Random Thoughts

Ontogeny & Phylogeny In Life - 2

Language & Script

Continued from Part 1

Language is probably tens of thousands of years old (more like 100,000 to 150,000 years old), while writing and hence scripts are around 6,000 years old. Egyptian hieroglyphics began as picture writing but evolved to be syllabic. The Egyptian word for the sun is “Ra” and the word for sun was depicted as a solar circle with radiations like those on the Japanese flag. The Egyptian word for a bee was “Misu” and the bee was written as a picture of a bee. The pictorial script became syllabic as in when the Ramessoid dynasty of the New Kingdom, or even before that. The pharaohs were Rameses 1,2,3 up to the twelfth and the name Rameses was written as a picture of the sun and one of a bee after it, and read as Ra-Misu. The cuneiform and Chinese scripts began as picture writing, but were later stylized to become symbolic with the picture modified more than even Picasso’s modern art.

The important point to understand is that the choice of a word to name or designate a particular object or an action (which we call vocabulary) was initially totally arbitrary, as far as we can say and had no reason to bear any relation or connection to any particular script. Ancient Persian was written in the cuneiform script and currently modern Persian is written in the Arabic script. Turkish was written earlier in a Runic script, later in the Arabic script because of conquest and conversion by the Arab Muslim invasions. Since the time of Ataturk it is written in the Roman script.

On the other hand the terms used for transference of information from nuclear DNA to RNA is labeled transcription because the script changes from Desoxyribonucleic acid to Ribonucleic acid. The RNA is converted to a protein or polypeptide consisting of a chain of L-amino-acids and is called translation as this time it is not the script but the language which has changed. But because the order of a triplet of RNA determines a specific amino-acid (with some degeneration of the code), it is the script which determines the meaning, unlike in human language. There are four carbon nitrogen aromatic compounds available for each position in any triad. Thus we have 4 by 4 by 4 or 64 codes or choices, but only 20 amino-acids. Thus many amino-acids have more than one code making it somewhat degenerate but still fairly specific, unlike the total lack of connection or specificity of meaning in human languages between scripts, words and their meaning.

In genetics, the scripts and the language had to evolve simultaneously and specifically to convey a precise message with relatively no mistakes, and the fidelity of message and meaning was crucial, not the nod and wink of the fidelity of mutual fund managers, hedge fund managers and Wall Street traders and specialists with consent and consent decrees from the SEC and other regulators. Where there is emphasis on integrity, there is constraint from the start, and capitalism and neoliberal policies do not emphasize integrity but glorify, promote and even justify rabid selfishness as fundamental human nature. (Interested readers should read David Graeber’s new book, “Debt, The First 5000 Years”, exposing the lies and humbug which constitute the fundamentals of the origins and progress of Economics, itself).

Those of you who remember the Sherlock Holmes story of The Dancing Men, and the secret script, which Holmes deciphers by using the frequency of letters in English words, paragraphs and language, or those of you who have read Simon Singh’s book “Code” or watched the Pat Sajak, Vanna White show, Wheel Of Fortune, know why he offers the letters RSTLNE in the final mega-prize round. Similar word and phrase frequencies and Baye’s theorem have been used to determine the authorship of some of the Federalist Papers, which was not known. It has been used to guess if one or more persons, wrote Shakespeare’s works and more importantly confirm that there were multiple authors of the Bible, which was written not at one time, but over decades, if not more. The myth of virgin Mary giving birth to Christ comes from the fact that the word Parthenos in Greek means a girl or a virgin and when the Bible which was originally written in Greek was translated, virgin was used in translation instead of girl. This helps us to infer that the earlier language in which it was written was Greek.

Ontogeny and phylogeny in languages are seen in their etymology (derivation and meaning of words), conjugating of verbs and declining of nouns (see my articles on “Monosyllabic Prefixes, Cases & Conjugation in Indo-European Languages and Char, Chaar, Aachaar, Aacharya, Charitra, Character). Now English is derived from Latin (Norman conquest), German (Angles & Saxons) with intermingling of Vikings by invasions (see my articles - The Mendelian Genetics Of The English Language and Proto-Indo-European: The Mother Of Languages).

