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Month: January 2017

Interesting connections

heart and discord

“heart” comes from Old English “heorte”, from Proto Germanic *hertô, from Proto Indo European *ḱḗr. All these words mean “heart”. The word “discord” comes from Latin “discors” which comes from “dis” means “apart” and “cor” meaning “heart”. “cor” is also descended from Proto Indo European *ḱḗr.

true and tree

“true” comes from Old English trēowe (trusty, faithful), from Proto Germanic *triwwiz (true, faithful), from Proto Indo European *drewh₂- which was derived from Proto Indo European *dóru (tree). “tree” is also derived from Proto Indo European *dóru.

This shows that people throughout the Proto Indo European period and leading up to the development of modern Indo European languages saw trees as sturdy, faithful and true.

advocate and avocado

“advocate” comes from Latin “advocatus” which comes from “advocare” where “ad” means “to” and “vocare” means “to call” so it means “to call to one’s aid”. “avocado” comes from Spanish “avocado” where people mistakenly thought the Spanish word referred to the fruit. “avocado” in Spanish is derived from Latin “advocatus”.

chapel and head

The word “chapel” come from Latin “cappella” which means “little cloak”. Saint Martin of Tours tore his cloak in half to clothe a poor man. The remaining half of the cloak eventually became a holy relic and temporary structures were set up to house the relic and these were named after the cloak.

“cappella” is a diminutive form of “cappa” (cloak) which itself comes from Latin “caput” and this word and the English word “head” come from Proto Indo European *káput.

wish and venison

“wish” comes from Old English wȳsċan, from Proto Germanic *wunskijaną, from Proto Indo European *wenh₁ where it means both “to wish” or “to love”.

“venison” comes from the same word in Old French, ultimatel from Latin ” vēnātiō” which is “the meat from a hunt” and this word is derived from the Latin “vēnor” which means “I hunt”. But “vēnor” itself comes from a Latin word “veneror” which means “to worship, adore, revere or venerate”, and this word also comes from the Proto Indo European word *wenh₁

Bohemian Rhapsody in Atlaans

Ar das de vaarheet?
Oder ar es noor fantasie?
Fangd in een landruch
Ken enkom fon realiteet
Ouf deen ougen
Shou dich mal hok en sien
Ig ar noor een arm nech, ig brook ken mitleed
Veel ig kouna kom, kouna gaan
Een bisshen hoch, een bisshen laan
Irgen vech de vind blas, mach das ken sorgen su mich, su mich

Mama, ig toud een man
Set een geweer teen haar kop
Stood meen pugel, nu ar he tod
Mama, leve is noor begind
Men nu ar al fon mich gans plat en vech

Mama, uuuuuu
will’t plachung su zaak
Wen ig niet shuruk heer gleech an de mork
Viet mach, viet mach, as ob niesen saal

Su spaad, meen zeet ar vech
Shickd shouer runa meen kisma
Telo mak dan smers jede minut
Kavala, jede, ig muss nu vech
Muss vech fon desech, su vaarheet gaanen.

Mama, oooh (irgen vech de vind blaas)
Ig will niet sterven
Ig eenwan wens ig waara gar niet geboord verd.

Ig sien een kleen siluhet fon een man
Skaramush, skaramush, wou du de Fandango machen?
Donnerkeel en bliten
Zeer, zeer zietlich su mich
(Galieleeo) Galieleeo
(Galieleeo) Galieleeo
Galieleeo Fikaro

Ig ar noor een arm nech, nieman lieb mich
He ar noor een arm nech fon een arma familie
Spaar hich haar leve fon dies monster.

Leech kom, leech gaan, wou du mich gaan las’?
Bismila! Nee, we las dich niet gaan’. (Las hich gaan)
Bismila! We las dich niet gaan’. (Las hich gaan)
Bismila! We las dich niet gaan’. (Las hich gaan)
Las dich niet gaan’. (Las mich gaan!)
Niemal, niemal las dich gaan’.
Niemal las mich gaan’, oh.
Nee, nee, nee, nee, nee, nee, nee.
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, las mich gaan.)
Beelzebub is een toofel shuruk lasd for mich, for much, for mich.

