Re: Etymology

From: Stephen C. Carlson (
Date: Mon Jan 06 1997 - 00:22:43 EST

At 04:44 1/5/97 -0800, Luke McNab wrote:
> With all respect to the above, it seems to me that we are discussing
>apples and oranges here. English is a real melange of languages and
>really has no connection to languages like Hebrew [and to a lesser
>extent Greek] which is absolutely based on etymology and derivatives, as
>I said in a previous post! That is to say, insofar as formation of
>words are concerned. We all know that English originally was a rather
>monosyllabic language probably because of the low uncultivated nature of
>the Teutons of the day. Civilization came to England and northern Europe
>via the Romans. The uncultivated Romans themselves had borrowed heavily
>from Greek [most teachers in Rome were Greeks at the start], hence Latin
>is based on Greek. English got "civilized culture" from the Latin; also
>via the French; also directly from Greek and Hebrew [this latter mostly
>in the religious aspect]. The argument using English as an example does
>not really "hold water", IMHO.

I think these remarks are, well, linguistically naive. As for the
proposition that "English originally was a rather monosyllabic language",
consider the following versions of Matthew 8:20 --

    Foxas habbadh holu, and heofonan fuglas nest; sothlice mannes
    sunu naefdh he hys heafod ahylde. (Old English)

    Foxis han dennes, and briddis of heuene han nestis, but mannus
    sone hath not where he schal reste his heed. (Middle English)

    The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but
    the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Early Modern English)

The proportions of monosyllables are 5/15 (33%), 10/20 (50%), and
23/24 (96%), respectively, increasing through time. Of course,
anyone familiar with the Chinese culture would never state that
monosyllabicity has anything to do with "low uncultivated nature."
Finally, Latin is not "based" on Greek in the sense that the term
is usually employed. Latin, Greek and Old English are sister
languages all based on Proto-Indo-European.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35

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