historical language

anonymous asked:

apparently because of the era mulan was in she should've spoken cantonese (or at least not mandarin) so why is mandarin the default chinese now?

hoo boy, this is a major misconception that i’ve heard a lot, especially from Cantonese speakers, who somehow believe that all people in pre-1000 AD China would’ve been speaking Cantonese ahahaha. I think this is an urban myth from some pseudo-linguistics rumours making its rounds in Cantonese-speaking communities over the last couple generations, probably stemming from the fact that Cantonese phonology is more conservative than Mandarin in terms of our syllable-final consonants, and the preservation of the voiced/voiceless distinction in Middle Chinese by extending our tonal inventory. A lot of people think that that automatically makes Cantonese the “pure Chinese language”, which makes me cringe really hard tbh, bc that’s not how languages work LOL. 

The problem with the Sinitic languages is that we have no exact way of knowing when and how people spoke back in the day, and the characters give no 100% explicit phonetic clues, so the best we can use as reference are the rime tables that some smart Chinese linguists compiled way back in the day. The most famous one is the book of Qieyun rime tables, which helped modern linguists re-construct Middle Chinese forms. Middle Chinese is said to generally have been spoken around the 6th-11th century, or somewhere around that range, and the Qieyun tables were published sometime in the 6th century, so they would’ve reflected an early Middle Chinese variety that functioned as a standard language in that time period. The problem is that outside of this standard language, people in China were already speaking their own Sinitic languages like they are today, some of which were already mutually unintelligible from one another. Unfortunately, there’s no way to track exactly what languages were spoken because all we have are the rime tables.

The early forms of the modern varieties that we know today as Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Wu, etc all split off from Late Middle Chinese presumably sometime between the 12th and 13th century, some languages later than others ofc (except for Hokkien and the other Min varieties, who had a bit of a special development, but that’s a different story). Mulan (who btw was a legendary character; we’re not even 100% sure if she actually existed) apparently lived during the Southern and Northern Dynasty period, which lasted from 420–589, which would fall into the Middle Chinese period, more specifically in the Early-Mid Middle Chinese period, so she probably would not have spoken anything close to Cantonese OR Mandarin in her time. 

Another problem is that Mulan is said to have been from the Northern Wei Dynasty (北魏), which would’ve taken up the area north of the Yangtze River. Cantonese was historically spoken in southern China, particularly in the general regions of modern-day Guangdong and Guangxi. Guangzhou was always a very successful port city, even 1500 years ago, and became a very important cultural center even in the Southern Song Dynasty (particularly in the 12-13th century). In this time period, an early form of Cantonese had already developed, and it was also around this time that it gained a literary level to read the Chinese Classics. Therefore, it seems highly highly highly improbable that Mulan was a Cantonese speaker, considering that her time period and general geographical location did not even come close to matching the timeline of Cantonese or any other modern Sinitic variety. 

Also to answer your question about why Mandarin is the standard today: it comes from a place of political power. Nanjing and Beijing (lit. Southern Capital and Northern Capital) were always the place of political power, and in courts they would use a standard language so that there could be communication between officials from all over China, hence the formal name for Mandarin: 官話 (lit. ‘official speech’). And that continued throughout history, simply because Beijing was always the source of political power, and made decisions for the country. However, the implementation of Mandarin as the ‘national language’ in all parts of China was a relatively recent event (around the mid-1900′s), in comparison to the entire history of the Chinese languages. Before Mandarin was heavily implemented in almost all parts of China, most people were still speaking local varieties, which would have mainly consisted of developing forms of modern Sinitic varieties. 

TL;DR - Nope, contrary to popular belief, Mulan most likely did not speak Cantonese, and neither did a lot of early famous Chinese figures like Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, etc. 

The Origins of Pasta

Pasta, as we know it today, can only be made from triticum turgidum var. durum, or “durum wheat.” Because of its high gluten content, this type of wheat allows hard, dry pasta with a long, safe shelf life. Because the ancient Etruscans and Romans did not know about durum wheat, they could not have invented pasta.

That honor likely goes to the Arabs. In a dictionary by Syrian physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali published in the 900s, we have something called “itriyya” – string-like pasta shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking. This early Arab version made its way to Sicily a few centuries later, where it was called triyakh. However, there is still debate today over whether the Sicilians had pasta introduced by their Arab invaders, or independently invented it, and just picked up the name.

In reality, language is indeed a system, but it is a system that is at all times on its way to changing into a different one.  What we perceive as ‘departures from the norm’ are nothing more or less than what language looks like from the point of view of a single lifetime.
—  Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of “Pure” Standard English by John McWhorter

Old Norse/ Icelandic - The Modern Icelandic Method

It can seem a bit odd, since many things are pronounced as different letters and sounds completely, but I do like the idea of keeping things fluid and alive in the modern version of the language. I suggest practicing these by saying the words aloud multiple times, especially when translating or reading many words together. 

For those of you interesting in the  reconstructed Old Icelandic Method, see my other post at this link. Also, for more on Old Norse, see my tab ‘Learn Old Norse’. Not everything is there, but more is added as I learn the language myself. Also, an even better source than I am would be the book itself (see ‘Source’ below).

