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The Wonders of Linguistics  
11:05am 05/06/2008
So in a vague effort to distract myself from work I have been researching various matters of linguistics, particularly historical linguistics, which I find fascinating, and I have turned up several interesting things.
(by the way, an * before a word means it's a reconstruction)

1. Naturally a lot of Spanish words are derived from Arabic because of the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula for almost 1000 years. However, here are some I find particularly fascinating:

- 'dado' (dice) comes from اعداد (a'daad), meaning numbers.
- 'azar' (chance, at random) comes from الزهر (az-zahr), meaning, curiously enough, dice.
- 'fulano', which is a fantastic word meaning 'so-and-so' or 'such-and-such', comes from Arabic فلان (fulaan), which has essentially the same meaning.
- 'luta' (lute) comes from العود (al-'uud), which also means lute, and is of course the root of the English word too.
- the word 'hidalgo' comes from Old Spanish hijo d'algo, which nowadays means 'son of something', but in Old Spanish the word algo referred to money or wealth. The use of 'hijo' to mean 'possessor of' derives from the Arabic usage of their word for 'son' to mean the same thing.
- Muhammad ibn Muusaa al-Khwaariizmii devised the algorithm. The world 'algorithm' comes from the Latinisation of his last name, 'Algorismi', which the French changed to 'algorithme' because they thought it was connected to the Greek 'algorithmus', meaning 'number'. It wasn't.
- The English (and Spanish and almost every other European language) words 'lime' and 'lemon' both come from Old Arabic ليم (laym) and ليمون (laymuun), which was the collective plural. Interestingly, the Arabs subsequently forgot this word, which disappeared from the language, and was then reintroduced, spelled exactly the same way but pronounced 'leemoon', from French. So they basically borrowed the word from themselves.

2. A similar situation to 'leemoon' exists between English and Japanese. The Japanese borrowed the word okesutora, meaning 'orchestra', which then got incorporated into karaoke (meaning 'empty orchestra'), which was then borrowed into English.

3. The Russian word под (pod), the English prefix hypo-, the French sous, the Irish faoi, and the Welsh tan (all meaning 'under') all derive from the same Indo-European root!

- First the easy bit. The Ancient Greek word hupo (English has a tendency of turning Greek 'u' into 'y', hence puro-, 'fire') displays a common feature of Greek, turning initial 's' into 'h'. Thus hex- and hept- (6 and 7, think hexagon and heptagon) are cognates with Latin sex and septum. Thus we get Latin sub, related to hupo. The 'b' became 't' (Italian sotto), although I'm not sure how, and French dropped it in pronunciation. So: hypo > hupo > *supo > *subo > sub > *sut > *sus > sous

- Now Russian. In Ancient Greek the word was stressed on the first syllable, húpos. However, in Modern Greek it's hupós (actually, due to pronunciation differences it's now ipó, but that's beside the point). At some point, therefore, the stress shifted, leaving the first syllable weak. Weak syllables delight in being dropped. So we have *pos. From there it's a simple matter of a hardening shift from 's' to 'd' to reach Old Church Slavonic 'pod'.
So: húpos > *hupós > *pos > pod
Incidentally, the word 'pod' is preserved in several Slavic languages exactly without any changes: Croatian, Czech, Polish, Russian, and Slovene all have 'pod'.

- Now the fun part! Back to hupos again. To shift from Ancient Greek to Proto-Celtic we need to make two important and common sound changes. Firstly, drop the -s. Then delete the central -p-. It probably passed through a stage of being -b- first, but then it was dropped. This leaves us with the not-terribly-strong sound *huo. In Proto-Irish, this hw- sound became an f-, and in Proto-Welsh it became gw-. The Proto-Irish *fo survived until the age of Middle Irish, when the inflected form 'faoi' (meaning 'under it') became the standard word for 'under'.
In Welsh this word *gwo became *go, and because it was very similar to two other Middle Welsh words which were also *go (one of them was an emphatic particle), they decided to strengthen it by adding -tan to it. In time *gótan became *godán, and, as we've already learned from Russian, unstressed syllables disappear very easily. So it became the Modern Welsh word 'tan', meaning under. This sometimes appears as the slightly archaic 'o dan', but usually it's just 'tan', even though the 'o' there is the only connection with Italian sotto, French sous, Latin sub, Irish faoi, Greek ipó, English hypo-, and Russian and Polish and Czech pod. Incredible.

Incidentally the Spanish 'bajo' is totally unrelated to any of these words. It comes from Latin 'bassus', according to the Real Academia Española. I have a hunch that Germanic 'under' (which is virtually identical in all Germanic languages) might also be related (the original Proto-Indo-European root is *bhudhno, and I could easily envision some kind of link, ie.:
*bhudhno > *bhundho > *bundho > *vundho > *undho > *undo > under
-- and it might even be related to 'wonder' (another Germanic cognate), but I have no idea whatsoever. I may try to find out.

So there you have it. Algorithm bears only tenuous connections to algorithmus, and pod and faoi both come from the same root, *upo. I hope you found it interesting.
Var är jag? Oxford
Jag är Exams next week...Exams next week...
Jag lyssna på Tinariwen
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(no subject)
12:50pm 05/06/2008 (UTC)
So you're studying linguistics?
Are you getting your masters or something?
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(no subject)
11:29pm 05/06/2008 (UTC)
Heh, no, I'm doing an undergraduate degree in Spanish and Arabic at the University of Oxford. I'm a first year. I'm just exceptionally interested in linguistics, particularly philology.
How about you? You must have at least a passing interest in languages to stumble across this entry.

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(no subject)
05:35pm 05/06/2008 (UTC)
Not jealous of your having exams, but am rather jealous of your linguistic prowess. I, for one, cannot wait until August.
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(no subject)
04:42pm 11/06/2008 (UTC)
I was fine except for the hypo > sous bit T_T.

This was really interesting.
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04:07am 15/06/2008 (UTC)
You, beyond Denise, have been the only person to continuously hold my intellectual interest regarding many different subjects- and while that may not seem like much, I'd like to thank you for piquing my curiosity so many times. Be it linguistics, places, people, or personalities, you've successfully held me in awe of your person. :)

I don't know you very well, so this is probably rather awkward, as you only really know me as Denise's eventual husband, but I just felt like highlighting the fact that you are freakin' cool.

So there. And yes, I found it interesting. Very, very interesting.
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