How to learn languages – Vulgar Latin

What are referred to as “Romance” languages are all derived from Latin. That much most people know.

There is a tendency, therefore, to compare them (the relevant national Western European languages are Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian) to Latin when it was at its most prestigious – which, literary academics ancient and modern would generally agree, was the Classical Latin of Cicero and Caesar in the century before Christ.

However, Latin remained a coherent, single spoken language for many centuries afterwards. For hundreds of years even after the fall of Rome, people could travel from modern Portugal to modern Romania and still be understood in their native tongue. However, the Latin language in the centuries after the fall of Rome was as distant from Cicero as Modern English is from Chaucer. Not only was there the time difference during which the language changed, but also even in their own day the formal language of Cicero and Caesar was already markedly different from the colloquial language actually spoken in the streets (leaving aside that the prestige language of government and high culture in contemporary Ancient Rome was not Latin at all, but Greek).

Therefore, it is not hugely helpful to compare modern Romance languages with Classical Latin, when there is a later version of Latin which was still in use many centuries later and which is of more practical use for comparison. Around half the changes which took place between Classical Latin and modern Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian had already happened before those languages split. Therefore, this later version, referred to as “Late Latin” or “Vulgar Latin” (linguists dispute the exact distinction between these terms), is the one to focus on.

19-c-rome-colisseum-inner

So what was “Late Latin” like?

Phonology

Phonologically, final post-vocalic <m>  (and also often <s>) was already lost in all but the most careful speech in Classical times, and the distinction between long and short vowels was soon lost too. This meant that the distinction between, for example, mensa (subject), mensam (object) and mensā (ablative, ‘by’) was already not generally maintained in the speech of citizens of the Roman Republic.

There was significant “palatisation” of consonants (in effect, the subtle pronunciation of a sound written in English as after the consonant) in some positions, particularly before high vowels (usually written <i> or <e>). The most notable instances were /k/ (usually written <c>) and /g/; it also affected /t/, giving it a sound more like /ts/ before high vowels (cf. Classical Latin gratiae, modern Italian grazie ‘thanks’). The exact outcome of this palatisation in different dialects varied (and some insular dialects of Late Latin avoided the change altogether.)

The letter <v> moved from Classical /w/ to more modern-sounding /v/; the letter /h/ was dropped altogether.

Stress became more marked than in Classical Latin, which may have been more pitch-based. Along with the distinction between long and short vowels ceasing to be contrastive, numerous unstressed syllables were lost and various consonant clusters simplified. This meant Late Latin had a considerably more vocalic sound than Classical Latin (although still not as markedly as modern Italian).

Standardisation

Most Late Latin speakers remained illiterate, although a sizeable minority could read and write. What they read and wrote, however, was Classical Latin (at least until around the seventh and eighth century). Speakers would have been aware that there was a marked distinction between the way they spoke and the way they wrote, but that the agreed (Classical) written form was essential to understanding in education and the church. From the eighth century on (although the exact time varied from location to location) there was an understanding that Classical Latin was a long way from the spoken language, and that was when the ‘daughter languages’ (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and others) began to develop as recognisably distinct tongues.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary remained overwhelmingly from Classical Latin. However, over time, some words were lost as others expanded their meaning. For example, fabulo ‘I tell stories’ came to be expended to mean simply ‘I speak’; meaning loquor ‘I speak’ was lost; Classical Latin caballus was specifically ‘nag’, but Late Latin caballu meant ‘horse’, meaning equus was lost (or narrowed in meaning to merely ‘mare’).

Key numbers:

  • I unu, II duu, III tres, IV quattor; V cinque; VI ses; VII septe; VIII octu; IX nove; X dece;
  • XI undeci; XVI sedeci; XVII septedeci; XX veinti; XI veinti unu; C centu; M mil.