So, denk du das du kan steen’ mich en in meen oug spout’?
So, denk du das du kan lieb’ mich en mich su tod ferlas’?
Oh, liefie, du kan das niet mak, liefie
Muss noor vech gaan’, muss noor gans vech fon heer.

(Oh ja, oh ja)

Niemal virklich saal,
Irgeneen kan sien’,
Niemal virklich saal,
Niemal virklich saal su mich.

Irgenvech de vind blaas.

What “naked” and “naan” have in common

The word “naan” (which refers to a kind of oven baked bread used in Central and South Asia) is a borrowing from Middle Persian “nān”, which itself comes from Proto Iranian *nagna, and this word is descended from Proto Indo European root *negʷ-

This root gave us *nakwadaz in Proto Germanic which eventually became “naked” in Modern English. So “naan” and “naked” actually have a common ancestor! This happens all the time with words. A certain sense of the word becomes prevalent, and takes over from a previous meaning. “naan” was baked while sitting open (and thus naked) on top of coals in a fire and this description of a naked food (as opposed that was cooked by covering it with coals) eventually began to be used as the name of the food itself.

The verb “to be” in Modern English

The verb “to be” in English is a complete mess. It has a different form for almost every person  (i.e. 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person), it changes in the plural and also changes a lot in the  past tense. The modern conjugations of “to be” are the result of multiple verbs mixing together.

I have talked previously about suppletion, which is the process by which forms of a verb push out  the original forms of another verb. It didn’t just happen once with “to be”, it happened many times.

Let’s start at the beginning with “I am”.

It comes from “Ic eom” in Old English. “eom” is descended from a conjugation of the word *wesaną “to be, dwell” from Proto Germanic. By the way, a star indicates a reconstructed form. Proto Germanic wasn’t written down, so we have to reverse engineer what it was like. *wesaną comes from the Proto Indo European word *h₁ésti which means “to be” (h₁ indicates a kind of guttural sound made at the back of the throat).

If you have read Shakespeare or the King Jame’s Bible, you will know English used to have a word “thou” which was used for the second person singular, i.e. someone you know that you were friendly or intimate with.

From Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate”

“art” was a variant of “are” which was used with “thou”. This pronoun “thou” used be a standard part of the language but eventually died out for various reasons (really, the reason it died out is a story of its own).

“art” comes from Old English “eart” and is descended from a form of the word *iraną which means “to rise, be quick, become active” and is itself descended from Proto Indo European *er-, *or- which means “to lift, to rise, set in motion”. It is related to the Faroese and Icelandic word “ert”.

While we are here, let’s look at the related word “are”. It is used with “you”, “we”, and “they”. It comes from the Old English “earon”, which also comes from a conjugation of the Proto Germanic *iraną. “earon” was reinforced by Old Norse “erun” leading to Old English “sind” (compare with German “sind” which means the same) to eventually disappear from the language.

The Vikings invaded England on and off thorughout the 800s AD and they left a big mark on the English language. A lot of the words in English today are descended from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings.

“is” is the only other present tense form we have to look, and it hasn’t changed in spelling since Old English. It is descended from the Proto Germanic word *wesaną. It is related to West Frisian “is”, Dutch and Afrikaans “is”, German “ist” and Old Swedish “is”.

Ok, almost there! Let’s look at “was” and “were”. They are descended from conjugations of the word “wesan” in Old English. “I was” in Old English is “ic wæs”, and “you are” in Old English is “ġē wǣron”. “wesan” comes from Proto Germanic *wesaną.

