Wednesday, 22 February 2017

hard sounds softening

State of Decay episode 2.

Doctor: Have you heard of the brothers Grimm?
Romana: This is no time for fairy tales.
Doctor: They discovered the law of consonantal shift, how language changes over the years.
Romana: You mean the hard sounds softening, Bs becoming Vs and so on?

Romana then repeats the names of the three officers who have changed into vampires, mimicking how they might have changed over the centuries into their present forms:

Sharkey - Zargo
MacMillan - Camilla
O'Connor - Aukon

This was my first exposure to historical linguistics. Pretty much everything the Doctor and Romana say about Grimm's law is wrong, but the general idea that we can study sound change got through to me. To my knowledge Grimm's law was the first time a set of regular sound changes was described. The law describes the phonological changes that happened to some Proto-Indo-European sounds in Proto-Germanic. It was discovered independently by German philologist Johann Jakob Grimm and Danish philologist Rasmus Kristian Rask.

Here are some examples of Grimm's Law. I've included some non-Germanic cognates for comparison. I'm not assigning any phonetic values to the Proto-Germanic sounds (*þ, *ǥ, *đ etc), but you can see how the sounds changed in the Germanic languages: *p to /f/, *t to /θ/, *k to /h/, and so on.

This information is from the IEW and the AHD.

Proto-Indo-European *p -> Proto-Germanic *f
*peth₂- "to open wide (the arms)"
English fathom
Latin pandō "to open"

Proto-Indo-European *t -> Proto-Germanic *þ
*terh₂- "to cross over"
English through
Latin trāns "across"

Proto-Indo-European *k and *ḱ -> Proto-Germanic *χ
*kap-ut- "head"
English head
Latin caput "head"

Proto-Indo-European *kʷ -> Proto-Germanic *χw
*kʷeih₁- "to rest, be quiet"
English while
Latin quiēs "quiet"

Proto-Indo-European *d -> Proto-Germanic *t
*dwo- "two"
English two
Latin duo

Proto-Indo-European *g and *ǵ -> Proto-Germanic *k
*ǵenh₁- "to give birth"
English king
Latin genus "race"

Proto-Indo-European *gʷ -> Proto-Germanic *kw
*gʷen- "woman"
English queen
Greek gunē "woman"

Proto-Indo-European *bh -> Proto-Germanic *ƀ
*bheuH- "to be, grow"
English be
Old Indic bhūtáḥ "become, being"

Proto-Indo-European *dh -> Proto-Germanic *đ
*dheh₁- "to put, place, stay"
English do
Sanskrit dhā "to put, place"

Proto-Indo-European *gh and *ǵh -> Proto-Germanic *ǥ
*ǵhel- "to shine"
German gelb "yellow"
Greek khlōros "greenish-yellow"

Proto-Indo-European *gʷh -> Proto-Germanic *ƀ or *ǥ
*gʷhen- "to strike, kill"
English bane
Sanskrit hánti "to strike"

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