An update on the Late Latin, “Cattus/Gattus.”

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An update on the Late Latin, “Cattus/Gattus.” 

As you may recall, I mentioned that Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis–March 1, 40 CE-ca. 102/104 CE), the original Insult Comic, according to Wikipedia (and I think it’s a good call), is credited with the first use of a form of the word “cattus” around 75 CE. I finally tracked it down. It is from his Epigram 13.69, and also, surprisingly, from the Jerome & Company Vulgate translation of the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures completed under Ptolemy II in Alexandria) text of Baruch 6:21 (in Catholic Bibles). Chapter 6 is known as the Letter of Jeremiah in Orthodox Christian Bibles and is printed separately. There is no surviving manuscript evidence that either has a Hebrew antecedent; however, some scholars theorize that the differences between the Greek Septuagint and the Hebrew Masoretic Text stem from the use of different Hebrew source-texts. Some passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to indicate that there were variant Hebrew texts in existence.

Cattus in Martial

Martial’s Epigram 13.69 reads as follows:


Pannonicas nobis numquam dedit Vmbria cattas:
mavult haec domino mittere dona Pudens.

Umbria has never supplied us with Pannonian [Cattae]:
these are the gifts Pudens prefers to send to his lord.

Apparently Martial was ticked off that his friend the Centurion Aulus Pudens (from Umbria) never sent him any Pannonian Cattae, but rather sent these directly to the Emperor.

(In some manuscripts, cattae and cattas are transmitted as caltae and caltas.)

Now “here’s the rub.” No classical scholar knows what catta was in 75 CE! There are theories that it is an unknown species of bird. The fundamental Latin Dictionary by Lewis and Short defines it as that. In 1931 John Phelps argued for that theory based on his reading of the 4th Century Latin Vulgate’s translation of Baruch 6:21.

Cattus in Baruch

Let’s look at the Latin Vulgate (=people’s) translation from the late 4th Century CE. The Greek of the Septuagint, followed by the Latin, and then English is

ἐπὶ τὸ σῶμα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῶν ἐφίπτανται νυκτερίδες, χελιδόνες καὶ τὰ ὄρνεα, ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ οἱ αἴλουροι.

Supra corpus eorum et supra caput eorum volant noctuæ, et hirundines, et aves etiam similiter et cattæ.

Owls, and swallows, and other birds fly upon their bodies, and upon their heads, and cats in like manner.

The only problem with Phelps’ theory is that the Greek αἴλουροι really means “Domestic Cats.” There was even a Non-Chalcedonian Pope of Alexandria in the 5th century known as Timothy Aelurus (Αἴλουρος), Timothy the Cat.

In the absence of an original Hebrew text to compare the Septuagint version with, we are hard pressed to come to any other conclusion. Cattus/Catta seems to mean “cat.”

If anyone out there knows if Pannonia was known for its cats, please comment!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Dog Language…Some Quick Thoughts

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Dog Language…Some Quick Thoughts

Of course, my boss Angus had several things to say about my most recent post!

This is fodder for several more posts, and I really encourage readers to let us know their experiences.

Dog Speak

Researchers have cataloged the fairly large number of different kinds of Dog Barks. We’ll take another post to talk about how human world languages represent these barks. Right now, I am interested in the dog side.

Dog Barks

The major types of Barks are

Warning Bark

Alarm Bark

Barking on Command

Playful Bark

Need Bark

I can testify that Angus has several variants on this repertoire. My boyhood Ridgeback Rex Dino Armstrong had a very specific, staccato, “Scorpion in the House” Bark. He was fearless! He was a great dog for a kid to walk around the neighborhood with. He was gentle (praus in Greek…we’ll have a whole post on that adjective one of these days), but who’s going to mess with a boy or girl walking with her/his Rhodesian Ridgeback West African Lion Hound‽ (Do you recognize that punctuation mark? A Free first Latin lesson for the first five who identify it!)

Please, let us all know what kinds of Barks your dog has! If you have another animal companion, let us know what she/he sounds like!

We can then compile this into a Post. I’m not sure that dogs have gerunds, phrasal verbs, predicate compliments, etc. Someday we’ll know.

What We Say: What Dogs Hear!

Gary Larson highlighted this phenomenon in his famous Far Side Comic:


© Gary Larson. Used for commentary purposes only.

