Linguistic and Anthropological Journeys

Here to answer questions on the fields of Anthopology and Linguistics

Word Origin of the Week 5: Werewolf
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
The word Werewolf is common, but it also has its roots all the way back in the Old English era.  The later traditions and means shifted and later media changed what the perception of the word meant.  Pop culture turned the werewolf into a different creature than those depicted in the original texts.

The origins of the word Werewolf is a compound word of the OE wer + OE wulfWer actually means "man, husband" and wulf is directly related to the modern wolf.  This would mean that Werewolf originally meant "man-wolf."  A similar thing could be said about Lycanthrop which is a similar word with Greek roots, meaning "wolf-man."

The word wer is related to the Latin word vir, which has the same meaning (and remember Latin v is /w/).  This is in turn is related to several English word, such as virile and virtue.

Word Origin of the Week 4: Anonymous
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
Anna asks:
It's such a beautiful sounding word. What might the origins of "Anonymous" be?

  Well, this term is rather simple.  It is a reconstruction from Greek words.  It takes the root, "an" which means no, without, and "onoma" which is a Greek word directly related to name.  Together it means "without name" or "nameless" and it was first coined in English in the early 17th century.

There are other words which have "nym" in them, which refer back to the Greek "onoma" meaning name or noun (which in Latin can mean name).  These include acronym, homonym, antonym, synonym, pseudonym, and metonymy.  It has the same Indo-European root that we have for name.  Name however is actually Germanic in origin, with the Old English form, nama.

Texts to Look For 2: Everyman
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
This is a morality play written in the early 1500s in Middle English.  It was probably written and performed by priests, and it may have been a translation of the Dutch Elckerlijc. It post-dates Chaucer, and is fairly easy to read.  Most editions you will find have modernised spellings, either way.  This is a religious tale and has many religious themes.  I myself am the opposite of religious, but I still appreciate this type of work.

It does not have specific individual characters, but instead characters which represent generalities, characteristics, and other features that people have.  The main character is Everyman, quite literally supposed to represent every man, and the story follows that he is to die and be judged by God.  He is frightened of this notion, so he goes to his friends (such as Fellowship and Goods) and family (such as Kindred or Cousin) looking for someone to come and speak up on his behalf.  The one, whom he knows would help him is Good Deeds, but he hasn't been so kind to her, so he uses Knowledge to help him to get her to come with him when he dies.

Most of the events are supposed to be metaphorical, and helpful lessons to the standard medieval population.  The idea was to get the people to pay attention to god, and to work on being good.  It's a good perspective to seeing how religion affected the medieval world, and it has some interesting poetry.

Word Origin of the Week 3: Dude
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
wickedknightx asks:

What is the origin of the word "dude?"
The first usage of dude was in 1873, making it a fairly recent term.  It first showed up in writing in 1876, and slowly changed in meaning and usage.  Originally it was New York slang meaning a fastidious man, some sources even implied homosexuality.  It had to do with a man from the city who would act as if he was better than others.  Later when these types of people would do work in the country areas, expanding the meaning of dude.

When wealthy city-slickers, or dudes, wanted to go and experience the country life, Dude Ranches came about.  Then it became important in the California surfing societies, and after that, it became common in most American dialects.  It still is supposed to refer to males, though there is a greater degree of gender neutrality in the term.  In fact the two feminine forms, dudine and dudess, both of which fell out of usage, were replaced by the pseudo-French Dudette.
 T. Patrick.

Reviewing My German with Old English: Strong Verbs
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
I realised that I have to review my German, and since I've spent the summer working on Old English, and being that they are both Germanic languages, I'm going to use it to review.  They are very similar, especially because High German retains some more archaic constructions and forms.  However the OE footprints don't always apply, not for lack of trying, just sound have happened.  I'm doing this here, so I can show what my thought process is on the subject.  So here we go:

Classes Old English High German OE Footprint Exceptions and Notes
Class 1  í á i i
ei ie ie
ei i i
í + K For German: the past ie
becomes i if the root ends with a devoiced sound
Class 2 éo éa u o
ú éa u o

ie o o
e o o

éo + K
ú + K
heben, compared to OE hebban is in class
2, not class 6 like the OE form.
Class 3 i a u u
e ea u o
eo ea u o
e æ u o
i a u
i a o
i + n + K
e + l + K
eo + r/h + K

German splits up what would be OE class 3. 

