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Re: Gothic prestige and borrowing

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  • x99lynx@aol.com
    Piotr wrote:
    Message 1 of 10 , Mar 31, 2002
      Piotr wrote:
      <"Prestige" is a vague notion and perhaps not satisfactory by itself as an
      explanation for the directionality of borrowing, note however, that your
      English example does not falsify the traditional view. English borrowed most
      freely from French and Latin when they were regarded as languages of learning
      and high literature.>

      Please understand that I'm not accepting a basic assumption here. I don't
      believe that prestige is a particularly strong motive for borrowing. (It may
      be for learning or adopting a new language, but not for borrowing.)

      The reason I believe that is because I believe that communication is
      substantially more important to a language than social status. Prestige
      isn't worth a fig if it ruins your ability to communicate, and it is just a
      growth plan for a language. It's dysfunctional.

      I'll say it again. Language's prime function is communication. If you
      borrow a whole bunch of foreign words and nobody understands you, those words
      should have no promise of being adopted by other speakers of your language.

      Borrowed words that ARE functional, and do aid communication, don't hurt a
      language but actually help it. They allow you to import concepts or even
      simpler references without much bother.

      You wrote:
      <there are loans from English on almost every page of any dictionary of
      Polish -- especially in fields like science, technology and popular culture.
      The fact that English is a global lingua franca is surely an important part
      of its prestige.>

      But that means prestige is an after-effect. The reason English is a global
      lingua franca is because it is functional in international communication.
      That is what a lingua franca does. That's why it's on almost every page of a
      Polish dictionary. If some other language suddenly got "prestigious" and
      didn't allow effective communication at science, technology, popular culture,
      trade, etc., it would not stay a lingua franca for long.

      So I don't believe that English was importing from French and Latin after
      1300 because of prestige. I think it's main reason for importing because the
      language needed new words and configurations of words to account for a
      changing world. I don't believe Chaucer or Shakespeare (especially not
      Shakespeare) were trying to impress anyone with their knowledge of French or
      Latin. I believe they were looking for better ways to say things. To be
      more precise in communicating. Borrowing was a way to acheive that goal.

      Any language that is highly adverse to borrowing is conversely at a
      disadvantage.

      Piotr also wrote:
      <<In recent times, American English has borrowed "wildly" not from adstrate
      languages but mostly from the numerous immigrant substrates of America
      (Spanish, German, Italian, Yiddish, etc.). >>

      I think that calling those languages "substrates" is my problem here.
      American English was already there when those languages arrived. And they
      certainly reflect later additions to Am English both in time and often
      meaning. And I think that again the words often reflect an addition to the
      culture (particularly in terms of food, eg, the ubiqutous "tacos," "pizza"
      and "pirogis" ) and sometimes in other meanings. (There is a famous old
      comedy routine that describes the difference between "kvetching" and plain
      old complaining, "chutzpah" and plain old nerviness.) An important threshold
      test for borrowing in American English, I would suggest, has been whether it
      is considered to add something new in meaning. In American English, "je ne
      sais quoi" does not mean the same thing as "I don't know what."

      <Consider the following pairs: Polish : German (during the Middle
      Ages)Hungarian : German (in the Austro-Hungarian Empire)English : Welsh (in
      Britain)Lithuanian : Russian (in Soviet times)Latin : Albanian (in late
      Antiquity) The prevailing direction of borrowing is easy to predict in each
      case.>

      If you are going to import new ideas, new goods, new technologies, new
      administrative systems, new ideologies, etc, you are either going to borrow
      or have to create neologisms in your language. Borrowing is probably faster
      and more universal (more "lingua franca".) And it simply makes your language
      better at describing the world around you.

      The source language doesn't need to be prestigious, but it probably does have
      to add something noticeably worthwhile. Perhaps that is what Gothic had to
      offer Slavic.

      Steve
    • x99lynx@aol.com
      Piotr wrote:
      Message 2 of 10 , Apr 1, 2002
        Piotr wrote:
        <No _essential_ disagreement here, but I think you overestimate the
        importance of "effective communication". I agree that the explanation of
        directional borrowing in terms of "prestige" is often circular. So, alas, is
        explanation in terms of communicative needs.>

        Piotr, if two people are speaking to each other and neither are using
        "prestige" words they should get along just fine. If neither is
        communicating, on the other hand, their language is useless. There is
        nothing circular about that. I cannot believe that with your obvious writing
        skills you wouldn't immediately endorse the priority of communication. The
        Mainstream Linguist Police must be lurking around here somewhere.

