In What Order Did Languages Arrive in Europe?

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. And you know, let’s begin with this song, which is from the Broadway musical Promises Promises. But it was cut. It’s very catchy and very apropos for our topic today. This is called tick, tock, tick, tick.

S3: Why tick tock. Other than that. That’s just very infectious.

Advertisement

S2: Does it sounds to me kind of like the genetic clock, the genetic clock that scientists are learning so much about these days and how it relates to language, specifically language, families specifically telling us how language families got to be, where they were, what relationships are between different languages. Genetic analysis is teaching us so much about those things and in a virtual flood of information over just the past five to 10 years. And I wanted to share some of that on this show. But first, just by way of review, what is it about genes that allows these kinds of conclusions? Well, DNA is something where I guess you can listen to different podcasts to learn exactly how it works. But the point is that as this molecule is endlessly replicating itself, of course, because it’s a real thing, they are going to be little transcription flaws that slip in. So the copying is never completely perfect, especially over long periods of time. So little mistakes creep in that as often as not have no effect upon anything. But they’re just these little dings that end up replicating along with all of what replicated properly, and those dings creep in at a certain rate.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: And it means that you can look at different human groups DNA and by comparing what dings they share and what things they don’t. And calculating how long it takes for dings to start spreading their way in. You can actually start making a chart of how long groups have been separate when they first branched off from what was before just one group. And if you can do that, then you can look at one. What that says about where human beings have been and to how that correlates with what languages they speak, or you can even venture suppositions about what languages they spoke. So this genetic analysis is allowing us to have a sense of how humans came to cover and destroy the globe. And a lot of that matches, interestingly well or sometimes ominously unwell with what we know about how languages are related to each other. So we’re developing a more and more dynamic what an overused word dynamic is, but a more and more dynamic sense of how language has spread throughout the world. Which groups, when, what overtook what, what was overtaken by what? We’re beginning to have an idea and ideas like that should be shared. And so let’s start with Europe, language and Europe. Current situation is that languages of the Indo-European family virtually kote Europe. Basque is all by itself straddling France and Spain. There’s no language in the world that’s related to Basque. Then you’ve got a few of what are called Yooralla languages up in the northeast corner for the most part. And so that’s Finnish and Estonian and the languages today called Salmi that used to be called Lapis. And those languages are all related to Hungarian. Really? That’s it. Other than that, everything is Indo European. Well, what was the original situation?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: You might look at the situation now and think that these Indo European people have been there forever and then that for some reason some Basque people floated in like milkweed and settle in that one place and that then these sort of nosy, neuralgic people came in and took up some space. That’s a reasonable supposition, but that is not how it worked. Actually, from David Reich’s lab and so many interesting findings have come from there. And if his name is pronounced rich, I’ve noticed that every now and then somebody whose last name is written. Right? Actually, they pronounce it rich. It’s David Rich. I’m sorry, but in my mind, it’s David. Right. And from that lab, what seems to have been the case in Europe is that there’ve been three waves of settlement. So about 40000 years ago. And you can come up with this by looking at Europeans genes now and charting all of these mistakes in the DNA and figuring out what they mean about who was separated from who and when because of that molecular clock. So 40000 years ago, you have hunter-gatherers come in. These are people who are there to do things, their hunting and their gathering. And they come in 40000 years ago. These are people who are coming from over in the Middle East and ultimately from down below in Africa. Then about 8000 years ago, you had a new group of people coming in from what today we think of as either Siberia or the Near East. Here’s the second group. Then 5000 years ago, just 3000 years after these Siberian.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: People income a group of people from and this has become a cliche on the show. The steps of Ukraine. This is the Yom Niya. People, they like their horses and they are coming in. That’s five thousand years ago. Now, what’s interesting is that all evidence is that the main Indo European incursion is them. That’s what Indo European comes from. It’s this latterly group, not the hunter-gatherers. So we go back to what the modern situation is. bask- is all by itself. It’s this interesting language isn’t anything like Indo European languages, and it’s straddling France and Spain all by itself related to nothing else. How did that happen? Well, the way that happened is that the Yamana people, the Indo European language speakers came in, overran Europe. That was probably a gradual process. It doesn’t mean that they slaughtered everything that they came to. But they came to be pretty much everything. And the bask- are the last remnant of what the original people, people in Europe would have been. A good guess is that these Basques are left over from that second wave.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: The Siberian wave that came in 8000 years ago. But the Basques also have a high rate of genes from those hunter-gatherer people. And so it might be that they’re a mixture of the Siberians and the hunter-gatherers, or it could be this would be more romantic. But whatever they could be the last remaining representatives of the hunter-gatherers who were the first human beings to people the European continent are really frankly peninsula of Asia.

