Fun Etymology Tuesday – Advent

Ladies and gents! We’re getting close to the Fourth Sunday of Advent!

via GIPHY

So, in honour of that, today’s word is Advent!

Meaning the ecclesiastical season immediately preceding Christmas, this word was attested as early as 1119 in English and as early as the 7th or 8th century in Latin so it has certainly been around for a long time!

From Latin adventus, this word means “a coming, approach, arrival”. In Church Latin, though, it has the extended sense of “the coming of the Savior”. The Latin word comes from the past participle stem of Latin advenire, meaning “arrive at, come to” and can be divided into two parts:

ad-, a word-forming element that expresses direction toward something or in addition to something. The Latin word ad – meaning “to, toward” in space or time or “with regard to, in relation to” as a prefix – comes from the PIE root *ad-, meaning “to, near, at”.

ventus, which comes from venire, meaning “to come”. This word comes from a suffixed form of the PIE root *gwa-, meaning “to go, come”.

And that is the history of advent!

Next Tuesday is Christmas Eve, which means that I’ll be celebrating Christmas and have an armful of nephews to play with! But don’t fret, I am ever faithful to my dear followers!

Welcome back next week and learn the etymological origin of
Santa Claus!

The History of the English language – Old English morphology

Having looked at the dialects of Old English, Middle English, and Modern English, let’s return to Old English again!

Today, let’s look at morphology.

But first, what is morphology, really?

Well, in linguistics, morphology is the study of words. Specifically, morphological studies look at how words are formed and analyse a word’s structure – studying, for example, stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes.

This may mean that you separate a word into its different morphemes to study how a word is constructed. Here is an example of how that might look, based on the word independently:

Created by Annie Yang (25 April 2017)
Got it? Great! Let’s move on to Old English morphology!

Now, when it comes to morphology, Old English is quite different from Modern English.

Being much closer in nature to Proto-Germanic than modern English is, Old English has a morphological system that is quite similar to its predecessor. If you want to have a modern language to compare with, Old English morphology might actually be closer to the system used in modern Icelandic than it is to modern English! (If you are unfamiliar with Icelandic, think a more conservative version of modern German).

What does that mean, though?

First, it means that Old English had retained five grammatical cases:

  1. Nominative
  2. Accusative
  3. Genitive
  4. Dative
  5. (Instrumental)

(The instrumental case is quite rare in Old English, so you could say that it really only retained four).

Three grammatical genders in nouns:

  1. Masculine
  2. Feminine
  3. Neuter

And two grammatical numbers:

  1. Singular
  2. Plural

In addition, Old English had dual pronouns, meaning pronouns that referred to, specifically, two people – no more, no less.

As you can probably see, this is quite different from what Modern English does.
If you can’t quite put your finger at exactly what is different…
  1. Modern English has retained the nominative, accusative and genitive case, but only in pronouns. So, we find differences in I/he (nominative), me/him (accusative), and mine/his (genitive), but not really anywhere else. In Old English, though, we would find a specific inflection following the nouns, verbs, etc. for this too (so a word like se cyning ‘the king’ in the nominative form becomes þæs cyninges ‘the king’s’ in the genitive and þǣm cyninge in the dative becomes ‘for/to the king’.
  2. English has not retained the grammatical genders (thank any almighty power that might be listening). This means that, unlike in German, there is no declension depending on whether the word is masculine, feminine or neuter (like the infamous German articles die, der, das).
  3. But, as I am sure you are already well aware, English has retained its grammatical numbers (singular and plural), though it has lost the dual function that Old English had.

A bit different, clearly.

To add to the above, Old English also separated between its verbs: all verbs were divided into the categories strong or weak.

Strong verbs formed the past tense by changing a vowel – like in sing, sang, sung, while weak verbs formed it by adding an ending – like walk – walked. As you can see, Modern English has retained some of this division though we nowadays call strong verbs that have retained this feature irregular verbs while weak verbs, interestingly, are referred to as regular verbs.

Sounds easy, right? Yeah, we’re not done.

In Old English, you see, the strong verbs were divided into seven (!) different classes, each depending on how the verb’s stem changed to show past tense. I will not go through them all here – it is simply a bit too much for this blog, but check out my sources if you want to know more.

