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How Fast Do Languages Change? (Linguistics)
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Mick Harper
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The chief contribution of The History Of Britain Revealed to linguistics is to show that languages change very slowly. Orthodoxy believes they change very fast. So this thread will aggregate together whatever views we have on this general subject.

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I'm reading a book on the Punic Wars, and I came across a reference to Archaic Latin c. 500 BC. This worried me because I had claimed in my wrestle with my two linguist adversaries that "Latin has not changed a jot or tittle from the first inscriptions to this year's Easter Encyclical." Anyway I kinda checked it out, googling Archaic Latin, and came up with stuff that looked to me like Latin bar the shouting. But I was soon lost and thought only Dan Crisp can enter this labyrinth. [And by the by, I hope everybody spotted the new German Pope addressed the multinational crowd in St Peters Square in fluent Italian. Clearly even the professional Romans in the Curia find Latin too burdensome to actually use in conversation.]

Also I discovered that the Carthaginians built their boats by mass production methods marking the various planks of wood with "the letters of the Punic alphabet which also acted as numerals" which I found kinda interesting.

If it gains a life of its own, it'll change (slowly) like any other natural language, but... one of the hallmarks of artificiality is stagnation: if Classical Greek remained unchanged for centuries it can only be because it was written. Right?

First off, we have the actual living example of the Icelanders, who still speak in Old Norse, to demonstrate language-change-in-small-cut-off communities. Though I'll have to ask Bjork next time I see her whether this is true or just another non-urban myth.

Second: imagine you are speaking a language that ties you with lots of other distant communities but differentiates you from the barbarian hinterland. And imagine that the City Fathers send every kid to school to learn "the language of Homer" or "Proper Latin" (plus of course it's the medium of instruction). The Romans were forever banging on about the purity of their language. Of course the French government bangs on about the purity of French too but the difference is the French government isn't living in a tiny enclave where French is the distinguishing characteristic.
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DPCrisp


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The shoulder blades of cattle were used for digging and it seems evident that scapula is cognate with shovel, via the SC = SH and P = F = V rules. Indeed, Etymonline says:

scapula: "shoulder blade," 1578, Mod.L., from L.L. scapula "shoulder," from L. scapulae (pl.) "shoulders, shoulder blades," of unknown origin; perhaps originally "spades, shovels" (cf. Gk. skaphein "to dig out"), on notion of similar shape, but actual shoulder blades may have been used as digging tools in primitive times.

though it doesn't make the reverse connection:

shovel: O.E. scofl, sceofol, related to scufan (see shove), from P.Gmc. *skublo (cf. O.S. skufla, Swed. skovel, M.L.G. schufle, M.Du. shuffel, Du. schoffel, O.H.G. scuvala, Ger. Schaufel).

Pisces is cognate with fishes by the same rules. I'd go so far as to say pisces and scapula might be pronounced (near enough) "fishes" and "shovel(a)".

But I expect orthodoxy would refute that by saying SC = SK = SH is a Germanic rule and therefore not applicable to Latin (despite what common sense and THOBR say).

While we're at it, shoulder is "of unknown origin, perhaps related to shield", which seems fair enough.

And epaulette is supposedly "Fr. ├ępaulette, dim. of epaule "shoulder," from O.Fr. espaule, from L. spatula "flat piece of wood, splint," later "shoulder blade," dim. of spatha "broad wooden instrument, broad sword," from Gk. spathe "a broad flat sword" (see spade)."

But the T in spatula seems a rather distinct sound to be swallowed up in the French or inserted arbitrarily into the Latin.

However, another Germanic word for shoulder is bough: O.E. bog "shoulder, arm," extended O.E. to "twig, branch", from P.Gmc. *bogaz (cf. O.N. bogr "shoulder," O.H.G. buog), from PIE *bhagus "elbow, forearm" (cf. Skt. bahus "arm," Armenian bazuk, Gk. pakhys "forearm").

Notice that by the L = U and P = B rules, epaule looks to be cognate with bough and nothing to do with spatula.

How much more French might be Germanic and what will that do the Latinate:Germanic ratio for English?
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Ishmael


In: Toronto
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DPCrisp wrote:
The shoulder blades of cattle were used for digging and it seems evident that scapula is cognate with shovel, via the SC = SH and P = F = V rules. Indeed, Etymonline says:


This must still survive in "Scalpel."
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Mick Harper
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How much more French might be Germanic and what will that do the Latinate:Germanic ratio for English?