You know, we find that Angus has a wider vocabulary. He certainly knows his name, but he also knows “Park” (we live next to Golden Gate Park, which he considers “Angus-Land”), “Let’s Go!” “Treat,” “Biscuit,” and even “Bath” (which he doesn’t like), and a few more. His ears go up, and he responds appropriately to these stimuli. I don’t know if he is reading our minds, or listening to our intonation, or what, but it is pretty consistent.

I would love to have our readers compile the human terms that your animal companions respond to. I mean, if plants can respond to harsh or pleasant talk, shouldn’t animals? My correspondents such as Rev. Martha Del Rio in Sacramento always remind me: animals are perfect in themselves, and have everything they need to be fulfilled. Please comment.


Angus on his Throne Pillows!

That’s all for tonight, but please contribute, here and on our sites. As I was writing this, Angus came up for a chin rub. He knew I was writing about him!

Peace to all!

Steven Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Cats and Dogs

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Cats and Dogs: Our Ancient Friends

In response to my last entry, one of my Yale ’76 classmates, Stephanie Wald, posed a very interesting question: what is the relationship, if any between Cat, Late Latin Gattulus, and the Hebrew Khatool (חתול). Thank you Stephanie for this great question.

Of course, although I like cats a lot, I have always been a dog person. Happily today, I am owned by a wonderful Skye Terrier, Angus (see photo below). In the past, I’ve been a human of a Cocker Spaniel and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I say this because, when Angus and I go out for a walk, I carry little bags to pick up after him, not he for me. So who’s in charge? LOL. I think that when extra-terrestrials visit, they will call this the Canine-Human planet. Therefore I broadened my inquiry into Dogs as well as Cats.

To present my cat credentials, I must tell you about my experience of tutoring a 2011 USF grad who needed to learn Latin for a European Mediaeval graduate program she wanted to enter. Each time we met, one of their two cats came right up and sat right on the page of Wheelock that we were studying. The only way to dissuade her was for me to cuddle her and purr, while we were doing declensions, conjugations, and the like. Happily we did well and my student got into the prestigious program she wanted to. I miss that cat!

So here are the results of my research. I am far from a Hebrew scholar, and Stephanie is a life-long linguist, so this is just fun for me, learning new things.

Cats Across Language Groups


Cat Coffin from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose, CA. Photo (c) 2012 Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

As many may know it is difficult to connect words across language groups, and one would need to find a “smoking gun” for borrowing or assimilation. His rebus dictis (these things having been said), Cattus (Gattus) / Catta (Gatta) is first attested in the 4th Century CE in Latin.The conflation of C and G in Latin is perfectly natural. In Archaic Latin, the letter “C” (the western version of the Greek gamma Γ, γ) represented the sound of both hard C (cat) and hard G (Caius = Gaius). By the 3rd Century BCE, a new letter “G,” clearly a C with a horizontal stroke on the lower lip replaces the Latin Z, which is not needed for native Latin words. The original alphabet was ABCDEFZH… Now it was ABCDEFGH… Later, Y and Z (the Greek Upsilon Υ,υ and Zeta Ζ, ζ would be added back in at the end of the alphabet to use with words imported from Greek. Still today, Y is i-griega in Spanish and i-grec in French = Greek i… humans have long memories!). Latin, especially in the people’s Latin, Vulgar Latin (no nastiness intended, vulgus = popular), C and G often interchanged. The Latin suffix -ulus is a diminutive, and so Cattulus would roughly be “kitty.”

Cattus vs Feles

But where does this Cattus come from? The cultured, upper-class Latin for cat is “feles.” Pretty different! At first glance it appears to be a borrow word from the Afro-Asiatic family of languages (including Late Egyptian čaute): Semitic languages are part of this language family. The Hebrew words are: a male cat = khatool (חתול); a female cat = khatoolah (חתולה). Seeחתול.

As for names of Cats in Ancient Egypt, they usually kept those to themselves (names have power), and were just called, Ta-Mieuw, or “The Meower.”

Since the Romans and the Jewish community had many points of contact, including Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome, prosopograpy would tell us that there is certainly the opportunity for cross over, so that by the 4th Century, the classical Feles (cat) is supplemented by Cattus/Gattus.

Some assert that Martial used cattus in his epigrams, but I have not been able to find the passage yet. And I wonder if the Roman cognomen Catullus / Catulus is related to cattus? Whether or not this borrowing came through Hebrew, Egyptian or in some other way, I do not know. After all, Egypt is certainly the land of cats!

