ewx: (penguin)

Since it’s the feast of day Saints Cyril and Methodius, it occurred to me to wonder who else has a script named after them. [livejournal.com profile] pseudomonas chipped in and we came up with the following:

  • Tironian notes, a shorthand system attributed to a Roman scribe called Marcus Tullius Tiro from the 1st century BCE. This seems to be an alphabetic system with an aggressively compositional character leading a large number of distinct signs. It was used in medieval Europe.
  • The Manichaean alphabet (technically an abjad), a descendant of the Aramaic script used in the Persian empire (the original one that caused classical Greece so much trouble) and supposedly the creation of the prophet Mani. Mani was the founder of Manichaeism, an early competitor to Christianity that failed to attach itself to any imperial power and seems to have subsequently been persecuted out of existence.
  • Cyrillic, a C9th descendant of the Greek alphabet attributed to the brothers Cyril and Methodius, a traditional attribution apparently supported by explicit reference in a papal bull that unfortunately I can’t find a copy of (much less translation into something I understand). It remains widely used for Slavic languages.
  • Braille was invented by Louise Braille in the C19th as an improvement on the unusably difficult Night writing, originally invented for the purposes of silent communication among soldiers. I often see this in public places and of course the use case has not gone away.
  • Pitman shorthand, invented by Isaac Pitman in the C19th as a phonetically system for writing quickly. Gregg shorthand and Duployan shorthand also date from the same era and there seem to be a number of other shorthands with people’s names attached, and I lost interest chasing down variations on this particular theme. I’m not sure how widely used these systems are any more.

Things that didn’t quite make it:

  • Ogham, an early medieval Irish script attested from the C4th but probably somewhat older. Mythologically attributed to the god Ogma. I rejected this because I wanted people with scripts named after them, not scripts with a probably fictitious attribution to someone who didn’t actually exist.
  • The Gupta script, used for writing in Sanskrit in the Gupta Empire in India (roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire). The script is only indirectly named for an individual - in fact is is named for the empire, which is in turn named after the Gupta dynasty. I rejected Georgian scripts for the same reason.

[livejournal.com profile] pseudomonas is mentioning more on IRC but it’s getting late…

ewx: (penguin)
I found http://www.bbcactivelanguages.com/OurProducts/Italian/ProductViewer.aspx?ISBN=9781406679236 pretty good for learning tourist Italian a few years ago. But we're going to Scandinavia next and there isn't a direct equivalent in the same range. Does anyone have any recommendations for learning a little tourist-level Danish and/or Swedish?
ewx: (penguin)

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog calls for a celebration of ancient languages. I’m not sufficiently confident in the pronunciation of languages that are in any case no longer spoken to follow suggestions involving putting up videos, but I can certainly write about some of what I learned from Orrin Robinson’s book Old English and Its Closest Relatives.

Germanic languages )
ewx: (penguin)

Spell It Out: The Singular Story Of English Spelling, David Crystal, ISBN 978 1 84668 567 5

The bulk of this book (and for me most of the interest) is an account of how English spelling got the way it is today. Although superficially a mess, a lot of the steps from the (relatively) straightforward Anglo-Saxon conventions to the present made a reasonable amount of sense in the contexts in which they were made - but the composition of those steps yields a rather complex system, and the context has changed a lot.

For example, the C16th introduction of a silent b into debt wouldn’t have been particularly confusing in an age when many literate people knew Latin, but today most users of the language aren’t likely to have any idea why the word has such a bizarre spelling.

The historical chapters are divided up by quotes from various authors touching on spelling one way or another. The end of the book discusses how detailed knowledge of the history of spelling might be used to improve its teaching.

There aren’t any citations for the specific statements about the develop of English spelling, but there is a “further reading” section.

Well worth a look if you’re at all interested in the subject.

ewx: (Default)

Addendum to previous post: don’t get the electronic version; someone did an especially terrible job of converting it from paper. Faults include:

  • Some of the non-ASCII characters are represented as images. This means that they don’t scale with the rest of the text, leading to a bizarre appearance.
  • Most of the tables are represented as images. Not only does this have the same scaling problem as above but worse, the ones that started out life as a full page aren’t very high resolution, making them quite hard to read.
  • Some of those images are the wrong one.
  • Some of the text is wrong, for instance there’s the occasional “p” for “þ”.
  • The ancient texts are missing hyphens at intraword line breaks, which are nevertheless preserved from the paper version, presenting an additional challenge to would-be translators. If I wanted to puzzle out essentially typographical issues I’d have gone to the originals!

Most of this is, in principle, user-fixable but it’s a lot of work. I bought a second-hand paper copy.


Apr. 4th, 2012 05:27 pm
ewx: (Default)

I’ve been reading Old English and Its Closest Relatives by Orrin Robinson. This is a survey of a variety of Germanic languages from the past couple of millennia, starting with a general overview and then proceeding to chapters on individual languages, starting with Gothic. The reader is soon invited to attempt translation of some sample texts, with the assistance of a glossary and some grammatical notes.