Point is, that means that there were seven different ways a verb could change to indicate past tense + the weak verbs.

Now, the weak verbs also had classes. Three, to be specific. I won’t go through those either (trust me, it’s for your benefit because you’d be stuck here all day).

So, we have two main categories and ten sub-categories.
Woof.
That’s a lot to keep track of.

And that is not even considering the changing patterns of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, etc., etc., or the numbers, or context.

Gosh, and I keep getting stuck at concord in Modern English! (Swedish doesn’t use something equivalent to the s on verbs in third-person singular, and it is one of my more commonly made mistakes when writing in English).

Old English morphology is obviously very different from Modern English! And, although this is obviously just a very brief glance, I’m going to stop there. This is the very broad strokes of some of the major differences between Old English and Modern English, but we’ll explore more how it went from this:

Se cyning het hie feohtan ongean Peohtas

Extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, anno 449

to this:

The king commanded them to fight against [the] Picts

Translation of the extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, anno 449

next week, when we take a look at the changing system of Middle English morphology and experience the loss of many of the inherited morphological systems! Join me then!

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References

For this post, I’ve relied on my own previous studies of Old English Grammar by Alistair Campbell (1959); An introduction to Old English by Richard M. Hogg (2002) and Old English: A historical linguistic companion by Roger Lass (1994).

However, I’ll admit to having refreshed my knowledge of Old English morphology by having a look at Wikipedia, as well as comparing it with modern English morphology in the same place.

The text from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, both in Old English and in Modern, is retrieved from here.

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Reindeer

One week closer to Christmas! And, as promised, another Christmas-related word: reindeer!

Of course, most of us know the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Santa’s request for aid on a foggy Christmas Eve, but where does the word reindeer come from?

Well, most likely, it came from my own little area of the world: Scandinavia. Borrowed into English around 1400, it is most likely from Old Norse hreindyri, meaning reindeer.

This word can be divided in two: hrein and dyr(i).

Hrein– is from the word hreinn, the usual name of the animal. You can see it preserved in the modern descendants of Old Norse (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic) today:

DanishNorwegianSwedishIcelandic
Ren (or rensdyr)Rein (or reinsdyr)RenHreindýr

Interestingly, you can’t actually say *rendjur in Swedish, referring to the reindeer, which you seem to be able to do in the other descendants of Old Norse. As a native Swedish speaker, trust me, it sounds really weird and is certainly incorrect.

I wonder why that is.

Anyway. Hreinn comes from Proto-Germanic *khrinda, which is also the source of the Old English word hran, also meaning reindeer. *khrinda likely comes from PIE *krei, from the root *ker-, meaning horn or head. That totally makes sense; have you ever seen the horns of a reindeer? They’re magnificent.

Image result for reindeer

The PIE word may also be related to Greek krios, meaning ram, and some sources further connect it to words in Sami and Finnish.

Dyr simply means animal and corresponds to Old English deor (which later became deer). From Proto-Germanic *deuzam, meaning (wild) animal. The Proto-Germanic word likely comes from PIE *dheusom, which, rather unspecifically, simply means creature that breathes (and isn’t human).

And that is the story of reindeer!  

The History of the English Language – Modern English dialects

Our last little installment of dialects! I know that this is a historical linguistics’ blog, but, today, let’s talk about Modern English, shall we?

Before we can do that though, we need to talk about something else: the distinction between a dialect and an accent.

Up until now, I haven’t made this distinction because it hasn’t been truly necessary; you see, when talking about Middle English and Old English, the term dialect holds quite true. When it comes to modern English, however…

Not as much.

Although often used interchangeably, the terms dialect and accent actually refer to two different things in linguistics. So what is an accents and what is a dialect?

Well, an accent is one part of a dialect.

That… didn’t clear things up, did it?

Alright, an accent refers to how people pronounce words, while a dialect is much more all-encompassing and includes pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.

As I have been focusing on the England in this post, I’ll be focusing on the accents (commonly called dialects) in British English, but don’t fret! I’ll come back to other varieties of English (like American English) in a future post.

via GIPHY

Yeah, that was a bit creepy, but hey, what can I say – I am a horror-flick fan.

Anyway, the accents of (British) English!

