On the Origin of English

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership at. From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter, and this week I want to share with you some toys of mine, something that has fascinated me now for almost 20 years. It is a thesis about the birth of English. For one thing that some people have been developing for a while, it’s considered either controversial or ridiculous. And like many such things, it is actually worthy to hear these people out, even if it turns out that what they’re saying is not true, because it very well might be. And what this is about is something that I’ve often alluded to on this show, which is that English is odd. I’ve written a piece that you can find online about how English is a very odd language as the 7000 languages of the world go. English is weird. And it’s not only English, as you might guess. It’s English and it’s friends, English and it’s sisters. There is this Indo-European language family that bestrides Europe and Iran and India. And of course, the family has subfamilies and one of them is called Germanic. And so you’ve got your German, you’ve got your English, you’ve got your Dutch, you’ve got Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, and you’ve got some others. But Germanic in general is a weird subfamily. If you look at the other ones in Indo-European, it feels very normal to us the way English works. And if you’ve taken some German, that may seem harder than English, but still quite normal.

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S2: But that’s because we’re fish that don’t know that we’re wet. If you look and you cast a broader net, Germanic is weird. They’re all these words and Germanic by some estimates, it’s one in three. By other estimates it’s half. Half of the words in Germanic only are in Germanic. So you can’t find the original Indo-European word that spread all over the place. So these words that only Germanic has suspiciously many Germanic grammar is weird in certain ways, different from all the others. And more to the point, in some ways there isn’t enough of it. There’s something oddly streamlined about Germanic compared to most of Indo-European. So what seems normal to us is comparatively odd. And many linguists and absolutely excellent and authoritative ones think that this difference in Germanic languages is just an accident. And, you know, accidents do happen. But some linguists think that there’s a more interesting reason than accident for why Germanic languages, including English, are so odd as Indo-European languages go. And as the years go by, I am increasingly compelled to the extent that it is my job to share with you in this venue the sorts of things that kind of prick up my ears. So here is the basic story. The idea is that Germanic goes back to some original language. We call it proto Germanic. We can’t know what its speakers would have called it, but there was this original language that became German and English and Swedish, etc., and that would have been spoken probably in that little neck of Denmark or maybe a little southwards of that in, let’s say, about five hundred B.C. So that’s where proto Germanic would have started. And in the meantime, there is a thesis that that language was profoundly impacted by invading or at least imposing people from the Near East, people from way down where there is today, Lebanon and Syria and Israel specifically. It would be the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were one of many people in that region and they would have spoken a Semitic language, i.e. a language related to what we know today as Hebrew and Arabic. And if we want to go further afield, Aramaic and cross the Red Sea and it’s Amharic in Ethiopia, but they spoke of Semitic language and we know what they spoke because they wrote it down because they actually were the first people who grabbed the alphabet when it was very quietly and scrappier, invented probably by mercenary soldiers in Egypt. The Phoenicians took it and made into something that they use basically to write down business related things. They weren’t writing epics. They weren’t writing The Grapes of Wrath, but they were writing. And so the Phoenicians are the ones who end up spreading the alphabet throughout the world. In any case, more to the point, the Phoenicians were big travelers. They did not like to stay home. The Phoenicians started ruling the roost where they were probably in about 1100 B.C.. And they didn’t just stay there, they sailed, they traded, they got themselves around what was then considered by people like them, the world throughout the Mediterranean, they keep on going westward. And of course, once you get out to where there’s no more land, well, you might start going up into like Spain. And they kind of hovered around the coast. They traded, they brought things back. They were great intermediaries. Now in the Middle East, they had their cities like Tyre and Byblos or Carthage that you hear so much about on the north coast of Africa, that is Phoenician or Punic Territory. But they sailed. And, you know, there is evidence that they sailed not only to roughly Spain and Portugal, which is what we have absolutely concrete evidence for them doing. But there’s evidence that they kept going and they went all the way up to northern Europe and passed what’s now Germany and that they actually would have gone all the way to that part of Denmark. One little piece of evidence is that they got people. Amber, if you got some amber in Greece, if you got some Amber and what is today, Lebanon? Well, the amber is often is not came from up in that Baltic Northern European region. They had a lot of amber and Amber is pretty, I think, of Amber is preserving bits of dinosaur tales and insects and things like that. But Amber is also just gorgeous. You kind of want to bite it. Big Amber trade.

