Why are English words with Greek roots so often prefaced with “it comes from the Greek word …”?

I can’t replicate your claim. Google gives 8 million hits for “comes from the Greek”, and 9 million for “comes from the Latin”.

Of course, you’ll see disproportionate numbers of “comes from the Greek” compared to “from the Norse”, “from the Germanic”, “from the Old English”, or “from the French”, because all those languages contributed to English as part of its organic development. Greek contributed to English as a learnèd source of words, and Greek loans in English are usually pretty noticeable; so they are singled out as learnèd loans.

But I’d say the same happens with Latin loans. Maybe Greek more than Latin in some contexts, because Latin is the default source of learnèd loans, and Greek is not.

What’s the single most beautiful image you have from your country?

I am not a visual person. And though my attachment to this image is quite predictable—me being such a homebody and desperately attached to a sense of home, it’s only grown on me gradually.

The view of the central railway station of Melbourne, across the beautiful brown Yarra river (its brownness mitigated by night), from the Southbank precinct (which wasn’t there when I was in high school).

Our own little simulacrum of Paris. Only with more food options.


What is the origin of the expression “Va te faire voir chez les Grecs”?

No disagreement: it’s a reference to Ancient Greek pederasty. Being a classical reference, it would have a classicist, learnèd origin: it’s not a turn of phrase some random peasant on the Loire came up with.

Aller se faire voir chez les grecs says that the expression is no early than the start of the 20th century. The whole “Greeks were pederasts trope” would have been pretty firmly entrenched by then; the use of classical references to conceal obscenities among the intelligentsia would have been well established by then too.

I don’t see the expression being 18th century; just skirting too close to taboo. But what do I know. Y a-t-il un spécialiste de linguistique française qui sait nous dire plus?

What caused the English Great Vowel Shift?

I’ll give a general rather than a specific answer.

The Great English Vowel Shift is a celebrated instance of a Chain shift, a sound change with impacts several sounds one after the other, as a kind of chain reaction.

It helps when discussing vowel changes (which are particularly susceptible to chain shifts) to have a Vowel diagram in your head.

There are two different possible sequences of chain shift, and each has its own likeliest motivation.

A push chain involves one vowel shifting so that it becomes ambiguous with another vowel. Because language is used for communication, and ambiguity is a horrid thing, that second vowel moves out of the way: the one vowel pushes the second vowel. But that second vowel now becomes ambiguous with a third vowel. And so on.

In this scenario, mate stops being pronounced [maːt], and starts being pronounced [mɛːt]. But that makes mate ambiguous with meat. So meat stops being pronounced as [mɛːt], and starts being pronounced as [meːt]. Only that now makes meat sound like meet. So meet stops being pronounced as [meːt], and starts being pronounced as [miːt]. Only now meet sounds just like mite. So mite is pushed over the edge, and starts being pronounced as [məit].

(Yes, Early Modern English was pronounced differently to modern English.)

This is an attractive way of understanding chain shifts. But it’s not what the evidence suggests. English, after all, has an astonishing tolerance of ambiguity.

If it didn’t, then how come meat and meet are now pronounced identically?

The second possibility sounds less plausible, but is in fact likelier.

In a pull chain, one vowel moves further away from another vowel. This makes the vowel system of the language seem somehow unnatural to learners: there’s a great big gap where that vowel used to be. So the next vowel moves up to take its place: it is pulled along by the first vowel. That in turn creates a new gap, and the next vowel along is pulled along to take the second vowel’s place.

In this scenario, mite stops being pronounced as [miːt], and starts being pronounced as [məit]. So now, you don’t have an [iː] vowel in English any more: the sequence goes [aː, ɛː, eː, əi]. To fix that gap, what used to be [eː] turns into [iː]: meet now shifts from [meːt] to [miːt]. And then meat [mɛːt] changes to [meːt], to address the absence of an [eː]. And then mate changes from [maːt] to [mɛːt], to make up for the absence of an [ɛː].

And now you’re missing an [aː] sound in English, but hey, what do you want from me. /ar/ has ended up addressing that gap, in any case.

It sounds a lot less sensible—people changing vowels not for some communicative need, but to fit some bizarre arrangement along a trapezoid that only linguists have heard of. But it does seem to fit the facts better.

For example, New Zealand English is having a merry old vowel chain shift of its own happening right now.

And where did it start? Why, with the vowel shift that is the most stereotypically associated with New Zuhluhnd Unglush. The other vowels that have shifted, you actually have to talk to Kiwis to be aware of.

And what is the vowel shuhft thet uz the most stereotuhpically essociated wuth New Zuhluhnd Unglush?

/i/ > /ɨ/.

Remember? mite stops being pronounced as [miːt], and starts being pronounced as [məit]. New Zealand English is doing the same chain shift, only with short vowels.

What can be most easily seen that change is constantly going on in a living language?

If you’re detecting change with your eyes: New vocabulary, then semantic shifts in existing words, then syntax — particularly syntax of individual words. fun became an adjective within my lifetime.

If you’re detecting change with your ears: all of the above, then maybe phonetics. But sound change is slower, socially and generationally stratified, and geographically uneven: most people don’t realise it even if they’re in the middle of it.

Pragmatics, phonology and morphology are much slower moving, though of course they change too.

What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned studying linguistics?

Me, personally?

That the same changes happen, again and again, from language to language to language. The same grammaticalisations; the same sound changes; the same semantic changes; the same syntactic changes; the same metaphors.

Which is little to do with Universal Grammar, and a lot to do with universals of cognition and articulation.

Is there a way to find the etymology of words from foreign languages?

I’ll echo others on Wiktionary: it has astounding range.

For ancient Greek, don’t bother with Liddell-Scott: its etymologies are antiquated. Check both Chantraine and Frisk. Both are under copyright, and I can neither confirm nor deny that both are available at a reputable academic archiv al org anisation.

We are served quite well for later stages of Greek. For contemporary Greek, I go to the Triantafyllidis dictionary by default, because it is online.

Is it possible to translate the word zori/zor/زور , that exists in Greek & Persian, with ONE English word?

From Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary of Turkish, and زور – Wiktionary , zor came into Turkish (and thence Greek) from Persian, not Arabic. And lots of languages either side of Persian and Turkish have picked it up.

A single word for all uses of ζόρι in Greek, that Dimitris Sotiropoulos lists in his answer? No, but “force” covers most of them.

From the Triantafyllidis dictionary:

Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής

  • Application of relatively large amount of strength on something [force]
  • Exercise of violence or pressure on someone, compulsion; typically in the expression “with the ~” (“by force”) [force]
  • Of difficulties, inconvenience, which demand particularly intense effort. “The job has/needs much ~. I have great ~, I suffer much ~: I am under pressure”. [pressure, travails, difficulty]

The expression Dimitris brought up, “do you have a zori with me”, is not accounted for in that definition; the English equivalent is “do you have a problem with me? What’s your problem with me?”

Is Zeus more powerful than Thor?

A question of this profundity deserves a well-considered, thoughtful evaluation.

Such as that given in Episode 3, Series 4 of Epic Rap Battles of History:

Zeus vs Thor

Tell your three headed bitch I say hi

The YouTube audience assessment, FWIW, seems to have weighed towards Thor.