Why is the French “U” different from the other Latin languages?

Mildred Pope, From Latin to Modern French, 1934. A very good book.

Early on in the history of French, every instance of /u/ changed to /y/; and very soon after, every instance of closed /o/ changed to /u/, as a pull-chain (of the kind that happens a lot with vowels). It’s not as early on as the change of /a/ to /æ/, which was 6th century (carus > kæro > chère); the /y/ seems to have been more like 10th century.

This is not an unprecedented change in language; we think that Greek upsilon went from /u/ to /y/ in the same way. But it is a change that happens to be specific to Early Old French (Francien), because all sound changes are specific to a time and place. So I’m guessing it didn’t make it to Languedoc.

Pope’s fine print (§183) is:

The palatalisation of /u/ appears to have spread slowly from the south, reaching last the northern and eastern region. Norse words were affected by it (cf. modern Etainhus > Steinhüs), rhymes between /y/ and /u/ are occasional in mediaeval northern texts, and the sound /u/ is still retained in Eastern Walloon.

French did have the option of respelling its <u> as something else, like <ü> or <y>. It did not feel it needed to take that option, because all the Latin (and Gallo-Latin) <u>s changed pronunciation to /y/. So it got to keep its spelling the same.

Why are most old foreign words still used, despite its semantic void can already be considered filled/supplied by its own words?

Remember: language always has a social context. Always.

  • Why do languages borrow words and phrases?
    • Sometimes: consciously, to fill in a gap in the language, by bilinguals who care about the target language. That takes work.
    • Rather more often: as a transferral of prestige and connotations from the source language, by bilinguals who want to keep thinking in terms of the source language. That takes less work.
    • And remember that French was more prestigious than English in scholarship and culture for a very long time. Not just during the middle ages, but up to the 19th century; the phrases OP quotes are not mediaeval.
  • Why do languages not borrow words and phrases?
  • Why would languages get rid of old foreign words or phrases, and adopt native phrasings instead?
    • Drop in education and exposure to the source foreign languages. That’s certainly been at work in English: you no longer have to learn Latin to be educated, and French has been marginalised in the US if not the UK. But that drop is symptomatic of other causes.
    • Drop in relative prestige of source languages against the target language with the language community. Well that’s certainly happened in the English speaking world in general. And accordingly, there’s very little Graeco-Latin in computer science, as a new discipline. But be careful: we’re talking about specific educated registers of English, not English in general, or even educated English in general.
  • Why would languages not get rid of old foreign words or phrases, and adopt native phrasings instead?
    • Inertia. Never underestimate the role of inertia. It explains a lot of craziness in language; such as English spelling. Getting rid of well-established old foreign expressions takes work. As you’ll have gathered, the reason those old foreign expressions took root in the first place was that it took less work. And a lot of Latin and French has dropped out of English because it’s more work to maintain them. But expressions of the kind OP is bringing up are so entrenched in their registers, that it’s more work to get rid of them.
    • Purism? Not a trait of the English language community.
    • Making it easier for EFL learners? Not the way English works (currently): native speakers still set the norms for English. (Despite the fact that alphabet is being used a lot on Quora to mean letter.)

Language as it is practiced does not line up according to what is rational. It is about what is most aligned to the speakers’ ideology, and what represents the least imposition to speakers.

I’ll add that the threshold for words is much higher than phrases. Coup is no longer regarded as French, even though coup d’état might be. Neither is sortie. You’re left with raison d’être. And that’s not a commonplace expression.

When reading Koine Greek, do I need to pronounce the accents? And if I do, how do I pronounce them?

Do you want practicality, or do you want historical accuracy?

Historical accuracy first. I’ve check Philomena Probert’s Ancient Greek Accentuation, and Vox Graeca. We know that the switch to stress accent must have happened by Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century): his poetry uses stress and not pitch accent as a base. We suspect that the Alexandrians were having to notate pitch accent because it was starting to die out; but we don’t know that for a fact. So the Gospel writers may or may not have had pitch accent, rather than stress accent.


  1. Koine teaching does not use pitch accent: it’s quite a hurdle for people whose languages don’t have pitch.
  2. The teaching of pitch accent for Attic or Epic Greek has not exactly been covered with glory (search “Yodelling Martians”)
  3. Pitch doesn’t have as much of a functional load in Koine as it does in Attic, so there’s less motivation to teach it for practical reasons.

So you could use pitch accent, but I wouldn’t bother. Do accent, but keep it to stress.

EDIT: Per Philip Newton’s request: that would mean pronouncing all the different pitch accents (circumflex, acute, grave) the same way, as a stress accent.

What languages are spoken in Vanuatu?

