Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

One Horn

May 31, 2017

I have been studying German lately, mostly by using Duolingo, and I have noticed an interesting difference between English and German. This article I read about Ira Einhorn, the founder of Earth Day who murdered and composted his girlfriend brought the difference to mind.

Ira Einhorn was on stage hosting the first Earth Day event at the Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Seven years later, police raided his closet and found the “composted” body of his ex-girlfriend inside a trunk.

A self-proclaimed environmental activist, Einhorn made a name for himself among ecological groups during the 1960s and ’70s by taking on the role of a tie-dye-wearing ecological guru and Philadelphia’s head hippie. With his long beard and gap-toothed smile, Einhorn — who nicknamed himself “Unicorn” because his German-Jewish last name translates to “one horn”  —advocated flower power, peace and free love to his fellow students at the University of Pennsylvania. He also claimed to have helped found Earth Day.

Einhorn is actually the German word for unicorn. What I have noticed is that English tends to create new words for new or abstract concepts by taking words from other languages, particularly Latin and Greek and often combining them in new ways not found in the original languages. German tends to create new words from other German words and seems to be less eager to take words from other languages.

In English we watch television (Greek tele “far” + Latin visionem, participle of videre “to see”). Germans watch the Fernseher (literally “far-seer” in German). We may study science (Latin scientia “knowledge) in school while Germans study Wissenschaft (“knowledge” in German). If you study chemistry you may be familiar with the elements, like hydrogen (Greek Hydr “water” + gen “produces or born from” thus “made from water”) or oxygen (Greek oxys “acid”+ gen so “made from acid). In German they are Wasserstoff (waterstuff) and Sauerstoff (sourstuff). Carbon comes from Latin carbonem “coal” Germans call it Kohlenstoff, “coalstuff”.

Electricity (Latin electrum and Greek elektron both meaning amber) is one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The Germans do have the word Elektrizität but they also call it Strom “stream, current”. We may be afraid of exposure to radiation(Latin radiationem “shining” from radius “beam of light). A German would prefer not to be exposed to Strahlung “beaming”.

You don’t have to study science to notice the difference. English speakers may vote (Latin votus “to vow”) in an election (Latin ex “out of” + legere “to choose”) for Congress (Latin congressus from com “with” + gradus “to walk” thus walking or meeting together) or Parliament (French from parler “to speak”). Germans may abstimmen (choose or coordinate) in a Wahl (choice) for the Bundestag (Bundes “Federal” Tag literally “day” from Latin diet “daily” the name of various representative assemblies in the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere). This body may pass legislation (Latin legis latio “proposing a law”). In German it is Gesetzgebung (Gesetz “law” + gebung “-tion” so “lawization”. In English, we may participate (Latin participare “to share”) in and organization (Latin organizationem from organum “organ”). In German they teilnehmen (take part) in a Unternehmen (undertaking). I could go on and on but you get the idea.

I don’t want to exaggerate the contrast between the two languages. German does have plenty of words derived from Latin, mostly taken, like English through French, and English, of course, does make new words out of older English words, just like German. We can say we take part in an “undertaking” too. In fact, English seems to have a double vocabulary, one made up of simpler words derived from Anglo-Saxon and another composed of fancier words from French and Latin. Which approach is better, the German or the English is a matter of taste, I think. English perhaps has more words and is more eager to appropriate words from other languages, but all those Latin words may make English a more abstract language in some respects, one more easy to obfuscate in. German seems somehow homier, yet as anyone who tried to read Hegel or some of the other German philosophers can attest, German can also be an obfuscating language with dense verbiage.

So, why is English half a romance language, while German remains, well, Germanic? Part of the reason must be that there was nothing like the Norman Conquest in German history. Germany was not conquered by a nation that spoke a Romance Language as England was conquered by the French speaking Normans and so there was not the huge influx of Latin derived words into German as there was with English.

Yet, I also think that there is another reason why English has generally been careless about adopting words. from other languages. For some reason, English speakers seem to lack the concern about language purity found in the speakers of many other languages. The French have the Academie Francaise, an official institution that tries to safeguard the purity of the French language by setting standards for usage and inventing proper French words to replace any foreign words that have managed to slip in. Almost every major language has a similar official organization to set standards, with one exception, English. There has never been any sort of official or semi-official body in the English speaking world with any authority to set official standards for usage, or even for spelling, nor has there been any serious movement to purify the English language by purging it of “foreign” words. Other languages have had spelling reforms sponsored by various governments. German spelling was reformed in 1901 and again in 1996. The People’s Republic of China simplified the characters used in written Chinese, and there was even a proposal, shortly after the Communists came to power to abandon the characters altogether in favor of romanization. Ataurk ordered the Turks to abandon their traditional use of the Arabic script to write Turkish in favor of the Latin alphabet. Nothing like that is likely to occur in English, even though English orthography is a mess and badly needs to be simplified.

It seems that there is simply about the Anglophone mind and culture that tends to resist regimentation and regularization imposed from above, even when such such regularization might make things easier. English speakers have generally been the most reluctant to adopt the metric system, and the United States still uses the traditional system of measurements. We seem to prefer things haphazardly and chaotically rather than rational and regular, and we don’t mind speaking a language where every rule has an exception and in which if we don’t have a word for something, we have no trouble stealing words from other languages. If the new words aren’t proper English words, we don’t care.

Maybe if English were more regular, it would be an easier language for foreigners to learn. Since English is rapidly becoming the Common Tongue of the whole world, maybe we owe it to the poor souls who have to learn the language to make it easier for them. On the other hand, the fact that English has at least one word from almost every other language may make it at least a little familiar to others. English is certainly a more interesting and dynamic language because of its propensity to borrow shamelessly from other languages and maybe that is part of the reason English is the primary international  language.