Hope this is helpful for some of you! I will be studying this a bit myself when I find some more time.


  1. Byock, Jesse L. Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas. Jules William Press, 2013. pp. 332-334.
Accents and Anachronisms: What did people sound like in 18th century America?

If you’ve ever wondered about the language and accents used by the main characters of TURN, you’re definitely not alone. (It’s one of the topics we get the most questions about from TURN viewers!)

So what DID people sound like in Early America? Our latest blog post takes a closer look at 18th century accents, anachronisms, and speech patterns, complete with plenty of links for further reading. We’ve even got some pronunciation guides for you to download if you want to practice sounding like a turn-of-the-century New Englander! (No, really, you should try it! Hilarity is BOUND to ensue.)

(“Improprieties in Pronunciation common among the people of New-England”, circa 1808. Visit the blog to download the entire thing!)

The Icelandic Language still uses the letters Þ and Ð, which used to be in the English alphabet too but which fell into disuse and were eventually left out altogether. Their pronunciation is the sound made by the “th” in “this” and “that” respectively.

Incidentally, the Þ was not included in early English printing press types. As a substitute they used y, which looks somewhat similar. Thus was the popular misconception born that English people used to say “ye” as in “ye old shoppe.”

A page of the Homilies d’Organyà, one of the oldest texts written in the Catalan language.
It was written towards the end of the 12th century in Organyà, Catalonia, and is composed of six sermons that include commentaries on various gospels and epistles.

Rune Chart

Instead of an old norse word, I am posting this rune chart I made this week. Technically I should wait until I reach the words pertaining to this, but I feel it will be helpful for many of my followers who are interested in them. I hope that this chart will be useful in at least providing some of the basic guidelines for runes. I will go ahead and discuss some of these basics in this post as well, which should help with understanding and using this chart. It may not be the best of charts, and I am no master of runes, but it should do some good. If you think of anything I could do to improve it, send me a message or an ask and I will happily discuss it with you.

I will go ahead and leave the other information as a “keep reading”, since not everyone is interested in being lectured about how to use runes. But, if you do plan to study runes further, it may be helpful to read (unless you have already read chapter three of Byock’s book cited below, then you probably already know this information).

(I will be making a post focused on this material at a later date in one of my crash course lessons, but this “summary” should give a good sense of the history behind them.)

Keep reading

In the early, linear version of art’s relation to consciousness, a struggle was discerned between the “spiritual” integrity of the creative impulses and the distracting “materiality” of ordinary life, which throws up so many obstacles in the path of authentic sublimation. But the newer version, in which art is part of a dialectical transaction with consciousness, poses a deeper, more frustrating conflict. The “spirit” seeking embodiment in art clashes with the “material” character of art itself. Art is unmasked as gratuitous, and the very concreteness of the artist’s tools (and, particularly in the case of language, their historicity) appears as a trap. Practiced in a world furnished with second-hand perceptions, and specifically confounded by the treachery of words, the artist’s activity is cursed with mediacy. Art becomes the enemy of the artist, for it denies him the realization—the transcendence—he desires.
Therefore, art comes to be considered something to be overthrown. A new element enters the individual artwork and becomes constitutive of it: the appeal (tacit or overt) for its own abolition—and, ultimately, for the abolition of art itself.
—  Susan Sontag. “The Aesthetics of Silence”, Styles of Radical Will

I’ve seen this mistake made far too many times by folks in Pagan circles who really should know better, so here goes.

Germanic does not mean German.

Germanic describes a language family which includes Old Norse, Modern English, Anglo Saxon, German, Afrikaans, Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, Scots, Frisian, Gothic, and many others. It’s the group of languages, both extant and archaic, that are derived Proto-Germanic. The term also refers to the cultures which have historically spoken Germanic languages.

Norse is a more specific term than Germanic, the Norse languages are the Germanic languages of Scandinavia, such as Norwegian and Icelandic.

When someone says “Germanic gods” they mean “gods of the same pantheon as Odin/Wotan/Woden, whatever they’re called locally and wherever in Europe they were worshipped” (assuming the person knows what they’re talking about), whereas “Norse gods” refers to “the same pantheon as Odin, from wherever in Viking Era Scandinavia”  (whether or not the Norse Odin is the same being as the Anglo Saxon Woden is a knotty theological question that has no place in this post, maybe later).

Also, despite Finland’s geographical position, Finnish is not Norse, or even Germanic.
The Finnish language isn’t even Indo-European (nearly all of Europe speaks Indo-European languages, Finland is a notable exception) but Finno-Ugric (other Finno-Urgic languages include Estonian and Hungarian)

Historically, the Finns did not work with the Norse Pantheon, but had their own system. Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, Louhi, Tapio, and Ahti are a few Finnish deities.