Draeber in his book on debt traces the origin of the word Dominium in Latin and its meaning of private property. From it we get the word Condominium which is a jointly shared property, Domicile and Dominion, but all those words derive from Dominus meaning master or slave owner and that is why Dominate and Dominatrix mean what they do. But dominus itself comes from Domus meaning house, and thus Domestic meaning pertaining to the house or a servant. Hence the English sentences -I am the master of my house - and - An Englishman’s home is his castle. Similarly the English word family comes from the Latin Familia meaning household, which comes from Famulus meaning slave. No wonder we get the derived adjective Familiar, the verb Familiarize and the adage, Familiarity breeds contempt.

In Sanskrit, the verb Vid means to know and thus Vidyaa means knowledge and the Vedas are the books of knowledge. It is not uncommon for words to have more than one meaning and Vid also means to see which is given as a secondary or tertiary meaning in a Sanskrit dictionary. Yet in its sister language Latin, Vide means to see as in Vide Infra or Veni, Vidi, Vici (Caesar’s words -I came, I saw, I conquered). That is why we have the English words Video, Vision and the sentences – Seeing is believing and seeing is knowing and A picture is worth a thousand words. It is likely that the primary meaning in Sanskrit was to see too, but it changed to know and one may speculate therefore that the parting between Sanskrit and Latin antedates 1500BCE at least, when the Vedas were composed.

English also derives from German, which has closer connections to Greek.

The Sanskrit for daughter is Dohitur. In Persian it is Dokhtar. In Indo-European it was Dhughater. In early German it was first Dhukter and then became Doxter. In Gothic it was Dauhtar. In Old High German it was Tohter. In Old Saxon, it was Dohtar and in Old Norse it is Dottir. A lot of spellings in German which had the consonants “cht”, changed spelling to “ght”, and lost their pronunciation and became night, light, fight etc. And so modern English retained the old spelling daughter but pronounced it dotter.
John McWhorter in his latest book, “What Language Is” postulates that the Vikings invaded and settled in Scotland, England and like the Japanese and Philipinos, who settled in Hawaii and could not speak English, the Vikings turned Old English into first pigeon English and the next generation made it a different language and omitted the case inflections, so characteristic of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and German. He uses the analogy of Ancient Persian with its eight cases like Sanskrit and modern Persian with no cases and attributes it to the first ever empire in human history by Cyrus, the great, which was multilingual and forced adults to learn the imperial language (remember that the human brain is best attuned to language from age eighteen months to fourteen years), and thus promoted the development of an agrammatic pigeon Persian, uncomplicated and simplified without any cases for nouns. English went through the same evolutionary and ontogenic metamorphosis by the invasions initially of the Romans, then of the Angles and Saxons, then Vikings and finally the Normans. Sanskrit, Latin and Greek based or derived languages even assign a gender to inanimate objects (French) and in German, even an anomalous neuter gender to a young woman, once the derivative suffix for minimalization has been added as in Gretchen or Liebchen. (see Mark Twain’s parody of the German language).

There are many such examples to prove the ontogeny and phylogeny. Because the rules for forming compound nouns, verb conjugations and tenses, noun declinations and cases, prefixes and suffixes are clearly spelled out in Sanskrit, it was used by all European linguists of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century for analyzing the Indo-European family of languages. In addition Panini’s Dhatupada and other writings as far back as 800 BCE, give a detailed list how nouns and other complex verbs are derived from monosyllabic verbs. Interested readers can refer to Mary Haas’s book, “The Prehistory Of Languages”.

For the minor purposes of honesty, integrity, I quote the sources from whom I borrow the facts and ideas and the accusation of plagiarism is merely the desperate attempt of vile creatures who interstingly are generically derived from another early Sanskrit verb “Sru” which meant flow, but also included crawl and from which we get the Sanskrit word “Serpa”, which means to slither, but also snake and hence the English word “serpent”. The verb “Pru” means to spread and from it comes Prithvi or the earth and Path in Sanskrit becomes Path or way, in English (but pronounced paath) and in derived Indian languages (Hindi, Gujarati etc.) Patharnaa, Pathaari meaning bedspread and bed (mattress). The Sanskrit monosyllabic verb Jan means to be born and one can trace it in almost all Indo-European languages to English as in gene, genitive, generate, generation and so on. These, like the comparative linguistics of Daughter allowed the linguists to include Armenian, Albanian, Slavic languages and even dead ones like Hittite and Tocharian into the Indo-European family.

