Two Sonnets For Mahmoud Darwish

Dice From There: Two Sonnets for Mahmoud Darwish

I. From There

It was Mahmoud, of all who sing and die,
Born in a nation's catastrophic dawn,
Who made a country look him in the eye.
He made me listen to him in Silwan
That day. I stank of grief and sweat and fear
Watching the men break down an old man's door
And son. I vomited. He tugged my ear
To tell me he had lived through this but more.

Through gas-grenades and prison and despair,
A people clutched at heart, to a death of one,
Under the sign of sacred dignity
He knew his Exodus. He came from there
To forge himself to song between the gun
And Rita. Anguish and humanity.

II. Who am I to say

Could he have been my friend, whose flowers weighed
Down on the gunsight's scales? I think. We both
Learned home in strangeness. Both our girlfriends made
Love in a language we refused to loathe.
Seeing him weary of the slow gun-play
Of sloganing, outgrow the lollipop
Of rhetoric and learn that where words stop
Could carry more than what we have to say,
I think how his verse plays in later years
At dice with histories he cannot master,
The struggle for a thing he vaguely fears,
Chased by the angry twilight of disaster
Across the longitudes from Galilee
To Texas. Anguish and humanity.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Awesome Spark

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
I don’t wonder what you are.
Quite beyond medieval ken 
You are largely hydrogen.

When the blazing sun is gone
Bringing someone else's dawn,
I can see your faint far light 
Twinkle, twinkle through the night.

But the traveller in the dark 
Needs no more your puny spark. 
Compass, map and satellite 
Superannuate your light

Blurred out in the urban pitch.
(Light pollution is a bitch.)
Still I gladly shut my eye
Knowing what you are and why,

Knowing that you too will die
Making carbon in the sky.
So remind us in the dark 
Who with grace round this weird arc
Of the tour all lives must take
As you shine till dawn must break,
Singing soundless through the dark
Of creation to my eye,
Greater songs than morning’s lark, 
Far beyond all sense of high. 
Twinkle twinkle, awesome spark
Making diamonds in the sky.

Stage Indian

(This sonnet first published in Grand Little Things

History offered her no hiding place
From where the fingers of a ghoulish God
Upon the throat of her red bloodied race
Had tried to break her neck into a nod.

Far from the grassy ghetto called a home
The merciless clichés make her their own,
Cruel and insipid. She sings broken rhyme,
Casts the die rolling like a dead man's bone.

And still the blood is dripping from a rock
In her beneath the mind's red, white and bruises.
She just had foodstamps, not a tomahawk,
Who now in shameful feathering amuses
Them. Even so. Still buffalo bend to feed
And bear in their huge hearts a raw stampede.

What Past Poets' Rhymes Don't Tell You About Past Speech

I've just got to get this out there, after seeing so many people make terrible assumptions about what rhymes can tell you about the English pronunciation of the past. 

Did pre-modern English poets' verse always rhyme perfectly in their own speech? 

Not so much. No. They didn't in the 16th century. They didn't in the 17th. Nor at any later point. 

This becomes obvious when we get the rare chance to see a poem phonetically transcribed (or in this case, notated) by its author. 

Here's the verse preface to Hodges' "English primrose" (1644) with his phonetic diacritics. 

Some of these rhymes which would be imperfect in modern English clearly are perfect. For example rare/are (both resting, it appears, on /æ:r/). Likewise gave/have (resting on /æ:v/). But note the rhyme of forth/worth. Based on Hodges' diacritics, these would be /fo:rθ/ and /wʌrθ/. Even less perfect rhymes for Hodges than they are for me!

Were there varieties of English in which forth/worth was a perfect rhyme? Absolutely, yes. In the dialects reported by John Hart and William Bullokar in the previous century these were /furθ/ and /wurθ/. Were there still speakers who had identical vowels in both? Probably. Descendants of /furθ/ survive today in southern England, albeit not in RP. Did Hodges feel the need to dip into their lect for the actual pronunciation of his rhymes? Apparently not.

Another author of verse from the period who transcribed some of his own verse was the phonetician Robert Robinson (fl 1617). In a poem of his own composition, he rhymes what/that and prove/dove for which he transcribes <w̥ot>, <ðat>, <pruwv>, <duv> (using Dobson's system for transliterating Robinson's phonetic symbols), amounting most probably to /ʍɔt/, /ðat/, /pru:v/, /dʊv/. 

Did forms of speech exist in which these would have been perfect rhymes? Again, yes. We have explicit evidence for a pronunciation of "what" with an unrounded vowel also existing within Robinson's own time and after. In fact, not only is he unusual (as a source from the early 17th century) in recording a rounded vowel here but he is the first to do so. All of his contemporaries (Gil, Hodges) record their TRAP vowel in this word. The nature of Robinson's evidence suggests rounding of ME /wă/ began in weakly-stressed environments, which explains why it is mostly limited to function words for him (though he transcribes a rounded vowel once in "want", besides five instances of the unrounded form, and also once in "warrant"). So it is admittedly just possible that Robinson by force of habit forgot to transcribe an unrounded marked strong form under stress at the rhyme here. This rhyme might deserve an asterisk, as it is conceivable (but only just) that Robinson's pronunciation might have had identical vowels for both words in this environment. 

There can be no such doubt about prove/dove, however, where Robinson's rhymes are clearly either traditional or resting on a pronunciation (either a short vowel in the first word, or a long one in the second) other than his own speech. Versions of "prove" with a short vowel are attested securely but rarely by other sources, and mostly in the preceding century, though at least one contemporary of Robinson's (Thomas Tonkis) reports it. It may be that the long vowel in "prove" and "move" was sustained as a learned form, current among the learned men who produced our evidence, but there can be no doubt that a long vowel is what obtained in Robinson's speech; he transcribes "prove" nine times and "move" six times, and always with a long vowel. Versions of "dove" with a long vowel are attested, but in the 16th century only, and then rarely (though that may just be because it's not as commonly transcribed as some other words like "love".) It's unlikely this was a common pronunciation in Robinson's London, and there's no reason at all to think his own pronunciation was anything other than what his transcription implies.  

Now, there is evidence that people in reciting verse might adjust their normal pronunciation to a degree to give full rhymes. For example, the only time Robinson transcribes secondarily stressed final <-y> with /i:/ is when rhyme requires it, e.g. misery/she. Alexander Gil's transcriptions of Spenser show that when rhyme called for it he could adopt pronunciations of head (rhyming with lead v.b.), desert, swerve (rhyming with art, starve), dear (rhyming with were), and poor, door (rhyming with store, adore) other than his normal one.  

But this kind of thing only went so far. Gil's transcriptions in particular do not accomodate rhymes that rest on a pronunciation used by social groups he found objectionable: thus he transcribes Spenser's rhyme despair/whilere as <despair>/<whjl-ēr> (the rhymes rests on a monophthongized WAIT vowel which Gil condemned with mighty spleen as an effete affectation). Mismatches in shortening of ME /ọ̄/ do not affect his transcriptions at rhyme. Wood/stood and move/love are for him <wud>/<stūd> and <mūv>/<luv>. Nor does he drop the velar fricative in "fight" when Spenser rhymes this word with "smite". Recitation practice (as one might expect) also seems like it varied considerably from person to person. (In Robinson's transcriptions of his own verse, the two examples I cited are the only imperfect rhymes, but his transcriptions of Richard Barnfield's verse are on the whole remarkable for how unconcerned with rhyme they are: he often opts to transcribe a non-rhyming form even when the form that would've made a perfect rhyme also existed in his own speech.) 

And, as I've just shown, poets themselves could clearly rely for their rhymes on forms of speech other than their own. My point is that one cannot assume, without a good deal of other evidence, that a pre-modern poet's use of a particular rhyme implies that the pronunciation on which such a rhyme rests was necessarily their own. It doesn't even necessarily imply that the rhyme would have been perfect in their own reading of their own verse.

Much more evidence than mere use of a rhyme is required. 

