Thursday, October 30, 2014

Name Change... oops.

That awkward moment when... get the rules polished up nicely only to realize that in the process you created a sound change (or, in this case, a lack thereof) which breaks your language’s name.

More specifically, there’s a rule that very explicitly states that only /j/ and /ī/ - not /i/ - cause i-umlaut. Therefore, “Gutish,” not “Gytish.”

In other news, the new complete rules coming up momentarily.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

New update of Rules

Just a quick update to the list of Rules here.  I'm putting them into a PDF file, since the formatting isn't quite working out in a way that I'm happy with here on Blogger.  I've expanded them quite a bit, but as you can see by the highlighted sections, there are a still a couple of outstanding questions, and I probably still have some work yet to do getting my italics and /slashes/ and [brackets] and whatnot all in the right places, but that's an ongoing battle for every linguist.  (Isn't this what graduate assistants are for?)

The Rules

Monday, June 2, 2014

Historical Linguistics for Kids!

Dear Aubrey,

Your mom tells me you’ve been wondering about where words come from.  I’ve spent years and years learning where different words come from, so I hope I can help.

Words have been around as long as humans have, and maybe even longer!  They’re now discovering that Neanderthals (the cavemen that were here before modern humans) probably used some words as well, but because of the way their mouths were shaped, they couldn’t pronounce a lot of the same sorts of words we can.  They were only able to make what are called “high front vowels,” which are sounds like “ee” and “ay,” so they could probably say “bee” and “bay,” but they couldn’t say “bow” or “boo” or “bah.”  But anyway, if they did say any words, they aren’t the same words we have today.

Nobody really knows if all the languages the people speak today came from the same language, or if different groups of people started talking and different language families sprang up in different places. The trouble is, we can’t tell much at all about language before about ten thousand years ago, and scientists think that people have been talking for at least about forty thousand years – maybe even a lot longer than that!  People probably started using simple words to communicate with each other for hunting, and a lot of the earliest words probably sounded similar to a noise that that word made.  For example, the word for a bear might have been a roaring or growling sound, or the word for wind might have been a whooshing sound.  

Most of the words we use in English today come from a language called “Proto-Indo-European.”  This is a language that was spoken about six or seven thousand years ago in the area north of the Black Sea, probably in what today is a country called Ukraine.  (Ask your mom to show you where this is on a map!)  The IndoEuropeans were some of the first people to ride horses.  With horses, they were able to travel a lot further than people had been able to before, so they moved to lots of new places, west into almost all of Europe, and south into what is now Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and India.

As they spread out over Europe and Asia, different areas started to talk a little bit differently from one another, just like people from different places in this country have different accents.  At first, they could probably still understand each other, just like we can understand people from the South, or from England or Australia, or from Maine or Boston, or even from Minnesota!  But before too long, they couldn’t understand each other very well anymore, just like we might have a hard time understanding people from far northern Scotland. (They speak a language called Scots, which is a lot like English, but not always quite enough to understand!)

After about five thousand years, they spoke a lot of different languages, like Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and a language we call Proto-Germanic.  Your mom said she’s told you a little bit about Latin, and that’s one of the places we get a lot of our words from – particularly if they’re big words!  We also get a lot of words from Greek, especially the ones that have to do with science, because a lot of our science started with the ancient Greeks.  But most of the common words we use in English come from Proto-Germanic. 

Just like IndoEuropean started to split into a lot of different languages, all of the languages it split up into did the same thing.  Even today, languages are changing and splitting up and becoming new languages. Languages never stay the same for very long; in fact, English has even changed a lot since your mom and I were kids! 

Latin spread out from Italy with the Roman Empire about two thousand years ago, and blended with a lot of the languages in neighboring countries.  In the north-west, Latin mixed with a Celtic language called “Gaulish,” which is kind of like Irish, but it was spoken in France, and that mix of Latin and Gaulish eventually became French!  Further south, Latin mixed with another Celtic language called “Iberian,” and also mixed in a little bit of Arabic and Gothic (a Germanic language!), and became Spanish and Portuguese. To the east of Rome, Latin mixed with Slavic languages (kind of like Russian) and turned into a language called Romanian.  Latin also changed over time and eventually became Italian. *(Sort of.  The history of the evolution of Romance languages is very complicated, and there’s a lot more to it than this!)

