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Posts Tagged ‘English

“I don’t like the ALPHAbet. I’m going to wait for the BETA version.”*…

 

alphabet zoomable version here

 

The chart shows how the letters used to write English (and many other languages) evolved from Proto-Sinaitic, through Phoenician, early Greek and early Latin, to their present forms. You can see how some letters were dropped and others ended up evolving into more than one letter…

From Matt Baker of UsefulCharts, this chart traces the evolution of our familiar alphabet from its Proto-Sinaitic roots circa 1850-1550 BC.  As Kottke observes, it’s tough to see how the pictographic forms of the original script evolved into our letters; aside from the T and maybe M & O, there’s little resemblance.  Helpfully, Baker also produced a video:

* Anthony T. Hincks

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As we follow the thread, we might spare a thought for John Butler Yeats; he died on this date in 1922.  An artist many of whose works are displayed in the National Gallery of Ireland, he was the father of poet William Butler Yeats (and his accomplished siblings Lily YeatsElizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats and Jack B. Yeats).

202px-william_butler_yeats_by_john_butler_yeats_1900

W. B. Yeats, by his father J. B. Yeats [source]

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Self-portrait, J. B. Yeats [source]

 

Written by LW

February 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I define nothing”*…

 

As evidenced in recent quotes from the worlds of politics, sports, and journalism, the word “wheelhouse” has become an increasingly prevalent metaphor for a person’s comfort zone or area of expertise:

“This is my wheelhouse. That’s what I do well. The economy is what I do well.”
~ Presidential candidate Donald Trump, on his economic program (9/28/15)

“He put it right in my wheelhouse. I just had to shoot.”
~ Hockey player Nikita Kucherov, on his game-winning goal (5/02/2015)

“…His values are very much in my wheelhouse.”
~ Broadcaster Tom Brokaw, on Lester Holt becoming an NBC anchor (6/22/2015)

Yet despite its increased usage, this metaphor is not well understood. Tracing its origins yields a story rooted in a technology-driven revolution that took place within the nation’s transportation infrastructure…

Explore etymology at “Wheelhouse: How Technology Changes the Meaning of Words.”

* Bob Dylan

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As we change with the times, we might spare a thought for Geoffrey Chaucer; he died on this date in 1400. Best known in his lifetime as a philosopher, alchemist and astronomer,  he was the author of Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales (among other works)– for which he is now widely considered the “Father of English Literature” and the greatest poet of the English Middle Ages.

Chaucer, who coined–  was the first to use– around 2,000 words (in existing manuscripts), was the first person to be buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

A 17th century portrait of Chaucer

source

 

Written by LW

October 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”*…

 

Riverside Shakespeare Company production of The Mandrake Root, at the Casa Italia, New York, 1979, with a young Tom Hanks (center). Photograph by W. Stuart McDowell – Source

Most familiar today as the godfather of Realpolitik and as the eponym for all things cunning and devious, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli also had a lighter side, writing as he did a number of comedies. Christopher S. Celenza looks at perhaps the best known of these plays, Mandragola [The Mandrake Root], and explores what it can teach us about the man and his world…

More at “Machiavelli, Comedian.”

* Niccolò Machiavelli

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As we ponder power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1515 that Thomas Wolsey was invested as a Cardinal.  Henry VIII became King of England in 1509; Wolsey became the King’s almoner.  Wolsey’s affairs prospered, and by 1514 he had becomeLord Chancellor, the King’s chief adviser– the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state, and extremely powerful within the Church. (His elevation to Cardinal gave him precedence even over the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

He fell from the King’s graces after failing to negotiate an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and was stripped of his government titles.  He retreated to York to fulfill his ecclesiastical duties as Archbishop of York, a position he had nominally held but had neglected during his years in government.  He was recalled to London to answer to charges of treason—a common charge used by Henry against ministers who fell out of favor—but died en route of natural causes.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The past is always tense, the future perfect”*…

 

 source

Predicting the future of the English language is rather easy, in the short term.  The odds are, over the next few decades its New World dialects are going to gain increasing global dominance, accelerating the demise of thousands of less fortunate languages but at long last allowing a single advertisement to reach everybody in the world.  Then after a century or two of US dominance some other geopolitical grouping will gain the ascendancy, everyone will learn Chechen or Patagonian or whatever it is, and history will continue as usual.  Ho hum.  But apart from that… what might the language actually look like in a thousand years time?  For comparison, the English spoken at the turn of the last millennium looked like this:

1000 AD: Wé cildra biddaþ þé, éalá láréow, þæt þú tǽce ús sprecan rihte, forþám ungelǽrede wé sindon, and gewæmmodlíce we sprecaþ…
2000 AD: We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly…

(1000 AD, from”The Colloquy of Aelfric.”)

So how far will another thousand years take it?…

Peek over the linguistic horizon at “FUTURESE- The American Language in 3000 AD.”

* Zadie Smith

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As we envision emergent etymologies, we might spare a thought for a wicked bender of English words, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce; he died on this date in 1941.  A poet and novelist best known for Ulysses, he was the preeminent figure in the Modernist avant-garde, and a formative influence on writers as various as (Joyce’s protege) Samuel Becket, Jorge Luis Borges, Salmon Rushdie, and Joesph Campbell.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Ulysses No. 1, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man No. 3, and Finnegans Wake No. 77, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.  The next year, Time Magazine named Joyce one of its 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, observing that “Joyce … revolutionized 20th century fiction.”  And illustrating that Joyce’s influence was not confined to the arts:  physicist Murray Gell-Mann used the sentence “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” (in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) as source for the elementary particle he was naming– the quark.

Photo of Joyce included in a printed subscription order form for Ulysses, published Paris, 1921

 

source

 

Written by LW

January 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity; so have some little frocks; but neither are the kind of thing you can run up in half an hour with a machine”*…

 

Dr. Philip Durkin is Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. author of Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English— and creator of the nifty interactive infographic pictured above:

I examine how words borrowed from different languages have influenced English throughout its history. The above feature summarizes some of the main data from the book, focusing on the 14 sources that have given the most words to English, as reflected by the new and revised entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Using the date buttons at the top of the graphic, you can compare the impact that different languages have made on English over time. In the “per period” view, you can see the proportions of words coming into English from each source in 50-year slices from 1150 up to the present day. Compare, for instance, how the input from German has grown and then declined again from 1800 to the present day. (The earliest period, pre-1150, is much longer than 50 years, because more precise dating of words from this early stage in the history of English is very problematic.)

If you switch to the “cumulative” view, then you can see how the total number of loanwords from each language has built up over time. Here the shifts from one 50-year period to another are rather less dramatic, but the long-term shifts are still very striking. You can see, for instance, how German, Spanish, and Italian all slowly come to greater prominence. You can see this very clearly if you select any start date and then press the “play” button. (If you would like to see the numbers behind the graphic, a selection of graphs and charts from Borrowed Words is available here.)…

Get a feel for the truly global scope of English’s borrowing, and at the same time, an appreciation of just how “dependent” we are on Latin and French– play with the interactive graphic at “The Many Origins of the English Language.”

* Dorothy L. Sayers

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As we marvel at the mash-up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1413 that Henry V became King of England.  Immortalized by Shakespeare as the slacker prince who redeems himself in battle (the Henry IV plays) and as the inspirational commander at Agincourt (Henry V), Henry does in fact seem to have been an effective monarch, pursuing a unifying domestic policy that led to relative calm during his reign. His foreign policy was dominated by a steady military campaign against France that continued to his death.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

March 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

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