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It is thought that sounds in languages change less than do meanings. One may wonder if that impression would also be a statistically exact statement. It might have been partially influenced by observation of meanings in written languages. It is known that spelling, at least alphabetic spelling, puts some brakes on free and natural development of speech. And yet...


Having Dutch as one's mother tongue, one sees in reality a few striking facts regarding the change of sounds. We should like to point out some.


    • Vowel-changes. In Dutch there exists a sound, spelled as "ij" or "ei", which is the result of a changing of the classic vowel "I", relatively young, proper to this language and unknown in any other we know of.


    • It sounds like English "I" in "fine", German "ei" in "fein" or Italian "ei" in "lei", but without the characteristic final "y"-sound of those diphtongs. This Dutch vowel is a straight single sound.


    • It began in Middle-Dutch, but was less widely used than it is today. During the past centuries it has conquered many words that still used to be pronounced like "i" ( English "ee")


    • Other straight vowels of relatively recent development are:
      • "au" also found in High German, like the famous "Blaue Engel" by Marlene Dietrich.


      • "ou" , with the same sound as "au", very different from French "ou", that is like in "you".


      • "ui", more recently developed out of " ", not unlike French "eu" in "feuille"


      • "eu". This last one, "eu" can be heard also in the northern italian "dialect" of Milan, in words like "inqueu" , meaning "today" It is very near French "eu" in "feu" (fire)


      These particular straight vowels of official Dutch are not recognized and pronounced as such in most of the dialects of the same language. The pronunciation of "ij" changes into a number of different vowels and diphthongs . The English word "fine" becomes :
      • fein in Dutch
      • faan in Amsterdam
      • fain in Rotterdam
      • fn in The Hague
      • fiin in Arnhem
      • faan in Antwerpen
      • and we know it becomes foin in Ireland


      This is a rather spectacular example of the instability of vowels even in one language with a limited territory.
      Dutch distinguishes very clearly between long and short vowels. But also the official vowel "A:", in the version of a long "A", in dialects changes into various different vowels as it becomes often nearly "O" or takes an intermediate value like "AO" between "A" and "O". Or it becomes "E:" or "'E", etcetera. Comparable phenomena touch other vowels.


      The English word "fine" is considered to have been derived from Latin "finis", that stands for "limit, boundary", both literally and figuratively, like English "end". "Finis" has developed a use as "end" and as "ultimate" as well as figuratively "final end, objective". There seems to be quite some debate and uncertainty about its origin in Latin itself . The development of additional meanings as found in the modern ones of the adjective "fine" and in the noun "fine", and that should have taken place in Late Latin or Old French, seems amazing . The Old French noun "fins", meaning "end" , would have been used as meaning : "the utmost, best". This would then have conquered rapidly all Germanic languages .


      In modern Dutch you will hear people say "dat is het einde", saying "that is wonderful , the very best". Semantically this goes in the advocated direction, but … Germanic/Dutch "fijn" instead does not mean "the very best" at all . It just says "fine", like of a piece of cloth, a book to read , a needle , a script, a person etcetera . It does not carry any superlative message . It can also suggest thinness, good taste , but no maximum as such at all . We would be inclined to agree with those scholars who suppose an independent Germanic origin of the adjective " fine ", with its many sisters in Old High German ( fin ) and Nordic languages like Old Norse or Norrn ( finn ). But a weak point in this theory is that " fine " seems not to be present in Anglo-Saxon . There has been some mixture of words and meanings when the Franks and other Germanic speakers conquered parts of the Roman Empire . As to the word "fine" one should remark that in Late Latin there had been shaped a word " finus ", besides and not identical to Latin " finis " . This sounds much like a Latinized word of different origin .


      Some consonants also have many different lives in Dutch. The letter "G", which we transcribe as "GH", is considered as characteristic for the sound of the language, because in its official hard pronunciation it is not found in other Germanic or Latin tongues. But in dialects it is pronounced in various rather different ways.
      A special fact is that in the word "jij" ( meaning "you" ) the G has changed the same way as in English and as in many instances in Scandinavian tongues. And yet in the southern dialects it has remained as before in the word "gij", which is again pronounced in various ways.