Grammar

In theory, nouns retained their “declension” system (the five groupings of Latin nouns, determined primarily by their stem vowel at the end of the word before the ending). However, because of the aforementioned phonological changes (plus, perhaps, some Germanic influence), distinctions between the five core noun cases of Classical Latin were lost, regardless of declension. Initially these were reduced and then, in some dialects, extinguished altogether; for example (using ‘table’) mensa-mensam-mensae-mensae-mensā became simply mensa-mensa-mense-mense-mensa – thus distinguished only between a “general” case mensa on one hand and a combined “possession/indirect object” mense on the other; similarly (though initially not quite identically) Classical fundus-fundum-fundi-fundo-fundo became just fundu-fundi. Ultimately this was reduced to one in most (though not all) dialects, based usually on the accusative (the singular object form which, in Classical Latin, had generally ended in -m). Plural forms varied along a broad West/East split – typically Western dialects adopted the accusative (object) plural form for all cases (mensas, fundos); Eastern dialects effectively maintained the nominative (subject) plural form for all cases (mense, fundi); and there were some exceptions (some northern dialects maintained -s endings in the singular for masculine nouns; some eastern dialects maintained a separate genitive/possessive plural form).

Verbs remained marked primarily for tense; also for voice and mood:

  • the present tense remained a single tense marked almost exactly as in Classical Latin;
  • the past tense retained a distinction between “imperfect” and “perfect” action (repeated action or single action), but endings were shortened;
  • the pluperfect tense (past in the past) was generally lost and came to be expressed in other ways (usually using the past “perfect”, see next point);
  • the present “perfect”, consisting of the verb abere ‘to have’ or essere ‘to be’ followed by a participle form (e.g. cantatu ‘sung’, amatu ‘loved) originally marked a past action affecting the present, but came to be used in general in some dialects to refer to a single action in the past (and, with the past form of abere or essere, it took over entirely as the pluperfect);
  • the future tense was retained but the Classical form was replaced entirely by a form using the “infinitive” form of the verb (ending -re; e.g. cantare ‘to sing’) with the verb ‘to have’ (cf. modern Italian cantare ‘to sing’ plus ho ‘I have’ gives cantaró ‘I will sing’; Spanish cantar plus he gives cantaré the exact same way);
  • an additional near future tense was formed from ire ‘to go’ with the “infinitive” (vas cantare ‘you are going to sing’);
  • the conditional tense was retained by all dialects in varying forms (usually again involving ‘to have’);
  • the imperative (ordering) and subjunctive (counter-factual) mood were retained, and in all tenses (although the past subjunctive became unstable and was replaced in some cases by old pluperfect forms); and
  • passive verb forms were lost, replaced by a construction with essere and the past participle (es cantatu ‘it is sung’) or even a simple reflexive (se cantat).

Verbs did not require subject pronouns – canto on its own meant ‘I sing’, cantas ‘you sing’, and so on, as in Classical.

Verb endings in present tense (-a- stem; 1st, 2nd and 3rd person):

  • canto, cantas, cantat; cantamus, cantatis, cantant

Note also “infinitive” cantare; “past participle” cantatu; “present participle” cantante; “gerund” candandu.

Adjectives continued to agree with nouns in all ways and all cases, tending to be placed after the noun (but this was not compulsory). Contary to Classical Latin, however, adverbs were formed by the feminine singular form of the adjective plus the word mente ‘of mind’; thus lentu ‘slow, tedious’, feminine lenta, adverb lentamente ‘slowly, tediously’. The irregular adverbs bonu ‘well’ and meliore ‘better’ were retained.

However, the most obvious difference with Classical was perhaps the explosion in prepositions, and the introduction of articles. Because nouns were no longer so clearly marked for case, prepositions were required to establish meanings – so words such as de, ad and cum came into much wider use (although not always as prepositions; with pronouns, for example, cum was often a postposition – tecu(m) ‘with you’ [lit. ‘you with’]). For the same reason, the determiner ille/illa/illu ‘this’ expanded its meaning to appear in front of nouns widely, thus generally translated as the definite article ‘the’ (these were also adopted as third person pronouns in most dialects); and the numeral un(us)/una/unu ‘one’ expanded its meaning to become the indefinite article ‘a/an’.

Word order shifted in Late Latin from the SOV of Classical Latin to SVO, but only where the object was a noun (SOV was retained where the object was a pronoun). This generally remained the case for questions, although VSO was also possible. Negation was formed simply, as in Classical Latin, by way of the particle non.

Classical Latin subordinating conjunction quod became que (eventually pronounced without the /w/) during the Late Latin period.

Character

Late Latin was of Latin-Faliscan origin, but unlike Older Latin was spoken at a time that all other Romance languages had been lost.

Late Latin was markedly more vocalic and verbal than Classical Latin. Many of Classical Latin’s complex constructions around nouns were replaced by clauses centring on verbs.

