Further Learning: A History of Language – Part III

Dialects, Pidgins, & Creoles

Hello! Welcome to Further Learning, a little project of mine where I continue my education outside of school and post about what I’m learning. Right now, I’m learning about language! To start from the beginning with A History of Language – Part I, click here.

Now, the topics of dialects, pidgins, and creoles are a little hard to understand, and I’m still learning about each more in depth right now, so this post is just going to cover the briefest explanations of each.

I’ve been reading primarily from John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, but I have several books in line to learn from. Information in this post will primarily be from this source, unless otherwise stated.

What are dialects? What are pidgins? What are creoles?

Dialects

Commonly confused with a synonym for accent, dialects are actually just…different versions of the same language. For example, American English (which can be further subdivided into other dialects) and British English (which can be further subdivided) are two different languages that overlap, having both come from Modern English. We can, for the most part, understand each other. They’re both in the larger family of “English.” Another example is Italian, as there are many regions of Italy that are all different dialects of “Italian” and are not the same as the unified, more formal and official Italian that one would learn in an Italian class. But these dialects aren’t just different forms of Italian, they’re all derived from Vulgar Latin (like in an earlier post, French derived from Latin in the region of France) but all in different ways depending on the region they were in. These dialects are all part of the same family of Italian, but are different in ways that it’s possible that a person in one region of Italy could understand another person from a region close to theirs, but might not be able to understand someone from a region further away.


https://rickzullo.com/italian-dialects/

Pidgins

Not the bird. That’s pigeon. A pidgin is a simplified version of languages in order for two or more different-speaking groups can communicate on a regular basis but don’t necessarily need to fully learn each other’s language. An example of this in The Power of Babel is in the 1800s, Russians would bring timber to Norway and in order to communicate with each other, they together formed an informal language, a mix of words from each language, in order to get by. This mix was around 50/50 in words, because they had an equal position with trading and met halfway. Most pidgins are formed, however, where a dominating group’s vocabulary makes up the bulk of the words.

Creoles

A creole is basically what happens when a pidgin evolves. Like a Pokemon. It becomes not just a simplified in-between language created to be able to communicate, it becomes a complex, fully-formed language that is spoken as a native language by a group of people, often times this is the children of those who spoke the pidgin regularly. The creole with the largest number of speakers is Haitian Creole, a combination of African languages and Romance languages, specifically French.

Favorite Facts & Tidbits

  • Languages often borrow words not just from different dialects, but from different times! The Norman conquered England and brought their specific dialect of French with them. This is why, for instance, we have the word “castle” from the Norman castel, rather than the Parisian French dialect word which was chastel. We later adopted the word “chateau” which came from chastel. This also happened with Japanese borrowing from (Mandarin) Chinese, sometimes the same word at different times to after centuries of evolution, to become two different words with a similar meaning.
  • In the United States, there is influence of English on Spanish-speakers from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Often called “Spanglish,” some words are intermixed like saying brekas for “brakes” instead of the original Spanish word frenos.
  • Remember that Russian and Norwegian pidgin I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s called Russenorsk, but to its speakers, they refer to it as Moja pa tvoja, which roughly means “Me in yours.”

Again, not the bird

A quick recap! Dialects are not different accents, but small subdivisions within a main language family. Pidgins are not birds, but simple fusions of languages of two or more groups of people, used in order to communicate without having to learn each other’s whole languages. And creoles are pidgins evolved into a full-fledged, complex language and spoken by a group as their native tongue.

So! This was a very simplified, probably mostly wrong explanation of what the heck dialects, pidgins, and creoles are! Again, I’m still learning and they are very complex concepts to grasp. I mean, there’s literally like 100 pages in The Power of Babel about them alone. It’s a lot.

And of course, if you know what you’re talking about (I’m doing this to learn and share, not teach — I’m an amateur here) please feel free to comment with more information or correction! So long for now!

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Further Learning: A History of Language – Part II

Hello! Welcome to Further Learning, a little project of mine where I continue my education outside of school and post about what I’m learning. Right now, I’m learning about language! To start from the beginning with A History of Language – Part I, click here.

This post will probably be one of several about English specifically. I expect I’ll be learning more, especially in the book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter and The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, as I’m fascinated with the weirdness of English, so I’m definitely going to want to know more and talk about more!

I’ve been reading primarily from John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, but I have several books in line to learn from. Information in this post will primarily be from this source, unless otherwise stated.

