Fossil Hunting in English

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

S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language.

S3: I’m John McWhorter and I would like to do this show that the springboard of something that listeners sometimes have twittered me about. And it is the difference between lie and lay, which I openly admit I really do not observe in my colloquial speech. And so it feels perfectly normal for me to talk about. I’m laying on the floor and I see a spider on the ceiling that works fine for me. I can talk about how you might want to lie that spoon down and go take a look at what’s going on out there. What if that all feels perfectly right to me? I intellectually know that the idea is supposed to be that you just lie there, but you lay something down. But, you know, I never really picked it up from people around me, including the educated ones. And it always seemed that meaning was clear. I just learned later that there’s this blackboard rule that you’re supposed to observe, and I know that I’m not alone. The truth is, it’s a funny little part of the grammar. There’s another pair like that where we have less trouble because the two actions referred to are so much more graphically different, rising and raising. So a bubble rises all by itself, but then you raise something up with your hand. We don’t have trouble with that. Notice Lelay rise raise. But then if you think about it, there’s another one sit and set. So technically, technically, it’s supposed to be that you’re sitting in a chair, but you set the face down on the table. Go set that on the table. Now, now, you might say that, but you might not go sit the face on the table. Nobody gets smacked on the back of the head for saying that. What is this? This this business of these pairs of verbs where we learn at a certain point that we often use them wrong and we feel a little self-conscious? Well, it used to be that you didn’t have to ask because it was part of a larger pattern that you couldn’t miss. So there wasn’t only just lie and lay and people yelling at you about it, there was lie and lay and rise and raise and sit and sit and fall and fell, for example. Something’s falling. But then you fell a tree. But there were more. There was drink and drench. And so to drink something is to make someone drink. Just like to set something is to make something sick. You get it. It used to be that there was a rule and the rule was that you changed the verbs vowel to something like a or ER when it was about causing something. But the problem is that that basic alternation is no longer anything regular or even common. It’s just leached out of the language. And so we have things like to clean something in, to cleanse something and cleansing something isn’t necessarily to make it be cleaned or something like that. It’s just also flabby at this point. And so, you know, clean cleanse. What’s the difference? Lie low. What’s the difference? What we’re talking about is that that business of changing something to air or a when you’re causing it, it’s a fossil. It’s one of these things in the language that used to be there. But now there’s just some raggedy remnants of it. And the reason that we can’t master it is because it’s no longer a rule, it’s no longer alive. It’s just some nub. And the thing is, there are a lot of fossils in English and other languages and they always tickle me. It’s nice to get these little lookback things, even if you do get smacked on the back of the head. Sometimes it’s just fun to know that not only are the other ones like lie and lay that happened to have gotten attention and that people develop feelings about. But there are things where you wouldn’t even know, things you’d never notice that are also fossils in the language. So in this show, I just want to give you some more of them to give you a sense of how bedecked language is with fossils. And of course, the real upshot of all of that is language is always changing. The language that we’re speaking now is one step in a long, long timeline of something that’s always morphing, like all that junk in a kaleidoscope. What I mean by fossil, we’ll hear something talk just that ordinary, boring verb. So you’re talking that originally comes from tail as in to tell a tale. Now, it’s already fun that when we say tell what we’re really using is a word that meant to count as in a bank teller. The reason that we talk about telling a story that came afterward is that you’re enumerating, you’re stringing something out, you are presenting something in order. And so you are telling, as in telling time, you are a bank teller, you’re counting those coins or whatever, and then you can tell a tale anyway. Tell and tale, same route talk is tale except with a. Well, what’s the. What is that little suffix, you can tell a tale or you can tell. You can tell. Well, the thing is that the suffix is in lots of other places. We just don’t think of it as a suffix because now it’s no longer alive. It’s just an up. So you can hear something and then you can hark to something. Notice that marking is a kind of hearing. It’s here basically. You can still you can stock, you can steal away, for example, steal, stalk. Stalking is a kind of steal and you see the relationship or at least you see that there is one. You can smile, you can smile. Except we say smirk because Elna are always in a kind of a sexy alternation. Smiling, smirking. There’s a maior. There’s a mark. There’s a mark. Always the what exactly is that now? In some places it’s a little bit more vibrant and it’s the suffix UWC and that one is not one you can add to new things but for example a hill. Then there’s a hillock I guess that’s a little hill or there’s a butt and then there’s a buttock which is part of a butt. But this is just Curre. And if you look at what’s going on with tail and talk and here and hark and steal and stock, if anything the cur seems to make something a little bit more intense. And so we can imagine that that was a living suffix in a very earlier stage of English actually when it wasn’t even English yet. And now the K is just frozen onto the end of these words. And so we don’t even think of it as anything but talking, barking, stalkings, smirking and Mirch all have the same ending because that ending actually used to mean something. So that is a classic example of some fossil in the language. And so Lelay is just like that. And if we know that there are things like this could utterly meaningless and it’s just kind of there, then we can look a little more closely at the lie lay business, because actually lie and lay is just a symptom of something much larger. There’s a grand fossil in English and we have to pull the camera back to get a sense of it.

