Category Archives: Languages

A brief mention of the Cybalist list

For those who have not yet heard of it, and who are really missing out, I thought I should mention the Cybalist mailing list, dedicated to IE studies. I shall let its main page speak for itself:

CYBALIST is a forum devoted to discussing Indo-European (IE) linguistics and related topics concerning the history and and culture of IE-speaking peoples. It is the ambition of the owners and moderators of this list to promote and popularise sound linguistic and historical knowledge, and to make our group a hospitable club where professional researchers in IE studies and amateurs with a serious interest in the field can meet and exchange ideas.

Cybalist is named after its founder, Cyril Babaev, who started the group in 1999.

Because one can post questions and get gentle and informative responses, this list has been a lifesaver for me, a student interested in comparative Indo-European linguistics who is for the moment stuck with a faculty with little knowledge or passion about IE studies. The only downside of the list is that it tends to occasionally degenerate into discussions of Albanian or Romanian issues that go nowhere. Still, don’t let that stop you from subscribing posthaste.

I think the most interesting recent discussion is that about Slavic accentology kicked off by Miguel Cassaquer-Vidal in message 38532.

The many forms of a Finnish noun

I’m planning to apply for study in Finland from Fall of 2006, so recently I have invested in some Finnish textbooks, and I see there is a lot of new things to memorise. I found myself rather intimidated by Fred Karlsson’s compilation of the 2,253 forms of the word kauppa ‘shop’. Will I ever master such complicated agglutination, I ask myself?

Well, one cannot be frightened by mere numbers. One could show Hungarian nouns to have a great many forms—though perhaps less than Finnish as there is no interrogative suffix for nouns in Hungarian, and is ‘also’ and sem ‘neither’ are postpositions, not suffixes. I seem to have done fine with Hungarian so far.

Lehmann’s reader online

I had long planned to obtain a copy of Winfred Lehmann’s A Reader in Nineteenth Century Historical Indo-European Linguistics (Indiana University Press, 1967) but my university library does not possess it and I kept forgetting to request it through inter-library loan. Imagine my joy in finding an online version of the work kindly provided by the IE studies department at University of Texas at Austin where Lehmann is professor emeritus. From Jones’ influential speech through the first and clumsy generation of Grimm, Bopp, and Rask, to the greatly productive era of Grassman, Bruggman, and Verner, Lehmann’s reader gives you a wide perspective on the growth of the field through the nineteenth century. It’s a bit disconcerting diving into the writings of the pre-laryngeal epoch, though.

Since online works have the advantage of being easily expandable, it would be nice to see the original-language version of each selection added, so that one doesn’t have to necessarily rely on a translation.

Irish recognised by the EU

There is good news today as the BBC reports that the EU has recognised Irish as a working language. Hopefully this will contribute someone to the vitality of the Irish language. It is good to see the policy of translating documents into at least most languages of the EU continues, and it reminds us to be watchful against groups out there that would impose English—or Esperanto nonsense— as the only real working language and destroy this wonderful example of the flourishing of national languages.

New historical syntax of Latin

It will come too late to help me on my term paper for Old Latin (due in four hours), but a New Historical Syntax of Latin edited by Philip Baldi and Pierluigi Cuzzolin has been published in two parts 1, 2. I was disappointed to see that Baldi’s Foundations of Latin did not deal with syntax, being bulky enough as it was, but this should remedy the lack of a syntax of Latin that looks at the picture diachronically.

Nonsense on Slavic origins

Someone made an addition to the Wikipedia article on the Slavonic languages about the ‘recent discovery’ that the Slavs were indigenous to Southern Europe. The citation for the matter was a paper by one Mario Alinei with the rather wordy title Interdisciplinary and linguistic evidence for Palaeolithic continuity of Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic populations in Eurasia, with an excursus on Slavic ethnogenesis. I have not read such silliness in some time.

Mr Alinei’s main thrust is that the Indo-European languages did not come about after the wide migration of Proto-Indo-European farmers (like in Renfrew) or horsemen (like in Mallory) in relatively recent history, but rather came to Europe with the first humans wandering out of Africa. He does not seem to be bothered by the fact that language changes so quickly that the languages of Europe could not have been seen as descendent of a common language if they were much older than they are. This paper is clearly crackpottery. The author seems to think that the theory of an invasion by horsemen was successful only due to the power of Nazi Germany, when the theory had been proposed decades before. We get nonsense like the following to suggest that languages are incapable of innovating new pronouns; the Japanese, who get new ones every couple of hundred years, would be astonished:

Whichever theory one chooses on the origins of IE languages, cognate grammatical words, such as the pronominal forms for‘I’ and ‘me’, common to all IE languages, should now be considered as to belong to the origins of Homo loquens, and thus to Paleolithic: for they can only represent the awakening of individual conscience. Otherwise, we would have to assume a ‘new’ discovery of human EGO either in Neolithic or in the Copper Age, a hypothesis that does not deserve a serious discussion.

He seems to have no idea that in classical times the Balkans north of Greece were inhabitated by two peoples, the Dacians, and Thracians, who spoke an Indo-European language wiped out by Roman colonisation but leaving influences in Albanian and Romanian. Really, he seems totally ignorant of this:

What and where would the pre-Indo-European substrate be in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia? Unless we associate this late migration [of the Slavs] to a gigantic genocide a phantascientific hypothesis this hypothesis does not belong to serious scientific thinking.