Class 4 e æ ǽ o
e a o e + l/r/m/n Half of class 3 and all of 4 seem to have
merged in the German form.
Class 5 e æ ǽ e
i æ ǽ e
e a e
i a e
e + K - l/r/m/n These are nearly identical, the only difference
involves the vowel shift of æ to a.
Class 6 a ó ó a
ie ó ó a
a u a
a + K
ie + KK

 Also pretty similar, the shift from ó to u is not
uncommon either.

Class7 ea éo éo ea
á éo éo á
á é é á
a ie a
au ie au
ei ie ei
u ie u
o ie o
a i a

no basic pattern  Both are reduplicating, both have no specific pattern.

This chart helps to show how the strong verbs are similar. Old English and German both have some verbs which were shorted and became what we call contract verbs.  This is like OE gán go which was originally a two syllable gáhan, which would be reduced to gán over time. Similar things happened to German verbs like stehen, tun, and gehen.

There are also some which are irregular in the pattern, such as essen and etan, which belongs to class 5, but has slightly irregular verb patterns.  English has dramatically reduced the amount of these verbs, whereas German retained a lot of the older forms. 

Texts to Look For 1: L’Étranger
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
In this section, I will talk about texts, usually older, but generally not standard to the Modern English speaking audience.  They are often stories, poems, songs, etc, which you should find, even if it's in translation.  For some smaller poems, I'll include the actual texts.

Today, I'll talk about a poem I've learnt about recently, called L’Étranger which translates as "The Stranger."  It was written by Albert Camus in French.  This is a fairly new French book (published in 1942), and the translation is also pretty well known.  It's known for the apathy of the main character.  It is big on the idea of existentialism.  It tells the story of a man named Meursault who, living in Algeria and rather apathetic about everything including his mother's death, ends up on trial for murder.  The book follows Meursault and several non-major characters who have strange and interesting characteristics of their own, including one who hates his dog but is torn apart when the dog runs away, and girl whom Meursault becomes engaged to, though he still really doesn't care.

The opening lines are pretty famous, and I'll repeat them here:
Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier.
Roughly translated they mean:
Today, mama died.  Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.  I recieved a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Deepest Sympathies.  That doesn't mean anything.  Maybe it was yesterday.

If you haven't read this book, you should.  It has a very grimm outlook on life and living, I'm afraid.  I am myself and Atheist, and Meursault is not really much like myself or any other Atheist I've met. 

Word Origin of the Week 2: Savvy
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
wickedknightx asks:

What's the origin of the word "savvy?"

This one is very interesting, because it isn't a common word.  I have found words with similar sounds, and related meaning, when I studied the Romance languages.  The verb is to know in these languages, such as savoir in French, saber in Spanish and Portuguese, and sapere in Italian and Latin.  If you compare these to the Germanic grouping you get forms like Old English witan or German wissan, which are instead related to the words wit and wise

Anyway, so Savvy is related to the Romance languages' verb to know, to be wise whose origin is the Latin word sapere.  According to my source, savvy was first recorded in 1785, and it could come from two different languages, Spanish or French.  It could come from sabe? "do you know?" and because the Spanish /b/ is really the fricative /β/ it could easily sound like /v/ to English speaking people trading with Spanish speaking individuals.  The other would be from the French Savez-vous? meaning the same thing.  Eventually the verbal meaning became a noun, which we see today in terms like "computer savvy" or " legal savvy."

Other terms which are related to Latin sapere are Homo Sapiens, which literally means "wise humans."  Also the French term you sometimes hear, je ne sais quoi "I don't know what."  Occasionally you'll hear sapient, which is also thus related.

Word Origin of the Week 1: I, Me, Mine, My
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
In these segments, I'm going to talk about the origins of certain words.  I will certainly be willing to take requests if anyone has any questions about the origins of certain words.  For the first one, I will discuss the origin of the pronouns I, me, mine, my.

Well, this is an important word in our language, as it is in every one.  The Indo-European root for <I> is eg.  In Latin we have ego, in Greek we have εγω.  Of course, ego is the root of the word <ego>  and <egotism> which were Freudian additions to the Language, and help to reinforce the idea of the inner self.  Now, the root eg becomes ek in the general Germanic group, through a process known as final devoicing.  In Old English the vowel shifted up and the word became ic, pronounced /ɪtʃ/, or sometimes ih, pronounced /ɪç/.   The Old High German form was ih, which becomes ich, and it's pronounced the in a similar way for centuries, first as /ɪx/ and now /ɪç/.  In Old Norse, they retained the lower vowel in ek, which becomes ég (Icelandic), jeg (Danish/Norwegian), and jag (Swedish).