Now all this would be fine; however we have to also take account of the (Proto-)Indo-European roots for “cat.” It turns out there are two: *bʰel- (wildcat) and katta (cat). Feles (classical) is descended from the first, while cattus/gattus (Late Latin, and Vulgar Latin –> Medieval Latin: is arguably cognate with the second.

With such similar sounding roots for cat in the Indo-European family and the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, it is tempting to suggest that the root for cat is evidence for the theoretical Proto-Human language from our species’ origins in Africa, This is far deeper than I can go, however; nevertheless, it appears that cats have been with us for a very long time.

Our English words come from both roots. As we have seen, English (as well as several other IE languages) does not so much choose between one or the other…why not use both?

Cat is clearly from the ancestor of the PIE root katta and similar Afro-Asiatic root, possibly from African Proto-Human. Our more fancy word, feline, is from the PIE *bʰel via Latin. French has chat and félin, Spanish has gatto and felino.

So to answer Stephanie’s question, it certainly looks like all of these Cat terms are related, and arguably go back a VERY long time. After all, we are all “Out of Africa,” the Mother Continent of modern humanity (at least as far as we can tell now).



Angus, the One Who Must Be Obeyed!

The history of our words for dogs is a bit different, but exhibits some similarities. As they say in Southeast Asia: “Same, same, but Different!”

In English, not surprisingly, we have at least several Dog words: Dog, Canine, Hound. Let’s look at these.

Dog comes from our Germanic language heritage, as Wiktionary says:

Middle English dogge, from Old English docga (“hound, powerful breed of dog”), a pet-form diminutive of Old English -docce (“muscle”). More at dock. In the 16th century, it superseded Old English hund and was adopted by many continental European languages.”

My dog-master Angus would certainly like that…Muscular Breed of Hound!

Then there’s the English/French/Italian Canine, from the Latin Canis, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ḱwṓ. Cognates include Ancient Greek κύων (kuōn), and Sanskrit श्वन् (śván).

We also have Hound, cognate with the German Hund. This is from the Old English hund. Hound has this suggested etymology:

Proto-Germanic *hundaz, from Proto-Indo-European *ḱʷn̥tós, derived from Proto-Indo-European *ḱʷōn (“dog”).  The K sound morphs into the H sound. In many languages, including English, K is sometimes aspirated (a voiceless plositive for those who are following along in their linguistics textbooks), especially when it starts the word, or the stressed syllable. For example, say the name of Barbie’s friend “Ken,” which we actually pronounce as Khen. To simplify it, there is an expulsion of air after the K sound here, and there is not when it is in an unstressed syllable, say for example, “chicken.” We don’t say chi-khen, just chi-ken. (Be patient, the IPA will be introduced in a few weeks. It makes everything much clearer!)

So Canine and Hound actually come from the same PIE root! As Mr. Burns would say, “Release the *ḱwónn̥s (PIE accusative plural of hound)!” I’m pretty sure he is old enough that he spoke PIE before matriculating at Yale. At least I suspect Bart and Homer think so…!

But where did the Spanish perro come from? It may surprise Spanish speakers, but the original Spanish word for dog is Can obviously from the Latin Canis. Nobody actually has figured out where perro comes from. One speculation is that it might be an originally pejorative word associated with how one calls dogs. We can compare this with the Galician apurrar (“set the dogs on”).

Now let’s turn to our neighboring language group, the Afro-Asiatic, with which our languages have had so much interaction over the millennia. Dog is a little different:

Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *kar-/*kayar-
Meaning: dog

Semitic: *wakar- ‘fox’

Western Chadic: *kyara-

Central Chadic: *kur-/*kir-

Saho-Afar: *kar- ‘dog’

Low East Cushitic: *kayir- ‘dog’

Warazi (Dullay): *kaHar- ‘dog’

South Cushitic: *ta-kur- ‘bat-eared fox’ 1, ‘wild dog’ 2

Dogs in Ancient Egypt were called  iwiw (probably from their bark, and had some wonderful names: Brave One, Reliable, Good Herdsman, North-Wind, Antelope, Useless (!), Blacky, the Fifth.

Some of the Afro-Asiatic roots seem to be at least a bit similar to the PIE *ḱʷōn, but I am not expert enough to compare them. Perhaps someone can comment on these roots.

In Egypt, there is evidence of domesticated dogs approximately 6,000 years ago, as too with cats. The evidence for worldwide domestication of dogs goes back a lot further. The latest evidence suggests that dogs and wolves split about 100,000 years ago, and the earliest evidence of domesticated dogs is about 30,000 years old. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that those dogs survived the Last Glacial Maximum, and our dogs today seem to be descended from the ones who domesticated us (LOL) about 15,000 years ago.