Late Latin remained a solely spoken language (all the forms given here are reconstructed rather than actually attested). Literate people still wrote and preached Classical Latin, albeit with some influences (e.g. more prepositions than in ancient times). Every speaker would have been aware of the different registers. Historical records suggest it was not until into the eighth century that this became a real problem, with Late Latin speakers only then having genuine difficulty understanding sermons (precipitating a growth by the year 800 of the use of the vernacular even in formal contexts).

As noted above, it was at this stage that the commonality of Latin broke down into local dialects, which were then in subsequent centuries rebuilt into the national languages of modern-day Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Romania (with official use in neighbouring countries also).

What now?

Let us have a look at where Germanic languages came from on the same basis next week; then on to the modern day!

Patre nostru, qui es in illi caeli, santificetu es tuu nome. Adveniat tuu regnu. Es tua volunta, sic quomo in ille caelu et in illa terra. Nostru pane quotidianu danos hoie, et nos dimitte nostra debita sic quomo nos dimittimus illi debitori nostri. Et non nos induce in illa tentatione, mae nos libere de ille malu.

DUP’s unbiblical Fantasyland

There is no border control between Norway and Sweden“, “the Great Britain legislation was the same as the Northern Ireland legislation” and “the RHI scheme [without cost controls] was passed by the whole Executive” are just three outright lies told by one DUP MP in recent months.

There will be no public inquiry” said one Lagan Valley MLA, only for another Lagan Valley MLA to say there had been “no U-turn” when the DUP decided it did want one after all.

Due to efficiency savings, it has not been possible to renew Líofa funding” read one DUP Minister’s press statement, removing £50,000 not only to find it again 10 days later, but also to find another £10.1 million to do up community halls predominantly used by his party’s supporters, do up a town centre in his own constituency, and do up a town centre in his party leader’s constituency.

[Our SpAd] has no personal interest in the poultry industry. His family home farm has chicken houses but [they] are not part of the RHI scheme” read a DUP party statement the day before it became apparent that in fact his wife’s home farm does indeed have an interest in the form of two RHI boilers.

Do not steal; do not lie; do not deceive one another” – so reads Leviticus 19:11.

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy” – so we are told in Proverbs 12:22.

1 Timothy 4:2 warns specifically of “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron“.

There is nothing as grotesquely unbiblical as the outright lies and deceptions stated above by DUP MPs, MLAs, Ministers and Press Officers – the same people who then, incredibly, dare to invoke the Holy Book to justify everything from arch social conservatism to outright discrimination.

What is perhaps interesting is that they are not even good lies. It is not like any serious attempt will be made to deny that they are lies. In fact, this is the mark of an addict – DUP representatives lie not because they will get away with it, but because they are simply addicted to it.

In DUP world, as in UKIP world and Trump world, the truth in fact has no value at all. They live in a Fantasyland of their own creation, and then simply state the fantasy as if it is the truth. When someone comes along and points out the truth, they are cast aside as not a true believer, an enemy within, or some other deviant.

On 2 March, let us hope the “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” face the harsh judgement from the voters they deserve. Perhaps then they can examine their own conscience clause. After all, the only thing worse than a liar is a hypocrite.

We are all guilty in “post-truth” society

The year is not very old, but this is probably the most important and challenging article you will read during it:

The Death of Expertise

The problem is, we all know the “Death of Expertise” is going on around us, yet few of us recognise it afflicts us ourselves.

For example, I have now seen well educated, highly able, very professional people sharing this picture (originating, I believe, from the Bernie Sanders campaign) countless times:

denmark

In the words of Blackadder: “There is just one problem with it. It’s b*****ks.”

Excuse the extreme language, but in this case it is necessary. We are, as human beings, inclined to believe what we want to believe. The “Death of Expertise” article above notes the essential point here: it is not that we are lying, it is that we are all engaging in the fallacy that the world is as we think it ought to be. It is not.

To re-emphasise, there is nothing at all accurate about the above. The average Danish worker works a 37-hour week; there is no minimum wage (industries negotiate with trade unions for what is in effect a voluntary living wage in certain sectors, which is typically around $11); universities, health care and child care are not free but are paid for through extremely high taxes (many people may over half their income in tax, plus everyone faces a VAT rate of 25%).