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S1: Well, they always seem to have it. Well, how they get it? Well, it would seem that they had some sort of connection to northern Europe. That in itself doesn’t mean that they sailed all the way up there and got it because there were ways of trading Amber just across the European continent. But the fact that they had so much Amber is one of a great many things. It’s like the spokes in a wheel. An argument is about various things that all seem to point in the same direction. What about that, Amber? But more to the point, it’s about the language. What is wrong with Germanic? Why is it so odd? Well, what is this case that these people came from the Near East and sailed all the way up around Europe and then understand what the thesis is? The idea is that speakers of Phoenician settled in somewhere in this part of Denmark and there was long term settlement where speakers of this Phoenician and speakers of this thing we called proto Germanic mixed to the point that many people were basically speaking proto Germanic in Phoenician. To an extent, this is what we linguists call language contact theory, the idea being that proto Germanic ended up being really stamped by this other way of being a language, because there would have been these settlements where the Phoenicians ruled the roost and their language seemed to be the cool one, and it was the one that people switched to. So the proto Germanic ended up being profoundly affected. It kind of wanted to be cool and became more like Phoenician. What is the evidence that that happened, given that there is no archaeological evidence, partly because what would have been the shore back then has since become underwater. So we can’t really dig up where these settlements probably would have been? Well, one of the things is words. So as I said, so many words in Germanic languages don’t trace back, they just pop up. All of a sudden it’s about one in three. And that’s a conservative estimate. Now, some of the experts just don’t give a damn about that. And they have other things to do. They have bigger fish to fry. And that is perfectly understandable. Sometimes you just don’t give a damn. You know what I don’t care about? For example, I do not care about outer space. I remember when there was the Apollo landing and everybody was so excited and they actually rolled in a little black and white TV into my classroom. We were supposed to watch. I didn’t care. I’m more interested in what’s going on here, astrophysics. I respect it, but I do not care about Saturn. And, you know, the analogy is not precise because the people who don’t care that there’s so many foreign words in Proteau, Germanic, they don’t care because they figure that it just must be chance, that we just we can’t know everything. OK, but really, it’s so many words that maybe there’s some sort of explanation. And what’s interesting is that if you look at the words that don’t trace back, they seem to coalesce upon meaning certain kinds of things. Those things like sea out in the sea ship, strand sail. So those sorts of things, it’s war or things like sword, it’s fish. Where does carp come from? Where does eel come from? There’s no Slavic word Elche. That’s just. One of these things where only Germanic languages have it, then there are these formal things like night, there’s no word Netsky ether, it’s these things like night. It seems as if there were these people who came from the sea and who kind of lorded it over these people and ended up imposing, probably not consciously, but imposing their words, kind of like with French and English. And so the Normans come over and all of a sudden we have all these words from French and they tend to be the formal things, things about art, words like pleasure, or we talk about the cow that’s, you know, shitting all over the place. But we eat beef. We talk about the pig that’s intelligent but doesn’t smell good, but we eat pork, pork and beef or French words. Well, it seems like maybe these Phoenicians were doing the same thing. They come from the sea and so they contribute those words. Then you have things like night, you have things referring to the army and stuff like that. Remember Sea Show before last where I talked about how there’s a word for sea that is sea and then a word for sea that something like French lomaia. Well, sea is in Germanic languages, but it stops there and you know, it kind of time for a song. And I’m thinking about the sea and I’m thinking about people out in the middle of the sea. And I’ve got to go really obscure. This is Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. This is from a Connecticut Yankee. This is from the revival of that show in 1943, which means that this is one of the very first cast albums. This is a song I’ve always loved called On a Desert Island with V.

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S3: For those of you who care, this is Chester Stratton singing, Oh, right here on a desert island with the name out in the middle of the sea. We’ll say, why wouldn’t we be happy and gay with my mom many miles away in the morning, air blessing first, then we will dress. If it’s fair, we’ll be caressing. If it rains, we’ll know next year what the population will be out in the middle of the city stabilised.

S1: In any case, it’s as if these words were imposed by some group that came from abroad. And they’re all sorts of words like this. This is the thing where you can trace them to Phoenician type words is the funniest thing. So, for example, one of those in Germanic is folk. Folk is only in the little German Germanic collection now in Germanic folk. Now it means like the people in English, but it starts as referring to a division of an army. And only later did it come to mean just like a tribe of people or something like that. So if you look at all the Germanic languages and you look at their words that are like folk or something like it, you can tell that the first word like in that neck of Denmark was Fulker. Now, what’s interesting is that in Semitic languages, if you trace them back in the same way, then a root for to divide as in a division making a division. It wasn’t Fulker, but what they had was polla. Now, this is something about how Semitic languages work, where it’s that you have to think about the consonants. The vowels change for all sorts of reasons. But if you’re talking about dividing, if you’re talking about a division, if you’re talking about people being divisive, etc., what you know is that it’s going to have the consonants pull le, huh? So imagine there’s this first word, pulla. The book becomes a foot that happens all the time in Germanic languages, something received as a pull became a foot regularly. That’s something weird about Germanic. It’s called Grims law. So Latin has parterre. We have farther put goes to for popcorn, goes to popcorn, so to speak. So here’s the Semitic pull, huh. And then Puck goes to fir. Then the look stays look becomes cut. What a massive change.

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S2: And so it seems that that Falck word, which doesn’t seem to have any other source, it’s rather oddly like this Semitic word for division. Both of them meant division. You find all sorts of things like that. And so, for example, another one that’s an orphan is Maden, old English. It’s Mageddon or MEXT. Now, if you look at Old Norse, that’s the language that became Swedish and Norwegian and Danish. It was not Magg then. It was my guvs in earlier German, it was Maggert and so on. So the Proteau Germanic form, that word that they would have used in Denmark, it would have been McGuff, that would have been the word for a little maiden. And what’s interesting is that in Semitic you do the same thing in the Semitic languages and the word is Mosshart.