To speculate, I would not be at all surprised to learn (from the Extra-Terrestrials who have been watching our planet since it coalesced) that about 2.3-2.4 million years ago, when Homo Habilis first differentiated itself from the australopithecines, the proto-dogs took one look and said, “This is very promising. We’re gonna work with these new guys, and make sure they succeed. We’ll get them to feed us and clean up after us! What a deal!” Cats, on the other hand, waited to see how the Dog experiment worked out. The genetic evidence suggests that all our house cats come from five African Wildcats from 8000 BCE. They must have been the brave five who decided the Dogs had succeeded, and then they got worshipped in Egypt. What a deal!

(I know this is all so anthropomorphic, but when the  Alpha-Centaurans (or Stargate’s Asgard) tell us the real history of our planet, I suspect animal intelligence is going to play a huge part!)

So cats and dogs have been with us a long time. We are lucky!

For future work, think of all the words about them we haven’t explored: kittens, puppies, Arf, Bark, Meeow, etc.! There’s always more to discover.

Go hug your pet!


Steven ArmstrongTutor, Editor, Consultant

Gloriously Wacky English! Part 1: Spelling and Pronunciation


Gloriously Wacky English! Part 1: Spelling and Pronunciation

This is the first of (at least) two essays on the strangeness of English spelling and pronunciation on the one hand, and grammar and usage on the other. It would only be a matter for linguists to ponder, if English were not such a world phenomenon today.

A good way to distinguish between the two problem areas is through two anecdotes:

To symbolize the issue of English’s highly irregular spelling and pronunciation, we can recall the quip usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but actually from William Ollier Jr. in 1855: that the word “fish” should be spelled “ghoti”: gh from tough, o from women, and ti from nation.

On the other hand, the seemingly strange syntax and grammar of English can be represented by this humorous statement purportedly from Winston Churchill. Apparently, someone was demanding that the common grammatical rule against ending sentences with prepositions should be emphasized. The Prime Minister is said to have replied, facetiously, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

Today we will begin the exploration symbolized by Ghoti: Spelling vs Pronunciation. But first, why should we care?

As we move through the second decade of the 21st Century, English is the most widely dispersed language in the world, and third in number of native speakers as of 1999, behind Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is the lingua franca of a number of fields worldwide, and is steadily growing as a second or third language for learners.

Lingua Franca

A Lingua Franca is a bridge language used to facilitate communication when parties do not speak one another’s languages. Historically the term is Latin for “Frankish Language,” although it was originally an amalgam of Italian (80%), Turkish, French, Greek, Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish used in the Eastern Mediterranean for trade and other purposes around the time of the Italian Renaissance. It lasted until the 19th Century in some places.

It may seem strange that it was called “Frankish (French) Language,” when French did not make up the majority of its vocabulary. Due to the dominance of France and other Frankish-related kingdoms in Western Europe during the western Middle Ages and Renaissance, and particularly after the Crusades began, many in Eastern Europe, the Roman Empire (then centered in Constantinople) and the Muslim world referred to all Western Europeans as Franks. A few examples include the Greek Φράγκοι, Frangoi, still used on some of the Greek isles to refer to Roman Catholics, the Arabic al-Faranj, Farsi farangi, all meaning Western European Christians. Even as far away as Thailand, ฝรั่ง Farang, means European foreigner, as travelers to Thailand know so well. Derivatives are widely used to refer to foreign foods, etc. In India today, Feringhi refers to foreigners.

The Farsi ستان Frangistan was used to designate Western Europe and Latin Christians in general in the Middle East, while the Arabic  الرُّومُ ar-Rūm, referred to the citizens of the Roman Empire (which continued in the East until the Fall of Rome (on Tuesday May 29, 1453 at about 2pm in the afternoon–not that we Easterners have long memories!) and Orthodox Christians. Still today in Arabic, Rūm Ortodox refers to Greek Orthodox Christians, while Rūm Katolik designates Greek Catholics such as Melkites.

The ultimate word on Franks comes–as it so often does–from Star Trek. The space-faring merchants, the Ferengi are probably named after the Western Europeans in their role as traders and merchants. In Modern Greek, φερέγγυος, ferengios means a merchant who is trustworthy. That’s also why in English we say someone who is truthful is being frank.

