Language: 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

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)

About Me

I am a former linguistics Ph.D. (Celtic languages) turned instructional designer and part-time linguistics instructor. I am especially interested in monitoring development in historical linguistics, morphology and phonology.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage for more details.

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