Code Switching Ebonics

April 30, 2017

Language is often a contentious issue, perhaps because the languages we speak are one of the most fundamental ways in nations and societies differentiate themselves from on another. Language is often at the core of our identity. It should come as no surprise, then, that the question of Ebonics, or African American Vernacular English as it should more properly be called, should be controversial, particularly since it involves race, another contentious issue in America. For this reason, this a has gotten more attention than it really should, particularly from Conservatives who want to feel outrage

 In classrooms across the country, students might be scolded for using “ain’t” instead of “isn’t.” But a UW-Madison student is working to erase the stigma against Ebonics, also known as African-American Vernacular English. UW-Madison junior Erika Gallagher conducted research about code switching, also known as code meshing, in which people change their regular speech tendencies to fit into the mold of what is commonly accepted as appropriate. Ebonics is a variety of English that is commonly found in the center of large cities that have been historically populated primarily by black people. It is commonly found in slam poetry, as well as hip-hop and rap music.

Gallagher, a Posse scholar, began her research during her time as an undergraduate Writing Fellow this semester. She said she realized, as she sat in her seminar class of predominantly white students, that she wanted to focus on standard written English and how it excludes marginalized groups. “I want to center the voices of the people who need to be centered,” Gallagher said. “As a Writing Fellow, as a white-passing person, I have a lot of power and privilege that should be shared.” Gallagher conducted much of her research through three interviews. She talked to UW-Madison student leaders from marginalized groups and asked how they felt about code switching. She said all three “overwhelmingly” said it felt oppressive—one said “it is the biggest form of cognitive dissonance that exists.”

She presented her research at the Collegiate Conference on Composition and Communication in Portland, Ore., earlier this semester. She was selected as one of roughly two dozen undergraduates from across the U.S. to participate in the conference, which is typically attended by graduate students and professors. 

Before going on to the topic of Ebonics, I have to point out that Ms. Erika Gallagher’s research is worthless. She reached her conclusion that expecting “‘marginalized” persons to speak Standard English is oppressive by interviewing just three people. Three individuals from a single university campus is far too small a sample size to make any sort of generalization. But then, Ms. Gallagher seems to have reached her conclusions before doing any research at all. The fact that this nonsense is getting any sort of credit is an indictment of our system of higher education.

Code switching is the term used to refer to the practice of multi-lingual people switching languages during the course of a conversation, often even within a sentence. Code switching can also occur might even be done by a person speaking two varieties or dialects of the same language, such as person who speaks an informal or nonstandard dialect at home and a more formal dialect at work. Paul from Langfocus made a video about code switching, not too long ago.

The controversy about African American Vernacular English centers of whether it should be taught in schools along side of or even instead of Standard English and whether African Americans ought to be encouraged to speak in Standard English. Ms. Gallangher seems to be of the opinion that it should and she hopes her research will encourage the teaching of African American student in their own language.

Gallagher said she hopes to develop her research into a nonprofit organization that “teaches teachers to teach,” with the goal that educators will eventually express disclaimers at the start of each semester that state they will accept any form of English that students are comfortable with.

She also hopes increased acceptance of different rhetoric will encourage the formation of a campus-wide diversity statement.

“Just because you speak a different way doesn’t mean you’re not smart, but there’s a huge stigma around it,” Gallagher said. “I want to teach [educators] a different rhetoric, teach them to be more accepting.”

Now, every language exists in different varieties which may be dialects, accents, and so on. Usually some varieties are considered to be more prestigious or more correct than other varieties and there is often one particular variety that is considered to be standard. In American English, that standard is the vaguely midwestern accent often heard spoken by politicians and television reporters. There is no objective reason to consider some varieties more proper than others and from a scientific, linguistic point of view, you can’t really say that a particular pattern of speech is superior or inferior to another pattern of speech. There is no reason “ain’t” shouldn’t be a proper word or that, “he is going” is better than, “he be goin'”. Since the establishment of a standard language is more due to the chances of history and geography, there is no particular reason speaking in a different way might be stigmatizing.

In the real world, however, people do judge other people by the way they speak, and a person who cannot or will not speak Standard English is going to be regarded as uneducated or stupid. This is not just a racial thing. If you speak in a deep southern accent or a West Virginia hillbilly accent, anyone you are speaking to is going to deduct 20 points from his estimate of your IQ. It doesn’t matter if you have a PhD or graduated at the top of your class in medical school, he will still tend to regard your speech as uneducated. Similarly, an African-American who speaks in Ebonics will not be seriously considered for many well-paying jobs. His speech will confirm any prejudices against him.

For this reason, it is not actually helping “marginalized” people if they are not taught to use Standard English, at least in situations where more formal language is expected. Speaking solely in Ebonics will only make an African American more marginalized, since he may be denied opportunities that he might otherwise be able to take advantage of. Ms. Gallagher’s approach will not improve the lives of African-Americans. Her approach is also a little insulting. There seems to be the idea that African-Americans cannot really be expected to speak Standard English. It is just too stressful or triggering for them. Better for the rest of us to make accommodations. Ms. Gallagher demonstrates the soft bigotry of low expectations. Her approach is more about keeping a people in their place than helping to rise. It is about keeping them in their ghetto.

It’s Greek to Me

April 20, 2017

My favorite YouTube channel is, without question, the Langfocus  channel, created by Paul Jorgenson, a Canadian who teaches English in Japan. Paul is fascinated by language and he shares his knowledge and fascination in his videos. Paul makes videos about particular languages, language families and general concepts about language. Whatever the specific topic he covers, Paul’s videos are always interesting and informative.

Not too long ago, Paul made a video on the Greek language.

I have studied Koine or New Testament Greek a little bit and it is amazing to me just how little the language has actually changed over the centuries. I can tell there are some differences in grammar and vocabulary. Some of the verb inflections have changed a little and Modern Greek seems to have lost the dative case. I also notice that the middle and passive voices have combined into a mediopassive voice. The Greek word for speak has changed from λαλεω (laleo) to μιλεω (mileo) and dog from κυων (cuon) to σκυλος (skylos). I think that a speaker of Modern Greek could read the New Testament in its original Koine Greek without too much trouble and could even read Plato and Homer with varying degrees of difficulty. I suppose that the sounds or phonology of spoken Greek have changed quite a bit more than written Greek so a modern Greek transported back to Periclean Athens might have quite a bit of difficulty making himself understood in conversation, but perhaps not much more than speakers of related languages might have. Despite the changes, Modern Greek is recognizably the same language as the Greek spoken two thousand or more years ago.

