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They say that history is written by the victors. (Alas, I couldn’t find a reliable source for this quote. Some people attribute it to Churchill, but others say it might have been Orwell or even someone like Pliny the Younger). Maybe it’s one of those meme things.

The history of language is a history of war. If your land is conquered, you learn to speak the language of your new overlords. If you live in a country that conquers other countries, your soldiers come home with new words and phrases they’ve picked up. Languages also change with economics (traders travel here and there to buy and sell things and they return with new words for new things). And teenagers have an uncontrollable urge to invent new words, such as ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ or ‘groovy’ or ‘phat.’ Sometimes a king or a president or dictator says something and it becomes popular (Calvin Coolidge invented the word 'normalcy,' and he was mocked for using a word that wasn’t a word, but now we don’t think twice about it.)

If you’d like to learn more about the history of English, keep reading.

The Celts

Around the time of the Trojan war and Odysseus’s heroic journey to get home, in the eighth century BCE, the original Celtic culture was flourishing in Central Europe, near modern-day Hallstatt in Austria. The Celtic bronze age ran from about 1200-800 BCE, the iron age from about 800-500 BCE. (Note: I prefer to use "BCE," Before The Common Era, instead of "BC," Before Christ.)

The Celts spread their culture and language east to the Black Sea, west to France and Spain, and north and west to the British Isles. They may have conquered or displaced some other cultures, but the written records are almost non-existent. For example, Stonehenge was probably built before the Celts arrive in Britain, but we don’t know much about what language they might have spoken. Here’s a Wikipedia article about Hallstatt Culture: Hallstatt culture.

In the map below, the Celts started in the yellow area and eventually spread to the light green. The dark green areas indicate where people still speak a Celtic language.

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Linguists distinguish between continental Celts (from France and Belgium, for example) and insular Celts (in Latin, ‘insula’ means ‘island,’ which would be Britain and Ireland). The continental Celtic languages are dead – no one speaks them anymore. The insular Celtic languages are split into two groups: Goidelic (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) and Brythonic (Welsh, Breton, Cornish, and probably Pictish).

You can’t point to an actual Celtic invasion of Britain and Ireland; they just sort of migrated there. They eventually spread throughout Britain and Ireland.

In the Welsh language, Wales is known as ‘Cymru’ (which means land of the ‘cymry’ (which means compatriots)). The English word ‘Wales’ actually comes from Germanic – in Germanic, ‘walh’ means ‘outsider’ and a variation of ‘walh’ appears in the words ‘Cornwall’ and ‘Gaul’ as well.

I’m going to digress here. It’s quite common for people in power (including conquering nations) to use a disparaging word for outsiders. In ancient Greek, a ‘barbaros’ (barbarian in English) was the word for a non-Greek – because from a Greek point of view the way non-Greeks talked was nonsense; it sounded like "bar bar bar." Non-Greeks were barbarians. In ancient Germanic languages, the word for outsider was ‘walh,’ and the outsiders lived in Cornwall, Wales, and Gaul. In Alaska, the Inuit word ‘Inuit’ was the word for ‘human beings,’ whereas the word ‘Eskimo’ comes from a non-Inuit language that means either ‘outsiders’ or ‘eaters of raw meat.’ In the southwestern states, the word ‘Navajo’ comes from a Spanish word for ‘field’ or ‘plain.’ The Navajos prefer to call themselves ‘Dineh,’ which translates as ‘the people.’ This pattern repeats itself again and again.

Even some artistic movements got their names from people in power – the establishment critics – who were making fun of them. For example, the words ‘rococo,’ ‘fauvism,’ ‘cubism,’ and ‘punk rock’ were all intended (by insiders) to be derogatory terms for non-traditional (outsider) artists. And don’t forget Lenny Bruce, who was called a ‘sick comic’ or a ‘toilet comic.’

People in power have always had disparaging words for outsiders – words for "those uncivilized people over there." There’s a horribly racist line (but funny, too, in a weird way) from the TV show "Fawlty Towers" – The major says, "And the strange thing was... throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as niggers. ‘No no no,’ I said, ‘the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs.’" History is written by the victors. Racial slurs and putdowns are also written by the victors.