S4: That’s what bask- would be. But there are other things that you find yourself thinking about. So, for example, this was already back in 1991. There was this EISEMANN discovered in the Italian Alps. He’d been frozen up there. And it’s this person who apparently was killed on the spot for some reason. And yet he’s carrying a little bit of food. You can look at what was in his stomach, etc. It’s basically this mummy. And you can date that this person he’s called etsi in, I guess it’s German, Southern German. That’s the name that we’ve given him. We’ll never know what his actual name was, but etsi is 5000 years old and you just find yourself thinking or maybe some of us do. Or maybe just I did. What was etsi speaking? What was his language? So he’s in Italy. And because it’s 5000 years ago, he’s not speaking Italian because that doesn’t exist. You know, it isn’t that he was walking along. Why did you hit me for nothing like that. But what was he speaking?

Advertisement

S3: Well, it’s too early for Indo European, right? Yeah, because Indo European gets to Italy in about what, 11 hundred B.C, is it? Yeah. What is it. The vanilla Noweven period. Villa. No. Vanilla. I don’t know anyway. Yes. Villanova’s. And that’s too late. So when you speak like this. Yeah. Probably. Or what. Those other ones that were there before Indo European. Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. What the. To send me in. Yep. Not vanilla and open but pettier senior. Can we get past that tier Senate. That’s like the Etruscan that you hear about that that pre-dated Latin and Latin is full of words from it. Yeah. Yeah. And those radix languages up further north they’re only in inscriptions and shit. Right. But even though they’re separate, they have stuff in common. And you can tell that it was a lost language family like that word for two. Yes. Like Zoll. And then there was another teer sinnen that lived the in-language over near Turkey.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: So you’re wondering what that is. That’s Jarrid. And the reason is that I’m trying to make this more like a normal podcast.

S2: Ladies and gentlemen, I did something a couple weeks ago that I had never done before, and I’m being very honest. I actually listened to two episodes of podcasts. I am not kidding that I have never listen to a podcast episode in my life. Until then, despite the fact that I make one. So I listen to two podcast episodes and one of them I’m not even gonna bother to tell you what it was. And the other one most of you can probably guess I’m probably not allowed to say it, but if I am, it was Korina longworth’s. You must remember this. Of course. That would be the first podcast that I would listen to, because it certainly isn’t going to be this one. And in any case, I figured out that apparently doing a podcast means you’re supposed to have lots of music and you’re supposed to be kind of having it weaving all in and out in the background, not just bringing on songs like a deejay. So that’s why I had the Snow Miser song from the Year Without a Santa Claus. TV special from 1974. Because I just thought if we’re talking about the Ice Man, then there’s supposed to be some cold music in the background. So that was Snow Miser. That was music by Mari Laws and. Lyrics by Jules bask- from YEARthat Santa Claus. Then I also learned that you’re supposed to have a song list. Either you’re supposed to say it at the end or it’s supposed to be on the site. And a lot of you are asking me to do that. And I’m beginning to understand that it really looks trade tacky for me to not be doing it. So I know I need to start doing a song list and it’s painfully clear that it’s not right, that it’s just me. You suppose I’m a second person? So apparently with a podcast, you bounce back and forth. And I asked some of my friends about that. It’s supposed to be two people. And so I supposed that the ideal version of Lexicon Valley would be me. And then they’re supposed to be this other guy in the booth. Well, that was Jared. Meet Jared and notice how he and I have a kind of an interchange. In any case, it’s time to bring on a song the way I usually would. Don’t worry, he is not going up here again in this episode at least. But it’s time to bring on a song and jeans. We’re talking about jeans while this song mentions jeans, except they mean blue jeans. And of course I’m just playing it because I like it. This is the title song to Louisiana Purchase, the musical by Irving Berlin in 1940, sung by the wonderful Debbie SHAPIRO Gravy. Even if you don’t like show music, tell me this isn’t one of the most infectious songs ever written.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: Louisiana just I’ll tell you what it means.