Ethnologue lists 113 languages for Vanuatu, two extinct: Vanuatu

Vanuatu has the highest language density of any country on the planet: one language per 2,000 people.

When last I checked, Vanuatu was also the last frontier for a large number of undocumented or underdocumented languages. Ethnologue is compiled by SIL International, which coordinates missionary linguists. The SIL has done a lot of work in Papua New Guinea, and relatively few academic linguists have (although it is becoming a default destination for Australian linguists, now that they’ve run out of Aboriginal languages to document). But SIL missionaries have not been welcome in Vanuatu.

What language do people in Cyprus speak?

Eutychius Kaimakkamis’ is the most complete answer; I’ll only add:

  • The status of Standard Greek vs Cypriot Greek is a diglossia, and it’s a much more clear-cut instance of diglossia than what was going on in Greece in the 20th century.
  • Cypriot Turkish (Cypriot Turkish, Kıbrıslıca) has some clear typological affinities with Cypriot Greek. For instance, they share VSO, as opposed to Standard Turkish’s SOV and Standard Greek’s SVO.
  • According to Ibn Hazm again, and Cypriot Arabic , Cypriot Arabic is even harder to understand for a speaker of Levantine Arabic than Nigerian Arabic: “It’s pretty difficult to even read, perhaps on par with the basilect of some English-based creoles.” He thinks there is Aramaic influence there.
  • The links in my 2009 blog article about Cypriot Arabic have expired; but the community is now using the Roman alphabet, with the main writer in the language (the local priest) reluctantly abandoning the Greek script.
  • Leontios Machairas in his 15th century chronicle of Cyprus famously described the triglossia of his time: French, Syriac, and Greek. “And because in this world there are two natural masters, one temporal and the other spiritual, this little island had the patriarch of the great Antioch, before the Latins took it over. For it was useful to know universal Greek in order to send petitions to the king, and correct Syriac. And it was in this way that the children were taught until the Lusignans took the place, and since then we started learning French and have barbarised Greek as it is today, when we write both French and Greek so that no one in the world knows what we speak.”
  • Romani languages are always left out, and until I popped over to Languages of Cyprus, I did not know about Kurbet language: a Para-Romani based on Cypriot Turkish.

What does Roman Jakobson mean about poetry: “the projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection to the axis of combination”?

I understood the words and the phrases, but I had to be edified by some online links, and I’ve got an advantage in that I know why Jakobson said it the way he did.

Exec summary: there is one takeaway message for poets:


The rest is of concern to linguists.

Selection and Combination

In structuralist linguistics, there are two structural mechanisms underlying how language works.

The syntagmatic relationship is about how words and phrases are combined to produce larger meanings. It’s syntax.

The paradigmatic relationship is about which words can be used in the slots of sentences. It’s the relationship between all nouns, or all verbs, or all adjectives. It’s lexicon.

Meaning in structural linguistics is tied up the paradigmatic relationship. Once you’ve worked out which words do the same syntactic job (nouns, verbs, pronouns), you can focus on the meaning differences between those words. In fact, the meaning of those words is defined by the available options in the paradigmatic relationship: dog = not a cat; me = not you.

That focusing on the meaning differences within an equivalence class (words doing the same job in a sentence) is the principle of equivalence.

Functions of language

Jakobson’s enduring contribution to linguistics is identifying the core functions of language. Communication is not the only function. Two functions that Jakobson pointed out, that needed pointing out, were the phatic function (keeping the channel open: “hello”, “how are you”, “ok?”), and the poetic function.

The poetic function is not just poetry: in fact, it’s not even just literature. A lot of humour is covered by the poetic function.

But the important thing about the poetic function is, that the form you use is a big part of the point of what you’re saying. It’s not just about the meaning of the words; it also about the fact that the words have metre, or rhyme, or punning similarities, or similar sounds. And so on.

The two axes

Remember: in structural linguistics, meaning is tied up with the choices of words: the paradigmatic relation. (The axis of selection.) If you use a choice of a different word, you’re expressing a different meaning. While there is also a component of meaning in the syntagmatic relation (how you put sentences together), it’s not felt to be as interesting: we’ve got nouns, we’ve got verbs, there’s a limited way of putting them together. (Remember, this is pre-Chomsky.)

Jakobson is a structuralist, and he wants to say that the poetic function of language cares about language form. So he says it in structuralist terms: We’ve been telling you that meaning is all about the axis of selection. But in poetic language, the syntagmatic relation (the axis of combination) is also a critical component of the meaning. The fact that you’ve put together words that rhyme, or that words that form a metre, or words that echo each other is just as important in the overall meaning as your initial choice of words (the strict meaning you intended to convey as a plain text communication).

