The Linguist

The Linguist 60,2 April/May 2021

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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@Linguist_CIOL APRIL/MAY The Linguist 23 FEATURES For a more modern, practical example, think about the (traditional) pronunciation of a few French word pairs: œuf (/œf/) and œufs (/ø/); ours (/uʁs/) and ours (/uʁ/); and œil (/œj/) and yeux (/jø/), meaning 'egg(s)', 'bear(s)' and 'eye(s)' respectively. 2 Here, the potentially confusing pronunciation of œufs as /ø/ is historically regular, since /f/ was lost before final /s/ in Old French (as were some other sounds). Thus we also get bœufs (/bø/) for 'cows' and cerfs (/sɛʀ/) for 'stags'. Final /s/ was lost at roughly the same time. Accordingly, the plural ours (/uʁ/) is regular and it is, in fact, the singular form ours (/uʁs/) in which the pronunciation of final /s/ was reintroduced. 3 This kind of process aids disambiguation in many cases. After all, it is useful to know whether you are being chased by one or multiple bears. We can observe a similar phenomenon in words like plus, which is pronounced with or without an /s/ depending on grammatical context, and fils (/fis/), which enables the word ('son') to be told apart clearly from fille (/fij/) and fil (/fil/), meaning 'daughter' and 'yarn/thread'. Catering to all students Talking about historical linguistics is important for two simple reasons: firstly, rules are 'boring' while quasi-magical explanations can enchant; and secondly, learners must realise earlier rather than later that languages are not immutable, monolithic abstracts and can vary significantly both across and at any one time. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that the needs of all students, not just the keen linguists, must be taken into account. There is always the danger of losing a part of the class – those who are less interested in those aspects of language. Setting, personality and background knowledge will dictate how to approach this conundrum, and which facts – which helpful bits – to include. There isn't a 'one size fits all' approach. Still, the charming and quaint nature of such explanations has proved useful on a regular basis in my experience. Its real impact transpired in a rather humorous turn of events one year. A group of students who had been learning Ancient Greek with me for nine months decided to immortalise, on a T-shirt, the most important thing they had taken away from our classes: "The Greek ϑεός is not cognate with Latin deus." They had remembered well and I was really pleased: ϑεός ('god') is more closely related to Latin fēstus ('solemn, festive') and fēriae ('holidays'). Latin deus ('god'), in turn, shares an origin with Greek Zεύς ('Zeus'). What struck me most and reaffirmed my approach to teaching ancient languages was their choice, not of a lexical, grammatical, literary or historical detail as the epitome of our classes, but of a historical linguistic fact. Sparking enthusiasm Similarly, a pair of historians learning Ancient Greek could initially not believe that when a word for 'orange' (the fruit) entered Europe's languages it started with an 'n'. Only by two processes, called haplology and metanalysis, did the medieval Italian variant una naranza lose its initial 'n', turning first into something like u'naranza (loss of the repeated syllable 'na') and then un' aranza. Via French mediation, a similar form gave us 'orange'. 4 Spanish, by contrast, has retained the original form in naranja which, via Arabic, came from Sanskrit nāraṅga (नारङग; itself a borrowing from a Dravidian language). Such processes are not uncommon: think of 'adder' and German Natter (a nadder > 'an adder'). A nickname was originally an eke- name, meaning an additional name. These latter bits of information are admittedly not crucial to any language learner's experience of the language. They do, however, show language change in action and might motivate learners less keen on literature, especially in or leading up to university courses. The key difficulty for us as teachers is the sparsity of tailor-made resources for this purpose, and often a lack of training. Yet with some zeal, and a decent historical or historically minded grammar and dictionary, 5 one can do a lot of good. Not everyone wants to become an expert in the history of the language they teach. But where a few minutes' reading can potentially save our students some arduous rote learning, and might do much to wake their enthusiasm for a language, it is well worth searching for the historical linguist in yourself. Notes 1 In all of these words, the digraph <ει> is not a diphthong, as orthography might suggest, but represents a long close-mid front vowel /eː/ 2 Modern pronunciation is, of course, variable and depends on a number of factors, such as age and origin of the speaker. These traditional pronunciations are suggested in the Trésor de la langue française; 3 The form with /s/ was likely never lost entirely, but persisted as a by-form used in specific phonotactic contexts and in dialects 4 The details of the historical processes involved are more complex, but the basic principles hold 5 Useful resources include the blog of Dr Matthew Scarborough (https://consulting; for French, the Dictionnaire historique de la langue française (Le Robert, 2016); for German, Kluge. Etymologsches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (De Gruyter, 2011); and for English, the Oxford English Dictionary (OUP) Bertina Ho, Classics at St Anne's College, Oxford "We always had little nuggets of historical linguistics in our lessons. I might not have fully understood Grassmann's Law to begin with, but it did make declining θρίξ, τριχός ('hair') easy to remember – suddenly the irregularity made sense!" Mary Curwen, Classics and Oriental Studies at St John's College, Oxford "Beyond specific examples, I simply remember that my own personal 'need' to know why things are as they are was served and satisfied by the indulgence of all my questions – honestly, half of the things we were learning would not have made sense without those historical linguistic digressions; they contextualised what we were learning and explained the patterns. These tangents made sure that I have never forgotten these connections." THE STUDENT VIEW

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