What’s Up with English? – (I)

English is weird. I’m sure other languages are weird, too. But English, my native language, sometimes just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve always wanted to know why certain words are the way they are. Like, why is “bologna” pronounced bel-OWN-ee? Why is “colonel” pronounced k-ERN-al? Or should I be asking why they’re spelled that way? There are so many more things that I want to know about English and I’m on a mission to learn as much as I can about all the weird spellings, rules, and history of it.

To answer those questions, I’ve found out: Bologna is actually Italian, a sausage named after the city in Italy, pronounced boh-LOAN-ya, which probably organically changed to an Americanized, easier pronunciation of buh-LOAN-ee over time. The spelling, for the most part, remained — except for those who changed it, sounding it out to “baloney,” which is also accepted as correct. As for colonel…or coronel…it’s still confusing. Basically, it comes from both French and Italian, and over time we acquired military terms from them, with interchanging spellings and pronunciations (like the word actually being three syllables and both ‘o’s were pronounced to be “col-o-nel” and “cor-o-nel“). And both spellings were used for a while in English. Eventually, we just stuck with the French pronunciation but the Italian spelling remained as a dumb-ass compromise. The second ‘o’ pronunciation was later dropped over time and it was just a weirdly spelled, two-syllable word. You can read about it here.

A Brief History of the English Language

As I said in the last post about language, all languages around the world are connected and derived from a singular (or several similar) language. Over time, with migration and other factors, one language because thousands. An early language to many of the European/Western Asian languages is Indo-European, a language branch that split up into many other branches. One of these branches is the Germanic branch of languages.

What’s part of the Germanic branch? Well, English, German (duh), Dutch, Swedish, Afrikaans, Danish, Norwegian, Yiddish, Scots, Frisian, Icelandic, and a few others.

English has a close relation to Frisian, but was heavily influenced by other Germanic languages, Norse, French, and Latin, which is why so many modern words are derived from so many different other languages. There’s even more than just those listed above.

Essentially, there’s four stages of English after the Germanic split from the main Indo-European language. From Proto-Germanic, one of the many languages to come from it, and is the earliest form of English as its own language, is called Old English. This early version of English was spoken in the early Middle Ages (550 – 1066 CE). This is what Beowulf was first written in. During this time, around the year 787, Vikings invaded speaking Old Norse (ancestor of Scandinavian languages) and brought early versions of the words again, get, both, same, skirt, and sky into the language.

After Old English, the language transitioned into what’s called Middle English, spoken from about 1200 – 1450 CE. This is the version of English in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. After the French won against England and took over in 1066, many words from the French invaders remained in the English language just like the Viking’s Old Norse. This is where we received thousands of words like, flower, debt, people, change, wait, chair, tax, music, and beef. And, speaking of “beef,” one of my first introductions into learning about language was from this video by Lindsey Williams, in which she explains why there’s different words for the meat of an animal versus the animals themselves (beef/cow, mutton/sheep, pork/pig) and it blew my mind.

After Middle English came Early Modern English, spoken during the time of Shakespeare and the King James version of the Bible, from 1500 to 1700 CE. Around this time, is when scholars, as Lindsey Williams in the second video of hers below says, just kind of put letters wherever they wanted for the hell of it. In McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, he calls this the “Latinate” layer, where they were including more Latin derived words.

And that brings us to the latest version of English, Modern English! (Or, Late Modern English? I don’t know, we speak differently than we did in the Early Modern English phase, so I’d assume it should be its own era at this point.) It’s what I’m typing in right now. It’s been spread around the world (sometimes forcibly pushed on people, which ain’t great) and has become one of the most spoken languages in the world.

Will there be another version of English, as it changes and morphs through time? I’m not sure. Again, I’m not an expert. But there’s already so many dialects of Modern English, and it’s safe to say that they’ll continue to change on their own through each generation. It’s very clear that English today is much different from the English spoken just 100 years ago.

