early observations on historical linguistics

Aha! Not Sir William Jones after all, but rather Lord Monboddo, his correspondent, who suggested the following in a letter of 1789.

[I]f you can discover that central country from which all those nations, which you have named, have derived their affinity in language, manners and arts, which you observe, it will be a most wonderful discovery in the history of man. Of the three things I have named, by which the connection and relation of one nation to another is discovered, I hold Language to be the principal. […] And as it is the first of arts, so it is the most lasting, and one that travels the farthest, and is propagated to the most distant regions.

From Cannon (1968) in Am. Anth. [link]

Do read the wiki on Monboddo; he sounds an entertaining and erudite sort of thinker, and one of those minor Enlightenment figures who no doubt had more of an influence on the development of evolutionary thought than the standard textbooks give a hint of. 

Language: hip-hop

Hip-hop and linguistics: you ain’t heard no research like it. Calgary linguist Daryn Howe investigates Black vernacular in hip-hop lyrics. Jeff Long, the GWUM[1], was the hip-hop fan here. The message: Black speech has lots of ain’t.

I was sitting on the bus this week idly eavesdropping on conversations and just could not understand the boys behind me, who were conversing in their particular northeast London urban Black/chav patois that I assume is an “in-group” dialect and meant to be unintelligible to me. It succeeded. It succeeded so well that I thought one of them was replying in French to his mate. I could make out a few words, but my ear honestly thought the pronounciation was Gallic. When I listened harder it became apparent it was the aforementioned dialect, but really? Couldn’t understand for the life of me.

[1] Grunt-Work Undergraduate Minion. We’ve all been there.

Edited to add:  I wondered about the possible offensiveness of my phrase “northeast London urban Black/chav patois”, but I can’t really think of a better way to put it. It’s not exclusively Black. It’s not exclusively a class thing, either, and chav is the nearest I can come up with.