If you are keeping up, then well done 😀 But here’s where it might get a bit surprising. If
suppletion in Modern English was too boring for you, how about suppletion in Proto Germanic 😀

All the present forms of “to be” in Proto Germanic come from Proto Indo European *h₁ésti, as I said before, but all the past tense forms come from *h₂wes- which means “to dwell, live, reside”. Once the “h₂” consonant was lost in Proto Germanic, all the conjugations now started with a “w” and we can see that in words like “was” and “were”. How about that? Suppletion has been happening throughout the history of the Proto Indo European language and its descendants.

And finally, let’s look at “to be” itself. This word and its other forms such as “been” and
“being” actually come from a completely different root, so it represents our third Proto
Germanic verb to stuff itself inside this weird verb “to be” that we have in Modern English. “to be” comes from Old English “bēon” from Proto Germanic *beuną “to be, exist, come to be, to become” which itself came from Proto Indo European *bʰúHt which meant “to grow, become, come into being”.

The verb “beon” used to be used much more often in English, and forms of it existed alongside descendant forms of the word *wesaną and *iraną and for centuries until “am”, “are” and “is” eventually won out.

Some languages are still using a descendant of *beuną. In German, you have “Ich bin” (I am), “Du bist” and in Dutch you have “Ik ben”.

So in summary,

“am” and “is” come from Proto Germanic *wesaną ‎”to be, dwell” which comes from Proto Indo European *h₁ésti

“art” and “are” come from Proto Germanic *iraną “to rise, be quick, become active” which comes from Proto-Indo-European *er- “to lift, rise, set in motion”

“was” and “were” come from Proto Germanic *wesaną, but the past tense forms of *wesaną come from a different Proto Indo European word *h₂wes- ‎”to reside”

And “be”, “been” and “being” come from Proto Germanic *beuną “to be, exist, come to be, to become” which itself came from Proto Indo European *bʰúHt which meant “to grow, become, come into being”.

The connection between “merry” and “bra”

I think most people don’t like change. It is uncomfortable and it makes people yearn for older times. But change is all around us and this can be seen especially in language. Some words change very little over time. For example, “ship” was “scip” in Old English. It is virtually unchanged in 1200 years.

Some words though, change a lot over time. The word “merry” is a perfect example. In current usage it means “happy” or “cheerful”. But it is ultimately derived from a word in Proto Indo European (the grandfather of English) *mréǵʰus which meant “short”. This came into Proto Germanic (the father of English) as *murguz meaning “short” or “slow” and became “myrige” in Old English where the “g” is pronounced like Modern English consonant “y”.

Things that are long and drawn out can be quite boring, conversely, things that pack a lot of punch and are succinct can be very pleasing. A similar meaning development happen in German with “kurzweilig” meaning “fun” or “entertaining”. The word is adjective form of “a short while” and “boring” in German is “langweilig” which is an adjective form of “a long while”. So it seems that in Germanic languages, we have words for “fun” and “entertaining” coming from words or phrases which mean “short”.

In Latin, *mréǵʰus became “brevis” which means “short”, “narrow” or “shallow” and in Ancient Greek, *mréǵʰus became “βραχύς” ‎(brakhús) which also means “short”. “βραχύς” went on to refer to mean “upper arm” because the upper arm was shorter than the forearm. Latin then borrowed the form “βραχίων” ‎(brakhíōn) as “bracchium” to mean an arm, or simply a limb.

This went into Old French as “braciere” which was originally a lining inside armour to protect the arm, but evolved further to mean a garment. In Modern French, it became “brassière” which means a child’s vest or a life jacket. It was later borrowed into English as “brassiere” and later became “bra”. So “bra” and “merry” are actually connected, although they have completely different meanings.

These slow shifts in meaning are happening all the time and in every language. Languages are always changing, always shifting. Whatever a language is doing today, it will be doing something different the day after. It will keep changing and I find that really cool. Languages truly are living beings and will continue to change and adapt to the world around it finds itself in.