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S1: And so imagine you have a word, Mahat, and imagine if that was brought to this little Danish peninsula. Mahut becomes McGoff really easy. Goes to good. I mean might as well be good. Mahut Mackoff of course. Yeah, that’s perfectly normal. Now I could go on with those as you can imagine. It wouldn’t be thousands of words. It’s not a huge collection, but it’s a great many more than a few. But you still have to be careful because you can take any two languages and find cute little pairings like that. Some people have said that any two languages will even have as many as three, four or five percent of words where you can pull that sort of thing in Japanese. The word for to hang down is Sadhguru. In other words, to SAG. Does that mean that English and Japanese are related? Well, they clearly are. The word for to eat is Tubruq. Anybody who learns Japanese things. Well, that seems like table. It’s a complete accident. You never know. But the thing is, with these little word parallels between Proteau, Germanic and Semitic languages like Phoenician, it’s even the more picky, specific, idiosyncratic things. So, for example, in biblical Hebrew, there was a word airbed that meant to cross airbed. Now, there was another word that used those same consonant sounds that are the other, and that meant sure, so the consonant stayed the same. You mess around with the vowels and either you get to cross or you get sure, get this in old English. Off-Air was the word both for sure. And for over as in the direction that you go when you’re crossing in German, you’ve got Ufer for sure, and Eber for over. So maybe that’s an accident that you have this other word in a Semitic language like biblical Hebrew that has those two meanings and then something that sounds just like it in Germanic. But when those things start to pile up, you start thinking, wow, maybe Phoenicians came up and imposed some of their words on these innocent speakers of a language that originally would have had other words for those things that we will now never know. And since we’re about the sea, I am now thinking of something else. And it is Conrade, the sailor. He’s a cat where in the world of Looney Tunes. And there’s a song called Song of the Marines from a Warner Brothers film musical Nobody Needs to see. But in Conrade, The Sailor, this looney tune where they’re on a ship, at one point all of the gods are singing the song of the Marines and it’s all of the gods. And what it really is on the soundtrack is for guys. It’s the sportsman’s quartet. Damn, could they sing? Listen to this perfect velvety rendition of a song that you probably will have heard before. You just didn’t know that it was called Song of the Marines Over the Sea. Let’s go, men. Listen to these guys. Sing it in this looney tune where you can forget how good the soundtrack is because you’re enjoying just the silliness of what Looney Tunes are over the sea.

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S4: Let’s go shopping around for a while ago. Where and then right off this island. Right off the road. It goes away. And so don’t be blue, but just be gone for years. Oh, shut up.

S1: OK, but the words alone would not make this case because language is more than words. It could be maybe that these people came and sprinkled Proteau Germanic with some words, but that wouldn’t change the nature of the language. It wouldn’t be as interesting story. So as I always try to get across on this show, language is more than just buckets of words. It’s also how you put the words together. And if the Phoenicians had this effect or somebody had this effect, it was not only on collections of words, but how you put them together, what you do to or with the words to actually express thoughts. And so, for example, English, English and its verbs, Englishes, weird verbs, Irun right now, yesterday I rund know I ran. So the consonants stay the same. But you change the vowel today. I think yesterday I sank. And that means that if I’m on the boat going down, then I have sunk. Sink sank, sunk. Those are called our strong verbs for reasons that need not concern us. But those are our irregular verbs. And the way they’re irregular is that a vowel changes. That’s not just English, that’s the Germanic family. And so in German, you know, today I drink Klencke and then yesterday I think and so on. Same thing you learn German, you find that that’s one thing that gives an English speaker something to grab on to. It’s true in Dutch, Swedish and all of them. So you have that vowel change. It’s called ablaut if you want to have a term. But that’s an ugly word. So I’m not going to use it too much. But you have that vowel change to indicate a change in ten. Specifically, it’s how we do our past tense and our particle. Now, you know, that’s kind of odd. It’s not odd that you have a vowel change instead of an ending to put something in the past, for example. So for those of us who know some Spanish, think about the verb, then add a four to have. And so there are all sorts of vowel changes that you have to master to actually manipulate it. And so I have your thing go. But he has LTM and then he had is Tuval. But that’s just the thing. It’s more than just changing the vowel that you have to deal with in Spanish. So if it’s he has Vme and then he had Doval. Well, it’s not just that the year went to the all, but you also have this v that. Comes in, et cetera, so it’s not just the vowel changes in a language like Spanish or other Indo-European languages, Indo-European languages in general have all blocked, but it’s the way it’s done in Germanic. That’s interesting. If you haven’t learned any other language where in order to put something into the past, all you do is fiddle with the vowel. And, you know, if you went to Hebrew school or if you speak a Semitic language, then you know exactly what I mean. In Hebrew, Israeli, Hebrew, he writes, quote, Tev, Kotov, fine. But then he wrote, That’s Kotov. So the Katee and the V stayed the same Curre to vote. They’re from on high. It’s those vowels skittering around in between them that end up changing. So from Kotov to Karpov. And so, for example, you know, I speak like I’m pretending to speak Hebrew ne madobe air and so I speak madobe ignore the da bear so that speak. But then if I spoke it’s d there. So once again it’s a vowel change. It’s not that you say something like d’abord or something like that. Well you know that business of the vowels moving around, although of course Hebrew does have suffixes and things that get involved, but still that fundamental quality of vowels moving around and often that’s all you have to do. That’s something that’s interestingly reminiscent of the way you do these things in Germanic languages. And it’s interesting that only Germanic languages are the ones that for some reason do it in that Near Eastern way. It’s as if basically somebody who spoke a language like Phoenician learned Proteau Germanic, but they didn’t learn it completely. And probably over time they started speaking this proto Germanic in the way that a Phoenician would want to. And so they picked up on the fact that Proteau Germanic had vowel changes like any Indo-European language does, but they tidied it up. They made it more familiar. And so they started using these Germanic verbs in a way that felt comfortable to a Phoenician. And here we are. And so Germanic has these sort of Semitic, Finnish, any verbs, and nobody would know why now. But just maybe it was because of something like that. And there’s another way that Germanic languages feel like somebody else learned them and kind of screwed things up. And that’s more with the verbs. And what it is, is that in Germanic languages, there really aren’t that many say, suffixes and tables to learn for how to make your verbs work.