For example, that Shakespeare rhymes build only ever with shield, field, yield and never once with a word like "killed" may in fact give one reason to suspect that he himself used a version of the word with the MEET vowel (explicitly attested as a variant by Shakespeare's contemporaries.) But the fact that he once rhymes the infinitive of read with dead tells us only what we know from other evidence (that there existed forms of speech where read and dead could both have the MEAT vowel), and nothing at all Shakespeare's speech. A single rhyme like Shakespeare's groin/swine with no other rhymes implying merger of ME /ui oi/ with that of ME /ī/ tells us at most only that such a pronunciation existed (and may in fact mean nothing at all as groin could have a pronunciation grine which would be etymologically expected). On the other hand, the fact that Shakespeare — outside this one ambiguous example — so conspicuously avoids rhyming ME /ui/ with ME /ī/ (rhymes like toil/mile exist in some of his contemporaries, but are absent in his work) may actually tell us more, at least about his rhyming-sensibilities if not about what his own speech was like. 

Poets also could and did also use what are unarguably approximate rhymes, like Spenser's sharpe/darke, gather/scater. But many seem to routinely forget this, especially when it comes to Shakespeare (despite his use of rhymes like open/broken, come/sung), reluctant accept that a given rhyme might well not rest on phonetic identity. Ellis, Kökeritz and David Crystal would have one believe that Shakespeare must have pronounced nothing as a perfect rhyme for doting on the strength of one solitary rhyme and a couple of dubious puns, for example. That modern "OP" performances are full of actors saying /no:tɪn/ for every. single. instance of this word in Shakespeare's scripts (the only form supplied in Crystal's "Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation") is a testament to the weirdness of Anglo ideologies concerning Shakespeare and his language. Ideologies can make people miss the obvious: in this case, the fact that — because of how sound-changes had shaken out — the word "nothing" will have had few if any perfect rhymes. The segment /θ/ did not normally occur in this environment, apart from loanwords (mostly from Greek, where final /ŋ/ was phonotactically impermissible). A poet wishing to rhyme on nothing would have to adapt, either by using a word with a voiced interdental (as in Drayton's nothing/loathing) or do what Shakespeare did and rhyme on /t/.

What I wouldn't give to see people cease their irresponsible use of rhyme. 

No pre-modern literary text was ever written with a future philologist audience in mind, and don't you forget it. 

Ok, there, here endeth the ramble

Some thoughts on some of Alexander Gil's vowels

Just a couple thoughts on the possible phonetic values of some English vowels in the transcriptions of the 17th century spelling reformer Alexander Gil

The PRICE Vowel (modern /aɪ/) 

There is some disagreement in the field about how this vowel developed in Gil's period. Probably the most generally held view is that the process of diphthongization went /iː/ → [ɨi] → [ɘi]  → [əi] before 1500 and stayed there till the 18th century. Another possible view, to which Patricia Wolfe devoted a most interesting dissertation and recently put forward by Roger Lass, is that it took a peripheral path /iː/ → [ei] → [e̞i]  → [ɛi] → [əi] and the last stage wasn't reached until the mid-1600s. There are various other possibilities, like an intermediate path /iː/ → [ɪi] → [e̙i]  → [ɛi] → [əi], or an intermediately central path /iː/ → [ɪi] → [ɘ̘i]  → [əi] (moving, as it were, "diagonally" across the vowel space). Another is that the trajectory was central but that the timing is just different, and the [əi] stage was only reached in the early 17th century. Yet another variation on many of these takes a dip into the domain of [ɜi]. I can think of still more possibilities, and could plot out hypotherical vowel trajectories all the livelong day. 

The issues involved are complicated, but basically the main point is that no source before 1640 really describes a centralized vowel of any kind in this position whereas afterward they all seem suddenly able to. At the same time, the development of the WAIT diphthong (which in some types of speech at least did develop to [ɛi], where it remained for a long time) makes a peripheral path more complicated. The tension is between those who are inclined to credit direct testimony as much as possible, and those who have theories about how sound change works that make their testimony hard to believe on this point. For Alexander Gil's dialect specifically, the [ɛi] state is clearly spoken for. He recognizes this as its own phonetic entity and appears to take it mostly as a variant realization of his WAIT vowel (though, because his transcription choices are influence by spelling, he represents it as such in some of those places where traditional orthography contains <ei>, thus making it correspond partly to Middle English /ɛi/). This is a common theme with Gil: because he is trying to create a new and transparent spelling-system for everyday use which will be well-received, he often opts, among variant forms known to him, for that pronunciation whose transcription comports most with traditional orthography. (Though this is not always so, as with his pronunciations of "heard", "forth" and "yet"). Sometimes (as with the pronunciation of "other", "you", "mother", "fault", for example) he remarks that his spelling-conforming pronunciation is that used only by learned men. 

Gil also notes that his PRICE diphthong was "almost [ɛi]" and the use of his [ɛi] symbol for the word "eye" in particular (and the fact that he seems inclined to use e to represent reduced vowels in particular before /r/) suggests that he might have been happy to spell it as ei were it not for other concerns, like his desire to use a single symbol for this diphthong. He also seems to object to Hart's spelling of this diphthong with the letters ei in a way that could be taken to suggest that [ɛi] for the PRICE vowel was associated with a form of speech he didn't care for. 

Anyway, it seems to me that something high but retracted in the range of [ei]~[ɘi]~[ë̞i] is the least inconsistent with all the evidence available, and quite appropriate to the accoustic impression of an "e-like" quality. 

The MOUTH vowel (modern /aʊ/)

Gil represents this as a combination of his o and his u, as do Hart and (in a slightly odd way) Robinson. The traditional reconstruction of this entity is [ǝu], with posited trajectories like /uː/ → [ʉu] → [ɵu] → [əu] or /uː/ → [ʊu] → [ɵu] → [əu]. Again, Wolfe and Lass suggest the peripheral path more apparently in keeping with what pre-1640 sources actually seem to describe: /uː/ → [ou] → [ɔu] → [əu]. It seems hard to deny that the same phonetic element was not present in both the MOUTH and PRICE diphthongs before the 17th century in the kinds of speech being transcribed. Even Wallis in the 1650s (who describes what Dobson takes, IMO wrongly, to be /ʌu/) distinguishes two different vowels as the first elements of the MOUTH and PRICE vowels. In the latter, this is unarguably [ǝ], but in the MOUTH diphthong Wallis seems to describe something else, something similar to (what was probably even then) French [œ] in serviteur whose main distinguishing feature from [ǝ] was smaller lip aperture. In other words, there's some rounding involved. This sound Wallis recognizes as the same as the vowel of nut etc. This description would suit [ɞ] quite nicely and I find it rather hard to square with [ʌ]. The main objection to reconstructing a rounded back first element to the MOUTH diphthong early on is the question of how it was distinguished from the reflex of ME /ou/ (the "know" vowel, if you will). Hart, Gil, Cheke and Smith all transcribe the latter as if it were their GOAT vowel followed by [u], in other words /ɔːw/. I am inclined to think that is (more or less) what it was, given its behavior (including the tendency of the KNOW vowel before ME /l/ to merge in some types of speech with the MOUTH vowel). Admittedly this presents a slight typological problem. While /ɔːw/ as a phonemic segment can occasionally be found in languages (Ionic Ancient Greek, modern Somali), it's usually not in the absence of other long diphthongs. A closer parallel might be East Cree. But the evidence of Sir Thomas Smith's transcriptions would seem to suggest that the DEW vowel had (or could optionally have) a similarly long nucleus. Anyway, this all suggests the MOUTH vowel having a rounded vowel followed by [u] for this period. It may well have been [ɔu], but [ɞu] for Gil as well is also conceivable, perhaps even more so something near-back [ɔ̟u]. I take the latter as the best guess, or at least the most unlikely to be severely wrong.

The MEAT vowel

Gil's MEAT vowel (the reflex of ME /ɛ̄/) seems pretty safely /ɛː/ and for basically the same reasons given by Dobson. 

