You say governor, I say gubernator…let’s call the whole thing off!

I was asked the other day if I could explain why ‘govern’ and related words were all spelled and pronounced with a /v/ but ‘gubernatorial’ had a /b/. I didn’t have a firm answer, but I mentioned the idea of loan words occasionally maintaining some of the morphology of the original language rather than being totally anglicized. It seemed reasonable but of course I wouldn’t be satisfied until I did some research.

So off I went. I broke out my OED, my Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, I googled information on consonant shifts in High German in the 9th and 10th centuries, I pulled out old textbooks on historical linguistics, and I even checked out books of the history of English from the library. I was hot on the trail and working hard on figuring out the answer. Then I found this and it more or less took the wind out of my sails. My consolation was that I had pretty much come up with the same solution, although it was shaping up to be a much wordier one. At least allow me to at least add a few additional details. Continue reading


Well, Part Deux has taken me on a much more intriguing and time-consuming journey than I’d thought. I am suddenly involved in a refresher course on the Sapir-Whorf theory and finally reading some Lev Vygotsky, Language and Thought. I didn’t mean to turn this into a treatise, but it’s been fun getting back into some linguistic study, so I’m going to keep reading for a bit and then finish my thoughts about my thoughts…how d’ya like them metacognitive apples?

In the meantime, I present to you my favorite word of the week: nincompoopery.

I swear it is a real word. Let me explain the twisted chain of events that brought this to my attention. Continue reading

Second Languages, le premier part…

(I’ve been trying to figure out where this is going for months…okay, that makes it sound like I’ve been at it day and night, which isn’t really true. But I am tired of tinkering with this first half and so I’ll just post it so I can finally move onto the rest.)

When people ask me how many languages I know, I always say “One – just English.” I have been fortunate enough to have studied and learned a lot about other languages, but I never feel that I truly know languages other than English. Our native tongues always feel like home, and while we can learn to be comfortable in other houses, towns, even countries, nothing every quite feels like home. I can speak other languages to varying degrees, and I’ve learned about even more languages beyond that, but do I really know another language? Does that question even have an answer? Can I know a language even without being perfect in the grammar and vocabulary? I don’t have the answers for the moment, but I’ve been wanting to start learning another language (methinks it’s going to be Arabic) and so I’ve been reflecting on the languages that have been important to me over the years. Continue reading