Why does reconstructed Proto-Indo-European seem so cumbersome to pronounce?

As ever, Daniel Ross’s answer is so thorough and well thought out (Vote #1 Daniel Ross’ answer to Why does reconstructed Proto-Indo-European seem so cumbersome to pronounce?), that it is embarrassing for me to attempt a better answer. In fact, I won’t: I’ll offer a worse answer, but one that is actually hinted at in his “PIE might be, in minor ways, a little bit over-reconstructed”.

And that is that the reconstructions of PIE are not for the purposes of being spoken at all. They are for the purposes of expressing correspondences between cognate languages in a shorthand.

We observe a systematic correspondence between k and w and p, and we put them in the blender, and we call it *gʷ. We could have called it *ʛ. Or *%. Or *Jimmy. We called it *gʷ because that’s an economical articulatory hypothesis for how a single sound can end up as k or w or p. But we don’t know for sure; we weren’t there.

And if you multiply that by a few dozen other hypotheses, and add in the strange algebra of Saussure’s laryngeals, you get a proto-language that internally makes sense, has a consistent root structure and explains the daughter languages—but was never meant to be spoken. It’s a theoretical construct. In practice, we may have missed some smoothing out of the sounds. We may be conflating different stages of the proto-language. We may be reconstructing an abstract phonology of the language, and be completely in the dark about its far more pronouncable allophony.

And maybe Proto-Indo-European did actually sound just like that. But remember: its sound is not what it was reconstructed for. It’s an explanatory tool for linguistic diversity, not a time machine.

Why do people compare a woman’s body shape to fruit?

… Do we, Kat? I mean, pear-shaped we do say, yes, and the body shape is old (1815); the “things went wrong” meaning is much later, and may (may) be unrelated: Pear-shaped.

But banana-shaped? I haven’t heard that. I have heard “flat as a pancake” instead, and pancakes aren’t fruit. Apple shaped? I haven’t heard that either. I have heard hourglass-figure, but hourglasses are also not a fruit.

And of course there’s real cultural difference at play here. Korea has the whole peculiar trend of using letters of the Latin alphabet to classify body shapes: S-Line, V-Line, and 19 More Korean Body Lines

Two things going on here. The impetus to classify female body types is tied up with the… dare I say objectification? of women. Commodification, certainly. Women are evaluated for desirability according to specific ideals of body shape, and are therefore classified according to how they meet or fail to meet those ideals of body shape.

Why fruit? Well, why letters of the alphabet? Accessible, recognisable shapes, preferably like Kathleen Grace said with connotations of sensuality (which fruit have)—although that is not mandatory, as Korea shows (and so do hourglasses).

What would be a good translation of this sentence in Koine Greek?

You know, this will certainly be wrong, and too Modern Greek. But this question has been sitting here for a week, so:

Ὑψίστη ἡ τῆς σταθερότητος διαφορά. Τούτου νοουμένου, ἡ Κοινὴ τῆς ἑλληνικῆς γλώσσης διάλεκτος θέσμιος ποιεῖται. Πᾶσαι ἑτέραι γλῶσσαι οὐ στηρίξονται, ἰδίᾳ δὲ πρὸς λογίαν γραμματείαν.

Backup requested. Please do not get this tattooed without a second opinion. 🙂

What is “liar, liar pants on fire” in latin?

What we’re actually looking for is a Latin proverbial expression that means what the English means. And the English has nothing to do with inflammable pants at all: it just says “Hah! caught you lying!”

I noodled around latin Via Proverbs. The closest I get are:

Mendacem memorem esse oportet.
A liar should have a good memory.
(Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 4.2.91)

Because if you don’t remember what you lied about, you won’t be able to keep your story straight. And when you get found out, then it’s Liar Liar Pants On Fire.

Or maybe:

Mendacia curta semper habent crura.
Lies always have short legs.
(Mediaeval proverb)

Meaning, lies can’t run far: they’ll get found out eventually.

Do you speak Klingon, and why did you choose to learn it?

Federation Standard, eh, English translation follows:

HIja’, tlhIngan Hol vijatlhlaH. qaStaHvIS wa’maH DIS, jIQummeH Hol vIlo’, ’ej SeQpIr lutmey vImughta’.

qatlh vIghojmeH vIwIv ’e’ choyu’, tlheybura qatlhaw qaH. reH jIHvaD Daj Holmey ’oghlu’bogh. ghojmeH ngeD chaH, ghojchu’lu’meH DuH tu’lu’, ’ej Hol mIwmey waHlaH.

maSterS vIHaDtaHvIS, HolQeD qaD lIngpu’ ghojwI’, tlhIngan Hol lo’taHvIS. jIHvaD chu’ Hol. muvuQ, ’ej vIghojchoH. pItlh.

