Wordsmith.org

What's the Word?

Posted By: WhitmanO'Neill

What's the Word? - 08/30/01 03:47 AM

Getting back to basics...a modest proposal. The first word for word. I was thinking that the etymology of word would reveal some real clues to the original metaphor, the seed, the element, the atomic particle, the gene, that gave rise to language in an organized sense. I tried searching for "Etymolgy of Word" but got nothing. And to search for "Word" here would be futile, a hit on almost every thread. So if this is a YART please advise me and we can call it a wrap. But even more than just the English inception of the word, word , I thought that tracking the word for word back to the most ancient language/languages would offer insight into the first truly linguistic leap at communication. How far back can our Great Wordmaster, tsuwm, help us glimpse?
And did word come before language, or language before word?

And the Word became flesh....


Posted By: Bingley

Re: What's the Word? - 08/30/01 05:28 AM

The American Heritage Dictionary at http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE574.html gives the Indo-European root as wer(schwa), meaning to speak, which has a suffixed zero grade form (no, I don't know what that means either) meaning word. I tried copying and pasting the entry but lost all the diacritical marks and non-standard characters.



Bingley
Posted By: WhitmanO'Neill

Re: What's the Word? - 08/30/01 12:09 PM

ENTRY:
wer-5

DEFINITION:
Also wer-. To speak. Oldest form *wer1-, with variant *wre1-, contracted to
*wr-. 1. Suffixed zero-grade form *w-dho-. word, from Old English word, word,
from Germanic *wurdam. 2. Suffixed form *wer-dho-. verb, verve; adverb,
proverb, from Latin verbum, word. 3. Suffixed form *wer-yo-. irony, from Greek
eirein, to say, speak. 4. Variant form *wr-. a. Suffixed form *wr-tor-. rhetor,
from Greek rhtr, public speaker; b. suffixed form *wr-m. rheme, from Greek
rhma, word. (Pokorny 6. er- 1162.)

There it is, Bingley! Thanks! (but it deleted all the diacritical marks, etc., for me too???...so click to the site, folks, for the fully annotated copy.)


Posted By: Faldage

Re: Suffixed zero-grade form - 08/30/01 02:32 PM

Indo-European roots seem to come in forms with either the vowel e or the vowel o, referred to as the e-grade form and the o-grade form, respectively. Roots with neither an e nor an o were referred to as zero-grade forms. In the case of word the zero-grade form was represented as wr-, The r used in the AHD transcription WO'N copied got lost in the copy. The suffix, -dh, didn't.

Posted By: Bobyoungbalt

Re: What's the Word? - 08/31/01 01:52 AM

One wonders very much if any amount of researching will get back far enough to pinpoint an architypical form of "word", or "wer", or "verbum". Besides the always-present possibility that all the words related to the "wer" root may be simply an offshoot in the family tree; maybe the parent stock is something that produced the Greek "logos".

Here's a theory of mine:
At least some aspects of the earliest history of the human race are revealed in, of all places, the Bible. Not necessarily as a literal history, but as a general indication, perhaps wrapped in an allegorical form. For instance: Gen. 2:19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man [Heb. Adam ]to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. I think this is an early version of what used to be called (I guess maybe still is) the Ding-Dong Theory of language -- words first arose from the way a thing sounds or looks or appears. Presumably, when the camel was presented to Adam, he said, "Camel!", or whatever the ancient Semitic word was. More historically likely, I suppose some cavemen somewhere came back after a hard day's hunting grunting about "mammoth" or some such and the name stuck. This still goes on. You could list lots of English words which have been fairly recently invented and came about this way.

Connected with this is St. John's famous opening line: In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. which tells me that words (read: communication or the means of communication between persons) has always been; it's something endemic to the cosmos.

Any thoughts on this?

Posted By: Faldage

Re: What's the Word (logos)? - 08/31/01 01:15 PM

Bobyoungbalt suggests maybe the parent stock is something that produced the Greek "logos".