In The Middle English era, the word ic became ich or iche, or in the Northumbrian dialect, ik.  Now the i and y were interchangeable in Middle English, so you may see ych or yche as well.  Later, however, the end consonant was dropped and the vowel was lengthened.  This leads to or y being used by itself to mean that.  The pronounciation was /i:/ which sounds like "ee" and is even preserved in the expression "willy nilly" which was originally "will I nill I" which meant "Do I want to or not?"   Then the Great Vowel Shifted from /i:/ to /aj/ and thus i began to be pronounced the way it is today. 

The origin of me is the Indo-European me.  In various inflections of the Latin and Greek roots, you see me in the acc..  This was the same root in Germanic languages, save these languages have a devoiced velar consonant at the end, such as mec in Old English, and mih in Old High German (which is preserved today).  In Old English, the Dative and Accusative both became mé, pronounced /me:/.  In Middle English, this didn't change at all and retained the spelling me or mee.  The Great Vowel Shift caused /e:/ to shift to /i:/, leaving use to the Modern me pronounced /mi:/

The origins of my and mine are the same.  Originally, it was the same Indo-European root me, and then it added an adjective ending in the Germanic, leaving mínaz.  In German today it has retained that n in mein.  In Old English the strong adjective and the genitive of ic were the same as mín. This was retained well into the Middle English era through, always pronounced /mi:n/.  In this era, the dropping of the n became common.  In fact it began to be used like a and an today.  The same spelling conventions as with I, so my, mi, myn, and min were all common spellings.   This usage survived into the Early Modern era, where the vowel shift created /maj/ and /majn/.  In some old songs, we still see the n being inserted if the next word starts with a vowel, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic : Mine eyes have seen....  Then the genitive form separated from the adjective, and the modern forms of mine and my formed.

Learning Latin
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr
Anna Asks:
 In terms of learning latin, what approach would you take? Would it be easier to translate because you can't exactly do it word for word in comparison?

Well, Latin is a lovely language, but it's a bit full of endings in Nouns, Adjectives, and the worst offender, the verbs.  Translating it word for word won't work if you don't have any idea how the endings go.  However, you can try a few different things.  I know of a few websites where you can practice noun declensions.  The adjectives, although scary with their 36 possible noun endings, actually resemble the nouns in which their declension is named, (thus 1st and 2nd declension adjectives, have endings for the 1st declension feminine nouns, and the 2nd declension masculine and neuter nouns).  Now, with that you can begin to grasp the meanings of basic texts, but you still need a working knowledge of the verbal system, with it's 4 conjugations, as well as a few irregular ones under your belt.  There are websites that will also help you practice this. 

Now if you prefer the slower ways where you build up vocabulary and grammar, I always prefer a book series called Ecce Romani.  It teaches you Latin through short stories and glossing, helping you to pick up new grammatical features after each section.  If you prefer sticking with the grammar, and working up to lots of vocabulary, then try a book called Learn Latin, by Peter Jones.  This way starts out teaching the present tense verb endings, and slowly introduces conjugations and declensions. 

If you were to teach yourself through translating, I'd recommend then that you pick up a grammar cheat sheet, such as Spark Notes or such.  These can give you a quick guide if you need to look something up in a pinch.  There are also some online sources that can help with the endings of verbs and nouns.

Here are some sources that can help you:
Hope that helps,
T. Patrick

The Indo-European Language Family
Linguistics Timothy Patrick Snyder Anthr

Today, I'm going to give a basic account of what the Indo-European language family is.  The first thing we need to establish is that language changes, it does so over time, and often quite rapidly.  This is not something that can be debated because we can even see it in our lifetimes.  Your parents and your grandparents didn't/don't speak the same way you do, neither will your children or grandchildren (if you have any).  Remember that all of the below topics are more of a light summary.

