Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Welcome to the language reference desk.
Select a section:
Want a faster answer?

Main page: Help searching Wikipedia

How can I get my question answered?

  • Select the section of the desk that best fits the general topic of your question (see the navigation column to the right).
  • Post your question to only one section, providing a short header that gives the topic of your question.
  • Type '~~~~' (that is, four tilde characters) at the end – this signs and dates your contribution so we know who wrote what and when.
  • Don't post personal contact information – it will be removed. Any answers will be provided here.
  • Please be as specific as possible, and include all relevant context – the usefulness of answers may depend on the context.
  • Note:
    • We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.
    • We don't answer requests for opinions, predictions or debate.
    • We don't do your homework for you, though we'll help you past the stuck point.
    • We don't conduct original research or provide a free source of ideas, but we'll help you find information you need.



How do I answer a question?

Main page: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines

  • The best answers address the question directly, and back up facts with wikilinks and links to sources. Do not edit others' comments and do not give any medical or legal advice.
See also:

August 7[edit]

Compound subjects[edit]

The article Compound subject says that sometimes people say:

Johnny and me are coming tomorrow (possibly because of the lack of direct agreement between me and are).

I don't see why that is the reason it is a common mistake to put compound subjects in the objective case. I see it more as coming from the mis-treatment of and as a preposition, meaning that me is the object of and. Any thoughts on how this mistake actually originated?? (A new habit is that after I type ~~~~ the computer changes it to a much larger group of ~'s.) Georgia guy (talk) 15:40, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

  • I've always wondered the same. Not being a native English speaker, I follow the grammar, not necessarily an established convention. Another example is Spike Witwicky's line in the Transformers comics: "I'll make it. Us Witwickys always do." Why is it not "We Witwickys always do"? JIP | Talk 18:19, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I restored the sidebar with examples to that article, without which it's hard to read since the text refers to the examples.
I don't think that parenthetical makes any sense in that context. The article says in compound subjects in informal speech, me occurs in this position, e.g. Johnny and me are coming tomorrow, which I take to imply that this is valid informal speech. Then it adds (possibly because of the lack of direct agreement between me and are). What is that an explanation of? It's not the reason why the phrase is valid, nor the reason why it is informal. It looks like an explanation of why some people might think it was "a mistake", along the lines of me am coming tomorrow, but that's not what the rest of the text says. Unless I'm reading it wrongly, this needs fixing.  Card Zero  (talk) 19:04, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

First off, the true "basilectal" form is "me and...". In the areas of the United States where I grew up, kids who didn't bother to listen to adult ideas of correctness would naturally say things like "Me and Johnny went to the store", or "Me and him went to the store" (when they would never say "Me went to the store" or "Him went to the store", of course). In the early 1990s, Geoff Pullum wrote an essay about how there might be some linguistic basis for pronoun forms in English conjoined phrases being subject to different rules than non-conjoined pronouns. I can't find that on-line now, but here's a somewhat similar thing by Pullum: https://caxton1485.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/the-negative-canon-noun-phrase-and-ime-2/ -- AnonMoos (talk) 21:52, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