Without going too deeply into the details of the etymology (see http://www.bartleby.com/61/roots/IE267.html) AHD gives To collect; with derivatives meaning "to speak." for the history of the Greek logos

Posted By: tsuwm

Re: What's the Word (logos)? - 08/31/01 01:36 PM

details of etymology? did someone say details....

[OE. word str. n. = OFris., OS. word, MDu. wort (Du. woord), OHG., MHG., G. wort, ON. orð (Sw., Da. ord), Goth. waurd:—OTeut. *wurdom:—pre-Teut. *wrdho-; cf. Lith. va<rtilde>das name, Lett. wàrds word, forename, OPruss. wirds word, OIr. fordat ‘inquiunt’.
Indo-Eur. werdh- is generally taken to be a deriv. of wer-, werU-, which appears in Gr. eqŒx I shall say, q–sxq speaker, L. verbum word, Skr. vratám command, law, etc.]


good heavens, this word is found *everywhere.
[sorry about those Gr. renderings]

Posted By: Faldage

Re: What's the Word (logos)? - 08/31/01 02:33 PM

did someone say details...

Illustrating my point quite nicely. Thank you, tsuwm*.

*Is that where the word zoom comes from?


Posted By: WhitmanO'Neill

Re: What's the Word? - 09/01/01 12:51 AM

Thanks, tsuwm, for that detailed word entymology! The legends of your powers preceed you, sir!

And, yes, BobY, I also thought of the Biblical symbolism for the essence of language. That's why I ended the original post with "And the Word became flesh." But after reading your response I'm wondering if just searching for "the first word for word" isn't guiding us off track. Perhaps that's a good start into trying to discover the linguistic genetic code, as it were. But, as you said, the very first "words" would have been sounds associated with certain animals, emotions, or activities. I don't think I agree, however, that the selection process would have been quite as random as you propose. Being intelligent beings, smart enough to communicate through mutual sound at this point, I would have to believe there would be some reason certain sounds came to be attached to the identity of certain animals, say. ..and not just an arbitrary accident. Maybe one time when they saw a mammoth someone made a sound and it stuck...but there was a reason that specific sound was birthed to eruption at the sight of a mammoth instead of a rabbit....the size of the animal, the threat it posed, the way it lumbered across the ground, etc.
And if, then, indeed, we might carry it a step further and seek what might have been the first word to erupt into language (now seeing that "word" was more probably an eventual means for linguistic identification), I propose that the true first-word would have something to do with A. Survival -- a noise to signify danger or fear, for instance; B. (never underestimating the power of human greed) perhaps a tussle over a piece of meat became a sound that signified "mine;" or C. a sound to indicate self-identity, as in the Biblical I AM BEFORE ALL WAS, the great I AM.
Is there a branch of science, a sort of linguistic archaeology, that delves into these questions. Paleolinguistics maybe? Or does this all just fall under the general study of Linguistics?

Posted By: Bingley

Re: What's the Word? - 09/01/01 02:05 PM

According to Terrence Deacon's The Symbolic Species the ability to symbolise must have preceded the development of language. I'm not sure I completely understood the argument at all points, but that was the basic thrust of at least one part of what he was saying.

Bingley
Posted By: Flatlander

Re: What's the Word? - 09/05/01 11:36 AM

I propose that the true first-word would have something to do with A. Survival -- a noise to signify danger or fear, for instance...

I think this is on the right track. I'm basing my assumption on that fact I know some animals have specific "danger" calls (blue jays, f'rinstance), but I don't know of any animals that have equivalents of your other two suggestions.

Happy to be corrected, though!

Posted By: Faldage

Re: Fools vs. Angels - 09/05/01 12:33 PM

Somehow I feel that we Fools of this board are treading to
where the linguistic Angels fear.

Where's NicholasW when you need him?


Posted By: WhitmanO'Neill

Re: What's the Word? - 09/05/01 06:36 PM

I think this is on the right track. I'm basing my assumption on that fact I know some animals have specific
"danger" calls (blue jays, f'rinstance), but I don't know of any animals that have equivalents of your other two
suggestions.


