LINGUIST List 11.1671

Tue Aug 1 2000

Disc: Writing and Speech

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Nitti45, Re: 11.1642, Disc: Writing and Speech

Message 1: Re: 11.1642, Disc: Writing and Speech

Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 01:24:52 EDT
From: Nitti45 <>
Subject: Re: 11.1642, Disc: Writing and Speech

In a message dated 7/26/00 7:18:35 PM, Michael Lewis writes:

>Thanks to Prof Kaminski for a thoughtful and well-argued response to my
>remarks in 11.1614 -- rather 'off-the-cuff' as they were. I should precede
>my further response with a disclaimer: in Australia, the honorific "Prof."
>is restricted to those of the rank of full or associate professor. Alas,
>I can lay claim to no such label!

 Well, I suppose it is my turn to issue a disclaimer. I am not
"Professor" Kaminski, either. One good turn deserves another, as the
saying goes.
 Titular formalities out of the way, let us proceed to the
substance of this discussion:

>Prof. Kaminski is, of course, quite right to point out words with similar
>spelling and different pronunciation (as evidenced in so many -ough words).
>These are excellent examples of "spelling anomalies"; thus far, I stand
>However, where I take issue with Prof. Kaminski is in his apparent
>identification of English as "native Anglo-Saxon" augmented by imports and
>exotic loan-words. First, Anglo-Saxon is itself something of a mongrel,and
>contributes much to what I called the "rich and varied" parenthood (perhaps
>I should have called it ancestry) of Modern English. Second, to suggest that
>Norman French vocabulary is "borrowed" rather than "naturalized" is, I
>think, questionable. (Surely beef and mutton are just as English as cow and
>sheep?) I rather think that Prof. Kaminski and I are in disagreement on the
>definition of parentage, rather than on historical fact.

 To deal with the first point: Whereas English as we now know it is
indeed "something of a mongrel," Anglo-Saxon (also known as Old
English) relied largely on its own resources to name new concepts,
even as Icelandic does today. Thus, medicine was known as _l�cecraft_
("leechcraft"), astronomy as _tungolwitsceap_ ("star-knowledge").
Exceptions were few, and arose chiefly from the Christianizing of the
Angles, Saxons and Jutes of the British Isles: Such terms as _biscop_
("bishop"; from Greek _episkopkos_) and _abbot_ ("abbot"; from Hebrew
_abba_) come readily to mind here.

 Now the Danish invasions, commencing in the 9th Century, did have some 
effect on vocabulary. For example, they were responsible for that "eggs" vs. 
"eyren" dilemma in which Caxton found himself some six centuries later; as we 
all know, the former (Old Norse) word finally won out over the latter 
(Anglo-Saxon) word in this particular instance. But their most important 
contribution to the development of the English language is undoubtedly the 
acceleration of the loss of inflectional endings in the grammar of the 
language: Since many words between these two Germanic languages were, but 
for their morphological differences, the same (or nearly so), it would have 
been expedient for inflection to fall away in favor of ease of communication 
between the two language groups.

 Now with regard to the second point, it is very easy to miscommunicate 
what we mean by "borrowed" vs. "naturalized," especially for what concerns 
the former. This is because, in the context of languages and linguistics, 
the term "to borrow" is a metaphor, and not the handiest one at that: After 
all, are we going to give our "borrowed" words back to their respective 
"lenders" when we are through with them? Clearly we cannot carry the 
metaphor that far. But whatever one may choose to call the process thus 
signified, it is a perfectly legitimate one. As for "naturalized" words, 
this term is less ambiguous: Upon hearing this word, one gets the sense of 
our having made these heretofore foreign words our own. What must be pointed 
out here is that, before words could be "naturalized," they first had to be 

 Another aspect of this issue is this fact: Correspondent Lewis
says, "Surely beef and mutton are just as English as cow and sheep?"
English, yes. Anglo-Saxon, no. The era of Anglo-Saxon (a.k.a. Old
English) can be said to have ended with the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Thenceforward, the age of Middle English was at hand. The rhetorical
question Lewis poses yields a superb example of the social dichotomy
between the Norman French conquerors and the Englishmen they
conquered. The conquered subjects would herd these animals on the
hoof, hence, the native words "cow" and "sheep" for this usage.
(Picture a family on an outing in the country. On passing a farm with
livestock, Mommy never says to her curious little ones, "Johnny, look
at the beef!" or "Susie, look at the mutton!") The conquerors would
only see the butchered and cooked end products on their tables, hence
the Norman French based "beef" and "mutton" are used in this sort of
context. (Again, who ever asks, "What's for supper, cow or sheep?")
The point is that it *does* make a difference what near-synonyms one
chooses, be they "native," "borrowed" or "naturalized."