English Spelling and Punctuation

Now that we have voyaged around the world with Western European traders, let’s get back to the subject at hand. For this huge lingua franca we call English, spelling and pronunciation are a real problem. Just ask any ESL student! We have to take years to train our own children in the intricacies of English spelling. It is so difficult we have contests–Spelling Bees–to reward the best of our youth at this skill. Although spelling bees do exist outside of English and French speaking nations, they are much more rare where the language is pronounced phonetically on a regular basis. (French shares the heritage of weird spellings with English, and as we will see, there is a reason for that.)

To begin at the beginning, English is a West Germanic language, ultimately descending from Proto-Indo-European, through Anglo-Saxon, and by the 8th-11th Centuries, the Late West Saxon dialect came to dominance, and it is in this dialect that the epic poem Beowulf was written. The Late West Saxon dialect of English gradually became standardized, centering around Winchester, the seat of the English Kings. The use of this form of English as an official and standard language began to die out after the Norman Conquest in 1066, and was replaced by Latin and Norman French. English was relegated to the countryside, the language of the common people. We’ll explore some of the ramifications of this when we discuss English Grammar and Usage in another essay.

For our purposes here, this confluence of Old English, Medieval and Church Latin, and  Anglo-Norman French began to contribute to part of the problem we are exploring today. English demonstrated its ability to absorb large numbers of new words from other languages, and to incorporate them, making for a very rich number of ways of expressing things and ideas.

There is no universally-agreed upon way of counting how many words a language has in its vocabulary; however, English is usually at or near the top, with, by varying counts, 250,000 to over 1,000,000 words. The process of rapidly assimilating foreign words ramped into high gear during the Anglo-Norman period.

So Many Different Words!

English Vocabulary presents a considerable example of having several synonyms to describe something, due to its blending of word origins. Wikipedia gives several good examples, for instance:

“In English, many synonyms evolved from the parallel use, in the early medieval period, of Norman French (from Latin) and Old English (Anglo-Saxon) words, often with some words being used principally by the Saxon peasantry (“folk”, “freedom”, “bowman”) and their synonyms by the Norman nobility (“people”, “liberty”, “archer”).” English has the richest Thesaurus (Treasury) of any language.

Another well known category is animals/food.

Many of the live animals we eat have their names from Germanic roots, and the food that is the result of their sacrifice is from Latin via Norman French. For example:

Cow Beef

Pig Pork

Chicken Poultry

In this context, I cannot resist telling an old joke I learned in Tecate México in Spanish many years ago. The translation is mine.

A chicken and a pig were taking their afternoon walk. The chicken said, “Hey, this breakfast thing the Norteamericanos have is a great idea…Eggs and Bacon!”

The pig snorted, “Sure, for you, Breakfast is a contribution, for me it’s a complete disaster! (Claro, para tí, el desayuno es una contribución. ¡Para mí, es un desastre total!)” The punch line seems more chistoso in Spanish!

It’s all in your point of view!

This is only one result of English penchant for assimilating foreign words (we really are the Borg of languages!). Of course, this also makes our language so incredibly rich!

How Authentic Should We Be?

There is even an Atlantic divide. British English tends to anglicize the pronunciation of foreign words more decisively, while American English tends to preserve the original pronunciation, even when it violates English phonetics.

In Britain, it is more common to hear “Don Kwikset” as the pronunciation for Cervantes’ hero Don Quixote (Quijote), while in North America, it is pronounced more or less like the Spanish original “Don Keyhote.” (I am not using the International Phonetic Alphabet at the moment, since not everyone is familiar with it. In another essay, I will introduce readers to this indispensable tool, as well as to the Unicode Fonts which make language representation so easy on computers!)

In the same vein, the British say “Don Jewan” for Don Juan, while we say “Don Hwan.” Now I am all in favor of our North American usage in this regard, but during the late 20th Century, it got a little out of control, especially among newscasters, who usually speak “Network Standard,” essentially the flat American accent of St. Louis, MO.

Some newscasters began to exaggerate the foreign pronunciation of, especially Spanish American, place names, so that the usual “Hwatemala” for Guatemala came out as a very guttural “Chwatemalah.”  It sounded like they were getting ready to expectorate. When we have a standard English word for a place, we should use it. We say “Moscow,” not the original “Moscoba,” and “Pair-iss” for Paris, not “Pah-ree.”