Trudgill divided the accents of English into ten (!) different accent regions. In no particular order, with their accent name in parenthesis following, these are:

Accent regionAccent nameStrongest center
West MidlandsBrummieBirmingham
SouthwestWest CountryBristol/Plymouth
Northwest MidlandsManchesterManchester/Salford
NortheastGeordieNewcastle/Sunderland
MerseysideScouseLiverpool
Home CountiesLondon/EstuaryGreater London
East, North, and South MidlandsEast MidlandsLincoln
East AngliaEast Anglian (traditional)Norfolk/Suffolk
Central LancashireLancashire (traditional)Rossendale
Central and lower NorthYorkshireLeeds/Bradford

Trudgill divided the accents into these groups based on a simple sentence: very few cars made it up the path of the long hill.

Ignoring the function-words here (that is it, of, and the), Trudgill recorded the pronunciation of these eight words and noted the following:

Accent"y" in "very""ew" in "few""ar" in "cars""a" in "made""u" in "up""a" in "path""n" in "long""hill" in "hill"
Brummie/i//juː/[ɑː][ʌɪ]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋg/[ɪl]
West Country/ɪ//juː/[ɑːɹ][eɪ]/ʌ//æ/ [æ]/ŋ/[ɪl]
Manchester/ɪ//juː/[äː][eɪ]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋg/[ɪl]
Geordie/i//juː/[ɒː][eː]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋ/[hɪl]
Scouse/i//juː/[äː][eɪ]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋg/[ɪl]
London/Estuary/i//juː/[ɑː][eɪ~æɪ]/ʌ//ɑː//ŋ/[ɪo]
East Midlands/i//juː/[ɑː][eɪ]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋ/[ɪl]
East Anglian/i//uː/[aː][æɪ]/ʌ//æ/ [æ]/ŋ/[(h)ɪl]
Lancashire/ɪ//juː/[aːɹ][eː]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋg/[ɪl]
Yorkshire/i//juː/[äː][eː]/ʊ//æ/ [a]/ŋ/[ɪl]

In addition to these features, the absence or presence of the so-called trap-bath split was also recorded (under the feature path). The trap-bath split is a vowel split by which some words come to be pronounced with a long /ɑ:/, mostly in the southern English accents, and short /a/ in the northern ones. If you are unsure of how that would sound, check out the sound examples at the Pronunciation Studio.

Using this fairly simple sentence, it was possible to discern some general patterns of accent “boundaries”, thus creating the accent-boundaries of modern (British) English! Using the results, it was then possible to divide the country into six major dialect areas:

  • Scots (which Lisa talked about here and here)
  • Northern dialects
  • Western Central (Midlands)
  • Eastern Central (Midlands)
  • Southwestern dialects
  • Southeastern dialects

Isn’t that quite amazing? (and, as usual, a bit ridiculously oversimplified)

However, there is one accent that I haven’t mentioned yet:
Received Pronunciation, or RP.

Also known as Received Pronunciation, the Queen’s English, BBC English, Standard British pronunciation or Southern British pronunciation, RP is a highly prestigious “standard” accent in Britain. However, very few British English speakers actually speak RP: Trudgill estimated only about 3% in 1974. This has since been questioned but the highest “guestimates” appear to be 10% – which is really not a very high number any way.

And there you have it – the British English dialects!

I hope you enjoyed that little tidbit, but check out the references if you want to learn more – because, naturally, I can’t go through all of the details here (nor, if I am frank, do I know them) and there is a lot more to learn!

Join me next week when we go back in history again, and take a look at Old English morphology! Until then!

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References

If you want to learn more about the difference between dialects and accents (and dialects generally), check out this OED blog post.

Wikipedia’s entry for the English dialects (*cough* accents *cough*) is quite informative and well-worth a look (and I’ll admit to having largely reproduced the table from theirs, with some adjustments).

On a more formal level, Trudgill’s study was reported by Ossi Ihalainen in The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 5, where you can read more about the study. Or go straight to the source, which in this case is The dialects of England by Peter Trudgill (1990).

I’ve also had a brief look at Benedikt Szmrecsanyi (2013) Grammatical Variation in British English Dialects.

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Buck (but really, its about julbocken)

The first Tuesday of December and Norway is definitely showing its winter-y side! So, today, let’s immerse ourselves in Christmas-related etymology!