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S1: What I’m talking about is, for example, strong strength, whole health. Those words are related. Your whole your entire. Well, that means that your healthy health, whole health pretend that both of them begin with her because they do. Old elder, you can say older, but there’s also elder then fall and fell so you can fall down the steps or you can make a tree fall and you fellate book break.

S4: That’s what the plural used to be. We say books now. It used to be book Baik just like foot fate, except we pronounce it feet. All of that is the same thing. All of that is based on one fossilization process, except now we can’t even see what the original situation was. And what I mean by that is, well, you know, the way to get it across is you have to know how vowels actually working your mouth. So what we’re going to do is this. I’m going to say E and so are you.

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S5: Do it now. I’m going to say A, can you do that? Ey ey noticed that the AI is lower than the E, OK, now I’m going to say, Oh and so are you. Now I’m going to say E!

S4: And you just did to notice that the issue was further back and more to the point, if I go oh, the O is lower than the usual and so E, A and O are the same relationship, except e A is in the front and O is in the back. OK, so if you know that then if you think of that going on in your mouth with an eye up there in the front and then in E below it and then over in the back palate region as an O and then below that as an O, well that means that let’s look now at say, strong and then strength. OK, Strong is over there in the back. It’s a kind of an O strong but then strength is up in the front hole in the book.

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S1: Health in the front. Let’s make health talk like that old in the book. Elder gets up in the front fall. That’s around the back of his own fall. Well, it’s up in the front or a book is in the back. Baik, if that were still the plural, is up front.

S3: All of them are going to this a sound. And so I lay it’s the same sort of thing or rise and then raise. All of them are doing that. And you know why? Well, there’s a reason. And, you know, I think I heard some people’s feelings a show or two ago when I said that I don’t care about astrophysics and I don’t care about the planets. Well, let me make up for that a little bit. You know how sometimes you read in, like The New York Times or Scientific American or discover if anybody still reads that? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say that because I actually do buy it when I’m at airports. But you learn that some distant star has a planet not based on being able to see the planet because it’s too far away. But there’s something weird about how the star moves, like the the planet is messing it up somehow. So you deduce that there is a planet surrounding that star. Well, if you look at book, big, strong strength, whole hell of old elder fall fell with all them being pulled up to a like that. You know, it’s about a planet. What that is, is that there’s something beginning with E that’s coming afterward that’s making it so that that vowel ends up being pulled forward to become an AI in anticipation. It doesn’t become an E, but that’s what happens when you’re saying oh, or something like that. And there’s an E coming and you kind of know that it’s coming. And so you end up pushing up front and going a in anticipation of that E because everything gets pushed forward. So what that means is strong strength. If you go way back. The third was an e through the suffix was etha. So you were saying basically, as it were, strong etha after a while, you know that the E coming you say string through and then that is left is strength. After a while you say old, you say elder. That’s because the earth started out as this suffix ezo, which sounds like something you would like grease up your knees with to decrease your knees. But anyway, so old. And then Ezo easo became ir ir but it used to be Ezo so old Rizos so to speak lda because you know the E’s coming in. The E is up there up front. Up how in the O’s back here. And you want to bring them closer together and we’re all going to come together and it comes there fall and fel same thing. It used to be that you said fall on and then if you wanted to say that you were going to make something fall you’d say fall. You can literally fall Farleigh on ffolliott. Well you hear that e coming Felsen and after a while the ending drops off and you’ve got fall and fell. You know, you could know that there had been an E up front in all of those cases, even if there was nothing in writing, even if we couldn’t compare with other Germanic languages, especially old ones, we’d know that there’s a planet up there that’s pulling. And so all of those things are fossilisation of something that used to be a regular process. These things are perfectly normal. It’s like the Cheshire cat disappears and leaves his smile. That’s what linguistics is all about. Anyway, for the song here, because we’re talking about telling this is one where it’s going to make some of you your skin crawl. And I’m sorry, this is nineteen fifty six. This is written by Arthur Siegel and John Carroll for new faces of nineteen fifty six. Not new faces of nineteen fifty two for you fans of the genre. And this is the big ballad from it wasn’t a good show, but I can just imagine that in rehearsals people listened to this song being done and thought they had another hit on their hands. Frankly, it’s a corny song. It’s sung in what is now processed as a corny way by the wonderful John Rearden and RCA recording technique at the time was a little weird. So it sounds kind of boxy. But, you know, I openly admit with my unsentimental self that I think this is a beautiful song and this is the only rendition of it. I know. And so this is a song called Tell Her and maybe some of you will get that. I find it to be like a blueberry muffin. Here goes.