Good point, Flatlander! I think, then, we could safely narrow our search down to this one. Unless, of course, someone comes up with a better theory, I'd welcome it.

Posted By: wow

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/05/01 07:25 PM

some animals have specific "danger" calls (blue jays, f'rinstance),

Hmmmm, Can we call a "cry" a word? My dog growls when she apprehends a danger and shows her teeth.
In music it is believed by many that drum beats (or rhythm) was the first music.
Now, following this along -- is the "cry" of an animal the precursor of speach or a word in and by itself?
Startled by a person coming up behind me unexpectedly, I might scream or squawk or gasp. Are these cries words?

From viewing PBS and National Geographic specials on TV I've learned that many believe the Great Apes have a language that manifests as varying grunts, squawk and screeches. Words-?- even though they understand the meaning among themselves?
Or are the "cries" all merely signals of a state of mind, a basic communication-without-words as we apprehend words to be?
Then there is Koko the ape who has apparently learned sign language! If this is proved for sure and she teaches an offspring to sign we may have proof of the intellligence of the Great Apes at work.
Or is it just a difference in vocal chords that allowed humans to develop words for things -- a language?
And someday will the vocal chords of beings similar to humans be altered - surgically or genetically - to give them the ability to speak words?
And what will they say to us?
(/musings )

Posted By: Bobyoungbalt

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 02:21 AM

The inclusion of sign language, as brought up by wow, takes us into new worlds in the nature of language. I doubt that anyone would argue that sign language is not language, or words, in the way that vocally uttered or written language is. But on the other hand, once you admit that sign language is the same, is the mating dance of the blue-footed booby a form of language?

Posted By: Max Quordlepleen

- 09/06/01 03:01 AM

Posted By: Bingley

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 05:23 AM

In reply to:

But on the other hand, once you admit that sign language is the same, is the mating dance of the blue-footed booby a form of language?


Language has certain features that the mating dance of the flat-footed booby probably does not have. For example, language can be used to talk about something that is not present. Do flat-footed boobies do their mating dance if no potential mate is present?

Bingley

Posted By: NicholasW

Re: Fools vs. Angels - 09/06/01 08:24 AM

Where's NicholasW when you need him?

Hiding from this thread.

Posted By: maverick

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 11:01 AM

Dr Laura-Ann Petitto

Yes, indeed® Max. I came here intending to post this, but you have preyarted me..!

Well, it would seem that sign language and vocalised speech share use of a key part of the brain….

http://wordsmith.org/board/showthreaded.pl?Cat=&Board=miscellany&Number=33164&Search=true&Forum=
All_Forums&Words=sign language&Match=Entire Phrase&Searchpage=0&Limit=25&Old=6months


(look for the quote about sign language by Laura-Anne Petito)

And this may be a form of pattern recognition uniquely developed in our brains.


Posted By: AnnaStrophic

Word up, y'all homies! - 09/06/01 11:12 AM

OK, who widened the window?

Posted By: maverick

Re: Word up, y'all homies! - 09/06/01 11:33 AM

Sorry, Nanny Whip

Posted By: Faldage

Re: Fools - 09/06/01 11:47 AM

bow-wow

ding-dong

yo-he-ho

pooh-pooh

http://uregina.ca/mckenzij/mm/speech/speech1.htm

ta-ta



Posted By: maverick

Re: Fetch! - 09/06/01 11:55 AM

Good boy

Posted By: Faldage

Re: Did I done good? - 09/06/01 12:06 PM

Pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant pant



Posted By: Flatlander

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 01:06 PM

wow wondered, Hmmmm, Can we call a "cry" a word? My dog growls when she apprehends a danger and shows her teeth.

I think you are right, wow, that a single "cry" is not a word, and that the website Faldage sent us to makes an equally good point when it notes that as far as animals are concerned there are only so many distinct grunts or other noises or moves that can be made. The theory is that each noise has a specific meaning. A certain type of grunt may mean "there's a lion prowling nearby in the undergrowth." There's no breakdown of the message and no way to modify it in part to, say, "there's a tiger prowling some distance away."

