Why does Esperanto use the letter Ŭ?

Hm. You didn’t ask why the letter looks like that, which I’ll answer anyway:

Italicised й:


Wikipedia Ŭ suggests it was formed by analogy with proposed Byelorussian ў. Like someone else said on Wikipedia: [citation needed]

Now, why <ŭ> and not just <u>? Zeibura, you dawg, you know that I love this kind of question, where I try to work out the answer from first principles. I’m pretty sure Gaston Waringhien has given a proper answer somewhere (after all, him and Kalocsay saw Zamenhof’s proto-Esperanto notes, before the Nazis torched everything). But let’s have some fun.

  • In Zamenhof’s circumflexless (“telegraphic”) rendering of Esperanto, circumflexed letters get replaced by a following h: <ĉ> to <ch>. But <ŭ> could be rendered as just <u>. So Zamenhof was not overly concerned about ambiguity (and he normally was, which is why Esperanto is so neurotic about polysemy).
  • I cannot come up with an minimal pair for au and aŭ or eu and eŭ. I’ve been racking my brains for an hour. For example, fra-ulo and fraŭlo would be different words; but there is no fra- root.
  • Zamenhof had – as an odds-and-ends part of speech suffix; it dates from proto-Esperanto. The part of speech suffixes are otherwise vowels; so –in malgr-aŭ, bald-aŭ, apen-aŭ was deliberately intended to be a single syllable, just like bird-o, blank-a, kapt-i, plen-e.
  • As presented in Duonvokaloj kaj diftongoj, Zamenhof’s advice to correspondents early on insisted on the phonetic difference between monosyllabic aŭ/eŭ and bisyllabic au/eu (which certainly does occur in Esperanto).

So, why <ŭ>? Theoretically it could have determined a minimal pair, but it certainly wouldn’t have with Zamenhof’s vocabulary, and I doubt it does even more. And Zamenhof wasn’t fussed about the ambiguity in his telegraphic rendering.

No, it was because in Zamenhof’s own mental model of the language, aŭ/eŭ were single syllables, just like aj/ej/oj/uj are. That’s why –is a part of speech ending. After all, <au> is a single syllable in German, and <αυ, ευ> in Ancient Greek—which is what Zamenhof must have had in mind in his design.

Why do the audience stand up when the orchestras play the Hallelujah chorus?

Messiah (Handel)

The custom of standing for the “Hallelujah” chorus originates from a belief that, at the London premiere, King George II did so, which would have obliged all to stand. There is no convincing evidence that the king was present, or that he attended any subsequent performance of Messiah; the first reference to the practice of standing appears in a letter dated 1756, three years prior to Handel’s death

Why do the Romani people in Bulgaria and Greece speak Turkish among themselves?

I don’t know the full answer, and I’m not seeing enough of an answer in Wikipedia. Let me put together what I know.

  • There have been Roma in Greece for the better part of a millennium; we know linguistically that they went through Anatolia and Greece on the way to Europe, there is Greek in the Roma core vocabulary (such the work for sky), and there are historical records.
  • Romani people: “The descendants of groups, such as Sepečides or Sevljara, Kalpazaja, Filipidži and others, living in Athens, Thessaloniki, central Greece and Aegean Macedonia are mostly Orthodox Christians, with Islamic beliefs held by a minority of the population. Following the Peace Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, many Muslim Roma moved to Turkey in the subsequent population exchange between Turkey and Greece.”
  • Muslim Roma: “Greece (a small part of Muslim Roma concentrated in Thrace)”. After the Lausanne Treaty, Thrace is where the Muslims of Greece were exempt from the population exchanges.
  • I remember the reprobate Bishop Augustin of Florina organising missionary work to convert Muslim Roma. The Greek Orthodox were chuffed to find someone to convert locally.
  • Romany was the basis of cants, secrecy languages used in Greece. Traditionally, they were the cants of builders (which leads to the guess that many builders were Roma). Latterly, kaliarda, the gay cant (and Greek counterpart of Polari) had a substantial Romani basis, with a lot of French and English sprinkled on top. So there was bilingualism with Greek.
  • One of the first Romani variants to be studied extensively (in 1981) was that of the Roma living in Agia Varvara, a suburb of Athens. (Ρομά – Βικιπαίδεια at least implies they are the biggest grouping of Roma in Greece.) They were originally from Turkey.
  • There are Para-Romani languages throughout Europe: mixed languages spoken by Roma, displaying gradual language shift to the local languages. Romano-Greek language/Hellenoromani exists; a linguistics student found a settlement using it in the vicinity of Salonica. But that’s one settlement. The others speak either Greek, Romani, or Turkish.
  • Per Muslim Roma, 40% of Bulgaria’s Roma are Muslim, and per Romani people they are concentrated in the south of the country, where the Bulgarian Turks are.
  • Balkan Roma are commonly termed “Turkish Gypsies” (Romani people); this is likely more about them being Ottoman, but most of them are either Muslim or recent converts to Christianity.