The Slavs were not responsible for a ‘genocide’ of the indigenous peoples, but their language had been whittled away by Roman colonisation. When the Slavs arrived, they didn’t meet the Dacians, but rather the Romanians and contributed to their lexicon considerably, as heartwarmingly explored here before.

A similar mistake occurs in his reasoning that because the Slavs were in the Carpathian basin before the arrival of the Magyars, then they must have been there forever: Hungarian place names, in Pannonia and on the Tisza, are Slavic, as J. Stanislav has demonstrated (idem, 228).

The Slavs aren’t merely indigenous to Southern Europe, but they also had contacts with Latin, says Mr Alinei in a stomach-turning bit beginning with The Slavo-Latin isoglosses, appearing in the social sphere (Lat. hospes ~ Slav. *gospodĭ, Latin favere ~ Slav. *goveti)…

Re-evaluating the issue of Slavic origins seems fashionable these days. Florin Curta in his The Making of the Slavs (published by no less a respectable source than Cambridge University Press) asserts that the idea of a Slavic people was a fanciful invention of the Byzantines, that historical linguists are charlatans not to be trusted, and that the Slavonic languages are not even Indo-European. I fail to see why the standard model of Slavs being pushed out of modern-day Ukraine and Belarus by marauding Turkic and Gothic peoples is not longer believable for these people.

Accent in Common Slavonic

Thomas Olander, a doctoral candidate at University of Copenhagen, has been exploring the accent of Common Slavonic for several years now. His studies have produced two documents that will be quite interesting to those enamoured with the Slavonic languages. Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility is a detailed monograph, and Common Slavonic Accentological Word List shows how the Slavonic accent functioned in many given individual words before its wildly divergent developments among the individual Slavonic languages.

I wish I knew how reliable the accent list is for Old Church Slavonic words. When one studies OCS, one feels a much lesser closeness to the language than a student of Greek because such an important part of a word’s pronunciation is left unmarked in all the introductory handbooks.

Mari language resources

Mari (марий йылме) is a Finno-Ugric language spoken by over half a million people living in the mid-Volga region as well as in Bashkortostan in the eastern part of European Russia near the Urals. It has two literary languages (Meadow-Eastern Mari and Hill Mari), which, along with Russian, are both official languages in the Republic Mari El of the Russian Federation. The language used to be called ‘Cheremis’, which is still in use in linguistic literature published in the ‘West’.

Kazuto Matsumura

In preparing to attend the aforementioned course of Mari language and culture, I was under the impression that there are few resources indeed for this Finno-Ugric language. Luckily, a few helpful items may be found on the Web. Anatoly Kuklin and Kazuto Matsumura have prepared a Mari Core Vocabulary with translations into Russian and Japanese. They also provide a few Mari texts. Kimberli Mäkäräinen has drawn up a small Meadow Mari – English Vocabulary with 442 words.

Concerning print resources, Timothy Riese reviews (PDF) three Mari textbooks published in the last decade: Марийский язык для всех I + II (‘Mari for Everybody’, 1990 and 1991) and Поро кече! (‘Hello’, 1998), and Марийский язык (‘Mari Language’, 1999). I look forward to buying these as well as a new Mari-language prayer book when I arrive in Yoshkar Ola in June.

Finno-Ugristics this summer

The Tenth International Congressus for Fenno-Ugristics will be held in the Republic of Mari El, Russian Federation from the 15th to the 21st of August this year. The list of excursions to little-known sites within Russia is highly attractive. What is most interesting for me, however, is a course in the Mari language presented a month before the congress:

Mari State University and The International Youth Association of Finno-Ugric People (MAFUN) are organizing Summer courses of Mari Language and Culture, which will be held 27.06. – 12.07.2005 in Yoshkar-Ola, Republic of Mari El (Russian Federation).

The courses will provide teaching at the beginners’ and advanced levels. The program of both levels will contain lectures and practical classes. During the entertainment program the participants can get acquainted with Mari culture, songs and dances, and common life of Mari people in the countries.

The cost of courses will depend on the number of its participants and make about 200 EURO, including expenses for board (3 meals a day) and lodging as well as for the entertainment program.

Both programmes are quite inexpensive. I suppose I will be going, though I am not looking forward to the hassle of obtaining another Russian visa.

Romanian and the loving kindness of the Slavs

In my study of the Romanian language I have been amazed at how much of the original Romance lexicon for matters of love and affection have been replaced by loans from Common Slavonic. Off the top of my head I can name:

Rom. a iubi, OCS любити ‘to love’
Rom. prieten, Bg. приятел ‘friend’
Rom. drag, OCS драгъ ‘dear’, whence comes Rom. dragoste ‘love’ and drăguț ‘nice, cute’
Rom. milos, OCS милостивъ ‘merciful, compassionate’
Rom. a gâdila, Bg. гъделичкам ‘to tickle’
Rom. nevastă, Bg. (archaic) нвеста ‘wife’

One must rethink the stereotype of the early Slavs as bloodthirsty barbarians sweeping down upon civilisation with other uncouth tribes of the Age of Migrations. They obviously knew something about teaching people to care about and appreciate each other. They should get an early-morning children’s television programme.

2005-06-06: Concerning happy nice words in Romanian from Slavonic, one might also mention Rom. zâmbește ‘smile’, from OCS зѫмбъ ‘tooth’.