weapons with which to belabour scholarship

Like many non-linguists who venture into the discipline, Harper grasps issues involving vocabulary much more readily than structural issues involving phonology (pronunciation) and grammar

Because of his limited knowledge of linguistics, including the crucially relevant historical and social branches of linguistics, Harper makes sweeping over-generalisations about what scenarios and changes are or are not plausible

Harper has a weak understanding of language history and language contact, including language replacements

It is true that historical linguistics is an arcane field that is not easily accessible to non-specialists, but even a modest amount of research should have disabused Harper of some of his notions

There are many other errors in Harper’s book, both major and minor

He attacks straw men, and throughout the book he ignores scholarly traditions

Harper posts frequently about these and other partly linguistic issues to historically-oriented web discussion groups, and these posts reveal that his ideas are highly dubious on a broader front.
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Mick Harper
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As for (2) I had better give their locus standi since they are attacking mine

Mark Newbrook is a researcher in linguistics, currently affiliated with Monash University and the University of Sheffield. Sarah Thomason is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.

Their first substantive challenge to me is this

One good example is the apparently rapid series of changes which distinguish Middle English from Old English

This is absolutely critical not just to me-vs-them but to understanding English history as a whole. As we here know, we are talking about two completely different languages -- Anglo-Saxon and English, with scarcely a word in common -- but academics believe them to be one language changing over time. Even they understand they can't get away with simply labelling them Old and Middle, they do have to provide an explanation. Or, as we warn against in AE, explanations. Here comes Numero Uno

The genuinely rapid lexical changes can be attributed to the flood of French loanwords that entered English after the Norman Conquest of 1066

OK, that's good. Though since a third of English is, as it were, French loan words it is, let's say, unprecedented. Nombre Deux

but a major reason for the grammatical differences lies in the fact that literary Middle English was based on a midland dialect, while literary Old English was almost entirely based on a southern dialect

There are minute differences in Anglo-Saxon texts but to use them as stepping stones from Anglo-Saxon to a completely different language (Middle English is just English before the spelling got standardised) is bizarre beyond belief. We had better have Numbo Trumbo

The two dialects were already divergent before the Norman Conquest, and many changes that affected midland dialects did not take place in southern dialects; there is no evidence that the changes in the midland dialects were any more rapid than any other linguistic changes.

You said it, bub.
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Mick Harper
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One of the major difficulties is Harper’s idea that two diachronically related languages could equally well be related in either order.

In AE this is really huge. When A and B occur in such propinquity as to make a causal connection virtually certain, it is not enough to say that therefore A caused B. The possibility that B caused A has to be ruled out first. And it never is when A-causes-B is an established orthodoxy. Let us watch, mesmerised, as our two Avenging Angels fall into this trap

This is simply false: it is easy to show, by demonstrable and largely predictable cross-linguistic evidence on the nature of linguistic change...

Oh, that's a surprise. Looks like I was wrong. With a coupla thousand languages on offer this means that working out pretty much the whole story of language evolution is going to be a breeze.
that (for instance)

For instance... yes, yes, don't hold us in suspense

Italian is descended from (Vulgar) Latin rather than vice versa

Madre de dios, out of all the languages they could have chosen to illustrate the technique, they've chosen Vulgar Latin, a language we know almost nothing about because it was unwritten, and Italian, the language that is the one under dispute. Will there be others? What do you think? These people are not shameless. If only they were bright enough to reach such a level.
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Mick Harper
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Romance is also the locus of one of Harper’s most telling errors of fact.

I'm going to have to hold my hand up on this one. An error of fact is not something even a worm like me can wriggle out of. I've had a good run but there it is. Time to cry uncle.

He argues correctly that it would be strange if a whole raft of identical grammatical changes were to occur independently in languages which are descended from a common ancestor but which are not currently in contact.

Don't try to sugar the pill. It's nice to hear I started off right but what's the point if I've made an error of fact? Come on, I can take it.

Under such circumstances, some identical and numerous similar changes would actually be expected, thanks to shared structural pressures among the related languages, but we would not expect globally identical changes.

Good to hear I'm still getting it right but now comes the error of fact. I'm ready, already.

He uses this point to attack the standard model of Romance.

Yes, you said that, I said that. Please, please, I beg you, put me out of my misery with the error of fact so we can all go home.

But in fact most of the features that distinguish early Romance from Classical Latin were already found in Vulgar Latin.

Wha-a-a-a? We don't have Vulgar Latin, remember? It's unwritten, remember? That's why it's called 'vulgar', remember? And they accuse me of an error of fact.
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Mick Harper
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Don't get me wrong. I'm not denying that 'Vulgar Latin' existed, it's attested to all over the shop. But it's a simple A-causes-B problem. They say A is Latin and B is Vulgar Latin and that therefore A caused B. They also say that there is C, Italian, which is a Romance language i.e. descended from Latin, and that therefore A caused C. Despite being spoken all over the shop, B just wandered off into the Dark Night of History. We shall not see its like again.