We saw the principle of equivalence is how you work out the meaning of words: me = not you, dog = not cat. Different metres have different meanings too. So do different rhyming schemes. So there is a principle of equivalence at work in poetic structures as well. But it is a principle of equivalence that works on how words are put together, rather than just choices of words. So poetic language projects the principle of equivalence, from the axis of selection, to the axis of combination.


I have to say that, even without switching on Chomskian understandings of language, this is a specious way of thinking about language: different sentence structures also generate different meanings out of the combination of meaningful words, and there’s nothing intrinsically poetic about that. Semantics is propositional, not just lexical, and rhetorical, not just propositional.

But structuralist linguistics was the last time literature scholars and linguists were on speaking terms. So it was an important message for literature scholars to take in from structuralist linguistics, that poetic language is all about how you put words together, and that how you put words together separates poetic language from normal language.

What are the negative and positive politeness strategies?

Politeness theory

I’m sure I’ve answered this here already.

Positive politeness strategies are culturally approved ways of interacting with other people, that involve doing good things for them. They concentrate on eliminating distance between people.

Negative politeness strategies are culturally approved ways of interacting with other people, that involve not doing bad things to them. They concentrate on preserving distance between people.

Positive politeness strategies include:

  • Being smiley and friendly
  • Sharing things with people, without asking permission
  • Doing people favours
  • Speaking to people in a familiar tone
  • Joking and bantering with randoms

Negative politeness strategies include:

  • Having a neutral expression in public
  • Using lots of “please” and “if you don’t mind” and “thank you”
  • Not imposing on people
  • Speaking to people in a respectful tone
  • Keeping the hell out of randoms’ faces

Cultures have preferences for positive or negative politeness strategies. And cultures take the wrong politeness strategies very badly.

I’m sure you’ve recognised a stereotype or two in one column or the other; maybe even in both.

How do you say welcome to a greek wedding?

Greek is all about the formulaic expressions. If you’re the guest in a Greek wedding, you must say:

  • Να ζήσετε “may you live [long]” to the bride and groom.
  • Να σας ζήσουν “may they live [long] for you” to the bride and groom’s families.
  • Πάντα άξιος “[may you] always [be] worthy” to the best man. (You also say that to godparents.)
  • Πάντα άξια “[may you] always [be] worthy” to the matron of honour.
  • Και στα δικά σου “also [looking forward] to yours!” to anyone present and unmarried. A phrase that has made not a few unmarried Greeks choose to stay away from weddings.

Now, if you’re the bride and groom… actually, if you’re the bride and groom, you don’t traditionally say all that much, and I’m not aware of a formulaic expression of welcome to a wedding. The generic καλώς ορίσατε “welcome” will do, if you have to say anything; but my recollection is that newlyweds mostly just beam a lot, and dance.

Does Quora list its moderators publicly?

Why, of course:


  • Quora Location Bot
  • Quora Topic Bot
  • Quora Question Bot
  • Quora Question Review Bot
  • Quora Topic FAQ Bot
  • Quora Collapse Bot

No, not really. There are Quora staff that have oversight of moderation; and Quorans have inferred that the bulk of moderation work is done by either bots, or cheap outsourced contractors (with frequent resulting hilarity). The latter have certainly not been discussed publicly.

The former can be unearthed (so Tatiana Estévez is publicly visible, and Jay Wacker and Jonathan Brill do… something, though I’m still not clear what). But it’s not particularly in any large-scale service’s interest that there be too much of a personal face on moderation: that cannot scale.

Did the Doric Invasions really happen? Which regions became mostly Dorian and what were they before the conquest?

There are four major groups of ancient Greek dialects:

  • Ionic, of which Attic is a subbranch
  • North-Western, of which Doric and Achaean are subbranches
  • Aeolic
  • Arcado-Cypriot

I’ve ranked them in impressionistic order of archaicness.

The easiest explanation for the spread of the North-Western group is as a wave of settlement, that you might as well associate with Dorian invasions. You can similarly make sense of Ionic as a different wave of settlement. And you can make sense of Aeolic as what was left over in between the two waves of settlement; bear in mind that anything Ionic north of Lesbos resulted from later colonial activity.

Now, notice where Arcado-Cypriot is spoken. Some mountains in the middle of the Peloponnese, and Cyprus, which is very very far away.

The default assumption here is that the Dorian invasion pushed the previous Greek speakers of the Peloponnese up into the mountains. And that Cyprus had been settled by Greek speakers speaking that dialect, before the Dorians cut them off from the sea. In other words: that Arcado-Cypriot was a continuation of the original Mycenaean version of Greek. And there are bits of Arcado-Cypriot and Aeolic embedded in the mishmash language of Homer, although it is basically an archaic Ionic.