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S5: I know that that’s part of what always got me as an English speaking language, had it so that you go to some other language and, you know, for Spanish you’ve got a blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah, blah, blah. You’ve got all these endings to remember. It’s like you’re your erector set because English is so poor and things like that. Now from English, if you move over to German, you find more. But even there, there isn’t all that much. So it’s basically present past and participles if you’re talking about endings. And so I’m waiting ekh farter. OK, you’re waiting for artist. OK, he waits it OK. And then if it’s plural we wait the olten ok so erst it. But in German if you think about it, what else. You know you’ve got some present tense endings and you’ve got some past tense stuff. But then that’s it. Why isn’t there a whole table in German of future tense endings. That’s what other European languages seem to do. That’s what languages around the world seem to do so often. Where where is the list of of Future Tense Onex? But no, you don’t get that. So in Spanish that one of the challenges is all those different kinds of endings. You have to learn to indicate all sorts of different shades. It’s a language full of endings and tables of endings and then irregularities of the endings. So you’re abelow. I’m talking now. Then in the past, your ablate, when you have to know all those endings and not just in the first person singular, but, you know, whole whole shebang, imperfect. I was speaking, of course, they have to make a difference there. But can you imagine in English if we had a suffix to make that distinction in the future? Ablaut, we say I shall speak or I’m going to speak or we just say I speak tomorrow. We really can’t be bothered, but in a normal Indo-European language are blurry. And of course, that’s just one ending conditional. LARIA No would with, you know, an el sitting in their wold. None of that. Ablana You have endings subjunctive. And so if I were to speak your ablate, you just have to know, you know, always at the end of the year, you don’t quite get to the end of the textbook. But, you know, there’s an imperfect subjunctive, you know, Adlerstein, all that stuff. And that is normal. Germanic is odd in having so little of that kind of thing, what we do in English is we use little separate words to indicate those things, but it’s not really the family style of Indo-European. And once again, when you see things like that in a language, often it’s because somebody learned it from the outside and made it a little easier, made it a little more transparent. So in English, instead of having a whole bunch of endings to indicate the future, which then inevitably, because language gets messed up, would get all smushed and irregular over time, instead of that, we just have this will and this going to business, which actually only came in four or five hundred years ago. It’s as if at some point and it would have been with this, you know, granddaddy Germanic language, somebody learned it in completely. It’s like somebody was being given pre Germanic, you know, over to olingo or something like that. And they got it. But they got rid of a lot of the bells and whistles that make language learning hard because, you know, they could get away with it. And make no mistake for the language heads among you. Yes, to an extent, languages simplify over time. But I did a show way back that if you haven’t been listening for a while, you might not know of what I talked about. The fact that it is not true, that it is natural to language to just keep getting simpler. That’s a myth that’s based partly on a kind of eurocentrism and partly on just innocent aspects of the fact that fish don’t know they’re wet and we are fish and we speak a language like English. But it’s not normal for a language that just keep on shedding things. Because if you think about it, if human language has been around for at least three hundred thousand years and maybe two million, then if all language did was get simpler, then there wouldn’t be any languages. Now we’d all just be kind of lollygagging on the ground. Languages get simpler while at the same time randomly developing new complications. So, for example, a language like Russian and its Slavic friends, that’s another descendant of the original Ukraine, Proteau Indo-European language. Proteau Indo-European, as we reconstruct it, was just jangling with the sorts of things that make a language hard to learn. Now, of course, Russian has lost some of them, but gained others. And so although Russian doesn’t have, for example, the elaborate past tense marking that an earlier version of it would have had, well, for goodness sake, just the verbs about moving in a language like Russian are so subtle and so complicated and then, of course, irregular. On top of that, it’s almost like, you know, Stalin did this just to make life hard for people. They are so hard that it’s virtually learnable without dealing with them in context. And so that’s how language change happens.

