The Mystery of Gothic and why I left How-To-Learn-Any-Language.com


Guido Westerwelle

Guido Westerwelle - a politician whose remarks are only to be discussed in abtraction from politics, on how-to-learn-any-language.com!

I am repeating here a few comments I made about the Gothic Language on How-To-Learn-Any-Language forum some time back. As I am now not posting there owing to their heavy-handed moderation policy ( I was censured for discussing politics in a thread about why a certain German politician – Guido Westerwelle the Foreign Minister no less, refused to speak German at an international press conference because it happened to be held in Germany.

I am looking forward to the Eurovision Song Contest this year – instead of being done in French and English as per the tradition, as Lena won it for Germany last year (with a song that has not even been given any lyrics in German and is sung in Essex English by someone trying to impersonate Lily Allen but who is at any rate a good deal hotter than Lily, and that of course is what the Eurovision is all about these days…) it will have to be held entirely in German to appease Westerwelle’s nationalist complexes!

Anyway, it was for taking an anti-Westerwelle line that I got censured in HTLAL. I warned that if moderated I would simply leave and stop contributing and at that the moderator called my bluff and pulled the whole thread! In case anyone thinks that it means that I am spitting my dummy out and walking away like a big kid, let me explain the following points:

1. I have very limited time to post and type on the internet. Thankfully I have the pleasure and privilege of a small following of people who like to read my things or watch or listen to my multimedia outputs, and so I have the impetus always to continue. Even on How-To-Learn-Any-Language.com I enjoyed the privelege of popularity – not that many posters have received over 1,5 times the votes compared to the posts they have made. Many people have more than the 139 votes I received, but these are folk who usually have hundreds of posts and not just 87.  If it were not for the fact that I know many people like to follow what I do, at some times of year it would all stop as I get just too busy.

2. Because of the above, I don’t have time to write everywhere. A post in one place means less time for a post in another place. I have  obviously my own places like here or my YouTube channel or quoracy.com and there I can publish without fear or worry that someone will censor me and not let me say what I want. On YT there is a problem with the use of music, but it’s a known issue connected with the fact that the people who define themselves as “the music industry” (rather than “the recordings mafia”, which was seen as a less popular choice in their midst) have failed to revise their business model to take account of technology. It will pass. Other than that, and other the fact that if my videos remind people about the Shoah they also get pulled as “inappropriate”, usually because of flagging by wasabists, or whatever those horse-radish-flavoured Islamists are called, I get to enjoy relative freedom of speech. Given my lack of time, I can’t afford to write in places where it could be taken down.

3. In my case, I always accord freedom to people, and expect the same in return. I don’t tend to block or reject comments on my blogs and films unless they are spam. Spam has to be cleared away because it is just verbal litter dropped by thoughtless hooligans, whereas anyone who – even if they are advertising themselves – actually think about and respond to the content, then I don’t treat them as spam, and I let them have their say – if it is wicked or foolish I will probably tell them so, but both comments will stand. If someone wants a verbal fight with me, then they can have it. They don’t get told to shut up, netcopped, blocked or anything like that just for insulting me. In my list of blocked users there is literal For insulting guests on my channel who could possibly be hurt by it, they do get told to shut up and then blocked if they won’t, and those comments could be deleted, and the other circumstances could be comments that are illegal, in which case it’ll probably be YT deleting and not even me. So I don’t practice heavy-handed moderation and expect the same courtesy in return.

So given the above, I decided to stop posting over there any more, and also not to renew my Pro-member status, as I don’t see that I need to financially support a site if it saw fit to moderate me heavy-handedly.

That doesn’t mean I won’t read over there, but the writing by me will be focussed on my own places. Writing that I have done over there in the past will be brought over here since I control it. I don’t trust places with heavy-handed moderators to keep up things which I have written, whereas here I know they’ll be safe. So I am in the process of copying some of the main things I did over there over here too to keep them safe. I am not deleting them over there myself, but I am adding them here so that they will still be available after How-To-Learn-Any-Language.com’s forum has moderated itself into oblivion.

At the current time that is unlikely to happen. Traffic here according to Alexa.com had it’s all time peak in the middle of February and it is one of the top 52,000 sites in the world, which is quite a success for a specific interest site. Probably this success has got to the moderators’ heads now and they are forgetting that it’s the providers of content who enabled this to take place. They think they can afford to be cavalier with people writing in the forum. They should take heed to what happened to many forums before them. Look at the Tommy Boyd forum today – people got upset at the moderation there and the forum virtually went from a thriving community to an empty shell.