I say A is Latin, B is Italian and that B caused A. There's no C in Mick's Theory. But I admit it lacks romance with no requirement for languages wandering off accompanied by bagpipes playing "Will ye no come back again?" Yes, ye will. Again and again. For as long as twatty linguists need ye. You're right, I can't do the accent.
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Mick Harper
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Yes, I know, it's called displacement activity. I'm under a lot of pressure at the moment. What healthier remedy is there than revisiting a time when I was under pressure. It may be boring for you but it's therapy for me.

Harper has a weak understanding of language history and language contact, including language replacements. We will give a few examples.

About time too. The man is in sore need of a comeuppance.

On page 8 he asserts that, on the mainstream view, ‘the Anglo-Saxons were [supplanted] by the Normans in the eleventh century’.

Strewth in a booth, I didn't think I'd be challenged on 1066 and all that.

Not so: there were perhaps 20,000 Norman French speakers versus about 1.5-2 million English speakers (Thomason & Kaufman,1988:268)

Are they serious? They think I am arguing that the Normans got rid of the entire population of England? Well, they believe 20,000 Anglo-Saxons did, so I suppose it's a pardonable error on their part.

and there is contemporary evidence that many or most of the Normans were bilingual in French and English within a generation or two after the Conquest (Mellinkoff, 1963:68). The Normans did not supplant the English, except in government, and they did not suppress the English language.

I did not say they did. You did. Or at any rate your theory requires 20,000 Normans changing one third of the language of 1.5 to 2 million natives. Me, I don't think anything happened language-wise. And just to be clear, 20,000 Normans supplanted 20,000 Anglo-Saxons in my view of events. O.n.o.

On page 9: ‘“Persuading” the natives to speak the invaders’ language normally happens when the invaders are culturally in advance of the natives...’.

This is the Anglo-Saxons persuading the 'Celts' by the way not the Normans persuading the Anglo-Saxons. Nice little concealed segue, chaps. But anyway, what's wrong with the statement itself. It's fairly uncontentious.
This too is false.

Remember, I said 'normally'. They had better have a bullet-proof list.

The Sumerians all shifted to the language of invaders who did not possess the glory of inventing writing; almost all of their Akkadian successors shifted to the language of their successors, the Egyptians all shifted from Egyptian to Arabic; almost all the Greeks in Turkey shifted to Turkish within a few centuries of the Turkish invasion of Asia Minor; and so forth. Military superiority is not always accompanied by cultural superiority.

If even all these examples are accepted it still doesn't invalidate my point. The fact that, personally, I wouldn't accept any of them is neither here nor there.
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Mick Harper
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Harper’s lack of knowledge of linguistic issues is most revealingly indicated by two general claims about language change

Two gauntlets, eh? They must be gluttons for punishment.

Mick Harper on page 30 of THOBR wrote:
The languages we speak today, and can study in detail, have not been written down for very long and therefore cannot be studied in much historical depth...We know almost nothing about how unwritten languages change over time.

Newbook and Thomason in reply wrote:
Part of the problem here is factual: the Indo-European language family has in fact been written for over 3,000 years (both Greek and Hittite are attested in the second millennium BCE), so Greek is one language spoken today that has quite a long written history.

Gordon Benito, that's a bogus list to beat all bogus lists. They start off with hundreds of languages (the Indo-European family), this gets whittled down to two (Greek and Hittite), and this gets whittled down to one, Greek. They then make a staggeringly dishonest claim for their one and only example: that Greek has a long written history. No it doesn't. It was first written down in the nineteenth century. (That's AD, not BC.) Classical Greek, yes, but I specifically excluded that: "the languages we speak today". Surely they can't have forgotten something they said just two minutes before.

In fact, Harper argues elsewhere that, once established, written languages actually change very little over time

Well, they've just admitted that's true with their one and only example. They're still teaching the Greek of Pericles in the halls of academe two and a half thousand years later, aren't they, guys? And it's absolutely and chillingly unchanged, isn't it? You pair of prize swallow-tailed boobies.

All right, I'll give it a rest for a bit. Hello-o-o, anyone there? MJH to AEL, come in please. No, don't. I'm quite happy playing on my own. Kicking sand in linguistic faces. It relaxes me. I've been under a lot pressure lately.
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Hatty
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Did Mark and Sarah reference any of the (original) manuscripts/papyri on which their arguments are, presumably, based?
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Mick Harper
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I don't know much about the inner workings of linguistics. As you know, I regard it as of such little account I am disinclined to find out. By their fruits ye shall judge. They work from 'agreed texts' is about all I could say. I don't think it would matter if individual documents were, say, forgeries because they are not concerned with the meaning of the words, only the words themselves.

