Posts

Sometimes I write things about languages.

Lenga d'òc and the Latin dialect continuum

Occitan is a Romance language spoken by less than a million speakers in southern France. Its name comes from the Occitan word for yes. Latin did not have a word for yes, and thus over the years three distinct words emerged: òc, from Latin hoc (“this”), in Occitan and dialects in southern France; oïl, from Latin hoc illud (“this is it”), in France and dialects in northern France, now oui in modern French; si, from Latin sic (“thus”) in Italy and Spain, developing into Italian and Sicilian sì, Spanish sí, Portuguese sim.

Farseers, farspeakers, and farwriters

Consider the etymology of the following words: television: tele-, Greek “at a distance” + vision Latin, “seeing” telephone: tele- + phone, Greek “sound” telegraph: tele- + graph, Greek “writing” English often uses words from Latin or Greek for scientific and technological terms. In German, the words are constructed in the same way but with Germanic roots: Television is Fernsehen: fern “far” + sehen “to see” Telephone is today Telefon, but an archaic term is Fernsprecher: fern “far” + sprecher “speaker” Telegraph is “Fernschreiber”: fern “far” + “schreiber” writer.

Algebra, restoration, and strength

It’s well-known that the word algebra comes from Arabic, but pursuing the origin in more detail reveals some interesting connections. The term comes from Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who made numerous contributions to mathematics during the Golden Age of Islamic Golden Age of the 9th and 10th centuries, and whose surname gives us the word algorithm. The word comes from the title of a mathematical treatise by al-Khwarizmi entitled ٱلْكِتَاب ٱلْمُخْتَصَر فِي حِسَاب ٱلْجَبْر وَٱلْمُقَابَلَة‎ (al-Kitāb al-Mukhtaṣar fī Ḥisāb al-Jabr wal-Muqābalah), or The Compendious Book on Calculation by Restoration and Balancing.