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S6: If your lady friend doesn’t know, you can tell. When in love, you will find she can’t read your mind. Tell her I’ll tell her. Does her smile seem, Sandra? And. And suddenly you’ll see. Whisper in her ear things she wants to hear.

S7: Tell her.

S6: Her eyes kind of reveal no one knows not to feel tell. It’s not hard to do.

S3: More facilely kind of things, for example, Latin had a word for to tell a tale, which could be one of many words for to talk or to yak. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. You know that story. Fabulous way to tell a tale. And it’s interesting what happens to Boolarra as it goes through time into the world, into various languages. And it’s interesting what can happen to it. The male anglerfish is this little thing that just grabs on to the female anglerfish, who is like twenty five times bigger than he is. And he just grabs on to some part of her body, sometimes her forehead, and pretty soon his eyes are gone, his muscles are gone. And all that he’s there for is to provide her with natural material and pretty soon he just becomes a bump upon her. Well, you know, Fabiola has had that exact same process. And, yes, that is true about the anglerfish. And when you eat monkfish, monkfish are a kind of that you should go online and look at what anglerfish look like with the female, with these male bumps. So far, Boolarra, you have to tell a tale. And there are all kinds of things that can happen. So, for example, Spanish is abler. That is when you get fireballer, then foot goes to a different Hisey sound and so hablar then the H drops off because H has a way of doing that. And so you have abler so ablaut in Spanish to that’s like fibular with some teeth knocked out. It’s kind of like fibular. And then a Looney Tunes character punches fireballer and it goes halah like that. But this is what I always think is neat about February. February can also shorten too far and you can imagine how that goes. And that’s what it is in Portuguese Portuguese for to speak, you know, falu Portuguese which I don’t, I speak Portuguese, I do not speak it. But Portuguese is the basis of many Creole languages as I’ve discussed on the show. And what happens is that for some reason that usually is a sociological catastrophe. A group of people with their own native languages have to learn another language very quickly. And because they’re adults and they’re being worked hard, they don’t learn the language very well. That happened with Portuguese, especially in times of slavery. And what people do in a situation like that is that they have an incomplete Portuguese, but then they create a brand new language by mixing Portuguese with their native languages to an extent, and then also just taking all of that basic material and stretching it out and complicating it into something brand new that happened in many places. One of them is a place that most of us have no reason to ever think about. It’s called the Gulf of Guinea. It’s off of the left coast of Africa. And there are some tiny islands in the Gulf of Guinea, such as Saotome or Principessa. And these are places where the Portuguese had plantation agriculture and they had African slaves working there. And they created these brand new languages, which are Portuguese Creoles. But they are not a kind of Portuguese. They have Portuguese words and African words and they just do their own thing. But it’s amazing what can happen to original Portuguese material. So, for example, this dog is not black. This is the Portuguese Creole of Principal Principessa, you can call it. This dog is not black. Now the word for dog is an African one. So Hossler that is the word for dog. If you say this dog, you say Hustle’s so not sickle-cell, but also say this is an African trait to put the this afterwards. So it’s Portuguese, but in African languages like Eddo of Nigeria and Kim Bundu and Kikongo of what is today Angola and Congo. So you have to say and that is this dog dog. This is not Nassa. So not is Black Petrof. Now, Pitou is the word for black. That’s from Preto originally Bittu. Now, what kind of should be is it this dog Naza isn’t Byetta black. But you don’t say that. You say also Nassr Pitou. What’s the. It’s that there is a kind of a headphone way of making something negative in this Kriol just like French with the mouse. But I not walk not well in this language. It’s not SA Paektu. And so you have these two things. What’s the the foot almost certainly started out as to talk. It was Phala, except in this language it’s far shortened even further. So far, Boolarra is in ancient Rome. Then here on this tiny island off of Africa, there are people saying just for not black SA. And what it originally would have been is isn’t black say that something that you could say and after a while people stop thinking of it as meaning, say, and it’s just so so say NASA to. And that is something that originated as the whole word for Ebola in Italy, where nobody had any idea that anybody would ever be using it as a negotiator and just having it be a at the end of ordinary statements or this business of Ebola itself for Ebola comes from fiery, fiery in Latin is just to talk fiery, one form of it in Latin. If you’re talking about something that has been spoken is Fortum and Thottam comes right into English as fate. Fate is that which has been spoken. But we’re not talking about just frie. What’s the bhullar for Ebola? Ebola. What’s that? Well, actually, it goes back to that. There was before Latin was Latin, this suffix and it was la la. So you would say favela. And that became Fabiola.