The GOAT vowel 

I find no reason to dispute the idea that Gil's GOAT vowel (the reflex of ME /ɔ̄/) is /ɔː/ (perhaps more specifically [ɔ̝ː]). He doesn't give the same kind of evidence he does for his MEAT vowel, and the orthoepists in general are a lot less clear about the height of this vowel than its front and unrounded counterpart, but the survival of [ɔː] into the 17th century in some forms of speech alongside [oː] is firmly in evidence. (John Florio (1611) reports GOAT [ɔː] quite unambiguously, finding in it a good counterpart to Italian /ɔ/ as against Italian /o/ which Florio equates with his reflex of ME /ŭ/). But pushing Gil's GOAT vowel higher doesn't solve the issues with the KNOW vowel, really.

The DUE vowel

I am completely undecided at this point between the general position of [ɪu̯] and Dobson's reconstruction of [yː] for this type of speech. I've gone back and forth on this, and I don't think the question of Early Modern [yː] as a minority variant is ultimately solvable given the nature of our evidence. I do think that the arguments made against [yː] have typically been very stupid. But the evidence for it isn't as clear as Dobson thought. I'll need to fill this out at length at some point. 

Versio Latina: (Ex Tragoedia Iulii Caesaris Excerptum: O Pardon Me Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth)

Ex "Tragoedia Iulii Caesaris" Excerptum
Scripsit Anglice Gulielmus Shakespeare (sive Hastiquatius)
Vertit in senarios Latinos A.Z. Foreman

Mihi ignōscās Ō mōlēs terrae sanguināns
Quod clēmēns atque blandus sum laniīs tuīs. 
Heu, rūdera es virōrum nōbilissimī
Umquam quī vīxērunt lūstrīs lābentibus!
Vae manuī, quae hunc cārum effūdit sanguinem!
Ego hīs apertīs vulnere extīs auguror
Quae mūta hiant ut ōra rubrīs lābiīs
Ut linguae vocem et verba furenter flāgitent.
Hominum in membra hinc descendet dētestātiō
Dīrārum. Furor et caedēs saeva cīvium 
Impia statim Italiae omnēs partēs oppriment
Eruntque in ūsū ita sanguis et vastātiō,
Et tam commūnēs rērum horrendae imāginēs,
Ut rīdeant mātrēs tantum cum vīderint
Infantulōs discerptōs bellī bracchiīs,
Et ferō mōre offōcātam misericordiam.
Quīn umbra Caesaris, vindex circumvaga,
Sociā Nemesī flagrante vectā ā Tartarō, 
Tyrannī vōce haec per cōnfīnia saeviens 
Clāmābit PRAEDAM quî bellī expediet canēs,
Ut taetrum hoc facinus suprā terrās pūteat
Cadāveribus gemitū fūnus petentibus.

Versio Latina: Humpty Dumpty

Carmen De Humpti Dumptii Obitu

Sedebat Humptus Dumptius
Olim in summo muro
Cecedit Humptus Dumptius
Casu damnose duro
Cui Caesaris praefecti tum
Equique adfuerunt
Sed lapsum Humptum Dumptium
Sarcire nequierunt

Versio Latina: Vates Bellator

Vates Bellator
Scripsit Anglice Thomas Morus ("The Minstrel Boy to the War is Gone)
Vertit Latine A.Z. Foreman

Puer vates vasit in prœlium,
   Ad mortis agmen cessit,
Qui patris induit gladium
   Lyramque tergo gessit
"Carminum" ait "regio!
   Etsi te mundus fraudat
Te servat unus pugio,
   Et fida lyra laudat."

Perivit at haud spiritum
   Catena hostis clausit,  
Nec dedit lyra sonitum
   Nam chordas cunctas hausit
Ait "nunquam feres vincula
   O cor virtutis bonum.
Nec det tua chorda libera
   In servitute sonum"

Versio Latina: Rei Publicae Hymnus Bellicus

Huic carmini mihi visum est necesse exstare Latine. Omnes autem versiones quas scrutatus sum iudicavi, ut benigne dicam, nullo prorsus pacto idoneas. Accedit quod nemo videtur strophas convertisse omnes, finali et quarta haud exceptis. Quibus omnibus de causis, versionem propriam constitui scribere meam, quam iam diem abhinc imposui Pipiationi Prosopobiblioque in forma jpeg.

Rei Publicæ Hymnus Bellicus
Scripsit Anglice Ward Howe
Vertit Latine A.Z. Foreman

Oculis aspexi gloriam adventûs Domini
Qui vindemiam conculcat qua sunt iræ acini.
Ense celere emisit fulgura terribili.
Procedit Veritas

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedit Veritas 

Eum vidi & castrorum centum cinctum ignibus,
Cui aram condidere vesperi in roribus,
Cujus justam legem lego tremulis lampadibus.
Procedit dies Dei

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedit dies Dei

In sclopetis scriptum ardens legi Evangelium
"Cui hostes Meos frangit Ego gratiâ adsum"
Gloriâ serpentem frangat hominis calcaneum!
Procedit Dominus

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedit Dominus

Tubam cecinit quæ nunquam caneret receptui.
Corda hominum scrutatur ante Thronum Judici
Cito anima, responde, io pedes hilari.
Procedit Dominus

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedit Dominus

Olim Christus natus est splendorifer trans pelage
Gloria in Cujus sinu transfigurat vos & me.
Quos sanctificavit morte liberemus hodie!
Procedat Dominus

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedat Dominus

Venit gloriâ ut super fluctibus diluculum
Est subversio erorum, sclavis est auxilium.
Cui scamnus fiet mundus, Cui servus sæculum
Procedet Dominus

Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia
Gloria et alleluia 
Procedet Dominus

Voices of Earlier English: Robert Robinson reads Shakespeare

In 1617 one Robert Robinson, a kid who matriculated pensioner from Trinity Hall two years before, composed one of the most original works of early English phonetics in "The Art of Pronuntiation" in which he used a script deliberately unrelated to the Roman alphabet to sidestep its limitations. He lived as a schoolmaster in London and apparently fourty years later impressed Charles Hoole (teacher of a grammar school in Lothbury Garden) with the speed with which he taught young children to read. Hoole implies that Robinson was using a technique peculiar to him. He appears to have been poor, but had a good education.

His published essay is a general theory of phonetics, complete with a series of symbols by which he hopes to be able to represent speech (of any language) unambiguously. Essentially, Robinson was trying to create a kind of Early Modern IPA. It is not without problems. His desire for featural elegance led him to express things like tenseness in a roundabout way. In this he was probably influenced not by traditional spelling as is commonly suggested but by the model set by Latin and Greek grammarians. His description of the distinctive features is very original and sometimes quite perceptive. I actually like his category of "lesser obstrict" a lot. He seems to have independently arrived at the rudiments of ideas like place and manner of articulation.

He then used his proto-IPA to transcribe his pronunciation of English and Latin. And in doing so is able to unproblematically represent a few phones that anyone bound to just the Roman alphabet would have a hard time doing. He reports things like optional allophonic devoicing, the fact that his particular dialect had a realization of /kl/ and /gl/ clusters that we would otherwise not know existed in the city of london at that time.

In his deliberate disregard of the Roman alphabet, he allows himself to recognize variety not just among different people but in his own speech. He feels no obligation to transcribe every instance of a word the same way if he doesn't always pronounce it the same way. Unlike Hart and Gil and all the English spelling-centered sources, the phenomenon of free variation causes Robinson no ideological problems. He is the only such witness to proceed in such a descriptivist spirit. His idiolectal transcriptions give us real information about an incomplete merger of *ā and *ai in his idiolect, one which was only partially lexically restricted.

His book did not sell well, and only one copy of it survives.

His proto-IPA is rather clunky and in some ways fails him. His biggest limitation is that he seems never to have really learned to speak any other language. Had he broadened his articulatory experience, who knows what he might have accomplished. In any case it's a shame nobody in his day realized that he was onto something big in featural representation. Despite some of its awkwardness, his script does allow one to build up a fairly well-supported sense of what a young well-educated but clearly sub-elite man might sound like when reading Shakespeare's sonnets which had been published just eight years earlier. Especially since he transcribes his pronunciation of verse-texts in his private papers.