Favorite Facts & Tidbits

  • The evolution of the alphabet is WILD. As a graphic designer who knows a bit about typography and letterform, seeing the evolution of how the shapes of our (Latin) alphabet is so cool. It’s so interesting to see the slight and large changes, to see how some letter branches off of each other, like “F” and “Y” having the same origin, and later the “V” splitting into “U” and “W”, is about the greatest thing I’ve ever learned. That’s right up my alley. That’s my jam.
Matt Baker, UsefulCharts.com 
  • And speaking of form, have you ever wondered where the shapes of our numbers came from??? Because I sure never did until I was taught in design school that the origins of our number forms (1, 2, 3, 4…etc.) came from Arabic!
  • Another fun fact I’ve learned, is that “English” words “shampoo” and “bungalow” are from the language of Hindi, one of the main languages spoken in India (also an Indo-European language). I’m sure there are others, but I think it’s interesting that so many words in English aren’t even originally our words, but they become so common, most English speakers don’t even realize it!
  • AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE FACT! I actually threw the book after reading this one. Are you ready? You’re not ready. Unless you already know. But have you ever wondered why there’s “warm” and “warmth,” and “grow” and “growth,” but there’s only “slow” and not “slowth”…well that ain’t true. It’s sloth. Because of the sound and semantic changes from “slowth,” sloth is really now only used in a moral context as one of the capital sins and, of course, the adorable animal.

That’s all for now

English is a weird language, but as it’s my native one, of course I’m fond of it. I’m real excited to learn more and will hopefully have a second part specifically about English soon, but until then, my next History of Language post will be about…DIALECTS, PIDGINS, and CREOLES! No, not the bird.


And of course, if you know what you’re talking about (I’m doing this to learn and share, not teach — I’m an amateur here) please feel free to comment with more information or correction! So long for now!

Further Learning: A History of Language – Part I

Hello! Last year, I posted about wanting to continue to learn about subjects I’m interested in, even though I’m no longer in school. I have over a dozen subjects/topics that I’m extremely interested in and I want to study them in my free time. And, I want to share what I’ve learned here. It’s kind of like a homework assignment, once a month, to summarize what I’ve learned.

One such subject, and what I’m going to be posting about for the next few months, is Language. The history of languages and how they were formed, change, and intertwine is fascinating. I’ve always wanted to know things about English, specifically, like why bologna and colonel are spelled the way they are, why the words ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ aren’t just spelled the same and be homophones, and why there’s so many other languages mixed with ours — like all the French and Latin.

And we’ll get to all that. But first, I want to start way before English even existed. Today we’re going to talk about the origin of language and how it has morphed for centuries, continuously, since from the beginning of speech to today. Okay, that’s a big topic that there’s literally an entire book about it, but I’m just going to give a brief summation of that, plus some other fun facts that I’ve learned, and my thoughts thrown in along the way.

(I’ve been reading primarily from John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, but I have several books in line to learn from. Information in this post will primarily be from this source, unless otherwise stated.)

The First Language

So, to begin — every language on our planet originated from a single language. That’s an insanely cool fact that I wasn’t really aware of until recently (for real, this is why I want to do this — I want to learn all the interesting things that high school and college didn’t teach me). We all originated from a single village of early humans that spread throughout the world over thousands of years. With each migration, with each generation, that one language morphed into other languages, and those morphed into other languages. Each one branching off and changing itself.

Now, unfortunately, we don’t know what that first language sounded like. In fact, we don’t know what most of the languages sounded like before a certain time. Most of these pre-history languages weren’t written languages, only spoken. We have no record of them. We can, however, piece things together from more recent times.

There’s a family of languages that is spoken by almost half of the entire world. It’s the Indo-European languages, a family of connected languages that stemmed from a single language. The Indo-European languages include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hindi, German, Persian, Portuguese, and many others. The language these languages branched off from is known as Proto-Indo-European. This language hasn’t ever been recorded, but linguists have pieced together what they can to reconstruct the language from the many similarities between the language families across Europe and West Asia. These languages and language families include: Albanian, Armenian, Baltic, Slavic, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic (Greek), Indo-Iranian, and Italic (Romance).

There’s several other language families, like the Afro-Asiatic languages (Northern Africa) and Sino-Tibetan languages (central Asia). There’s many more, all of which overlap and are complicated for me to understand. I assume it’s because they all technically came from the same, there’s a lot of overlap. Everything’s a spectrum, even language.

One of my favorite images is below (illustrated by Minna Sundberg), which shows the branches of many of the Indo-European languages as well as the Uralic languages, and how they’ve branched out. It’s a beautiful illustration and shows how connected many of these languages are, even if they’re further away on the tree than others.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/59665/feast-your-eyes-beautiful-linguistic-family-tree

How Language Changes

So, how does one language morph into thousands?