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S1: You develop complexities that almost in a way balance out the things that are getting simpler. Proto Germanic didn’t do that. Proto Germanic seems to have really taken a hit. It’s like a real bite out of what Indo-European this is. And so it’s one more indication. So first of all, it really is specifically Finnish. Any that you have things like Run ran to the extent that you have it in Germanic and then also just the verbs in general seem like somebody didn’t feel like learning real Proteau Indo-European verbs and made them easier. And as to who that would have, then given the evidence that we already have from the shape of a lot of the lost words, plus the business of Run ran, we wonder if it was the Phoenicians talking about language acquired by someone adult. I am going to give you because it makes me think of and yes, this is slightly random.

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S5: Leida Roberte. She was a Polish singer back in the twenties and thirties who became briefly famous in the United States. And you know what? Because it was that long ago and you’ve got the sound quality, I’m not going to play you lie to Roberte. But her big song, one of her big songs, was called My Cousin in Milwaukee. She sang it in a very cute way. And, you know, it’s not a great song, but it was masterfully arranged for Ella Fitzgerald by Nelson Riddle in the 50s. And this should be her. Just what this man did with this rather minor song. This is Ella Fitzgerald singing My Cousin in Milwaukee, which is originally from a 1933 George and IRA Gershwin musical called Pardon My English. Here it goes.

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S6: That one star visited my cousin in Milwaukee, you she got boyfriends by the dozen when she sat in the low down way. She was a positive sensation. The songs that she sang would never miss my cousin was my inspiration. That’s why I got like this. I got a cousin in Milwaukee. She’s got a boy so squawky. And though she’s tall and kind of gawky. Oh, how she gets the man. Her singing is an operatic. It’s got a lot of scatting, like makes your heart get acrobatic nine times out of ten. When she sings hot you can’t be solemn. It sends shivers up and down your spinal column. When she sings blue, the men shout, What’s up? That baby is hot.

S1: You hear how in the arrangement there’s that thing going on on the xylophone when she sings spinal column might play that again.

S6: When she sings hot, you can’t be solemn. It sends shivers down your spinal column.

S1: In any case, imagine that song sung by somebody with a really thick and I hate to say it, but adorable in her case. Polish accent. OK, what else? That’s specifically Finnish me. Well, there is something else. And this is going to take us into the archives. We’re talking about old high German and there is a pagan incantation that survives from roughly the 900 A.D. It’s called the Mayor’s Arberg charm. In this incantation, there is this strange little mention of the God. Baldor And if you’re a fan of Norse Hetta type stuff, then that sounds familiar. The God. Baldor But then just before that, he’s mentioned under an alternate name as foll p h o l foll.

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S7: So BALDOR And full well what’s going on with Baldor and Foll.

S1: Well, for one thing, Ball is a Phoenician God and long ago it isn’t talked about as much now, but certainly in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, there were people who remarked a lot upon similarities between Middle Eastern, Near Eastern religions and Germanic and Nordic religions. And the question is why? Well, you know, Baal is one of these Semitic gods. And now here in the burkham, we have seen elsewhere in early Germanic sources, you have Baldor and then this foll.

S7: Well, what’s Foll?

S1: Well, what’s interesting is that Foll actually can be seen as tracing again to Phoenician and Semitic. So take Foll. We know about how sounds change in, for example, Germanic languages and if you’ve got a fir then in earlier German than old high German. Sorry to take you there. That’s as far as we’re going to go. The FIR is a push and we know that if you go even further back based on comparing Germanic languages and Indo-European languages, that Appu was a book. So Foll originally, if we’re going to take it piece by piece, we know it would have actually been something like Bhogle. OK, but then the oh, if you’ve got an O, an old high German, then an earlier German that oh was an R the R change to oh that was regular. You see that in lots and lots of words. And so that means that the original word wasn’t only not Foll but Bhogle but it would have been. Yeah. C ball.

S7: So that fold is ball in old high German.

S1: That’s why there’s this mysterious Foll Baldor is more preserved. But even there. Even there. Why Baldor. What is that. You know, it’s not about somebody who doesn’t have hair, you know, in Phoenician. Great God is Bolle idea balladeer. Sometimes they were right is one word balladeer and then sometimes you get an even shorter version. Baudier And so then here in this old high German document, you’ve got BALDOR It’s very interesting how these things go. And what it means is that Foll and Baldor are really the same word.

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S5: Foll is Germanic speaking people having taken up this word ball and made it their own. It’s as if these Phoenician travelers, if this actually happened, also imposed a religious system and imposed it deeply enough that Foll is ball spoken in their language. Over hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, such that now it’s genuinely a Germanic term, then Baldor persists alongside as what you can call a borrowing that keeps more of its own counsel.

