Today’s post brought to you by the letter P, or maybe F

Gradually, the Roman Empire grew old and split into two. The western half became the Holy Roman Empire; the eastern half became the Byzantine Empire. Regions of the western half mixed Latin into languages that would eventually become English, French, German, Spanish, Italian. When we speak English today, we use words that originated from Latin. F’rinstance, I just now used the words ‘gradually, empire, region, language, would’ and ‘originated.’ Those words have Latin roots. ‘Gradually’ means step-by-step. You devoted readers who’ve been following along since we were talking about Time & Space may remember that ‘gradus’ is a Latin word to measure a step. https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/measuring-distance-in-rome/

Yup, they’re Grimm

And here’s something interesting: as you get further away from Rome headed north, Latin words that use the letter ‘P’ switch to the letter ‘F.’ Pisces becomes fish; pater=father/vater; pode=foot; poultry/pollo=fowl.* This replacing a hard P with a fricative F is known in linguistic circles as Grimm’s Law. That’s right, Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm who tramped all over the German countryside looking for folk fairytales in the ad 1800s. It turns out they were tracking the history of the German language. The brothers needed to collect old words—the older the better. They reasoned the best place to find old words was in old folk tales, the stories handed down from generation to generation. The language of fairytales provides clues to how words evolve. After accumulating all those stories, they published them in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The rest is history—er, linguistics.

https://daily.jstor.org/the-fairytale-language-of-the-brothers-grimm/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brothers_Grimm
https://www.amazon.com/Original-Fairy-Tales-Brothers-Grimm/dp/0691160597/ref=pd_sbs_2?pd_rd_w=yOiJx&pf_rd_p=651d64d1-3c73-45b6-ae09-e545600e3a22&pf_rd_r=KHXPKWB3ZSJXXZ1G6Z7N&pd_rd_r=c24e0194-4b22-4c6f-9e94-d56782a9a82c&pd_rd_wg=lSo2R&pd_rd_i=0691160597&psc=1
Here’s a great article about the brothers—the writer also wonders if there were a Mother Tongue, a language on which all the others are based.
https://lflank.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/linguistics-and-the-brothers-grimm/

* Something I wonder about: Rome battled the Phoenicians in what they called the Punic Wars. Which pronunciation came first?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

2 responses to “Today’s post brought to you by the letter P, or maybe F

  1. James C Fergerson

    Interesting. Borrowed from Wikipedia article “Punics” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punics): The English adjective “Punic” is used in scholarship to refer to the Western Phoenicians. The proper nouns “Punics” and “Punes” were used in the 16th century, but are obsolete and in current usage there is no proper noun. “Punic” derives from the Latin poenus and punicus, which were used mostly to refer to the Carthaginians and other western Phoenicians. These terms derived from the Ancient Greek word Φοῖνιξ (“Phoinix”), plural form Φοίνικες (“Phoinikes”), which was used indiscriminately to refer to both western and eastern Phoenicians. Latin later borrowed the Greek term a second time as “Phoenix”, plural form “Phoenices”. [Perhaps because the Carthaginians kept rising again to annoy the Romans? -JF] From Wikipedia article “Punic language” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_language): The Punic language was a western form of Phoenician. The letter named “Pi” eventually became “Fi”. In Late Punic and in Late Phoenician, ⟨p⟩ (/p/) underwent a fricativization to ⟨f⟩ (/f/) in the 3rd century BC.

    Liked by 1 person

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