I’ve always known that the Romance languages (specifically I knew of Italian, French, and Spanish, though there are others) derived from Latin. But I never knew how that was possible, I’d never even thought about what that exactly meant. How could one language be derived from another? I knew that Latin was, for the most part, a “dead” language. It wasn’t used by many people, but it had predated the Romance languages. Then, while reading The Power of Babel, it clicked with this quote and I understood:

“…French is nothing other than Modern Latin: Latin as it changed through several centuries into a new language in the area that would become France. We only happen to be able to juxtapose the two stages in the development of this one language because the advent of writing has preserved Latin for our perusal. When Latin arose, French did no yet exist; without Latin, there would never have been anything that could turn into French–in other words, French is Latin.”

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter, page 18

This blew my mind. These languages, French, Italian, and Spanish are Latin. The generations of people that lived in the general region of France, spoke Latin and over time, as Latin morphed and eroded, it became modern French. This is the same for Italian and Spanish and the others. At what point in this transition was there an equal amount of Latin as there was French? Could this middle “language” — or “Fratin” as John calls it in the book — be understood by a native Latin speaker and a native French speaker? Just like there’s Old English and Middle English, there’s an Old French and Middle French. And just like we are unable to understand most of Old English, I’d assume the same would be for a modern French speaker trying to understand Old French. However, I wonder if one learned both French and Latin, would they be able to understand the ones in the middle?

Over many, many years, after many, many generations, words begin to change. That’s just how language works. There’s a good chance if I were to travel back in time to visit my great-great-great-grandparents, I wouldn’t be able to understand them, even if they did speak “English,” because “English” has changed over time. That’s why we have “Old English” and “Middle English” to reference back to. It was on its way to what we speak today, but it would be in no way intelligible to us English speakers if we were to hear it — spare a few words here and there that sound similar today (but they may have changed in meaning!) And, generations from now, our great-great-great-great-grandchildren probably wouldn’t be able to communicate with us very well. Language is always changing.

Here are some ways that it does:

Sound Change

The way words and sentences are spoken erodes over time. One example John gives is the Latin/French transformation of the word “woman.” In Latin, it was femina and it became femme in French, the first syllable remaining but the rest falling out of use. An English example, is the phrase Did you eat? whittled down to simply a word sounding like Jeet? It’s a simplification that worsens (or I should say, continues) with each generation until the one that is most used comes out on top and becomes official.

Grammar

Many words in English changed case endings over time to simplify. The plural of fox was once foxas, the plural of tunge (tongue) was tungan, the plural of waeter (water) was the same as the singular, and the plural of bōc (book) was bēc. One plural ending took over, after many times, to become the “official” way to pluralize these words: the -s ending. Now we have foxes, tongues, waters, and books. Though, a few remain, like mouse to mice.

Re-bracketing

This is, by far, my favorite way languages change. It’s as beautiful as it is hilarious. I love that, we as humans, just change words because it’s easier to say and we forget, over generations, what it was originally. The best example is the work “nickname.” The word, in early English, was originally ekename (eke meant also, so basically you were saying also-name.) And because we use “an” in front of vowel-fronted words a lot, one would have said “an ekename” which, if you tried to say allowed right now, it would sound a lot like “a nekename.” This is how we, eventually, went from [an] [ekename] to [a] [nickname]. Amazing! This is also how we went from Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus, from the Dutch “Saint Mr. Nicholas” [Sant] [Heer] [Niclaes] shortened to Santerclaes, to [Santa] [Claus].

Semantic Change

Now this one is more about how meanings of words and phrases change over time. In early English, hund referred to all dogs and dog (originally dogca) started as a new word for a specifically large, new breed. Eventually, hund became hound and was associated with hunting dogs, and dog became the word for all breeds, gradually over time. Another such time is the changing meaning of the word silly, originally “blessed” in Old English, then changing to mean “innocent” in the 1400s and then “weak” in the 1600s and then “simple” or “ignorant” and then finally meaning “foolish” today.

Favorite Facts & Tidbits

• I’ve always wondered why the abbreviation for pound is lb. It never made any sense. So, I decided to look it up, and it turns out that it’s an abbreviation of the word “Libra.” I immediately knew this as the constellation/zodiac with the weighing scales, which made enough sense, but then I learned the word “libre” or “libra” is Latin for a pound (it’s unclear which, or if there’s another word needed, I don’t know Latin so I did my best to search for it).

• Going off of the re-bracketing thing, one other example is the word ‘apron.’ It originates from a word meaning tablecloth or napkin in Old French, nappe, which became naperon in Middle English, which became napron in English. Eventually, a re-bracketing occurred over time, and [a] [napron] became [an] [apron].