S1: But this is just one more piece of evidence that something was going on that we are not told about. Finally, there is something else that is possibly Phoenician about early Germanic language, and it’s about writing, which I know you all enjoy, and I do, too. And it’s this aspect of it actually that made me do this show, because some of you may know that in my book, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, which is one of my favorites, partly just because the physical package, it’s such a pretty little book. In that book, I discuss this business of Phoenician influence on early Germanic and I discuss it in a parenthetical and tentative way. But I say that it’s all very interesting. So it’s not that this is brand new to me, but the case has been fleshed out somewhat since. And one of the ways has been fleshed out is with this business of the writing and specifically I refer to the rooms, the rooms that is early Germanic alphabet, and it’s carved on bones and it’s written on stones. That sounds like Dr. Seuss. And they’re very pretty and they look charmingly primitive because, you know, you don’t want to do too much horizontal, etc. It’s the runes are great. And the idea about where the runes came from is that they would have been based on other alphabets being developed and spread from the south in Europe. And so you would think, given when the runes come about, that they would have been adopted from, say, the Greeks who developed an alphabet with vowels for the first time down in Greece or Etruscan on the spit of land that is now Italy. They had a similar alphabet and they got around more than we might think today, given that they’re gone. So you would think that these Viking Goth types would have gotten their runes from the often sociologically dominant people down south. But the thing is, they’re aspects of the runes that seem like they came via a different route. And yes, I said, Root, I’m from Philadelphia. No, no route. And that is something that you can probably already figure out. You can know where this is going. Here’s why. The Runes have an alternate name, the FU FAQ for a R.K., the fourth arc. And damn, that’s an ugly word. But why they’re called that is because the first letters are the equivalent of f you fir a r like the fouth ask. The question is why. What happened to something like a, b, c, d. I mean that’s how alphabets work and there are variations. But you’re certainly supposed to begin with a you see that in a Greek, Hebrew, a B and then well maybe you know C is complicated but then you’re supposed to have D probably G in there. What in hell is F you. That’s like something somebody made up. Well, you know, it might not be random. The fouth arc. It’s the funniest thing. There are weird parallels between the fouth arc and the way the Phoenicians did it, not the Greeks and the Etruscans who got it from the Phoenicians, but directly how the Phoenicians did it. So, for example, in Semitic languages, the letters are named after actual things. So for us, we don’t know what an A or B or a D or a G.R. or if those things happened to be something that’s an accident. So yes, a B is that thing that flies around, but that’s not what the letter is supposed to be. But in Semitic languages, the letters have names of actual things. In Hebrew you’ve got Iliffe and that’s originally an ox and Phoenicians the same way. And so the letters begin by being Ox House. That’s the BITA one and then Camil, except it’s a G. More like Gimel, but Camil door window. That’s the names of the letters. The runes are like that too. It’s not like that in Greek and Etruscan. You just have names like the ones that we had these little bits of stuff. But you know you have ox horse, camel door window for Phoenician for the runes. You have similar actual names of things. It’s roughly Hox then roughly some other kind of ox, then giant God. Jurnee, believe it or not. Also the gift. That is how the fouth arcs are named. So there’s a parallelism right there. It’s as if they were getting it straight from the mouths of the Phoenicians rather than second hand from the Greeks. And then this is the funniest thing. You can look at the Phoenician letters and you can actually see how somebody maybe would have come up with F a, r, k. So, for example, the Phoenician letters begin with what we would think of as A, B, G, D and H, you can just use that A, B, G, D and H. Now, why would the runes start with F of all things? Well, the Phoenician A actually the A is olive, which is about an ox. That’s what it is. It looks like one if you turn an uppercase A. around it’s an ox. Well you know, fur is the first letter of the word for cattle in early Germanic. It would be who. And so they are watching how Phoenicians write things down. And the Phoenicians, their first letter is an Oxford. Well, that would mean that for a roon person, then you’re going to start your alphabet with an F, because for them that word was Fey, who Fey, who later became Phee, talking about animals and transactions and selling them and killing them and money, etc.. And so Fey who that would explain that. There you go. Next is the Phoenician for B.. Now, in Phoenician, B had come to be pronounced more like a ve, but a V where you don’t even have that much bite. It’s more like a it’s that sound that you’d learn to make in Spanish that’s quote unquote in between a B in a V and you never feel like you’re doing it right. So obvious as a fossil, that sort of thing. So Bush had become huh. That if anything sounds like a W, especially if you’re not used to making the sound. And the thing is, Phoenician already had a real W and these Roon people didn’t really need this particular W. And so what it looks like is that the Roon people heard this W sound and actually Phoenicians W was about six or seven steps down in their alphabet. The Rupnik people put that symbol down there, that’s where it was in the foofaraw. And so they heard this w and they figured, well, OK, we’re going to just put that down there where they have their W and that took care of that. So the Phoenician B ended up being reclassified and put where a sound a lot like it already was. So that took care of that. So A, B then G. OK, so the fifth arc has you and the Phoenicians have G, how does that become an issue. Well G in Phoenician sounds are always changing. It had become so you say good then you kind of pull away a little bit. Her sounds soften and then it becomes just a little with the hook. We call that an approximate in linguistics and so good fricative and then the well that’s an approximate that you’re really back there just kind of go well, that if you do that over and over and over, you can start feeling like a you, especially if you go now. Well, you would have seen that the Phoenicians for this G they use a camel. Gimel, it’s a camel. You don’t have any camels on the neck of Denmark. What you have is various variations that any human beings in most places seem to have on cattle. That would have been what we call an Orrock in this area. What they call it was an Uhuru’s. So next thing you know, your second letter is an oh, partly because G had come to sound kind of like it and partly because you’re equivalent of the animal they’re using is one whose name begins with you. It could have been either one of those things are those things together. But it’s a plausible supposition, especially when you consider that next in the Phoenician alphabet was D. D also, as time goes by, often will soften dir the and then fir. There’s a relationship between the and third they are close in the mouth and so if D goes to the which it did in Phoenician is the next step, especially if you’re a Germanic language that likes to make things a little bit harder. And so, so we’ve already got fir well and fir now then y y ah well again you have to think about how language changes for this to make any sense. But Phoenician had h here what we call H. It would have been hay in Phoenician oak, but the Phoenician alphabet didn’t bother with vowels. Many of you will be familiar with that from Arabic and Hebrew now where the writing systems only convey the vowels approximately unless you use little points and you’re being very specific. But ordinarily you’re expected to just kind of guess a lot of what the vowels are. Phoenician was like that Semitic languages start out being written in that way. Well, these early Germanic people wanted there to be vowels vowel. This alphabet would not have been as suitable for Germanic languages as it is for Semitic languages. And so here they have hey, they want something for a for example. Hey, seems to be the. Closest thing, and so they see this thing down here, this this hay, and they figured, well, why don’t we make that a because we need an A. And then as time went by in Germanic languages, a bit came up. We know that independently. But that would mean that you get F youth and then R and if it sounds a little little contingent to imagine going to, it’s actually documented and it’s actually plausible. And so for example, in Southern American English, you might have a pronounced more like I so somebody might say not wait but wait, wait. But white or not grace but grise grace but grace. And you know, the example that I’m going to use for this is Grace under fire. This was a very nice sitcom that the comedian Brett Butler did back in the 90s. It ran about five years. I have always missed it. And my favorite thing on it was the actress Julie White and Julie White did this Nadeen character that had a Southern accent and always in my head is the way she would say her boyfriend, Wade’s name is White and also Grace is Grise. Listen to her in one episode where she is doing that pronunciation.

