the study of old words is changing. while university teachings still go way beyond the evidence, all too often calling theory fact, I don’t have to. i theorise freely and experiment with various models, but never defend any of them as fact.
one big paradigm shift with word study is in the reading of the literation: spelling, syllablisation and classification. that it hasn’t happened yet is astounding.
for most of us the best one can do for the spelling is spell phonetically, but for the purposes of etymology we have to also pronounce it as it is spelt because it shows how it may once have been pronounced. the phonetic alphabet has been built with very fine distinctions in mind, but for my purposes here, I’ll use the alphabet taught to English-speaking children at school. we have not got accurate enough info about pronunciation in the past to warrant anything of much higher resolution, and I find it surprisingly flexible.
example: thought = thort/thawt/thot, but also spells thoft/soft to some renaissance scribes (mostly women, not always scholars). but think??? obviously thought theemth thin rather than thoft to thum.
there may be reasons for polysyllablising
but you can see at a glance that the so-called words so created are actually phrases, or sequences of words. some may be modified or eroded, some absorbed altogether, but they are words in their own right, whether we can explain their meaning or not. and it takes years of lonely study of absolute oceans of historical linguistical data to rediscover the forgotten ones reduced or absorbed by adjacent syllables. when you do, the ones still observable in english can often be still recognisable in other languages. there is no evidence supporting the proto-indoeuropean language model now barely distinguished from fact in university text-books. most of the medieval corpora were drawn from a melee of several diverging patois. patois is a word not well understood these days, but its medieval meaning, or at least the general area of it, is accessible if we go gently. so no Maureen, not from god’s famous first discourse with adam in the garden of eden a few thousand years ago, so wondrously resurrected for us by the ecclesiasticated scholars of the embarrassingly recent past and still taught at universities worldwide – or else. delete PIE, insert medieval hip-talk, school-talk, padua, patois, the roving, interweaving, intermarrying common second language(s) of the literati of the major trade routes and routes of pilgrimage and the quiet farms, game-rich forests and factories of commerce of the times etc, as the grab-bag from which the modern indo-european languages were drawing at the end of the renaissance and not a generation earlier. this melee, always diversifying throughout its range, was widespread, extending well beyond the indo-european regions, as i will explain in later blogs if you’d like to subscribe.
example: pol-y-syll-a-bl-is-in-g. each syllable is a word, or often enough a collapsed phrase. pol = polis, y = way, syll = school, a(n/m) = a/the, b’l = school, is = is, in = the, g = way. i can’t explain why in less than five or six lengthy blogs, but for now let it illustrate my observation that each syllable is a word in its own right. in tables and with illustrative examples I will show why I am (tentatively) translating them into modern English as I do. the aim is to see clearly that each syllable has a consistent meaning from one polysyllabic word to another. in distinguishing them from true words as mere affixes we risk missing the point of them altogether.
classifications such as verb, noun and adjective tend also to break down and we’re left with mostly what grammar books call ‘stems’. any stem could be a verb or noun or adjective or adverb, qualified by other stems in conventional phrasings.
example: pol meant the whole palace full of people, or the people, or the buildings, and therefore ‘very many’, therefore ‘much’. elsewhere on the path it means a singularity or single moment, cornish pols, english pulse, pile, (opinion) poll, etc). it was handy enough in the vocab-poor patois for all manner of uses, and survives in many forms in english, including the b’l of the so-called suffix –able. don’t flay me, i’ll bring evidence.
at this point ms etty moloji was strait-jacketed and carried off back to her library gibbering incoherently at the idea of there being only ONE big paradigm shift to cope with. there she morphed comfortably back into vyvyan ogma wyverne aka wyverne or wy who clicked publish and then went off to get tea.