Today’s word is buck!

From c. 1300, this word has come to mean male deer in English, but before that, it referred to a male goat. The word comes from Old English bucca, meaning male goat, from Proto-Germanic *bukkon.

The Proto-Germanic word may have come from PIE *bhugo, which is also said to be the source of Avestan buza “buck, goat”, and Armenian buc “lamb”. Some, however, say that it might be from a lost pre-Germanic language.

Fairly straight-forward etymology, really, unless you want to look very closely into the lost pre-Germanic idea. So why am I telling you about a buck as a Christmas-related word?

Well, as you may know by now, I’m from Sweden.

In Sweden, Julbocken (often translated as the Yule Goat as English has mostly lost the word buck in reference to a male goat) has a very long history.

Julbocken goes back to ancient Pagan traditions, potentially connecting with ancient Proto-Slavic beliefs. The god honored in these beliefs was Devac (or Dazbog), who was represented by a white goat. The festivities therefore always included a person dressed as a goat, who demanded offerings in the form of presents.

Eventually, though, julbocken became the giver of gifts rather than the recipient, and this actually remained the case in the Scandinavian countries until as late as the second half of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, when it was replaced by Father Christmas/Santa Claus.

But, it remains a very popular ornament in Scandinavian countries and in my own native country, a massive julbock called Gävlebocken is built up in the city of Gävle every year.

Image result for Gävlebocken
Gävlebocken

In a traditional prank (that tends to get on people’s nerves), it is usually lit on fire soon after its unveiling.

Image result for Gävlebocken
However sad that is, now, you know the story of buck and julbocken!

I hope that you enjoyed that little piece of Christmas-related history, because every week until Christmas, Fun Etymology will give you one Christmas-related word and tell you about its history!

Is there a Christmas-related word that you’ve always wondered where it came from? Let me know! (One can never have too much inspiration in life!)

Until next time!

Professor M.B. Parkes – Patron Saint of December, 2019

Goodness me, it’s already December!

Welcome to the first weekend of December and the First Sunday of Advent! It’ll be Christmas soon!

via GIPHY

First though: new month = new patron saint!

Today, I’d like to introduce you to someone, whose works I pretty much use every single day: Professor M.B. Parkes.

Now, professor Parkes was not, strictly speaking, a linguist. He was a paleographer with an extraordinary eye for detail. His contributions to the study of medieval manuscripts have been significant in many ways. Today, though, I would like to tell you about Parkes’ contribution to my own field of study: punctuation.

You see, Professor Parkes seems to have decided that punctuation deserved more attention. In 1992, he published a book called Pause and Effect: An introduction to punctuation in the West. This work is of extremely high value for people like myself, who study the history of punctuation.

Pause and Effect is essentially a descriptive account of the history of punctuation from antiquity to the invent of the printing press and beyond. Most importantly, it is not yet another prescriptive account of punctuation throughout the ages.

Parkes masterfully managed to condense 2000 years of history into roughly 300 pages. The book is filled with illustrative imagery and a good glossary – the work, basically, is invaluable. (Though I would say that, I have consulted the book almost daily for about a year now).

Why is this so remarkable, you might wonder?

Well, you see, punctuation is often neglected in the study of historical texts. This means that we don’t really have a firm grasp on how it was used. Professor Parkes’ book was an enormous step forward in the study of historical punctuation (though it is, occasionally, somewhat dense – it is 2000 years after all).

In addition to his most excellent account of historical punctuation, Professor Parkes also extensively studied the Canterbury Tales. He eventually produced a highly influential article on the production of the copies of the tales.

But his work was primarily focused on paleography, of course. And at this, too, he excelled: his 1969 book English Cursive Book Hands, 1250-1500 remains authoritative even today.

He was also an entertaining lecturer – basically, most of what he took on, he mastered.

His work earned him an appointment to the Comité international de paléographie latine in 1986. In 1992, he also became a corresponding fellow of the Medieval Academy of America.

Professor Parkes sadly passed away in 2013, but his works certainly live on and his many contributions to the study of medieval manuscripts, and to the study of English historical linguistics, is what makes him December’s Patron Saint of the HLC!

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References

Most of the general information we have here is from Wikipedia. However, much is also my personal impression of the scholar’s work.

