Mons Graupius - linguistic Sun, 09 Dec 2018 10:39:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Mons Graupius) Why do we say "Inglish" when it is spelt "English" An intriguing question was asked by Arthur and it is one which I would never thought to have asked. My first thought is that it might have been how it was spoken rather than written. So, I quickly checked to see whether any similar words starting E- in old English were now said starting with an I-. The main types of word in this area of "End" words of various forms and none of them have changed so a change in the way we write E- doesn't seem to explain it.

So, next I had a look to see what In- Ing- type words meant, and I find

In (in) and
Ingan (to go in)

At this point I'm tempted to suggest that "Ingas" are a pun on "incomers". But then I checked to see what "Eng-" means, and we have

"Engel" (angel)

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:17:03 +0000
Are the Cruithne and Picts the same? This is some notes on whether linguistically "Cruithne" could be the Gaelic form of "Pict" as is usually asserted. The answer is that this is very unlikely and so I explore what could be the various meanings of the words in the possible languages around at the time of the Picts (300AD to ~750AD)

Like most things "Celtic", the Cruithne do not stand up to scrutiny. We've no evidence at all of what the Picts called themselves only and accounts in Latin, Old English and Welsh (?). Cruithne comes from Irish texts mentioning a group called the 'Cruithne' who are clearly located in Ireland. Some scholar at some time asserted this was the Irish for "Pict". Unfortunately, this is not true. There are some instances where Cruithne appears to have been used to mean "Pict" but there are others where Cruithne does not mean Pict.

However, as in all things Celtic, give them a mm and they will go a mile. So this tentative translation of Cruithne as Pict, has now expanded to a whole industry allowing a lot of people to talk nonsense about the "Picts" by the usual formula of "find text mentioning "Cruithne", now rewrite Cruithne with "Pict" and then elaborate and elaborate and then state with absolute certainty the most tenuous suggestion.

The truth is that what we actually know about the Picts for certain can be written in a few lines:

  • St.Ninnian preached to the southern Picts
  • They are first recorded in 297AD
  • The Picts and Scots harried the Northern Wall
  • According to Bede the end of the Antonine wall "starts almost two miles west of the monastery at Aebbercurnig in the place which the Picts call Peanfahel, while in English it is called Penneltun.” This is assumed to be Kinneil. Pen is a common welsh geographic location which is usually taken to mean the Picts were Welsh-speakers.
  • We have a list of Pictish Kings written by a Gaelic scribe which merge into later Gaelic Kings.
  • + a few odd battles and other single sentences in e.g. the Anglo Saxon Chronicles
]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:05:52 +0000
Etymology of the Name Arthur King Arthur is a well known figure. Much of what is written about him is made up, but there is a strong possibility that he was indeed an early king of the Britons first recorded in a work attributed to Nennius. Like so many other early figures, his name is assume to be Welsh. Does this hold up? Is there a better etymology in Old English?

This one of the simplest and most obvious etymologies:

Old English words: ar ('Awe', honour, glory) and Thor (Thor the Norse God)

Which together would be translated as "glorious Thor".

It's that simple. In the same way we have "Christopher" derived from Christ, so it would seem Arthur's name could be derived from Thor.

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Wed, 12 Nov 2014 15:51:07 +0000
Gododdin: were the Votadini Welsh? I had an email from Arthur (thanks) asking me about the Votadini suggested to be the subject of the Welsh poem Gododdin. As a result I did some research and this is what I found.

The question regarding the "Votadini" was interesting, but like so many other "proofs" of a Welsh language, the proof boils down to the similarity of words which look very similar because they have been modified to be similar.

And so as normal, when we look, we find that there is no such tribe as the "Votadini", instead the textual records only contain an "Otadinoi".

To get from Otadinoi to Gododdin one needs:-

  • to add an unrecorded consonant prefix.
  • Change t → d.
  • change initial a → o
  • etc.

What we end up with is not much ... a "-din" suffix which is relatively common, a (presumed) missing prefix (G) and one consonant with significant change (d ↔ t).