The pronunciation Robinson records himself as using in reading verse is a good deal more...formal than the one I typically use for these readings. Much more sparing in its use of weak forms of function words. He usually gives words like "my" or "I" or  "have" the vocalism associated with the strong forms. And when reading verse he always pronounces the <l> in "should/could/would". Incidentally, this is one guy for whom their/they're were NOT homophones. So I read it in a careful way, quite performatively flat, the way a schoolmaster might when trying to illustrate pronunciation.

So here you go, sonnet 18 in his English.

(If you're wondering why this doesn't sound like David Crystal's "OP", here's a tediously detailed disussion of everything that is wrong with it.)

Historians of English phonology haven't always recognized Robinson's achievement fully. Chomsky and Halle were among the worst offenders. Some of what Robinson has to say conflicts with certain theoretical presuppositions about the way in which important sound changes took place. The thought has often been that Robinson (and Hart, and Gil, and pretty much everybody else) must have been misled by English spelling or failing to properly perceive things that "ought" to be there.

People like Dobson (Robinson's most recent editor), Kökeritz and Cercignani never forgave Robinson for not representing the PRICE and MOUTH vowels as sharing a single centralized onset. Worse still, there is really is no way to make sense of how he sets up his feature grid unless ME /ā/ was not yet /ɛ:/ for him. Otherwise he could put it in a length-pair with ME /ĕ/, while pairing ME /ă/ with pre-rhotic ME /ā/. The very fact that he reports a distinction between ME /ā/ and /ɛ̄/ in pre-rhotic contexts and equates the former with ME /ā/ in free development simply makes an [ɛ:] value for ME /ā/ unlikely unless there is something very peculiar about his rhotic. But a value [æ:] would mean that ME /ā/ and /ai/ were merging to [æ:]. As Tessio said in the Godfather "hell, he can't do that; that screws up all my arrangements". Dobson for his part found it preferable to think that /ai/ could only ever monophthongize one way in the history of English. He had his reasons. Philologists dealing with the history of a national language have sometimes suffered from morbidly severe cases of teleology.

Wolfe and Lass set the point straight: a man like Robinson who could describe his feature grid this way, who could tell that orthographic <cl> in <declines> actually corresponded to [t͡ɬ] in his pronunciation (a feature now restricted to certain moribund dialects outside London), who was so dissatisfied with English spelling that he came up with an entirely new script, was not being blinkered by naive reliance on traditional orthography in his transcriptions. The only influence of orthography, I think, is that sometimes variant spellings elicited different covarying pronunciations when he read text aloud.

Voices of Earlier English: William Harrison on Why Foreigners Can't Learn English

The English language in the 16th century was a bit like Icelandic or Danish in the early 21st, in that very few people outside the British Isles had much practical reason to learn the language, and of those foreigners who bothered trying, fewer still ever really learned it well. Why, after all, would you need English when anybody in England of real importance would know French and/or Latin? As John Florio put it "What think you of this English tongue?.....It is a language that will do you good in England but, pass Dover, it is worth nothing." John Donne, in The Will (written sometime in the 1590s) says " them which passe among/ all forrainers, mine English tongue." i.e. nobody on the continent will speak any English to you. Literary works of prose and verse in French by non-native speakers, especially in the Middle Ages but continuing into Renaissance, are fairly common. Even in the 1700s one could find learned Englishmen like Sir William Jones composing verse in French as readily as in English. But I know of only one adult English-learner from continental Europe (Charles d'Orléans) who composed a literary work in English before the 18th century, and his circumstances were extremely unusual. William Harrison (b. 1534) in this passage from his Description of England (1577) describes how adept Anglophones are at learning other languages, whereas foreigners seldom manage to learn to speak good English. To Harrison, the reason why is obvious: English is just harder than other languages, whereas if you speak English that naturally makes it easier to learn other languages. Hard to disagree, no? English could never replace Latin and French as a lingua franca. The very idea is absolutely silly, amirite? I think of this passage in Harrison whenever I hear people spewing asininities about how English is just a really easy language to pick up (with "not a lot of grammar") and is therefore a natural choice as the world's lingua franca

Below are three different recordings of this passage in three different chronolects of English as it was pronounced by the well-read, well-fed and/or well-bred subjects of the crown at different times. Try listening to the first recording, and see how much you get. Then listen to the next two. Then take a look at the text, respelled according to modern norms. (Some time in the early 1600s, the pronunciation heard on the lips of courtiers and schoolmasters became close enough to the modern language that a time traveler would face little difficulty at that point) .

Early-mid-16th century London highborn "Mopsey" dialect, the pronunciation of John Hart. (This type of speech had a MAIN-MEAN merger, but MANE remained distinct. It is not ancestral to the next two) 

Mid-17th century elite speech (the pronunciation of Richard Hodges)

Early-mid-18th century elite speech of the "first British Empire" (the pronunciation of Benjamin Franklin)    

This also is proper to us Englishmen, that sith ours is a mean language, and neither too rough nor too smooth in utterance, we may with much facility learn any other language, beside Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and speak it naturally, as if we were home-born in those countries; and yet on the other side it falleth out, I wot not by what other means, that few foreign nations can rightly pronounce ours, without some and that great note of imperfection, especially the French men, who also seldom write any thing that savoreth of English truly. It is a pastime to read how Natalis Comes in like manner, speaking of our affairs, doth clip the names of our English lords. But this of all the rest doth breed most admiration with me, that if any stranger do hit upon some likely pronunciation of our tongue, yet in age he swerveth so much from the same, that he is worse therein than ever he was, and thereto peradventure halteth not a litle also in his own, as I have seen by experience in Reginald Wolfe, and other, whereof I have justly marvelled.

Some Linguistic Sobriety from Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba

"Some people labor under the impression that their language is superior to all others. This makes no sense. The aspects of superiority are known: things are superior either by the work they do or by selection. But languages do not actually do work, and there is no scriptural testimony about the preference of one language over another. The Almighty says: “We have not sent a prophet except using the language of his community so he can explain things to them”, and also: “We revealed it only in your language in order that they may remember it”. With these words God informs us that He only revealed the Qur’ān in Arabic to make the Prophet’s community understand the message. Here, Galen was in error when he said: “Greek is the most superior language, because other languages resemble the barking of dogs or the croaking of frogs”. This is ignorant hokum. Anyone who hears a foreign language he does not understand regards it in the same way as Galen does other languages."

وقد توهم قوم في لغتهم أنها أفضل اللغات وهذا لا معنى له لأن وجوه الفضل معروفة ، وإنما هي بعمل أو اختصاص ولا عمل للغة؛ ولا جاء نص في تفضيل لغة على لغة ، وقد قال تعالى : {وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلاَّ بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَن يَشَآءُ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَآءُ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ } وقال تعالى : {فَإِنَّمَا يَسَّرْنَاهُ بِلِسَانِكَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ } .فأخبر تعالى أنه لم ينزل القرآن بلغة العرب إلا ليفهم ذلك قومه ﷺ لا لغير ذلك ، وقد غلط في ذلك جالينوس فقال : إن لغة اليونانيين أفضل اللغات لأن سائر اللغات إنما هي تشبه إما نباح الكلاب أو نقيق الضفادع . قال أبو محمد: وهذا جهل شديد لأن كل سامع لغة ليست لغته ولا يفهمها، فهي عنده في النصاب الذي ذكره جالينوس ولا فرق