This has proved a real bitch in both versions of THOBR I was obliged to use the one-third Latin to two-thirds Germanic rule for English in both because that's orthodoxy and I had no good reason to dissent, though I hurled in a few caveats. But of course the reported situation arises entirely because of orthodox paradigmatic assumptions. My own guess is that by using the THOBR assumptions -- and some creative Danian etymologicising -- that all the connections will be shown to be near 100%. That is all words in French, German and English will be seen to be cognates (not merely "of Indo-European origin" or some such fantasy escapist description).
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DPCrisp


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Cf. Native American tribes (Great Plains mostly?) using a common sign language but not a common spoken one.

You think it started as a deliberate attempt to be cryptic? Protecting trade secrets, sea routes, that sort of thing? Do we know of any non-demotic languages NOT connected with sea-farers?

The neophyte children are more-or-less apprenticed in the trade or its logistical support?

For about 3000 years ALL we know about are alphabetical languages? What happened to ideograms and pictographs in the meantime? Were they suppressed? Is there any reason to think significant "international" trade was not going on before the alphabets? Maybe they were simply less successful before these dedicated "trading organs" appeared and became autonomous. Were the earlier empires -- Egyptians, Sumerians... -- land-farers with armies, rather than sea-farers with navies?

It must be an over-simplification to say we could read each other's pictologue: there's too much grammar, abstraction and depth in real language... but this level of subtlety is irrelevant to commerce's prosaic concerns?

I've never had the impression that Latin, for instance, is anything but a full-blown literary language, but, for all I know, that's an illusion created when the translator renders what he takes to be poetry, say, in a poetic style of English.

Of course, people will ask -- have asked? -- for the evidence for your proposition that these trading languages changed NOT AT ALL over the course of a thousand years. If they say the Latin practised in Britain became petrified after the Romans left because there were no real Latin speakers left; but Latin HAD changed between the rise of Rome and its fall; then what is your answer?
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Komorikid


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Also I discovered that the Carthaginians built their boats by mass production methods marking the various planks of wood with "the letters of the Punic alphabet which also acted as numerals" which I found kinda interesting.

It's the main reason why the Romans defeated them. Until the Romans captured a Carthaginian ship their navy was decidedly inferior to their rivals.

A fortuitous event placed a Carthaginian warship in their hands and after pulling it apart they discovered the aforementioned letters, which allowed the Romans to build a Navy by numbers. The system that the Carthaginians used to standardise their shipbuilding and thereby produce 'carbon copy designs' led to their downfall.
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Mick Harper
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Yes, the Japanese did much the same thing (quite overtly) to catch up with the west after the Meiji Restoration, the Russians did the same thing (quite unovertly) under Stalin and his successors, the current Chinese are using both methods.
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Tani


In: Fairye
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I'd like to throw some assorted thoughts into the debate:

Neolithic.Europe = Megalithic Europe had a flourishing trade with at least as far as Mediterranean (spondilus shells in Irish and British megalithic structures). As all megalidiots know, all megal. all over Europe have a canon of "symbols" which I am convinced are pictograms in the real sense of the word, i.e. language.

Also there are Ogham scriptures on standing stones (I don't believe that they all date into historical.times but no proof at present for that).

Here the sign language of the Native Americans comes in: I believe it wasn't a deliberate try on being secretive, I think it's the same with pre-historic trade: they had a mutual canon of signs and pictograms to understand each other

Again. it's the same with Sinti and Roma and Travellers: there is Romani, and if you speak Romani than you understand each other - even if one is from let's say Britain and the other is from Greece.

Romani is not a written language as such. I think that's what it was like in prehistory. I agree that Latin and Greek is sort of petrified - maybe that's why the Druids never let their stuff be written down. Petrification - is that the word?
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DPCrisp


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You'll notice, Tani, that even cuneiform writing is written in regular lines and I would think this is a defining characteristic that helps identify it as writing. (Language wouldn't be language if it weren't structured enough to SAY something; nor could writing say anything if it couldn't be followed.)

But that doesn't mean signs can't have meaning at a "sub-grammatical" level. The megalithic symbols may be ideograms -- a bit like the symbols for the Zodiac, maybe, that are loaded with meaning -- that don't necessarily have to be arranged in any particular way with each other in order to do their job.

