Sunday, January 29, 2012

Allen's Vox Latina

Dude, IPA: 1888. Allen's Vox Latina: 1965. Why didn't he use IPA for everything?

Seriously, he's killing me. For the consonants Allen mostly used IPA. But then just to keep everyone on their toes, he makes a new system for vowels. Srsly? I can forgive the horrible triangle of vowels thing, mostly. The lack of IPA in the vowels is just inexcusable—it makes an otherwise clear book much more difficult to understand. I sometimes go nuts at classicists. Too many won't get on board with the rest of the world, be it Allen with IPA or shamefully too many teachers with second-language acquisition. <rant/>.

As for the book itself, it's an interesting read that is squarely aimed at folks that want the information without all of the nasty technical details. But I've got a bone to pick: how is he seriously saying that "gn" is pronounced, as near as I can tell /ŋn/. I don't know about you, but that's a tricky combo for me to make in flowing speech. Allen says that we should pronounce gn like "hang nail", but that is a low frequency word in English. "Magnus" is a bit more, shall we say, high frequency (the "gn" digraph occurs 93 times in Caesar's de Bello Gallico, Book 1). Maybe if I get motivated, I'll look into the pronunciation of "gn" thing.

Anyway. The whole thing seems like an invitation over to /ɲ/ to me. Or at least this is how I got to /ɲ/ in my ordinary pronunciation of Latin, despite aiming for /ŋn/.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

IPA for Latin

We got introduced to the IPA in class this week. It was done in the context of English, which I understand. Everyone in the room speaks English and thus has a common point of reference—well, and really, would you want to learn IPA in the context of Quenya or something dangerously unfamiliar? So English sweeps in to save the day. But I find the exclusive study of English dull. So let's spice things up with Latin. Hopefully there aren't too many mistakes.

We have consonants.

Labial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p   b

t   d

k   g

Aspirated stop ph





Nasal     m

   n     ɲ






Approximant     w

    j    w

Lateral Approximant


Most of these are what you'd think they are. Latin writes c where IPA uses /k/. Latin writes n, but does both /n/ and /ŋ/ depending on where it is. So regina gets /n/ and angulus gets /ŋ/. R is kind of tricky too. I've heard some people make the r/rr distinction be /r/ and /rː/, but I've also heard—and use personally—/ɾ/ and /r/ for that distinction.

Then we have ASCII art hiding out as vowels.


    \              |   |
     \   ɪ         |   |
      \            |   |
        \          |   |
         \         |   |
          \        |   |
            \      |   |
             \     |   |
              \    |   |

As you can see, not only is this really ugly, but Latin doesn't have much in the way of vowels. The sad thing is that /y/ is really only found in Greek loan words. There is also the matter of /ɪ/. I grayed it out, as I don't think (not having read Allen's Vox Latina, which you can buy for me if you love me) the Romans used it. I can tell you that /ɪ/ is taught for short i in the United States. I can't vouch for elsewhere. 

Each of the vowels is either long or short, as Latin vowels come in both flavors. Hic and hīc form a minimal pair that shows off vowel length.
hic (this) = /hic/ or /hɪc/, the former is probably better
hīc (here) = /hiːc/
Yes, I picked i. It shows off the /i/ versus /ɪ/ thing that we teach. Lastly there are nasalized vowels. I really wish these were more commonly taught. When vowel + m is the last part in a word, the vowel nasalizes.
am, as in tam = /tã/
em, as in hem = /hẽ/
im, as in turrim = /turĩ/
om as in the archaic quom collapsed into um
um as in virum = /wiɾũ/
There are other places that nasalization occurs, but this should be enough to get the idea. I haven't listed the diphthongs yet, so here you go:
ae = /ai/au = /au/ei = /ei/eu = /eu/oe = /ɔi/ or /oi/, but the latter is probably better.ui = /wi/

So now let's have some IPA fun at Catullus's expense. Here's Catullus 85:
odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
And in IPA:
/oːd et amoː. kwaːɾ id faciã foɾtasːe rekwiːɾis/
/nescio sed fieɾiː senti et ekskɾukioɾ/
The elisions were kind of tricky to show, so I just dropped 'em. I probably should've done something ever so slightly different, but my transcription somewhat preserves the word divisions as is. Shall we do this for Ancient Greek sometime?

For fun, here it is in Latin.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Relatable: Victim of Semantic Drift

Ah, another victim of semantic drift: relatable. It's not a very common word, if you can read the numbers on the left. The top of the scale is 0.00001300%. So no matter how you slice the numbers, it's not a common word. [Note: Extending the data continues its fall from the peak near 1980.]

Graphic from Google Ngram.