      Sounds not far from this "G" can be found in Greek, German and Russian , and something vaguely like it also in Spanish, perhaps caused by Semitic influences on that language in the past. In Hebrew instead we find the same identical sound.


      Changes. Also other consonants live strange adventures . The "H", equal to the English one, in some dialects has disappeared and in others it has acquired a sound "GH" like Semitic "Ghet", a fate it sometimes shares with the Dutch "g" we mentioned before. Brugge (Bruges) is called Bruhhe by its own people. And again as for "h", let us see what becomes of the word for "whole":
      • Official Dutch heel
      • in Antwerp iel
      • in Ghent gheel
      • in Arnhem heul
      • in Amsterdam hail


      Facts like these show that, without an obligatory official spelling, a language would easily split into several other new ones. This is undoubtedly what happened before writing, especially alphabetic writing, was invented and used.


      • Metathesis. We know with certainty that drastic changing of sounds has occurred many times in the development of various languages. One kind of change we should recall is that of the inversion of the sequence of consonants or metathesis. In Holland it is not easy to find a small kid who pronounces "wesp" (wasp) and "gesp" (clasp) properly. Instead it becomes "weps" and "geps". And many grown-ups do not do any better. This does not surprise us if we see in Old English both versions : " waesp" and " waeps " .


      • A crocodile from Greek through Latin has remained as such, but in medieval Latin it became cocodrilo, which it remained in Italian and Spanish. Also in French it had become cocodrile, but somehow changed back to crocodile.
        • WASP
          The metathesis , or better the presence of two versions, wsp and wps in Old English is striking precisely because of the similarity to an erroneous pronunciation by many little Dutch children .


          As to the initial consonant , the Dutch W is identical to the German W. That means the upper teeth touch the lower lip . In English this is not the case. And the interesting thing is that very many small Dutch children will pronounce initial " W's " as in English. Later they learn the right local pronunciation of course .
          The word "wil", sister of English "will", easily will be pronounced by youngsters as " wiw ", with two English-type W's .
          A funny thing is that the same people who change a Dutch " wesp " into a "weps ", that is children and less educated persons, may turn a Dutch caterpillar from " rups" into " rusp". The word is of Dutch and Low German origin as "rupe " and High German turned it into " Raupe ".
          While " wasp " is also found in Latin " vespa "etcetera, " rups " is limited to Holland . Interesting is to read that people think " wesp " comes from the ancient root that led to English " to weave ", because " its nest looks like a woven tissue" . Well, there are many kinds of nests of wasps, in cement-like or paper-like material, as well as in bedded natural caves like dried fruits or leaves of plants as well as underground, but it is hard to find any woven one .


        • CROCODILE
          The name of the crocodile is an uneasy word to pronounce. Besides the adventures in French we mentioned , it lives badly through some dialects . In The Hague less educated people instead of saying " krokodil " , speak of " korkedil " and even sometimes " korrekedil " . The amazing thing is that this Dutch dialectal form existed as a variant also in Latin : " corcodilus" besides the normal " crocodilus " or later also " crocodillus " of Greek origin . And there was as well " crocodrillus" .


          Greek also knew various forms : “κροκοδειλος krokodeilos“ , “κροκοδιλος krokodilos ( which is also the modern version ) “ or “κροκοδριλος krokodrilos“ and even “κερκυδιλος kerküdilos“ . The original Greek meaning was not just “ crocodile “, but generally “ lizard “ . The animal that from Latin on conquered the word for itself, was indicated as a “ river lizard " or “κροκοδειλος ποταμιος krokodeilos potamios" . The etymology has not been sufficiently established .


          It is possible that this word just lends itself to be mixed-up, to undergo metatheses, in the various languages that adopted it , beginning with Greek itself and continuing so through Latin, Late Latin and Old French . And in Neo-Latin languages seen as a group , we find the difference between French " crocodile ", Italian "coccodrillo " and Spanish "cocodrilo" .


          It is good to know that the pronunciation of a final Waw as F is a modern phenomenon , caused by Yiddish-speakers . Also that the Bet ( not the Waw ) , when pronounced W, really should not be called Wet, as is usually done following grammarian's examples .