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S4: Villa meant kind of edge as in acreage or shrinkage or something like that. And so you would say favela and that meant kind of talking or speak. So when you say fibular, the Bullah is no longer a suffix, it’s just a part of the word. But the Bhullar actually contains this original LA thing and nobody would ever have thought it and that the thing had different fates. Listen to this. We’re going to take the law back even further to that language of Ukraine. It was originally Vleck.

S5: Then it becomes delay. Then it becomes dull because the and the old change places. So Fleck’s Flett drop off that Hisey thing at the end, then from left to Del, then Tair because a D can become a T and then an O can become an Urso from Del Tadgh. Da da da. It became tour in English as in Etre, Radiator, etc., so left Blair there to tour the tour space modulator. So it’s Marvin Martien.

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S8: Listen, where’s the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth shattering Kaboom Aboudi MPU 36 explosive space modulator. That creature has stolen little space modulator.

S4: So when we say tour in English and of course we get it from a whole different situation in Latin.

S3: But when we say that it’s the same bit of stuff which is plugged in the middle of a word like fibular in Latin, of course that language technically no longer exists. But we have fable. So when we go bowl, the bowl and the tour are the same thing. That’s how language actually works. So you see, this is why linguists are so permissive about language change. If things like this hadn’t happened and the language I’m speaking wouldn’t exist and I can’t say I mind that it does. I have something else about the subjunctive. You know how if you learn, for example, Spanish, you find that there’s this odd thing where to make a verb subjunctive, you have to put it into the other conjugation. It’s the oddest thing from an English speakers perspective. I used to know two guys, one of whom spoke very good Spanish, and the other one who didn’t happen to but had a good year for language and he would imitate the other one. Speaking Spanish on the phone by saying, look, Tenga, whole thing. And that was because the verb thin air to have it would be PMA, for example, if you were saying that he has something. But if you have it in the subjunctive, if there’s a chance that he’ll have it, then there’s a chance that he’ll look denga, even though it’s one of the verbs and then it goes the other way around, actually talk about modern life, take it or leave it. Anybody who enters the store has to be wearing a if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of Spanish, then that is quite accurate entry. But the verb is NTR. But if it’s subjunctive, the idea if you’re going to come into this store, you have to wear a then it’s entry. Well, you know, actually English was kind of like that, too, but we only know it through these false sales. And so it used to be that English had a subjunctive and the subjunctive didn’t reverse things, but it just weakened things. The subjunctive lists were just kind of debilitated. And so, for example, with, I don’t know, cum so I come u thou come first. He she come it was and then we all and they come off. That’s what it was in old English to kind of say it in modern English. So come, come, come cometh then in the subjunctive it was just I you he she it come and then we all have a common and that’s just all there was. So everything just fell apart. So you would say, you know he comes but then I’m wondering if there is any chance that he come like that. And so you just have this week kind of thing. It is interesting actually. It used to be spelt QM, but we won’t talk about that, although in a way it should be spelled that way. The reason that we spell come as Seongmin is not because of what you’re thinking, because we also spell some s o m e. It’s really just some damned under occupied idiot when society started stratifying mightly and leaving certain people with not enough to do. But in any case, that is why we say come what may shouldn’t it becomes what man. What’s this come what may. That’s the old subjunctive. Or if need be if it needs to be, that’s a subjunctive need or something like be it as it may. What’s that B that B it’s certainly not infinitive. It’s not to be it as it may. That’s the subjunctive. So we don’t have a subjunctive meaningfully in English at this point except for people getting upset over someone saying if I was king instead, if I working, it’s so marginal, but it’s in these little expressions that are fossilized where we see that we used to have a subjunctive that would have annoyed the foreign learner. This song coming up is a cabaret singer, a cafe society singer of the middle years of the twentieth century who went by the name of Hildegard. She is singing a song from a Cole Porter musical called Let’s Face It, called A Little Rumba. No, you don’t have to know a thing about the musical to just enjoy the way she sang it here. She wasn’t in the musical and the way it’s arranged. I’ve always just loved listening to this cut while drinking a glass of wine or something.

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S9: Or no no on Argentina, which made him forget a slump and through a dance sheet swing singing ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay. Then they told no, no. And he felt so alone that while the world watched that he is the of singing SINGINGI.

S10: I. Yea yea yea yea. Senator Obama, no, just now he’s calling for. And so they never said, no, they need a lovely line, SINGINGI.

S3: I yeah, I know, I yeah, I’ve talked on this show about why the nickname for Edward is Ned and so it starts when in English the word for my is still mine. So if you’re going to talk affectionately about Ed, you’re going to say, oh, mine, Ed, say that enough. And you’re saying, oh my Ned. And especially when the word for mine is becoming my everywhere else, you’re going to start hearing it that way. My Ned mine and my nan, that’s why. And and can be called man and so on. So you end up having this floating. And it’s interesting language always has like little chunks of DNA floating around and in English for various reasons. Often it’s n so not only do you have the my Ned, but then you have something like an effort, some disgusting little animal becomes a naft and then sound change makes it a nute. Notice that if you do crossword puzzles, which is about the only way most of us know what an effort is, you know that it’s that little salamanders the same thing as a noot there’s a reason it’s an effort or a nephew or there used to be something called ox’s. You could carve Ochoa’s into something and arts are not and so on. But there’s another example of a stray N that solves a little problem that you may have wondered now and then, but you had other things to think about. And what I mean is the seventy, sixty, fifty to like fifty 40, 30, which is clearly three D except jacked up a little bit tutty.