        <<Did Chaucer and other Middle English writers use French words to improve
        communication with fellow Englishmen? There's little reason to think so.>>

        Yikes! Actually there is every reason to think so. The remarkable
        masterpiece that is the Canterbury Tales carries no excess baggage. Every
        word is efficient, effective and advances meaning. There is no indication of
        a word chosen because it was the "prestigious" word. Chaucer used the right
        word to convey pin-point meaning - in English - even though it might have
        been a borrowed word. And the reason he could do that was because English
        finally had the tools (including the borrowed ones) to tell that story. If
        you'd like to substitute "Saxon doublets" into Chaucer (or Shakespeare) be my
        guest. But don't expect it to tell the same story. Or tell it very well.

        A good example of how much English had been powered up thanks to its
        borrowing is Poul Anderson's essay "Uncleftish Beholding" which describes
        "Atomic Theory" using "only Anglo-Saxon words" and is reproduced in part on
        the web. The Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1979 noted that "essay"
        was "legendary among physicists because of how well it illustrates the total
        inadequacy of naked 'English' in communicating modern scientific concepts..."
        Naked English here meant English without words borrowed from Latin, Greek,
        French or Arabic.

        Piotr wrote:
        <<Innumerable French loans replaced perfectly functional Anglo-Saxon
        synonyms...>>

        Piotr, don't believe it for a minute. The words you list were not
        equivalent. That is an artifact of dictionary definitions and convenience.
        When you look at context, you can see that these words served different
        functions and had different connotations from the start. The "substitution"
        actually reflected material changes and new meanings in English culture at
        the time. Calling them "perfectly functional Anglo-Saxon synonyms" is just
        not accurate.

        Here are just three examples, but I'm sure this can be done with every
        two-some you mentioned. In each case, the new borrowed word signaled a
        change in meaning and context that did not merely replace the old word:

        Arn > Eagle
        "Erne/eagle give all the indications of initial usage in English as two
        different words. Of the earliest references given to "eagle" in the
        OxEngDict almost all refer not to the bird in the wild, but to foreign coins,
        emblems and symbols. The main exception seems to be Wyclif (c.1380) who used
        both words in his sermons, Eerne and Egle, suggesting that he may have
        thought they were two different birds. Since most Englishmen would rarely
        see the native erne in its limited native habitats and possibly did not know
        it was the same bird, it is logical that the word associated with the more
        common imported symbols - eagle - would eventually prevail."

        Inwit > Conscience
        "Some of the earliest references to "inwit" in ME already attempt to make it
        equivalent to "conscience", but it is clear from the texts that was not the
        case. Wyclif uses "inwit" as the five "inwyttys" ("Wyl, Resoun, Mynd,
        Ymaginacioun and Thogth...") and also as equivalent to the Christian soul
        itself. There are many other examples which make any simple equivalency to
        conscience unacceptible. This is also clear in that conscience is attested
        before "inwit" in MEnglish, but in OEnglish, inwit meant "deceit" - which
        seems a pre-Christian notion that directly conflicted with the Christian conc
        ept of conscience. It may be that early sermoners substituted conscience for
        inwit in order to attempt a "conversion" in thinking in their listeners.
        What we may actually have here is an overall change in ethical concepts, with
        inwit eventually losing usage because its actual common meaning was ethically
        ambiguous, though its most accurate early sense was retained in modern
        English "wits" and "wit," neither of which have ethical connotations."

        Eme > Uncle
        "Under civil and canon law, "avunculus/uncle" denoted only the mother's
        brother and demarked the rights and duties of that person in the event of the
        father's death. This may be the source of the early use of "to uncle" as
        meaning to cheat or swindle, as an "uncle" could divert the normal course of
        inhertance . There is no indication that such rights and duties existed under
        Saxon law in the designation "eme." Thus, when English written law revised
        the rights of inheritance, it extended the legal status of "uncle" to mean
        both the lines of mother and father."

        I'll try to get to the rest of your post later.

