Thursday, December 11, 2014

From Babel to Common Traits of Indo-European Languages - doing without a Mother language

I know, I have promised a French essay on the Swedish-Catholic noble exiles in Poland ... still upcoming!

Following examples of language confusion are taken from a meme found on "Silly Linguistics" which was termed "Language confusion #1", not all in tables there as here, but I put them so because I wanted my full sentences to be about a solution type (totally theoretical in the cases given):

HoekomWarumWhy, How come

If speakers of Afrikaans, German and English in South Africa and South West Africa had been cut off totally from Europe, would we not have seen attempts to uniformise the system? Would remaining differences not be more likely to be about words that could be taken as synonyms, rather than in meaning of homonyms?

A side note: on first and last line, "why" and "wie" would be very old forms, instrumentals of the masculine/neuter form. But diversified. In Swedish "hvi" used to exist, until loosing its h and being pronounced like "vi" = "we". Then the word "hvarföre" modelled after (extinct) "hvarför" and both probably after German "warum, wofür" replaced "hvi". This also happened in dialects where h remained, if any.

expedition= office, expedition= office, expeditionrare, like English= expedition, not office 
semester= vacation= vacation= term= term? 
vi= we= we  = you
ni= you   = we
-en (on noun)the ...the pl.) 

Meanings of "expedition" and "semester" might tend to uniformise in bilingual situations. Confer the meaning of "réaliser" in French Canadian. In US and Canadian English "realise" less means "bring about," "make real in the real world" than "make real to oneself," "understand the full implications of" while in French of France the latter meaning is unknown. "Un réalisateur" is what is called a "director", he takes a film from script to real moving pictures ready to be shown on theatres. But French Canadians nevertheless use "réaliser" like in English too. Why? How come? Well, they are often bilingual and their neighbours are speaking English.

Or "vi"/"ni"? If Esperanto and Swedish had been two neighbouring languages, would they not have tried to uniformise the usage, ideally by replacement?

Supposing Norwegian was beside with "I" for you and "vi" for "we", would not a probable (but not certain) oputcome have been to eliminate "ni" and uniformise "vi, I" rather than anything else?

But if Italian rather than Norwegian had been beside, with "noi, ci" for "we, us" and "voi, vi" for "ye, you", would not another outcome have been more probable? Noi for we, voi for you? Or even chi/tji (after ci), I (after Norw. I), or why not even - if we had had both Norwegian and Italian - suppose the polite form "Dere" could play a role?

All languages switch to Italian Chi for we, all languages switch to Norwegian polite Dere for you. That could possibly happen, and both equivocal forms would be eliminated.

Before leaving Swedish "ni", it has a very interesting story. In correct Swedish "do you guys want to ...?" used to be "vilja ni ...?" but only since the latest clear change in Swedish. This phrase originated as (unrecorded or scarce recorded) "vilje ni ...". Which phrase in its turn came from "viljen I ..." - the standard form in 17th C Swedish and in Bible Swedish. That however has a curious verb ending. Indo-European -ete would give Germanic -ið, and Old English -aþ became all three plural persons, while Icelandic -ð remains, like German -et, the usual 2pl form. So why "viljen I" rather than "viljedh I"? Probably from German "wollen Sie" where the 3pl is a polite substitute for 2pl. And this third plural verb ending in its most abrased form (next to total extinction) became the initial of the modern Swedish 2pl personal pronoun - in nominative only. Other cases, like Er/Eder/Edher (general oblique, plus one form of possessive), it still starts in a vowel. And it is the same pronoun as "you", since y disappeared (year = år) in Nordic languages.

And would not - to get back to the list - Swedish -r replace German -en, German "der, die, das : die" replace Swedish -en, -et : -na? I mean, if Swedish and German had been two neighbouring languages, lots of bilinguals, neither having a written literature.

Except of course possibly where Swedish -en/-on was in itself plural (Husen, ögonen) ...


"'T boom heeft blaren!"

Obviously, all of these are purely theoretical, in real life all languages here already have their histories and their literature, and are not likely to adapt because of confusions where they get neighbourly. All are well aware that they speak same language as Swedes and Norwegians who are neither neighbours of Germans nor of Esperanto speaking populations. Or same language as Germans who are not neighbours of Scandinavians or Esperanto speakers. Or of having learnt Esperanto as an international help language. So none is likely even in such a situation to switch grammar. But this cultural background was not there just after Babel. So this kind of syncretistic mutual adaptation between language systems was then much more possible.

It has actually happened once historically. English and Old English have diverse systems of pronouns and articles - because of centuries of bilingualism in Danish/Norwegian.

To me - that is on my favourite guess, I do not pretend to know, only that linguists know no better - Proto-Indo-European was not a language like those arising immediately after Babel, it was a failed attempt at an Esperanto after Tower of Babel, and one which never achieved a complete lexicon, or as complete a lexicon even as Esperanto has. Though the lexicon might have grown to more complete than Quenya.

The problem with this model for an evolutionist linguist is not of the linguistic type. Rather, it's a question if people back when the commonalities between Indo-European languages are from were advanced enough to make such an attempt.