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S8: Are you all right, girl? No, I’m OK. It’s just, you know, that baby we’ve been talking about. Well, I’m having it about Darnton. Well, congratulations. What can I do? OK, listen, Whitey just drove off. I think we can catch him. You can pay Jim. He’s going to go work undercover. Well, I’ll pay Jim, but it better be important.

S9: Oh, gee, I bet Wade won’t hear that. Oh, my God.

S1: I’ll drive you. It’ll be cool and we’ll just keep this. So as random as that may seem, that is how an AI can become an ah. So that happened long before Julie White existed in Germanic languages. And that means that people first would have thought what we are going to. Well, I don’t know what an early Germanic accent would be, but they decided we’re going to use this hey as just a and then over time it became ah, and it wasn’t much time because next thing you know, you have f you sound like I’m about to start cursing f u the t h and the R one can go on and I’m not going to go on because that will be a whole show and frankly stunningly boring one. But there’s a possible reason why it’s f you for it might not be random. Fassbach actually makes sense as how early Germanic speakers who wanted a writing system would have interpreted the Phoenician alphabet if they had no concern with whether or not their order was going to make sense to us today. Oh, you know what? Remember my cousin from Milwaukee and I said that the original singer of it in the musical that it debuted in had a very charming accent. Well, you know, she was recorded Leida Roberte. Let’s just hear her singing a little bit of my cousin in Milwaukee, because she was I hate to say it, but she was adorable. Her whole career was based on how much fun it was to listen to her accent. And I know that’s essentially losing her a little bit. But my cousin in Milwaukee listen to her in nineteen thirty three singing Listen to those sexy 80s. Hot hot. Here it is.

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S10: I got the gun from Milwaukee. Yeah but lucky and a good game again man. But singing is no big thing. It makes your heart get acrobatic nine times out of ten when you get me. It was up and down your spinal column.

S1: You think that maybe caught up with you like the way I think in any case, I find this business about Germanic being deeply impacted by a Semitic language of the Near East. Intriguing for me, the case is at this point just on the cusp between fun to think about and time to call it for real. You know, maybe it’ll just stay that way. But I wanted to share my toys. There’s a story of English, and I’m beginning to think that it is increasingly compelling that that story is connected to these Phoenicians sailing all the way from the Near East, up around Europe to the little neck of Denmark, and creating a great deal of the language that I’m speaking right now.

S2: If you want to know more, the source at this point is a book called The Carthaginian North Semitic Influence on Early Germanic. And, you know, I’m not sure that this is a book you’d want to take to the beach. This is very much an academic book. I don’t know if you want to read it, but if you do, it’s by Theo Van Amon and Robert Myal Hammer. And it’s written relatively clearly. It would probably take most of you into more detail than you wanted. And so I tried to give you what I think the takeaways are from the book. But this is a really interesting thesis that at least deserves to be heard.