There are many reasons Denmark is the fantastic country it is, but it is simply unacceptable to say “Here is my political platform; here is a happy country; here is the utterly deceptive pretence that that country is happy because of my political platform”.

And highly educated, well respected, professional people (the “Guardian-reading lefty liberals” as well as the Mail-reading white van man) can be just as likely to fall for it. That, perhaps, is the most scary part of all in the “death of expertise”.

Never Waste a Good Crisis (II) – the Speaker

 

By Richard Price:

The office of speaker is no mere procedural position. The role of the speaker goes beyond simply chairing plenary meetings of the Assembly. The speaker should act as the champion of the legislature and if needed, adjudicate in the interests of Assembly, over that of the Executive. The RHI scandal has exposed this, yet in a potentially helpful way.

The second opportunity provided by the RHI scandal is to elect a new speaker who understands and lives the full remit of the role, and will be a champion of reform to Stormont procedures to ensure the legislature is all that it can be.

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. But the argument that he has elevated and asserted what the role of a speaker/Presiding Officer in an elected chamber is, in comparison to his immediate predecessor, must surely be hard to counter.

His championing of reform, his promotion of scrutiny tools such as urgent questions, his quest for order in proceedings at all times, has earned him respect, even if given begrudgingly, from all who cherish the position of the House of Commons at the centre of our national political system.

Sadly, Stormont has yet to see any such Speaker in the modern era. A speaker who takes it as their goal to elevate the status and operation of the legislature, heedless of past party loyalties, or potential complaints from the Executive. It has also become clear that that person will not come in the form of Robin Newton MLA.

Whilst the circumstances of December’s RHI Statement and Adjournment ‘pantomime’ might have provided a test to any presiding officer, all the same, the test was not met.

Where procedure should not have permitted the First Minister to provide a Statement without the Deputy First Minister’s support, strange allowances in favour of his old party colleague were afforded.

Added to the charge sheet has been a conflict of interest in ruling against legitimate public interest questions on funding for Charter NI.

Then we should recall that under another of Stormont’s “quirks” (failings?), unlike John Bercow, Mr Newton (presumably) remains a fully paid up of the DUP with intention to run for election under the party’s colours again.

Up with this we can no longer put.

The Chamber should elect from its number an individual committed to upholding the needs of Assembly debate and scrutiny, over and above those of any erstwhile political friends in Government.

The Assembly further requires a Bercow-style champion of continuous improvement of the House’s procedural structures, including:

  • Proper opposition debate time and speaking rights.
  • Greater facility for urgent questions.
  • Speedy reform of the broken ‘petition of concern’ mechanism.
  • A plan for long term removal/diluting of ‘community designation’ and its importance.
  • A truly independent speaker who breaks ALL ties with their former party.

Northern Ireland needs a speaker who puts the legislature first, the Executive second. A speaker with an appetite for reform. A speaker who feels the dismay of the public at broken systems and takes it as an impetus for transformation. A speaker who has a plan for taking the Assembly from its present nadir of public esteem, to a place where it can hold its head high against any western counterpart*.

It is still possible that the fallout from #RHI could achieve that. Let us hope so.

(*And wouldn’t John McCallister have made an excellent candidate. Sigh…)

What comes after #AE17?

During the campaign, if there is one, I do not intend to post further on political opinion until eve of poll, but will occasionally post on matters of political structure and likely political (not electoral) outcomes.

3 March 2017. After the “brutal” election campaign, the DUP and Sinn Féin have been returned as the largest parties in their respective designation, and have a majority of the 90 Assembly seats between them. There are three weeks to get a functioning Executive up and running.

What next?

It is essential we are realistic about the answer to this question. Forget the #StormontIWant hashtag, what happens next will be based on what suits the DUP and Sinn Féin.

I would guess two things would go a long way to helping re-establish the institutions in that eventuality:

  • an “arrangement” around the Petition of Concern (an initial review of its operation plus perhaps some agreement not to use it in certain areas apparently in line with “A Fresh Start”) – this would enable at least some of the issues in Mr McGuinness’s resignation letter to be dealt with while also moving in the direction of stated DUP policy; and
  • a commitment from the UK Government urgently to introduce an Irish Language Act (which would take the form of placing a duty on public authorities to ensure respect for the language at all times, maintenance of Charter obligations, and certain other rights particularly in education) – this would cover this St Andrews obligation and secure the respect agenda, but would enable the DUP not to have to legislate.