(And if they ARE specially arranged, I dare say they then express a specialised "astronomical language", for instance, rather than a natural language.)

(Should we discuss propositional language, as opposed to other kinds, such as performative?)

Of course, such ideograms or motifs are sure to resemble alphabetic characters because there are only so many ways to draw simple signs. (I'm in the process of convincing myself here that what looks aphabetic can't count as alphabetic if it's strewn about. Covering an amulet with blessings isn't the same as writing something on it.

Just to confuse things, a symbolic use of letters could be introduced after an alphabet-proper is developed. Just as things that are meant to be handled are all "hand-sized", so signs that are meant to be inscribed will be letter-like.

Certainly the symbols of whatever type get their meaning by being shared by the community of users.

It sounds banal, but that "A is for Apple" thing might really be an ancient technique. Maybe it's the best way for anyone to have come up with cryptic signs they could actually remember. SOMEONE had to come up with the idea of a concise repertoire of signs for sounds. Maybe it really was a deliberate invention for the purposes of controlling communication...
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Jenny


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I was reading a book the other day, by Messod & Roger Sabbah. The first chapter begins, "Since Egyptian writers did not have vowels there are alternative spellings for many of the names of Pharaohs, Gods, Places. The translators have attempted to use the spellings most often found in English." ...

This got me thinking about words with no vowels.

Suddenly then I began to see similarities between words in other languages and English if one chooses a different vowel or mix of vowels instead of the one we use. Damn! at this point I can't find you an example. What I do see is that vowels matter significantly.Could the root language of the world (which I've always considered was English) have begun without vowels?.

Might this be why other languages "branched out" with basic consonants the same but different interpretations as to how you write down the word and how you pronounce it? (I actually saw a Russian sign in the background on a news item and I knew what it meant.)
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Mick Harper
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The critical question surely is to try to distinguish these "alphabetical peoples" from the ordinary folk just living around them. And bearing in mind that the alphabeticals used to be the ordinary folk and (who knows?) might well be again when they get home, kick the shoes off and ask why their dinner isn't on the table.

Remember, always, that all contemporary documentation was written by the alphabeticals and historians rely 99% of the time on contemporary documentation. We have to parley the other one per cent into the truth.

Take for instance the Old Testament which gives the impression of Palestine being where the Jews lived. Maybe so but my revisionist whiskers twitch when I notice how careful everyone is to have two kingdoms--Israel and Judah--one of which is the name they give themselves, one of which is used by everyone else.

That's why I asked about the missing bit in between, Samaria, which everyone is equally careful to ignore.

The OT also blithely gives the impression that, say, Gallillee was populated by Jews but actually we know that the Decapolis--the ten cities of Gallillee--were Greek cities. It may be that Jews were simply a religious cult all the time, but wrote the OT.

But then again there are oddities all around. It's interesting how Phoenecian Tyre, Sidon (and even Carthage itself) seem to survive unscathed every time somebody comes along and puts everyone to the sword, sows salt in the ruins and so forth. The Jews are very similar survivalists but using a quite different strategy.

The Greeks of course switched effortlessly between colonies, empires and intellectual diasporas until (with Byzantium) they finally came up against some real pro's in the Ottoman Turks.

But it's the Latin-speakers that take the biscuit. After a thousand-year-reich with the Roman Empire, they set up another thousand-year-reich with the Catholic Church. And now they're the Bilderberg Group...no, wait...forget that one.
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Komorikid


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Take for instance the Old Testament, which gives the impression of Palestine being where the Jews lived. Maybe so but my revisionist whiskers twitch when I notice how careful everyone is to have two kingdoms--Israel and Judah--one of which is the name they give themselves, one of which is used by everyone else.

The Jews were descended from the DOMINANT tribe of Judah, the Israelites were everyone else.

That's why I asked about the missing bit in between, Samaria, which everyone is equally careful to ignore.

Samaria was the CAPITAL of the former state of Israel at the same time that Jerusalem was the CAPITAL of the former state of Judah (not to be confused with Judeah, which was the Roman name for an area of Palestine where Jews and Israelites were living. After the death of Solomon his empire was split into two states -- Judah, which was the former name of the ENTIRE empire and Israel, which was the state created by Solomon's opponents (10 tribes). Solomon's followers became the Jews; adherents to the laws laid down by Ezra, which later formed the basis of Rabbinical Judaism and the Israelites, those that rejected Ezra's 'New Vision' and remained loyal only to the Mosaic Laws. This was the difference between the Pharisees (Ezra) and the Sadducees (Moses).