In his 1986 paper Grammatically Deviant Prestige Constructions, Joseph Emonds argues that in Modern English, personal pronouns are marked for case only in an artificial version of English, passed on by formal education (hence "grammatically deviant"). He argues that there are not enough examples of grammatical surviving in English to allow a learner to extract it as a concept, and proposes an alternative,rule by which the so-called subject pronouns are licensed in the English which is learnt naturally by children: a rule which is purely syntactic. (The opaqueness and unnaturalness of the "prestige" rule accounts, of course, for the prevalence of hypercorrection). This syntactic rule does not percolate into conjunctions, so Johnny and me (or me and Johnny, but that's another issue) is natural in subject as well as other roles. ColinFine (talk) 23:13, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Just to be clear, in formal English, subject pronouns are used in the subjects of sentences, so the correct compound subject is "Johnny and I are". The reason we do it this way is that that is the rules of formal English. Formal English has a prescriptive grammar, and while there is not an "official" language body like in other languages (c.f. Académie Française) there are still rules that most style guides and the like all agree on as proper formal English, and this is one of them. The speakers of any one of the natural English dialects are not bound to these rules; those dialects develop their own rules for determining when something is within the dialect or marked as being incorrect. There are many English dialects for which "Johnny and me are" is fine. Formal English is not one of them. --Jayron32
    Jayron32, I merely want to know how this actually originated. I would guess it originated with the mistake of perceiving the word and as a preposition rather than a conjunction and thus that the word me is the object of and. Is this how the mistake originated?? Georgia guy (talk) 15:37, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In the article Oblique case, he and I is contrasted with me and him. I'm dubious about the idea of a conjunction having an object (since apples and oranges is logically the same as oranges and apples) but presumably both things can't be the object, so no, that can't be the reason for using me, or for using him in this example, because if it was, you'd expect I and him are ... or he and me are ..., which would be weird.  Card Zero  (talk) 16:23, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
As with many things linguistic, looking for a certain, reliable, causal agent is a futile effort. Linguistics is not physics, where we can reliably say "if you push object X with force Y, it will undergo acceleration Z". There are some rather fuzzy possible causes, listed at Language change, specifically a Syntactic change, much of this is what is known as drift, which is a sort of causeless evolution of a language. Drift can be complex, as in things like the Great Vowel Shift, where a complex set of dominoes led to a complex change, but even that didn't have a reason or a purpose, in the sense that we could have, had we known about the initial conditions predicted that it would have occured. --Jayron32 18:22, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Georgia_guy -- In some languages much of the function of a word like English "and" is done by means of the Comitative case, but I doubt whether the comitative case has much to do with English vernacular pronouns... AnonMoos (talk) 23:31, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
For example, the Japanese word "to" is often translated into English as "and", but it can only have this meaning when connecting nouns (not as a sentence conjunction), and it can also mean "together with", "along with" when following a single noun. So it's much more of a comitative case marker (postposition) than it is a conjunction in the way that English "and" is... AnonMoos (talk) 09:23, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
GeorgiaGuy, in languages which use grammatical case (which, as I argued above, does not include most forms of modern English, apart from the "deviant" prestige version) it is normal for case to percolate inside a conjunction. So in that weird version of English, it is not, and never was "a mistake". ColinFine (talk) 11:06, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It should also be noted that linguists don't really use a word like "mistake", which implies that there is a normative "ideal" language, and that variations from it are undesirable; that places too much value on what they do. The more used term for cases like this is that the usage is "marked", which roughly means that one's interlocutor recognizes what one is saying, but also recognizes that there is something "a bit off" about it. Markedness is distinct to particular dialects; what is marked in one dialect could feel natural in another. The use of object pronouns in compound subjects is definitely marked in any "formal English" register, but may be comfortable and normal for many other dialects of English. Indeed, in many of these dialects, the use of the subject pronoun (i.e. "Jimmy and I are..."), within that social context, may feel marked as overly formal and stuffy. It is all about context.--Jayron32 15:13, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

This is the reverse of "between you and I". --Theurgist (talk) 20:41, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Between you and I" originated as a hypercorrection by people whose use of "me" in conjoined subject phrases was constantly corrected... AnonMoos (talk) 21:22, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Map in Ancient Greek[edit]

Is there any map of Greece, or of areas surrounding it, made in modern times with place names written in Ancient Greek? Please note that I'm not asking for ancient maps originally made in Ancient Greek that probably don't even exist. Thank you! 95.245.16.252 (talk) 17:42, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Ancient Greece - V century B.C.svg
To the Commonsmobile! Here's one. There are others on Wikimedia Commons under Category:Maps_of_ancient_Greece. Oh, sorry, you wanted Greek text, and this is transliterated to the Roman alphabet. Hmm.  Card Zero  (talk) 19:28, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
(edit conflict), apparently. Nice map, but not entirely Ancient Greek. The note under the title, complete with Roman numerals, is a bit of a giveaway; as is the complete absence of the Greek alphabet. ;-) Bazza (talk) 19:33, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It has the advantage of being an SVG, which means the labels can all be deleted and replaced with Ancient Greek alternatives, but that means getting the SVG to render a suitable font, which could be a mission. Maybe it's simple, maybe not. I tried opening the file in notepad and just replacing one of the labels with Ancient Greek, but it still rendered in the Roman alphabet, because of the font, I assume. In fact they must be saved as paths as well as text, because changing the text in the file does nothing. Inkscape could probably sort this out.  Card Zero  (talk) 19:49, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The label "Tyrins" rather than "Tiryns" on that map is rather suspicious. Deor (talk) 23:42, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
How about this one?. I suspect it's labelled in Modern Greek, but I don't know how different that is in respect of historical placenames. There are others in Commons:Category:Greek-language maps showing history. ColinFine (talk) 23:23, 7 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The name of Athens is definitely in a non-ancient form. Also, the stress marks appear to be in a modern "monotonic" form... AnonMoos (talk) 23:26, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
By the way, ten years ago there was an attempt to set up an ancient Greek Wikisource (some even wanted an ancient Greek Wikipedia), but all that's left of it now seems to be this... -- AnonMoos (talk) 21:19, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
No maps in Commons:Category:Greek-language maps showing history or other relevant Cats seem to be labelled in Ancient Greek. --T*U (talk) 12:42, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