The History of the English language – LAEME and eLALME

Welcome back!

While I would normally move on to modern English dialects at this point, I did promise you a treat. So allow me to introduce you briefly to two marvelous sources in the study of Middle English dialectology: LAEME and eLALME.

The abbreviations stand for A linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English 1150 to 1325 (LAEME) and An electronic version of a linguistic atlas of Late Mediaeval English (eLALME). There is also a LALME, which stands for A linguistic atlas of Late Mediaeval English, and is the print version of eLALME (the latter was created years after the study itself was conducted and LALME printed).

Before I dig into these marvelous things, I can hear you asking “what is a linguistic atlas?”, so let’s start there!

A linguistic atlas is basically what you’d expect: a collection of maps. In this case, it is a collection of linguistic maps, which show the geographic distribution of speakers of a language. It can also show isoglosses, which separate areas that have a particular linguistic feature, of a dialect continuum.

Okay, so, what is a dialect continuum, you ask?

A dialect continuum is a situation in which a dialect spoken in one area differs only slightly from the dialect in the neighboring area. The further away we go though, the more differences we will find. Eventually, the varieties might be so widely separated that they are no longer mutually intelligible.

Both LAEME and eLALME are linguistic atlases, as their titles tell us. Specifically, though, they are linguistic atlases of Middle English, not modern. Their mapping of dialects concerns the dialects of Middle English, which we took a look at in last week’s post.

Now, obviously, when working with historical dialects, you’re in much more troublesome circumstances than when working with modern dialects. Why? Well, the introduction of LALME (reprinted in eLALME, of course) describes it pretty succinctly:

“It is rather as if the compilers of a modern dialect atlas had access to any number of speakers, all willing to be interviewed but very few of whom divulged where they came from”

§2.3.1. from A linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, Volume 1, General introduction
Can you imagine what that’s like? Sounds hard, right?

Well, I’ll wager that creating these tools was very hard. But they managed! How, you ask?

With the use of so-called anchor texts.

An anchor text is a text that can be localised to a specific place, or near it, on non-linguistic grounds. This may be letters that, for example, were written by a nobleman whom we know lived in East Anglia for all of his life. It could perhaps be records of courts, or manors, or legal instruments, and so on.

Once you’ve done that, you can start looking for linguistic features in those texts. Let’s say that an anchor text in Middle English uses a specific spelling for a word. Okay, so that spelling might then be characteristic of the dialect in that area.

And then, you look at another text from another place. That text shows a different spelling for that same word. And then you look at a third text, from somewhere between those first two areas. That text uses a spelling with some characteristics of both the first spellings.

Brilliant, you have a dialect continuum!

Alright, so that was ridiculously over-simplified, but you get the idea.

Anyway, my over-simplified explanation (kind of) describes what they did for LALME. They used a questionnaire, consisting of many words, looked in the manuscripts for those words, and voilà! There you are, a dialect continuum of the late Middle English dialects.

Alright, again, that was ridiculously over-simplified.

LAEME took a slightly different approach. It kind of had to as there are so few documents left from early Middle English. So LAEME used a corpus-method instead. They transcribed all early Middle English texts (or long passages from the really long ones) and put them into a database.

This allowed them to elicit all variations from the surviving manuscripts, meaning that they weren’t limited to particular words. Having done so, it is then possible to look for linguistic features that are used in one text and compare them to another, thus seeing dialect variation (see LAEME’s Introduction, Chapter 1, §1.5.5. for more info).

Now, one last amazing thing about these tools: the fit-technique.

Basically, what this means is that you take features of a dialect and, as more linguistic features are added, the area from which the person comes becomes more and more constricted.

Let’s say, for the sake of an example, that you have two Swedish speakers. You ask them to pronounce the word “räka”.

One of them says “räka” with a fairly open mouth, producing [æː]. The other, on the other hand, pronounces it more like “reka”, with a reasonably closed mouth, producing something more like [e:]. Okay, there is something different here, so you ask them some more questions, and hear the same thing. So you go to your “anchor person”, who you know for a fact is from Stockholm. You ask him/her to pronounce “räka” and your other words, and you get “reka” in reply.

Great, one of your participants is probably from Stockholm (obviously, though, one shared feature is not enough). Then you look around, and you find someone who you know is from Gothenburg. You ask the same of him/her and get “räka” in response. And there you are!