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S4: Why not what’s twin. Why is it that, you know, wouldn’t we expect it to be seventy, sixty, fifty 40, 30 tuti. But no it’s not Tuti it’s twenty. You know what that is. It’s because old English had things in three genders and four to the masculine form which many people would have thought of as the default form. Like if you ask somebody, well what’s the word for two, it was Twain back then. You pronounced it only once on this show today. And so Twain, we have that word now as Twain, although it’s not really a word we know that exists. And there’s the author. But you know, what the hell is a twain? But it used to be that it was one twain, three, four or five. And so when you’re coming up with these things of 20, 30, 40, 50, where the tea, as you might guess, meant a group of ten, well, what you’re going to come up with for the two, one is twenty. That made perfect sense. We no longer have meaningless gender in our language, as we discussed before. And Twain ends up dropping out as a normal word, but people still say twenty. Nobody changed it to Tutee because you say numbers too much. Next thing you know, you have twenty. Now, where did that come from? Well, there’s some controversy over it, but almost certainly, if you ask me and nobody did ask me, but, you know, I think if I were asked and I said this, nobody would throw a bucket of hot water in my face. The NT was an overgeneralize, plural. So think about oxen and children. Back when English had more ways of doing plural, it would have been very easy to instead of just saying tway, which would have made sense in terms of how the language works, you’re going to start saying Twain as in two things, especially because you used to so much. So it’s kind of like you say, mine’s because there’s yours coming up. And so you say mines or you say yawn because you had mine before. There’s that kind of bleed. And so Twain would have made perfect sense as one form of two. And that’s why you have twenty now. Twain is gone. It’s not really a word. My daughters are six and nine. Both of them know lots of words. I’m pretty sure they would just think Twain was Elmer FUD saying train, but twenty is a remnant of that. That’s where that little end comes from.

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S3: It’s time for another clip. You can hear Dolly Parton. This is in the movie musical version of Bessel Whorehouse in Texas. I would say one of the top fifteen. And I’m not exaggerating. It was a wonderful movie. Despite being in the Taqi early eighties, despite that, Burt Reynolds and Louise were in it. It was truly brilliant, beautifully scored. This is Dolly Parton and chorus singing Nothing dirty going on.

S11: It’s just a little bitty pissy country playing. Ain’t nothing much to see. No drinking allowed. We get a nice, quiet crowd. Maintains it can be it just up squatting top country. Ain’t nothing to tell. Just lots of goodwill. Maybe one small area. But there’s nothing dirty going on. We get Semper Fi. Locked up behind me, Congress, folks.

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S12: I used to get a lot of roughnecks when the older. But get a little rowdy. Got the feel run, right? Just a little bit of desert country place. Nothing much to say. Drink in the lab and get a nice bottle, it can be.

