Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Strong Verbs

Note: A commenter who seems to know something says much of this is wrong - so read it with suspicion.

Ever wonder where those strong verbs in the Germanic languages come from? (Ed: No, they didn't. Very few people concern themselves with such things.) Come, came; give, gave; run, ran; ride, rode; write, wrote. These are basic words, not extra, dressy things we add in for show. They aren't Latinate. They aren't particularly Indo-European at all, actually. Those languages tend more to the use of suffixes for tenses. Vowel changes are more common in Semitic languages such as Hebrew or Arabic, which start with three-consonant root words that are modified to make plurals, tenses, and compounds. Which is why the Hebrew text in your Bible doesn't have vowels, so people had to guess at them and come up with things like "Jehovah" for YHWH - which is a pretty inaccurate guess, BTW.

But how, exactly, did Semitic languages influence Germanic at some point? It's quite a distance, and it is the type of influence that only comes from significant rather than incidental contact. You might acquire some vocabulary from foreign traders, but you only change your verbs for close friends. Linguists spun theories, including a posited "Atlantic" language spoken by somebody Semitic around the North Sea in sometime BCE.\

Linguist Theo Vennemann, who is never short on theories, suggests that it was Carthaginian traders speaking Punic who created this vowel-changing influence. Other Vennemann theories on such diverse topics as Old World hydronomy and the Runic alphabet are at the link.

4 comments:

Donna B. said...

Are you saying that if we could only hear the ancient speakers of languages, we might understand? Whereas... reading the imperfect reconstructions we do not?

The only word my maternal grandfather ever spoke that I understood was "amen" and I'm not sure that I didn't understand that simply because of its placement in his speech.

An uncle (not blood related) also spoke a garbled language that I couldn't understand. There was an aunt not related by blood to either me or the aforementioned uncle I couldn't understand either.

These three people have always puzzled me... and it's always puzzled me how my cousins could translate for me.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to inform yourself a little better about Indo-European. In fact, it is the Germanic "Strong Verbs" which are some of the most conservative parts of the Germanic Branch of Indo-European, and the Ablaut shifting of roots that they demonstrate is one of the most fundamental aspects that is shared by all Indo-European languages. Any story about influence from Semitic or Punic or whatever is a cute story, but is completely absurd in the face of the huge volume of data supporting the established history and reconstructed pre-history of Indo-European languages.

Jonathan said...

Yeah Dad, you need to spend MORE time reading about words that existed 1500 years ago.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My source is John McWhorter, and Vennemann, as here. Perhaps he is wrong in his statement, but my quick check of other sources suggests that the Germanic strong verbs were a change from the PIE.

However, I did see that the ablaut system is common to Indo-European languages, as you say. Why then do we not see them in Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit? What am I missing here?