So, from this bunch of stuff, I surmise:

  • A. Many Roma in Greece came from Turkey, where they spoke Turkish, and they still do. It’s not like the Greek state was always bending over backward to make them feel Greek.
  • B. Many Roma in Bulgarian and Greek Thrace are Muslim and live among ethnic Turks, so they speak Turkish for the same reason that group A do.
  • C. There have clearly been Greek-speaking Roma (hence the Hellenoromani community and the cants, as well as the pre-Ottoman history of the Roma in Greece). They may well not be the majority of Greek Roma.

Why do people dislike reading the King James Bible, preferring other translations?

How do I dare disagree with the Magister Optimus Michael Masiello, on this his home turf?

By telling a personal anecdote around Classics, in the hope of sucking up to him.

When I was doing my PhD, I had occasion to cite a few Ancient Greek texts. It was a linguistics thesis done after 1900, so I had to supply a modern translation alongside those citations. For reasons of probity, I chose to supply someone else’s printed translation, where available.

One of the texts I cited was On the Syrian Goddess by Lucian. Lucian was describing Syrian religious practices (he was Syrian himself); and he chose the Ionic dialect of Herodotus to do so. Greek literature did do a little bit of dialect specialisation per genre; but for Lucian do pick a 600 year old, long dead dialect for his story, as a once-off, was a bit of antiquarian showing off.

Now, the Loeb Classical Library is the canonical set of translations of Ancient Greek and Latin literature in English. A guy called A.M. Harmon did the Loeb Lucian in the 1920s. And in his translation of On the Syrian Goddess in 1925 [https://lucianofsamosata.info/do… : PDF], he decided:

It would be most unfair to Lucian to turn this tale into contemporary English. In order to have the same effect that it has in his own day, and to be really intelligible, it must seem to come from the lips of an ancient traveller. The version here offered seeks to secure that effect through mimicry of Sir John Mandeville. It is true that Herodotus was better known in Lucian’s time than Mandeville is known now, and his language seemed less remote. In every other respect, however—in his limited vocabulary, in his simple style, and in his point of view—Mandeville provides a mask uniquely adapted to the part—if only its wearer does not fall down in it and break it.

He adds that if you want a modern English version, you can always go to Strong & Garstang’s translation.

So, he emulated someone writing in 600 year old Greek, through someone writing in 600 year old English.


In Surrye, not fer fro the Ryvere Eufrate, is a Cytee that Holy highte and holy is in sothe, for it is of Iuno Assurien. Yit I wene that the cyteene hadde not this name atte firste, whan that it was founded, but of olden tyme it was other, and after, whan here servys of the Goddesse wex gret, it was chaunged to this. Touching this cytee I purpos me to seyn alle that is in it, and I schalle speke of the customes that thei folwen in here rytes, and the feste dayes that thei kepen, and the sacrifises that thei perfourmen. And I schalle reherce alle the tales that men tellen of hem that establisschede the holy place, and how that the temple was bylded. And I that write am Assurien, and of that that I devyse you, some partie saughe I with mine owne eyen, and some partie I lerned be informacioun fro the prestes, that is to seyn, tho thynges that I descryve that weren beforn min owne tyme.

And so it goes on for 30-odd pages. With only the occasional marginal explanation of a word; like here, italicised above, = ‘their’.

Now. If you know Middle English (as all cool people in 1925 should have), this is really, really cool. Like, “why don’t more people do this” cool. (And you get a bit more of it with Aristophanes’ Doric.)

If you don’t know Middle English, it is… well, it’s still cool. After all, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog had an appreciative audience (though of course his version of Middle English was perforce toned down).

But… if you’re trying to present a translation of Lucian so that a linguist can understand a subtle shade of meaning in a locative… is Mandevillean English the most effective way to convey that?

And are we really surprised that the text of On the Syrian Goddess you find online is the 1913 Modern English translation?

Yes, the tone of the KJV is magisterial. Yes, it has been decisive in our cultural, religious, literary and linguistic history. Yes, in fact, I cite the Bible in KJV rather than NIV or RSV, in any context where I can get away with it.

But, Michael, you and I are in the literature business, when we do get to get away with that. We’re not in the theology business.

After all, if people are too illiterate now to understand Jacobian English, they were being just as illiterate 400 years ago, when they couldn’t understand Hieronymic Latin.

And if, as a good Protestant, one is concerned that all Christians should be able to establish an unmediated relationship with God through their own study of the scriptures, then their business is to ensure that the text speak as directly as possible to the faithful.

All translation is a compromise; and the formal requirements of translation have been left to slide, perhaps, in more recent translations, as they have in the literary culture in general. Who does rhymed verse translation in English any more, after all?

(Though I don’t find the authoritative recent translations of the Bible into English particularly flat.)

But I identify with the answer given by Father Adam Booth Csc (not a good Protestant!) And having bumped into his answers here before, I know the reverend doctorand is hardly illiterate:

If I’m going to read a translation, I want a translation into the English I speak, not the English of 500 years ago.

I am very happy I live in a world where Harmon’s Lucian exists. In fact, I daresay that (just as with Geoffrey Chaucer Hath A Blog) his Middle English is a lot more readable than it should be.

