Saturday, December 29, 2018

... on Language as "Example of Evolution"

Evolution and language
potholer54 | 25.XI.2015

2:38 "Who designed Italian?"

Italian speakers and Italian writers in each dispute of usage those who came upper hand.

For instance, we know from Latin grammarians that in the time of Cicero, the ending -um was pronounced like a nasalised -u. We can spell it u~ to distinuish it from both -u and -u+m.

One fairly early such dispute of usage was whether bonu~ was going to remain bonu~ - or become bonu/bono. Guess which side won? In the spoken language this side won all over Romania - not the modern state of that name, but simply Roman Empire the parts with Roman Ethnicity. At the same time presumably, Greek went from agathon (or agatho~) to agatho - which is still the neo-Greek pronunciation.

Why is this "intelligent design"?

Because, there is not very much point in distinguishing bonu~ from bono, when usage is nearly interchangeable. When you really need bono as a dative, just add an "ad" before and pretend it is "ad bonu~" rather than "ad bono" you are trying to pronounce, bec. "ad+accusative" is fairly interchangeable (if not in Classic, at least in post-Classic Latin).

An even clearer example.

io abbancherò.

First of all, abbancare in itself is an intelligently designed verb, which did not exist in Latin.

It means either "put x on a bench":
To lay out on a bench
or "put benches into x"
To provide a boat with seats for rowers.

And since, surprise, surprise, a "linen shirt" can only be object to first operation and a "ship" only to second, context will always explain which one means (nearly, you could construe sentences in which it were unclear, but they would be very rare).

But suppose "abbancare" already had existed in Latin (certainly other verbs of the type did), there was a time when a certain dispute of usage was getting slightly out of hand.

Adbancavit (he "benched")and adbancabit (he will "bench") were both getting same pronunciation. Intelligently designed? Yeah, with a risk. The designers found a way out.

Adbancavit was more common, so, "abbancò" means "he benched".

For "he will bench" (a shirt or a ship, remember) one could use a kind of circumlocution.

"camisa illi adbancanda est" - "the shirt must be benched by him"
"navis illi adbancanda est" - "the ship must be benched by him"

BUT, there already was "navis illi est" - "a ship is to him" = "habet navem" - "he has a ship".

Also, colloquially and originally from Greek, "camisa/navis illi adbancanda est" comes out as "camisa/navis illi adbancare est" or even "illi adbancare est camisam/navem" (pronounced camisa~ and nave~ or even camisa and nave).

So, the phrase was turned around for better commodity:

"habet adbancare camisam/navem"
"camisam/navem adbancare habet"

And that is "lui abbancherà".

Since "ego habeo" is "io ho", you can guess that "io abbancherò" is "I will bench" (the ship or the shirt, whichever).

This is about as intelligent a design as we do with other fashions ...

The same of course is true if you go back beyond Latin, except we can't do that.

Btw, Latin did not develop from Faliscan, but Latin and Faliscan are sister languages or sister dialects, same ancestor. They are Q-Italic, like Irish is Q-Celtic. Oscan and Umbrian are P-Italic, like Welsh is P-Celtic.

"Mr. Fifth" would in Latin be "Quintus" or "Quinqueius" (depending on whether you meant fifth son of someone or the family branch descending from a fifth son long ago). And in Oscan or Umbrian, this latter is Pompeius.

Similarily five in Irish and Welsh is cúig and bump.

3:11 "most words weren't intelligently designed"

At some point in the past, they were.

Take Welsh for valley, namely dyffryn.

Once, this was dwfr + hynt = water + way.

Someone noted, intelligently, valleys are waterways, where the water floats (it usually doesn't mount up on hilltops you know).


Acceptable and unacceptable mispronunciation does involve a process of intelligent design.

When you drop a distinction, either you make sure everything which coincides due to it will be distinguished in other ways (like the new future in Italian and most Romance languages from Latin infinitive + habeo, as outlined), or you pick it up again, same or new form.

3:17 "the great vowel shift in medieval English"

1) AFTER medieval English, it's in early modern times!
2) Note how each arrow binds together an old and a new position so that you don't have or you don't have too many coincidences.

You do have some.

For instance, "break" now has same vowel as "shake" in most dialects (this pronunciation of ea is Irish) and "the book I read" is same vowel as "papyrus is a reed". (This latter pronunciation of ea is non-Irish, the more common one, confer the name of a very popular drink and how it's pronounced by The Pogues in "Oh Whisky, you're the Devil" : that line which goes "you'r spunkier than tay").

3:27 No, "pada" is not the original version of the word, and Danish "fod" is younger, not older, than English "foot" (confer Swedish "fot" and Icelandic "fót").

"subtle changes"

And intelligent design KEPT the changes, at each successive generation, subtle enough.

4:23 As to the over-articulated sound, this is not how everyone spoke back then, it is an intelligently designed pronunciation, called "theatre pronunciation" or sth like that, which was designed to be intelligible from front to back of a big hall without microphones.

Apart from that, the differring pronunciation is actually very subtle.

Your pronunciation of "posh" - or if you prefer "peach" - is hardly phonemically different from that speaker's. You just emphasise each phoneme a little less, which is because he emphasised them more when speaking into the microphone, than he would usually have done.

5:20 I would not call it micro-evolution.

I would call it linguistic reflection of social change.

Aristocrats back in 1950 were closer to - though not identic to - theatre pronunciation. Part of their job and ambitions turned on being able to hold speeches.

Aristocrats now are closer to working class or at least middle class pronunciation (which was back in 1950 probably a working class one), partly because speeches are (supposed to be) less important, partly because of microphones allowing you to explore "credibility" in your diction, and partly because anti-aristocratic tempers have made aristocrats wary of being too outspokenly so.