From the Rosae Nomen: Salvatore the Macaronic

Below is yet another passage I managed to transcribe from the medieval Latin Rosae Nomen of Adso Mellicensis. 
The figure of Salvatore in Adso's tale is an interesting one. Half out of his mind, he appears to speak in a garbled mixture of languages spoken in the various Romance-speaking regions he has lived in, as well as Latin. For example "Diavulu" is from central Umbrian, and "Smoardir" (to gnaw) appears to be from some Rhaetian dialect. 
Adso is a native speaker of an Alemannic or Bavarian variety of Middle High German, and of course knows Latin as well. He mentions elsewhere having heard a little Occitan and learned a smattering of a couple Italian Romance varieties, but is unfamiliar with the orthography normally used to write any of these down. Salvatore's speech as recorded in Adso's manuscript thus contains a lot of Romance words whose written form has been improvised by a Middle High German speaker accustomed to writing Latin. 
Many times Adso, in reporting Salvatore's speech, will fall back onto Upper German scribal habits to give a rough phonological spelling of a Romance word whose connection to its Latin cognate is not obvious. By which I mean not obvious to Adso. After all, Adso is unaware that the Romance languages have any historical relationship to Latin at all. Sometime after the diglossic relationship between (what speakers called) written Latin and spoken Latin was severed in the 9th-10th centuries to become a bilingual one between written Latin and spoken Romance, the very idea of any kind of historical relationship between the two disappeared. The fact that Romance languages come from Latin was not realized by scholars until the 16th century, and it took a while to become a matter of uncontroversial consensus. (Dante, who died six years before the date of Adso's story, appears to have believed — as would many others after him — that the Romans too used Latin in educated and written discourse, but spoke something else in quotidian contexts. So natural was the role of Latin in his own day that he failed to apprehend that it had not always been so.) 
Adso's manuscript, as it happens, furnishes us with the earliest attestation of the German idiom "unter der rose" when he responds out of shock in Middle High German vernacular, inducing Salvatore to declaim some verse in the same language about the dangers of confessing your heterodox beliefs to anyone.

Ille plasma retro nos erat specie monachus, quamquam tunica sordida et scisa eum assimulauit uagabundo, et uultus eius prebebat figuram non dissimilem monstris quos nuperrime uideram in capitulis. Nunquam in uita mihi contigit, uelut multis confratris mei, a Diabolo uisitari. Credo autem Aduersarium Nostrum si olim mihi apparet, diuino decreto prohibitum ne naturam suam plane celet quamuis se assimulare homini optasset, haut aliam speciem induturum esse preter illam quam mihi prebuit ipso tempore collocutor noster. Caput eius derasum fuit, set non per penitenciam quin per consequenciam remotam cuiusdam uiscidi eczematis. Frons adeo depressa fuit ut si capilas in capite ullas habuisset, confuse sint superciliis densis et hirsutis. Rotundi fuerunt illius oculi e quibus pupille ostendebantur paruule ac mobilissime. Quorum obtutus utrum innocens esset an malignus nescio, set forsan utroque per uices et momenta diuersa uersabatur. Nasus eius tali nomine dici non potuit, nam tantum fuit ossum quod incipiebat inter oculis set ascendendo a uultu iterum subsidebat in duas cauernas obscuras, nares amplissimas et hirtas. Bucca ad nares per cicatriculam coniuncta, lata fuit et informis, plus ad dexteram quam ad sinistram distensa. Inter labrum superius inexistens et inferius prominens ac carnoso, eminebant innormiter dentes nigri, acuti uelut canis mordices. 
Iste homo subrisit (uel saltem sic credidi) et digitum quasi ad admonendum leuans dixit: 
<Penitenciagite! Retinete en uisiun lu dragun ki es uenidur per rodegarla animam tuam! La morz e sübre nos! Pregi ke uiena lu papa seinte e deliwre nus deu mau de tuz li pecaz infernali! Ai ai, te pleizt kizta nigromancia deu seniwriws nostre Jesu cristo fiwl lui dumneseo! Ed anco dschueiz mes douz e plaseir mes dulurs... Cauete omnes ne sabir e pudir per sagrement dunaz al diauulu! Il sempro me aguaidat in alcuno anglu per me smoardir la cargania. Mai Saluatore nun es idiote, kel sap cum es e tei uœls nella swa testa. Desnaturat son li franzes che deu afar dieu disun nu, ma bonum e lu monasterium e hic se mania e se ruoga dominum. 
Nu kre ka la mort
Digus piws em port
Aueir ni arnei
Mas lus faz ke fei.
e lu reste nu uaut stercus in latrina. Ed amen amen ueritatamente. Nu?>
Hic ego, momentaliter mei oblitus, elocutus sum uulgariter <waz?> (id est, <quidnam?>)
Statim siluit, tunc oculis me tacite scrutatus respondit <tiu...uidetur ses Alemanz...>. 
Cui ego <ia> (id est <ita, recte dixisti>)
Et ille <io nu sape lu teu parladure ma alguno me diget isto olim ueritatamente, memento et tu!
Wann du hast ketzerie getuon,
daz niht fiurpruevung kum darvon
under der rosen halte dich,
nuor in din eigen herze sprich.>
Que omnia fere significant nostratim <Si quid heresis fecisti, ne ignis iudicium ob eo patiaris, teipsum sub rosa teneto, noli eloqui nisi cordi tuo>

Why Are Vampires So Stupid?

One thing I never understood about stories set in universes where vampires are real: why can’t humans just set up a bloodbank to meet vampiric needs? Our bodies are capable of producing so much blood, much more than if you just kill us and drain it all in one go. A single human can produce huge amounts of the stuff if they just give a tiny bit every day.

The whole “vampires need blood and therefore are murderous” thing makes a lot more sense in a pre-modern context where we didn’t know (a) that the human body easily replenishes a complete pint of lost blood within a matter of weeks and (b) just how much blood your average adult is walking around with in their bodies. In modern works, vampires who actually kill or turn a person by feeding on them come off as idiots.

A single human being plus a syringe could probably keep you alive indefinitely, dumbass.

But let's assume extremely high consumption needs, much higher than you find in most vampire fiction. Let's assume vampires need to drink as much blood as adult humans do water: about four pints a day. Even at that extreme, a hundred or so humans giving regular blood would (a) meet your needs comfortably while (b) allowing the humans to lead healthy, normal and happy lives (no one would have to do more than give you a pint of their blood every five weeks.) Given that in most fiction the ratio of humans to vampires is quite enormous, even a need like that should be possible to satisfy without anybody getting hurt.

At bottom, you're a person with a bizarre medical need. Finding willing donors ready to give some blood every few weeks to help you live has just got to be easier than a life of stalking victims, hiding corpses and having to lie to everybody about why you need so much damn sunblock all the time.

Sure, maybe you needed to suck people's blood dangerously back in the 19th century when we didn't know shit about how blood works. But it's time to wake up and check your e-mail.

In the 21st century, it kinda puts a cramp in that “ancient horror” mojo when it turns out you know less about human blood than the average junior high student.‬

Poets in the Qur'an

Some thoughts about the portrayal of poets and poetry in the Qur'an (first released as a mega-thread on twitter)

Why are šāˁir and šiˁr the words for poet and poetry in Arabic?

Etymologically, these two words ought to mean "one who knows/perceives" and "knowledge" respectively. And indeed šiˁr does have the latter meaning, particularly in the fossilized phrase layta šiˁrī "would that I knew, would that mine were knowledge (of)". This usage is quite an old one, and occurs in the transmitted Jāhilī material. For example, the Ḥamāsa attributes to Ta'abbaṭa Šarrā's mother a poem containing the verse layta šiˁrī ḍallatan ayyu šay'in qatalak (would that I knew what thing it was that killed you wrongly).

It is likely that this sense of "know(ledge), sense" is old, and the sense of poetry is a semantic innovation. How and why did this happen? One good place to start looking for an answer is the Qur'ān, which uses the words šiˁr and šāˁir. Interestingly, the Qur'anic voice not only disdains the šāˁirs' (26:224 "The šāˁirs have only a following among the wayward"), but is moved on multiple occasions to highlight the fact that the Messenger isn't a šāˁir. (E.g. "we have not taught him šiˁr, nor would it be right for him. This is only a reminder, and clear Qur'ān" at Q 36:69)

Now, it is vanishingly unlikely that Qur'ān could have been mistaken for šiˁr if the word's meaning were at that time identical to what it means in later Arabic, though this is what is traditionally supposed. In later Arabic, of course, šiˁr "poetry" refers above all else to language that is metrically regulated. So much so that even so esteemed a pre-Islamic poem as the muˁallaqa attributed to ˁAbīd b. Al-Abraṣ might be dubbed "almost non-poetry" (kāda allā takūna šiˁran) on account of its failure to use one of the canonically recognized meters. (ˁAbīd's poem uses a meter that was no longer fully understood by the time of Khalīlians. That's an interesting story in its own right, but one for another post.)

