Friday, August 24, 2012

Two notes on dialectology

I just came across this article on the divergence of American English in the Great Lakes region.  I'm not familiar with the dialect, but its vowel system is apparently diverging from standard American English more quickly than other dialects; cf. words like cot and caught with different vowels, unlike in my own dialect.  It's interesting to me to think about dialects in relation to (literary) Latin, which showed practically no dialectal variation across the empire for hundreds of years.  Latin, of course, did have "dialects", much like English does today, but the data are hard to find, given the authority of the literary language.  It's a fun and worthwhile exercise to point them out to students on occasion.
Secondly, the Gray-Atkinson model of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) branching and question of its Urheimat has resurfaced in the past few days, with the same claim that PIE began to break up around 8000 BCE.  The claim reported now is that the homeland must have been located in Anatolia.  Other than the above NYT story, most of the articles I've seen (except this one) fail to mention that Indo-Europeanists largely reject this model, instead projecting the break-up to 4000-5000 BCE and placing the homeland near or in the steppes of the Ukraine, based on scientific analysis of the linguistic data (which the Gray-Atkinson model doesn't do).

Being a historical linguist, I'm fascinated by language change, but it's rather difficult to illustrate in introductory and intermediate Latin courses, especially from the historical perspective.  But demonstrable language changes like the Northern Cities Shift near the Great Lakes could help illustrate more far-reaching changes like those we see in the developments from PIE.  And perhaps we can also arrive at an understanding that glottochronology isn't as easy as plugging words into a computer without really considering the data.