        Steve
      • tgpedersen
        ... explanation of ... alas, is ... using ... is ... obvious writing ... communication. The ... But which situation are we talking about here? The average
        Message 3 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
          --- In cybalist@y..., x99lynx@a... wrote:
          > Piotr wrote:
          > <No _essential_ disagreement here, but I think you overestimate the
          > importance of "effective communication". I agree that the
          explanation of
          > directional borrowing in terms of "prestige" is often circular. So,
          alas, is
          > explanation in terms of communicative needs.>
          >
          > Piotr, if two people are speaking to each other and neither are
          using
          > "prestige" words they should get along just fine. If neither is
          > communicating, on the other hand, their language is useless. There
          is
          > nothing circular about that. I cannot believe that with your
          obvious writing
          > skills you wouldn't immediately endorse the priority of
          communication. The
          > Mainstream Linguist Police must be lurking around here somewhere.
          >

          But which situation are we talking about here? The average Anglo-
          Saxon is not likely to correct his Norman lord and master by pointing
          out that he is using a dative for an accusative or a masculine for a
          feminine. Nor is he likely to try to browbeat him by using fancy
          prestigious Anglo-Saxon words. That won't get him anywhere, at least
          not anywhere nice. Better use a Norman French word that you have
          picked up somewhere and which you know your boss will understand.





          > <<Did Chaucer and other Middle English writers use French words to
          improve
          > communication with fellow Englishmen? There's little reason to
          think so.>>
          >
          > Yikes! Actually there is every reason to think so. The remarkable
          > masterpiece that is the Canterbury Tales carries no excess
          baggage. Every
          > word is efficient, effective and advances meaning. There is no
          indication of
          > a word chosen because it was the "prestigious" word. Chaucer used
          the right
          > word to convey pin-point meaning - in English - even though it
          might have
          > been a borrowed word. And the reason he could do that was because
          English
          > finally had the tools (including the borrowed ones) to tell that
          story. If
          > you'd like to substitute "Saxon doublets" into Chaucer (or
          Shakespeare) be my
          > guest. But don't expect it to tell the same story. Or tell it
          very well.

          Oh no. When I read "Jyske lov" of 1241 or the Medicine Book of Henrik
          Harpestreng, I am struck with clarity of expression, how he has
          chosen exactly those words of Low German that survived into Modern
          Danish and therefore make sense to me. Oh wondrous joy! It's like
          looking at your family album and marvelling that all these people had
          to meet by what looks like coincidence in order to produce oneself so
          that the medieval mist over linguistics should be disspelled. What
          grand plan did they follow? How was it revealed to them? By divine
          inspiration (anyone getting annoyed out there?)?




          >
          > A good example of how much English had been powered up thanks to
          its
          > borrowing is Poul Anderson's essay "Uncleftish Beholding" which
          describes
          > "Atomic Theory" using "only Anglo-Saxon words" and is reproduced in
          part on
          > the web. The Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1979 noted
          that "essay"
          > was "legendary among physicists because of how well it illustrates
          the total
          > inadequacy of naked 'English' in communicating modern scientific
          concepts..."
          > Naked English here meant English without words borrowed from
          Latin, Greek,
          > French or Arabic.

          That is a very good example. Now all you need is some quotes from
          those physicists, eg. Einstein and Bohr, who have actually tried to
          formulate a modern physical theory in such nakedly Germanic languages
          as German and Danish, to the effect that such languages are unsuited
          for that purpose.
          (weird fact: the unit prefixes for 10E-15 and 10E-18 are femto- and
          atto-, respectively, from Danish <femten> "15" and <atten> "18";
          Danish was used as a Lingua Franca in the discussions among students
          in Bohr's "Copenhagen school").