If the audience of the Qur'anic messenger had understood šiˁr in this way, it is difficult to see how there would have been any problem. At minimum, whatever šiˁr meant to the Messenger's audience, it included some kind of linguistic performance close enough in form to the Qur'ān to be mistaken for it.

Ergo it was not restricted to metrical language of the kind found in the qaṣīda. Indeed, it has been speculated by Ahmad Al-Jallad that linguistic performance in quantitative verse was unknown to the Messenger's audience. His suggestion that the qaṣīda tradition has its roots elsewhere is very likely, and the possibility that it may have been originally appropriated from some Old South Arabian language(s) is raised to a mighty height by curious archaeological discovery of a South Arabian inscription — largely undecipherable — which appears to be in monorhymed verse (which I am pretty sure is metrical).

But the fact that the Messenger's audience would use the word šiˁr to describe a performance in Qur'an-like form, with cadenced, rhymed (but not strictly metrically regulated) language, does not actually exclude their knowledge of (and application of the same word to) a metrical verse tradition of the qaṣīda-type. So the question of whether the Messenger's audience was familiar with a qaṣīda tradition is as yet without answer. (I myself think that they probably did know of such a tradition, and if they did not practice it, then it must have been current among the non-sedentary populations of the Ḥijāz. The Qur'anic Messenger is allied with an urban population and views the 'aˁrāb with suspicion and hostility, and Jāhilī verse attributed to town-dwellers is extremely rare.)

So what was this šiˁr of the non-qaṣīda type like? There are justified guesses to offer.

There are Qur'anic passages that shed light on what kind of šiˁr was specifically at issue.

"This is the speech of a noble apostle.
It is not the speech of a šāˁir. Little do you believe.
It is not the speech of a kāhin. Little do you believe."

Kāhin and šāˁir are linked by syntactic parallelism, here, and this is not the only place where they lie in close proximity. At Q 52:29 God reminds the Messenger that "By Grace of God you are neither a kāhin nor a madman possessed (majnūn)", and in the subsequent verse the hard-headed are referenced with "Do they say 'He's a šāˁir and we await a foul turn of fate for him'?"

A kāhin is usually thought to have been a kind of soothsayer with some religious function. (Cognates in other Semitic languages often mean "priest" or the like). Many have suggested — rightly, I believe — that the kāhins had a tradition of producing cadenced, rhymed oracular utterances purporting to be the words of the divine, with information about the disposition of the heavens, spelling out what future disasters (or, if proper propitiations are made, delights) lie ahead. It is not hard to see how the Messenger's audience might make the mistake of taking the Qur'ān to be this kind of language. In fact, if anything it would be hard to definitively prove this to be a mistake at all. A true prophet of the Abrahamic tradition would need his Message to explicitly and pointedly distinguish him from those who might well be called "prophêtai" in the pre-Christian sense of thee Greek word.

The Qur'ān does not spell out any formal differences between itself and šiˁr, or between the latter and whatever the kāhins were producing. Rather, the Qur'ān distinguishes itself from these on the grounds of epistemic and technical superiority: the šāˁir and/or the kāhin is a liar who invents things (Q 52:33 et al.) The Messenger does not. His Message really is divine in origin, as proof of which it is stated that nobody can create a single sūra like it (with an explicit challenge to doubters to go ahead and try all they want). But whatever uniqueness is asserted cannot be a generic one. If nothing at all resembling the Qur'an were known to the Messenger's audience, there would be no need for his Message to expressly state what kind of language it was not, nor would there be any earthly sense to the explicit assumption that the Messenger was at risk of being confused with the wrong sort of person on account of his linguistic medium. So, inasmuch as the Message claims linguistic uniqueness, it is a unique excellence rather than unique form.

But the šāˁir and the kāhin are not the same person, though the Qur'an makes a point of distinguishing the Messenger from both. A tradition of non-oracular linguistic art in Qur'anesque form, perhaps involving legendary figures or ancestors, may have also existed and counted as šiˁr. The rhyming habits of the Qur'ān are not haphazard, and Marijn van Putten has shown that they obey well-defined phonological constraints of a kind reminiscent of the "featural rhyme" of Old Irish verse. Such consistently-obeyed formal compositional features do not simply spring into existence out of nothing. This was a type of rhyming whose constraints the Messenger and his audience were already quite familiar with.

For the Messenger's audience then šiˁr probably could be labeled "poetry" in the Modern English sense if not in the Medieval Arabic sense. They likely knew a poetic tradition, one in which verse-length was not strictly regulated, where rhyme was a matter of assonance rather than being built around repetition of the same syllable coda, and where narrative was a major feature (the qaṣīda tradition is conspicuous for just how rare truly "narrative" passages are). Al-Jallad has brought to light a new Old North Arabian inscription, and offered a fresh appraisal of another, with obviously mythological in nature with thematic connections to North Semitic epic narrative verse, in irregular line-length with verse-constituents bound together by loose rhyming. I would suggest that this kind of language may well have been deemed šiˁr by the Messenger's audience. Its purely formal features have much in common with Qur'anic style, but little if any with the Qaṣīdah.

Which brings us back to etymology. If šiˁr was originally "knowledge" or "sense", then perhaps one stage in its semantic development was "lore to be told" or else "that which is sensed, apprehended." A šāˁir might at one time have been either a "knower of tales" or an "apprehender of things". This is completely speculative, of course.

Many different cultures at different times have known a conceptual slippage between the role of prophet and poet, especially inasmuch as the poet too claimed to be godspoken. Much of what we call "Biblical Poetry" is put in the mouths of prophets. An inspiration akin to, or arising from, madness (or "Jinnic possession") may also be part of the poetic package. We may think of the Delphic oracle speaking Apollo's mind in hexameters, or remember that a possessed "Majnūn" composing Arabic poetry out of unhinged feeling is literally the stuff of legend. The connection between madness, poetry and prophecy is nicely expressed in the semantic development of Norse Óðr or its cognates in Latin Vātis, or Old Irish fáith. The flipside of the seer's insanity is his/her status as sage, one who knows, a repository of material which one is better off for having heard.

Quote from Ibn Khaldun

(Translation by yours truly)

"The poet should avoid not only obscure and arcane words, but also those vernacular words banalized by common overuse. This undermines the poem's eloquence. He should also avoid tropes that have become banalized in common knowledge, as this too undermines eloquence, the poem itself becoming banal and approaching the insipid, as when one says "the fire is hot" or "the heav'ns above". A poem's eloquence flows in inverse proportion to such insipidities, which is why poetry on mystical and prophetic themes isn't usually very good. Only masters can pull it off, and then only with difficulty and in small amounts, for the tropes of such poetry are in such common circulation as to have become banal."

وليجتَنِب الشاعرُ أيضاً الحوشيَّ من الألفاظ والمقعَّرَ، وكذلك السوقيَّ المبتذَلَ بالتداول بالاستعمال، فإنه ينزِلُ بالكلام عن طبقة البلاغة. وكذلك المعاني المبتذلة بالشهرة فإنّ الكلام ينزلُ بها عن البلاغة ايضاً، فيصير مبتذلاً ويقرُبُ من عدم الإفادة كقولهم: النارُ حارةً والسماءُ فوقَنا. وبمقدار ما يقرُبُ من طبقة عدم الإفادة يبعدُ عن رُتبة البلاغة، إذ هما طرفان. ولهذا كان الشِعرُ في الربانيات والنبويات قليل الإجادة في الغالب. ولا يحذق فيه إلا الفحول. وفي القليل على العسر لأنّ معانيها متداولة بين الجمهور، فتصير مبتذَلة لذلك.