August 8[edit]

Checking something in a corpus using WordSmith?[edit]

Could someone able to run the WordSmith corpus software check John Macalister's NZ English corpus for a time series of relative prevalence of the kūmara and kumara spellings? A table is probably best, but I can make do with a graph if needed. The Crab Who Played With The Sea (talk) 18:29, 8 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

August 9[edit]

Split Sabbath, Shabbat and Sabbat[edit]

Is there any good information on how these words from the same root came to have different meanings? (with Shabbat being almost entirely Jewish, Sabbath having a more Christian denotation and Sabbat for Wicca (and related?)Naraht (talk) 13:14, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Shabbat is a weekly day of rest (and worship), and so is Sabbath, and from that arose the idea of a Witches' Sabbath as part of the propaganda for witch-hunts (overlapping somewhat with heretic-hunts), which I think influenced Gerald Gardner in 1954 to use Sabbat as the name of festivals in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, although he claimed it was a medieval term used by actual heretics: details of exactly what connection he drew between these putative heretics and witches is presumably available in Witchcraft Today.
Different groups with their own identities made use of basically the same word, for their own distinct purposes.  Card Zero  (talk) 14:38, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
To be clear, Sabbath, (which the Jews call shabbos), is the name of a day of the week, Saturday (sábado in Portuguese, Spanish and no doubt many languages besides). There is a phrase in the Bible, "new moons and sabbaths". The full moon features prominently in the scheduling of witches' activities. 2A00:23C3:F780:EC01:8886:D77:AE4F:56BE (talk) 16:29, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Shabbat and shabbos are both literal readings of the Hebrew word שַׁבָּת which consists of three consonants. The first one, Shin, can be read as an s or an sh sound depending on the placement of the diacritical vowel marking - the dot on the top. Left is S (to remember, I learned to think of Seattle, on the West Coast) and right is Sh (for Shenandoah, several place names on the East Coast of the US). The 2nd letter is Bet which can also be a "V" sound if it's missing its middle dot (dagesh), but not in this case. The third letter Tav is typically a T sound in Modern Hebrew, but in the Ashkenazi dialect, can also be an "S" sound if missing the middle dot. wiktionary:Sabbath tells us that the English word Sabbath comes to us via σάββατον (sábbaton) in Greek, though before that the same Hebrew word origin. Andre🚐 17:11, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Some details to example Andre's reply: Shin and Sin are different letters, that happen to be distinguished only by the placement of the dot: a given root has one or the other, and changing this would give a quite different word. This is different from the use of the dagesh, which reflects different ways in which one of the sounds in the root gets pronounced, depending on the grammatical role of the word. The different renderings of the word in Jewish use all have /ʃ/ at the start: only forms which have come through Greek (which has no /ʃ/) have /s/.
The dagesh in the second consonant signifies that it was doubled in Biblical Hebrew, hence the 'bb' in all the transliterations. I am not aware of any contemporary pronunciations for Hebrew which actually double consonants, but it does stay as /b/ rather than being lenited to /v/.
The final consonant, without a dagesh, was historically lenited from /t/ to /θ/. Non-Jewish English Hebracists still pronounce it /θ/, hence "Sabbath"; but unlike /b/ -> /v/ and /p/ -> /f/, Jewish tradition has lost the /θ/ sound, replacing it some of the same ways that non English speakers often render English /θ/ (as in "thing"): in Ashkenazi tradition, /s/, but in Sephardi /t/. Hence "Shabbos" vs "Shabbat" (the vowel has also developed differently in the two traditions). ColinFine (talk) 17:35, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thanks for the additional info! FWIW, although I did learn the Hebrew alphabet as Shin and Sin being 2 separate letters (and Bet/Vet, Pey/Fey), linguistically, though I am no expert, and in our article, it makes sense to think of Shin/Sin as one letter with two different vocalizations, and seems consistent with the earlier Phoenician/Canaanite/Paleo-Hebrew scripts. The diacritic apparently started out as a small Samekh before becoming a dot (though the article lacks a citation for this and I never heard this before). Andre🚐 18:08, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Linguists have a hard time coming up with consistent and well-defined ways to describe what things like "words" and "letters" are; these are often defined haphazardly within a language based on the internally developed conventions on how they define what is, for example, different letters vs. the same letters with different diacritical marks; not every language will do this the same way in any way that is consistent. That's why linguists prefer to deal with concepts like phonemes and morphemes rather than letters or words, because letters and words are defined rather haphazardly from language to language, while phonemes and morphemes are more consistently definable. --Jayron32 18:13, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Excellent point - and of course, Shin and Sin have the same glyph shape even though the /s/ and /ʃ/ phonemes are overloaded onto that one glyph and distinguished with the diacritical mark, despite the other /s/ letter (Samekh) existing as well. As in English, where some letters do have multiple phonemes, like s being /s/ or /ʒ/ (z sound) depending on context and orthography. But remember that Hebrew, or Yiddish, is typically written with no vowel marks except in certain situations such as for learners and certain liturgical contexts. Only based on context and familiarity do Hebrew readers remember that שבת is a 'shin' and not a 'sin.' Andre🚐 18:23, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Exactly the same way that English readers know how to distinguish what the different sounds the "s" makes in words like "measure", "dogs", and "sample". --Jayron32 18:37, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
True, but we at least have vowels in English, whereas in Hebrew, it is sometimes indeterminate what vowel sound goes between the consonant. For example, Vav can be a /v/ consonant, or an /o/, or a /u/ vowel. Forgive me not for using the IPA for those sounds. Turns out the IPA was intuitive. Andre🚐 18:56, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Omly in a historical, graphological sense, does it make sense to regard shin and sin as the same letter (it is like 'I' and 'J' in English - historically they are the same letter, and some languages use them interchangeably at least in some contexts, but in English they are totally distinct). But bet and vet are the same letter in a current linguistic sense, in that the choice is mostly recoverable from the grammatical form of the word, without needing to know the particular root.
Yiddish does write the vowels fully - it's just that it mostly doesn't use the Hebrew diacritics, but full Hebrew letters to do so. ColinFine (talk) 21:30, 10 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • The mechanisms involve multiple threads of language change over time and space. In one case, you have phonological change; either because of drift or caused when a loan word is adopted into a new language with a different sound system; the new language will adapt the word to fit into its own sound system. In the other case you have semantic change, which again can either be caused by drift, or by any number of more causal situations. --Jayron32 17:57, 9 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