Although there would be other things to iron out (like a Justice Minister, the speed of the “RHI Inquiry” and, not least, damaged personal relationships), such an agreement would at the very least make it difficult for either party to justify the continuing and worsening instability of a second election.

Of course, such a deal could be done NOW, so it may not be so easy.

3 March 2017. After a “brutal” election campaign in which it became apparent that both Executive parties are guilty of appalling financial mismanagement (RHI meet Welfare Reform delay; dodgy office costs meet inactive cultural societies; community hall grants meet agricultural subsidy blunders; United Airlines meet Ballykelly relocation; NAMA meet, well, NAMA… oh, and they don’t seem to have fallen out over SIF, funnily), the DUP and Sinn Féin are returned as largest parties in their respective designations but weakened so that they no longer command an overall majority between them. 

What next?

Noting that they, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP do have a narrow majority, the Alliance Party proposes (via a combination of its 1988 Governing With Consent and 2004 Agenda for Democracy documents) that the three parties clearly could form a power-sharing Executive which would command a majority in the Assembly. It would clearly be a nonsense not to proceed on that basis.

Initially by changing the time limit for appointment of First and deputy First Minister to 28 days rather than 14, the Secretary of State has time to introduce emergency legislation making the Executive a separate institution from the Assembly (as in Scotland and Wales) and allowing him, in practice in consultation with the Government of Ireland as a fellow guarantor of the Agreement, to nominate a full Executive consisting of all three designations which may then be approved as a whole by simple majority in the Assembly.

That is what should happen. Remember, if this unnecessary election does come pass, YOU decide…

That issue of “Parity”

There remains some confusion as to quite why the Renewable Heat Incentive ended up being financed as it was.

Necessarily, this is a somewhat simplified explanation.

Essentially, there are two types of public spending in the UK – that falling under “Departmental Expenditure Limits” (budgeted, in other words) and that falling under “Annually Managed Expenditure” (estimated, in other words). [The former is also split between “capital” and “revenue” spending, but that is not relevant here.]

Education, for example, is budgeted – a budget is set for the financial year (or financial years) and that is deemed the Departmental Expenditure Limit.

Welfare, for example, can only be estimated – it depends ultimately on how many claimants there are. A marked economic decline (as, for example, in 2008/9) can mean the amount required goes up swiftly and otherwise unpredictably. This, therefore, has to be “annually managed”.

In the case of DEL expenditure, because it can be budgeted, the UK Treasury allocates the money for “geographically identifiable issues” (health, education, infrastructure) to each devolved Finance Department in advance. In the case of AME, however, the UK Treasury pays (albeit via a local Department) as the expenditure is accrued.

However, “parity” applies. This is the concept that the UK Government will cover all spending (whether DEL or AME) on the same basis, provided no part of the UK seeks an advantage either by changing main taxation or by changing policy in an area funded under AME. Where such a change is made by a devolved Government or Department, any extra expenditure must be paid from its own devolved Budget. As is well known, that is the issue with corporation tax and welfare reform.

Schemes encouraging a particular behaviour, for example the use of renewable heat, would fall under the latter – as you do not really know how many claimants there will be, you cannot put in place a “budget” as such. The idea is, provided the scheme is properly managed, that it will reap long-term benefits (though, say, improved energy efficiency, or improved public health due to lower pollution or cleaner power).

That is why, when you operate such a scheme without being able to budget, you implement appropriate cost controls and annual reviews. With regards to a Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, it would therefore be the height of lunacy in Northern Ireland to remove cost controls from the model legislation and not ensure annual reviews were implemented. Not least since it thus renders and policy different and breaches parity, and thus it falls to the people of Northern Ireland to pick up the tab, which was the whole reason we had to implement welfare reform after all…

How to learn languages – Indo-European

So, following on from last Friday’s general introduction, let us start at the beginning.

imageThis is the “family tree” of Indo-European languages. It is slightly simplistic, as it does not take account of languages which have been heavily influenced by other languages (not least English!)

This means that over 400 languages, including all national languages in Europe bar Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian, are derived from a single tongue spoken around 5000 years ago, probably in or near modern Ukraine, which we now call “Proto-Indo-European” (PIE). Half the world’s population speak a daughter language PIE natively. PIE then broke up over the centuries into different dialects as tribes moved geographically and language changed (for a range of reasons from basic language change to coming across new things to describe and, of course, coming into contact with other languages).

