Language, please, people! with Lynn Gwyst.

look, fellow earthlings, i can see that you are trying, but there is not yet in existence a course in general linguistics, nor any textbook, nor information on-line that i can in good conscience refer you to in delivering my lectures. there is plenty out there, but it’s all very faulty, and before i can even start i’ll have to write my own and i’ll even let you have it for free.

no, seriously, i’ve looked at text-books, journal articles, websites and wikipedia, books for the intelligent lay-reader, the intros to language learning books and websites and truckloads more. i’m assuming that you, o venerated reader, have done as much or are doing so or intending to. perhaps you too have noticed or will notice and been or will be dismayed by the many quite big bits that don’t ring true in the works of even the most respected of linguists. i won’t name names. well, not too many, anyway. don’t want to embarrass anyone. or not too many, anyway. or anyway, i don’t want to embarrass them too much. and only the truly deserving… my blog will identify and examine the worst of these clangers and you’ll all be the better for it.

i won’t try here to entrance you too much with forays into the special branch of linguistics called prescriptive linguistics, though it is an adorable little foray if you get time for it. google it if you like. wikipedia sums it up for the uninitiated as satisfactorily as most introductory-level university text-books do, but with fewer errors, since anyone can hop in and correct wikipedia, with the consent of a jealously watching peer group, who are the more honest for not being paid for it.

most of us are well acquainted with the idea that the standardised, standardising varieties of language used by officialdoms, educational institutions and the mainstream mass media are usually based on the speech of a ruling elite,  the so-called dominant culture, and not intrinsically superior to any of the many other forms of the language. ‘i dun roow good in inglish’ among people who speak like that naturally is as good as ‘I did very well in English’, and a wi’u bi’ of a glo’u sto (little bit of a glottal stop) is not a feature of inferior speech. they are just different variations of the same language, samples from different parts of the melange. many children grow up speaking one form at home and learning the standard as a school language, never using it again after leaving school. they are no longer regarded as inferior because of it. which is a blessed relief, because you can’t just trash whole peoples after trampling their cultures to death. so heave a sigh. here goes.

linguistics for free radicals. (try not to mop me up).
spoken language consists of vocalisations associated with meaning. written language consists of marks on paper the shapes of which are intended to represent the sounds or units of meaning of spoken language.
spoken language attempts to represent meaning, each utterance using a sequence of vocalisations associated in the minds of speaker and listener with particular meanings such that communication can occur. we can tell each other what we think and feel, what we know and believe, what we want or need, fear or deplore etc. written language attempts to represent meaning, each mark or sequence of marks representing a sound or sequence of sounds evocative of associated meaning or… yes, hilda, did you have a question? no? a complaint? you already knew that? oh all right. you’ve all read widely on the subject and grasped the pith of that. good. but i’m not on about all that at the moment. i’m on about syllables.

because they are the smallest units of verbal meaning and since each syllable has a meaning we have to look at the language not just word by word, but syllable by syllable.
you can divide words into syllables according to the rules of syllabication:

  • a syllable has a single vowel sound. …
  • doubled consonants are split to make syllables. …
  • words with single consonants between vowels are divided before the consonant.

but this is not the best way for, say, etymological purposes. syllables all have their own meaning.

i remember reading years ago in one of those very numerous books on the subject of general linguistics about a language spoken in africa which had words of many syllables to the point of hysteria, and no not welsh, an obscure african one. i remember wondering what he meant? it was the language of an illiterate people, and without writing how can you decide where a word begins and ends? you can’t, in my opinion, but what do others think?

run means something. okay, having grasped that the second n is a mere spelling convention, and ok, running means something else. the run or runn- part still means what it most naturally means, but the ing part has its own meaning which is also consistent wherever it occurs. in it? it is. then whose decision is it that run(n) and ing are one word? dr johnson’s? oxford university’s? some ancient inventor of spaces between written ‘words’. yours? mine? seems so natural now, no one would ever want to change it, least of all me, because by now i am as enchanted by the way language is now as anyone. the multisyllabic word makes the rhythms and flows of our most beautiful poetry, musical prose and endearing conversation. but i suggest that for the purposes of linguistic analysis, each syllable is a word.
naturally during the course of time, some syllables become eroded. does not becomes doesn’t. i will becomes i’ll. and con (with/together) + vers (information/verse/teach)* + a(n)(the/a)  + ti (do) + on (ing) = together information the do ing = conversation.

heehee, i/m gonna use this!  believe me, it gets ex cit ing.












what ox, which ford, and what’s a university anyway?

herman announces:

morning all, i’m as you know herman newt poking about in the medieval mire looking for scraps of history, and in my perambulations mysterious and deep i find myself up against the mysterious and deep mythology surrounding the famed name of oxford and not a whit the less of university, so i thought at once of my dear friend, etty moliji.  i find her in a sunny meadow on a mild may morning surrounded by a circle of admiring students and i arrange  my gills tidily over my shoulders and i raise my nice amphibian hand and i ask my questions most respectfully, as a good newt should.

herman boldly enquires:

where is the ox ford after which oxford is named, and who first called a university a university?