Now look at this sample of English from about one thousand years ago.

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning.
These are the first lines of Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem that was probably the first work of literature written in Old English. Here is a translation.
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
It doesn’t seem to be the same language at all. If you look closely, some of the words are recognizable, “god cyning”= good king, but the grammar is very different and there are even some strange letters not used in Modern English. The text looks more like a dialect of German than the English we are familiar with. This is not too surprising. German and English originated on the same branch of West Germanic in the Germanic language family. There would probably be a closer resemblance between Modern English and German if it weren’t for the infusion of so many words from French and Latin after the Norman conquest. As it is, English is less of a strictly Germanic language, at least in vocabulary, and more of a hybrid between Germanic and the Romance languages. (Paul has a couple of videos on this)
Besides the unfamiliar words, you might notice that Modern English has lost the inflections that Old English had. This may also be due to the Norman conquest, or perhaps the earlier Danish or Viking invasions. Britain seems to have been something of a magnet for settlers during the tenth and eleventh centuries and since the Danes, Normans, etc had to communicate with the Anglo-Saxons who already lived there, they used a simplified form of Old English that developed into the language we speak today.
Here are the first lines of Chaucer’s Canturbury tales, written in Middle English around 1300.
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
And the translation:
When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought
Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout
Through every vein with liquid of such power
It brings forth the engendering of the flower;
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown
 Through every field and forest, urging on
The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,
His second half course through the Ram now run,
And little birds are making melody And sleep all night, eyes open as can be
So Nature pricks them in each little heart), On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.
The palmers long to travel foreign strands
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire’s end
This is recognizably English even if the spelling looks strange. There are some unfamiliar words and some differences in grammar. Chaucer can be read by an English speaker, but it is not easy. Shakespeare and the King James Bible are the most familiar examples of Early Modern English. They are essentially the same language spoken today, but even after a mere four hundred years they already seem quaint and old-fashioned, requiring a glossary to fully understand the text.
How is it that a language like Greek has changed slowly enough over the centuries that the Greeks can read the classics of Ancient Greek literature without too much difficulty while anything written in English more than about five hundred years ago is incomprehensible to the modern reader? Has Greek been unusually conservative or has English changed faster than most languages. Maybe it is both. Latin has changed quite a bit in the transition to the Romance Languages, particularly in the loss of the noun case system, loss of the neuter gender and changes in verb tenses. The vocabulary of the Romance Languages is still largely based on Latin and I think that a modern speaker of Italian or Spanish could still get the basic meaning of a Latin text.
Part of the reason might be because Greek has a much longer written history than English. Writing does tend to make a language more conservative, at least in its written form, particularly when the older version of the language is seen as somehow more pure while innovations are viewed as corruptions. This has long been the case in Greek where until recently it was common for Greek writers to use a formal and archaic version of Greek that resembled Ancient Greek more than the Greek actually spoken. (This is actually a common phenomenon found on many languages with a long literary history.) It seems the greatest changes in English came in the centuries after the Norman Conquest when French was the official language at court and English was mostly a language of illiterate peasants. Another possible reason for the continuity of Greek as opposed to the development of the Romance Languages from Latin might be that the Greek speaking Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire survived as a nation until 1453 while the Latin speaking Western Roman Empire broke up causing regional dialects to become separate languages.
Whatever the reasons, the relatively rapid development of English from its Germanic, Anglo-Saxon origins to the useful language we speak today with its large vocabulary and relatively simple grammar has helped to make English the lingua franca of the modern world. I’m sure I’d rather speak Modern English than Anglo-Saxon, but I wish there had been a greater continuity over the centuries.
  • The Anglish Moot-They want to restore English to its native roots. The result of writing English without any Latin, Greek, or other words is truly weird and helps to demonstrate just how much English has borrowed from other languages.
  • Day of the Dead Languages (

Noble Titles for Sale

January 3, 2017

Have you ever wanted to be a count or a baron? Do you think having a noble title will make your life more meaningful? If so, you may be in luck. In the old days, you either had to be born into the right family to get a title, or you could do the king a huge favor and he might reward you by making you a duke or a baron. Nowadays, however, it is possible to buy a noble title. For only a few thousand Euros, you too can be a member of the nobility. All you have to do is go over to the website; Noble Titles for Sale and pick the title you want.

Ostlichter LTA is a company that offers exclusive and high quality legal services and historical & genealogical research related to Feudal and Noble Titles in Continental Europe, mainly French, Italian and German. Privacy and Discretion are paramount to us.

Our company provides a high quality legal service, as all the legal matters pertaining to the purchase and transference of Noble and Feudal Titles are carried out by experienced continental European Solicitors well versed in European continental nobility law, procedures and complexities. We are able to offer a first rate service, very exclusive and of the highest quality.

Why would anyone want to buy a noble title?

There are many people who wish to acquire a feudal or nobility title. Titles may give you a sense of historical belonging, satisfy your vanity, or simply honour your ancestors, leave a beautiful inheritance to your descendants, or use it for business purposes.

They specialize in French, German, and Italian titles.

We are a private institution that specialises in the faultless legal and historical research, transfer and acquisition of ancient Italian Feudal & Noble Titles, mainly Italian Baronies, Marquisates, Duchies and Principalities.

We also work with French Baronies, French Feudal Baronies, French Titles of Count and Viscount, Marquisates and the truly rare and very much appreciated French-German Baronies and Counties from Alsace and Lorraine.

All our Noble and Feudal Titles are hereditary and all the transfers are handled by experienced European solicitors with the utmost respect to legality, complying with French and Italian Law.