Anyway, here I quote two posts in the thread about whether older Germanic languages would have been mutually intelligible, bringing in Gothic as it had been missed in the debate so far:

Particularly beautiful is Gothic, which unfortunately doesn’t even feature in the list of languages we can place on our profiles here. I devoured Wright’s grammar and the Wulfila translation of St.Mark’s Gospel while at University. Whilst the Minnesang of MHG and the Sagas of ON or Caedmon’s Hymn in OE all have an amazing beauty, in my opinion they are all outclassed by what little we have of this mysterious language, borne by a people who conquered and placed their names on many nations, but who, in the process, sacrificed for reasons we cannot tell their beautiful language.

And then a little later, in response to Iversen – whom I greatly respect as a great linguist and all round decent human being:

Iversen wrote:

I have not worked much on Gothic, but it certainly is an interesting language. Considering the impact the Goths (both Ostro- and Visi-) have had in world history for a short while 1500 years ago it would be a pity if we didn’t have at least one good source for knowledge about their language – just as it {is a pity that we don’t have any worthwhile Gaulish or Iberian sources, and that we can’t understand those we have from the Etruscans.But luckily much of bishop (W)ulfila’s bible translation has survived, and it can be read in a trilingual version here. The beginning of Luke in Gothic, with the English version of King James and a Greek version added, runs as follows:- Unte raihtis managai dugunnun meljan insaht bi þos gafullaweisidons in uns waihtins,
— Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
— ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων,- swaswe anafulhun unsis þaiei fram frumistin silbasiunjos jah andbahtos wesun þis waurdis;
— Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
— καθὼς παρέδοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου,

etc.

Frankly this is difficult to read even with a translation (or two), and as far as I can see the Gothic and English texts are not parallel, and neither one is a parallel version of the Greek one (which can’t be the original Koiné version – not enough diacritics!). If anything the Gothic versions seems to be closer to the Greek one, which again must be fairly close to the original text from Septuaginta.

The same thing in the Latin rendering known as Vulgata (Clementina) and in Luther’s German version from 1545 (both quoted from Lexilogos:

Quoniam quidem multi conati sunt ordinare narrationem, quæ in nobis completæ sunt, rerum
sicut tradiderunt nobis, qui ab initio ipsi viderunt, et ministri fuerunt sermonis :

Sintemal sich’s viele unterwunden haben, zu stellen die Rede von den Geschichten, so unter uns ergangen sind,       
uns das gegeben haben, die es von Anfang selbst gesehen und Diener des Worts gewesen sind:       

Firstly I would just say that it is faithful to the Textus Receptus in Greek. I checked it against mine which is a Macmillen from London printed in 1873 – it doesn’t contain a word of English, what’s not in Greek is in Latin! In my opinion there should not be more diacritics in Koine than one per word if it is not a monosyllable, showing where the accent is, plus breathings if it starts in a vowel, plus iota subscript if it’s a dative. But that’s probably just my amateurish understanding of it. Suffice it to say that this passage matches the print version diacritic for diacritic.

Then secondly the Gothic maps the Greek to my mind rather more closely than the English one does. You can certainly see an attempt in the English to change the word order to suit natural English speech. For example, in the first verse “those things which are most most surely believed among is” – the “things” is at the end of the verse in Greek and in Gothic, and way up in the sentence in the King James. Also the King James team made a howler in the translation of “most surely believed” among us. That is almost certainly an error. The Vulgate and the Gothic talk about things having been “fulfilled” or “completed”, not “believed”. Also, the very next verse says that among them there are eyewitnesses to these things – and if you’re an eyewitness you don’t “believe” something – you *know* it. A second example of this word order is the position of the word “were” in verse 2 in each of the versions. So in fact the Gothic shows itself to be a much closer mapping to the Greek. And that goes on and on throughout everything in the Wulfila codex.

Even the way the letters are combined to make the sounds – allowing for the fact that this anyway is a transcription from an alphabet used by Wulfila which was a good deal closer to the Greek one anyway – the use of “gg” for “ng”, the use of diphthongs to produce analagous sounds to the ones emerging in post classical Greek for the same diphthongs – these all betray how strongly influenced Wulfila was by his desire to make his translation as faithful as it could be.

Impressive though this may be from a theological perspective, (not that I am greatly impressed with the tendency to Arianism that the East Germanic tribes had – no pun intended) it still leaves the question open as to whether we have a natural Gothic record here at all, or rather an attempt to map Gothic onto a foreign scheme. Still, by looking at the sounds and the structure of the Gothic we certainly do receive an echo of the language. I believe one can feel the sound of it from Wulfila’s work and the scholarly analysis of it such as there is that one could make a reasonable fist of pronouncing it and that a Goth from the time it was set down, if he emerged today from a coma and could remember and speak to us, would recognise the language as his own to a certain degree. I have heard Professor Arguilles reading of part of Mark in YouTube and his way of pronouncing it is broadly similar to the way I did it 24 years ago when I taped it and heard it back repeatedly in order to learn it. It’s anyone’s guess, of course, how it really sounded, but it’s also interesting when people’s guesses corroborate one another closely.