August 11[edit]

Possessive of film character name with postfixed appositive actor name[edit]

The film on TV had this one-line synopsis (for A Star is Born (1976 film)):

A boozing rock star's (Kris Kristofferson) career falls as fast as his unknown lover's (Barbra Streisand) begins to rise.

Part of me rebels at this, rather strongly. I'm thinking wise-ass retorts in my head, such as:

Oh, is that KK-parenthetical an adjective modifying career? Q: "What kind of career is it?" A: "It's a 'KK-career'! "
And, Q: "Who owns that KK-career?" A: "Why, boozing-rock-star owns that KK-career!"

And I kind of want to reword it, like this:

A boozing rock star (Kris Kristofferson)'s career falls as fast as his unknown lover (Barbra Streisand)'s begins to rise.

That sounds right to me, but I'm pretty sure that has little support in print. I started thinking about why I like the second one better, and what I came up with, is that the serial text loses the parsing path I took to get there, which I think is this:

A boozing (rock star (Kris Kristofferson))'s career falls as fast as his unknown (lover (Barbra Streisand))'s begins to rise.

Now, it makes sense: noun phrases can take possessives, and the -s is appended to noun phrase (rock star (Kris Kristofferson)) and to (lover (Barbra Streisand)). (I've left out another level of parentheses which should include boozing and unknown, for simplicity.) whereas the first one parses as... couldn't do it; it doesn't parse, for me. It just kinda "looks good", because I'm used to seeing apostrophe-s typograpically attached to a name or noun phrase like rock star (or boozing rock star), and not to a more complex one that includes an appositive.

