[b-hebrew] Cognate languages - limitations
klriley at alphalink.com.au
Mon Sep 5 07:25:18 EDT 2005
If scholars were using Somali to discover the meaning of Hebrew words you
would have a good analogy - but they aren't. How much closer would the
scholars be if they used Dutch or German to determine the meaning of the
English? That is more analogous to what is done in the field of Semitic
studies. Scholars who count Italian as a close cognate language have more
problems than the meaning of a word or two.
From: Read, James C
Date: 09/05/05 17:39:06
Imagine 2,000 years from now a group of 'scholars' that go about studying
the now dead English language.
They stuble frequently upon the phrase 'what bad education'.
They know that the construct 'what bad' usually indicates an exclamation of
negativity but are not familiar with the
term 'education'. What do they do? They look at the cognate languages!
In the italian language they find the well documented phrase 'che
maleducazione'. Reasoning that educazione is
the cognate partner of education they assume that the meanings are the same.
'Che maleducazione' means something like 'What bad manners!' or 'How rude!'
or something like that. They theorise that English has the same
meaning and go off and check the data. They go off and find many phrases
What bad education standards they have in Herts!
What bad education standards they have in schools these days!
What bad education methods they employ!
Having analysed the data they see that the meaning of 'what bad manners'
fits the context well and apart from one
or two difficult examples they conclude that this is the correct meaning.
Their work gets published and for generations is taught as well accepted
A young student with little experience with English, but good linguistic
instincts comes along and feels that the
accepted view just doesn't feel right. He finds it difficult to reconcile
this idea with the examples where, according to
him, the context demands the idea of 'accademic schooling' to be understood.
He is abruptly laughed out of class
and fails his exams for agreeing with the scholarly concensus which is
firmly based on the majorit of extant
examples and a well attested cognate proof.
Undettered he goes home and takes it upon himself to compare every extant
example of the phrase and to put his
theory to the test. After seeing that his interpretation fits every single
occurence of the phrase and also seems to
throw a clearer light on previously misunderstood examples. Not wanting to
jump the gun he tries to prove his
theory wrong but the more he does so the more his good linguistic instincts
show him that his first instincts were
As a last shot he searches throught the archives of italian literature and
stumbles across an overlooked rosetta
stone. He finds two parrallel newspaper articles talking about the
increasing bad manners of youngsters with
each passing generation. He notices that the term used in the italian
version is 'maleducazione' where English
talks of 'bad manners'. He now feels that he has conclusively gathered
enough evidence to show that the
'scholars' got it wrong.
He tries to publish his work but everyone ignores him. Why??? Because he
didn't get his degree!!! Why didn't he
get his degree??? Because he didn't blindly agree with the 'scholarly'
He decides to publish his work on public forums hoping to get a warmer
welcome and bumps into a well lettered
scholar. The well lettered scholar digs up a paper that comments on the
newspaper articles and puts it down to
idioma in an isolated example and challenges the youngster to prove that it
is not just an isolated example of an
idiom. The youngster insists that he needn't but the 'scholar' retorts
immediately that as he is the one going against
the 'scholarly' concensus the owness of proof is on him. The majority of the
forum is impressed by the 'scholar's'
resourcefulness and familiarity with 'scholarly' works and pays no heed to
the enthusiastic youngster with no degree.
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