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View Diary: Let Them Eat Metaphors, Part 1: The Indo-European Hypothesis (69 comments)

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  •  ancient pronunciations (30+ / 0-)

    If I can chime in. We know a fair amount about ancient Latin pronunciation. Unfortunately, very little of this information has made it into the classroom, I think because that field has been dominated by classicists rather than by historical linguists. For example, the classicists argue about whether Latin had a pitch accent like Greek or not, but a careful analysis shows that it could not have possibly have had a pitch accent and that the ancient authorities who mention one were simply copying Greek authors. Not to blow my own horn - well, actually, to blow my own horn, there's some information on this in my dissertation which you can find on my very small website http://dustyfeet.com

    Modern classroom Latin pronunciation is facultive, meaning it follows the spelling. Modern textbooks use a diacritic to differentiate long and short vowels (ancient writings didn't usually bother), but most modern European languages don't have the same distinction, so it's dropped in practice. Exceptions: Finnish, Hungarian - I've heard Finns and Hungarians recite Latin, and it's pretty interesting.

    Otherwise, we follow the spelling, even when it's wrong. For example, in the word  "censor" (which means about what it looks like) ("c" pronounced like "k"), we know that the "n" wasn't pronounced, but everybody pronounces it now, anyway, because it's easiest to pretend that the spelling is always accurate.

    For Sanskrit: we have excellent information on the ancient pronunciation because of the excellence of the ancient Indian grammarians. Nobody uses a completely reconstructed ancient pronunciation, though, because it's difficult for speakers of modern languages (Western and Indic both), but we really have good information.

    Were there similarities? Of course. The difference between long and short vowels was one; it goes back to ancestral IE. Here's another: there was a (consonantal) sound "W" (pronounced as in English). In the daughter languages, this has shifted to a "V" sound; in fact, in almost all the IE languages, the sound has shifted to V. In this one respect, at least, English is one of the most conservative of all IE languages.

    •  thanks for this, gecko! (14+ / 0-)

      This is great stuff! Thank you for sharing this information.

      Also, your comment that Latin teaching has been "dominated by classicists rather than by historical linguists" strikes a chord for me, too, because a lot of the teaching of the history of English is done by scholars of medieval literature, some (although not all) of whom have very little background in linguistics.

      Thanks again!

      •  a plague on all literature! (11+ / 0-)

        Well, that's extreme, I guess. I've never studied the history of English, didn't know about the literature people dominating that until recently. It's the same in Classical Greek, though, and in a very strong way.

        Not the same for Old Icelandic (aka "Old Norse"), though, even though there's a considerable (if rather gruesome) literature there. But one of the early modern champions of that was the same Rasmus Rask that you mention in your diary. He also developed the spelling system for modern Icelandic. It bridges the gap between the medieval and modern languages, but makes the language look more conservative on the page than it actually sounds.

        Thanks, also, for posting another link for Lyle Campbell. He's been one of my linguistic heroes ever since his evisceration of Joseph Greenburg. It's hard to forgive him the parrot, though.

        •  Speaking a little out of my area, but (13+ / 0-)

          I can't imagine someone getting a job in medieval Russian without at least a strong linguistics background.  My sense, if accurate, is that there are two reasons for this:

          1. Slavic studies is still very strongly philological in a way that Western academia considers passé.  Most students come out with some linguistics even if they're not going into an area where it's strictly necessary.  To which I might as well add:

          1b. that Slavic linguistics has its own academic heritage (and baggage), so it's not quite a fair comparison;

          2. nearly all the written material from medieval Russia is in OCS, a strictly literary (rather than spoken) and notoriously difficult language to wrestle with.  I can't imagine approaching it all without some linguistics, even if I were just to study the literature-as-such.  It's about as close as we can get to the theorized proto-Slavic, but it's not the Thing Itself, because it's full of all kinds of borrowings to accommodate the translation of religious texts, which was the main reason it was created in the first place.  Theorizing about a proto-Slavic puts us in the same realm of unease as PIE, even though it's much, much more recent.

          Anyway, my two cents.  It's funny to me to hear that there are so few linguists in English and Classics.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 02:25:26 PM PDT

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          •  The two cents of anyone who quotes Ambrose Bierce (4+ / 0-)
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            pico, ER Doc, kyril, Judge Moonbox

            is always welcome wherever I am. :-)

          •  Ah, Stankievich! (6+ / 0-)
            1b. that Slavic linguistics has its own academic heritage (and baggage), so it's not quite a fair comparison;
            I studied Slavic linguistics as part of my graduate studies in linguistics. Stankievich was all God to all who studied.
            2. nearly all the written material from medieval Russia is in OCS, a strictly literary (rather than spoken) and notoriously difficult language to wrestle with.  I can't imagine approaching it all without some linguistics, even if I were just to study the literature-as-such.  It's about as close as we can get to the theorized proto-Slavic, but it's not the Thing Itself, because it's full of all kinds of borrowings to accommodate the translation of religious texts, which was the main reason it was created in the first place.  Theorizing about a proto-Slavic puts us in the same realm of unease as PIE, even though it's much, much more recent.
            And I studied OCS, in depth. The professor was a Serbian priest, a real hoot in the classroom!

            Thanks for bringing all that back to me. I haven't heard anyone talking about such things since 1969...

    •  The "n" in "censor" (5+ / 0-)

      Interesting, Gecko!

      How is it that "we know that the n wasn't pronounced" in "censor"?

      Another point: as I understand it, the "w" sound in ancient Greek was represented by the digamma (borrowed from the Semitic alphabet letter I think of as "waw" or "vav"). It made some transmutations in Greek quite unlike the transition of "w" to "v". For example, ϝινος, (winos), the Greek word for wine (and cognate with "wine" and "vine") became οινος ("oinos").

      Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

      by JayC on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 07:03:31 PM PDT

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    •  English is both conservative and not conservative (5+ / 0-)

      On the non-conservative side, case and grammatical gender are far less important than in German for example.  In sound however English preserves Germanic thorn (the, they, their, with, etc.) and I think only Icelandic is the only Germanic language which still has this sound.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 08:15:37 PM PDT

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    •  Wow. Many thanks! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alevei

      I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

      by Satya1 on Tue Apr 30, 2013 at 07:59:47 AM PDT

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