You can get a barony for the low, low price of 7000 Euros. (I wonder how much that is in dollars.) The title of Count can cost 9000 or 10,000 Euros depending on whether you want to be a German or French count. You can be an Italian duke for only 15,000 Euros and even a prince for just 20,000 Euros. At these prices, I’m sure it won’t be long before all the good titles are snatched up, so you better hurry.

I notice countries that these titles come from, France, Germany, Italy are all presently republics in which the old noble titles no longer have any political or legal significance. There are no titles for sale from countries such as Britain or Spain that retain a monarchy, and presumably some vestige of the old peerage. In these modern republics, the use of noble titles have been abolished so any title like the Duke of Lyon or the Baron of Hanover (I’m making them up since it is too much trouble to research real titles). There are, no doubt, descendants of these noble families still around, just as there are still members of the Bourbon, Hohenzollern, and Hapsburg families still living. Nearly every country that has abolished their monarchy still has at least one descendant of their former royal family who would be king or emperor. There is nothing to stop the great grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany or the great-great-great grandson of Louis Philippe, the last king of France, from calling themselves king or emperor, but they cannot expect anyone else to take them very seriously.

So, why should someone pay thousands of Euros for something that has no real significance? What’s to stop me from calling myself the Duke of Bridgewater if I feel like it? Nothing, unless there is a real Duke of Bridgewater somewhere. I suppose that it might be considered identity theft if I referred to myself by a title known to be associated with another person. It doesn’t seem to be worth the expense and trouble though.

It is strange that for centuries it was taken for granted that a person who held a noble title or who belonged to a noble family had a hereditary right to rule over others, only to have the whole order swept away virtually over night by the doctrine that all men are created equal, and that government should be by the consent of the governed and not by a hereditary class. This revolution in government has been a great improvement, but I wonder if it is really permanent in the long term. These titles did not start out being hereditary. Duke derives from the Latin dux meaning simply leader (compare Mussolini’s title Il Duce), while Count is from the Latin comes or companion (of the Emperor). Baron may come from Old Frankish “warrior” and baro meant soldier or mercenary in Late Latin. I could go on but the point is that these titles were originally government posts appointed by the Roman Emperor. Over time they became linked with certain families and eventually became hereditary.

Perhaps something like that may happen again. Even in a longstanding republic like the United States. We have had our political dynasties, think of the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys. Last year the expected frontrunners for the presidential election were the son and brother of presidents and the wife of a president and it seemed as though the presidency might become the prerogative of the Houses of Bush and Clinton. We managed to avoid that fate, but maybe someday the instinct for hereditary rule will become too strong to resist, even in America. Such titles as Governor or Senator may belong to certain families and be passed down from parent to child.

In the meantime, if you happen to want a noble title, you’ll just have to spend a few thousands Euros.

Don’t Say Eskimo

May 9, 2016

If you want to understand why people hate what is commonly called political correctness, you don’t have to go much further than to read this article from NPR explaining why we should not use the word “Eskimo”.

Confused about the word Eskimo?

It’s a commonly used term referring to the native peoples of Alaska and other Arctic regions, including Siberia, Canada and Greenland. It comes from a Central Algonquian language called Ojibwe, which people still speak around the Great Lakes region on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. But the word has a controversial history. (Editor’s note: And that’s why it’s not used in the stories on Greenland that NPR has posted this week.)

Actually, no, I wasn’t at all confused. Eskimos are those people who live far to the north. I doubt many people are in the habit of asking NPR for advice on what words to use and it seems rather presumptuous for the author of this article to tell the rest of us what is appropriate or offensive. Most people resent being told to use certain politically correct expressions, even when it is well intended.  But to continue.

People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Although the word’s exact etymology is unclear, mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.

But now there’s a new theory. According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.

But the correction to the etymological record came too late to rehabilitate the word Eskimo. The word’s racist history means most people in Canada and Greenland still prefer other terms. The most widespread is Inuit, which means simply, “people.” The singular, which means “person,” is Inuk.

Of course, as with so many words sullied by the crimes of colonialism, not everyone agrees on what to do with Eskimo. Many Native Alaskans still refer to themselves as Eskimos, in part because the word Inuit isn’t part of the Yupik languages of Alaska and Siberia.

But unless you’re native to the circumpolar region, the short answer is: You probably shouldn’t use the word Eskimo.

So, “Eskimo” was bad because it was believed to be derogatory, but now it may not be so bad, but we still shouldn’t say it because an Eskimo might be offended.

The fact is that few Native American tribes or nations are widely known by the names they call themselves. Most Indian groups are commonly known by the names others have given them. Some are of obvious European origin, the Black Foot, Nez Perce, Creek, Delaware, Crow, or Beaver. In most cases, these are translations of their original names into English, French, or Spanish. Many are known by names given by their enemies, thus; Sioux (little snakes), Mohawk (man eaters), or Iroquois (real snakes), or their friends like Comanche (they fight with us). Some of the tribal names derive from European attempts to pronounce unfamiliar words, Ute from Nuutsiu, Seneca from Osininka, or Illini from Illiniwek. Of course, there are the names we use for the people as a whole. Indians are only called Indians because Columbus didn’t know where he was, and while the Indians are certainly natives to this continent, they did not call themselves Americans.

It is not just the Native Americans who are not called by the names they call themselves. No one in China knew that they were Chinese until they met the Europeans. The Chinese call themselves the Sons of Han and their country is the Middle Kingdom (Zhong Guo). China seems to be derived from the first Imperial dynasty the Qin. The Indians had many names for themselves, since India is a very diverse country, but India is derived through Persian from the Indus River. The most common Indian word for India is Bharat. The Hindu religion was not called Hinduism until the Muslims started to conquer India. Before that time, the Hindus had no need of a word to distinguish their religion.

Our Western civilization largely began with the Greeks, but the words Greek and Greece come from Latin. The Greeks knew themselves as the Hellenes and their country as Hellas. We call the Deutsche Germans and Deutschland Germany, while the French refer to them as Allemands and Allemagne from the German tribe the Alamanians. This isn’t just an European colonialist custom. The Arabs and Persians refer to Europeans as al-Faranj and Farangi from the Franks.

