September 2008 Archives

YouTube Verner's Law Video


Although these videos parody 1950s vintage math education videos, I think they may be very helpful for students wrestling with the grim laws of Germanic philology. For one thing, they pronounce the early Germanic and Latin forms - always a help

Thank you AvunlcularFeldspar...wherever you are.

Part 1 Embedded below

Book Review: Indians in Pennsylvania


As I've commented before, it's hard to find materials which help you understand what this continent was like politically before the Europeans arrived on the scene. We still tend to think that Prehistory is "No History". But one book which does a decent job is Indians in Pennsylvania by Paul A. Wallace, a volume I happened to pick up in one of the Pennsylvania museums.

Book Product Details (from

Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission; 2 Rev Sub edition (April 2000)
ISBN-10: 0892710179
ISBN-13: 978-0892710171

Cultural History

As the book title suggests, the focus is on the tribes who inhabited Pennsylvania at the time when Europeans were beginning their settlement. However, because the Native American political geography differed from later U.S. geography, the content actually covers activity in a larger part of the region including New York, Maryland, Ohio, New Jersey and sometimes further afield. It's actually a decent introduction to what cultures were inhabiting the entire region.

The map alone of "common trails" crossing multiple state boundaries makes it clear how much inter-tribal contact there was in that era.

The first section describes the culture and traditions of the different tribes. Most of the attention in this section is given to the Delaware (Lenape) peoples, but there is also quite a bit of information about the Iroquoian Confederacy, the Susquehannocks, the Shawnee and other tribes. However, I would say that this volume is centered on the fate of the Delaware peoples.

Like many other Eastern tribes, the Delaware generally lived in settled villages and practiced agriculture. Wallace also notes that they were a group of culturally affiliated tribes sharing a similar heritage/language. The rest of the section describes what is known of Delaware spirituality, child rearing, marriage, entertainment and other aspects of culture.

Political History

The second section provides a chronological account of known Native political events as recorded by European settlers and tribal memory. It's as well that the Delaware were a primary focus, because although they were settled in New Jersey, southern New York and Eastern Pennsylvania, they were eventually persuaded to migrate westward to Ohio and beyond.

Interestingly, the pressures on the Delaware were sometimes from other tribes as from Europeans (although multiple unfavoriable treaties with European powers did not help). At this time, the Iroquoian Confederacy was coming into its own as a regional superpower and expanding south, all of which caused a certain amount of political instability (for instance, although the Delaware were recognized by the Iroquoian as a "respected nation", they were not full members of the Confederacy). Wallace's thesis is that a lot of William Penn's Native American policy was actually geared towards détente with the Confederacy. The Confederacy, in turn, was trying to negotiate their sphere between France and England - it sounds positively Balkan.

Eventually, of course European-native relations completely broke down in the region, but this book argues that native politics had a role to play.


The main point to consider is that this volume was written in 1981, which is definitely "a while ago" (over 25 years), was based on the first volume from 1961 (45+ years). As a result, this volume misses newer findings, such as the Paleoindian sites like Meadowcroft from (ca. 14,000 BCE). I would assume that there have been advances in studies of the Delaware, Iroquoian Confederacy and other tribes of the Mid-Atlantic. Still, I suspect this is as good a place to begin as any.

Also, it is worth remembering that it is a "Delaware-centric" work. That's not to say that the information is inaccurate, just that there may be pieces about the other tribes missing.

Apparata - A Really Interesting "Neo-Classical Plural"


If you're familiar with the alumnus/alumni plural rule and the symoposium/symposia rule, then you know about what I will call the "classical" plural or Latin or Greek words in which we match the Latin/Greek singular with the Latin/Greek plural.

You may also be familiar with the "neo-classical" plurals in which English speakers create Latinate plurals which never actually existed in Latin (these are probably a class of hypercorrection). A famous case octopi (many octopuses). As Ask Oxford will explain, octopus (ὀκτώπους) is actually a Greek word with the Greek plural octopodes.

I like to collect these - not to make fun of people who don't know enough Latin or Greek, but because they show interesting insights into how grammars work with foreign borrowings. The one thing speakers DON'T do is replicate the grammar of the original language (although they may be trying).

As you may imagine, English speakers who encounter any vaguely technical term ending with -us will wonder if the plural is -i or not. Hence we see other new inventions like opus~opi (original Latin plural was opera) and omnibus~omnibi (techincally omnibus is already plural in Latin). In fact one speaker asked if an -is word had an -i plural (warning: taboo word ahead in link). This is not an odd question because both -us and -is are pronounced /əs/.

But one which was unique was someone said "apparatuses...apparata"? First I thought, shouldn't that be apparati? I know I never hear apparati, but that is what I would expect on a naive level, and it may even be the original Latin plural.

Instead, the speaker is using the -um ~ -a plural similar to symposium/symposia, but in English this is normally restricted to -um or some -on words. Is this speaker actually conflating the two rules to one Classical plural -a? the final -at syllabus in the root throwing him off. Other famous -a plurals include automata, errata, strata and data. It's possibly that this speaker has a rule that any techincal term with a final -at in the root will have an -a plural. An interesting kink in the long thread of "neo-classic" plurals.

And a final message to my anonymous data source - please don't be embarrassed. We're ALL confused by this technical jargon.

New Book on Texting


From Linguist List -

Title: Txtng
Subtitle: The Gr8 Db8
Published: 2008
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author: David Crystal

Partial Abstract: "Crystal explains how texting began, how it works, who uses it, and how much it is used, and he shows how to interpret the mixture of pictograms, logograms, abbreviations, symbols, and wordplay typically used in texting. He finds that the texting system of conveying sounds and concepts goes back a long way--to the very origins of writing. And far from hindering children's literacy, texting turns out to help it. "

See for more information.

English in Chinese Script?


This is an article which attempts to explain how English would be written if the Chinese hanzi system were adapted as it is in the the modern era

Interestingly - it's not all pictograms, and some syllables may be rhyming with proto-West Germanic (yikes)