From the Rosae Nomen: Advice from William of Baskerville

In illo uultu ab odio philosophie uastato conspexi primum imaginem Antichristi, qui non uenit de tribu Iude sicut simulauerint annunciatores eius, nec de regione ulla longinqua. Antichristus nasci potest ex ipsa pietate, de amore Dei uel ueritatis excessiuo, sicut hereticus nascitur de sancto et indemoniatus de uidentibus. Timeto tu prophetas, Adso, et omnes paratos mori pro ueritate, quia regulatim multos alios ad mortem conducunt secum, sepe ante se, aliquando pro se.
Gulielmus de Basceuilla

From the Rosae Nomen: William and Adso Talk About a Strange Man

I have had the opportunity to copy another fragment from the Rosae Nomen. The MS' owner this time only let me turn to a random page, and after that forbade me to touch the book. The paper she gave me was much smaller, and consequently so is the fragment I was able to copy. As I got home with my notes, several bee-themed firecrackers scared the bejeezus out of me by exploding around the door. I found taped to the door-handle a note saying "Best, Humbert". Heretofore it has been odd, communicating with the owner. But what was this in aid of?
I can't decide what is going on. Am I am the butt of a colossal joke? The human gamepiece participating in some resource-rich eccentric's amusements?
Why won't the MS' owner tell me her own name, why did she choose to send that bizarre email to me of all people, why does that strange car of hers have to pick me up with no warning at the most random of unannounced times?

Iterum nauatam centralem perambulauimus et exiuimus per portale quo intraueramus. Ubertini uerba etiamnunc omnia audiebam meas inter aures zonatim bombizancia. <Iste homo> tandem ausi Gulielmo dicere <est straneus>. 
Mihi <est> inquit <aut potius fuit, in multis modis, homo magnus. Set eandemobrem est extraneus. Solum homunculi angusti et minuti prebent speciem normalitatis. Ubertinus potuisset fieri aut unus de ereticis quos ipse comburi fecit, aut cardinalis Sacre Romane Ecclesie. Satis prope accessit ad ambas peruersiones. Quando de Ubertino fabulo aliquatenus habeo nocionem quod Infernus non est nisi Paradisum ab altero latere uisum>. 
Sentenciam eius haut nactus <a quo> inquam <latere?>. 
<Ah sic> recognouit Gulielmus <primum sapiendum est num exstent latera, et num exstet totum. Set noli animaduertere ad me, et pro Dei eterni fidem noli tu respicere in istud portale> acre elocutus est, mihi in nucham leuem ducens alapam dum me respectum uersabar sculpturas quas introeundo uideram <iam nimium ab illis per unum diem horrepilatus es, Adso.> 

This passage, unlike the previous one, contains dialogue. And dialogue of a most interesting character, too. There is a limit to what can be known of the spontaneous Latin speech of 14th c. medieval monastics, as we have no direct access to that kind of language, though there are documents that seem to have been produced from dictation without rehearsal or revision which may offer something close to it, and much of the dialogue in Adso's MS seems to have something of the flavor of that. It is similar in some fundamentals to the spoken business Latin used sometimes in the early modern period, though with a more profound feel of idiom, and a jargon drawn from the scholastic world. It is particularly full of constructions that will cause Ciceronian fanboys to involuntarily relieve their bowels. The (now agèd) author and narrator Adso is a rather learned monk, more learned than he was at the time when the story takes place (as he elsewhere notes, he did not then know Greek, hinting that matters have changed.) The allusions he indulges in make his learning undeniable. He is familiar with the language of classical literature, and draws on it freely, but it is neither his main stylistic model nor his sole idea of acceptable Latinity, let alone in a document of this kind. The conversational Latin used around the abbey in the text, even by learned men like William and Severinus, is of a workaday, practical type with much syntactic calquing from vernaculars. Thus in this passage we have, on the one hand, spoken parts that contain not only the usual medieval suspects (quando used as a relative with an indicative verb, "quod" as a subordinator with notionem habere for a verb-phrase) but also such medievalisms as extraneus in the sense "bizarre". (Whether the aphaerisis of straneus is intentional or not is difficult to say, but it is not without precedent in MSs from this period.) On the other hand, in Adso's narrative parts, there are medievalisms (nucha, a loan from Arabic) used in the same expression as a specimen of ancientry like "alapam ducere" (to give a smack), followed by the learnedry of "dum me respectum versabar sculpturas" (while I was turning to look at the sculptures) where an accusative supine taking a direct object. These monks' Latin speech is not unsophisticated, uneloquent or broken. No matter that Ciceronians may not have what it takes to handle it.

A diplomatic MS transcription:

Rosae Nomen

Below is a transcription of the beginning of a medieval manuscript which I was permitted to view. Directly above the main text on the first leaf the name Adso Mellicensis is written under a stylized rose. Stirred by a whimsical afflatus of I know not what, I bestow on it the title of Rosae Nomen. I transcribe the MS, without altering spellings and without apology for the syntactic vagaries of late medieval Latin, or at least as faithfully as technology allows. The MS, written in assured blackletter minuscules (with the occasional words written rather inexpertly in Greek), is shot through with a rich array of sigla which cannot be easily represented in the fonts available to me on this blog. Enormous though the MS is, the scribe clearly felt the need to economize writing space as much as possible. Here's a picture of what a faithful diplomatic edition would look like:

At any rate, the owner of the MS permitted me to view it only over the course of a single day in the confines of her library's reading room, where I was supervised at all times (sometimes by her, more often by a rather loquacious guard in her employ) and supplied with only a single sheet of legal-sized paper on which to transcribe material. Though I was told I was free to make and distribute further copies if I wished, the single sheet was clearly meant to limit the amount I could copy. Using the the smallest and most condensed shorthand I could summon to my pen, I compressed as much text as I could onto the one sheet. What I was able to transcribe I give below. I have exhorted her to allow me another day with it, if only to transcribe another page's worth, but she has remained adamant, and will only allow me to see it when so instructed by its previous owner, a man she refers to only as Humbert. I do not know when or if I will see the book again, or what circumstances she will insist on if I do.