It seems that almost no one in the world is called by outsiders by the same name they use for themselves. It doesn’t seem practical to go through every language and change every term that might be offensive to someone somewhere in the world  so I think I’ll just go on saying Eskimo.



Handwritten King James Bible Proves the Bible Not Inspired

December 7, 2015

That is the claim made by this article from the website addicting info. Judging from the content I’ve seen, addicting info seems to be the sort of website with a pronounced leftwing bias that thrives on sensationalistic headlines, so it is probably a waste of my time to pay much attention to any article there, but this particular article is interesting.

The earliest known version of The King James Bible, perhaps one of the most influential and widely read books in history, has been discovered mislabeled inside an archive at the University of Cambridge. The find is being called one of the most significant revelations in decades. It shows that writing is a process of revising, cutting, and then more rewriting. The Bible is no different in this regard, even though some conservative Christians claim it is the divine word of God himself. Perhaps God, then, is a revisionist. This find certainly seems to suggest that.

The notebook containing the draft was found by American scholar, Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who announced his research in an article in The Times Literary Supplement. The New York Times didn’t take long to pick up the story. They ran an article about it, HERE. Mr. Miller was researching an essay about Samuel Ward, one of the King James translators, and was hoping to find an unknown letter at the archives. While you can say he certainly accomplished that end, he definitely wasn’t expecting to find the earliest draft of the King James Bible — which is now giving new insights into how the Bible was constructed

He first came across the plain notebook not knowing what it was — it was incorrectly labeled. That’s why no one has found it until now. It had been cataloged in the 1980s as a “verse-by-verse” Biblical commentary with “Greek word studies, and some Hebrew notes.” When he tried in vain to figure out which passages of the Bible the commentary was referring to, he realized that it was no commentary at all — it was an early draft of part of the King James Version of the Bible.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines. You know, now that we think of it, doesn’t sound that much different from the writers of today’s workforce.

To begin with, no one believes that the King James Version of the Bible is anything but a translation made by fallible men, with the exception of a small fringe of people. The original manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek were inspired but the copies and translations were not. We do not have these original manuscripts. They were lost centuries ago. We do have copies of the original manuscripts. Because these copies were made by fallible men, they contain errors, such as words out of place, words misspelled or ungrammatical sentences, variant wordings etc. The scholars who translate the Bible into modern languages take great pains to find the oldest copies available and compare the many copies in order to determine the precise wording of the original manuscripts. This is difficult but not impossible, since the sort of errors made by copyists are well known and can be analysed. It is no great surprise that the King James translators had trouble with their work, especially considering the difficulty of translation from a language no longer spoken from a quite different culture.


The word “inspiration” is taken from the Latin ” inspiratio”, literally “breathed in”, which is a translation of the Greek word θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) meaning God breathed. The idea behind the word inspiration is that God breathed His word into the Biblical writers, or as it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

There is a range of opinions of just what inspired or God breathed actually means, particularly among Protestants. At the more conservative or literalist end of the spectrum is the Dictation Theory, which is that God dictated the contents of the biblical manuscripts word for word with the human authors acting as recorders or stenographers. This is not a theory which has much appeal. The books of the Bible are written in different styles and genres. If every word were dictated by a single intelligence then you might expect a greater uniformity of style. Verbal dictation is really more of an Islamic idea, with the angel Gabriel dictating every word of the Koran to Mohammed, than a Christian one.

Verbal plenary inspiration is the view that the words written in the Bible are those of the human authors, with their various cultural backgrounds, personalities, and literary styles, but that God had arranged matters so that these authors would be His tools and their words would be His words. In other words, they may have chosen the words to write, but their choices had be foreseen and predestined to be the ones God wanted to use. This isn’t really very far from actual dictation, but it does a better job of explaining the different writing styles of the Bible.

Dynamic inspiration gives more credit to the human writers. The words of the Bible were theirs but the thoughts and basic ideas are inspired. So, when the Apostle Paul wrote one of his letters, the Holy Spirit gave him the theological ideas but the but the words used were his own.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches also believe that the Bible was inspired, though not dictated word for word, however, they also believe in the continuing work of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in sacred traditions and the teaching authority of the Church. Scripture is important to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as the primary source of doctrine, but not the only source as it does in Protestantism with its solo scriptura doctrine.

More liberal Christians tend to downplay the role of inspiration in the writing of scripture, tending to view the Bible as a primarily, if not entirely, human creation. They may reject the role of scripture entirely or attempt to separate out the truly divine elements from the human elements derived from the culture and background. This is a convenient approach for those who would like to support the latest progressive, politically correct causes, like gay marriage, but don’t want to be bothered by inconvenient passages in scripture.

So, despite what the writer might believe, the discovery of an early draft of the King James Bible with corrections does not, in the least, show that the Bible is not the Word of God. He is attacking an idea that no one actually holds, which is the definition of a strawman argument.

If I only had a brain.

If I only had a brain.


It seems to me that it would be better to learn something about a religion or ideology because trying to portray its adherents as being ignorant, rather than show one’s own ignorance about the matter.

He, Ze, and Thee

September 9, 2015

Students at the University of Tennessee have been asked to use a new set of gender neutral pronouns when appropriate, as reported by the Tennessean.

University of Tennessee students have been asked to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze.”

The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion is asking students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus, multiple media outlets report.

“Transgender people and people who do not identify within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth,” the University of Tennessee’s Pride Center Director, Donna Braquet, wrote on the university’s website Wednesday.

Braquet requested that teachers, rather than calling roll, will instead ask each student to provide the name and pronoun he or she — or ze — wishes to be referred by. She says it relieves a burden for people expressing different genders or identities.

“The name a student uses may not be the one on the official roster, and the roster name may not be the same gender as the one the student now uses,” Braquet wrote.

University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said there is no mandate or official policy to use the language.