It's not evolution, micro or macro, it is very intelligent design of aristocratic communication.

5:58 A growing lexicon is in a way compatible with a simpler grammar.

And, obviously, some points do get more complex, by intelligent design, even in grammar, as Italian future (which has as a spin off, conditional, from "adbancare habebam" : "abbancherei").

6:30 While losing grammatical gender is perhaps an improvement, it is loss of information.

On certain islands, beetles will no longer have wings ... because whenever there was a wingless version, those having wings were likelier to be blown off the island.

Advantage and devolution are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, English loss of gender has quite a lot to do with Anglo-Saxon and Norse coexisting on ... an island, with no hereditary borders between them, but bilingualism whereever there were Danes, and Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse expressed gender differently. Some words became ambiguous, and others came to use as simplified versions, which gained ground.

"they" used to be "sie", very easy to distinguish from "seo" (she), but at a certain point, the words became dangerously close. And "they" was borrowed from Norse. (German which had no Norsemen around now has "sie" for both she and they).

7:00 Since languages are designed by users, more like "masochists".

No, sincerely, this is hard for English learners of German or French, it is not hard for German or French children learning German or French as the native language.

English has sixteen tenses. I am not kidding you. German or Swedish has 8. How come?

English doubles each tense for "simple" or "continuous" form.

Even in Shakespear's time, this was not so. "What doest thou?" "I read a book"

What's wrong with you developing this into "What are you doing?" "I'm reading a book" and incidentally abolishing the useful "thou" form, you can not always determine if someone is speaking to "you" in person (="thou") or to "you" as a group. I now try to add a noun or adjective in plural to get this through to English speakers.

7:17 No, designing a language like Esperanto is NOT the definition of intelligent language design. An English strong verb and an Esperanto verb, it's far easier to hear past tense in English.

7:36 The greater theorem of Evolution also means, species with eyes evolved from species without them. This is not just "change" but - precisely - new information.

A certain group of fish in a certain cave being born blind by heredity certainly is "evolution" or "devolution" in the sense of "change (downward)" but it doesn't help explaining how eyes are supposed to have evolved in the first place.

There was a list of ten genes involved in rods and cones of these fish, and just two mutations in two of the genes made all the rest of the normal genes useless.

8:47 In fact, two mutually unintelligible languages can become mutually intelligible, with either or both of two procedures:

  • getting used to the sound changes or sound correspondences, as they are synchronically between the languages
  • relexification of one or both.

The latter can work even without a common original language.

No procedure can make horses and cows interbreedable in nature (and I hope not even in labs), and you cannot point to any extinct phylum from which both are supposed to have evolved.

9:52 You cannot make a sound parallel between rich phonemes and rich genetic variety.

They don't work the same way.

On the contrary.

With 141 phonemes, that language arguably has no phonetic variation within each phoneme - language change has come to a stalemate.

10:56 I suppose you build this on Quentin Atkinson.

"Oxford University Home Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology"

No trace of him being a linguist.

11:45 Deriving American accents from a few of the British ones, actually is meaningful.

That is granted.

Richness of gene pool ... I have heard this is an oversimplification, Middle East and Africa being two alternative knots on the gene pool family tree.

12:24 I go to Conservapedia and find:

"Since the end of the Great Flood all humans spoke the same language. The survivors started to build a Tower, called Tower of Babel. God thought that the people would become high-spirited and stopped the construction, by creating several languages. The tower was not completed and the people travelled through the world, where they spread their languages."

So far, no problem with that.

I would have a problem with it if one pretended this means Italian and French were available immediately after Babel. But that is not implied by Genesis 11 and also not the creationist view at least by Creationist linguists.

Guess what?

Latin becoming French or Italian very much is like micro-evolution (with speciation), but it is one which involves lots of intelligent design on the parts of the speakers themselves.

13:06 If you are not hooked on "tower" needing to be a skyscraper, but open to it being a (probably doomed to failure) rocket project, Göbekli Tepe is a very good match for Babel geographically (it's in Mesopotamia, i e Shinar, and it is not where everything is a plain, but up in mountains where plains are things you can look for and find ... GT is in the NW corner of the plain, if you look on a map), and carbon date wise (post-Flood, since after populations came to parts of earth, but pre-Abraham), in its connection to recovered (though you would say invented) agriculture AND linguistically, since prior to any traces of any clearly non-Hebrew language.

Genetic .... not sure what genetic tests have been made on skulls in GT, but culturally, GT has, as Hancock discovered, links to as far away as Australia and Polynesia.

15:24 "one people at a gate"

Incidentally, Babel has a double meaning. Babble - or gate of god(s).

Also, "one people" is very compatible with the story in Genesis 11.

Should I or should CMI thank you for making their work for them?


Hans-Georg Lundahl
As you know Chinese, somewhat, what is "rocket" in Chinese?

Aj Meyers

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Aj Meyers Thank you!

How do you pronounce it? A transscription in pinyin or Wade-Giles would be appreciated.

And, since it seems to be two words, what does each word mean?

Aj Meyers
@Hans-Georg Lundahl pinyin: huo jian

@Hans-Georg Lundahl what does each word mean?

It isn't two words, it's one word

Edit: but if you're asking what each character means on its own, 火 means ‘fire' and 箭 means ‘arrow'

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Aj Meyers ah, fire arrow, thank you!

Very close to Greek pyravlos, fire flute!

[Nothing involving "tower" though, alas ... ]

15:32 Here I must recur to CMI conjectures : pictophonetic characters can very well have started out differently and then become such through phonetic development ...

On cows, I think you have a point ... exit zao from their list, as far as I am concerned.

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