S7: It means to sell you new. And you can go to town way down in New Salesman jeans to sell you new and do all the things. What do.

S8: Where does he come from? Real BTD come from that red meat, come from Louisiana versus.

S6: Tell you what it means.

S1: So let me sell you.

S4: So what about India? What about it?

S2: India is a place where there’s an interesting distribution of languages and you wonder how it got that way. Picture India. It’s kind of a triangle. And for about the upper two thirds, you’ve got what we call Indo Aryan languages. So the flagship language, I guess you could call it, is Hindi. The version of Hindi in Pakistan is Urdu. I hope I don’t get smacked for saying that, but they are very similar languages to the point that one, you know where I’m going. So Hindi. And then there are other languages like that. There is Bengali and there’s Marathi and there’s Gujarat, a whole bunch of Indo Aryan languages closely related. Then in the south of India, you have these other languages and we hear of them in the United States. There are many people who speak them, Tommo, for example, and Telugu and Malayalam and Canada. Those languages, however, are not related at all to Indo. Aryan languages, Hindi and Tamil are from completely different language. Families just like French and Finnish are from different language families. The ones down in the south are called Dravidian. They’re just a whole different thing. But there’s an interesting distribution, as we call it, because I say that they’re all clustered down there in the south, which they mostly are. But if you look at the real language map as you go north in India, there’s some not to judge the languages in any sense, but there’s some stray ones like you’re kind of thinking, aren’t you a little out of your range, like the Koth languages spoken way up in the northeast of India, up around Bangladesh. There’s another one up there that I always want to eat. It’s called Molto. And you just you want to bite that one. But they probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Malta is not where it’s supposed to be. It’s kind of up there in the northeast. Then there’s one way up in Pakistan. It’s called Brockway. And in Pakistan, they’re languages that are of Pakistan, like Urdu, then Indo, European languages like Pashto. But then all of a sudden you’ve got this Broadway. And it’s not just a few people either. And that’s a Dravidian language, but it’s way up north, separate from where all the Dravidian action really is. So the question is, did Dravidian start where most of them are in southern India?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: And then some of them adventurously moved north, which is a story that some have preferred, especially since the other story would be that Dravidian originally was spoken all over India and beyond. But then speakers of Indo Aryan languages, these Indo European people, these are people from the steps of Ukraine, but going in the other direction, not west into Europe, but east. Was it that people like that came and overtook the Dravidian? And basically today the Davidians in the south are the last ones remaining because the Indo Aryan speakers basically took over the show northward, except for little droplets like where bra wh-why and Molto and kuhar are spoken. So which was it? For a long time it was hard to tell, and some genetic analysis had it that nobody had entered the whole Indian territory in twelve thousand years and that didn’t really help. And so whatever story you preferred, you could just go with that. But actually now it would seem to be they have learned that about 4000 years ago. The genes can teach us not only that a bunch of people came to India, but that it was a bunch of dudes. It was men for the most part. And so you know how that works. There were there would have been some Conker Ridge going on.

Advertisement

S2: But more to the point, it looks like Indo Aryan speakers, either E-word movers from steppes of Ukraine. They end up coming down and coming through Iran. A lot of them stay there. And that’s where you have Persian, etc., Kurdish that you hear about now and then. Kurdish is one of those Indo Iranian languages. Then they keep coming and they finally stop, you know, about in the middle of India.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: But they would have overtaken or replaced a great many people who originally would have spoken Dravidian languages. So India is originally a Dravidian speaking place. Now it is split between Indo Aryans who came about 10 minutes ago and remaining Dravidian. And it’s interesting, there’s always been an indication that that was probably the story in that there is the Indus Valley. This is up in the north of India where Pakistan is, and in the Indus Valley, you know, in Pakistan. And on the top of India, there are remnants of what was clearly a whole advanced civilization. And one thing that they had was writing and when you look at their writing and you try to figure out what kind of language this writing was, I’d have to use another show to explain how they do this.