First some definitions for our victim, relatable:
1. That may be narrated.
2. That may be brought into relation with something else.
                                                                        —OED Compact, 1971
3. Enabling a person to feel that they can relate to someone or something
                                                                        —Google search result
Here are some examples of relatable that I thought were representative of what Google's results returned to me. A sample from 1916:
"On the whole relatable subjects be gradually replaced by general vocational subjects during phase." —Bulletin of the Board of Education, Issue 27
Another sample from 1922:
"…the core of a very wide number of scientific, transportation, mathematical and other relatable material." —Vocational education magazine, Vol. 1
Here relatable seems to be a technical word that means, as best as I can tell, writing and reading. That is: things that can be related.

Here's a later sample from 1978:
"…and substantively relatable to correspondingly relevant ideas in the abstract sense…" —Educational Psychology
And that seems to be the second OED definition. A cursory, and certainly non-mathematical, read of Google's results seems to show that the earlier uses are definition one. Later uses are definition two. Ordinary semantic drift. No?

But then something happens, as Andrew Klavan shows us in his 1988 novel The Trapdoor. It's an astonishing example. Go read it. For the lazy, here are the relevant quotes:
"Carey can cover that. It's not relatable."
Standard business. They're talking about newspaper stories, so definition one can apply. But then…
"Cambridge was hired, after all, to make the Star more relatable, which means people will be able to relate to it more."
Klavan gives us a new definition!
"It's a Californian word, I think."
And an origin.
"In the six months since he'd been here, I'd heard him use it maybe four hundred times."
And a gripe about it. As if it were some sort of abuse of the word. The funny thing about this is that aside from the second quote that gives the new definition, all other uses of relatable on the linked page can be read with the first definition OR the third definition.

One last example from 2006:
"These are the kind of questions that go into the development of' 'relatable' characters in a screenplay." —Screenwriting for Teens
Note the quotes. They are there in the print version of the book. I picked this quote because even the writer of the book seems squeamish about the word. Other writers just used the word as is. So clearly this is some unease about using relatable with its new definition. Why is that?

My suspicion is that it has to do with transitivity. English, to me anyway, seems relatively lax about transitivity. Verbs can cross this gap, and no one seems to mind.
Intransitive: I walked to church.
Transitive: I walked the dog.
Yawn. No big deal. English also suffixes -able/-ible to transitive and intransitive verbs:
Intransitive: Don is reliable. We can rely on him.
Transitive: You're in an enviable situation. I can envy it.
More yawn. For me anyway: some people seem not to like reliable. Speakers seem content to leave transitivity of the root verb alone when deriving these adjectives. Relatable seems to jump from deriving from a transitive to an intransitive verb.
"Carey can cover that. It's not relatable."
Intransitive: People don't relate to the story.
Transitive: We can't relate [tell] the story.
This jump is more than just a simple change in meaning. It also shifts the transitivity of the source verb, and that may be what makes this change in meaning feel so unacceptable to older speakers who grew up with the transitive version. I'd suggest other words with -able/-ible that are derived from intransitive verbs, but I can't think of any offhand.

Now to relate all of this to a dead language (and show how I've made a mountain from a molehill), here is where we get relatable from:
refero, referre, retuli, relatum — to bring or carry back
Relatable comes from the last principal part, relatum. Looking at the first two principal parts should suggest another -able word: referable. And that turns out to be a much more common word. 

Graphic from Google Ngram.

That's relatable.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Catullus project

I'm fiddling with a bit of a Catullus project. Part of it is helping me think about how to present teaching materials. Part of it is helping me get familiar with one particular poet's work. Yet another part is helping me think about how to present Latin literature in Latin. If you get anything out of this, I'll be extra thrilled.

I don't know how far I'll get. Nor do I know precisely the nature of the project. Right now it's fun. I'm sure it will turn to work at some point, but that's no bother. I wouldn't mind teaching a class on Catullus again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Old English: Esperanto of Dead Languages

Yeah, that one.

I've been reading and listening to Mark Atherton's Teach Yourself Complete Old English.

On the language nerd sites, I've seen a lot of talk about the wonders of Esperanto. Since it is deliberately regular and simple, it is supposed to be a great first step in to wider language learning for the monolingual.  I don't know. It sounds to me like the claims about Latin (logical) and Sanskrit (mystical), but I know zip about Esperanto so I'll stay quiet.

Anyway, I'm about two-thirds of the way through the book. And I've realized something: for native English speakers, Old English is the Esperanto of dead languages. Sure, it's not as clean and free of exceptions as Esperanto, but its core assumptions about language are the same as modern English. Here's an Old English quote taken from Atherton:
Ða Iosep wæs syxtynewintre, he heold hys fæder heord mid hys broðrum.
Ok, there are two words you aren't likely to know. Like ða and mid. So I'll give you their modern equivalents.

When Iosep wæs syxtynewintre, he heold hys fæder heord with hys broðrum.
If you are generous with the spelling, you should pretty easily see:
When Joseph was sixteen winters, he held his father's herd with his brothers.
I don't know how much easier a different language gets. Admittedly, this is pretty easy, but there's a lot of stuff like that throughout the book. Yes, there is some learning curve, because Old English relies more on case than word order to convey meaning. And some of the vocabulary is different. And word order is sometimes different in subordinate clauses. But at the end of the day, it's the same language separated by 1000 years. 