In addition, American speakers sometimes suffer from language crossover. Here in San Francisco, there is a street in the Richmond district named Cabrillo, between Anza and Balboa (yes, we have a whole section of alphabetical streets in the Richmond and Sunset Districts).

Since most of us here are familiar with Spanish pronunciation, many people pronounce the street name “Kabriyo.” Unfortunately, Cabillo is the Spanish version of the explorer’s actual name in Portuguese, João Rodrigues Cabrilho, and so the street name should be  pronounced “Kabrillo.” That’s OK, but kids, don’t even try to imitate the real Portuguese pronunciation for Rio de Janeiro: it would be something like “Rhee-oo they Hen-ay-roo.” If you would like to learn Portuguese, it is a wonderful and beautiful language, but we can keep our somewhat anglicized pronunciations. After all, here in North America, we are ultimately practical and utilitarian. In this I stand with Garner’s Modern American Usage, a great work!

Another example of import confusion is the term “Fjord,” which makes no sense in English phonetics. It was originally “Fiord,” but then, since the Nordic spelling is fjǫrðr, we changed. In the English speaking world, only New Zealand holds on to the original English phonetic spelling. After all, Fjord phonetically should be “fha-jord.” English, especially North American English, loves exotic words…they sell cruises!

No One Controls the English Language!

It is not only the importation of non-Germanic words that makes for the confusion. Unlike the French and the Spanish, there is no official regulating body to control English. Personally, I believe that is why English is so wonderfully flexible and so international. Stephen Colbert can invent “Truthiness,” and it sticks! U da Bomb means you are outstanding, and Cool has survived from the 50s for my Baby Boomer Generation, and has been re-appropriated as Kwel. Wow!

English as so many exceptions, the ESL student by now is pulling out her/his hair. There is a rescue. First, I would like to promote the role of Native Speaker Tutors. We can guide you through the intricacies of the most widely dispersed language in the world. If you want to go it alone, Mark Rosenfelder’s 2000 site is a tremendous, if ponderous, resource. I use it all the time. For example, the suffix “-ough” can be pronounced 10 different ways, and Mark explains why.

Another factor influencing English spelling/pronunciation was an old attempt at re-syncing English words with their roots. For example, our current word Debt is pronounced dette. That’s because it is from the Germanic and French Dette. However, Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary intuited that it ultimately came from the Latin Debitum, so he re-spelled the word. Actually, all of these words come from the French and Germanic words without the “b.”

As we had mentioned above, French went through an even more severe re-classicizing period, where the word for son, in Medieval French, fil (filh) was re-Latinized from its origin Filius, and so became Fils, pronounced “Fiss,” against all standard French phonetics.

As Cicero says, “O Tempora, O Mores!” Oh Times, Oh Customs!

Finally, the death blow to the congruity of English Spelling and Pronunciation came with the Dictionaries. First in line was Noah Webster, an American of the best possible motives, and a true patriot, staunchly opposed to Slavery. He had a prodigious knowledge of languages, but lacked our modern understanding of how languages evolve. Therefore, he froze English spelling in a state of disarray, and that is what we inherit todayl Historical spellings abound, such as “Light:” pronounced “Lye-t,” which now has a modern homonym “Lite” (less caloric, less substantial). These are called “Historical Spellings.”  French has them too. So we have Light Bulbs and Lite Beer. Try explaining that to a Mandarin Speaker, or someone from Alpha Centauri.

He was followed by the incredibly eccentric team that created the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive work on the English Language.

So English spelling and pronunciation is a mess, and will continue to be, as spelling reform is not realistic. What is happening, due to texting and other mobile communication, is that we are evolving a shorthand version of English: How R U? Im
Gd. U? But this is based on the original living language. Pidgin English is important, but it must have a basis.

I sincerely hope, and am working daily to make sure that our diversity of languages does not vanish. We need the thought patterns, the approaches and the viewpoints of all human cultures and languages to face the challenges before us, no less than we need to biodiversity of the Amazon and other regions to sustain our lives. Someday, we will encounter a problem that only the thought-processes of Basque or Magyar will resolve. We need all the arrows in our quiver. Meanwhile, English will serve as the Lingua Franca of the 21st Century, with all its worts.

We look forward to the visit of the Vulcans, who will be able to demonstrate to us how Mandarin, English, Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic, Thai, Arabic, Coptic, etc. are all dialects of Human-Speak.

Next: You learned English Grammar in school. Almost everything you learned was wrong. Why is English grammar and syntax so complicated, and why can’t we teach it to our children?

Thank you!