That, though again grossly over-simplified, is the fit-technique. You take an un-localised text and compare it to the variations you find in texts that you can place. The more features you add, the more you can constrict the area that text is likely to come from! Isn’t that quite amazing?!

Before I get to the “warnings” of this post, I’d like to encourage all my readers to check these resources out. Truly, they are quite amazing!

You can find LAEME here and eLALME here. Do take a minute, really.

Right, so on to the warnings.

The most important thing first:

While we might be able to say that this text was written in the northern dialect, it does not mean that it was actually written in the north.

For example, the text you are looking at was written in a dialect from southwest Yorkshire according to LAEME or eLALME. That does not mean that it was actually written in southwest Yorkshire.

Neither LAEME or LALME are geographical atlases, they are linguistic ones. Your results simply mean that the person who wrote this text was likely from southwest Yorkshire (or at least wrote in that dialect). The text itself, however, might have been composed in London. Or in Sussex. Or in Worcestershire.

You get the drift. Point is, you cannot conclude with certainty that a text was written in a specific area, only that the person writing the text wrote in the dialect from that area. Obviously, it could have been written there, but you can’t say for sure.

That’s probably the most important thing to remember here but one more little thing: the fit-technique works somewhat better for eLALME than for LAEME. This is simply because we do not have as much data from the early Middle English period as we do for the late period. In the introduction to LAEME, Margaret Laing (LAEME’s compiler) and Roger Lass write:

For much of LAEME, the display of linguistic data in map form at all is a convenient but highly generalised abstraction.

LAEME, Introduction, Chapter 1, §1.5.3.

and this must be kept in mind when using the resource.

Did I get carried away? I did, right?

Well, I’m done now, but again: Check these resources out!

(and while you’re at it, also check out the Corpus of Narrative Etymologies, another fantastic tool for the study of English historical linguistics).

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References

For some more information on these fantastic resources, check them out by following the links in the post (or here: LAEME and eLALME). You can also have a look at the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics introductory remarks (with, in the case of LAEME, a link to Rhona Alcorn’s beginners guide to LAEME) to the resources.

Click here for AMC’s introduction to LAEME
and here for AMC’s introduction to eLALME
(and here for AMC’s introduction to CoNE)

Laing, Margaret. 2013– A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English, 1150–1325, Version 3.2 [http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/ihd/laeme2/laeme2.html]. Edinburgh: © The University of Edinburgh.

Benskin, Michael. Laing, Margaret. Karaiskos, Vasilis and Williamson, Keith. 2013-. An Electronic Version of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English [http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/ihd/elalme/elalme.html]
(Edinburgh: © 2013- The Authors and The University of Edinburgh).

McIntosh, Angus. Samuels, M.L. Benskin, Michael. 1986. A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

Lass, Roger. Laing, Margaret. Alcorn, Rhona. Williamson, Keith. 2013- 
A Corpus of Narrative Etymologies from Proto-Old English to Early Middle English and accompanying Corpus of Changes, Version 1.1 [http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/ihd/CoNE/CoNE.html]. Edinburgh: © The University of Edinburgh.

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Cat

Yet another Tuesday – yet another animal-related word!

Last week, we talked about dog, so it really only makes sense to talk about its ancient enemy (though not always) the cat this week!

Cat comes from Old English cat, from Proto-Germanic *kattuz, from Late Latin cattus. So far so good.

Then, it gets tricky.

The word for this domesticated animal is now nearly universal in the European languages, first appearing in Europe as the Latin word catta. Later, we also find the Byzantine Greek word katta (from around 350) and by c. 700, it was in general use on the continent.

So, what’s the problem, you ask?

Well, though almost all European languages have it and we know that it came to these languages through Latin and/or Greek… then we hit a wall.

We don’t know where it came from originally! We do know that Latin and Greek have it by the 1st century and that most modern languages which have it have had it for as long back as their records go.

The likely source is often pointed out as Egypt. It makes sense: the cat was first domesticated in Egypt (as early as 2000 B.C.), so guessing that the name comes from there is not unreasonable. Yet, early mentions of the word also indicate that it might be Slavonic or even Germanic in origin.