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Wed, 12 Nov 2014 15:10:23 +0000
Haseler's Rules of Etymology Draft Version 0.2

As i look at another etymology (church as it happens), I know I set myself rules but have so far not laid them out. So here is my Second attempt:

Theoretical Introduction

Traditional linguistics arose at a time when many scholars spoke Latin and Greek and the concept of evolution of species had been successfully applied to animal categorisation to reveal a hidden truth about genetics. Unfortunately, linguists then tried to apply the same "evolutionary" ideas to words applying the rule that each "generation" of words "derive" from a smaller group of "parent" words and that you can apply this rule so as to create a tree of words and languages back to some common "ancestor". That is bullshit.

The reality is that words are constantly jumping from one language to another and also from one use or dialect within a language to another. Words are constantly being created from others and each succeeding generation is changing the language so that rather than inheriting language from our parents (as one would need for a genetic like language tree) many words are created by children of the next generation and handed on to their parents and wider society. The result is that the concept of a evolutionary tree cannot be mindlessly applied to linguistics when the reality is more like a thicket of interwoven and often indecipherable or unknowable "origins".

Linguistic Space

The space we occupy has three dimensions (like up forward and sidewards). If we had a language with letters that could be expressed as equivalent to values 0,1,2, etc. then every three letter word would have three independent values in the first, second and third letter, each of which was equivalent to a number and could be plotted along the x,y,z dimensions of a graph. And if the letters with close values are similarly close linguistically, then like normal space, words that are plotted close to each other in the x,y,z graph will also be close to each other linguistically.

Similarly, as we hear the language in any real and so noisy environment, there will be some uncertainty as to the original word that was spoken. If we plot the sound we hear on the x,y,z graph, the distance from the original word on the graph will increase with the ambient noise. But so long as the noise is not too great, the sound we hear will be closest to the word's "place" in linguistic space. This space where the combination of sounds heard is closest to a word is the linguistic space it occupies. And if we have a family of closely related words, we can think of this family as occupying a combined "linguistic space" defined by the combination of their own "territories".

This concept can be extended to four letter word, where we need 4 dimensions to plot it, to five letter words where we need five dimensions and to more complex alphabets. However, the concept of "space" or words being "neighbours" and of families occupying close neighbourhoods still applies.

The primary driver of word evolution

Rather than an evolutionary model, the model that would better fit the tangled web of real linguistics is one that assumes words change when they are re-used and change, either:

  1. In sound, because those re-using the words have a different set of phonetics or
  2. In meaning where the word is re-used for a related but different purpose.

These changes may be small, but if this re-use occurs several times, the word can change sufficiently in sound and meaning that it can re-enter the original language as a new word. This model suggests the key driver of language change is not "chance evolution" as occurs with the animal evolution model as was originally applied to linguistics, but because of word transfer (either between use or between dialects/languages.

Based on this model I have produced the following set of outline rules:


  1. The most likely language to find an etymology is an earlier form of the current language. Whilst we do not know how languages developed, we know that much of the words in any language are "fellow passengers" on the same journey through time and space. Therefore, it follows, that what happened to one word is likely to have happened to much of the rest of the language. So, if words were related in the past, they will still tend to be still related. Therefore the first place to study words are in the same language where they are found, because we expect other related words with similar phonetics and similar meanings. And once we understand the "family" of words and concepts, we have a sense of its place in the language.
  2. Indigenous words tend to be deeply rooted within the language
    That is to say, there tend to be a "family" of many closely related words, and for an indigenous word the various words in its close family will in turn be closely related to others and these in turn to others - until the meaning is so distant that these distant words do not appear to be related, yet a link of possible related words can be found. Thus indigenous words will be in a network of related words. And whilst each individual relationship may be tenuous or uncertain, the wealth of such links is itself very strong proof of an ancient lineage.
  3. Intrusive words are not deeply rooted within the language
    In contrast, words that have been borrowed from other languages - particularly very distantly related ones - or made up words or words whose meaning changes fundamentally due to a massive change in technology, will appear to be "isolates". It will be difficult if not impossible to find closely related linguistic words with close meanings.
  4. Overloaded linguistics
    It appears to be a feature of language that whilst we expect close words to have close meanings, that closely related words do not need to be closely related linguistically. This is because it appears that several different families of closely related words can occupy the same "linguistic space". An example that comes to mind is "Drag" and "Dryg" (dry/drug) and "Dreog" (cause to happen) in Old English. Each of these have several closely related forms suggesting that each of them is indigenous. However the two families do not appear to be related and as such they are "intrusive" into the family space of the other word. I have found that within Old English, there are typically 2-4 overlapping families of concepts in any linguistic space. This strongly suggests that these different families are in some sense "intrusive" but because of the size of their families, it suggests that their intrusion into "each other's" space occurred at some great age.
  5. Language flow is from deeply rooted → shallow
    Words which are indigenous in a language are deeply rooted, and words which are intrusive are not. It therefore follows that if a word is to be said to "derive" from another language, then it must be shown that the word is more deeply rooted in that supposed "parent" language. If, in contrast, the relationship is the other way around (and Car is one I recall as being clearly intrusive into Latin), then rather than saying "barbaric XXX from Latin XXXium", one must say "barbaric XXX first recorded in its Latin form XXXium
  6. A word which is deeply rooted is indigenous unless or until its origin elsewhere is proven
    One of the most annoying habits of those antiquarians who produced much of the etymology of words is that having assumed that English words must come from some "superior" language like Latin or Greek, or as a last resort, French or worse German, they would look at length in those languages and then if there were the merest hint of a word in these languages, they would categorically state that it was from those languages. That was absurd nonsense, putting the arse before the tit: asserting that words are "foreign" unless proven to be "native". In contrast, it is clear to me that words are native if they are "deeply rooted" and only foreign if they are more deeply rooted in a foreign language.
    So, e.g. taking "drug". The word is present in Old English as "Druge" meaning dried. Yet the supposed etymology is from a much later text where there is a similar Dutch word meaning dried and the obvious Old English derivation from a closer word and closer language is completely ignored in favour of a more distant and therefore less likely origin. There might be some sense in this if the word "Drug" had not been derived from a word meaning "Dried" but instead one meaning "medicine". But when the same meaning and virtually the same word are present in both the supposed "origin" and the original language, at a time of poorly recorded texts in a context of "folk remedies" where such words might have been repressed, then it is absurd to jump to a foreign derivation unless it is necessary.

Specifically for early British linguistics:

  1. Old English is the most likely language of England: There is no evidence whatsoever that the language broadly in the area of modern English wasn't an early form of Old English.
    (Which to distinguish it I suggest is called "British Germanic".
  2. Welsh-like languages are most likely in welsh-like language speaking areas: There is also no evidence that Welsh was not spoken in the areas on Nennius "left hand side of Britain". (Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and SW Scotland)
  3. Celtic is a myth and the Gaelic cymbric "split" is much too old to use some hypothetical common language in any etymology. Contrary to what we are told, Gaelic is not closely related to Welsh. These two are far more dissimilar than other any other within a "family" of languages like e.g. Germanic. They may be closer than e.g. Greek and Latin, but as these are still two distinct language (groups) as far back we have written texts, it is very likely that Gaelic and Welsh were separate languages throughout all European recorded history.
  4. Indo-European should never be used in etymologies. Indo-European is a false concept of language development in the sense that it ignores the development of words from within languages and the frequent interchange of words between languages. It owes much of its concept to the same kinds of thoughts that led to the Nazi "Arian master-race". That in itself is not the problem. The problem is that all supposed "indo-European" words are formed by "dumbing down" to the lowest common denominator, which often means that a "word" is the only common letters of various languages and so little more than two very loose consonants with some kind of vowel between. So, e.g. a word can be considered to fit if it starts with t,d,th. has some kind of vowel in between and then ends with e.g. p, b, v, f. As there are only around a couple of dozen consonants, by the time you allow big groups of consonants to be "the same" like this the total number of possible variations in the whole languages drops to around 6 x 6 = 36 unique words in this supposed "language". In contrast, the Wikipedia article lists some 180 "Indo-European" words meaning that for most "derivations" there is choice of half a dozen words that "could be" the "origin".
  5. Words which derive from each other (tend to) get closer in form, the closer they are geographically and the closer in time.
    In contrast to the Indo-European meme which says a word in Greek is equal to a word in German for deriving an English etymology, the common sense approach is to give priority to languages that are close and texts that are contemporary. So, e.g. if you were looking for the origin of "druid" in the Gaelic-Cymbric group, then as the evidence points to a mainland Britain origin, then if it were from this group, we would expect to find the closest words in Welsh and not Irish. And if we do not find the closer form is in the closer language then far from being "proof" of it being "Celtic", it is actually a strong indicator that the etymology is likely false.