It was interesting to listen to the Latin envisaged by the makers of the film “The Passion of the Christ” – it sounded to me as if it were spoken by Romanians or Moldavians, but who can say how it sounded in reality?

And then in a later part of the thread, I wrote:

Wise owl chick wrote:

Iversen wrote:

Like th in ‘think’. In Icelandic it is called thorn

Thank you. It’s interesting that Gothic had this sound but of the Germanic languages, only English and Icelandic have this now. Greek and Spanish have it also. What’s the connection, and why the other languages haven’t this sound more?

There was a th to d shift in German. Martin Luther should have actually been called “Luder”, but as that was not befitting to a theologian of his stature, his ancestors didn’t join in that sound-shift. There was an opt-out clause if the result gave you a rude sounding name, you see. That is probably why it got retained just about everywhere in Icelandic and English, come to think of it…

In all honesty I think the reason it was one of the first to be dropped in languages was that the sound is not economical. It needs the tongue to move further forward in the mouth than other consonants. Also th in English is problematic – some people voice it in words that other people would leave it unvoiced. The British, I mean those of us who can be bovvered to make a “th” sound at all, say “with” with a voiced th. Americans can often be heard to pronounce the word with an unvoiced “th”. And then there is the problem that within England alone those who find “th” a trouble to pronounce do default to a variety of replacement letters. I heard people defaulting th to d, in accordance with Old Germanic tradition, and was very proud of them. But many default th unvoiced to f, not t. The Irish and I think Liverpool defaults the unvoiced sound to ‘t’, but Savvern Inglish, especially Saaf Landen, does an ‘f’ for unvoiced and by analogy a ‘v’ for voiced ‘th’. (And we still don’t have our own Wikipedia language, which is a bleedin disgrace, Jimbo moy san).

Let me give an example – some years back when regulation of the high-cost information telephone lines was just getting under way, adverts for info lines had to show you the country you would be ringing to. One advert said “Calls terminate in Tuvalu”. One of my colleagues speaking Saaf Landen read this out, and another one laughed, thinking he had said that the calls terminated “into the loo”, that is, the toilet.

(No disrespect intended to that island nation. In fact, I have a .tv domain myself. Pluggy-pluggy-plug.)

The argument that “th” is dropped because it is less economical to pronounce can be backed up by looking at how the equivalent to “th” unvoiced aspirate in the dental group in the other groups are fairing. In the labial group (no porn intended) the ‘f’ is dropped from most Slavic languages, except in loan words. Its popularity in Germanic is all down to the First Sound Shift, a linguistic event that is grimm to look into. The “ch” in the velar group as in “Loch” is barely used in English and most Germanic languages have demoted it to simple h in many cases, and of course even simple ‘h’ is regularly dropped in many English dialects. ‘sh’ in the sibilant group has been reduced or dropped in a number of languages also. It is not easy to find in Greek, for instance. Unvoiced aspirates have a hard time in the human mouth, you can’t be in denial about it. Even the well-worn joke about denial being not just a river in Africa refers back to what I’m talking about.

The one conundrum is why Castillian Spanish, in its European version, actually prought in a “th” sound, which we have admitted is a hard one to keep going, into the language, admittedly though not in the same place, but as a lisped version of ‘c’ and ‘z’. One benefit it has there, of course, is to facilitate diferenciacion between ‘c/z’ and ‘s’which is not audible in Latin American Spanish. I have no idea what impact that has on the frecuencia of espelling miztakes in that part of the world, perhaps someone here can enlighten me. One answer I heard was that it was a feature of aristocratic speech to lisp, and that people copied it to show how genteel (as in ‘inbred’) they were. I do give this theory some credence as there are parallels elsewhere – it puts me in mind of when the court was at St Petersburg and it became fashionable to adapt the style of that court, which in addition to ‘okanie’ happened to include an inability to roll one’s ‘r’s for the camera, and also the same lisp on ‘s’. Today there is a tendency in so-called “World Spanish” to lose the ‘th’, and the Russian courtly lisp was put paid to rather more rapidly by the revolutsia. Anyone going around talking in courtly accents during that epic upheaval would be taking an unnethethary rithk.

In English the lisp became associated in the twentieth century and possibly earlier with camp speech, with all the TV sitcoms which showed stereotyped homosexuals having them lisping, which wasn’t very nice for people who lisped because they couldn’t help it, although it may well be some new friendships started that way for some people, who wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to them.

In case you are wondering on what basis I am positing that lisping only became relatively recently associated with homosexual speech in English, let me tell you what evidence I have – if you look up the popular hymn “O worship the King, all glorious above” by Sir Robert Grant (1785-1838) you will find that the original hymn has the following final verse:

“O measureless Might! Ineffable Love!     
While angels delight to hymn thee above,     
The humber creation, though feeble their lays,     
With true adoration shall lisp to thy praise.”