So, like with dog, we simply don’t really know! But here, have a picture of a cat as a treat!

shallow focus photography of white and brown cat

(I know you got my supercute dog last week, but, sorry, I don’t have any cats. Hope the picture will do anyway!)

The History of the English Language – Middle English dialects

Alright, Middle English time (my favourite time)!

Today, I’ve promised you the Middle English dialects and that’s what you’ll get!

First, a bit of a recap, though.

When I say Middle English (or ME, which is the usual abbreviation), I am talking about English as it was between (roughly) 1066 – the Norman invasion – and 1500. Now, obviously, there is no exact date: people didn’t talk Old English one day and woke up the next speaking Middle English. But it is a convenient way of dividing the history of the English language into manageable chunks.

We must also remember that we can divide Middle English into two parts: Early Middle English (c. 1066-1300) and Late Middle English (1300-1500). The closer we get to our own age, the more recognisable the language will be.

So, now we know that. Let’s look at the dialects!

The Middle English dialects are commonly divided into five distinct dialects: Kentish, Southern, Northern, West Midlands, and East Midlands.
The Middle English Dialects, as presented on Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website

The Kentish dialect is also found in Old English but during Middle English, the area in which the dialect was spoken diminished. By late Middle English, it was spoken only in Kent and Sussex.

The Southern dialect was also spoken in (west) Sussex as well as south and southwest of the Thames. This dialect is a descendant of the West Saxon dialect in Old English and was quite conservative. It didn’t show a lot of influence from other languages which makes it an interesting topic of study!

The Northern dialect is an interesting one too. It is in this dialect that we find very rapid developments in morphology and syntax. This may be due to intense contact with Old Norse, but that’s simply a hypothesis – it is quite possible that these changes would have happened regardless.

Last, the East and West Midlands dialects. These dialects are a bit of an intermediate between the conservative dialects of the south and the fast-moving ones in the north.

What is particularly interesting about Middle English is, of course, its spelling. You see, during the Middle English period, there was no standardised spelling, meaning that people spelled according to their own dialect – which gives rise to some interesting variations.

Which is actually what we’ll look at next week! You see, this was primarily just a little primer so that you’ll know a bit about the Middle English dialects; next week, we’ll get to the really interesting stuff: a brief introduction to two amazing resources when it comes to studying Middle English dialectology!

I won’t tell you which though (though I’m sure some of you are already quite familiar with them) – consider this a teaser.

Until next week!

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References

For this post I have used the Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website’s entry on the Middle English dialects as well as this entry (which appears to be by Randall (2000), although the link itself gives no author).

Fun Etymology Tuesday – Dog

It’s Tuesday! Let’s keep going with one of my favourite animals: dogs!

The word dog is a bit of an etymological mystery. From Old English docga, it’s origin is unknown and.. odd.

It is quite rare in Old English, appearing only in glossaries or in so-called onomastic evidence (that is, in the study of proper names such as Dogbury Hill, an ancient hill fort). That, the OED notes, might be because it was considered informal as there is a more commonly attested synonym: hound.

So, what’s so odd about this word?

Well, despite trying, no likely cognates have been found so far and the word’s phonological form is… problematic. You see, we have a stem-final geminate <g> (that is, a doubled <g> – looking at Middle English forms, the word is often spelt dogg). But the geminate <g> is not due to West Germanic consonant gemination*.

We do know that it eventually replaced Old English hund, which came from the PIE root *kwon- and is still in evidence in Swedish hund, by the 16th century.

We do find words that we might first interpret as cognates: French dogue, for example. Yet, upon further study, all of the so-far investigated words have eventually been shown to be a direct or indirect borrowing from English.

We do know, though, that English has a number of these words that appeared to form both a morphological and semantic group. Aside from dog, we also have hog, frog, pig, stag in this odd little group.

So, in the end, we really don’t know where this word comes from! But, to console you for not getting a straight answer, here’s a picture of Kyra, my own goofy hund! Enjoy your week!

Image may contain: dog, snow, outdoor and nature
Kyra, enjoying a walk in the snow!

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*West Germanic gemination was a sound change that took place in all West Germanic languages around the 3rd or 4th century AD. While I’d love to tell you all about it, FunEty is not the place for such discussions. Check out Wikipedia’s article on it in the meantime!