Untested hypothesis

That if words are related to each other in one language then because there is evidence that sounds change but it seems that the relationships appear to be stable, that we should find very similar relationships of words in very distantly related languages. So, purely to show the change, if we pick the words "Bill" and "Ben". Then transform these with the following extraordinary perverse rules: B→S; i→o; e->aa; ll->K; n→q, we find that Bill → Sok and Ben goes to Saaq. If this happened then "Bill" and "Ben" would be two close words in one language and "sok" and "saaq" would, whilst being very different to Bill and Ben, close words to each other in another langauge.

So, words that are close to start, will tend to remain close even after massive linguistic changes that make them indistinguishable from their original form.

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Fri, 17 Oct 2014 09:31:49 +0000
Druid is Celtic? Are you on drugs! Of all that was written about ancient Britain the Druids have captured the attention like no other. Unfortunately, the result is that much that has been written about them, both ancient and modern, does not stand up to scrutiny. So, for example, if you read any of the numerous websites or books that discuss druids, you will read that the Druids were "Celtic" and most will state quite unequivocally that "druid" is a Celtic (by which they must mean Welsh word) and that it means "oak-knower". That is nonsense. Not only doesn't it make sense (unless we suppose some nefarious sexual practices :), but it doesn't make sense linguistically.

And like most of these supposed "Celtic" words of Roman Britain there is a far simpler etymology if we start not from some supposed "Celtic master-race" but instead from the simple hypothesis that people in Roman Britain spoke much the same languages then as they did several hundred years later when we get the first definite evidence of their language.

Who were the druids?

Julius Caesar has the best descriptions of their role in his account of the Gallic War (c55 BC):

Throughout all Gaul there are ... the Druids, [who] are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. ... they determine respecting almost all controversies ... they decree rewards and punishments; ... This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.  (Bk. vi. 13-16)

And Pliny (c78AD) adds to the description telling us:

At the present day, struck with fascination, Britannia still cultivates this art, and that, with ceremonials so august, that she might almost seem [Note] to have been the first to communicate them to the people of Persia. (Plin. Nat. 30.4) (Latin)

The Gallic provinces, too, were pervaded by the magic art, and that even down to a period within memory; for it was the Emperor Tiberius that put down their Druids, and all that tribe of wizards and physicians.(Plin. Nat. 30.4) (Latin)

The Druids were priests, magistrates & physicians.

Who says they were "Oak knowers"?

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Sat, 11 Oct 2014 22:26:49 +0000
Origin of British & West European Languages Introduction

The context for this article is the lack of evidence for the traditional view of the origin of English: that English came from Europe and replaced Welsh. But this is nonsense, because it requires a total genocide of a complete population of Welsh speaking Britons leaving almost no Welsh speakers left. Otherwise how does one explain the almost total absence of Welsh place names in Britain? That clearly did not happen, because there just is not the evidence to support it. A massacre of this scale would leave material evidence in abundance. It hasn't! So it didn't happen.That leads to one inescapable conclusion: the English always spoke a form of English even before the Romans invaded.

I've previous written three other articles:

To summarise them. There is no evidence for the "Celts" being in Britain and Caesar explicitly says that the Celts were a tribe in France. There is no evidence for a genocide in England so it must be assumed that whatever language was there before did not change dramatically. Likewise, there is no evidence for a wholesale change of French. It's nonsense to suggest a supposed Welsh speaking France started speaking French (a language closely related to Latin) when the Non-Latin Franks arrived. Gaulish is nonsense. The few words that supposedly form this language do not fit the required Welsh speaking language. Instead this failure is hidden using the "Celtic" myth which allows those looking to translate these words turn to Irish. I show it's as easy to find the origin of these words in French and so the idea they derive from Irish does not wash. Finally in the last article I outlined how I see the languages in Britain before the Roman Invasion.

Now in this article I go back much further to the ice-age to suggest a possible means by which we arrived at the pre-Roman distribution of languages in Britain and also Europe.

And before I forget: thanks to all those who contribute to the discussion on Britarch who have prompted me to write this.