          Important with the labials remain the way they have shifted and seem to glide through history. The table Fleeting labials " shows this .


          The sound between T and R in real English water is indeed very different from the so-called dull E or Ә of continental tongues . Of course in American “ woder " or even “ wodder ” some vowel is back again . And even in English water, the pronunciation of “TR" is slightly different from the same two-letter sequence in “ TRain ".



      • MIXTURE
        Mixture. There can be, and often are, periods in which ethnic mixture influences very strongly a language. Two examples are English and French . In fact the magnificent beauty of the French language is the result of the thorough "bastardization" of an already altered branch of Latin.


        And the incredibly practical, useful and pleasant growing world-language, English, is the result of a thorough "bastardization" of a branch or couple of linked branches of Low-German. By the way, one of the reasons why English is so practical is that it can be pronounced with numerous different accents and poor choice of words, and yet remain fully comprehensible to all its speakers.






      The Aleph and Ayin show very interesting developments in the Hebrew language. If we compare them with Greek Alpha, we see that words beginning with this letter can be divided into three categories :


      • 1. Words in which the initial Aleph confirms the meaning of an earlier word that does not have this Aleph : " A αθροιστικος athroistikos"


      • 2. Words that just begin with an Aleph ( or other vowel ) as part of the original root .


      • 3. Words in which the initial Aleph reverses the meaning of the word that did not have this Aleph : A στερητικο steritikos".


      If we look at Hebrew we find categories 1 and 2, but not category 3 . We give a number of examples of Hebrew words/roots , beginning with Aleph or Ayin , that in our view bear messages comparable to those of roots ( existing or hypthetical older ones ) that do or did not have that Aleph or Ayin.


      But there is a category 4, regarding specifically the Ayin, in which we find Indo European cognates beginning with H or S . We give a limited number of examples , with the numbers they carry in the List of Similarities.


      Category 1 , Aleph or Ayin added, confirming original meaning, but initial vowel NOT present in Indo European :



      Aleph  Hebrew 0035 , E 0574   א מ ן   meanattached
        Hebrew 0038 , E 0555   א מ ר   mre
        Hebrew 0066, E 0716   א ר ך   reach
        Hebrew 0061, E 0712   א ר ג   rag
        Hebrew 0069 , E 0736   א ר ג   rocc, *rock
      Ayin   Hebrew 0123 , E 0204   ע ג ו ר   crane
        Hebrew 0132 , GD 1063   ע ל ף   laf
        Hebrew 0209 , E 1016   ע ו ן   wunian
        Hebrew 0220 , E 1015   ע י ר   weord


      Category 2 , Aleph or Ayin initial vowel, part of original root, corresponding with initial vowel in Indo European :



      Aleph  Hebrew 0030 , E 0292   א ל ף   elephantattached
        Hebrew 0048 , E 0648   א פ ה   oven
        Hebrew 0071 , E 0051   א ש   ashattached
        Hebrew 0092 , E 000, E 0019   א ו י ר   airattached
      Ayin   Hebrew 0119 , E 0015   ע ג ב   agape
        Hebrew 0124 , E 0024   ע ל ה   altus
        Hebrew 0125 , E 0021   ע ל ה   alimentation
        Hebrew 0175 , GR 1170   ע ר ב   ερεβος
        Hebrew 0197 , E 0309   ע ת ר   aether
        Hebrew 0230 , GR 1120A   ע י ט   aetosattached


      Category 4 , Ayin , initial vowel in Hebrew corresponding with initial H or S in Indo European :



      Ayin   Hebrew 0115 , E 0439   ע ד ן   hedonismattached
        Hebrew 0117 , E 0445   ע ד ר   herd , śardhas (scr)
        Hebrew 0131 , E 0443   ע ל ם   helmet
        Hebrew 0142 , E 0455   ע ם   home
        Hebrew 0164 , E 0449A   ע פ ל   hill
        Hebrew 0169 , E 0201   ע ק ר ב   scorpion



Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: Thursday 10 January 2013 at 19.55.26