Gothic is the oldest of the languages discussed, giving it the greatest time distance from the modern English that I’m familiar with. However, it is also closest to the assumed common ancestor of all Germanic languages, giving it less time to accumulate unique features. It’s also the most geographically distant, having been spoken as far east as modern Ukraine, though its ultimate origins may lie in ancient Scandinavia.

There are plenty of cognates to be spotted, both with English and more distant languages. A good example would be 𐌷𐌰𐌱𐌰𐌽 haban “to have”, which is related to modern German haben (see comments for discussion re Latin habeo). Another good example is 𐌷𐌰𐌿𐍃𐌾𐌰𐌽 hausjan “to hear”; this is related not only to “hear” (there’s a /z/ > /r/ sound shift in west Germanic languages) but also to “acoustic” (Greek not having the /k/ > /x/ sound shift of Grimm’s Law). There are plenty of other examples, and they did help somewhat with the translation.

Indicating verb tense by a vowel change is common in Gothic. For example, 𐌵𐌹𐌸𐌰𐌽 qiþan “to say”, becomes 𐌵𐌰𐌸 qaþ in the past tense - “(he) said” (or “quoth”; 𐌵 is pronounced /kʷ/.) One class of verbs, though, gets its past tense by a process called reduplication. For instance, 𐍃𐌰𐌹𐌰𐌽 saian “to sow” becomes 𐍃𐌰𐌹𐍃𐍉 saiso “(he) sowed”.

The language is heavily inflected (at least compared to what I’m used to). Nouns and adjectives inflect for number and case; moreover adjectives have two parallel systems, the weak and strong declensions, with the choice depending on the presence or absence of a definite article. Verbs are worse still: not only do they inflect for mood, person and number but the present and preterite participles (analogous to English “driving” and “driven” respectively) are adjectives, thereby dragging all of the complexity of that class into the verbal system. And yet despite all this, there is no future tense, meaning that the present has to do double-duty.

More charmingly, at least from the perspective of my particular obsessions, it has a dual: 𐌽𐌹𐌼𐌰 nima “I take”, 𐌽𐌹𐌼𐍉𐍃 nimos “we two take”, 𐌽𐌹𐌼𐌰𐌼 nimam “we take”.

Putting all of the above together meant that the translations felt a bit more like actual translation and less like looking up words in a glossary and rearranging until they made sense in English. I’ve since moved onto the chapter on Old Norse, and while it does have some grammatical information it is somewhat less detailed, making the translation effort somewhat less rewarding. Still, I’m less than half way through it.

(If your browser doesn’t display the Gothic characters used in this article, they look like this.)

ewx: (no idea)

This cartoon contains the Latin phrase “MENDACII IN CLOACA TRUCES SIDERA”. I’m trying to make some sense of it.

MENDACII is the genitive singular of mendacium, which has variety of meanings mostly amounting to “a lie”. Being in the genitive means that there is something “of the lie” or “of a lie”.

IN is a preposition with with a variety of meanings.

CLOACA is the nominative, ablative or vocative singular of cloaca, sewer. I think the IN goes with this, making both “in” and “into” fit.

TRUCES is the nominative, accusative or vocative plural of trux, meaning several things along the lines of “wild” or “grim”.

SIDERA is the nominative, accusative or vocative singular of sidus: constellations, stars, seasons. Being plural, TRUCES obviously modifies SIDERA rather than either of the other nouns in play.

“The sewer of the lie” makes much more sense than “The grim stars of the lie”, so I think MENDACII modifies CLOACA rather than TRUCES SIDERA.

So: “the grim stars in the sewer of the lie”? Perhaps with “the grim stars in the sewer of lies” being a more natural but less literal translation.

(Of course I may be onto a loser by assuming it’s supposed to be anything more than dog Latin in the first place…)

ewx: (poll)

Unaccountably endowed with substantially more money than sense, I pay for for the following adverts to be evenly distributed across buses in the UK. Which would annoy the greatest number of people?

[Poll #1811024]
ewx: (Default)

The Horse, The Wheel And Language, David W. Anthony, ISBN 978-0-691-05887-0

This is another look at the question of when and where Proto-Indo-European (the inferred common ancestor of many the modern and ancient languages found in areas ranging from Europe to India) was spoken, and why, how and when it spread. What makes it worth a new work on the subject is not just new research, but also the improved availability of archaeological research from eastern Europe (both from the Soviet era and later).

Review )
ewx: (Default)
Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe, ISBN 0140433139 )

Thankyou [livejournal.com profile] beckyc. Before I'd even finished Moll's tale I found myself impulse-buying A Journal Of The Plague Year at London KX.

ewx: (Default)

Owis Ekwoskwe

In Search Of The Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, J.P.Mallory, ISBN 0500276161

Review )
ewx: (Default)

Origins of the English, Catherine Hills, ISBN 0715631918

Review )

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