          >
          > Piotr wrote:
          > <<Innumerable French loans replaced perfectly functional Anglo-
          Saxon
          > synonyms...>>
          >
          > Piotr, don't believe it for a minute. The words you list were not
          > equivalent. That is an artifact of dictionary definitions and
          convenience.
          > When you look at context, you can see that these words served
          different
          > functions and had different connotations from the start.
          The "substitution"
          > actually reflected material changes and new meanings in English
          culture at
          > the time. Calling them "perfectly functional Anglo-Saxon synonyms"
          is just
          > not accurate.
          >
          > Here are just three examples, but I'm sure this can be done with
          every
          > two-some you mentioned. In each case, the new borrowed word
          signaled a
          > change in meaning and context that did not merely replace the old
          word:
          >
          > Arn > Eagle
          > "Erne/eagle give all the indications of initial usage in English as
          two
          > different words. Of the earliest references given to "eagle" in
          the
          > OxEngDict almost all refer not to the bird in the wild, but to
          foreign coins,
          > emblems and symbols. The main exception seems to be Wyclif
          (c.1380) who used
          > both words in his sermons, Eerne and Egle, suggesting that he may
          have
          > thought they were two different birds. Since most Englishmen would
          rarely
          > see the native erne in its limited native habitats and possibly did
          not know
          > it was the same bird, it is logical that the word associated with
          the more
          > common imported symbols - eagle - would eventually prevail."
          >
          > Inwit > Conscience
          > "Some of the earliest references to "inwit" in ME already attempt
          to make it
          > equivalent to "conscience", but it is clear from the texts that was
          not the
          > case. Wyclif uses "inwit" as the five "inwyttys" ("Wyl, Resoun,
          Mynd,
          > Ymaginacioun and Thogth...") and also as equivalent to the
          Christian soul
          > itself. There are many other examples which make any simple
          equivalency to
          > conscience unacceptible. This is also clear in that conscience is
          attested
          > before "inwit" in MEnglish, but in OEnglish, inwit meant "deceit" -
          which
          > seems a pre-Christian notion that directly conflicted with the
          Christian conc
          > ept of conscience. It may be that early sermoners substituted
          conscience for
          > inwit in order to attempt a "conversion" in thinking in their
          listeners.
          > What we may actually have here is an overall change in ethical
          concepts, with
          > inwit eventually losing usage because its actual common meaning was
          ethically
          > ambiguous, though its most accurate early sense was retained in
          modern
          > English "wits" and "wit," neither of which have ethical
          connotations."
          >
          > Eme > Uncle
          > "Under civil and canon law, "avunculus/uncle" denoted only the
          mother's
          > brother and demarked the rights and duties of that person in the
          event of the
          > father's death. This may be the source of the early use of "to
          uncle" as
          > meaning to cheat or swindle, as an "uncle" could divert the normal
          course of
          > inhertance . There is no indication that such rights and duties
          existed under
          > Saxon law in the designation "eme." Thus, when English written law
          revised
          > the rights of inheritance, it extended the legal status of "uncle"
          to mean
          > both the lines of mother and father."
          >
          > I'll try to get to the rest of your post later.
          >
          > Steve

          Words are borrowed with a slightly different sense and the old word
          dies out. And?

          The technical designation for what the English language is, is this:
          it is a


          partially Norman-French re-lexified, mixed AngloSaxon-Norse-based
          creole.



          Torsten
        • tgpedersen
          ... its ... describes ... part on ... that essay ... the total ... concepts... ... Latin, Greek, ... Are we talking about Poul Anderson, the Science Fiction
          Message 4 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
            --- In cybalist@y..., x99lynx@a... wrote:
            > A good example of how much English had been powered up thanks to
            its
            > borrowing is Poul Anderson's essay "Uncleftish Beholding" which
            describes
            > "Atomic Theory" using "only Anglo-Saxon words" and is reproduced in
            part on
            > the web. The Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1979 noted
            that "essay"
            > was "legendary among physicists because of how well it illustrates
            the total
            > inadequacy of naked 'English' in communicating modern scientific
            concepts..."
            > Naked English here meant English without words borrowed from
            Latin, Greek,
            > French or Arabic.
            >
            >
            > Steve

            Are we talking about Poul Anderson, the Science Fiction writer? He is
            of Danish descent (hence "Poul"), and, I believe, knows some Danish.
            In one of his stories placed in the future he lets one group of space
            colonists speak Neo-Danish. It seems he believes that that language
            can actually be used for communicating?

            And BTW, I glanced through some Old or Middle High German Minnesänger
            (Troubadour) poetry and was surprised to discover that they used
            almost as many Romance (Provencal and French) words as contemporary
            English material?

            Torsten
          • x99lynx@aol.com
            Torsten wrote:
            Message 5 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
              Torsten wrote:
              <But which situation are we talking about here? The average Anglo-
              Saxon is not likely to correct his Norman lord and master by pointing
              out that he is using a dative for an accusative or a masculine for a
              feminine. Nor is he likely to try to browbeat him by using fancy
              prestigious Anglo-Saxon words. That won't get him anywhere, at least
              not anywhere nice. Better use a Norman French word that you have
              picked up somewhere and which you know your boss will understand.>

