Wednesday, August 05, 2009

WNW: P Became F

Way back before I got the idea of doing Word Nerd Wednesday (although in hindsight, I think this post sparked the idea . . . so you can totally blame MelanieJ for the series), I mentioned Grimm's Law in this post.

Guess what, friends? Today you get an itty bitty taste of it. I promise, it's not freaky. In fact, Grimm is our friend. He's one of the brothers who wrote down all those fairy tales. Remember him? Yep. Same guy.

He was also a student of language and figured out some pretty cool stuff. One big thing was how many languages (here's the one scary term we'll use today: proto-Indo-European language . . . eep!) changed over time.

The three groups of sound shifts he came up with are known as Grimm's Law. Today I'm scraping the tip of one of those shifts.

Back story: I had the misfortune of taking the History of the English Language class from a literature teacher. While the woman meant well, she didn't know what the heck she was talking about. "Just memorize the chart," was the best she could come up with.

I wanted to know WHY the sound shifts happened. It didn't make sense that language would up and change for no apparent reason, and I couldn't memorize the chart without understanding it.

Good thing the Linguistics Chair lived under the same roof I did.

I promptly went to Dad and whined. He explained it so the whole thing made perfect sense. I won't go into details, because it would 1) bore all but the real die-hard Word Nerds and 2) make for a really long post, but really, Grimm's Law makes total sense in context.

(This experience was why, for my next language course, I made sure to sign up for Dr. Oaks again. They shouldn't have assigned a literature professor for a language course. Duh.)

The one thing I wanted to bring up about Grimm's Law today was the shift in sound from P to F.

Here's a list of proto-Indo-European (the language that preceded most of the current European ones), followed by the current English word:

pisk --- fish
peter/pater --- father
pur --- fire
portu --- ford (like a passage)
pulo --- fowl
ped/pod --- foot

And so on. Isn't that cool? It works in other languages too.

And it goes further. We kept a lot of the roots and used them in other words.

The Indo-European "pur" which became our "fire" is awfully close to "pyre."

The Indo-European "portu" is really close to our "portal," which had a similar meaning of
"entryway" or "passage."

When you see anything that has to do with "father" in English, it has a "pat" beginning (think "paternal" and "patriarchal" or "patronymic").

Same thing goes with the original roots for "foot," which were "ped" and "pod" (pedicure, pedestrian, podiatrist, pedal).

A lot of European languages kept the P to F shift in some words but not in others, so pater may still mean father somewhere. (I believe the term "father," as in a priest, is "pater" in German, but the familial term is different. And French for "father" is "pere," with an accent I can't make in Blogger.)

Ahhhhh . . . I love being a nerd.


Shelley said...

I am your newest follower!

And also, cool word nerding. I love how smart I think I am when I can figure out what a new word means by thinking about the linguistics and you have added to my arsenal. Enjoyed pisc and Pisces, also pur-fire burning pure. I will go be weird by myself now.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I studied linguistics at University a bit, as well as studying works in Old English in a few literature classes. I think our appreciation of language is all the richer when we understand (in some small part) the history of it. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Awww...I wanted to hear more about Grimm's Law. =[

Erin said...

I got my minor in Linguistics. That stuff is very interesting.

Oh, and the way you make the 'e accent grave' (said in a french accent, sigh) (รจ) is by holding down the "alt" key while typing 138. You're welcome :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I love linguistics. Dr. Oak's classes were awesome. I'd be fascinated to hear your father's long explanation of things!

Annette Lyon said...

Sounds like I'll have to go more into Grimm's Law sometime. But I'll break it up into several posts so I won't have people falling over into comas. :)

(Dr. Oaks rocked my world. Best professor EVER.)

Jordan McCollum said...

Ooh, and then you can tackle the Great Vowel Shift!

(I am totally completely kidding.)

Lara Neves said...

In Romanian, it looks like they kept the "p" in most of those words, with the exception of fire (foc) and father (tata).

Fascinating post! I would love to hear more about Grimm's law, also. I know I've learned it before, but it's been a really long time.

Blondie said...

In the Korean language there is no "F" sound, they don't even know how to make it. They use the "p" sound when learning English and use their symbol that makes a "p" sound when writing English words with the "f" sound.
Thus I once saw a sign for a high end "FASHION boutique" that looked more like "PASSION boutique".

Kristina P. said...

I had no idea! This is very cool, and interesting.

Annette Lyon said...

Jordan, Tempting, but . . . actually, not even tempting.

Blondie, Hahahahaaaa!

Jenny P. said...

You really are a nerd, aren't you? I mean that in the most endearing way.

I took a class once on modern linguistics that dealt with dialect, and why certain regions speak so differently than others. We talked language evolution and geographic influences... why deep south southern is different than Appalachian southern, for example. It was all fascinating.

Daron D. Fraley said...

Far from being boring, this is great post. Do some more!

Having studied both Latin and Spanish in high school, then going on a mission to France, these types of language tidbits are very interesting to me.


Wonder Woman said...

So......why the shift? I'm so curious now!

I assume this is where "Pa/Papa" come from for father, as well? Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

So it's Grimm's Law that explains the WHY behind the sound shift? If so, please do post. That something has happened is rarely as interesting as why it happened.

Sher said...

That's pretty cool. Especially if your trying to learn a latin based language like Spanish or Italian. I've learn to associate certain words that sound similar in English. This definitely pulls it together for me!!

Jenna said...

Nerd is good. So is Latin. :)


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