S3: So this is the way it is, and it’s not only in that is often a fossil, often in English, it’s also s especially where at the end of things there’s generally a story about that s that? S so often with something else. And so if I say yes, yes. Starts out as an I did this in one of the shows that I recorded back in 1952, so most of you won’t remember it, but yes is yaye which meant so. And then the search started out as A C which meant B it, it was a subjunctive form of TB, which is now completely gone. One of the only remnants of it actually is hanging on to the end of Yes. As this. And so it was a C and that meant so be it even our plural s there is an argument and I find it compelling. I’m getting this from Don Renge, who’s one of the super experts. I don’t think everybody agrees with this, but it makes a lot of sense. The plural s like we say, hands and, you know, we say cats, et cetera, that came from somewhere. And almost certainly it was a word this not specifically the word this, because it didn’t exist in its current form, but basically of this cousin got shortened to so that we now use as the plural s these things all come from somewhere and they become just fossils. Russian has a beautiful example of this, even though Russian is not a dialect of English, according to most analysis. Remember the show I did about that that I’ve seen? So for example, an old Russian books, you’ll have a servant who, you know, some scruffy person comes out and they’ll say not just duh, which means yes, but they’ll say, dust’s like if you’re not prepared for it, you wonder what it is. I remember when I first saw it in in plays or, you know, I’m listening Solutia. OK, Solutia. But some personal say associate solutions. And what sir. The Sir was the word for sir or Siah. It was Sudar Sudan. And so it used to be somebody will say yes or Dusseldorp. Well people talked a lot because there were a lot of Russian people and it’s a very old country. So after a while, Sudar is just it’s the male anglerfish. It’s just so duss solutions. You find this, it’s old. You find this in the nineteenth century. But that’s another example of what can happen to us. So all of this is about fossilisation. When you hear a stream of language, you’re hearing what long ago were whole words that are now being mashed together. Often one sound will have a history as a word or sometimes even a little phrase. So if you hear somebody say, get well, that’s did you eat yet? Then somebody says, you see it now, eat it. Now, think about how we’re beginning to get whole new ways of using verbs. We’re getting these prefixes geat. You know, the Martian might think, well, that’s the second person, singular, past prefix or eat it. Now, you know, they don’t know that it comes from let us eat it now, which we wouldn’t say it now. It’s hortatory is just a horded of prefix. These are beautiful things. I want to go out this time on something kind of unusual, but very show. Tuni, I’m not holding back this time and I apologize to those of you who could do without. But I know some of you out there enjoying this. This is from Showboat nineteen twenty seven. This is the Lamees of its day. Showboat was very deep for the period and it still is. This is a song from it that isn’t done much now. But this is from a marvelous recreation album that was done in the late 80s. This is Queenie singing Hey fella and hey fella. I’m playing with Karla Burns doing the singing for the musicians out there for you pianist. Try playing this song without looking at music. It sounds like it’s just some Heigh-Ho Ho kind of song, but wow, this has fun harmonies, especially for nineteen twenty seven. And also for those of you who are just fans, dig this up online. It’s easy to find. Listen to the first part, the beginning part, which I’m not going to use here for time and noticed as a great trick in it. This is Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. This is Showboat nineteen twenty seven. This recording was released in nineteen eighty eight. This is Carla Berns singing. Hey, feller.