etty replies:

oxford is og’s fort, not oxen ford. og=egg. they were birds (confused nowadays with bards) and that was a kenning.

university is from iona/juno/ionia/jonah/jonas dion etc+gwersi+ty. no one was ever inventive enough to think up ‘one turning’ as a good thing to call an educational institution – imo! i could be wrong. maybe someone did and everyone just sooooo agreeeeeed with him/her because of the powerful force on their imagination of that glorious metaphor, but no, i think it meant gwersi/verses, and that meant rote-learnt chanted verses, and specified those of the joneses and not those of say the cailleach/colaiste/colleges.

keith, an earnest pupil, protests:

but ms moliji, is wikipedia so lost in its sin? why would it misinform us while referring us to academic resources?

wikipedia says

from wikipedia

common sense etymologist

word doctor

etty persists, gently but firmly, choosing her words with care:

ahem, yes. the ford for oxen. that seems to be current textbook opinion. well, i can’t say i’ve ever successfully pinned this one down, but here are my thoughts so far. the university of oxford is in oxford and oxford is in oxfordshire. now i’m not saying that anyone knows the origin of any of it – there’s nothing older than the old texts – and i’ve never seen anyone verify, in any way you could call academic, the folk tradition that it is named for a river crossing for oxen.

i find it unlikely that they would have named a whole shire after a famed city named after a river crossing so primitive it hasn’t even got a bridge and then put a university there. if you are establishing something so proud and elevated as a university you’re not going to name it after a particularly polluted and obstructed part of the local landscape relevant only to labourers, carters and other low types.

so i take leave of the textbook models which are still writhing in the grip of false bible-distorted chronologies and the cultural neurosis around sacred texts and the myth of the antiquity of the potted-into-paradigms ‘school’ languages such as latin and greek, and long overdue for an update, let alone lawkes a’mighty an up-hahaha-grade, heheheheh, because of course it’s so hard to get funding for anything that might threaten the credibility of the establishment with its investment in the magical events of the noughtth of nought noughteen noughty nought, which is of course the start of everything sort of. prolly adds up to 42 but i ran out of fingers and toes.

and yes, belinda, you do still get flamed and sometimes cruelly, for heresy/errorsie/errors, though there’s a sea-change in view as post-modernism unpacks the politics of academic discourse and makes us all behave. but like i said, you’re always treading on someone’s corn – ovia (oops, cor/kor/kernowvia)  wherever you go and there are sore points everywhere…

like i said, the etymologies have never been done. the plethora is unplundered. the richest, plushest, preciousest treasures of the english speaking world are buried undiscovered beneath the screen memory scab of the glorious biblical glossages of the renaissance, restoration and general rehash since the introduction of the gregorian calendar. (i allow myself the occasional coinage.)

nb (re above parag) notice the astounding spirit of eloquence that seizes me when i draw nigh to ogma. i recite anything you like, backwards or forwards, or boustrophodon and no one has to ask what is in that bou/bull’s troph.  i chant lists of lists of lists off by heart, all the way to ninthly, and tenthly and beyond. my captive audience is spellbound as if by the golden chains of my dogma – aye by the dogma of ogma.

i believe we learn more from a different kind of analysis, dealing in syllables as if they were whole words each with its own meaning, conscious of the limitations of the so-called ‘corpus etymology’ of the old comparative philologists and looking not so much for adam and god in the garden as for the bitchy snitchy sprangly, wrangly racist pious elevated debased degraded lah-di-dah, lithping, putting-on-the-dawg medieval patois/padua/pathways, focusing on english forms of it, since it seems to have been spoken in various local forms worldwide..

even aotaroa is water-rower in the patois. same words, different accent. and yeah, they sure were water rowers.

i should have added scholarly to that list of adjectives and even still ‘noble’ enough to be potted up for chanting in class.

og is irish for young. it occurs in words like dogma, pedagogy, ology. (i disagree with greek origins for these words, maintaining that they, like england, got them from their local patois, the forms being diverse but often still recognisable. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THE BELIEF IN THE ANTIQUITY OF ‘ANCIENT’ ‘GREEK’. they appear to me to be medieval.)

og/ag/ug/ig/og all have been ways of pronouncing it. the g can become a v or f or bh or y or i. it can pick up remnants of old articles, t-og, d-og, thug, yog, sieg, zieg, hag, hog, higgs, hug, hugh, or from the invading normans/romans, l’og,  lag, leg, lugh, etc – all are possible, some are probable, but i have a different derivation for lugh and haven’t finished comparing it with this one. then any of these might pick up remnants of old plurals such as ogre = og+array agnes/agonies oglaigh, oygle, aggle, hagel, hagan, hogan, and blimey, blokes, we’re all over the map of europe again and bá í craic í if it ain’t the court of the crimthann king.  yep the kremhild/cream guild that lugh invited in to teach the irish dairying and the making of butter and cheese.

si-(e)g seems to have been fried.

and this is what i see emerging from the mythtth. it all fits/fitz/feats. this has been fit/feat/fight the severalth.

herman winds up:

well, that was etty on the subject.

i’ll now go and see if i can waggle up some wireless and i’ll try and post it to you all.