See also: Maurizio Serva & Filippo Petroni (2007) Indo-European languages tree by Levenshtein distance "Russell D. Gray & Quentin D. Atkinson (2003) Language tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin "

How did Welsh; Irish/Scottish Gaelic; Cornish etc reach the areas where they were spoken in post-Roman times in Britain?

This question was raised by David Petts (and thanks for prompting this). I've previously said I just don't believe in the migration myth and the story of genocidal Anglo-Saxons completely wiping out a previous Welsh-speaking British race and leaving almost no trace at all of their language in England. (The only one which is worth taking seriously is "Avon" welsh "abon" (river), "aber" (estuary) but "Avon" is so close to Germanic derived "Havern", or Harbour, that there is arguably a better origin in a Germanic language).

However, whilst it is easy to highlight the lack of material evidence for the necessary genocide, it is less easy to answer the question: "when then did the various languages arrive?".


First, I'm going to have to suggest a new terminology, because there is no evidence for any Celts in Britain and if the Britains were Germanic speaking, we can not use "Brythonic" to mean "Welsh-like". Gaelic on the other hand is readily understood. So I will often mean "Welsh-like" referring to Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Cumbrian and also possibly Pictish. (These have falsely been referred to as "P-Celtic" - which is to my mind as daft as calling them "P-Klingon".)

Welsh as a term has problems as it appears to be Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner/invader". So I would prefer something from Welsh. The welsh call themselves "Cymry and the name 'Cumbria' is derived from the same root. So, a sensible name to use would be "Cumbric" as it is readily understood and correctly pronounced by non welsh speakers.

The third group is my proposed Germanic-like language speaking group whose closest recorded language is "Anglo-Saxon" - a name coined from post-Roman elite invader group from whom we have the earliest texts, but one which then became synonymous with a European origin. So, I don't as yet have a specific name.

The origins of Cumbric (Welsh-like) and Gaelic

We have is two linguistic groups which are some considerable linguistic distance apart. Serva & Petroni in their paper "Indo-European languages tree by Levenshtein distance", provide a graph converting "Levenshtein distance" to years from which it would appear possible to derive a date for language splits (as I've added in red). This is achieved by using known historical splits in language such as the point when Iceland was settled around 1100BP.

This would appear to support a split between the Gaelic and Cumbric groups something like 2500BC. Likewise the split between between English and other Germanic groups would be 1000BC and likewise between Breton and Welsh would be the same 1000BC.

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Tue, 30 Sep 2014 09:33:42 +0000
Salt, Celery and Seals - linguistic divergence and strange attractors Thanks to Tony Marsh for asking "Any thought from the etymologists among you on the rhyming of words:  CELERY and SALARY?" for inspiration for this.

The etymology given is the quintessential one so loved by antiquarians of Greek → Latin → French thence to poor English who couldn't invent their own words. So the name "celery" in the English language is thought to have been derived from the French word "celeri." In turn, celeri seems to have come from the Greek in which it first made an in Homer's Odyssey as "selinon". So, salary - salt - celery would appear to be linked because salary derives from Latin for Salt  (Sal) and at least some varieties of wild celery are salt tolerant plants.

However, I never beliieve such "etymologies" and I find it helps to look for one Anglo Saxon, because if I finds possible etymology in Anglo Saxon when it is supposed to be Latin it tells me:

  1. It's easy to make up etymologies (and/or)
  2. The antiquarians had a very dim view of Anglo Saxon and only ever looked there if they couldn't find some darned nonsense in Latin or Greek

So I look up the Anglo-Saxon etymology.

Here "sylu" means a miry place. Syla means a ploughman so I presume this "linguistic space" is the origin of soil and sully.

So, sel/sil/syl type words occupy the "linguistic real estate" of soil & silt.

Looking around we have seahl (willow) and sealt (salt) and modern silt (supposedly from a Scandinavian word related to sealt).

Unfortunately, the first attested mention of celery is too late (1660) to give any clear indication of its paternity. This can often mean that an Anglo-Saxon word used by ordinary folk has finally found its way into the hallowed cloisters of academia (i.e. its origin in the church) and a word used for centuries has finally been recorded.

But it can also mean the opposite - that a word hardly known outside acadamia/ the church has come into use in common English (such as democracy). But it is all far more complicated than that, because Latin was itself a mish mash of languages and many "Latin" words are undoubtedly of "barbarian" origin in the same way English is full of words from the empire from "pyjama" to "trek".