So there, now I have a post to throw at folks who start spouting gibberish about “but it isn’t Germanic ‘cause it’s not from Germany, it’s Norse from like Finland and stuff”. I’ve made this post a bit in depth because I like to be informative, but it really isn’t that hard.
Germanic = most of northern Europe, including but not limited to Germany and the present day German language
Finnish = not Germanic

ID #83612

Name: Olivia
Age: 19
Country: USA

Hey! I’m Olivia. I just recently turned 19 and I’m in my freshman year of college as a History major. I enjoy writing stories, reading, going on adventures, and painting. I’m also interested in languages and (of course) historical events. I love learning about the world and the people in it.

As pen pals, we can talk about anything, pretty much. Although I was recently thinking that it would be cool to write role play (not the adult kind - I’m asexual) letters back and forth. Like, we talk online first and make up a story and characters for each of us and then we write letters as our characters following the story line. It sounds weird, I know, but I hope it makes sense.

So, regular pen pals and possible story-telling pen pals are welcome to contact me :)Thank you!

Preferences: 18-25, and any gender is fine with me.

Nescire autem quid antequam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Translation:  To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.

Favourite quote week (led by @perksofreadingbooks). 9th January. Historical Person 

im not sure if this is actual discourse going on but like the whole thing with diego luna is like,…latinxs are overly sexualized and fetishisized n although it’s usually women, men are definitely not exempt from that so when you have a latino gain so much attention out of nowhere like diego luna is currently getting..its normal and expected for it to be kinda concering for us like suddenly its not about that we got a mexican! in star wars! a huge franchise! it’s that ooo diego luna papi chulo sounds so h*t speaking spanish and his accent!!! and the same thing happened with oscar isaac like..now our representation is thrown away jst cause you’re sexualizing someone’s first language which, historically, latnix and nonnative english speakers get so much shit for having accents like you can’t be selective with which ones you like? this is long and rambly but in short…if you’re white u really can’t have diego luna


Today being the last day of classes before exams, I decided to go treat myself this afternoon. This involved going to the linguistics section of one of my university libraries and reading for an entire afternoon instead of studying for my finals. 

There was lots of cool stuff, though, so it was totally worth it.

27-09-2015 / 11.28 / I had no idea that Historical Linguistics would be so fascinating to me. I’m captivated~~ Closer look at my note-taking system for those of you who were enquiring about it last night!

One thing that’s remarkable about linguistic change is how large-scale changes in the structure of a language can sometimes be attributed to generalization from a single exception. A nice example of this is found in the history of the gender system of the Northeast Caucasian language Lak. Lak has four genders, which are conventionally labelled by Roman numerals I-IV. Roughly, class I is for male humans, class II is for female humans, class III is for non-human animates and class IV is for liquids and abstract nouns; concrete inanimates are spread irregularly over classes III and IV, although the majority are in class III, and some non-human animates and liquids are found unexpectedly in classes III or IV.

However, in the modern language, nouns referring to female humans are often found in class III rather than class II. Already in the earliest description of the language, Uslar (1890), it is recorded that nouns referring to young women behaved as class III nouns. A woman would only start being referred to and referring to herself using class II nouns at some time between marriage and the birth of her first child; if she did this too early, or kept doing it too late, it would be seen as a ridiculous affectation of an inappropriate age status, and if others did it too early or too late it was considered an insult. (The distinction between classes II and III is thus comparable to the distinction between the Mrs and Miss titles in English, although the line is drawn slightly differently.) The use of class II has become more and more restricted since then; Khaidakov (1963) found that it tended to be restricted to immediate family members of an older generation, and it would be impolite to address even an old woman using a class II term if she was not a relative. In one dialect, that of Arakul’, it has gone so far that class II has been eliminated entirely.

Why did class III—a class originally reserved for non-humans—expand so as to include most women? When we put it like that, it seems odd that women would be offended by not being included in class III rather than the other way around. The probable explanation is that it is a generalization of a single exception which already existed in the language involving the word duš ‘girl’. This word might have always been in class III, rather than class II. Cf. German Mädchen ‘girl’, which is famously neuter rather than feminine; in the case of this word it’s because it’s a dimunitive, and a morphological rule that dimunitives are neuter takes precedence over the semantic rule that female humans are feminine. I don’t know if there is a similar morphological explanation in the case of duš, but there’s also a semantic reason why words for ‘girl’ are not prototypical feminine gender words: children tend to be seen as having a neutral gender. And if the idea that ‘girl’ would be assigned feminine gender still seems implausible, consider the fact that the sense of ‘girl’ can be a specialization of an older sense of ‘child’, in general. In fact, the English word girl was originally gender-neutral. And we know that the whole development has taken place in the Indo-Aryan language Konkani. Konkani has the traditional three Indo-European genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. The word čeḍũ is neuter, and originally meant ‘child’, but came to mean specifically ‘girl’ in recent times, and the neuter gender has been extended to other words such as bayl ‘woman’ when they refer to young women, as opposed to old women. The feminine gender has not been eliminated yet in Konkani, although it’s conceivable that it might be, eventually. So the change which has been happening in Lak is not just a one-off oddity, but something which seems to be encouraged by a combination of morphological, semantic and sociolinguistic circumstances which tend to co-occur across different cultures and languages.

All this is from Corbett’s Gender (1991) (which I was having a look through again recently).