But I read an article recently (Smithsonian?) about prairie dogs that suggested that these unassuming little critters had a fairly complex system of danger "calls" that could identify the distance, location and type of threat. This seems an awful lot like words to me (though I would hesitate to call it language).

Posted By: AnnaStrophic

hehehe - 09/06/01 01:16 PM



Posted By: Faldage

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 01:36 PM

an article recently (Smithsonian?) about prairie dogs that suggested that these unassuming little critters had a fairly complex system of danger "calls"

And that they came up with new calls when faced with new dangers, if this junk-drawer memory serves. Or was that some totally other animal several continents away?

Posted By: of troy

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 02:38 PM

there's a lion prowling nearby in the undergrowth." There's no breakdown of the message and no way to modify it in part to, say, "there's a tiger prowling some distance away."

and unless we are in Oz-- (Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) where would you be to have lion prowling nearby and a tiger also?


Posted By: Faldage

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/06/01 03:15 PM

"calls" that could identify the distance, location and type of threat.

Some monkeys do this sort of thing routinely. There would be one cry to indicate a threat from above and another a threat from below. Individuals have been known to use one of the cries, apparently inappropriately, to distract band mates from a recently discovered food trove. That's called lying. If that's not language I don't know what is.

Posted By: maverick

Re: What's the Word? Just musing- - 09/07/01 04:39 PM

The excerpt quotes Dr Laura-Ann Petitto as saying that this indicates these areas of the brain control "fundamental features of language that can be expressed either through speech or signing."
It turns that Professor Petitto has a website. Here's her own synopsis of the matter,
http://www.psych.mcgill.ca/faculty/petitto/cogn2.html


Max, that is an important site to have pointed out. I printed off several of her articles and took home to read last night - I warmly commend them to everyone here, as I think her research is fundamental to understanding the relationship of our brain to language.
although, sadly, there are no mentions of baseball, recipes, jam, ink and all that other important stuff...

Posted By: Faldage

Re: Sign and Speech - 09/07/01 06:11 PM

an article in Science News which reported that two areas of the brain used by hearing people when perceiving and speaking language are also used by deaf people when using sign language.

And now this from Nature about babies, whether hearing or not, babbling with their hands when exposed to signers.

http://www.nature.com/nsu/010906/010906-16.html

It also references Dr. Petitto's work.

Posted By: milum

Re: What's the Word? - 09/10/01 05:02 AM

Wow! You folks raise a hi-bar challenge. You Pooh-bahs, Honorable Old Hands,and Veteran Exalted Members of the Grand Lodge ask that we of unproven mettle...
(1) Explain the origin of God and the Universe.
(2) Solve the mystery of the rise of language.
(3) Speculate on the the progenitor of the word "word".
...all within the confines of an email reply, but what the heck, thats no hill for a stepper, so here goes...
(1) IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD. AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD. AND THE WORD WAS GOD. I find this phrase foremost of the two most intriging concepts in the Bible. Bobyoungbalt notwithstanding, the semantics of "word" in this context seems not to denote "communication" as communication requires two entities, but it might convey a semblance of meaning to a band of wandering Jews bereft of prissy words like "process". "Process" seems to fit although it smarts of Determinism. The other phrase I find so fascinating in the Bible is...***AND IN THOSE DAYS GIANTS INHABITED THE EARTH. THESE WERE THE MEN OF OLD, THE MEN OF RENOWN.***...but to date no one has asked me for an opinion on this dramatic pronounsement.
(2)The rise and fall of language: This one is easy. I will present the answer in a single sentence...***WORDS HAVE NO MEANING, THEY ONLY HAVE FUNCTION***This being true it becomes obvious that I can't explain this by using a logical sequence of words so I have perfected a method I call "concept grouping" designed to transfer information and get the transferee to shout "Ah-ha!", as follows...
...No two objects in the Universe are identical.
...Words are abstracted from the oneness of the Universe.
...Words are as concrete as ,well, concrete.
...( __ ___ ) fill in the blank with Ah-ha!.
(3) Speculation on the word "word": The word "word" is a high level abstraction that came relatively late in the evolution of human speech, likely the whr, wrr, wor, sounds were imitative of the wind of air as it rushed from the throat.As heartless evolution enriched the language of primative man, his estrangement from wordless, mindless, Nature became more complete. As time passed only magical words and arcane chants could conjure up the fading memories of the ignorant, less vocal, and happy times. Are there any magical words in our world today that resonate back to the days when mankind was ignorant and happy? The answer is yes if one knows how to recognize these words. I do and below are the results of my study...
The year is 1957: A brand new street wine is introduced to the street running public. Forty-five years before Whitman O'Niel asked his famous email question, the question was asked and answered in this clever, layered meaning, advertisment...
What's the word? Thunderbird.
What's the price? Forty twice.*
How's it taste? Mighty nice.