              Some observations:
              Norman French is not the source of most of the French loans in English. Its
              main contribution was as a legal language and it was not spoken by the Norman
              lords themselves for very long. The way Norman words entered and travelled
              in English might be seen in the word "cattle." The original word derived
              from Latin, still recognizable in the legal term of art, "chattel and chose",
              and referred to an interest in property aside from that held in the land. In
              law, this is the difference between "personal" and "real" property. Since
              the most valuable part of an interest in such property was often livestock,
              "chattel" entered common English as a reference to livestock of any kind, but
              probably mainly among the propertied classes. It was used mainly in wills
              and legislation and could refer to pigs and chickens as well as oxen. And it
              was still being used that way in American English in the early 1800's.
              However, local American courts in the West began to use "cattle" exclusively
              to refer to cows, interpreting the intention of certain "form" contracts
              being written at the time and certain holdings began to be described commonly
              as "cattle ranches." It appears that the use of cattle exclusively for cows
              caught on in the pulp fiction of the time and moved East and spread in usage
              in such expressions as "cattle drive", "cattle baron" and "cattle rustlers."
              So this Norman word was introduced and re-introduced by lawyers and made
              common English by pulp fiction writers.

              Norman lords were involved in the big, mega-historical sense, but really they
              had nothing to do with the everyday way the word came into common use.

              Jorge Luis Borges wrote a piece called "On the Modesty of History." It is
              about how the little things had a lot more to do with how things turn out
              than big notions, like prestige.

              <<Words are borrowed with a slightly different sense and the old word
              dies out. And?>>

              What superficially looks like a slightly different sense might have reflected
              an important difference in people's lives. My point is that borrowed words
              and lost words don't often come from anything as abstract and shallow as
              "prestige." Look at these words in context and it is often almost impossible
              to see how "prestige" had anything to do with their comings and goings.

              <<That is a very good example. Now all you need is some quotes from
              those physicists, eg. Einstein and Bohr, who have actually tried to
              formulate a modern physical theory in such nakedly Germanic languages
              as German and Danish, to the effect that such languages are unsuited
              for that purpose.>>

              How nakedly Germanic is German physics? At least I recognize the Greek and
              Latin in "Die Relativitätstheorie von Albert Einstein, deutsch-amerikanischer
              Physiker." There is some heavy clothing already going on there.
              (Amerikanischer, by the way, had its origins in the name of 15th Century
              Italian sailor. Who'd a thunk it? I would have thought it would have meant
              something like "shining glory," "the flowing ones" or "the prestigious
              children of Amer" or something. )

              My favorite is this regard is from the dinosaur science e-list, where a
              debate raged over dropping traditional designations. When it was suggested
              that the naming committee change "edentulous'' to "toothless'', a Dutch
              biologist objected and argued that Latin and Greek terms should be retained
              because "Not all of us speak your very difficult language.''

              S. Long
            • tgpedersen
              ... pointing ... a ... least ... English. Its ... the Norman ... travelled ... derived ... and chose , ... land. In ... property. Since ... livestock, ...
              Message 6 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
                --- In cybalist@y..., x99lynx@a... wrote:
                > Torsten wrote:
                > <But which situation are we talking about here? The average Anglo-
                > Saxon is not likely to correct his Norman lord and master by
                pointing
                > out that he is using a dative for an accusative or a masculine for
                a
                > feminine. Nor is he likely to try to browbeat him by using fancy
                > prestigious Anglo-Saxon words. That won't get him anywhere, at
                least
                > not anywhere nice. Better use a Norman French word that you have
                > picked up somewhere and which you know your boss will understand.>
                >
                > Some observations:
                > Norman French is not the source of most of the French loans in
                English. Its
                > main contribution was as a legal language and it was not spoken by
                the Norman
                > lords themselves for very long. The way Norman words entered and
                travelled
                > in English might be seen in the word "cattle." The original word
                derived
                > from Latin, still recognizable in the legal term of art, "chattel
                and chose",
                > and referred to an interest in property aside from that held in the
                land. In
                > law, this is the difference between "personal" and "real"
                property. Since
                > the most valuable part of an interest in such property was often
                livestock,
                > "chattel" entered common English as a reference to livestock of any
                kind, but
                > probably mainly among the propertied classes. It was used mainly
                in wills
                > and legislation and could refer to pigs and chickens as well as
                oxen. And it
                > was still being used that way in American English in the early
                1800's.
                > However, local American courts in the West began to use "cattle"
                exclusively
                > to refer to cows, interpreting the intention of certain "form"
                contracts
                > being written at the time and certain holdings began to be
                described commonly
                > as "cattle ranches." It appears that the use of cattle exclusively
                for cows
                > caught on in the pulp fiction of the time and moved East and spread
                in usage
                > in such expressions as "cattle drive", "cattle baron" and "cattle
                rustlers."
                > So this Norman word was introduced and re-introduced by lawyers and
                made
                > common English by pulp fiction writers.
                >
                > Norman lords were involved in the big, mega-historical sense, but
                really they
                > had nothing to do with the everyday way the word came into common
                use.
                >
                > Jorge Luis Borges wrote a piece called "On the Modesty of
                History." It is
                > about how the little things had a lot more to do with how things
                turn out
                > than big notions, like prestige.
                >

