Notes in the Margin Extra

Especially for readers of the 'Notes in the Margin' column in The Linguist here are some additional notes, focusing on words and their origins

English: loanwords from Spanish in the vocabulary of medicine and pharmacy

In Lebende Sprachen (2005 no. 2) the highly alliterative María Ángeles Alcaraz Ariza of Alicante writes on 'Medical English: a short study of Spanish borrowings'. Extending her range to the names of more or less medicinal drugs she comments on cassava and on marijuana, which she defines as a preparation of the leaves and flowering tops of male or female plants usually employed as cigarettes and inhaled as smoke for its euphoric properties. She also notes the less-euphoric turista, one of the many terms used in English for "traveller's diarrhoea".

Indo-European languages: dating the splits

In Linguistica Brunensia, year 2005, there are two interesting papers on Indo-European philology. In one, Vaclav Blazek collaborates with Petra Novotna on a glottochronological study of the Slavic languages. The hundred-word table that they used is usefully set out in full, for all the languages, on pages 67 to 77. According to their calculations, North Slavic (Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian) split from the rest in AD 520/600, South Slavic (Slovene, Serbo-Croat, Macedonian and Bulgarian) in 720, Czech-Slovak in 900. The remaining three, Sorbian, Polabian and Polish, split in 1020. The split between Russian and the two other North Slavic languages came in 1070, between Macedonian and Bulgarian in 1220, between Slovene and Serbo-Croat in 1300, between Czech and Slovak also in 1300, between Ukrainian and Belorussian in 1630 and between North and South Sorbian also in 1630.

If you believe in glottochronology your faith will probably not be shaken by the enormous differences between this calculation and the one developed by the late S. Starostin at Santa Fe in 2004. Starostin found that the earliest split was between Bulgarian-Macedonian and all the rest, and this happened in 130 AD. North Slavic then separated off in 270, said Starostin, followed by Polabian-Sorbian in 420 and by Slovene-Serbo-Croat in 670. Polish split from Czech-Slovak in 780.

An appendix to this paper gives the glottochronological analysis of the whole Indo-European that emerged from the same research by Starostin, who calculated that Anatolian separated from the rest ofIndo-European in 4670 BC, Tocharian in 3810 BC, Celtic in 3350 BC, Armenian-Albanian-Recky in 3020 BC, Italic-Germanic in 2860 BC. Indo-Iranian separated from Balto-Slavic in 2710 BC. Armenian, Albanian and Recky split in 2590 BC, Italic and Germanic in 2500 BC, Iranian and Indic in 2000 BC, Baltic and Slavic in 1210 BC, Brythonic and Goidelic (the two branches of Celtic) in 1000 BC, and Tocharian A and Tocharian B in 20 BC.

Indo-European languages: names of heavenly bodies

The second paper from Linguistica Brunensia, year 2005, is by Vaclav Blazek. It a study of the names of heavenly bodies in Indo-European languages. It takes the form of a small comparative dictionary, dealing in turn with terms for sun, moon, star, Orion, Pleiades, Polaris, Sirius, Ursa Major. In the case of Orion, there is no clear Indo-European parentage for the Greek name, which may be a loanword ultimately traceable to Sumerian. In all other cases, astronomical names recorded in various early Indo-European languages appear to be cognate and to tell us something about the astronomical vocabulary of proto-Indo-European, though only three terms (for sun, star and moon) can be confidently reconstructed as common to Hittite and other Indo-European groups.

Blazek suggests that pIE sun is inherited from Nostratic, that pIE star might be borrowed from Semitic, and that pIE moon may represent semantic shift from a word meaning month. A quick glance at the list of abbreviations shows that forms from over 90 languages are cited in this 18-page article.

Russian: the new Russian of Ukraine

Expansion of a report in The Linguist, October/November 2005

In MDÜ (2005 no. 1) there's a useful piece by Jelena Omorokowa entitled "Sprache bald ohne Seele? Zur Sprachsituation in der Ukraine". She begins with a history of the Ukrainian language, discussing its long and uneven relationship with Russian. Among her contrastive examples is the Russian verb lyubit' "to love", which has a similar wide range to the English (to love reading, to love a person, to love nature), while in Ukrainian two verbs are available, the more bland lyubiti and the more passionate kokhati. She points out the very different associations of the Russian word vodka, literally 'little water', and the Ukrainian equivalent gorilka with its suggestion of burning. In modern Ukraine, notwithstanding independence, Russian retains much of its importance; in some parts of Ukraine the two languages are spoken side by side, and sometimes together, as a Mischsprache or surzhik. Omorokowa gives many examples of the new vocabulary of Russian as used in Ukraine: za bugrom "over the border", matushka "motherboard", imidzh "image", nou-khau "know-how", kryak "hacker", including some that are to be classed as tyurmismy "criminal argot", such as babki "money", kidala "swindler".

Spanish: the language of advertising

Expansion of a report in The Linguist, October/November 2005

The current issue of Analecta Malacitana (2004 no. 2) includes an article by Sara Robles Ávila on the language of Spanish television advertising, "La recreación de lo coloquial en el español de la publicidad". She explores the question as a grammarian. First she gives attention to phonetics, especially intonation, the use of pauses, of interrogation and exclamation (Bajo en calorías!? "Low in calories!?") and other features (Tónica Schchchchweppess, ésta es la tónica); then orthography, morphology and syntax, under which heading she notes the solecism el yogurt más bueno del mundo "the goodest yogurt in the world", which makes you sit up and notice because it ought to be mejor "best". Advertisers like to surprise you: as with Mojama de atún, el pata negra de la mar! But can salted tuna really be the cured ham of the sea? El mejillón de Galicia: un complejo vitamínico natural con gran valor dietético. Todo un lujo de sabor. Can a single mussel achieve all that? You can learn a lot of advertising skill, and a lot of Spanish - the Spanish that everyone is listening to every evening, like it or not - from this paper.