If you're looking for a first dead language to study, you could do much worse than Old English. Atherton's book is lighter on grammar than others, but for a first foray into a dead language you don't want the grammar. It's theory, and you want practice. If you want grammar talk, may I suggest this. (Oops, did I just sound like I was on an anti-grammar rant?)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One down…

…a bunch more to go.

I survived the first session of my first class. I didn't even feel lost. I took a quick peek into the Ronald Williams Library, and they've got quite a collection of books by classical authors in Greek and Latin despite not offering either language. Mostly Loeb based on my first glance.

There is a class project, and I will need help if you are a Chicago-area person. I need to do a field study of a language. I will need to interview you in person about your language. I don't know how long it will take. I'd like to hear from you if you speak natively and fluently:
  • Sanskrit (well, maybe not native here)
  • Farsi/Dari/Tojik
  • Russian
  • Armenian
  • Uzbek
  • Frisian
  • Or really anything but English, Spanish or Latin (nor Italian and Ancient Greek for good measure)
  • Oops. I'm letting my language geek flag fly.
But I don't know the full parameters yet.

I'm also torn about bringing my laptop with. On the one hand, having the whole interwebs at my command would be good digital learning yumminess in addition to creamy graduate school goodness. On the other, it's heavy and distracting. Oh, and would require me to have it on a train platform in the city at a time near midnight. Er. No. I'll make do with my medieval interactive device.

And on yet another hand—we really need μέν and δέ in English—I'm already sick of the CTA bus.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

School starts tomorrow

So here's a little something that has absolutely nothing to do with linguistics to make your ears bleed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

-que and καί

Ok, I was reading a book about Latin's history the other day [well, not really, this is lightly-revised, reblogged material]. I know—just what you do for fun too. This entry may give some insight into how Latin and Ancient Greek relate to each other. And why I find this stuff so interesting.

In any history of Latin in its earliest days, the ancient languages of Italy come up. So far as linguists can tell, there are two main groups. The first group is the Etruscan language. It is a language that no one fully knows. It is limited to a handful of inscriptions, many of which are funerary. Etruscan played an important role in the development of Latin—particularly the Latin alphabet—though it lent many words to Latin as well.

The other group of languages is the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin is one of these. The others include Oscan, Faliscan and Venetic, although Venetic may not be Italic. It's always hard to be certain about things this far in the past, but to my inexpert eyes Venetic seems similar enough to Latin. We know about Venetic—hold your breath for it—through inscriptions.

The thing that struck me was from an inscription from Este. Because I have a font that can show you the Venetic alphabet, I'll take a stab at transliterating it back into Venetic. I promise zero actual accuracy on my transcription, though I've made efforts at it. The inscription starts on the right and goes to the left.

Now on to the serious part. It is transliterated, from left to right, as:
mego donasto sainatei reitiai egeotora aimoi ke louderobos
Which corresponds to the Latin:
me donavit sanatrici reitiae egetora aemo liberisque
And in English:
Egetora gave me to Reitia the healer for Aemus and his children.
There's all sorts of fascinating stuff here, but the one that struck me was the use of ke. Why? Because Latin has a very similar word it can use to mean "and." The word is "-que." I put a hypen in front of it to show you that in Latin it attaches itself to the end of a word instead of being its own independent word. As you can see, "ke" is its own word. Obviously these words are related. Here's my guess at how.

At one point, there was a word *ke either in Latin or Italic—the star is there to show you that it is not an actual word, but a hypothetical form that ought to have existed. You should not be surprised to find out that a language can go from a "qu" sound to a "k" sound. In English we have King and QUeen. More importantly in Latin we have "quomodo"—with the qu sound—which becomes the Spanish word "como"—with the k sound. So it is very possible to switch between those sounds. So *ke become ke in Venetic and -que in Latin.

I've also noticed a bit more going on too. Maybe I'll blog again about this.

I mention all of this because there is another Indo-European language that uses a very similar sounding word to mean "and." It is Greek, and the word is και, which you might write as "kai" with our alphabet. This word is the same in ancient and modern Greek—so far as my barbarian eyes can see. Again, it is easy enough to get from an "e" (like the "ay" in way) to an "ai" sound (like the word eye). Latin itself made that change, otherwise we would have "praedictions" and "praedispositions." But we don't, because Latin went from an "ai" sound to an "e" sound for the vowel combination of "ae."

So *ke made its way from whatever ancient language—probably Proto Indo-European—into Greek and Latin. This sort of analysis of words can help students made connections when learning a new language, but it is not always easy to spot. Suffice to say, I thought it was interesting enough to write this post.

Now, why did "-que" move to the end of words? Why did it stop being an independent word? Oh, the mysteries of Latin.

[Update: Lest you think I'm not sufficiently capable to talk about this in Latin...]

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Last of the Ancient Greek Videos

Hopefully people who actually know Ancient Greek very well won't shudder too much at what I have to say here.