S5: But this writing, although nobody has ever deciphered it, looks like it has looked like to people who didn’t have any dog in this fight about who was in India first looks like it would have been Dravidian. That seems to be the structure of whatever the language of this writing is. Well, if so, once again, it’s a little out of the. Dravidian range, it would seem to be that Dravidian speakers, speakers of languages like Tommo were originally much further north, but that then the scene changed and Indo Aryans came to dominate that area and we know it all from just the genes.

S2: And so what song do we play here? Well, this is even sillier than the Louisiana Purchase. But I just want to play it. Remember Jose in the Pussycats, not the movie, but the the stupid cartoons. If he’s from the 70s, remember how the show was not that good. But what everybody liked about it was the theme song. Well, that’s how I felt. And at one point, the theme song, they have a very affected pronunciation of India as India. Tell me you didn’t always kind of like that. And that’s why we’re going to listen to the song.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: And the jails and in shops means we invited. Oh, maybe you give me a chance. That makes no difference. Well, the engine that. The.

S4: So where else? Well, there are actually two places in the world where, even if you’re a linguist, if if it doesn’t happen to be your specialty, you have a sense that there’s a language family that really is three distinct families. And if you meet somebody who specializes in languages of that area, they’re often irritated that everybody thinks that it’s one family when it’s really three. Especially the klicks, especially one person who I won’t name. So there are two places. One of them is in southern Africa where you have klick languages, which I’ve mentioned on the show before, their languages with those magnificent clicks. And you would naturally think, well, that’s a family. You know, if anything is a family, then languages with something as unusual as those clicks must be a family. But actually the languages that have those clicks, they have that in common. But then in terms of their grammatical structure, in terms of just the shape of their words, really, they don’t pattern together at all in their three very separate groups. It’s truly bizarre. For example, you have languages that are of a family talk about romance in Indo-European. So that’s a subfamily. But languages that are closely related, if you have basic words, then they tend to be alike. So French for ear ohi, Spanish for ear, Otaiba, Italian for ear. I can’t remember it right now, but you know those noodles that are so good in the mouth, they’re shaped like little ears and so it’s alright. Get that. So you know or Ray or Ray or a kit day to use the accurate accents. It’s clear that there were some original language that had a word kind of like that. French, Spanish and Italian are clearly sister languages. However, that’s not true of the click languages. So for example, one click language is called Hollett. Another click language. It’s called. Another klick language is called. I get ready. I really can’t call. Home roughly. That I really just can’t do it. It’s a click. Plus, it’s and it’s neat. It’s got a tone. Anyway, you’ve got those three.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S10: Now, the word for ear in whole is. The word for ear in Jew is sweet. The word for ear in home is Nuha, so click language speakers.