A Few Famous Celts

Speaking of victors writing a history, you might remember from Latin class that Julius Caesar said "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres." All Gaul is divided into three parts.

Around 55 BCE, Caesar was running around Gaul (France), which at that time was full of people who spoke a Celtic language. Probably the most famous leader of the Gauls was Vercingetorix, who led a rebellion in 52 BCE (but lost to Caesar). If you’ve seen French comic books, you might remember Astérix and Obelix. They were Celtic Gauls, too.

600 years later, in British history, King Arthur and Merlin and Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table were all Celtic. Arthur fought against the invading Saxons in the 6th century CE. I’ll get to the Saxons in a bit. Let’s return to Julius Caesar.

The Roman Invasion of Britain – The First Latin Influence

Julius Caesar invaded southern England in 55 BCE which established a base for the Roman Empire in England (which the Romans called ‘Britannia’). In 43 CE, the Emperor Claudius sent four legions to Britannia to expand the empire. Around 122 CE, the Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep out the Scottish barbarians from Caledonia. It wasn’t as big or as long as the Great Wall of China, but it was a wall. Ireland was called Hibernia (a Roman general once estimated that Hibernia could be conquered with one legion – about 6000 soldiers, but it never came about).

The Romans left behind their mark. Here’s one simple example: In the Latin language, a military camp was called a ‘castrum.’ Military camps attracted traders, so camps often grew into cities. The suffixes '-caster,' '-chester,' and '-cester' all come from the Latin word ‘castrum’ (so Lancaster, Winchester, and even Worcestershire were originally military camps).

By the year 410, the Roman troops had abandoned Britannia, leaving the Celts once again in charge of Britain, at least for a short time.

The Germanic Tribes

Way back when the Celts were expanding from Central Europe, the Germanic tribes were living in the area around Sweden and Denmark. The Germanic tribes spread south into Germany and Poland and Holland. The map below shows the spread of Germanic languages from about 750-0 BCE:

Image Hosted by

The Proto-Germanic language evolved and changed and split into three groups:

  1. East Germanic (Ostrogothic), which was spoken by the Ostrogoths and the Vandals in the area around Poland. You might remember the Vandals as the tribe that sacked Rome in 455. The East Germanic languages eventually faded away and became dead languages.
  1. North Germanic (Norse), spoken in Scandinavia, which eventually developed into Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic. Finnish isn’t Germanic – it’s Finno-Ugric (which means it’s related to Hungarian).
  1. West Germanic (Visigothic). Some Visigoths went south to sack and to pillage and to contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire. But a lot of them stayed at home and became the ancestors of the Germans, the Dutch, and the English.

The Migration Of Anglo-Saxon Tribes

Soon after the Roman armies retreated in 410, the Germanic tribes began to migrate to the east coast of England. You can’t really call it an invasion. These were relatively small tribes who lived on the coast, from Denmark to Holland.

From north to south, these Anglo-Saxon tribes included:

• Jutes, from Jutland (modern-day Denmark)
• Angles, from Angeln (near Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)
• Saxons, from lower Saxony (northwest coastal Germany)
• Frisians (Holland and the low countries)

Some people refer to the period from 500-850 as the Heptarchy, because there were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The four main kingdoms were Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria. The other three were Kent, Sussex, and Essex. The languages spoken in the seven kingdoms were mutually intelligible dialects of Old English (each with its own accent).

A Few Examples of Old English

First a few explanations about spelling. There are three letters you might not recognize: æ is ‘ash’ (pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’); þ is ‘thorn’ (an unvoiced th, as in ‘thing’ or ‘thigh’); and ð is eth or edh (a voiced th, as in ‘this’ or ‘thy’). Also, the letters ‘sc’ are pronounced like ‘sh.’ And if you see ‘hw,’ it’s the Modern English equivalent of ‘wh.’