So many words will have followed the flow of "barbarian → Latin → French (e.g. car - with its antiquarian etymology: "Latin for a two wheeled Gallic cart" - I wonder what the Gauls called it?). And where those barbarians were British, the similarity of a Latin word may be due to assimilation in Latin rather than the reverse.

So, the only way to really know is to find out whether the word has "relatives" in one language or another. Obvious ones are "salt" and "salty". But consider the following. Both Silver (sealfor) and seal (seolh) are present in Anglo Saxon so are these rhyming words are related? And is it any accident that "Seal" (Seolh) starts with "Sea" (sae variant seon) - and what then "Silvery sea" and "Silkie seal". (Silk, AS: seoloc)

Common Ancestor or strange attractor?

The simple fact is that words that sound alike often have similar meanings. There are two causal explanations (the other is just chance). One is that there is divergence from a common "ancestor". And example of this given above is "sully" and "soil".

The other thing that tends to happen is that words with similar meanings grow alike. Take e.g. Cockatoo. The original in 1610 was from Malay Kakatua (possibly derived from its call). But over time the word has been "pulled" toward the English word "cock" to become cockatoo. Or "Fount" as in "fount of all knowledge". A shortening of "fountain", but thought to be influenced by "font". Or "Hokum" which seems to have obtained its form in mimic of "bunkum" and the phrase hocus-pocus. Then there is "nor", a contraction of middle english "nauther" which was influenced or "pulled" toward its final form by "or".

Roman Bath

Roman bath is recorded as having the name "Sulis". In deference to the antiquarian idea that welsh-speaking Britons were all massacred by the Anglo Saxon invaders in a mass genocide that left absolutely no archaeological evidence and is in my view total hokum, antiquarians searched in Welsh for a suitable "parent" and found none.

Now Bath is so called, because of the hot springs that in there natural form are often nothing more than steaming muddy puddles.

And so when one looks in Anglo-Saxon and finds "sylu" means a miry place, there is no doubt that "Sulis" would be readily understood by any Anglo Saxon speaker.


There is absolutely no evidence of a massacre of Welsh speaking Britons. There is almost no evidence of any place names of Welsh origin outside Wales except the name "Avon" which is readily derived from the Anglo Saxon word "Haefen", "*aeven" (haven or port) which applies to most rivers when they reach the sea). So there is no basis to fabricate stories of massacres of Welsh Britons nor believe that the majority of England did not have substantially the same Germanic based language at the time of the Romans as did did after the Anglo Saxon conquest.

So the most likely etymology of Bath is simply "mud".

Back to Celery

I started with celery and showed how it is related in sound and meaning to salt and silt and even sully and Sulis.

So is Celery Anglo Saxon or Latin? For that, language is not enough. Instead we need to look at both textual sources and biology.

What we are told is that celery is thought to have originally grown wild in the Mediterranean basin where texts from before 850BC describe its use for medicinal purposes. By the time, the Greek writer Homer referred to it the name was "selinon", from which either came or was dervied, the the Latin name: "selinun". When it arrives in French we find "celeri". So, the biological ancestry shows us this plant moving from the Mediterranean to Britain bringing its name to these shores.

So, just as it is ridiculous to suggest that the Latin name for a "Car" was not derived from the Gallic name for the same vehicle, so it would be churlish to believe the name did not come from the Mediterranean.

But then, what of "salt" or latin "sal". Could "Sal" have been an "intrusive" element - much like an invasion of an exotic species like Mink not indigenous, but soon making its home in "Old British". Could this intrusive element have become so assimilated that by the time we have any written records, it had evolved a number of forms related to the sea like: seal, silt or even silver?

We really do not know, but we can say it is unlikely unless there was time to see this change. Was there time for all these changes to have occurred in a mere 1000 years? And if not, then the fact that one language has many related forms is very strong evidence that the word originally came from that language rather than another where similar forms are poorly attested.

To use an analogy. If you found a lost child and two families claimed they were there's (or more likely denied having anything to do with the brat). Could you tell which family they came from by whether the family as a whole looked similar. Yes there will be uncles and aunts with no genetic similarity, but as a group, one would expect to find many closely related forms.