Samaria in Palestine was the home of some of the former Israelites. Samaria was part of the province of Galilee. One of the great mysteries of Roman Palestine is that no seems to be able to define what was Judah and what was Israel. It is merely assumed that Judeah and Galilee (both Roman-named provinces) were once Israel and Judah but there is no proof of this fact.

The OT also blithely gives the impression that, say, Galilee was populated by Jews but actually we know that the Decapolis--the ten cities of Galilee--were Greek cities. It may be that Jews were simply a religious cult all the time, but wrote the OT.


The Samaritans/Israelites who populated Galilee neither considered themselves Jews nor were called Jews by those of Judeah or indeed by the Jews who also populated Galilee. The Jews considered themselves the rightful heirs to David's kingdom and considered the Samaritans traitors who had split the kingdom after Solomon. The problem was that neither the Herodians nor the Hasmoneans could lay claim to David's line.
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Mick Harper
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Thanks for clearing that up, Komoro, I am much more confused now. But you still haven't dealt with the point I was trying to make. One of the themes of THOBR is that the language of the ordinary inhabitants of a place is (almost invariably) not the language of the rulers of that place -- because people with a written language tend to lord it over people with an unwritten language. But history is totally dependent on the written sources so, unless the toffs actually spell out the local language situation (which they never do), we end up with false history.

The principle of "What is is what was" implies that the ordinary population of the Holy Land have always spoken some form of colloquial Arabic but that these people were ruled by ruling castes that spoke (in approximate order) Egyptian, Hittite, Hebrew, Aramaic, Persian, Greek, Roman, Greek (again), Turkish and (though it's difficult to say who are the 'locals' nowadays) Hebrew again. Do you have any really clear evidence that this was not in fact the case?
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DPCrisp


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Do we know of any languages that became non-literate and then literate again?

If only! Of course orthodoxy says this happened to both Latin and Greek in the Dark Ages.

No, I mean apart from them. Surely they don't reckon nobody spoke Latin in the Dark Ages? The writing of Latin didn't have to be reinvented.

As for the Greek Dark Age, which I know nothing about, our observations on the artificiality of Ancient Greek prove it didn't happen, don't they? I take it the very same Ancient Greek language is found in Linear B and Greek script, which, the implications of 'literisation' notwithstanding, would be possible if a natural language were being written. But since Ancient Greek is not natural... and depends for its existence on being written down... and could not be reinvented the same way twice... the end of Linear B (syllabary) and the start of Greek (alphabet) must have occurred together: a truly interesting period of history.

Come to think of it, anything orthodoxy identifies as a literate-illiterate-literate language is likely to signal a non-existent Dark Age; while a genuine bout of illiteracy would be bound, fore and aft, by related-but-different languages (and therefore not recognised by orthodoxy at all): an actual language going through 'literisation' {there must be a word for this} twice. The trick then is to distinguish a natural language being twice written from a natural language being twice alphabeticalised.
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DPCrisp


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A comment on historical linguistics:

They say an adder (snake) is an erroneous division of a naddre in... you guessed it... Middle English. But since atter means poison, I don't see why adder can't simply be a poisonous snake. Why couldn't a naddre be the erroneous division, subsequently undone?

Since the linguists insist on changes being rapid, they think the changes represented within the short time frames of written records are one-way, permanent, consistent, predictable. They can't conceive of these divisions (or inflections, or verb endings or anything else) coming and going. They're quick to say one language was influenced by another (e.g. they're starting to say English comes from Friesian, heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon), so why can't English gain genders for example? On the contrary, the trend is said to be inexorably towards simplification.

And there's something else wrong here. Why should dividing anadder be the crucial question, when people will (supposedly) also have been saying "that nadder", "those nadders", "your nadder", "six nadders"...?
{It's as if the scholars can only imagine people talking about what things are called, in the same way that language is supposed, philosophically, to be founded on the ostensive definition of names.
"What's this then?" "That's a nadder." "An adder, you say?" "That's right."
But language isn't like that and that's not a fair representation of how people converse.}

All these supposed misdivisions date from Middle English and I suspect the answer is that the Middle English version is correct and plain English, while the Old English they compare it to is simply a foreign language; and/or there is so little surviving early written English that individual errors or ambiguities have been seized upon as true records of the way they were said in earlier times.
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