I borrowed the following from Wikipedia. Here’s the beginning of Beowulf (in Old-English, literal translation, and colloquial translation):

  1. Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum,
  1. þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon,
  1. hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
  1. Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
  1. monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
  1. egsode eorlas.
  1. What! We [of] Gar-Danes (lit. spear-danes) in yore-days,
  1. [of] people-kings, trim (glory) afrained (have learned of by asking),
  1. how those athelings (princes) arm-strong feats framed (made/performed).
  1. Oft Scyld Scefing, [from] scathers (enemies) [in] threats (armed bands),
  1. [from] many magths (clans, groups of sons, cf. Irish cognate Mac-), mead-settles took,
  1. awed earls (leaders of men).

(Colloquial translation) Listen! We have heard of the glory of the Spear-Danes, of the kings of the people, in the days of yore, [and] how those princes did deeds of glory. Often Scyld Scefing deprived armed bands of foes, many clans of mead-benches, [and] terrified warriors.

Anglo-Saxon poets didn’t try to make lines rhyme. Instead they preferred alliteration. Look at line 1 (Gar Dena, gear deagum). Or line 4 (scyld scefing sceathena). Or line 5 (monegum maegthum meodosetla).

In AS, the verb tends to be shoved to the end (as in modern German). And the nouns are strongly inflected (nominative, accusative, ablative, instrumental, etc., like Latin). And here’s something interesting: Old English didn’t have a future tense. I eat (present tense). I ate (past tense). But if you’re talking about the future, you say "I will eat" or "I shall eat" or "Tomorrow I eat" or "I am going to eat." OMG, Modern English doesn’t have a real future tense, either.

Another example is the Lord’s Prayer:

  1. Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
  1. Si þin nama gehalgod.
  1. To becume þin rice,
  1. gewurþe ðin willa, on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
  1. Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
  1. and forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.
  1. And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge, ac alys us of yfele.
  1. Soþlice.
  1. Father ours, thou that art in heaven,
  1. Be thy name hallowed.
  1. Come thy rich (kingdom, cognate of German ‘Reich’),
  1. Worth (manifest) thy will, on earth also as in heaven.
  1. Our daily loaf sell (give) us today,
  1. And forgive us our guilts as also we forgive our guilty,
  1. And lead thou us not in temptation, but loose (release) us of evil.
  1. Soothly.

If you’ve studied German or Dutch, it might look sort of familiar.

Alfred The Great

Alfred the Great (who lived from 849-899 and reigned from 871-899) is my favorite Anglo-Saxon king. He was the youngest of four sons of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, by his first wife, Osburga. After his father and his older brothers died, Alfred became king and immediately had to deal with incessant Viking invasions. Sometimes he raised an army and fought against the Norsemen, sometimes he negotiated a payment or bribe to make them go away.

During his 28 years as king, Alfred the Great accomplished quite a lot:

• He unified the scattered Anglo-Saxon tribes and was the first person to call himself King of the Anglo-Saxons. In effect, he said, "You can either fight on our side with us or you can join the Vikings."
• He raised taxes. Because that’s what you do when you’re fighting a war.
• He built infrastructure. A lot of towns got fortresses or walls to keep the Vikings out. If the Vikings besieged a town, the wall would slow them down until Alfred could send an army.
• He created a 120-chapter legal code (the number 120 was important because it was associated with Moses-the-lawgiver). So he wrote down a bunch of laws. He believed in the rule of law rather than the arbitrary whims of the king.
• He insisted that politicians and priests should be literate, so he created an educational system (for his own children, for the children of lords and earls and preachers, and for talented children from the lower classes).  The children would start with Anglo-Saxon textbooks then later they would learn Latin. But there weren’t any textbooks in Anglo-Saxon, so he paid people to translate a whole bunch of books into Anglo-Saxon.
• He kept in touch with other rulers. He sent ambassadors far away to the Pope and to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and even to the Caliph in Bagdad. He also kept in touch with the nearby kings of Saxony and Ireland.

Consider this: It all happened in the 9th century, during the Dark Ages, many centuries before the Renaissance. Alfred the Great created his own little Renaissance. He was almost a progressive.