Likewise in the indigenous language for a word, we expect to find forms that by the process of "strange attraction" or divergence will be similar in both sound and meaning. And conversely, an intrusive word will have few close kin.

The origin of Celery

The available etymologies only take us back to Homer's Greek "Selinon". But that is more because that is one of the earliest texts we have, so we have no idea whether the word Selinon is a Greek word or one imported.

However if we look around at other languages we find three main other forms:

  1. Celeri (French), zelena (Slovene)
  2. Apio (Spanish), Accia (Sicilian), apium (Latin)
  3. Karafs (Arabic), Kereviz (Turkish), Karfusa (Maltese)

The first clearly derives from the ancient Greek σέλινον (sélinon). The Latin/Spanish form seems to be unrelated to the other two, but the last "Karafs" is interesting.

In English we are familiar with the hard and soft 'C' "Cat" and "Citizen". But other languages have a clearer distinction and the hard 'k' of Karafs is not necessarily the same as "Celeri". However, whilst ancient Greek "Selinion" is very different, the Mycenaean Greek has the form "se-ri-no" and "Ser-ino" and Arabic "Kar-afs" are too similar to easily dismiss as just coincidence.

They are even closer related if we look at Japanese where we find "serori". It is likely that the Japanese word stems from a late European word so it appears that the well known difficulty of Japanese speakers in pronouncing an 'l' has caused the change seleri  → serori.

And that is as far as I can go. The linguistic difference between "Celeri" and "Karafs" is too great to attribute to mere changes when words are assimilated. However the similarities mean they are linguistically close enough to make a single ancestor likely. So these appear to be two different "groups" of words within which we must assume the words come from one of two original words, but because the similarity of the two groups, it is reasonable to believe they came originally from the same word, even though we have no record of what word that is or even what language it came from.

However, we can also say that it is where we find the most similar form of the two families, that we would most likely find a linguistic missing-link that ties them together. So we can go on to say, that origin appears to be somewhere around the area of the Mycenaean area of influence where it overlaps with some language that influenced Persian, Arabic and Turkish.

Khoresh Karafs (Wikipedia)


I just happen to come across this page with a lot of Persian recipes including one for Khoresh Karafs (Celery Stew I suppose). Persian Khoresh (خورش‎) is a generic term for stew dishes in Persian cuisine.  There's an interesting similarity which hints (but no more) at a possible "linguistic family" of food related words in Persian or a related language.

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Tue, 16 Sep 2014 12:51:51 +0000
Why men invented gender Human language is incredibly efficient. If we look at the 100 most common words in spoken English from commonest down: the, be, of, and, a, in, to, have, it, to, for, I, that, you, he, on, with, do, at, by, not, this, but, from, they, his, she, or, which, as, we, an, say, will, would, can, if, their, go, what, there, all, get, her, make, who, as, out, up, see, know, time, take, them, some, could, so, him, year, into, its, then, think, my, come, than, more, about, now, last, your, me, no, other, give, just, should, these, people, also, well, any, only, new, very, when, may, way, look, like, use, her, such, how, because, when, as, good, find. All the most commonly spoken seventy words are single syllable. The only two syllable words are "other", "people", "also", "any", "very" and "because" and there are no three syllable words. But notice how many of these two syllable words like the commonest words start or end in a vowel sound: "thE", "bE", "Of", "and" "a", "In", Other", "AlsO", "AnY", verY.

In contrast, when we look at words which are only in common use in very specific circumstance or by a few professions we find they are amongst the longer words in English: "preposition", "infinitive", "relative pronoun", "verb", "determiner", "conjunction", "auxiliary verb", "adverb" (from linguistics). We find that the vast majority are three syllables and some like "auxiliary verb" are not even a single word.

Anyone knowing about communication theory and coding would recognise that human language is organised according to the prime doctrine of efficient coding: that the commonest terms have the shortest codes. But another facet of that, is that all the short codes are used unless e.g. they increase errors.

Linguistic distance

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Mon, 09 Jun 2014 21:49:16 +0000
Matching words: Some thoughts on Linguistic distance By Mike Haseler

I make no apologies for posting this: "as is" except for a quick introductory paragraph. It is intended to add to a discussion about "how do we know when one word is derived from another".

]]> (Mike Haseler) Linguistic Mon, 09 Jun 2014 21:48:01 +0000