S2: I know what that sounds like, but I can’t get recordings of anybody doing it. off-line and paulite. I apologize, but that was the best that I could do. You know, nobody can speak your languages. But the point is that a weak and nwhat are nothing alike. It’s as if they were Indo, European and Neuralgic and Dravidian and everything else. So three different families. Yet genetic analysis by Acher, Rotimi and Schreiner. Wonderful paper that’s taught us so much. Baker, Rotimi and STRINER show us that the people themselves are genetically related. And so the people who have the klicks are not just people from separate families of humanity who happen to share klicks in their languages, but nothing else because they listen to one another over the mountains or there were some intermarriage or something like that. What it means is that the languages have been separate for so very long, they’ve changed so very much that there’s no significant recognizable likeness. But the people themselves see, as you might guess, there is a unity. And so probably there was some original klick language, but we can’t reconstruct it because there’s been too much difference. Then there are these Caucasian languages. If you’re, let’s say here on the steps of Ukraine and you want to go try to take over India, well, you have to go down through that little kind of south eastern funnel of Russia. And then you’re kind of slipping in between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. And Turkey’s over there and you’re in the Caucasus and that these mountains and these mountains allow you to live under some eve-, I guess, avoiding an avalanche or something. But people living in isolation from each other, you’re either in the valley or you’re up on the mountain. And so these very distinct and very complicated languages have developed in the Caucasus. Then you come out into Iran, India. But in the Caucasus, there are these dozens of really fascinating, deeply complex languages. And once again, you would think, well, the Caucasus. OK. There in the mountains there, eating yogurt on the old Dan and commercial, they must all be the same thing. Caucasian language. And of course, we’re not talking about language of the race that John Adams and Huey Long and Mitch McConnell belong to. It’s called Caucasion because of the Caucasus. So you have these Caucasian lives. But no, no, they’re not. They’re not one family. They’re three different families. One of them is called Northwest Caucasian. One of them’s called Northeast Caucasian. The other one is called Khat Villian. And really, it’s kind of like they’re all very complicated. But, you know, Tolstoy says that happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Well, with Caucasian languages, they’re all complicated in their own ways. She’s just Nevius Yemi Pathology droog througout cause the unnice just leave Yesenia. Nisse, just leave a plus volume. That is the way Caucasian languages work. But it turns out again that they are related. There is a such thing as a Caucasian. Purchase them. And again, I don’t mean Franklin D Roosevelt. I mean the people who live in those mountains. And so the families, the language families are quite separate. There are hints in them, though, that they used to be related. And that is because the genes tell us that we can assume that there was an original people who then apparently climbed to the top of a mountain instead of reproducing and the babies started rolling down. I don’t know. I’m in a silly mood. Sorry, but the song now is I’m going to play a caucasion song. And no, it’s not going to be, you know, some Georgian folk. Kim, this is gonna be the theme song to the 1952 to 1955 minor hit sitcom I Married Joan. You know, I Love Lucy was running. Then you would assume that there were many knockoffs that didn’t work. There were. And you can still see a lot of them. I married Joan is one. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it had a wonderful theme song. And the theme song is probably the whitest musical composition ever created by human beings. Listen to the theme song of I Married Joan.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S11: I don’t think so.

S12: But the bottom line, the bottom line. Bye bye bye. Oh, my God. Oh! Oh. Saturday by the Joan Davis Show.

S13: I am married Joan starring America’s Queen of Comedy. Joan Daybut and Mrs. Jones Stephen and featuring Jim Bakker as Judge Bradley Seaver.

S4: Remember Semetic? That was a fun show we did Semitic and I was implying that Semitic is a language family. That’s technically not true. Just like romance is romance. I’m recording on Valentine’s Day and I said romance. I hadn’t thought about that. Romance is a subfamily of the Indo-European family. Semitic is a subfamily of the Afro Eisa ATIC family and in Afro Asiatic. And yes, this is going somewhere. There are six subfamilies, one of Semitic, then another one is Berber. Berber is a whole bunch of languages. They’re fascinating. Some of them you can speak with no vowels. It’s wonderful. Then there is Chaddock. And really, if you’re not on the scene, you probably haven’t heard of Chaddock languages except houseor which is spoken in Nigeria. Then there’s Egyptian. Egyptian is all by itself on a branch. The language of the hieroglyphics is not, you know, Arabic or something like that. That hadn’t happened yet. It’s the Egyptian language, Coptic that’s a branch. Then coup shitake again. We have no reason to know about that one unless there’s some particularities about our lives, such as being Somali. Somali is probably the only Kuchinich language that one might have had some kind of contact with, at least in the United States. Then there’s this stray group of Afro Asiatic it’s hard to get your finger on. It’s like a tomato seed. It’s called o Matic. And it’s partly because there’s no language nomadic that anybody has heard of 15 miles further than where the languages are spoken, unless you are one of the small group of specialists in this language. And the thing about a monarch is that the case that it’s part of aphrodisiac at all has always been very fragile. It doesn’t fit in. So with the other five groups, you can see similarities that make it clear that there was originally some one language, just like we can know there was originally someone proto-indo-european language. But with a monarch, it’s kind of a weak case. And so, for example, if you take all the known all Madoc languages and you reconstruct what the word originally for all would have been, it would have been cool.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S14: Okay. Now, I’m not saying we’d been cool. I mean, the word would have been cool. Okay. No. Okay. It’s all if you know you’ve been bar mitzvahed or something, then you know that Hebrew has coal for all. Arabic has Hulu. And so you think, well, OK, automatic must be aphro Asiatic. But then again, think about how in English we have the word hole or how proto-indo-european for all would have been roughly. So is cool really so specific to coal and hulu gets worse word for dog in original amodio would have been carn.