The Anglo-Saxons held onto England for a few more centuries, until the fatal year of 1066.

The Norman Invasion

The events of 1066 began with the death, in January, of King Edward the Confessor. His father was Aethelred of England; his mother was Emma (sister of the Duke of Normandy). Edward had succeeded Harthacnut (from Norway). Then events began to unfold.

So, King Edward was dead and Edward had no issue – no sons to inherit the throne. Three (or four) different people claimed the English throne:

• First, Harold Godwinson (Harold with an ‘o’), who was probably the richest, most powerful noble in England. He was crowned king on January 5, 1066 and reigned until October 14, 1066 (about nine months).
• Second, Tostig Godwinson who was King Harold’s brother. He claimed the throne, but had been outlawed and sent to live in Flanders. He might have been homosexual, but the main thing was he was a heavy-handed jerk who raised taxes, hired mercenaries, was cruel to his thains, and was uniformly hated by his subjects in Northumbria and Scotland. He also might have been in cahoots with Harald Hardrade.
• Third, Harald Hardrade (Harald with an ‘a’) who was the king of Norway. Hardrade means ‘hard ruler.’ His claim to England was based on Cnut and Harthacnut and some agreement or treaty from a few decades earlier.
• Fourth, William of Normandy who was from Northern France (who was related to King Edward’s wife). It may be that Edward the Confessor, before he died, said that he wanted England to be ruled by William of Normandy. Or maybe he said Harold Godwinson should inherit the throne. Different people told different stories.

So King Edward died and King Harold took over in January, 1066. A few months later, his brother Tostig attempted an invasion with a small force from Flanders (to the east) and failed. So far, so good. But Harold was worried about William (in France), so he sent his troops south to repel the Normans.

But in early September, Harald Hardrade (of Norway) sent 300 ships with 15,000 men to invade Northern England. They marched south and occupied York. Oh my god! King Harold (of England) had to rush his troops north to fight the invaders. And King Harold won the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25. King Harald (of Norway) and Tostig were killed in the battle and the Norwegians had only 24 ships left to make their retreat. But King Harold of England won the battle but had a weakened army.

Three days later, William of Normandy (soon to be known as William The Conqueror) invaded southern England on September 28. Harold took his army south, lost the Battle of Hastings, and was killed. Somebody made a tapestry about it. Harald, Harold, and Tostig were dead and William the Conqueror became the King of England.

The Norman invasion of 1066 was, arguably, the last successful continental invasion of England. The Spanish sent their Armada, but failed. Napoleon thought about it, but didn’t do it. In WWII, the Nazis occupied a few small islands and fought the Battle of Britain with aircraft, but didn’t actually land troops.

Middle English

The Norman Invasion meant that there were two languages in England. For a couple of centuries, the upper classes spoke French and the lower classes spoke English, but the two languages eventually merged together.

The Norman invasion made the English language into a very rich and delicious creole. Think about all the words we have for the same goddamned things: The upper classes were served meat on the table, so we have French-derived words like beef, pork, veal, and poultry. The lower classes used Germanic words for meat on the hoof: cow, ox, pig, swine, calf, chicken. Another example is kingly (Germanic), royal (French), and regal (Latin) – three different words for the same thing.

Plus, there was the second wave of Latin words. In the Mediaeval Period, if you were well-educated, you learned to speak Latin, the lingua franca of the time (much like English is the lingua franca of the 21st century).

Probably the most famous author from Middle English is Geoffrey Chaucer. Here’s a sample from "The Canterbury Tales":

Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

I can translate this without looking at a reference book:

When April with his showers sweet
The drought of March has pierced to the root
And bathed every vein in such liquor,
Of which virtue engendered is the flower;
When Zephyr (the wind) also with his sweet breath
Has inspired in every holt and heath
The tender crops, and the young sun
Has in the ram (Aries) his half course run,
And small fouls make melody,
Who sleep all the night with open eye.

Alliteration is gone. Poetry now has rhymes at the end of lines (OK, they don’t rhyme in the translation, but they rhyme in the original).