Anyway, ProtoGermanic also broke up into different languages.  At first it broke up into three groups of dialects.  A dialect is sort of like an accent, or a language that’s spoken a little differently from one place to another.  The three dialects were called East, West, and North Germanic. 

East Germanic eventually turned into a language we call Gothic, because it was spoken by people called Goths.  The Goths eventually conquered Rome and brought some of that language into Spanish and Portuguese too, along with the Latin and Iberian they already had. (The Arabic words in Spanish came later.)

North Germanic was spoken by the Vikings, and eventually this became a language known as Old Norse or Old Icelandic.   Just like the IndoEuropeans had horses that helped them move around a lot more quickly, the Vikings had huge ships that let them bring their language all around the coasts of Europe and even as far as back to the Black Sea where IndoEuropean started thousands of years before!  They also brought some of their words to northern France, where they were called the “North-men,” but they couldn’t make the “th” sound in French, so that part of France is now called “Normandy.” That’s also where we get the name “Norman,” and the French people from this area came to be known as the Normans.  Old Norse is still spoken today in Iceland, where it is called Icelandic, even though it’s pronounced a little bit differently.

Finally, West Germanic also split into two different groups: Sometimes they’re called “high” and “low” German (but this isn’t what we call German today).  They were called this because “High German” was spoken around the Alps, which are very high mountains.  “Low German” was spoken along the coast of Germany and Denmark and Holland which was much lower.  The Low Germans were known as the Saxons. There’s still a state in Germany today called “Saxony.”  Another group lived in a weird little crooked part of the coast in Denmark which was shaped like a fish hook.  Because of the angle in the coast-line, they said they were from the Angle.  They were also good ship-builders like the Vikings, and along with a third group called the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons set sail across the North Sea, and when they landed, they kept the name “Angle” and they called the country they landed in “Angle-land,” which we now call “England.”

About 1,500 years ago, these Anglo-saxons (which was the name given to the Jutes, Saxons, and Angles who landed in England) spoke a language which we call “Old English,” (but since it wasn’t very old to them, they just called it English).  (Actually, they called it Ænᵹlısc, and it didn’t look or sound very much like English sounds today!)  But they weren’t in England for very long before the Vikings stopped there too, and conquered the country!  A lot of Old Norse words got added to English (like “husband” and “wisk” and “skirt” and “drag”).  In fact, almost any word in English with a “sk” sound probably came from Old Norse, because in Old English, this sound always turned into a “sh” sound.  We even have some words that come from the same ProtoGermanic word, but some we get from Old English and some from Old Norse, like “skirt” and “shirt, or “drag” and “draw.”

The English fought back and took over again, and they ended up adding a lot of their words to Old Norse, like “boat”!  They went back and forth like this for a few hundred years.  Then about a thousand years ago, in the year 1,066, they were invaded from the other side of the country by the other ex-Vikings (Normans) who had decided to settle down and become French.  This is where we really start to get a lot of neat words in the English that we speak today.

The people living in England were still speaking the same old language they’d been speaking all along, but now their king and most of the nobility spoke French.  The English who lived in the villages didn’t know much of anything about being kings, and the French who invaded the country didn’t know much of anything about farming, so something very strange happened, and we get a weird group of words in English that don’t exist in most other languages!  The courtiers loved eating lots of meat from the farm, but they never saw any of the animals the meat came from.  So when they wanted a particular kind of meat, they would ask for that animal in French. Meanwhile, the people who raised the animals only knew them by their Old English names.  So they would ask for “bœuf,” the word for a cow, which then was pronounced like “bafe,” which later became “beef.”  Pig was “porc,” which became pork; chicken was “poulet,” which later became “poultry;” sheep was “mouton,” which became mutton, and so on.  English is one of the only languages where the names for kinds of meat are different than the names of the animals the meat came from!

Anyway, this mixture of Old English and French gradually became what we call “Middle English.”  Of course, just like with Old English, they just called it “English” at the time.  Later on, during what’s called the Renaissance, we added a lot of Latin and Greek words to the language as we started learning more about the knowledge that had been lost before the Middle Ages (which is another language story altogether!) 