 Just to make clear what I *think* correspondent Lewis means by "borrowed" 
vs. "naturalized," I shall use as an example the following sentence: 

 "The chauffeur does not have very much *savoir faire* when it comes to 

 In the foregoing sentence, all the words are of Anglo-Saxon origin except 
"very," "chauffeur," and "savoir faire." Let us have a look at these 
non-Anglo-Saxon words.

 First, there is "very." This word was borrowed long ago from Norman 
French, and has been fully assimilated into the Modern English language, 
hence "naturalized." Note that, as recently as the 17th Century, this 
assimilation was not yet complete, inasmuch as the word "very" had not yet 
fully replaced the word "sore" as the chief adverb of intensification (see, 
for example, such passages from the King James Bible as, "...the people were 
sore afraid.") Today, though, it is undeniably perceived as a fully English 
word by any and every native speaker of English. The fact that "very," like 
most Anglo-Saxon based words not containing proclitics, is stressed on the 
first syllable, underscores this perception, as does the "-y" ending which, 
if it followed the Modern French spelling pattern, would be "-i" or _ie", 
given its pronunciation.

 Second, there is the word, "chauffeur." This word is typical of what I 
infer correspondent Lewis means by "borrowed." If a native speaker of 
English is asked, "Is 'chauffeur' an English word?" the answer will more or 
less amount to "Yes, but..." Which means that, while it cannot be denied 
that "chauffeur" is to be found in the English lexicon, still, it is felt 
that the word doesn't quite "fit" comfortably into the language. In fact, 
this word is a relatively recent import from Modern French. If we apply the 
same two tests to this word as those applied to the word "very" in the 
preceding paragraph, we find that it yields opposite results. For one thing, 
it is stressed on the final syllable, thus following the French, and not the 
English, pattern. Also, its spelling is obviously French, and not English, 
which would give us "shofer." So "chauffeur," while recognized as a word in 
the English language, has not been fully assimilated or "naturalized."

 Third, there is the expression "savoir faire." There really isn't a 
great deal to say about this phrase here. One could say that it is 
"borrowed," if this is meant in an *ad hoc* sense only; otherwise, it is 
perceived as a fully foreign expression, handy to know when the occasion 
calls for it, but in no way belonging to the English lexicon.

 To sum up this portion of the current posting, I do hope that I have 
clarified my position on the definition of "parentage" as well as on matters 
of historical fact. Yes, English is heavily overlaid with Norman French, as 
well as Classical Latin and Classical Greek. Much of what stems from these 
sources has indeed been fully assimilated (or "naturalized") into the English 
language. Be that as it may, I maintain that English is still, in essence, a 
West Germanic language. Anglo-Saxon based words may comprise only a small 
fraction of the total number of entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, but 
tracking their use in everyday speech will show that they are the ones most 
often used. 

 Correspondent Lewis concludes his latest posting thus: 

>I cannot claim sufficient knowledge of the dialects of German or Italian to
>offer more than a supporting comment to Prof. Kaminski's remarks. The
>Standard forms of both languages are, indeed, highly regular -- even
>"phonetic" -- in orthography. I would be delighted to see any comments on
>the development of these languages. The contrasting case of irregular
>orthography in Irish Gaelic also warrants much more study. What of other
>Gaelics -- Welsh and Scottish? My _very_ limited acquaintance with the
>former suggests quite regular orthography; I would welcome enlightenment!

 I choose to leave the commentary on the development of German and Italian 
to other postings, as this one has run far longer than I had originally 
intended. With regard to the "other Gaelics," I shall make two brief 

 First, Welsh, while it is a Celtic language, is not one of the Gaelics. 
Those are Irish, Scottish and the recently (1974) extinct Manx, constituting 
collectively the Goidelic (or 'Q-Celtic') branch of Celtic. Welsh, along 
with Breton and the extinct (since 1777) Cornish, belongs to the Brythonic 
(or 'P-Celtic') branch of Celtic. From my (also) limited acquaintance with 
Welsh, I would tend to concur that its orthography seems quite regular but, 
again, I cannot speak with authority on this. Would anyone who can indeed do 
so, please make a posting?

 Second, it occurred to me after my first posting to this discussion that 
I may have been slightly off base in suggesting that Irish was the only one 
of the Gaelics that had irregular orthography. As mentioned in my more 
recent posting, I received confirmation of the irregularity of Irish Gaelic 
spelling. I really don't know, however, if this is true of Scots Gaelic or 
of Manx. Again, can anyone out there enlighten us? 
 Cordially yours,

 Richard S. Kaminski
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