S4: OK. But you know, that’s cute. Except Hebrew has Kalev. Is that really someone’s like Khan and there’s some more obscure Amodio languages where it’s more like Khan. There’s one called Gunga C. None of us ever heard of any of the Omak languages but Gunga, and the word for dog is kanha. But then again, we we can say canine, for example. proto-indo-european for dog is clone. So really is a monarch part of this group.

S5: And explanations have been proposed as to why a monarch doesn’t seem to match. So, for example, they’re words for honey, if you’re starving out on the savanna, you you’re gonna get stung because you want some honey. There are words for honey that are common to all aphrodisiac subfamilies. But he’s got the words for honey. Then in all of these subfamilies, but a monarch.

S2: There are clearly related words for mucking around with cows, for pastoralism and the like. A monarch has a whole different set of words for that kind of thing. Now cows come to the region where a monarch is spoken in about 9000 B.C.. It might be that a monarch people began as Proteau aphro Asiatic people, but they were separated off as far back as 9000 B.C.. So they’ve been separate from the other five for about eleven thousand years. So everybody else is getting their cows and the Amodio people are either not doing that or they’re getting their cows from somebody else. So maybe because the languages have been separate from the other ones for eleven thousand years, that’s why the signal seems so weak. That might be it.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: But then again, genetic analysis and this is Baker, Rotimi and Schreiner again has suggested that the Illmatic speakers have nothing to do with the people who speak Berber and Kucinich and Egyptian and Semitic and Chaddock. They’re completely separate. You would never know from the genes. In other words, that o matic speakers speak languages related to the speakers of languages from those five other subfamilies. So really it might be. And my money is on this, although nobody asked me. But it might be that O is really just a whole separate family of its own. Probably used to be bigger. Now it’s all by itself. A modest might be.

S4: The Basques of Africa and Africa probably has dozens of Basques that we just haven’t analysed that way yet. By the way, a monarch has come a long, long way from wherever it began. And, you know, spelling systems are like that where the spelling system represents the language at one point. But the way the language is actually pronounced can be quite different. And yes, English is like that. And I’ve talked about why English is like that, but I haven’t said everything. I want to give you the comparative facts. Looking at some other languages. But I’m not going to give it to you now. You have to subscribe to Slate Plus for a nominal fee, you get to hear me talking about that. And not only that, but you get to hear the show without any ads read by me or anybody else. And for that nominal fee, not only do you help fund my show, but also other slate plus podcasts. So if you want to have that little bit at the end where you get information which otherwise you can never hear, it’s not online. I myself have never heard one of what Slate Plus segments you have to sign up for Slate plus you’ll be glad you did. And finally, there is interesting data about languages of the far north of North America. You know that the Inuit of today, they only go back about a thousand years. You know the reasons that you might think that they’ve been there since the dawn of time. But no, they haven’t even been there since the dawn of the peopling of the Western Hemisphere. The ones that are there today only trace back about a thousand years before that.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: For many thousands of years before that, there were these other people living there who somehow the new ones essentially exterminated. There is memory of them in terms of folklore. They have left fossilized and preserved remnants of their lives. It was the Dorset people and they apparently they were bigger than the modern Inuit, but they disappeared. And now we have people who trace back just 1000 years. The genes trace them back to languages spoken in Siberia. So you go backwards over what used to be the Bering Land Bridge. It used to be a whole bridge with people living there for thousands of years at a time. And today you have Siberian languages like come gear. And interestingly, those people are genetically related to our Inuit today. And so you can see that there are relationships that you can deduce from geography, from archeology. The genes tell you something about these people. And it makes you consider that if we want to trace where Native American languages came from, we might want to look at these paleo Siberian languages. It’s all about languages and language, sand, sand, sand, sand. This is a song called Sand in My Shoes. And the lyrics are by Frank Loesser, who later wrote the music to Guys and Dolls, for example, and Victor Shirts and Xur. This is Bobby Short singing it. It is one of my favorite musical cuts ever. And, you know, it’s just time to hear it.