So a good start is to have some idea what PIE was like.

Phonology

Clearly, we do not know precisely what PIE sounded like.

However, we can, through reconstruction, work out that it had a lot of various sounds similar to those typically represented by modern English <h> and <l>. Most of these have been lost, but we can tell they existed from the way words developed subsequently.

We can reliably guess more about consonants than vowels, although we do know the most commonly occurring vowels were /e/ and /o/. Consonants were distinguished not just by “voiced” (e.g. /b/) and “voiceless” (e.g. /p/), but also “aspirated” (as Classical Latin <ph>). There would also have been considerably more of these (i.e. individual consonant sounds) than in most modern languages.

Most noteworthy of all, perhaps, is the clear indication that PIE relied on pitch rather than stress; and that this was applied at the start of words (perhaps with the exception of words with prefixes, which were exempt). This would have given it a markedly more different sound from any Western European language now.

Standardisation

Proto-Indo-European speakers had not, of course, developed the technology of writing. Written forms of the language are, therefore, the reconstructions of academic linguists.

Vocabulary

Most of our vocabulary originates from PIE (though in fact this figure is lower for Germanic languages such as English than it is for Romance languages derived from Latin).

Key numbers:

  • 1 hoi-no-; 2 dwo-; 3 trei; 4 kwetwor-; 5 penkwe; 6 sweks; 7 septm; 8 oktou; 9 newn.; 10 dekm.

Note also k’m.tóm ‘a large number, a hundred’

PIE did have nouns, verbs and adjectives (this is not the case for all languages worldwide). However, other classes were less clear – what are now prepositions in most daughter languages were often postpositions or simply affixes, for example.

Grammar

Nouns in PIE had eight, perhaps nine, cases – marked by endings to distinguish whether they were being used as subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor, recipient and so on. They had three numbers (singular, dual, plural) and three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), and fell into a number of classifications. Some were further grouped – those ending -r, for example, often marked family relationship (and generally still do).

Verbs were marked, either by changes to the root vowel or by an ending (or both), primarily for aspect (rather than tense, as such) – whether something is relevant to the present or not. There were also complex moods – essentially marking whether something was certain, optional, counter-factual, and so on. Verbs could also be marked directly for mediopassive – the passive (effectively switching the subject and object around) or reflexive (making the subject also the object). They came in four classes – marked by the stem vowels (i.e. those generally appearing before the ending) /a/, /e/, /i/ or none – and were themselves classified by aspect (as being stative, reflecting a state; imperfective, reflecting something ongoing; or perfective, reflecting something complete – thus, where in English it is correct to say both ‘I boil the water’ and ‘The water boils’, PIE would not have allowed the same form for both).

Common (thematic) verb endings (1st, 2nd and 3rd person):

  • Singular: -oh,-esi, -eti 
  • Plural: -omos, -ete, -onti

Dual also existed, but is not relevant to modern Western European languages.

All adjectives agreed with nouns; it is unclear how much distinction there was between adjectives and adverbs.

Pronouns were markedly different from how we currently understand them. For example, there were first and second person pronouns (‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’) but not third person (no ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘they’).

Key personal pronouns (in nominative/accusative) were:

  • singular h,eg’oH/h,me’, tuH/twe’; plural wei/nsme’, yuH/usme’

Word order was generally SOV, although the range of cases (and other marker particles) would have allowed significant variation for emphasis and there was a shift in some dialects late on to SVO. The key negative particle was ne.

Character

Clearly, it is hard to assess the character of a language spoken thousands of years ago.

We do not know exactly what its own origins were, and whether they were shared with any other language tree (this is keenly debated by linguists, but seems unlikely to me).

We know something about the culture. We can tell from the language that society was clearly patriarchal, for example. Much of this too, however, remains keenly debated.

What now?

Let us move forward then to the earliest “Romance” and “Germanic” languages.

 

Business has to think again about NI political preferences

A few months ago I appeared on Nolan to argue that the retail sector can only go so far in delivering jobs and growth, and that the focus needs to shift somewhat towards real exports. Understandably there was an opposite number from the retail sector arguing his case – but then, rather less understandably, he went on to heap praise on the DUP/SF Executive (in a kind of ‘I haven’t always agreed with them in the past but now they’re wonderful’ way).

