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Re: Gothic prestige and borrowing

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  • x99lynx@aol.com
    Piotr wrote:
    Message 1 of 10 , Apr 2 8:59 AM
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      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 2 of 10 , Apr 2 9:23 AM
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        <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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