*(For you the unhip, Forty twice is eighty cents.)

The year is 1968: A new song is making the rounds. The lyrics are simple but somehow profound...
Bird,bird,bird, bir-bir-bir-bir.
Now don't you know about the bird ?
Everybody knows that the bird is the word.
Word,word,word, wor-wor-wor-wor.
(Repeat seven times until end.)

The year is 1998: A hip hop hit is making the rounds entitled "Word Up". The accompanying lyrics are meaningless except to the cognoscenti. "Jive Talk", you see, only has value if there are no concrete referants. In fact,in Birmingham, Alabama "Word up" was found to too wordy so the cognoscenti greeted each other with simply..."Word, Brother".
So in the spirit of magical words and koans, I will end this email in summary of evervthing said and everything that could be said by saying simply..."WORD" And I hope I have had the final word.




Posted By: Jackie

Re: What's the Word? - 09/10/01 10:42 AM

Oh, milum, what a smilum you posted! I don't have a clue as to what you said, but I loved every word of it!
Welcome aBoard...sir?

Posted By: Bobyoungbalt

St. John I:1 - 09/11/01 01:59 AM

Milum asserts >the semantics of "word" in this context seems not to denote "communication" as communication requires two entities ...<

This conjures up Bishop Berkely and the conundrum of the tree which falls in the middle of the forest. He would say that it does make a sound because even if no one else is present to hear it, God hears it. With respect to the Logos, he would point out there were not only two entities in the beginning but three, and would clue you in on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Posted By: Keiva

Re: St. John I:1 - 09/11/01 11:06 AM

This conjures up Bishop Berkely and the conundrum of the tree which falls in the middle of the forest. He would say that it does make a sound because even if no one else is present to hear it, God hears it.

There once was a man who said, "God!
I find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Will continue to be
When there's no one about in the Quad."

response:
"Dear Sir:
Your confusion is odd,
For there's always someone in the Quad,
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be:
I shall be there."
Sincerely yours,
God

Posted By: Jackie

Re: St. John I:1 - 09/11/01 11:30 AM

Hi, Keiva--nice to know you're back.

Posted By: maverick

Re: St. John I:1 - 09/11/01 11:45 AM

For there's always someone in the Quad…

Dear God, you sound dreadfully odd:
Did you catch a bad cold in the quad?
Your tree is long dead
And your church gone to bed:
If you want to go, quietly, just nod!


Posted By: Faldage

Re: St. John I:1 - 09/11/01 02:24 PM

it does make a sound because even if no one else is present to hear it, God hears it.

Not to mention all the squirrels, chipmunks and chickadees.

Posted By: Keiva

Re: language - 09/11/01 09:42 PM

Going back to origins of language,

First: I understand that detailed control of the vocal chords is possible only because humans have a hyoid bone (and that recently a hyoid bone was tentatively discovered in Neanderthal man, suggesting that that line was capable of detailed speech.)