It continued to be striking subsequently how few organisations, particularly though not exclusively in business, would dare criticise the Executive after it was formed in late May. Private conversations sometimes revealed some wariness, but this was always followed by a ‘But you have to understand…’

Well no actually I don’t have to understand. For example, all business organisations who polled their members found them majority opposed to Brexit in Northern Ireland (this went as high as 81% in one case), yet in the face of the DUP no outright campaigning was to be seen at all. ‘Ah but corporation tax…’

Ah but nothing. Left to its own devices the simple fact is, by a selfish determination to protect its Leader at all costs and a distinct lack of grace towards others, ‘Arlene’s candidates’ have taken just eight months to deliver catastrophic instability – at just the very time business (including retail) could not afford it.

Business organisations have a stake in Northern Ireland and now they must finally find a voice. The unstable situation brought on by the current Executive is intolerable; businesspeople have a vote; and they must use that vote to punish those who brought it about.

After all, that’s how democracy is supposed to work.

Liofa funding real cause of collapse

I appeared briefly in BBC Talkback yesterday and no sooner had I emphasised yesterday’s point that the Secretary of State should not proceed to an immediate election but probably would, he stood up in the Commons and confirmed he would.

The DUP is now swiftly retreating from previous positions in order to appear not responsible for an election for which it is clearly responsible. Why is a public inquiry the right thing now when it “wasn’t going to happen” on 19 December?

What I did not get to say was that something much worse for power-sharing occurred four days later. DUP Communities Minister Paul Girvan withdrew funding from the Liofa programme, helping poor children learn Irish in the Gaeltacht. The amount was minuscule but what it said to Irish Nationalists, indeed to non-Unionists, was massive. At just the moment bridges needed to be built and respect needed to be shown, the DUP opted for the opposite. It was an appalling act – along with “leprechaun language”, “curry my yoghurt” and a boat renaming, it was yet another needless and gratuitous assault on a language which, though not widely spoken, is at the heart of many Northern Irish people’s national identity.

It is that act more than any, just before Christmas, which made it impossible for Irish Republicans to stay in the Executive as per the “status quo”.

The DUP could yet escape an election by announcing a new bursary and that it would not stand in the way of a reasonably cost-neutral Irish Language Act. It would be free to dress this up under the recognition that, after all, “Presbyterians saved the Irish language”. This would in fact come at no financial or political cost whatsoever.

Yet the DUP probably does not even realise that such a move is necessary, and would probably be too arrogant to pursue one even if it did.

We could be in, resultantly, for a completely unnecessary and nasty election – or even two.

It is simply ludicrous.

Why there absolutely must not be a snap Assembly election

The DUP and Sinn Féin are hopeless at government but very good at politics. Any immediate snap election will be on their terms, in effect electing negotiators for St Andrews II (or Good Friday III or Sunningdale IV) which will inevitably push people to the extremes to “keep themmuns in their place”. This is how Northern Ireland operates.

(These extremes no doubt now consist of three rather than two leaders, with polling and media bids showing rational people fed up with “Unionists” and “Nationalists” are increasingly turning to Naomi Long. I am not objective, but it is fair to say anyone objective would agree her party would probably do quite well too.)

Therefore allowing an immediate snap election, while jobs are at risk due to no Budget, lives are at risk due to lengthening waiting lists, education is at risk due to a teachers’ pay dispute and so on, would be the height of lunacy. There is no justification for allowing two parties running away from these issues then to set the terms of an election, not least when that may well be an election to nothing.

Instead, the Secretary of State should use the “reasonable” time period he has before having to call an election to leave the Assembly in place and convene reform talks involving those elected to it only eight months ago for a five-year term. He should note that he can pass emergency legislation to remove the requirement for an election at any moment, since one would be pointless.

And he should note that, at any time, he can also pass legislation restricting the use of the Petition of Concern.

Remove the abuse of the Petition of Concern, and you essentially remove the entire problem. Arlene Foster would be censured; same-sex marriage would pass; relevant inquiries could be set up; Irish language bursaries could be guaranteed; necessarily tough Budgets and reforms would be easier to get through.

Those talks should be the next step, not an election. And civic society should lose no time in saying so.