Most nights, after I turn out my reading light, I snuggle under my covers and stick my pillow speaker under my right ear. Then I set my iPod timer to 15 minutes and queue up a lecture from The Teaching Company so I can keep learning until I fall asleep.
I recently started Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind, a series about fantasy in literature. The first track is about the brothers Grimm and how, before they set out to catalog Germany’s oral storytelling tradition, they were philologists (students of language development), which was completely new information to me.
They also came up with the first law of phonological change which makes them language gods. What they found is fascinating and gives a fancy explanation to something I’d been puzzling over my whole life.
[To understand this next bit, you only need to know that a “voiceless stop” is the type of sound you make when pronouncing /k/, /p/ and /t/.]
What the Grimm brothers discovered is that voiceless stops in Latin remain voiceless stops in Romance languages but become voiceless fricatives — that is, sounds produced by friction — in Germanic languages. So, the Latin pater becomes the French père, the Spanish padre, but the English father and the German Vater.
BWAMP! Do you see how this is totally insane?! Every Latin word beginning with one of those three sounds is automatically not said in the same way in English (or German). Sadly, the brothers weren’t able to figure out why this is the case, but it is a rule that established itself at some point.
If you’re a non-native English speaker who is also a Romance language native speaker (I’m looking at you Cécile!), you can blame the Germans for some of the trickier English words/sounds.
Are you fascinated too or am do I just way too excited about stuff these days?