Oh, I almost forgot about Ireland. The Roman Empire never invaded Ireland. The Anglo-Saxons never invaded Ireland. The Normans invaded England in 1066 and about 100 years later, they invaded Ireland (in 1169). And that created a thousand years of Irish troubles.

Modern English

Middle English lasted until about 1550, when The Great Vowel Shift occurred and people started speaking Modern English. Shakespeare wrote in Modern English. The King James Bible is Modern English.

Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s article about Modern English: Modern English,

Here’s a good DKos diary written by unspeakable about The Great Vowel Shift: Modern EnglishPhenomena of Language: The Great English Vowel Shift.

There’s one more thing I should mention before I go: Samuel Johnson’s "Dictionary of the English Language." Johnson was a strange man (possibly OCD), but he was the first person to write and publish a definitive dictionary of the English language. He signed the book contract in 1746 and finished writing his dictionary nine years later. For 150 years, it was the definitive reference work.

Prior to the first dictionary, people spelled words according to how they sounded. There weren't any definite rules. But after Samuel Johnson wrote a dictionary, it gave you a reason to spell a word in a certain way. Johnson’s dictionary was the absolute authority until the Oxford English Dictionary was published about 150 years later.

In the U.S., it took Noah Webster 27 years to write his dictionary (which was published in 1828). He invented the American style of spelling (color instead of colour, center instead of centre, and he added uniquely American words like skunk and squash). Webster was the Samuel Johnson of America.

I'm sorry that I didn't spend more time on Modern English, but I think the really old stuff is the most interesting. English English got some words from India and American English got some words from the Native Americans and Filipinos and Hawaiians and Vietnamese and so on and so on. And the Australians got words from the aborigines. Which is really cool. But I still like the old stuff.

Originally posted to Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:25 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for a long essay (30+ / 0-)

    I sometimes told people, "I studied Old English in college." And they'd say, "Like Shakespeare?" I'd say, "No, Shakespeare is Modern English." Then sometimes they'd say, "Oh, like Chaucer?" and I'd say, "Chaucer is Middle English." Then I'd say, "Beowulf is Old English." And they'd say, "Wow! Cool!" But I could tell they had no idea.

    So I wrote this diary to explain it.

    Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

    by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:25:01 AM PST

  •  Since you're an Old English scholar, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, kyril, Dbug

    can I ask your opinion on the Heaney translation of Beowulf?  I know some of the critical reputation of "Heaneywulf", but for those of us without access to the original, how does it stand up to other translations?

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

    by pico on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:42:52 AM PST

    •  I'm not an Old English scholar (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, pico, BachFan, kyril, budr, mieprowan

      I learned OE as an undergraduate back in the 1970s and I never went to grad school. So I'm a dilettante.

      I don't have an opinion about Beowulf translations because I'm not an expert.

      Although I remember reading Michael Crichton's book "Eaters of the Dead" and realizing, "Ohmygod! This is the Beowulf story!"

      And if you ask me about the best translation of Dante's inferno, I'd vote for the Dorothy Sayers version. Because she wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey stories and because she was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien. I know -- it's a stupid reason to prefer that translation. But she was a really smart lady.

      Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

      by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:53:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is great! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, DBunn, marykk, kyril, Dbug

    Forwarding to my colleagues who teach, what else?, English!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:01:06 AM PST

  •  Great diary (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, DBunn, kyril, budr, Dbug, KansasNancy

    and a welcome relief. I am so reccing this.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:01:09 AM PST

  •  You likely know (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, BachFan, DBunn, budr

    but others here may not:

    About 15 years ago PBS had a multi-part series with your title: The History of the English Language. Fascinating stuff, complete with people reciting Beowulf & such out loud so you could get the ring of it in your ear. Had a companion volume that my mother still owns.

    I always like explaining at an intersection, to describe the buildings diagonally opposite each other people often say (in the Midwest) they are "kitty-corner" from each other.
    This stems from "catty-corner", which I've also heard from time to time.