                Thank you for the story. I must be confused. I don't understand what
                you are trying to say. Is it that the words in English that look
                exactly as if they were Norman French actually aren't, but were
                introduced into the English Language by pulp fiction writers?


                > <<Words are borrowed with a slightly different sense and the old
                word
                > dies out. And?>>
                >
                > What superficially looks like a slightly different sense might have
                reflected
                > an important difference in people's lives. My point is that
                borrowed words
                > and lost words don't often come from anything as abstract and
                shallow as
                > "prestige." Look at these words in context and it is often almost
                impossible
                > to see how "prestige" had anything to do with their comings and
                goings.
                >

                Nothing comes from "prestige". What goes by the name of "prestige"
                ultimately is based on a threat of the use of physical force. And
                that is sufficient to change what words people use.


                > <<That is a very good example. Now all you need is some quotes from
                > those physicists, eg. Einstein and Bohr, who have actually tried to
                > formulate a modern physical theory in such nakedly Germanic
                languages
                > as German and Danish, to the effect that such languages are
                unsuited
                > for that purpose.>>
                >
                > How nakedly Germanic is German physics? At least I recognize the
                Greek and
                > Latin in "Die Relativitätstheorie von Albert Einstein, deutsch-
                amerikanischer
                > Physiker." There is some heavy clothing already going on there.
                > (Amerikanischer, by the way, had its origins in the name of 15th
                >Century
                > Italian sailor. Who'd a thunk it?
                Anybody who had read Reader's Digest's "Expand your vocabulary".

                I would have thought it would have meant
                > something like "shining glory," "the flowing ones" or "the
                prestigious
                > children of Amer" or something. )

                Chinese mei-guo "America", actually means "beautiful contry".

                >

                > My favorite is this regard is from the dinosaur science e-list,
                where a
                > debate raged over dropping traditional designations. When it was
                suggested
                > that the naming committee change "edentulous'' to "toothless'', a
                Dutch
                > biologist objected and argued that Latin and Greek terms should be
                retained
                > because "Not all of us speak your very difficult language.''
                >
                He must have been speaking tongue in cheek. The Dutch for <tooth-
                less> is <tand-los>.

                > S. Long

                Torsten
              • x99lynx@aol.com
                Piotr wrote:
                Message 7 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
                  Piotr wrote:
                  <<I think you are wrong, Steve. A language often borrows a redundant word,
                  and then employs it for a particular stylistic effect or creates a new
                  semantic niche for it, relocating its resources, as it were. You project the
                  new distinction on the pre-borrowing stage of the language, suggesting a
                  pre-existing gap waiting for a loan to come along and fill it. >>

                  Try to look at it the other way around. From the time the first word was
                  spoken there's been an infinite number of pre-existing gaps. When another
                  language has attempted to fill one of those gaps, and my language hasn't, I
                  have three choices. And one of them is borrowing that word from the other
                  language.

                  Now, I may not have preceived a difference between crimsom and red before you
                  and your language brought it up. Was there a gap there in my language before
                  you brought it up? The answer is I guess only if the difference is of
                  consequence for me. Otherwise, there was really no gap to fill. And I might
                  as well just continue using red for all reds.

                  When I go around calling red, crimsom, to my fellow speakers to improve my
                  status, that's a prestige borrowing. I do run the severe risk however of
                  them not knowing what I am talking about. If a borrowing is only for
                  prestige and has no other function in the language - doesn't really also fill
                  a another gap - it refers to nothing and is gibberish.