Okay, so what is the Indo-European language super-family? It is a large classification of languages which extends from the farthest reaches of Europe to northern India and parts of modern China.  It is separated into numerous families and subfamilies.  It is the most widespread language family spoken in the world today, and every continent has a substantial (several million people) population who speaks one (I suppose even the except is Antarctica, which only has small outposts of Indo-European language speakers).  The discoverer of this language super-family is credited to Sir William Jones, who was a British judge in India.  He noticed that Sanskrit, the literary language of India, bore a resemblance to Latin and Greek.  He decided that this means they come from a common source, which has been dubbed Proto-Indo-European (proto means original).  Proto-Indo-European was never written, so we have no direct knowledge of its phonology, grammar, or lexicon.  However, it has a large number of descendents, which we can use to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European to a degree.

So, then if they all spoke the same language, who spoke it and where did they live?  This is a question of great debate for linguists.  We use the vocabulary given to propose different ideas about the culture and homeland of the Indo-Europeans.   A common idea is to place them in the south of modern Poland, although it's possible there was nomad tendencies, leading to no true homeland.  Genetics has helped point to different locations, including the Middle East. 

So, what languages and language families are Indo-European?  It's better to look at the families and isolates, then the subfamilies and the individual languages under them.  Some of the major well known language families are Indo-European: Italic, Germanic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Celtic, Anatolian and Baltic.  There are a bunch of language isolates, which have dialects, such as Hellenic (all the stages of Greek), Albanian, Tocharian and Armenian.  Tocharian is the language spoken the farthest east, in modern China.  Here is a simple guide to these families, in no particular order:

  • Italic:   Non-Romance languages in this family include Oscan, Etruscan and Umbrian.  The name comes from the region from where it comes, Italy.  The major listing in this family is the Romance subfamily.
    • Romance:  These languages are rooted in Latin.  It is called Romance because the Romans used it (no other meanings apply).  This family includes French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, and Catalan.
  • Germanic:  This has three subfamilies.  This was settled in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
    • East Germanic:  This group is extinct, but the most well known language is Gothic.
    • North Germanic:  The subfamily of the Norse.  The languages included are Old Norse, Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Faroese, and a few more.
    • West Germanic: This is the largest group because it includes English and (High) German.  It also includes Dutch, Afrikaans, Low German, Frisian, Swiss, Pennsylvania and Austrian German.
  • Slavic:  This has three subfamilies as well.
    • West Slavic:  This group includes Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Sorbian.
    • East Slavic:  This group is the largest because it includes Russian.  Also Ukrainian, and Belarussian.
    • South Slavic: This group has the ancestral language, labeled Old Church Slavonic, but it also includes Bosnian, Serbian, Croation, Bulgarian, and Macedonian.
  • Indo-Iranian:  this includes the divisions Indic and Iranian.  Some don't are not fully classicified as one or the other, such as Dardic.
    •  Indic: This group starts with Vedic Sanskrit, then comes Classical and Epic Sanskrit, and then this group splinters in to the many other languages and dialects.  This language family includes Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Rahasthani, Panjabi, Pahari, Nepali, Romani, Oriya, amongst others.  Some of these are subfamilies of their own.
    • Iranian: This had several groups, including Avestan and Old Persian.  Old Persian became Farsi today.  There are several groups that use separate dialects like Kurdish and Afghan.
  •  Baltic: This family includes Latvian and Lithuanian.  Sometimes this group is lumped together with Slavic to Balto-Slavic.
  • Anatolian: The most famous of this extinct language family is Hittite.  There has been speculation about its place in Indo-European, but it is believed to be in the family.  Later languages in this group include Lydian, Luwian and Lycian.  The language of Troy was likely Anatolian.
  • Celtic: This family is split up different ways.  I will use the one that separates it geographically, although there are other ways to separate them.
    • Continental Celtic: The most famous of this group is Gaulish, spoken in Gaul which was France and parts of Germany and Spain.  Also in this group is Galatian, which is a Celtic language that was spoken in modern Turkey.
    • Insular Celtic:  This is split two groups: Goidelic, which includes Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and the extinct Manx.  Brythonic, which includes Welsh, Cornish, Pictish (disputed), and Breton, which was a group that moved back to France.
This is a simple classification.  There is also evidence that each group had moved into areas that had non-Indo-European speakers, and those groups mixed and influenced the language.  It's believed that's where Germanic languages got the stress on the first syllable.

This might seem like a lot, but remember, this is just skimming the surface.  Feel free to leave comments and questions.


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