och & luras

(Visste du att de olika &-tecknen alla är försök att skriva “et” (och på latin)?)

Idag stötte jag på två olika anslag som fick mig att stanna upp. Det händer rätt ofta med språk – jag blir fascinerad av något i språkbruket och missar det som faktiskt sägs eller står.

Först var det en bildekal: “Finns livet efter döden? Rör hojen och du vet”.

Jag hade nog sagt “Rör höjen så vet du” eller ännu hellre “Rör höjen så får du veta”. Men mtp att det råder platsbrist på dekaler så hade det nog blivit det första alternativet.
“Rör hojen och du vet” stör mig jättemycket. Jag har hört den här typen av meningsbyggnad förut och har inget problem att förstå. Men det känns fel. Anledningen lär nog vara att “och” används (vanligtvis) för att samordna två likvärdiga led. I både “Rör hojen och lyft upp den” samt “Rör hojen och bilen” så är det två huvudsatser respektive två huvudled som samordnas. “Så”, med flera andra ord, används för att samordna en huvudsats (“Rör bilen”) och en bisats (“Du vet”). Att använda “och” för att samordna en huvudsats och en bisats är ovanligt och, för mig, lite oväntat – därav den krypande känslan i skinnet… (Jag slår vad om att Svenska Akademiens Grammatik tar upp även bisats-huvudsatssamordningen som ett vanligt förekommande satsmönster, men är lite för efter-maten-trött för att kolla.)


Det andra jag stötte på var en tidningsrubrik på – “Lurades att de var barnbarn – straffas”. Det finns två läsningar av detta som står helt i motsats mot varandra. Den ena är att “någon lurade dem att att de var barnbarn – (men) nu straffas de”, den andra är “de lurade någon att de var barnbarn – nu straffas de”. Det är förstås den sista som är fallet, men det krävdes en del tankekraft (säkert två tre sekunders osäkerhet) innan jag slog fast det. Man kan ju tänka sig att någon lurade personerna att de var barnbarn till X, varpå de krävde arv efter X. Men nu har det blivit klart att de inte är barnbarn till X, och straffas därför av en domstol, trots att de blev lurade in i situaionen… Kanske… Det är hursomhelst kul med meningar som kan tolkas i diametralt motsatt riktning!


Co-hort or cohort?

 A cohortus in a hortus…

Just saw a CNN (entertainment) journalist write “co-hort” for “cohort”. A misunderstanding, a reanalysis following co-op or co-ed? Or just historical play on form, since cohort comes from com-hortus, where “hortus” means garden and “com” means with. The people at the garden/plot of land -> guards -> army division in the roman army -> modern day group of people who work together. (Also the origin for “court”.)

Grammar, Semantics

Word of the day: apokoinou

Awesome new linguistic term: apokoinou (from Greek: “in common”). It refers to the situation where a speaker changes her mind mid-sentence, and makes the last part of a sentence the first part of another. Like this:

“there were three crows sat on a tree”

“I can’t find my wallet is here”

Sounds weird? We do it all the time. Try saying the sentences above with some pauses in between segments, like:

“I can’t… find my… wallet is here!!

Historical Linguistics, Printing

What were the first printed books in the Nordic Countries?

I ran across som cool stats on printing in Sweden and Denmark (at this time, Norwegians wrote in Danish). I’m especially charmed by the spelling of ‘devil’ in Middle Swedish: dyäfwlsen…

First printed books in Denmark (1482):
Breviarium Ottoniense (Odense Breviary) and Guillaume Caoursin’s De obsidione et bello Rhodiano (‘On the siege and war of Rhodes’), both printed by Johann Snell in Odense in 1482
brevarius ottoniense

First printed book in Danish (1495):
Den danske rimkrönike

First book printed in Finland (1488):
I can find no data on this…

First printed book in Finnish (1638):
A bible translation: Biblia, Se on: coci Pyhä Ramattu suomexi. An edition of 1,200 copies. it was printed in Stockholm at the press of Heinrich Keyser, since there was no printing press in Finland at that point.

First printed book in Sweden (1483):
Dialogus creaturarum moralizatus (an allegorical religious tract in Latin).
Dialogus creaturarum

First printed book in Swedish (1495):
Aff dyäfwlsens frästilse
aff dyäfwlsens frästilse

etymology, Historical Linguistics

How German is Scandinavian?

German Flag

Between one third and half of the everyday vocabulary of Scandinavian languages is borrowed from Low German. The borrowing mainly took place during the 13th to 16th century, when the Hanseatic Trade League’s influence on northern Europe was largest. Not only words were borrowed, but many frequent derivational affixes, such as be- (be-rika, be-ivra, be-tvinga in Swedish) and -het (svensk-het, tursam-het), were borrowed. We don’t know to which extent the Low German influence also contributed to the massive simplification in the morphology of especially nouns – so that the only thing that remains of e.g. the dative form are fossilized expressions like gå man ur huse where huse is inflected in its old dative form.