• There’s a few languages in Africa in which its speakers use clicking sounds to distinguish certain words. It’s been suggested that it’s more likely the first language ever spoken had these clicks and they eventually fell off over time as language spread, evolved, and became thousands, except for in the the few that still have them, rather than those few languages taking on the click sounds individually.

• The word “goodbye” began as the phrase “God be with you.” Over time it was re-bracketed to “goodbye,” and today, it’s been shortened to simply, “Bye!”

God be with you

Isn’t the history of language nuts? Of course, there’s conflicting information about whether or not there was a first language, or several that evolved separately and merged, but I’m going with what I’m learning, one book and article at a time. Maybe at the end of this, I’ll understand more about all of that. And of course, if you know what you’re talking about (I’m doing this to learn and share, not teach — I’m an amateur here) please feel free to comment with more information!

Next month, I’m going to be talking about one specific section of language: English. That will likely not be the last on just English, as it’s my native language and the one I’m most interested in to learn why the hell it’s so complicated. And I’m very much looking forward to that!

Illustration – Progress Update #4

So for the last few years, I’ve been working on my illustration skills. I’ve been slowly getting better with practice. The reason that I wanted to improve, was that I wanted to incorporate more illustration work and styles into my design work. Not only that, I just think illustration skills can make a more well-rounded designer.

Art is something that I’ve loved since I was young. But after high school, I just sort of stopped while in design school. And even before, I was never that good at drawing. I worked hard on it but always felt like my work wasn’t good enough. However, now, I’m thrilled with my progress. I’m nowhere near some illustrators I’ve seen, and may never get there, but I’m happy to keep working and learning and growing as a self-taught, hobby-illustrator.

The images below are some sketches (I mostly do faces; it’s my go-to) and some full-color illustrations I’ve done. The bird is unfinished – I’ll get it it some day – and I did Inktober, which are all the spooky little ones on a few pages.

Here are my favorite sketches and illustrations I did in 2018:

Further Learning: A Post-School Journey of Education

I’ve never liked school. I mean, I liked some subjects, like English and art, but thought history was boring and wanted to bash my head in during math. But what I didn’t realize until after I was finished with school, was that I actually liked learning. I loved it. I just wasn’t learning what I wanted to, what I was interested in. I realized this during Art History while going to school for design. It was my favorite class. I’d always thought I hated history, but what I thought of as “history” was what we learned in high school — quite literally, the boring parts. I loved learning about architecture and art, what society was like hundreds of years ago in different countries, different cultures, and how they changed. I realized how much I actually liked to learn — and not just about history, but other subjects I was never taught.

So, I didn’t just want school to stop and learning about interesting stuff I liked to stop with it. After finishing college, I decided that I was going to keep learning about the things I was interested in. I made a list of all the subjects I had an interest in and wanted to learn more about.

I’ve always loved Greek Mythology (I had a semester-long class in middle school about it and fell in love) but have always wanted to learn more, I’ve been interested in language, religion, history, and a whole bunch of other topics.

Here’s a rough list:

  • Language
  • Greek Mythology
  • Ancient Rome
  • Egyptian Mythology + Ancient Egyptian History
  • Witches (Salem; European Witch hunts)
  • Monsters and Legends
  • Religious History
  • Modern Cults
  • Scandinavian History
  • Norse and Celtic Mythologies
  • British History
  • Symbolism and Iconography
  • History of Ancient China
  • The World Wars
  • Evolution
    PLUS A LOT MORE

I have set out a plan and have already started reading books on the subjects that I’m interested in. To start, I read one of my first non-fiction books, Penny Coleman’s Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial — which was a fascinating read about how we’ve treated our dead in the past, how other cultures do, and how it has changed. Afterward and since, I’ve started with the topic of language. Linguistics and etymology have always been an interest of mine and I’ve been loving learning more about it. The schedule so far is continuing with Language for the rest of 2018 and early 2019, then start with Greek Mythology around mid-2019.

And, because I document a some of my life here on the blog, I decided I wanted to post more about my new journey. That’s the plan starting in 2019, a new series of posts documenting my journey: the books I read, articles, films, documentaries, etc. along with my thoughts, things I found interesting or learned, and a general overview of each subject. I’m very excited about this!

First, however, we have to get through the rest of 2018. This was just an introduction. I have a lot of posts about NaNoWriMo (it’s coming so soon!) and wrapping up the year before then. I’m hoping the first posts about Language will start in the beginning of 2019!