Second, quoting from Charles Panati, Browser's Book of Beginnings:
In the total absence of any clue to the speech patterns of prehistoric man, several theories have been in and out of vogue.
The Bow-Wow Theory: that language grew out of man's attempts to imitate natural sounds, as an infant calls a locomotive a choo-choo or a cow a moo. (onomatopoeic or echoic words)
The Pooh-Pooh Theory: that speech originated from spontaneous exclamations and interjections: cries of fear, surprise, anger, pain, disgust, despair, and joy. [Aside: Pooh-bahs, take note!]
The Yo-He-Ho Theory: that language evolved from reflex grunts, gasps, etc. evoked by strenuous physical exertion, such as hacking up a carcass or dragging a heavy log thorough underbrush.
The Sing-Song Theory: that human speech arose from primitive rhythmic chants associated with ritualistic dance.

At one time linguists believed that language originated merely facilitate communication. Today, however, it is widely thought that language originated so that earty man could think more effectively.

[Which, parenthetically, somewhat reflects an experience I had as noted in the -pyg- thread.]

Posted By: Bingley

Re: language - 09/12/01 12:38 AM

Keiva, do you have any references for the Neanderthal hyoid bone?

Bingley
Posted By: Keiva

Re: language - 09/12/01 12:48 AM

Sorry I can't do better, Bingley; my information is from a TV show of several months ago. At least I can say it was a serious show (PBS?), and not one of those pseudo-science productions. But you can believe this: had I seen no such show I'd have no idea that there is such a thing as a hyoid bone!

Perhaps google can help; there can't be too many entries on "hyoid".




Posted By: tsuwm

Re: language - 09/12/01 02:13 AM

>there can't be too many entries on "hyoid".

only 3780 for "hyoid bone"!

Posted By: doc_comfort

Re: language - 09/12/01 02:19 AM

I think there's more to speech than just the hyoid bone. Neanderthal man (and woman) had, in comparison to today:
a different shaped (flatter from memory) palate
a larger tongue
a larger jaw
higher (as in nearer the top) vocal cords
less well developed (hence less controllable) musculature in the oropharynx and nasopharynx

And of course they had much less to talk about...

Posted By: Max Quordlepleen

- 09/12/01 02:28 AM

Posted By: Bingley

Re: language - 09/12/01 04:44 AM

I confess. One reason I wanted more information was because I didn't know what the hyoid bone was.

Bingley
Posted By: Bingley

Re: language - 09/12/01 05:22 AM

The following link summarises (not too technically) pro and con arguments on Neanderthal speech:

http://sapphire.indstate.edu/~ramanank/language.html

Bingley
Posted By: Faldage

Re: Speaking of Hyoids - 09/12/01 12:40 PM

139 when you add speech.

http://www.google.com/search?q=hyoid+neanderthal+speech&btnG=Google+Search

Posted By: Bingley

Re: Speaking of Hyoids - 09/12/01 12:55 PM

... including [sigh]

Date: Sun Jan 9 00:19:27 EST 2000
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--hyoid
X-Bonus: Dictionary: A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work. -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), [The Devil's Dictionary, 1906]

hyoid (HIE-oid) adjective

Of or relating to the hyoid bone, a U-shaped bone at the base of the
tongue that supports the muscles of the tongue.

noun

The hyoid bone.

[New Latin hyoides, the hyoid bone, from Greek huoeides, shaped like the
letter upsilon : hu, name of the letter upsilon + -oeides, -oid.]

"Even the discovery in Israel a decade ago of a Neanderthal skeleton
with a large hyoid bone, which is in the throat and associated with
speech, had not settled the issue of Neanderthal speech."
John Noble Wilford, Early man had the ability to speak,
The Dallas Morning News, 4 May 1998.

This week's theme: words for miscellany.



Bingley
Posted By: tsuwm

Re: Speaking of Hyoids - 09/12/01 01:41 PM

>139 when you add speech.

my work here is done.



Posted By: Jackie

Re: Speaking of Hyoids - 09/12/01 03:17 PM

my work here is done.
Well, stick around anyway, okay? Your presence is wanted, here.

Posted By: wow

Re: Speaking of Hyoids - 09/12/01 07:23 PM

Re Neanterthals and other early mankind

Then there are Jean Auel's books if your talking fiction as science.

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