In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat aput Deum et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in principio aput Deum, et omnis fidelis monachi fuit diatim repetere uno humili psallenti sono illum unicum euentum immodificabilem cui ueritas asseri potest incontrouertibilis. Set uidemus nunc per speculum et in enigmate, et ueritatem non uidemus antequam omnibus signanter in conspectu manifestetur nisi phragmentis carptim (eheu quam illegibilibus) in errore mundi istius. Debemus ideo uix silabatim fidelia signacula eius efferre etiam ubi nobis apparent opscura et uelut intexta uoluntate summum attentissima ad malum. 
Hodie ad uite peccatoris mee occasum perueniens, canicie tamquam mundus senescens, opperiens ut in sillenciose deserteque diuinitatis abisso perdar, particeps lucis inenarrabilis ab angelorum inteligencia fluentis, iam corpore egro et grauato hac in celula charissimi monasterii Mellicensis constrictus, paro huic pergameno mandare testimonium de mirabilibus terribilibusque que accidit ut in iuuentute conspicerem. Nunc omnia que audiui et uidi in scripturam redigam uerbatim, quin ex eis designacionem coligere conar, quasi ita ut subcessoribus meis uenientibus in hunc mundum (nisi Antichristus primum aduenerit) signorum signa relinquam in quibus exerceatur oracio ἑρμηνεύματος. 
Mihi Dominus eterne rei conditor graciam concedat ut transparens perhibeam testimonium de gestis in abbatia cuius de nomine equum est et pium dehinc tacere, sub finem anni domini MCCCXXVII quo descendit Imperator noster Ludouicus in Ytaliam ad Sacri Imperii Romani dignitatem restituendam, iunxta Altissimi consilia et ad confusionem usurpatoris scelesti, simoniaci, eresiarche qui in Auennione sacro apostoli nomini uerecundiam intulit (dico animam peccatricem Iacobi Cadurcensis quem impii sub nomine Iohannis XXII reuerebantur.) 
Vt ea plenius comprehendam quibus me innodatum habui, forsitan oportet primum memorare de rebus extremo seculo excurrente gestis, cum ut tunc me eas uiuente accipiebam, tum ut nunc eas memini aliis istoriis aliquantulum post auditis auctas, si quid est in me memorie que etiamnunc tot euentus confusissimos philatim renectere capiat. Nam, ut mihi iamdudum dixit amicus quidam (de quo postea tractaturi sumus) <libri semper alios libros reuocant; non exstat fabula nisi fabulam narrat iam narratam>. 
Illo seculo ineunte Papa Clemens V cum ipse sedem apostolicam ad Auennionem transtulisset Romam reliquit predam ambicionibus dominulorum localium; deinde est Sanctissima Vrbs gradatim in circum uel lupanar transformata, luctacionibus inter seniores dilaniata. Misera illa ciuitas, armatis cateruis oppugnata et seuitie predacionibusque subiecta, respublica dicebatur set haut erat. Ecclesiastici e seculari iurisdicione elapsi scelestorum greges ducebant latrocinando cum gladiis in manibus et preuaricando et commercia inpiissima ordinando. Quemnamadmodum impediri quominus Caput Mundi iterum fieret meta, ac recte, eius qui studeret choronam Sacri Imperii suscipere et dignitatem restaurare dominii temporalis quod Cesarum factum fuerat totum?
Itaque anno MCCCXIV quidam V principes electores Teutonici in oppido Franconefurde Supremum Caput Imperii elegerant Ludouicum Bauaricum. Eodem autem die ex aduersa Meni ripa Comes Palatinus Reni et Archiepiscopus Coloniensis similliter Fridericum Ducem Austrie elegerant eandem in dignitatem. Ita fuerunt imperatores simul duo sedi unice, ac Papa unicus imperatoribus duobus. Que causa profecto motus attulit permagnos in mundo. 
Duos post annos in Auennione, nouus Papa electus est Iacobus Cadurcensis, senex LXXII annos natus qui, ut superius diximus, nomen Iohannis XXII sibi sumsit. Placeat celo ne pontifex maximus quisquam dehinc nomen adeo bonis inuisum suscipiat. Ille Francicus Regi Francie deuotus (cuius corrupte terre homines  semper suis rebus consulere inclinant, ac nequeunt totum orbem aspicere patriam spiritualem) Philippum Pulcrum contra Templarios subleuauerat, quos criminum turpissimorum (meo quidem iudicio iniuria) ipse rex accusauit qui, conscio istulo ecclesiastico renegato, eorum possessionibus potiretur. Interea se inseruit Robertus Neapolitanus qui ad propriam dicionem manutenendam peninsule Ytalice persuaserat Pape ut neutrum imperatorum teutonicorum agnosceret. 
Anno MCCCXXII Ludouicus Bauariensis concertatorem Fridericum uinxit. Iohannes, unum imperatorem plusquam duo timens, uictorem excommunicauit. Ille inuicem Papam tanquam hereticum denunciauit. Oportet etiam referre ut eodem anno capitulum Franciscanorum generale conuenit Perusie ubi minister generalis Michael Cesenas, instancias accipiens Spiritualium (de quibus dicendi iterum infra occasionem habebimus) pro re fidei doctrineque proclamauit pauperitatem Christi, qui nihil cum apostolis suis possederat nisi in usu facti. Hec autem resolucio dignissima ad uirtutem et puritatem ordinis custodiendam Pape quam maxime displicuit, qui fortasse in ea creuit racionem qua omnia periculo adducerentur que affirmauerat, imperio ius Episcopos eligendi negans et sedi apostolice peculiare imperatorem inuestire asseuerans. His et similibus commotus, Iohannes proposiciones Franciscanas anno MCCCXXIII condempnauit in epistula decretali <Cum Inter Nonnullos>.
In illo uestigio temporis, ut opinor, Ludouicus in Franciscanis, iam Pape inimicis, socios uidit probabiles. Illi, pauperitatem Christi affirmando, quodammodo nociones imperialium theologorum, uidelicet Marsilii Patauiensis et Iohannis de Ianduno, ei confirmabant. Tandem nonnullos menses post que hic enarro, pactus est Ludouicus cum Friderico, et postquam in Ytaliam descendit Mediolani choronatus est.
Ita breuiatim res se habuerunt quando ego, iuuenis nouicius Benedictinus monasterii Mellicensis, de pace claustri subito demptus fui a patre meo qui in commitatu Ludouici pugnabat.  Optimum ei uidebatur me secum ferre ut Ytalie mirabilia scirem et  Imperatoris choronacioni Rome adessem. Illum autem adsedium Pisarum curis militaribus opsedit funditus. 
Ergo solitarius homo relictus, inter Thuscie ciuitates uagantem uitam agere cepi partim ex ocio, partim ex desiderio discendi. Set rudis et indisciplinata hec libertas, ut opinabantur parentes mei, non decebat adolescentulo ad uitam contemplatiuam deuoto. Secuti igitur consilio Marsilii qui me diligere ceperat, tutelam mei committere iudicarunt doctissimo Franciscano fratri Gulielmo de Basceuilla tunc inituro opus quod se ad ciuitates famosas abbatiasque antiquissimas perduceret. Que cum ita essent, factus sum Gulielmo scriba et discipulus simul, quod nullatenus me unquam penituit, quia comes eius plurima conspexi condignissima tradendi, ut nunc facio, eorum memorie qui post nos uenturi sunt.

Latin Compounding

The idea that the Latin language itself is (or was) ill-suited to prolific formation of compounds of the kind found in Greek is hooey. Ancient Roman linguistic preferences do not exhaust the possibilities of the language itself.

Quintilian's value judgment:

Sed res tota magis Graecos decet, nobis minus succedit, nec id fieri natura puto, sed alienis favemus; ideoque cum κυρταύχενα mirati simus, incurvicervicum vix a risu defendimus.

(But all this suits the Greeks better. It has not caught on so much with us — not I think because of any innate property, but rather we favor loanwords and so admire κυρταύχενα whereas we can hardly keep from ridiculing "incurvicervicum")
Should not be interpreted to be an inexorable result of something intrinsic to the Latin language, as when one scholar suggested that "nominal compounding is not as developed in Latin as it is in other IE languages, since the prototypical length of Latin words is rather short".

The fact that, at least during the empire, Roman-era Latin was not especially given to creative compounds reflects less a linguistic property of Latin than the aesthetic and cultural judgments of those Latin writers whose works survived transmission from antiquity.

 I strongly suspect that resistance to innovative compounding in Latin was BECAUSE it was so associated with Greek, and thus was especially liable to strike the tender nerves of Roman linguistic insecurity. Some words from early Latin tragedy coined on Greek models (sonipes, flexanimo) got entrenched early enough to be grandfathered in.

Some Late Republican writers did coin freely when they wanted to. I think it's no accident that they tend to have been either (a) rather experimentally uninhibited in their Hellenizing or (b) in operating genres held in low esteem by the Roman literary elite. A single poem by Catullus contains such interesting items as hederiger (ivory-bearing), nemorivagus (grove-rover), silvicultrix (forest-tending), erifuga (master-fleeing). And this by no means exhausts the list of Catullan compounds. In the fragments attributed to Decimus Laberius, who worked in a low-prestige genre, there are 46 hapax legomena, and many of these too are obvious compound words. Three nonce-compounds to describe a bull (testitrahus, reciprocicornis, lanicutis) all occur in a single fragment of his. Both the Catullan examples, and those of Laberius, (and even more so comparable coinages found in Lucretius and the fragments of Accius) seem to be inspired by Greek precedent.

Glosses of Greek terms often contain as explanations perfectly serviceable compounds which simply seem not to have caught on in recorded latin. For example πλατυλόγος in one gloss is explained as "latiloquens", which — though a hapax word — is not just perfectly intelligible, but probably near-idiomatic given that that the adverb "late" qualifying verbs of speaking (including loqui itself) was no stranger to the language of Cicero or Quintilian, and that "lati-" as a compounding theme itself is well-attested in words like "laticlavium" and "latifolius."

That "latiloquens" never caught on in accepted literary usage probably has little to do with inherent unsuitability. There is no intrinsic reason why literary Latin could not have taken such a Greek lexical technique over wholesale, much as it did Greek metrical and generic conventions. That it did not do so is an accident of cultural history, and has little to do with the kinds of lexemes the Latin Language itself can or cannot withstand.