Here’s a Norwegian example (from Torp 2002) of a sentence where all content words are borrowings from Low German:

Skredderen tenkte at trøya passet fortreffelig, men kunden klaget og mente at plagget var kort och tøyet simpelt tog grovt.

[The tailor thought that the jacket fittet perfectly, but the customer complained and means that the garment was short and the material was unsophisticated and coarse.]



Arne Torp. 2002. Chaper 2: The Nordic languages in a Germanic perspective. In Bandle, Oskar, Lennart Elmevik, and Gun Widmark (Eds) The Nordic languages an international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. Volume I. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.

etymology, Semantics

The etymology of the word “bad”


I’ve just discovered the etymology for English bad ‘not good’ in Darling Buck 1949, and was going to write a postabout it – but the writers over at Online Etymology Dictionary have read the same chapter as I, and sum it up nicely:

bad (adj.) c.1200, “inferior in quality;” early 13c., “wicked, evil, vicious,” a mystery word with no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its dim. bædling “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast,” probably related to bædan “to defile.” A rare word before 1400, and evil was more common in this sense until c.1700. Meaning “uncomfortable, sorry” is 1839, American English colloquial.

Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as “ugly,” “defective,” “weak,” “faithless,” “impudent,” “crooked,” “filthy” (e.g. Gk. kakos, probably from the word for “excrement;” Rus. plochoj, related to O.C.S. plachu “wavering, timid;” Pers. gast, O.Pers. gasta-, related to gand “stench;” Ger. schlecht, originally “level, straight, smooth,” whence “simple, ordinary,” then “bad”). ”


When did hermaphrodite become something which such a negative sentiment attached to it in the west? Clearly post-Roman empire, since they have hemaphrodite gods…


Loops and self-reference in dictionaries

One of the things I wanted to use this blog for was to publish (and get incentive to keep writing) the summaries that I really should write as soon as I read an article.

Today I read this article:

Levary, David, Jean-Pierre Eckmann, Elisha Moses, and Tsvi Tlusty. 2012. Loops and Self-Reference in the Construction of Dictionaries. Physical Review X, 2, 031018.

It reminded me of my Magister thesis, where I (among other things) looked at the dictionary network around the two synonyms skarp and vass in Swedish. The result was not a surprise – we know that dictionary entries refer to each other in loops, making it very difficult to understand a new concept, without understanding related concepts.

The Levary et al (2012) article did some cool statistics on these self-refential loops in the dictionaries. One such loop is in figure 5 below


Figure 5 has examples of strongly connected components (SCCs)– where all nodes (words) point to all other words – such as precipitation, sleet and snow.

Previously, other researchers had found on that in a typical dictionary:
“It was found that dictionaries consist of a set of words, roughly 10% the size of the original dictionary, from which all other words can be defined. This subgraph was observed to be highly interconnected, with a central, strongly connected component, dubbed the core.”

This should mean that if you know this core, you can use it to define all other words (now, your sentences would be awkward and long, with red or green fruit on bough of tree that you can eat and that you can make sauce and pie out of, instead of apple – and, of course, the definition you might end up with from the dictionary might not uniquely identify an APPLE at all – in this case, maybe grape would also be fitting). It would also, on the surface, mean that to understand the core, you have to understand basically all of it. Hmm…

Levary et al (2012) discovered that if you concentrate only on SCCs with loops less than or equal to 5 words), this core decomposes into several hundred SCCs, that are independent of each other. Here are some examples of SCCs:

{emotion, spirit, dejection, melancholy, feeling}
{height, end, dimension, length}
{bark, trunk, tree, lumber}

And then the authors looked at _when_ words had first been recorded. And they found that the words in SCCs (such as the ones above) tended to appear closer together in time than average words do. So once you start talking about a semantic field (maybe you move from a desert to a place with trees) lots of interdependent words appear in a relatively (150 years or so) short time span. The words co-eolve. This is cool. You don’t need to use trunk to define what a tree word mean, but conceptually bark and tree seem to be close.


Sign Language Politeness

Swedish Sign Lang Alphabet

Ran across this quote about polite behavior when passing to signers. I’ve been wondering about what the appropriate behavior is in Sweden, here’s how one signer sees it for ASL (American Sign Language):

“Another norm governs what is appropriate behavior if you have to walk between two people who are signing to each other. In spoken language conversations, i is polite to say ‘excuse me’ as you pass. That is, it is appropriate to use language to recognize the fact that you are temporarily in the way. However, in the deaf community, it is perfectly acceptable and polite to walk between two people having an ASL conversation without signing ‘EXCUSE-ME’. Not only is it polite, but to stop and sign ‘EXCUSE-ME’ or to duck one’s head or bend over as one walks by may even be unacceptable because it will almost always bring conversation to a halt and cause an interruption. This is a norm that differs from the norms for spoken languages conversations.”

p176, Valli, Clayton, and Ceil Lucas. 2001. Linguistics of American Sign Language: an introduction. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.