Dajmo’ vIghoj, ’ej jIqeqmeH vIghoj; latlhvaD jIQum ’e’ vIqImbe’. ’ach ’InternetDaq ghojwI’ tu’meH ngeD Qu’: lojban Holmo’ ’e’ vISov.

Yes, I can speak Klingon. For ten years I used it communicatively, and I have translated Shakespeare.

You ask me, Mr K’leybura Katzau, why I chose to learn it. I always found artificial languages interesting. They are easy to learn, it is possible to learn them to completeness, and they can test out the possibilities of language.

When I was doing my Masters, a lecturer wrote a linguistics assignment using Klingon. The language was new to me. It fascinated me, and I started learning it. That was it.

I learned it because it was interesting, and to practice at it; I wasn’t concentrating on communicating with others. But I knew from Lojban that it would be easy to find learners online.

Why is The Bachelor / The Bachelorette so popular? Why do people like watching the shows?

Originally Answered:

Why do people like to watch The Bachelor?

I’m sure I’ve seen this question somewhere else already, but I’m on my phone, so I won’t go hunting to merge.

The Bachelor draws on a potent combination of factors, although the proportion of factors seems to differ by country. The Australian Bachelor and Bachelorette are very different from the US versions.

  • People love to watch a competition. Especially when they can empathize with a competitor. And the editing of reality TV encourages you to empathize with one party and vilify the other. The latest Australian Bachelor was won by if not a villain, certainly not the person edited to look best. I’m still not sure whether that was an act of genius or stupidity.
  • People like to watch romance. The audience is very well aware how artificial the romance is, and how it has been gamified. But again, the editing is usually skillful enough to commit some suspension of disbelief. At least, until you get to the group dates. But the group dates are about gladiatorial competition, not romance.
  • People like to watch a bunch of attractive people on TV making out. This seems to have been a change of emphasis even between seasons of the American Bachelor, with the latest season doing more sex. Perhaps surprisingly, no sex is allowed on the Australian Bachelor.
  • People like to watch car crash TV. That forms a package with the gladiatorial combat aspect of the bachelor. And the producers certainly stoke the mix of paranoia, delusion, competitiveness, and inebriation that leads to car crash TV. Of course many of the competitors are complicit in that, and they know it will get them their own notoriety.

Why are there so many languages in the world?

Originally Answered:

Why are there several languages in the world?

Firstly, because we are not even sure that there was monogenesis of language. That is, we are not sure whether language originated in a single contiguous community of humans, or multiple communities.

Second, because like all social phenomena, language is a dynamic system subject to change through conflicting factors. Change at an individual level is moderated through the pressure to retain intelligibility within a community. But if two communities are distinct, there is no longer any pressure for their languages to remain intelligible to each other, and they will end up evolving independently and diverging.

Third, language is one of the primary vehicles of group identity. There is a strong motivation for groups to ensure that their language is distinct from that of rival groups. There is the example I read somewhere of a language in Papua New Guinea which historically seems to have changed all its p’s to k’s. That change makes no sense phonetically, but it makes a lot of sense if you are doing your damnedest not to sound like the next village down the road.

How does it feel for Greek kids when they learn their alphabet is an important part of maths?

The other answers are correct, but the question goes to something broader. Greek kids will sooner or later find out that a lot of mathematical and scientific symbols used in other languages are Greek, just as they find out that a lot of scientific vocabulary in other languages is Greek.

How do they feel? Unsurprised. They have heard all their lives that Greek culture was the foundation of the West. That their ancestors were building Parthenons when everybody else’s ancestors were eating acorns. Learning about that use of the Greek alphabet just comes to validate that for them.

No, by the way. I don’t think that’s healthy.

How do people deal with “unfortunate” last names?

You’re not hinting that my last name is unfortunate there, Michael, are you? 🙂

I haven’t suffered all that much for it. Certainly not as much as some respondents. If someone carries on about it, I inwardly (or maybe even not that inwardly) roll my eyes, and move on. I used to be nicknamed Nick Squared, and I took no offence at that. A couple of decades ago, someone said to me that I would not be as obnoxious as I am if I didn’t have that name. I chose to take that as a compliment.

My reactions when someone expresses surprise at my name are: either to point out that I’ve got three cousins with the same name, so there’s more of me where that came from; or to exclaim that they loved me so much that they named me twice. Just like New York, New York.