    And THAT goes all the way back to about 1066, when the Normans/French would describe said interssection as the place of 4 corners, or
    "quatre"-corners. The common folk took it from there. :-)


    "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

    by WineRev on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:00:13 AM PST

    •  Back in the 1970s, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan, DBunn, mieprowan, WineRev

      I loved my American Heritage Dictionary because it was so good at giving etymologies of words.

      Now I have and the internet and I can look up anything and get 50,000 hits.

      I just looked up kitty corner (which is what we said in Moorhead, MN). Apparently other people say catty corner or cater corner (which comes from quatre corner).

      Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

      by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:07:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I still love my American Heritage Dictionary (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I even have a 13 volume set of the OED from the 70's. Hard to let go of the hard copies.

        "Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world -- and never will." - Mark Twain.

        by mieprowan on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:09:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Aha, found it. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DBunn, Robobagpiper, Mariken, Dbug

        The series was called "The Story of English" an 8-part series from 1986. It was hosted by Robert MacNeil of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report fame.

        BTW in the series when they get to the "Modern English" period they did some great stuff tracing the Celtic/Irish/Scottish influence and how that impacted the language. They also traced the various dialects (Canadian, South African, Australian) as they arose over the last 500 years.

        I especially loved the piece on Appalachian English and its Celtic flavor. In "the hills" the folks say "I'm a-goin' a-huntin'." Or "I'm a-goin' to town." "Bad" or non-standard English, right?

        But the Gaelic languages apparently don't have our "ng" sound, or if they do, not in ending position in a word. We use the "-ing" suffix on all sorts of nouns to indicate present action or future event. (I'm in the process of approaching the larger settlement. I intend to shortly engage in seeking wild game.)

        In the Gaelic to indicate present action/future intent with a noun, the proper way to do it is by adding "a-" as a prefix.

        So "a-fishin", or "a-goin" is excellent Gaelic grammar and construction, grafted onto English.



        "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

        by WineRev on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:43:40 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I remember that series (0+ / 0-)

          And it's interesting that Robert MacNeil hosted it. If I'm not mistaken, he came from the Canadian Maritime provinces. So he had a Canadian accent (and an outsider/maritime Canadian accent, to boot). You could hear his accent now and then.

          Every so often I'll run into someone who claims that, because they're from North Dakota or Nebraska or wherever, they have no accent whatsoever.

          Bullshit. Everybody has an accent. If you take your North Dakota accent to California or England, people will ask, "You're not from here, are you?"

          Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

          by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:53:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I've heard it alternatively explained that (0+ / 0-)

          one sees "at going" in early dialects of English independent of the Gaelic influence.

          But yes; Gaelic has no present tense, just a present imperfect that uses one of the forms of "to be", a variant spelling the preposition "at", and the verbal noun.

          Gaelic does use a verb suffix to indicate the verbal noun; but the formation of the verbal noun from the root (which is also the imperative) is WAY more complicated than adding, -ing... goddamnit. The most common form is a suffix that accounts for about 40% of verbs, and a few other common patterns, but it's a lot of memorization after that.

          Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

          by Robobagpiper on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 06:26:06 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for that explaination (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DBunn, Dbug

      Wine Rev- Ive wondered where that expression comes from.  Just yesterday I read a newspaper account where someone said one building sat "Kitty Wampus" from another.

      A "Wampus-Cat" is an urban legend about a huge cat roaming around urban areas(huge as in, able to look in windows four feet of the ground)  Ive run across a couple of accounts of sightings in the Knoxville, Tn area.  Curiously, Native Americans, particularly the Cherokee have legends about Wampus. Knoxville sits in what used to be Cherokee  Territory- so I can see where the Cherokee Wampus cat story would evolve into the Wampus Cat urban legend.  But I couldn't for the life of me see how that had anything to do with the location of buildings.  

      So now we have- Quatre-corner=Catty Corner=Kitty corner=Kitty Wampus.


      "Real History is not for Sissies" Barry McCain

      by Hill Jill on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:14:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  thank you (0+ / 0-)
      My day is not a total loss -- I just learned something new.