I am pretty sure, and Swaheli provides a key, if peoples coming from Semitic Lud, Hamitic Heth and Kaphthorim, Iaphetitic Iavan and Madan, were all cramped together in and around Anatolia, they would very soon try to eliminate too grating discrepancies. And we get Nesili possibly spoken by Ludians, or less likely by original Hethites (Hattusha was conquered, and when its language was later used as a sacred language this Hattili/Hattic remained distinct from Nesili/Hittite, it may be Fenno-Ugrian or related to Karthvelian), Lydian, Lykian and Phrygian certainly spoken by Ludians, Ionic Greek spoken by Iavanians, probably early Aryan (Indo-Iranian) spoken by Kaphthorim on Crete* and ALL of these adapting to common patterns - conjugations of verbs, words for close relatives (out of six words, Germanic is unique in keeping all six : Greek replaces "brother and sister", Latin "son and daughter", Slavonic and Baltic replace the word for "father" - as does Hittite and Gothic, going same way as Slavonic), certain bodyparts but intriguingly not others, numerals up to ten and the word for hundred, mostly too the word for twenty ... it is less a question of adopting wholesale all commonalities, but of adapting more or less to them.

Some of the words were from start given with different pronunciations according to language (as in Esperanto or Latin loans and neologisms in -tion), and these helped to determine shape of loans between the languages. Take "rotation" - a word in -tion, come into great use in modern astronomy and mechanics.

Let it land in 1) Copenhagen, 2) Malmö, 3) Stockholm and 4) Helsingfors or Åbo (Helsinki and Turku to Finnish speakers, I am here concerned with the Swedish dialect there) - it will immediately be pronounced in four different ways. 1/2 will have French R:s, and 3/4 will have Italian r:s. 2/3 will pronounce "ti" in between sh/ach-laut and Scots wh (combine retroflex, velar and labialised!), 1 will pronounce it like "si" in Polish or "tj" in Swedish, whereas 4 will have a sh of same type as English. In 4 the ending will be -n after a pure long vowel [-u:n], in 3 there will be an off glide [-u:wn], in 2 the offglide will nearly form a diphthong and there will be an unrounded on-glide [-euwwn] and in 1 you will have a diphthong starting with a clearly lower , namely mid-high vowel [-o:n/-oun/-o:wn]. These pronunciations obviously never came from a common pronunciation of that word in the even there hypothetically unified (spelled alike) mother language Dönsk tungu, but instead these pronunciations arise with instant diversification - in part where each speaker of Danish or Swedish had access to the word on paper, but also in part where a speaker from any of these areas hearing it in any of the other ones makes a kind of "phonetic translation" while adopting the word.

Saying this cannot have happened can have three roots, none of them quite reasonable to me:

  • Nostalgia or horror nostalgia for Urheimat (Scandinavia in 30's and 40's, Kurgan in 50's, Anatolia of Agricultural Revolution in 90's)
  • Considering the process too sophisticated for whoever spoke original words now so widespread
  • A kind of fear least this fate of a failed Indo-European Esperanto should become a prophecy about the present projects of world languages, whether English or Esperanto or other.

But reasons are also given.

"Languages very rarely borrow basic vocabulary or grammatic material from each other"

Depends on how close they are squatting on each other. Depends on how confusing bilingualism was before borrowings. And how attractive the other language is as a model.

"Why would words for relatives be common to very many different peoples?"

Courts and arranged/diplomatic marriages? Noted how "daughter in law" is one of the words that come up more than once?

"If it was a lingua franca, why din't it have numerals consistently all over, and what about currency?"

The numerals that are found over and over again are so basic they could be from liturgic instructions. Even true of "hundred" if the Greek custom of Hecatombic sacrifice has some prehistory. Lack of common numerals for thousand or for thirty or a common way of saying fortyfive might reflect aptness in code switching or lack or commercial interest.

"A lingua franca cannot have had the grammatical complexity of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit"

They can have shared and parallelled innovations. Conditional mood of Romance languages is an innovation. The Latin futures in -bo and imperfects in -bam are supposed to be innovations. The point about lingua francas is they are usually used, when at all by educated people, as a makeshift instead of a common educated language. Here I mean the lingua franca can also have had the social function of a high language.

"Original indo-european grammar was highly complex and survives only in incomplete form in whatever the daughter language we study."

The incomplete survival of a supposedly even more complex conjugation, of a supposedly eight cased declinsion, of supposedly fine shaded synonyms which have been taken over diversely in diverse languages, may be due to fact that many languages contributed. Is head *qwennos, *kaput, *kauput, *ghabhala/*ghabhalom (which latter is reconstructed for Greek kephalé, Lithuanian galva, Polish glów) a list of fine shaded synonyms in one original language, or are penn/céann, caput, heafod/Haupt, the Greco-Slavic forms a symptom of many languages at the very origin of the story?

"If Indo-European was originally meant as a lingua franca like Esperanto, why didn't they put it into writing?"

What if Nesili was far from only, but at least highest prestige form of the lingua franca? What if common words - like the pater gloss, different from Nesili attas - were exchanged below but not quite independently of Hittite?

Or what if the lingua franca was for religious taboo reasons an oral only language? I can imagine breakdown of Hattusha ushering in a ban against Hittite hieroglyphs among people nevertheless united "by Hittite" - i e by Indo-European.

"Nesili and Sanskrit are both to worn out to be original IE"

In Nesili, like in Mycenean Greek, like in Runes, the pronunciation is given with approximations. Sanskrit is too worn and a bit later than Nesili too. Plus original may have been unwritten.

And so on. Objections to my thyeory can be answered. PIE is not a refutation of Babel, and I would hardly class it as an immediate product of Babel either. Fenno-Ugrian can have been a rival attempt at making an Esperanto, which also failed to unify humanity (isä - apa : atya - apa may be same two words as attas :/: pater, but with pater compound, both apa- and -ter ending).

Hans Georg Lundahl
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
Pope St Damasus I
and St Daniel Stylite

* If the theory is correct according to which decryptation of Linear A really yielded an Aryan language.

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