Monday, 22 June 2015

I, Robert

It was The Legacy that brought this issue to my attention (hemp, canvas, cannabis and related words).
I started by consulting Etymonline; and all roads lead back to cannabis:
          cannabis (n.) Look up cannabis at
1798, "common hemp," from Cannabis, Modern Latin plant genus named (1728), from Greek kannabis "hemp" ... and English canvas and possibly hemp
Source: Etymonline

          hemp (n.) Look up hemp at
Old English hænep "hemp, cannabis sativa," from Proto-Germanic *hanapiz ... probably a very early Germanic borrowing of the same Scythian word that became Greek kannabis (see cannabis). 
Source: Etymonline 

          canvas (n.) Look up canvas at
"sturdy cloth made from hemp or flax," mid-14c., from Anglo-French canevaz, ..."made of hemp, hempen," noun use of Vulgar Latin adjective *cannapaceus"made of hemp," from Latin cannabis, from Greek kannabis "hemp"... 
Source: Etymonline

All those "..."s hide lots of examples from every language under the sun.

I don't like all those possiblys and probablys though.
<bilingual_pun value="nugatory, sophomoric"> 
(which raises the possibility of Signe demonstrating the versatility of hemp by making a picnic hamper out of hamp  [the Danish for "hemp" being hamp]. And the Swedish for "hemp" is hampa; so if she were Swedish it would be even better.)
         <afterthought viability="stillborn">
Hang on though.... Maybe that's why it's called a "hamper". Etymonline says not though. But there's that probably again....

And finally I'll give myself a post-Fathers-Day, non-cannabis-related (except for the first syllable) pat on the head. One of the peripheral baddies in Humans has the name "Capek". Maybe this will be worked into the plot in the fullness of time, but I imagine it's just the writer's hommage (or just chapeau, perhaps)... all right, the Czech playwright Karel Čapek (who I thought, before doing a bit of digging, coined the word 'robot' – he didn't: it's just Czech for 'worker'). Presumably the actor who said the name in episode one didn't pick up the reference. They said it with a /k/ instead of the whatever – something palatal, I think.


PS: And here's a clue for ... whatever these things are for:

Bishop embraced revised rite before anyone could write about it. (11) *

PPS A little later, the same day:

But the point (without which this post is pretty flimsy) is, what is  the mechanism for the development of *nab* to *mp*? The short answer is apocope – or perhaps syncope, I forget –  and assimilation. The longer and more helpful answer is the dropping of an unstressed vowel between two consonants. and then one of those consonants changing so that it shares some characteristic with the other: /n/ is a labiodental nasal but /p/ (/b/ after voicing's been dropped) is bilabial. So, after the unstressed 'a' has been dropped, the /n/ assimilates to the /p/, becoming the bilabial nasal /m/.
In the case of words that use the Greek ɸ, such as 'emphasis', 'symphony', etc. this assimilation is masked. (There are  languages that do use the voiceless bilabial fricative (IPA [ɸ]), but English doesn't.)  The Castilian equivalents show the change: énfasis and sinfonía. Meanwhile, in words such as 'conflagration', the assimilation of the original Latin cum has gone ahead without anyone ticking the NO PUBLICITY box. In 'inefficient/impractical' there is the opposite change  – not from m to n, but from an original n to m.
An interesting example of assimilation turned up on the news last  night – in the report on  a bionic eye. The context was generally optical, so when the reporter referred to a cure for sight loss I thought I heard a cure for Cyclops. I was just thinking this through, and correcting what I thought had been a mis-hearing, when MrsK asked "Did he just say a cure for Cyclops?"
Here's why. In forming an /l/ the sides of the tongue touch  approach the sides of the mouth (which is why the $10 word for describing /l/ is lateral there's a central closure, and the air escapes at the sides of the tongue ). Depending on the thickness of the speaker's tongue and the curvature of the palate, this can cause a closure between the body of the tongue and the palate, normally associated with /k/. So the reporter's /ǝ kju:ǝ fǝ saɪt.../ became /ǝ kju:ǝ fǝ saɪk.../ and the listener's expectations supplied the final /ps/.
So this is an example of the sort of  'accidental' assimilation I mentioned many posts ago, here. 
..well, not assimilation to another phoneme. I think it was John Trim (mentioned elsewhere in this blog: let the word-cloud do its thing if you're interested)  who pointed out that a speaker's  simply closing his/her mouth at the end of an utterance could make a final consonant 'assimilate' to the appropriate bilabial phoneme... 
The example he gave at the time was when people say 'Fine' at the end of a conversation it  can often make the sound /faɪm/.

Update 2015.06.23.14:25 – Added afterthought:

When I started writing the PPS I stumbled over the first consonant [in cannabis/hemp], but parked the problem [as they say in some circles]: how does [k] become [h]? It's been simmering away on the back burner, and so far all I've got is an example of hyper-correction in the Satyricon.

In Roman Italy there were many speakers of Greek, and resultant borrowings of Greek words that used both κ and χ[; an educated speaker knew where to make the distinction, and a poseur made similar distinctions when there were none to be made]. One of Trimalchio's guests is a social climber, and like the English social climber adding unnecessary /h/s in words that have no 'h', he adds a χ-like sound in words that have a simple [k]: in Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds James Clackson [sic, not him] writes

I'm not saying this is where 'hemp' got its "h", but is seems to me possible, given the κ as the initial – attentive readers will remember Etymonline's
... from Latin cannabis, from Greek kannabis "hemp" 
Update 2015.06.24.08:55 – Added clarifications in red.

Update 2015.07.21.16:30 – Added answer to crossword clue:
*OK ‐ Time's up. PRELITERATE.

Update 2015.07.22.15:00 – Added inline example in purple and shortly afterwards a correction highlighted like this.

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Over 49,100 views  and nearly 8,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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