      What part of "international war crimes" do you not understand?

      by budr on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 10:57:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  what a fascinating diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, DBunn, Dbug

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.  Very interesting stuff.  I'm just starting a course in Linguistics as part of a certificate in TESOL (teaching english to speakers of other languages), so this is very timely.  I speak French and am constantly amused by how much cross-over there is in vocabulary in English.  Now that I'm learning Spanish, there is a whole new group of cognates that I have access to as well.  When I was dating a guy from Holland, I tried to learn a little Dutch.  Again, a lot of weird almost-English words that sounded funny but were intelligible.  Language is so fascinating.  :)

    •  Yeah, cognates are good, but sometimes bad (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, BachFan, DBunn, mali muso

      The problem comes when you use a cognate that sounds like the word you think you want, but it means something else.

      I'm trying to think of an example.

      Here's two (but they're not cognates):

      I had a female friend who went to France. She ate a big meal and said "Je suis pleine" (which she thought meant "I am full -- I can't eat any more food." But apparently, "pleine" (full) is slang for "pregnant."

      She also asked for directions to the Gare du Nord (railway station of the north), but pronounced it wrong, so she asked where the "Guerre du Nord" was (the War of the North).

      Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

      by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:16:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you gotta be careful (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        with those cognates.

        One example would be trying to say "I'm excited" from English into either French or Spanish.  In French, saying "Je suis excite" doesn't mean happy/joyful, it means sexually aroused.  heh.  Similarly, "je suis fini" does not mean "I am finished", it means LITERALLY, "I am finished aka I am dead."

        When I was learning French, if I didn't know a word, I could often throw out the English word with a French accent and if it ended in "tion" or "ment" it might be understood or even correct!  L'education, gouvernement, repetition, etc.

        It's been interesting taking Spanish classes and understanding words that the other English-only students don't know.  Example: ensenar = to teach (Spanish), in French it is enseigner.  Saber = to know (Spanish), Savoir (French).  

  •  thanks dbug (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DBunn, Dbug

    for taking the time to put this together, and post it in the middle of all of this madness.

    I'll admit I haven't read it...but I do have it linked, not just on my bookmark menu, but on my main (other) blog, so I won't forget to get back to it and promote it to my friends who find these histories of interest.

    "Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world -- and never will." - Mark Twain.

    by mieprowan on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:08:37 AM PST

  •  Harald of Norway (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just a historical quibble.

    Harald did not go home because he was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (as indeed was Tostig, as I understand the history).

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:12:31 AM PST

    •  Thanks for catching that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Harald (the Norwegian guy) and Tostig died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. And then Harold (the English guy) died at Hastings. So 3 of the 4 pretenders to the the throne died within a week of each other.

      Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

      by Dbug on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 05:21:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  May I share my one Old English triumph? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, DBunn, dalfireplug

    A friend doing medieval studies mentioned one day that her seminar group was stumped by the word "sleghte" (spelling may be off). She said that from the context they knew it had to be knowledge or wisdom but they couldn't track down a source for it. I asked, "Like slight of hand?" which turns out indeed to be from that OE source.

  •  Do you have some words you might add on (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DBunn, dalfireplug, mali muso

    the pre-Indo-European language I've heard called "Volk", which was spoken in the core Gemanic area, and lent numerous loanwords to the Germanic languages, including (hence the name) folk/volk.

    On another note, one of these days I need to put together a list of English borrowings from Celtic languages. It would be smashing! ('s math sin! = that's greet!) Or grody (grod = terrible). Either way.

    Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

    by Robobagpiper on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 06:11:50 AM PST

  •  In any language (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    this is an excellent, informative lesson.

  •  Ernst Voller looks like the author (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of the "History" quotation.  In 1935, he said History is propaganda written by the winners.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 07:18:17 AM PST

  •  excellent diary (0+ / 0-)

    Not sure what it has to do with John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or the craven turncoat Democrats in Congress, but it was a damned good read anyway.

    What part of "international war crimes" do you not understand?

    by budr on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 11:10:46 AM PST

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