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S13: Hey I. Hey, hey. I got to tell you now you know. Well. And I suspect that you’re not. Hey, you have to take a little girl anymore, and if you can’t tell her, tell her, hey, no.

S2: You can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, that’s Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate Dotcom Lexicon Valley in. By the way, my friend Jesse Sheidlower, who wrote the book on the F word, by which I mean fuck, he has done a great many things in his career. The latest is that he’s written a historical dictionary of science fiction. And it is spectacular, partly because he’s had the sense to put it online where he can always change it. And more to the point, it’s easily handled. You can look at it on your phone if you want to know where sci fi words came from written in sprightly and authoritative way, then you must take a look at the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jesse Sheidlower, which is online on your friendly iPad or telephone or laptop today. In any case, might Volo is, as always, the editor and I am John McWhorter.

S3: You know, middle English was in the middle, and after a while it became early modern English and then modern English is is this. But imagine if middle English had been taken somewhere else and just went on its merry way over the centuries, not being affected by what was going on in England. Imagine if there was this other branch of English, basically this whole different language that forms somewhere else based on that original middle English rootstock. You know, it happened it actually happened in Ireland. There was a Norman invasion, not only of England, but also of Ireland. We most of us don’t hear much about that. But that happened. We’re talking about the late hundreds and middle English stayed there for a while. After a while, it was replaced by the kind of English that had developed in England. But for a while there was this other branch of middle English, and that language has been called Yolla. Yolla is what old was in that dialect of English. And just think how different that is. Old Yolla. That’s a whole different roll of the dice. This was only documented in County Wexford in two areas, and it’s long gone now. But it’s fascinating to see how people were still talking even into the nineteen hundreds and people could get shards of it even in the 20th century because it was ancient English, virtually unrecognizable to us. So for example, the word for she was Shiu, which is exactly what we would think she would have started out, as in various remote regions of England while it stayed there. The word for they was often he that was what they was in England. And some people say it was because things were getting too confusing because that was also the singular. He they was brought in as a substitute. But you could still say he, which is confusing. And Chaucer now he uses he for that. And you’re thinking what? Well, they were doing that in Yolla. There were still irregular plurals, such as the plural of bees was being the plural of trees was tree. And so it wasn’t just oxen, yanbian and tree. And the whole issue of where you put the accent was different. And so you didn’t say a wedding. You said a wedding. You didn’t say a reader. You said a read. Er you never know how these things are going to happen or this is actually my very favorite thing. So we think of it as who. But you look at the spelling and of course originally who. Who. Well that can go many places. It could become a perfectly natural. They’re close together. And so the word in Yolla was FGO, not Fux, because that shift from oh to you didn’t happen there. That was an England thing, the great vowel shift. And so instead of go to who it was, who to and that was who the word for. When was Fahn for the same reason. And finally, this is just too perfect. One of the words for two was twine. So see how that relates to what the show was actually about. That’s your introduction to Yolla was a fascinating offshoot of English. It didn’t have to only be the way that it happened on that windy island. And then leading to what I’m speaking right now, all sorts of other things could have happened. And the funny thing is they did.