There was also something that happened called the Great Vowel Shift.  This happened in part because the plague that was sweeping through Europe was forcing people to move around quite a lot, and people from all over England were coming together in London who spoke very different dialects of English.  At first they couldn’t all understand each other very well, but eventually something happened called “levelling,” and the language changed to one that was very regular that they could all understand pretty well.  What happened in the Great Vowel Shift was something called “Vowel Raising.” (This is a little hard to understand, and maybe a little boring, so you can skip this part if you like.)

If you draw a map of the shape of your mouth and put on that map all the different places where we say vowels, it looks something like this:

i              u
e              o
ɛ              ɔ

Since these aren't quite the same as the sounds of the letters you've been learning up until now, if you click on each letter it will take you to a page where you can listen to what each one sounds like.

In the Great Vowel Shift, each of these letters moved up by one, and the top letters, i and u, turned into double-vowels (called diphthongs, but there’s no reason for you to know that word before you’re 20!) which are written phonetically “ai” (pronounced like “eye”) and “au” (pronounced like “ow!”) I can teach you more about this later on if you like, but the point is that the language that everyone spoke after the Great Vowel Shift is pretty close to the language we call English today. This is the language that Shakespeare wrote in, and even though the style he wrote in sounds kind of old, and some of the words mean different things today, the words were pronounced pretty much the same.

Since then we’ve borrowed a lot of other words in English from a lot of different languages. A lot of other languages have also borrowed a lot of other words from English.  In fact, there’s a language called Tok Pisin which is made up of almost entirely English words, but it’s not English.

Anyway, that’s pretty much where words come from.  If there’s any more that you want to know about, please ask me, and I’ll do my best to answer!


Uncle Jamin

Saturday, March 1, 2014

[h], conquered. Next?

I’ve done quite a bit of updating of the rules over the past several weeks, and I think I finally managed to solve all of the various problems with /h/ that I’ve been struggling with since the beginning of this project. Some of my solutions are a little unorthodox, linguistically-speaking, but whenever I think that something I’m doing is “weird,” I remind myself of the history of English and consider that reality is always weirder than anything I could come up with on my own.

Part of my vision for Gytic was that there would not be any sort of velar fricative in the phonemic inventory. Some claim that there was none in Gothic, and that all instances had been glottalized by Wulfilas’ time (which may or may not have been the case). Still, getting rid of all non-initial instances of /h/ without (re-)velarizing them comes dangerously close to turning the language into an Old Norse relex, and that wasn’t the feel I was going for.

Here is a summary the various /h/ conundrums, and how I’ve solved them so far.
  • Initial /h/ remains /h/ before a vowel. (E.g. háims → hēms [or, more specifically, haims, but we’ll deal with long vowel orthography later on.)
  • Initial /h/ becomes /þ/ before a sonorant. (E.g. hlahjan → þlahjan (ev. þlēn), hrōt → þrūt)
  • /h/ is deleted between two consonants. (E.g. milhma → milm)
  • /h/ is deleted after a short vowel, and the vowel becomes long. (This also applies to /hw/, freeing the /w/ to float around causing its own problems.) (E.g. ahtau → āta, saíƕan → sēwan (ev. sējun))
  • /h/ becomes /c/ ([ʃ]) before /j/. (E.g. hlōhjan → þlœ̄cin)
  • /h/ becomes /þ/ after a long vowel when word-final. (E.g. hāh → hāþ, skōh → skūþ)
  • /h/ becomes /f/ after a long vowel when not word-final. (E.g. þāhts → þaft, fāhan → fāfan (ev. favan))
In addition to updates to /h/, I’ve made a small adjustment to the diphthongs, and /iu/ now becomes /ju/ instead of the not-so-practical /ȳ/ (even though I really like it that way).

I’m presently working my way through reconstructing enough of the 207-word swadesh list to generate a good start to the lexicon. While there are plenty of other Gothic words to choose from, I thought it practical to start with a small sampling and get it “right” before I wasted a lot of time building up my lexicon only to have to revise it all each time I devise a new sound change. I’ll post the swadesh list here when I get it completed.