My previous posts about etymology may have revealed my affinity for this field. Recently, I have been going through John McWhorter’s The Story Of Human Language, and just in a couple of sentences (some in the preface, and some in the very end), it has transformed my perspective on this. Essentially, being curious about word roots is only so interesting. A bigger question is – how did the entire language (grammar, sentence structure, word roots, all together) shape up to be the way it is today? Specific questions about the words can help us in understanding the larger question about the language, although they will be one of many threads that we need to straighten out.
So here is the generally accepted evolution tree of English, with some notes that I collected from this reading. Some of the comments may be influenced by the fact that McWhorter is an expert in the language contact phenomena.
Here are a few things that I found of interest:
About one-third of vocabulary doesn’t trace to Indo-European but to some other language (possibly Semitic). For example, the word “maiden” traces back to Proto-Germanic “mahathis”, which may be related to Proto-Semitic word “mahath”. [I can't help but notice that Spanish word for maiden would be something like mujer, but I don't know the root of that.]
Tense markers for verbs that use vowels, i.e., ablaut and Germanic Strong Verbs are possibly derived from some semitic language where this method of marking the tense via vowels (instead of a prefix) is the standard.
English is the only Proto-Indo-European language that has so little gender. Other PIE languages do have gender. This points to the language contact with the Vikings and possibly is one of the grammar simplifications made as part of that language contact.
Grimm’s law which explains many of sound shifts through this evolution. For example “p” in PIE is usually “f” in English. For example “Pater” in Latin is “Father” in English, etc.
McWhorter also talks about one sentence reconstructed in the Proto-Indo-European of about 2500 BC (hypothetically, since there are no written records from that time). The sentence is: “On hearing that, the sheep ran off into the plain.” This is translated into PIE as “Tod kekluwōs, owis agrom ebhuget.” Word for word, that would be: “That hearing sheep field fled.” From this, I can understand “tod” to be “that” with reasonable sound shifts and changes. Kekluwōs was a form of the verb that did eventually become hear. “Sheep” is not from PIE root, although “owis” does lead to word for sheep in other languages, and also to scientific classification – the genus ovis.
And it wouldn’t complete this post if I didn’t confess my new found love for Esperanto and amusement with Solresol.
When Jean-Marie Colombani of Le Monde wrote on September 12, 2001: “We are all Americans now”, little did he know that as the tragedies go around, the world will follow his example and express solidarity with many nations, even if one by one. Year 2011 undoubtedly belongs to Japan. The extent of damage caused by the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami surpassed most recorded natural disasters in Japan, since the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. The earthquake of March 11, 2011 was more than 100 times stronger than the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 which killed more than 6400 people.
Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the tragedy is from the following picture from Sendai airport in northeastern Japan, which really looks like a playground, but as your eyes struggle to find a plastic bottle, an empty play-dough box or the shadow of a boy alongside the seemingly toy planes and the toy cars, you are forced to accept the harsh reality that in this case it is the playground of destruction.
As bard would have put it:
As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
They kill us for their sport.
Still, Japan has received a standing ovation of sorts from the entire world due to its handling of such a calamity. While in similar situation, riots could have broken out elsewhere, the steady media coverage of Japanese people calmly queuing up for basic resources such as water, gas and groceries is a pleasant change to observe. This attitude outlines decades of confidence in their society and is a clear signal that rejuvenation cannot be much further behind. The physical, emotional and economic recovery will not be easy or overnight, but it will surely be there, most likely in 2011 itself.
[PS: I do not know the image copyright, received it in email. Please let me know if you know who is the copyright holder.]
Burj Hakeema (Ludhiana), March 7
Having successfully effected a rise in the skewed male to female sex ratio, this village has become a torchbearer for others to save the girl child and wash the blot of being a ‘‘kudi maar’’ (daughter killer) district off the face of this state.
Burj Hakeema, a small hamlet near Pakhowal village here, has ensured that no daughter was killed in the womb thereby bringing the number of girls to 61 compared to the number of boys at 51.
On the International Women’s Day tomorrow, the village panchayat led by its sarpanch, Capt Mewa Singh, will reiterate its vows to fight against the menace of (female) foeticide.
I regard the courage of Capt Mewa Singh, and of the entire village Hakeema in the highest light possible. In the same breath, I hereby condemn all religious organizations from the province of Punjab, for their continuous silence on such reprehensible crimes against the girl child.