Of course they suffer from the same ill as archaeology -- being a junior satrapy of the Great Kingdom of History -- so it is not really the fault of the individual linguist. But agreeing to such a humble status is the fault of linguists.
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Mick Harper
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He ignores the fact that the concept of ‘Language X being descended from Language Y’ is really only the concept of ‘Language Y having changed’ writ large.

Although this is a truism it is one that is quite important in AE because forgetting it is something that afflicts a great many academic subjects that rely on the past to provide the evidence for present paradigms. Geology and evolutionary biology, for instance, as well as linguistics. This is a good opportunity to see the perils that can arise.
Sudden large sets of changes are rare

Another truism. Since languages are required to be comprehensible to everybody it follows that, were they to undergo sudden large changes, they would lose their main function.

but after a while the accumulated changes are sufficiently large and numerous for a new identity to emerge

This is absolutely potty. If it is agreed that changes occur gradually then it absolutely follows that a new identity cannot emerge. A language can change everything about itself given enough time but at no point will it have a new identity. Any more than you or I can, as we gradually accumulate the changes from baby to oldie. We shall be fascinated to hear our linguistic twosome come up with an example of such an apparent impossibility.

(especially where the original language diversifies markedly, as in the case of Romance).

This is quite, quite shocking (no wonder they put it brackets). All the Romance languages bear a striking resemblance to one another i.e. they show unmistakeable evidence of gradual accumulated change in the past. Save one. Latin. The very example I am using to buttress my thesis and they are challenging. Of all the languages in all the world that could walk into Mick's Bar...

And, contrary to his claims, in very many cases change within a language – written as well as spoken – can indeed be observed in the data and can be systematically analysed and described.

OK, so we've reached the nub of the whole argument. All they have to do is to produce a single example of this and they will emerge triumphant over my blubbing corpse. They have thousands to choose from -- all the presently spoken languages whether written or spoken plus all the past ones for which there are surviving written records -- and there are 'very many cases'. So, will it be a long list or a short list? Will it consist of languages we have heard of or ones we haven't heard of? Will it feature more dead languages or living ones? First world or third world? Written or unwritten? The questions mount as the tension rises. Come on, my beauties, the floor -- indeed the world -- is yours

See for instance the case of Greek, mentioned just above.
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Mick Harper
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Nowadays, ongoing changes can actually be tracked in real time, by repeating sociolinguistically-informed surveys of spoken or written usage at suitable intervals.

More examples of the Bleedin' Obvious. Languages are organic and dynamic, hold the front page. Did any of the surveys report a new identity emerging?

Actually, given that Harper does accept the notion of two or more languages being ‘genetically’ related, he is in fact committed to accepting that one language can change enough, given enough time, to be regarded as now being another language. The former implies the latter.

See what I mean about the perils of trunk and branch models using the past for evidence? When people speaking Language A physically separate from an A-speaking population, it follows that the two A's, being organic and dynamic, will diverge. It is a matter of academic inclination at what point 'another language' can be declared, and the world now has languages A and B.

But watch out, academics! The original A will be motoring along too and you might not have access to it if it was unwritten at the time. You may not even know it once existed. But, should you survey what they are speaking in A-land presently you will find it is unmistakeably related to the language spoken in B-land. But on purely linguistic grounds you will not be able to tell which is, as it were, Language A and which is Language B. Or 'A causes B unless B causes A' as we say in AE.

Further examples of Harper’s factual errors include the assertion that ‘languages persist with quite extraordinary tenacity so that even today, in the face of the fiercest cultural pressure from the “majors”, quite tiny language groups hang around and even modestly flourish’ (page 23).

That's me all right. I thought I had hedged it around with enough qualifiers for this statement to be uncontentious but I had reckoned without the politically correct brigade

This confident statement will surprise experts on language endangerment, who know that minority languages all over the world have been vanishing at such a horrific rate that even conservative estimates predict the demise of 50% of the world’s 6,000 or so languages by the end of this century.
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Mick Harper
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I've been going on about 'bogus lists' on other threads because they have one really tremendous advantage. We have neither the time nor the resources to track down and check out long lists of things claimed by orthodoxy to prove this or that assumption so when an orthodox professional -- who has had the time and resources to track them down -- comes up with a bogus list, we know we are in business.

On Harper’s claim that Language A cannot be 'grammatically and syntactically distant from Language B and yet share a vocabulary with it’ (page 92): yes, it can.

This positively Barakian call immediately hits the buffers

To give just one of many possible examples

Why, did you have a train to catch?

Tok Pisin, in origin a pidgin language and now one of the official national languages of Papua New Guinea

No, it was because providing more than one would have immediately revealed that they are all artificial languages. Which I specifically exclude in THOBR, the whole point being that it doesn't apply to the Romance languages (natural) but it does apply to Latin (artificial). We must be generous and assume this is stupidity rather than cupidity on their part. Next bogus list, if you please...
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