A sentence from Sanskrit with English translation –

Sanskrit Version:
     udyamen hee sidhdhanti  karyaani na manorathaya!
     naa hee suptasaya sinhasya  mukhe pravishanti mrigaha

English Translation:
     It is by effort that tasks are accomplished and not from a wish. 
     Deer don’t enter the mouth of a sleeping lion.

The phrase by effort is denoted by the instrumental case (adding en) to udyama meaning effort and the phrase not from a wish is denoted by a single Sanskrit word Manorathaya. The word Manorath is a compound word consisting of Man and Rath, literally the chariot of the mind (poetic description of a fervent wish). The modifications of pronunciation are elaborated in the treatise on Sandhi or Conjunction. It is very difficult to pronounce Manrath so the compound word becomes Man-o-rath.

In American English pronunciation Internet and Interesting colloquially are pronounced Innernet and Inneresting merely for convenience of speaking. The compound noun takes on the dative case signifying from, due to the added suffix, the inflection “aya”. The phrase into the mouth of the sleeping lion is denoted by Suptasya Sinhasya Mukhe. Mukhe is the locative case of Mukh or mouth and means in the mouth. Sinhasya is the genitive (possessive) case of Sinh meaning a lion and Sinhasya means of the lion. Suptasya is also the genitive case of Supta meaning sleeping. In Sanskrit, the adjective is also declined and has to be given the same case as the subject it qualifies. Also note that mrigaha is a plural implying many animals, but in English the plural of deer is deer.

Thus like German or Latin there is no absolute need for a definitive word order in Sanskrit and generally no need for prepositions, unlike in English. The eight cases for every noun makes prepositions unnecessary or redundant. The paucity of tense related inflections in the English language, in combination with the poor grammar skills of its native speakers in America, is beautifully punned upon by Pinker in his book “The Language Instinct”.

Here is a modified version. A visitor to Boston alights at the train station, hails a cab and tells the driver, “Take me some place where I can get scrod”. When the taxi ride ended in a seedy neighborhood with unusually dressed women at the street corner, the passenger was shocked that they were not at a fish market. The nonchalant cab driver quipped,” I thought you were using the pluperfect subjunctive of the slang verb SCREW”.

Now since the Vikings were brave and fierce warriors, but rather uneducated, they spoke a pigeon form of English and skipped inflections (cases and tenses) of nouns and verbs. This is why many regular English verbs have only three forms like turn and turns for present and turned for past tense. Also many nouns like deer and sheep are their own plurals. The children of the Vikings (second generation immigrants) probably re-standardized their ignorant parents’ pigeon into a simplified Creole language by adding prepositions and grammar, just as the mixture of immigrants did in Hawaii and also in Surinam. The Viking pronunciation was imposed on an archaic Germanic spelling giving us the modern dialect we call English, where spelling does not match pronunciation. With the Norman Conquest, French muddied the English spelling and pronunciation even more. I hope I have been able to elucidate the anomalous path of language and spelling as clearly as those of the facial and recurrent laryngeal nerves.

However I am like the proverbial jester who was sentenced to death by hanging by the tyrant king for his punning. His friends signed a petition for a plea of mercy and the king relented and proclaimed that the jester would be spared if he swore never to pun again. When the news was conveyed to the jester, his nature triumphed over his judgment and he proclaimed, “No noose is good news”. Of course, he was then hanged.

So to revert to my cynical, sarcastic, political and left of center nature over my prudence and judgment, I have demoted British English to a dialect (like downgrading the US credit rating), while still retaining American English as a distinct language, because as Steven Pinker and other linguists sarcastically say, “A language without a navy is a dialect, and a dialect becomes a language by force of arms”. And for the first time in 500 years Britain has scrapped its navy (no aircraft carrier)! This is how in America, black or ghetto English became a dialect for lack of a navy and the 1/32nd drop blood rule and Navajo was promoted to a language for saving the US military.

But Sanskrit is like an old matriarch of “Raintree County”, a relic of many generations, but still standing erect with clear vision like Moses, in whom age has not dimmed the eye, nor vigor. She brings out the old bible, in which is revealed the entire family tree and the skeletons in the closet, and even informs us presently, who even amongst the dead relatives (languages), deserves a place in the family mausoleum, despite some drops of tainted blood by some bigoted standards, once prevalent in a land where all men were created equal.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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