In post-war hymnals this was often replaced with “… sing to thy praise”. Interesting that they felt no need to update the archaic “thy” but couldn’t handle any more the idea of “lisping” at God! You will find both versions in abundance in search engines, as well as an entirely modernised “you/your” version with a theologically modified version of the last verse here.

In Germany today there seems to be a tremendous amount of lisping going on, and nobody feels that they need to draw attention to it, neither does it seem to go hand in hand with campness, so it seems perfectly in Ordnung to hear “Sie sind so sauer” as if they were saying in English “Thee thinned though thou-a”, and not a rainbow flag or an earring in sight. So, maybe the sound is actually returning to German, just in a different place. As long as no-one calls Martin Luther “Martin Loser” when the trend inevitably reverses again in the future, then why not?

About David J. James

48 year old accountant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written discussion. Conservative Christian, married to an angel, we have three kiddiwinkies, and live in Warsaw, Poland. I also work in Prague, Czech Republic and Bratislava, Slovakia.

Posted on March 20, 2011, in Auf Deutsch, Blog only, Languages and Linguistics, My posts on other fora/blogs and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’m very sorry that you felt you had to leave HTLAL Viktor/ Davey/ David.

    We need the input of independent-minded people like your good self.

    I put in a good word for you / about you, whenever I feel that it is needed, or really, just whenever I feel like it.

    I don’t always agree with you, but I know that you are a very good person, and also, a highly talented linguist.

    You are probably busy enough with your family, your own website, and your career, that you can do without HTLAL. (But can they / we do without you? That is the question).

    Best Wishes,

    Mike Ellwood aka Montmorency

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  2. Way too many people have left HTLAL.

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    • Moderation kills fora. Whenever I’m in charge of something, I tend to let people have their say, and tend to expect the same courtesy from others. I am not a child and also there are in fact plenty of valued subscribers following what I do have to say on plenty of other places. If I cannot speak to people elsewhere without incursions by heavy-handed moderators, I may as well stick to my own places where I can say what I like and the little time I have for sharing thoughts with those who care to read or listen won’t be wasted by people removing my posts!

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  3. Mr. Huliganov, I’m glad to know that you are also infatuated with HTLAL’s dictators, oops, moderators. I was censured as well, since I insinuated that “Benny the Irish Polyglot”, some very smart guy who sells a “Language Hacking Guide” for $67 through a PayPal link and claims to speak brazilian portuguese with a native Rio accent, is a complete fraud. Now I’m searching if there is some alternative language forum elsewhere, but I suspect I will prefer to spend my time with my vintage Assimil books for a while. Meanwhile, I would love to check your useful blog, if you don’t mind.

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    • You’re extremely welcome here, and I tend to try to let people have their say. If I don’t agree I might give the reasons why I don’t, but it has to be a pretty extreme case (except for spam which deserves no respect at all) for me to kick off or edit someone’s contribution. I simply believe in freedom of speech.

      As you will see there’s nothing for sale here, it’s all free. There is a way to get a benefit for me by buying amazon books through my astore, but that is not really being pushed hard and I would not want anyone to do it if it meant spending more than they could spend to get the same material.

      I told people on HTLAL that I was no longer contributing, but that didn’t stop them taking my credit card for another year either. Really shocking behaviour. Still, one or two good things I had from people on there, which I won’t detract from, but the same people are free to be on whatever forum suits them. Anyone wishing to start discussions or engage in discussions on any of these articles is more than welcome. Of course it doesn’t quite work in the way a BB or proper discussion forum does, where all users can set up new topics and where the more recently discussed is automatically at the top, but for WordPress account holders you can follow your debates quite well and you can also insert media, etc, into your relies if you know a modicum of the reduced mark-up language that it uses.

      The more people who are willing to come and chat, with me and with each other, the more this could be an alternative to there, but there are also the following other alternative discussion places that I’m offering:

      – a group on Linked In called “Linguists and Polyglots” – still embryonic after 1 year but could pick up at any time when it reaches critical mass of people willing to take part in discussions

      – a google group called “Huliganov and friends” – once I approve then there is freedom of discussion, but it specifically relates to Russian. I don’t mind general language learning threads appearing, and I dare say there’s rooms there for threads dedicated to other languages too if people want.

      – a facebook group called “Huliganov’s Lessons Really Work” which has quite a few people and I took over the modding of that after the initial creator left Facebook, but to be frank I don’t really get FB and how those pages and groups work on that.

      People are welcome to join any or all of these, and in all of them the same pro-freedom modding policies exist, as on here.

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    • Depending on what way you think he is fraudulent in, maybe you will find his Mandarin mission interesting. http://www.fluentin3months.com/mandarin-mission/

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