“The information provided in the newsletter was offered as a resource for our campus community on inclusive practices,” Simsen said.

Braquet said if students and faculty cannot use pronouns such as ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem or xyr, they can also politely ask.

“‘Oh, nice to meet you … What pronouns should I use?’ is a perfectly fine question to ask,” Braquet said.

This suggestion, although not any sort of official policy at the University has met with a certain amount of mockery at the expense of the ivory towered institution completely removed from common experience and it does seem to be more than a little silly to invent new pronouns, considering that something like 99.999% of the population is quite certain which gender they identify with.

Still, I must admit that the English language is somewhat lacking in certain respects when it comes to pronouns. English does not have a third person singular pronoun to refer to a person whose gender is unknown or to refer to a single, generic person. For example which pronouns should be used in the sentences, “Every student will take ______ test tomorrow. ______ will receive a grade the day after”. In a mixed class, one might use “he or she” and “his or her” but these usages, while correct, seem awkward. “It” and “its” are the neuter pronouns but they are not used to refer to persons. The grammatically correct pronoun would be “he” and “his”, since in English, as in related languages the male pronoun is the default pronoun used to refer to a member of a mixed company, but this usage has become politically incorrect. The plural pronouns “they” and “their” are often used but that is grammatically incorrect when referring to single members of a mixed group, although such usage has been attested at least since the sixteenth century. Such new-fangled pronouns as xe or ze refer to a person of indeterminate or ambiguous gender rather than a generic person of either gender and have been invented and promoted by left-wing gender theorists and are likely to be resisted by more sensible people.I am not sure what the best solution to this problem is.

Another way in which the English language is lacking in regards to pronoun is that there is no distinction in number or case with the second person pronoun. English makes such distinctions in the first and third person, but not in the second person, except for the possessive case.


Thus there is no way, except in context, to determine whether a person is speaking to a single person or to a group of persons. Since most of the languages related to English do make this distinction and often have a more formal pronoun to use. German has ‘du’ for singular you, ‘ihr’ for plural you, and ‘Sie’ for formal use. Spanish has, depending on dialect ‘tu’ ‘vos’ or ‘usted’ for singular and ‘vosotros’, ‘vosotras’, or ‘ustedes’ for plural. Usted and ustedes are the more formal you but have replaced vos and vosotros outside of Spain. Latin also has tu and vos. This is called the “tu-vos” or “T-V”. In many languages which make the T-V distraction between singular and plural you, the plural you has come to be considered more respectful and is used to address one’s social superiors.

Modern English entirely lacks the T-V distinction, but this was not the case in early forms of English. Old English or Anglo-Saxon had a full complement of noun and pronoun inflections which Modern English has largely dropped, including a singular and plural you. English did not make the T-V distinction between formal and informal you until after the Norman Conquest when English speakers picked up the idea from the French speaking Normans. Here is the full set of Old English Pronouns.

First person
Case Singular Plural Dual
Nominative ic, īc wit
Accusative mec, mē ūsic, ūs uncit, unc
Genitive mīn ūre uncer
Dative ūs unc
Second person
Case Singular Plural Dual
Nominative þū git
Accusative þēc, þē ēowic, ēow incit, inc
Genitive þīn ēower incer
Dative þē ēow inc
Third person
Case Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Feminine
Nominative hit hēo hiē hēo
Accusative hine hit hīe hiē hīo
Genitive his his hire hiera heora
Dative him him hire him him

Note that þ is pronounced “th” , so “you”in the nominative case would be thu and ye. They also had a dual form in the first and second person.

By Middle English the dual form was dropped and the pronouns are closer to Modern English

Personal pronouns in Middle English
The Modern English is shown in italics below each Middle English pronoun
Person (gender) Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
ic / ich / I
me / mi
min / minen [pl.]
min / mire / minre
min one / mi selven
modern (archaic)
þou / þu / tu / þeou
you (thou)
you (thee)
þi / ti
your (thy)
þin / þyn
yours (thine)
þeself / þi selven
yourself (thyself)
Third Masculine
him[a] / hine[b]
his / hisse / hes
his / hisse
sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
heo / his / hie / hies / hire
hio / heo / hire / heore

hit / him
hit sulue
us / ous
ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
us self / ous silve
modern (archaic)
ȝe / ye
you (ye)
eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
Ȝou self / ou selve
Third From Old English heo / he his / heo[m] heore / her
From Old Norse þa / þei / þeo / þo þem / þo þeir þam-selue
modern they them their theirs themselves

So in Middle English, depending on dialect, nominative singular you is thou, thu, tu, or theou and nominative plural you is ye. The objective singular you is thee and the objective plural you is eow or you. The distinction between singular and plural you was retained in Early Modern English, which most people are familiar with as the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

Personal pronouns in Early Modern English
Nominative Oblique Genitive Possessive
1st person singular I me my/mine[# 1] mine
plural we us our ours
2nd person singular informal thou thee thy/thine[# 1] thine
plural or formal singular ye, you you your yours
3rd person singular he/she/it him/her/it his/her/his (it)[# 2] his/hers/his[# 2]
plural they them their theirs


Here singular and informal you is thou and thee while plural and formal you is ye and you. Most people today use thou and thee believing that they are the more formal and respectful way to address person, particularly in prayer. They have it entirely backwards. Somehow, between Shakespeare’s time and our own, the formal plural you has replaced every other second person pronoun.

I don’t think anyone who speaks English really misses the T-V distinction when it comes to addressing someone formally or informally. Most English speaking countries have become fairly democratic and have tended to eschew the idea social hierarchy implied by the T-V distinction. The inability to distinguish between singular and plural is another matter, especially in translation from languages that do make this distinction. English speakers are instinctively aware of the lack and are always trying to invent pronouns such as you all, y’all, you guys, or youse to make up for the perceived lack, only to be told by grammarians that such usage is informal and improper. Why? We do need the pronoun.  I would propose that we go ahead and make “you all” the formal second person pronoun with y’all, youse, etc as examples of informal or regional, but still acceptable usage. Formally recognizing existing usage would be better than inventing a whole new set of pronouns or trying to resurrect the older pronouns. I think, however, we can do without ze and xe.