S15: Sand and much sand from Ivana.

S16: Calling me to have on his show. Calling me back once.

S15: Dreams and the dreams of a.

S16: Dreams of a love I have on this train to refuse. Darling, this is my shoe.

S17: Deep in love, they send two strains of the soft guitar, deep in my soul through all of a Tropic Sea.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S15: I love you all.

S18: The moon landing memory I can seem.

S16: That’s why my life’s in a screw, all that has really been a sound my.

S2: Now, what’s interesting about this Native American slash way over in Siberia thing is that there’s another example that’s actually gotten more attention because there’s concrete linguistic evidence of it. Navajo that’s here in America. Kat KEYT That’s another one of these languages in Siberia, a lot of mosquitoes and cat land. It’s one of the few situations where when you hear people talk about where it’s spoken, it’s not wonderful. You know, that’s nothing to do with beautiful sunsets or, you know, birch trees. There are a lot of mosquitoes, but people seem to want to get out of there. But some of the most fascinating languages in the world are spoken in this, the NSA in region. And the damnedest thing is that Navajo and kett have words that are ominously similar and too many to be an accident.

S5: That’s the opinion of an increasing number of linguists who are trained to analyze this sort of thing. So a Navajo, the word for food is cat in cat.

S10: The word is Keats.

S2: In Navajo, the word for stone is set in cat.

S10: That word is put.

S5: These are different, but they would’ve been separated for a very long time now. But there are too many pairs like that to be an accident. And it gets down even into the grammar. Navajo is a language where you can cram so much into one word that it’s a sentence and sometimes it’s two.

S4: So I’m taking rope like objects down one of the time. The way that you say that is not heat D-flat just now. Heat these. Let every little piece mean something like I went, no heat. And then I kind of stopped there. I didn’t stop there because I’m shy or something like that. That means them. So I’m taking rope like objects them down one at a time. Now, heat, D-flat, all that. And it’s just one word in the same way. And kett, if you wanted to say they were letting me go. You just say Bertoni dog that Orndorff is just one word and each little bit means something like for example, I won’t bore you. But when I say bartold often the or just all all. That’s how you put it in the past. So I’m saying they were letting me go. Well, the fact that it was in the past is the all just all these little pieces. Not all languages in the world work that way. Navajo and its friends do kett and its friends do. So that’s interesting. But science is sloppy.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Baker, Rotimi and STRINER know about that linguistic connection that a lot has been said about over about the past 15 years. But, you know, there’s no genetic evidence for it. You wouldn’t know genetically that Navajos and cats are related. So clearly more research needs to be done. Clearly, there are going to be slips between the genes and the language, but it’s always a lot of fun. And I wanted to share a lot of these findings because the sort of thing that I actually find myself, it’s not my research, but I find myself thinking about it. And I figure, why not share it with you, especially in this dreary February for me? February is interesting. It’s always both gloomy and then for some reason, lucky in various ways. But frankly, February blows. And so what you need is good music. And let’s go back to the sand in my shoes.

S18: I mean, it’s a nice, comfortable, so safe in the sense of the strains of the song.

S17: Deep in my soul, none of us are all of a traffic C.

S19: You can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate.com, that’s Lexicon Valley at Slate.com to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out to Slate.com slash Lexicon Valley, by the way, folks on the song list. I know I’m not a real podcast unless I give you a list of the songs and where they came from. I’ll talk to the suits about it. Mike volo is, as always, the editor and I am John McWhorter is the feel of the Sun him?

S20: In my C.