But if I want to find out more about Syrian religion, I’m going to use Strong & Garstang’s Lucian.

So. I disagree with your first rationale, with all the guilt and respect you’ve come to expect of me.

Why do languages have a lot of exceptions? Why there is not almost a single rule which could be applied to all of the words in a language?

Nick Nicholas’ answer to Why do you love linguistics?:

Language, like most interesting human phenomena, is a Complex system

In particular, there are lots of contradictory forces at play in language change, and their outcome is inconsistent and unpredictable. Conservatism vs Innovation. Phonological simplification vs Morphological simplification. Clarity vs Vividness.

Which is what Dave Kaiser said.

Which Greek stronghold with Catholic administration was the last to survive the Ottoman conquest: Crete, Cyprus or other?

As I pointed out in commenting Niko Vasileas’ answer, the Morea was reconquered by the Venetians after close to two centuries of Ottoman rule, whereas Tinos was under continuous Venetian rule right through to 1715.

Add to this the odd situation of the Ionian Islands. They remained under Venice until 1797. Then they fell under a sequence of regimes:

Now if you count Napoleonic France as Catholic (I’m wary of doing so), the last Catholic administration of Greek territory ended in 1800. Then again, that assumes the Septinsular Republic was part of the Ottoman conquest: I don’t get the impression there was much of an Ottoman presence in the condominium at all, and Greek-language self rule by aristocrats is not quite the same as the Millet (Ottoman Empire).

That’s why most people would not even consider the Ionian islands for this answer: they never were really ruled by the Ottomans.

When, and why, did the word ‘sure’ become so ubiquitous at the start of answering a question?

I’d like to thank my wife for arranging access for me to the State Library of Victoria (for free!) Inter alia, this gets me access to the OED.


First attested use: 1651, in a trial transcript:

Att. Gen. Was Mr. Love present when this letter was read? Far. Yes sure, he was present.

First instance in their list without a yes or aye, with sure at the start: 1914:

P. G. Wodehouse Man Upstairs 133 ‘Is that a fact?’ ‘Sure,’ murmured Archibald.

Then 1963:

Mrs. L. B. Johnson White House Diary 26 Nov. (1970) 11 If it had been a request to chop off one’s right hand one would have said, ‘Sure’.

The sarcastic sure example they give (“orig. N. Amer”) is earlier, 1907:

L. Scott To him that Hath iii. ix. 250 Just then her hand happened to fall on mine—accident, oh, sure!

OED does say that it is “chiefly N. Amer. in later use”.

So: popularisation was American, and probably the ’60s; but if P.G. Wodehouse used it, then America is not where it came from.

What languages did people in Anatolia/Turkey speak prior to the arrival of the Seljuk Turks?

Originally Answered:

Which languages were spoken in Anatolia and modern Turkey when Turkic arrived?

I’m touched by Anon’s A2A’ing assumption of my omniscience, but I’m going to Wikipedia here, to confirm my vague hunch that the Anatolian languages of yore were long, long gone by the time the Seljuks came to town.

Anatolian languages

and it is generally thought that by the 1st century BCE, the native languages of the area were extinct.

With one exception:

Pisidian language

Known from some thirty short inscriptions from the first to second centuries CE, it appears to be closely related to Lycian and Sidetic.

Sidetic language

The Greek historian Arrian in his Anabasis Alexandri (mid-2nd century CE) mentions the existence of a peculiar indigenous language in the city of Side.

(The inscriptions we have are from 3rd–2nd century BCE)

In particular, if there was any evidence of Cappadocian surviving, we would likely have heard something about it from the Cappadocian Church fathers. Early research into Cappadocian Greek went hunting for evidence of Cappadocian in the language; lots of amateur speculation ensued, but no professional thought it worth pursuing.

So our default assumptions remain: the Seljuks found Armenian and Greek. And whatever babel of Caucasian languages there is in Lazistan.

What is your best music composition?


I looked through Compositions for the pieces I composed and put into music software in 2000. (I composed as a teenager, but didn’t quite know what I was doing; 2000 was when I had enough free time to try and polish things.)

(Not that I quite knew what I was doing in 2000 either.)

It’s a tie between a Scherzo I wrote,

and a Cretan folksong setting:

What are the two most studied foreign languages in your country? (excluding English)?

To my amusement, when I googled for this in Australia, I found that I know the researchers that came up with the latest research on this. The latest research I found was 10 years ago, though (which is why I know them); and I don’t think the numbers will have stayed the same.


As of 10 years ago:

  1. Japanese: 333k
  2. Italian: 322k
  3. Indonesian: 210k
  4. French: 207k
  5. German: 127k
  6. Chinese: 81k

French and German are the inherited elite education languages (they’re what I did). The newspapers have been bemoaning the fall in Asian language enrolments; so Japanese and Indonesian will have dropped; Chinese as a community language will have risen and Italian fallen.

From Languages in Victorian schools, the most popular taught languages in Australia now are French, German, Indonesian and Japanese. That means Italian has collapsed as a community language taught in schools, and Chinese hasn’t broken through yet (which surprises me).