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Author: Steve the vagabond

Hi, I created Silly Linguistics. If you like life on the silly side, you have found just the right place

How are “boon”, “ban”, “prophet” and “fame” related?

“boon” meaning “blessing, benefit” come from Old Norse “bón” where it meant “prayer” or “petition”. This word ultimately comes Proto Indo European *bʰeh₂- where it meant “to say”.

“ban” comes from Proto Germanic *bannaną where it meant “curse” or “forbid” and it too came from Proto Indo European *bʰeh₂-

“fame” comes from Old French “fame” where it meant “celebrity” or “renown”. This word came from Latin fāma where it meant “talk”, “rumour” or “reputation”. This word ultimately also came from Proto Indo European *bʰeh₂-

You may be wondering how “prophet” is related? Well, it came into English from Latin prophēta. But Latin got it from Ancient Greek προφήτης ‎(prophḗtēs) where it meant “one who speak for a god”. The “phḗ” part comes from “phēmí” which means “I say”, and you guessed it, that too comes from Proto Indo European *bʰeh₂-

All of these are examples of semantic shift, which means that words change meaning over time. “boon” now means “benefit”, but it used to mean “prayer” or “petition” which is usually something spoken.

“ban” is also derived from the Proto Indo European word “to speak” because when people were banned it usually was the result of spoken commands, as you can see in the Old English version of the word. “ban” comes from Old English “bannan” where it meant “to summon” or “to proclaim”.

“prophet” is someone who speaks for a god, so the speaking connection is clear there. “fame” is quite interesting because it started out just meaning “reputation” or “rumour”. Well, as people talk about someone, there reputation can grow, and as your reputation grows, you might eventually become famous.

Word connections are all around us, and these are but a few of them

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Here are some highlights of the Silly Linguistics magazine

Translation and analysis of Iditguovssu (Dawn Light), a song in Northern Sami
Me, myself and I – An exploration of a weird phenomenon in Modern English
An overview of Northern Sami
History of “-y” in English
An exploration of the past tense of ‘yeet’
When Writing Gets Hard: The Bilingual Problem
Examine the rationale and effectiveness of attempts in the late 17th and 18th century to rectify the English language
What “yes” and “no” can tell us about how people think
How many languages are there?
Proto Language – Reconstruction and vowel Development

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The history of “-y” in English

When I first learned that English was a Germanic language, I didn’t really know what that meant. English and German seemed nothing alike to me. I wanted to know what it meant to be a Germanic language. English’s history is quite colourful with many of characters and lots of plot developments.

The reason Modern English is so different to Modern German is because languages change over time. People learn a language from those around them. If people can move around they bring their language with them and their speech patterns can affect the speech patterns of people elsewhere. English and German share a common ancestor, but since there is a sea between England and Germany any changes that happened in English or German over time were much less likely to affect the other.

Velarisation and assimilation in Irish (Gaeilge)

I started learning Irish and I wanted to understand velarisation in Irish.

Palatilisation and velarisation often assimilate sounds next to them to produce new sounds

“edge” comes from Proto Germanic agjō. Over time the /g/ got palatilised and the /jo/ was lost. Palatilisation produces /egʲ/ (and /a/ becomes /e/, seen in “angle-land” becoming “england”)

/dʒ/ is easier to say so /gʲ/ became /dʒ/

The same happened in Irish. Back vowels pulled the tongue backwards so /fa/ became /fˠa/

But sounds don’t like to stick around so they assimilate which means the sounds in the word change to make the pronunciation more smooth so /fˠa/ became /fɰa/. /ɰ/ is a /w/ without rounding your lips. /g/ and /w/ are both velar sounds. /g/ is a velar stop where the throat closes and then opens to release air. /ɰ/ is basically a un-stopped /g/

Later on the /a/ sound shifted to an /i/ so we have /fˠi/. We know it must have been a back vowel before because otherwise the f wouldn’t be velarised. So “faoi” is written like that to indicate velarisation, and its IPA transcription is /fˠiː/ which has long since just become assimilated to /fɰi/ which sounds a bit like /fwi/

I like looking in depth at parts of language so that I can get to grips with what is actually happening and it allows me to notice things that I haven’t noticed before.