S4: People often ask me why English spelling is so bad. And I did a podcast episode about that and their books about it. But I want to address a specific question that I often get from a lot of you, which is English spelling is bad for various reasons, but one of them is that the language changed and the spelling stayed the same. But the problem is that lots of languages have been changing at the same time as English has been changing and their spelling has stayed the same. But apparently these languages haven’t changed as much as English has. Why?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: That is a very legitimate question. And so, for example, there hasn’t been any huge reform in Spanish spelling anytime lately. And yet Spanish is much easier in terms of the distance between print and speech than English. What happened? And the answer is that English has had quite a history. But there are other languages that are almost as bad. It’s just that we don’t hear as much about them or we’re just used to the situation. For example, English. His main problem is the great vowel shift where something that would have been written, say Marquet is now pronounced make or something that was written as fade with two E’s and therefore a long a fade is now pronounced fead because the vowels kept moving around or don’t even get into like which is supposed to be li like any normal European language would pronounce a word written that way, but now has become like because leek lake like like like like. So English had that transformation which you know, that alone makes the spelling system kind of a nightmare. But you know, are we so bad? Think, for example, of French. And because until about 15 minutes ago, almost anybody who went anywhere near a school room was put through at least some French. And even today, you kind of learn your way around that. If you’re not taught it formally, really consider how absurd it is that B E A U X spells bow. You’re so used to seeing that way, but imagine how far speech has come from the way it’s written. And so remember, French, Spanish and Italian. These are sister languages. Spanish hasn’t pulled anything like that. French has always been in a hurry. The vowels have just moved in all sorts of ways and the spelling just sits there cowering and you just get used to this massive gulf between what’s on the page and what you say ball for good. But what’s on the page is bone. Bone. That’s the way it used to be pronounced, not ball. We’re just kind of used to it just kind of sits there. Some languages are just and more of a hurry than others. Or another way of putting it is that some languages are more conservative in terms of their sounds than others. French for no reason that I’m aware anybody has ever identified, has always just been in a hurry. It’s sound system is just changing all the time. It still is. And it would wind any spelling system, whereas with Italian in particular, Italian is just not in a hurry.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Another example of this good old Danish in Danish. You spell l AEG’s I pity schoolchildren in Copenhagen. L e g e that means to play lig. Right. No lie. LCG lie. It’s just because of sound change. And Danes put up with that. I have been to Dahm Land. People make jokes about the disjunction between the spelling and the pronunciation and you e-tolling and berry and you move along your way. That’s just the way it is. Danish is almost as bad as this language Burmese. So this isn’t just some European sin. Burmese for one, two and three. One. Talk to Nuck. Three. sume in actual Burmese as it’s spoken as opposed to how it is on the page.

S10: Talk is t. Nuck is ni.

S21: And get this sume is thong. sume has become thaung.

S5: Burmese people put up with a disjunction like that. How you write Burmese and how you speak it are practically different languages and you know the world keeps spinning. Or for example, I have often referred to this new language as Creole language spoken in the rainforest of Surinam by descendants of African slaves. It combines English and Portuguese and two African languages Fall and Congo. And it’s very interesting in that Samarkand is actually one of a bunch of grapes. There are various Creole languages that formed in that country and had different histories. They all started as one on the coast. And for 300 years and change, they’ve been separating into different languages. So, for example, in the original language, the word for blood would have come from Englishmen who would have been saying roughly blood like blood might say so blood. The word was it’s basically blood rendered in African. It would have been BUELOW. Do you get a nice pretty vowel at the end? You don’t have ugly consonant clusters like so Bulloo do. Okay. Today in the Creole, spoken on the coast, it’s called Sharana. That is the language of that beautiful song that many people wished. I had done a song list and actually pointed to by the poet Travolta Saarinen for Bulloo Do today is Brue do so you have a consonant cluster now that developed again, and so not Bulloo do, but Brue do. The L changed into an R in Samarkand.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S21: Bulloo do has become boohoo. I’m not getting three Jews in a row. boooo. And so the law is gone. The duck is gone. Samarkand has a way of getting those consonants in between vowels out of the way. So Bulloo Do said fast is brutal, but then Baloo do set in. Psalm Orkin is boue.

S5: Psalm Arkin’s just in more of a hurry that way. siRNA is more conservative and it be hard to give any particular reason why, especially when you look at all the Creoles in the country and you look at things like this, it’s just that some languages have a B up there. But in their bonnet, frankly, the first one is better.

S10: And so, for example, bread better red day is the way it would have come out at first on Sara Markin buried it. Today is bad. And so 3 as an arrow belly is not Béla, but bad. And so it’s interesting. You can have three words. That is bread, that is belly. That is the word for red, actually.

S5: So best bet that those are all different words because siamak and can’t be bothered with these interval callit consonants. It’s just in more of a hurry. Maybe it just has sand in its shoes.