A couple of questions here:

  1. Is there a name for this? I know that the parenthetical term is an appositive, but I'm not sure if there are style or usage manuals which give a name to the situation here (whether or not parentheses, commas or another typographic convention is used), i.e., this:
    (NOUN PHRASE (APPOSITIVE NOUN-PHRASE)) APOSTROPHE-S
  2. Is my impression accurate that reliable sources never or rarely do it his way? Why is that?
  3. If yes to #2, do you think they are "right", or is this purely a stylistic convention, and logic doesn't play into it?
  4. Which one sounds better to you?
  5. Does it look—or sound—any better to you, if the appositive delimiters are em dashes instead of parentheses?

I swear, when I started out there were only two questions... Well, this is the language board, not the math board; that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it... Thanks! Mathglot (talk) 03:03, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The English possessive started out as a noun suffix (genitive case inflection). In some cases, it can now be attached to the end of noun phrases ("The king of England's hat", or even "The woman I saw yesterday's purse" informally), but I'm not sure the construction you referred to is a single phrase, rather than two separate phrases in apposition... AnonMoos (talk) 04:21, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I don't know the answers to your questions, but I would avoid the problem by rewording the sentence thus: "The career of a boozing rock star (Kris Kristofferson) falls as fast as that of his unknown lover (Barbra Streisand) begins to rise." Just take out the possessives et voilà. --Viennese Waltz 07:15, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I would run with your first rewording, just losing the parentheses and the first article:
Boozing rock star Kris Kristofferson's career falls as fast as his unknown lover Barbra Streisand's begins to rise.
I assume that the brackets are intended to indicate that the names are of actors rather than characters; in this context they seem unnecessary to me. 'Boozing rock star Kris Kristofferson' works as a noun phrase, describing an acted part, which can happily accept a possessive 's; likewise the co-star's role. -- Verbarson  talkedits 19:11, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I disagree that the brackets are unnecessary. Firstly, their use in this way is a well-established convention for film-plot descriptions; and secondly, omitting them results in text that, taken literally, states that the actual named individual are (or are being portrayed as) a boozing rock star and an unknown lover. This could be quoted out of context, and could even be construed as libellous. I would support Viennese Waltz's version. {The poster formerly known as 87.81.230.195} 90.196.45.159 (talk) 21:17, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In informal writing I would be happy to use 's after a parenthesized appositive. The 's ending is really a clitic, not an inflection, which is why people say things like "the man I bought my car from's wife"; this is just another example. But in the formal writing of an encyclopedia, that won't fly, and it's necessary to find another wording, such as the one Viennese suggested. --174.95.81.219 (talk) 22:47, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Phonotactics database[edit]

Is there any phonotactics database? I don't find any such database. I would like to know what are most common phonotactic restrictions in European languages. 40bus (talk) 17:43, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What is the origin of the term "video" as used to describe visual media?[edit]

I understand from Wiktionary that the word is derived from the Latin videō, meaning "I see", but I'm wondering when and ideally by whom this usage was coined. Thanks in advance! 69.174.144.79 (talk) 21:04, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The earliest I've been able to find is in a US Army manual from 1944 (here), which states (talking about a radar system) "the video-detection and amplifying channels included in the system provide signals for the indicator system" - the indicator system is a cathode-ray oscilloscope. Not exactly the current usage, but related. Mikenorton (talk) 22:22, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In common use when talking about television by 1945 - see here. Mikenorton (talk) 22:26, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Indeed, by 1949 there was a television show called Captain Video and His Video Rangers. So it was certainly in wide enough usage to be digestible by the public. Or perhaps in 1949 it was still enough of a technical sounding term that it gave that show a more science fiction feel, as opposed to the hokeyness it has to my millennial ear. 69.174.144.79 (talk) 01:44, 12 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It's certainly older than 1944. Taking a quick look at Newspapers.com (pay site) just for 1943, I see references to "video" as a synonym for television. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:32, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
In the OED Online, the earliest use of "video" as an adjective is from the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1934. The passage refers to "video frequency (picture frequency)" and "the video signal". As a noun, the earliest use is from Wireless World in 1935: the quotation attributes the coinage to "Americans" who "were beginning to take ‘audio’ away from its original use in conjunction with ‘frequency’ and... were toying with the idea of ‘video’ as its complement." The OED does not show the author of either of these passages. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 174.95.81.219 (talk) 22:56, 11 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Very interesting, thanks. I saw, but didn't really process, the note of formation by analogy to audio mentioned on Wiktionary. How clever people were back then. 69.174.144.79 (talk) 01:50, 12 August 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

August 12[edit]