                  And if I want to share in the prestige of your language among your speakers,
                  using the word "crimsom" alone will do me very little good. Here you are not
                  talking about borrowing, but learning a new language - a very different way
                  of acquiring prestige through language. (As opposed to acquiring it by
                  buying a Rolex watch - which I'm told are a lot more effective at getting
                  quick status than walking around saying "chateaubriand" to the guys down at
                  the body shop.)

                  <<However, a new word often ousts an older (near-)synonym entirely -- why, if
                  _both_ were allegedly needed in the first place, if I understand you
                  correctly?>>

                  Why? Because things change. The old need for two different words may have
                  disappeared. (And BTW "near-synonym" may be presumptive. The near
                  difference lexically may be very consequential in the real world. Like the
                  difference between a snake and a poisonous snake.)

                  In perceptual psychology, there are two very basic and discrete actions or
                  behaviours. One is discrimination. The other is generalization. If there
                  is a difference between just being an eme and an uncle, we might begin to use
                  two different words to describe that difference. If that difference over
                  time disappears, the two different words MAY no longer refer to any
                  difference we can think of. Logically, one or the other word may fall out of
                  use. Or go on to some new use (e.g, a quaint expression.) The other word
                  may be generalized to remove any trace of the old difference - uncle becomes
                  any uncle, not just a mother's brother.

                  <<You claim, for example, that the meaning of <eme> (OE e:am) was different
                  from that of <uncle>, the latter having special legal connotations, so both
                  were needed to express different semantic shades. So far so good. But the
                  speakers of Middle English can't have been too pedantic about the
                  distinction: <uncle> was used in the sense 'one's father brother' or 'an
                  aunt's husband' already in Middle English times, replacing <eme> completely
                  as a kinship term.>>

                  Canon law came to England with Christianity. My Black's Law Dictionary
                  tells me that "avunculus" was not just a description, but a term of specific
                  legal status. I have every reason to believe that is how it was "borrowed"
                  into English. How it generalized beyond that meaning I can't say, but it's
                  VERY important to remember that that legal status was ALSO changing over that
                  time, as canon law receded in importance.

                  Saying that the English could not have been too "pedantic" about the word's
                  use is to miss the real world consequence of that legal term. The courts
                  weren't simply being pedantic, they had the power to act on it. Whether they
                  decided you were an uncle or not could be of significant importance.
                  Apparently, <eme> had no such legal consequence. That alone could explain
                  why uncle came into use and eme fell out of use.

                  This is a functionalist approach. What were the consequences of using the
                  word uncle versus eme. How did it change? You probably have to know more
                  about the old inheritance laws than about the prestige of Latin to account
                  for those words. And of course every word has its own history.

                  <<Why didn't it happen the other way? Why didn't <eme> add a legal touch to
                  its meaning and kick the newcomer out?>>

                  Well, you know the answer. Words are tools. <Eme> couldn't do anything on
                  its own. And claiming you were an <eme> got you nowhere in court and so
                  perhaps also it got you no free beer in anticipation of an inheritance at the
                  local pub. The law made <uncle> a term of consequence. What happened to
                  <eme>? It seems to have lingered on as a term of endearment dialectially or
                  as a restoration word in titles. Apparently endearment is about as
                  functional and enduring as prestige when it comes to lexical matters. And so
                  it passed on.

                  I'll try to finish this reply soon.

                  Steve
                • x99lynx@aol.com
                  Message 8 of 10 , Apr 2, 2002
                    <Thank you for the story. I must be confused. I don't understand what
                    you are trying to say. Is it that the words in English that look
                    exactly as if they were Norman French actually aren't, but were
                    introduced into the English Language by pulp fiction writers?>

                    Yes. That's exactly what I was saying. There were no Norman words before
                    lawyers and pulp fiction writers. Sometimes it works in reverse. The word
                    <gay> from the French which use to mean a certain kind of happy? Well, now
                    it's a legal status in California where you can't discriminate against
                    "gays." Now how do you in the Norman French can you explain that?

                    <<Nothing comes from "prestige". What goes by the name of "prestige"
                    ultimately is based on a threat of the use of physical force. And
                    that is sufficient to change what words people use.>>

                    I've adopted French words to sound smart and sophisticated. I've adopted
                    lots of words to get across an idea better. I've adopted words to fill out
                    forms. I remember people using isolated English words to try to sell me
                    something on foreign streets. Or to throw insults at me in foreign jungles.
                    But I don't ever remember a Frenchmen using the threat of violence to make me
                    say Brie. I seriously doubt it's happened much. It doesn't make much sense.

                    s.
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