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S1: Before we go out, I want to share something that Alexander Ling sent me. And, you know, while we are making fun of the way people render our language, which is a very risky thing, but in small doses, I think we can understand where it comes from, that it comes from affection and even respect is this is some Chinglish. And, you know, the difference between English and Chinese is so vast that I’m amazed that anybody who speaks Chinese learns English, just as I’m amazed that anybody who speaks English learns Chinese since I first began. But this means that English can be really, really funny. And Alexander Ling sent me something from a menu and it was describing what a shrimp is. And it’s clear that whoever wrote this basically just tried to use Google Translate. And what they came up with was just a wonderful passage that I think ought to be transcribed as literature for the ages. Here’s what a shrimp is in jingoist. Shrimp is a life in the water. Long animal belong to arthropods, crustaceans of many types, including shrimp, shrimp, shrimp, crayfish, shrimp, prawns, shrimp, prawns, lobster and other shrimp. This time, shrimp is spelt with a capital S. with high therapeutic value and used in Chinese herbal medicines. So. You could tell, but the person didn’t check what they came up with and Google Translate or whatever they had, didn’t have the detailed words for things like langoustines, etc. So it’s just so shrimp is a life in the water long animal that lives in the water and it’s a long animal. In any case, we’re not going to go out on that. I think we should go out on something fun, something that’s been rattling around in my mind for a week for various reasons. This is not the spinners, which is what I usually put here when I can’t think of anything else. This is Dionne Warwick and The Spinners. This is then came you. I am eight years old again. I remember this song playing in the car in my parent’s Chevrolet Caprice with the soft seats with the Black Claw. This is then came you. What a catchy song.

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S11: Ever since I met you, seems I can thank you for you running through. Every time a new. You and loving you makes everything right. Tell me how you feel.

S1: Thank you. I never thought they can use. You can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, that’s Lexicon Valley, at Slate dot com, to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate dotcom slash Lexicon Valley that we can say, by the way, then came you instead of then you is also possibly finished. But the only way you can find out why is to subscribe to Slate. Plus today, Mike Volo is, as always, the editor. And I’m John McWhorter. So, Don. Is that about touching my hair and. Thank you. Thank you. Here is one more bit of how Phoenician may have created what, for example, English is today, Germanic languages have odd word order, really odd word order in some ways odd as all of the world’s languages go. And a way to really get a sense of it is to have had some German, for example, in German, if you want to say something like Dad said that she came on Tuesday, the way that you have to say that is Dad said that she on Tuesday came so in that second half, in that subordinate clause, as we call it. So the main clause, dad said then you have this other sentence, so to speak, that she came on Tuesday. She came on Tuesday, a whole sentence of itself. You take that second one and you hang it on the first one. So it’s called subordinate. That said that, she on Tuesday came in the subordinate clause. You have to put the verb at the end. That’s a Germanic thing. The languages differ, but that seems to have been more categorical, especially in earlier versions of the Germanic languages. That’s very basic. So Dad said that she on Tuesday came then there’s something else about Germanic. This is something that all the dramatic languages have except English. Actually, English has let it go for reasons that we need not get into here. But if you want to say yesterday dad said that she came on Tuesday in German, you have to say not yesterday. Dad said that she on Tuesday came. You have to say yesterday said dad that she on Tuesday came. What happens is that in that main part, you have to keep the verb in that second place. Dad said that she on Tuesday came yesterday when you can’t have Dad as the second thing said, the verb has to stay there. And so Dad gets bumped to after said yesterday said dad that she on Tuesday came. What is that. What is it what’s going on. Why yesterday said Dad, that she on Tuesday came. Well, you know, Phoenician put the verb first. It was a language that does that. So for them all of this would be came dad yesterday. That’s what you have to say, not dad. Can you sort it came Dad yesterday. Well, you know, maybe that is why Germanic word order is crazy. Maybe that’s why there’s this idea that the verb has to sit close to the beginning. Dad said that yesterday, said, dad, that verb just won’t move. Maybe it’s because early Germanic was taken up by people who liked their verb to be up front or at least as close to up front as possible. And next thing you know, maybe you have this business of yesterday, said, Dad, that she on Tuesday came. It’s like they’re trying to hold that verb from migrating further into the sentence than that second spot. And what’s interesting is that when things like that happen, often it happens to the main clause, but not the subordinate clause. The subordinate clause is kind of like the basement or, you know, that fourth bedroom that nobody goes into. Things might not reach the subordinate clause. Often it’s just the main clause. And so that would mean that Germanic starts off putting the verbs at the end. And that’s the way we think. Proteau Indo-European would have been putting the verbs at the end. And so it would be bad, said that she on Tuesday came. But then you have this business of yesterday, said Dan, that she on Tuesday came. And so it’s not going to be banned in the main clause. It’s going to be as close to the beginning as possible. But the subordinate clause just stays the way things always were. So that would explain how you get yesterday said dad said stays up front and then the C on Tuesday came and that she on Tuesday came was probably the original situation. Maybe the Phoenicians created crazy Germanic word order, which would be why even in English you have a remnant such as let’s go up to the castle, said Harry. What does that Harry said. Why do we say? Said Harry, that’s a remnant of this business of the verb having to stay in one place. Maybe the people who did that were mediteranean near eastern Seafarer’s many thousands of years ago. Cue the music, but I’m not going to bother. But that is Slate plus for this week.