Islam Means Peace

June 19, 2015

I have been called a bigot twice in the past week. To be honest, I am not at all offended. Whatever the origin of the word “bigot” (from French meaning a religious hypocrite, perhaps originally from German “bei Gott” or by God), the contemporary meaning of the word is increasingly one who tells truths the left doesn’t want to hear.

The first time was I was called a bigot was over my insistence that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is still a man no matter how strongly he feels that he is a woman. To tell the truth, I am just about over that particular struggle against reality. In fact, I would have nothing to say about Mr. Jenner’s life choices were it not that it illustrates a distressing tendency among our intellectual and media elite to consider that feelings and words determine the nature of reality better than actual, empirical observations and facts.  But enough of that.

The second time, I was not personally called a bigot. A Facebook friend of a friend posted a link and video describing some recent atrocities committed by some practitioners of the Religion of Peace. Someone commented that these people were violent extremists and their actions in no way reflected the real beliefs of the vast majority of peaceful Moslims. After all, he asserted, Islam means peace. I, and several others, including the author of the post, responded by posting quotations from the Koran and pointed out that people in the Islamic State have been following the example of Mohammed. He responded in the usual logical fashion by calling the lot of us bigots. Naturally, I was intrigued by the question of the etymology of the word Islam so I did a little research.

Islam is an Arabic word, of course, and Arabic is a member of the Semitic family of languages along with Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and many others. One thing that the Semitic languages have in common is that most words are formed from roots, usually of three consonants, with express basic concepts. The actual words are formed by adding vowels and affixes. The triconsonantal root that seems to be most often used as an example in textbooks and Wikipedia is K-T-B, which essentially means to write or something written. Some of the words in Arabic formed from the root K-T-B include kataba “he wrote”, yahtub “he writes”, kitab “book”, katib “writer”, maktab “desk” or “office” and many others. Hebrew also forms words from the K-T-B root, such as katabu “I wrote”. The word Islam is derived from the root S-L-M, which does mean peace, among other concepts. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is derived from the S-L-M root as is the Arabic for peace, salaam. Jerusalem and Solomon are names derived from S-L-M. So, etymologically, Islam is derived from the same root as peace.

But, there is more to the meaning of S-L-M than “peace” and the word peace itself often means more than simply the absence of conflict. The full meaning of S-L-M includes the concepts of being whole, safe, secure, in health. Shalom and salaam used as greetings mean more than simply wishing the person greeted to be at peace, but also include a wish that for the person to be in good health and to prosper. And, as we have seen from the words derived from K-T-B, a concept expressed by a triconsonantal root can cover a range of meanings. The more precise meaning of the word Islam is submission to the will of Allah, which brings peace and well being.

Most people in countries that have been attacked by Islamic terrorists believe that these terrorists are monsters, or cowardly extremists who have distorted the peaceful tenets of Islam. Surely, most the majority of Muslims want to live in peace. Only a bigoted Islamophobe would state that all Muslims are violent or that Islam encourages terrorism. This belief may be comforting to those who do not wish to face hard facts, but it is not useful because it is not true.  The terrorists have more support in the Islamic world than many in the West are willing to acknowledge. This does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or killers, but a large number are on the side of the terrorists and we ought to try to understand why.

Few people fight wars just for the sake of fighting. In almost every case, those who go to war fight to make a peace more advantageous or more just for their side. The allies went to war against Nazi Germany in order to bring about a peace in which the Nazis were destroyed. If the Nazis had been victorious in World War II, there would have been peace, but not the peace that the allies would consider a just peace. When the Muslims say they follow a religion of peace, they are being completely honest. Extremists like the late Osama bin Ladin and the Islamic State do not fight and commit terrorist acts just for the sake of violence. They want peace as much as we do. The difference is that their idea of a just peace is one where the entire world is in proper submission to Allah and Islam is the the dominant, if not the only, religion. A peace in which Islam co-exists peaceably with other religions would not be not a just or honorable peace since it leaves large numbers of people still in rebellion against Allah.

We like to say that the terrorists are monsters and their acts are senseless, but they do not see themselves in that way. They believe that they are fighting for a better world and from their point of view, we in the West, are the aggressors. The West and particularly the United States plays a vastly disproportionate role in setting the cultural and political norms throughout the world and our values are often hostile to the values of many devout Muslims. We believe our values, like treating women like human beings, not stoning gays, democratic governments that protect freedom of religion, are universal value held by all people of good will. They find such such values to be alien and repugnant, an offense against the divine law. When Westerners state that Islam should modernize and become more tolerant, they interpret it as an invitation to return to the state of Jahiliyyah, the time of pre-Islamic ignorance. Imagine how you might feel if your faith and your cherished values were under attack in the books, movies, music, etc put out by a foreign culture that dominates the world of entertainment. (Well, actually if you are a conservative Christian you don’t have to imagine it.) Mark Steyn and others worry about the emergence of Eurabia. Many in the Islamic world worry about the seductions of Western culture.

This is why many Muslims who are good people who do want to live in peace feel sympathy for terrorists and Jihadists. They want a world at peace and in its proper place under submission to Allah and His law. That is also why drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism is not ignorant bigotry but an understanding why many Muslims believe we are an enemy that they must fight. Pretending a problem does not really exist does not make it go away and ignorance is seldom bliss.

Transcending Truth

June 8, 2015

Everyone seems to be talking about Bruce Jenner and his transformation into Caitlyn Jenner, so I might as well say what I think, although I am afraid that I have already committed a micro-aggression by referring to Bruce/Caitlyn as “he”, when he, I’m sorry, she, has always been a woman, even though she has had a man’s body most of her life. I may be an incorrigible micro-aggressor who will need to be sent to the diversity  camps since I posted this picture on Facebook last week.



I should explain that I do not have anything against Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Before this latest adventure, I barely knew he (there I go again) existed. Mr. Jenner’s choices in life are his own business. I don’t have anything in particular against the transgendered. It must be fairly unpleasant to be confused about which gender you are. I do not have any moral or religious objections to this sort of thing. My objections are based on epistemological and linguistic grounds.

We recognize and categorize objects and concepts based on the attributes we observed through our senses and the use of our reason. I know that a four-legged, furry animal that barks is a dog because it has the attributes of a dog. I know that a four-legged, furry animal that meows is not a dog but a cat, because while it shares some attributes (four legs, fur) with a dog it has an attribute, (meowing) that distinguishes it from a dog. I know that a larger four-legged animal that people ride, a two-legged animal with feathers, and a four-legged animal with scales are not dogs but a horse, a bird and a reptile because of the observed attributes that distinguish each kind of animal. All of the organisms I named have the shared attribute of being able to move about on their own. A tree cannot move on its own and since it lacks the attribute that animals share, a tree is not an animal but a plant. This is all a vast oversimplification of a subject that philosophers have debated over for centuries, but I hope you  understand what I am saying.

Now, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner does not possess any of the attributes that distinguish a woman from a man. He has not had any gender reassignment surgery, as far as I know, and even if he has, it still would not really make him into a woman. The best that the most skillful surgeon in the world can to is to give someone something of the outward appearance of the opposite sex. There is not, at present, any medical procedure that can really change someone’s gender. Yet, I feel as though I am expected to say, and believe Jenner is really a woman, despite the evidence of my senses and reason on pain of being branded a bigot and ostracized from polite society. I really do not much care for being put into a position in which I have to say something that is simply not true.

But, there is something else that bothers me about this affair. We use language in order to communicate with one another. We use words to name and classify the objects we wish to talk about. In order for this to work, we have to agree on which words go with which objects and concepts. If you call an animal that barks a dog and I call it a cat, we are likely to become confused. I cannot say that I feel that it is a cat and if you do not agree, you must be some sort of bigot, yet if I say that Bruce Jenner is actually a man because he still fits the definition of a man, I am a hater and a bigot. The idea seems to be that the words we use do not describe or reflect reality but create reality. A woman is not a person with certain attributes that indicate the female gender, but whoever happens to feel like a woman.  A hairy, burly man with a long beard could declare himself a woman and we would have to agree because calling himself a woman really makes him a woman.

Surely, this is madness. If I were to state that I am really Napoleon Bonaparte, I don’t imagine that anyone would believe me since I am not a French Emperor and Napoleon has been dead for a long time. If I were to travel to Paris and demand to be reinstated to my rightful place, I don’t think the French authorities would pay much attention to me, except to send me back to America in the next plane. There would be no question in most people’s minds that I was suffering from a delusion. If I insisted that I was really a tiger and demanded surgery to reshape my body to conform to my true self, no surgeon would comply, at least not if he wanted to keep his license to practice medicine. It would be clear that I had some sort of mental illness.

His modifications were not done by an actual surgeon.  And no, that isn't a good idea.

His modifications were not done by an actual surgeon.
And no, that isn’t a good idea.


Yet, if I started to wear women’s clothing and insisted that I was really a woman, I could, after some counseling get a surgeon to make changes not much less drastic that the obviously not entirely sane person pictured above.

This is madness. The simple truth is that there is no way to really change someone’s gender. There is no difference, in principle between the man who wants his penis cut off and the man who wants to have his arm amputated because he feels as though he is really an amputee, except that the one is clearly recognized as suffering from a mental disorder and needs help, while the other has become the latest group of people being used by the loony left to fundamentally transform this country.

Bruce Jenner is not a fruit loop. He is a man with some issues regarding his gender and he deserves our help and sympathy. It is the the people who are enabling and encouraging this sort of madness for their own reasons who are the fruit loops.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19, 2014

Arrrr! Ahoy mateys, today be Talk Like a Pirate Day. This be the day those who be scallywags talk like true buccaneers not like lubbers.

English: Mark Summers ("Cap'n Slappy"...

English: Mark Summers (“Cap’n Slappy”) and John Baur (“Ol’ Chumbucket”), founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, the pirates of the Caribbean didn’t really talk like that The real language spoken by a pirate crew would have depended on the nationality of the crew, an English crew would have spoken English, French would have spoken French, and so on. Whatever language they spoke, the crews of a pirate ship would probably have spoken a lower class sailor’s dialect, not too different from the workingmen’s speech of their native country, though with nautical jargon. Of course, the Caribbean was a melting pot of races and nationalities and I suppose pirate crews reflected that diversity. There were a number of pidgins and creoles spoken in the region, which were spoken on pirate ships and which didn’t sound much like the language we associate with pirates.

So, where did our ideas about talking like a pirate come from? Most likely from the same place most of our other ideas about pirates, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island. That children’s adventure story is responsible for most of ideas about pirates, buried treasure, parrots, pirate ships,pieces of eight,  the whole genre. Treasure Island is where you can find such expressions as “shiver me timbers” and “avast, matey” not to mention the dead man’s chest.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Cha...

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The actual sounds and wording what we think of as pirate language seems to have come from the actor Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. He reprised the role of  Long John Silver in an 1954 Australian film of that name. Newton also portrayed Blackbeard in Blackbeard the Pirate. Newton was originally from Dorset, in south-west England and he was educated in Cornwall. For his pirate roles, Newton opted to use an exaggerated version of his native West Country dialect with its rolling r’s or Arrrr’s. Robert Newton’s portrayals of pirates were popular enough that his speech became established as the real pirate speech in popular culture. Thus we have a Talk Like a Pirate Day in which people don’t really talk much like pirates at all.

Then again, Robert Newton’s dialect may not have been that far off. A lot of sailors came from south-west England and the region was a center of shipping and trade and it is likely that many pirates came from the region, including Blackbeard. Of course, we have no recordings of the way eighteenth century pirates or sailors spoke, so there is no way to know for sure. Still, it’s fun and we could all use some more fun in our lives.

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

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