How to learn languages – story so far

We have established so far that all major national languages in Western Europe are derived from Indo-European, a language which was itself of extraordinary complexity by modern standards. Its phonology was marked by aspiration, strong and various <h> sounds, and probably tonal distinction – making it in many ways quite unlike even its daughter languages such as Classical Latin and Old Norse. Grammatically it was also quite distinct, exhibiting distinction by case, use of postpositions as often as prepositions, distinction primarily by aspect rather than tense, and a wide range of declensions and conjugations. Nevertheless, core vocabulary and basic aspects of grammar are already in some ways familiar.

We took at the oldest script in any Germanic language, the 4th century Bible translation into Gothic, to see how Germanic had developed in the centuries after Christ; and notably we also looked at Vulgar or Late Latin, which itself already demonstrated half the changes from Classical Latin to modern Latinate languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian. These languages are more markedly modern phonologically, as they have generally lost tonal distinctions and the range of <h> sounds. They are also grammatically a little closer, distinguishing more definitively by tense rather than aspect and beginning to shift decisively towards using prepositions (rather than postpositions or case). However, they remain strange; in spoken form they would be utterly unrecognisable, and even in written form they look familiar but are still distant.

We also saw, through Middle English, how modern written standards are often based on Medieval pronunciation (we will see how remarkably often this is the case as we go on). Here, as one correspondent noted, we also see how inadequate the so-called “Latin” alphabet really is to represent the complexity and combination of sounds actually used in modern speech. This is so complex that even the invented language Esperanto, with 28 letters, failed to deliver on its own avowed objective of one sound to one letter. We have also seen how social disruption (such as the Black Death) or technological disruption (such as the invention of the Printing Press) can have dramatic effects on language change – either encouraging it or stalling it (although, as one correspondent noted, these effects generally speed up or stall processes already ongoing, rather than causing new ones).

I am always grateful for correspondence on this series – next up, we are moving to the modern day with a look at contemporary Standard Italian.

How to learn languages – Esperanto



Just to test this idea with reference to modern languages, I thought I would start with (supposedly) the most simple widely spoken language in the world – albeit a constructed one.

So, what do we need to know about Esperanto?


Esperanto adheres to the strict rule that each letter has the same pronunciation, regardless of position. It is seriously dubious whether this can strictly be achieved, but nevertheless it does make Esperanto easier to read (and write) than most natural languages.

Esperanto’s rhythm varies depending on the native language of the speaker; some suggest that it should sound something like Italian.

For most learners, Esperanto’s accented letters (the most common of which are usually in fact written <cx>, <gx>, <jx> and <sx> and pronounced respectively as ‘church’, ‘geography’, ‘pleasure’, ‘shop’) are the trickiest to distinguish and use. Also, <c> can catch out most learners, pronounced as if <ts> (in violation of the supposed ‘one letter, one sound’ rule). English speakers also need to note that, from their point of view, <j> is pronounced as if <y>.


The language has a Standard form based on the work of its founder, L. L. Zamenhof, and his work known as the Fundamento published in 1887.

An Academy in effect protects this Standard and applies it to new words (and technology) as required. In practice, some grammatical variation within the ‘Standard’ is permitted.

There is a tendency in Esperanto to reinforce positive responses to “yes/no questions”:

  • Cxu vi vidis tion? – Jes, gxiuste!
  • ‘Do you see that?’ – ‘Yes!’


Esperanto’s vocabulary is mainly Romance (usually directly from Latin, e.g. pluvi ‘to rain’, vidi ‘to see’; or French, e.g. grava ‘important’, preskau ‘almost’; but occasionally also from other languages such as Spanish almenau ‘at least’, Italian ankau ‘also’ or just general granda ‘big’), with a significant minority from Germanic (from English, e.g. jes ‘yes’, birdo ‘bird’; or German, e.g. tago ‘day’, lau ‘according to’) and some also from Slavic (po ‘at a rate of’, prava ‘true, right’). There is even the odd extra (e.g. kaj ‘and’ from Ancient Greek).

Key numbers:

  • 1 unu; 2 du; 3 tri; 4 kvar; 5 kvin; 6 ses; 7 sep; 8 ok; 9 nau; 10 dek;
  • 11 dek unu; 12 dek du; 16 dek ses; 17 dek sep; 20 dudek; 21 dudek unu;
  • 100 cent; 1000 mil; 456789 kvarcent kvindek ses mil sepcent okdek nau.

Esperanto has an innovative (but at first sight unfamiliar) list of ‘correlatives’ which serve most pronoun uses; it also has personal pronouns in a specific class of their own.

Key personal pronouns in Esperanto:

  • singular mi, vi, li/sxi/gxi; plural ni, vi, ili; indefinite oni

This indefinite is widely used to avoid the passive:

  • Oni diras, ke sxi estos tie – ‘It is said that she will be there’

Vocabulary is often built up through a series of meaningful affixes – for example arbo ‘tree’ plus -ar- ‘collection’ gives arbaro ‘forest’.


Nouns are marked by the ending -o; this is amended to -oj for the plural. They can also be in the “accusative” case (when used as objects or to mark motion towards), marked -n.

Verbs are marked for one of three tenses or two moods but not both (“conditional” is generally regarded as a mood rather than a tense in Esperanto, although it does not matter). All verbs in the present are marked -as, past -is, future -os, conditional -us and subjunctive -u. Unlike modern Romance and Germanic languages, tense is relative (i.e. if referring to a future event in the past, use the future).

Esperanto also allows zero subject in certain circumstances (where English typically requires a “dummy subject” such as ‘it’ or ‘there’):

  • pluvas multe ‘it is raining a lot’
  • estas tri arboj tie ‘there are three trees there’

Adjectives are marked by the ending -a and agree with their noun, typically appearing after it, although this is stylistic (arbaro granda ‘big forest’; en arbarojn grandajn ‘into the big forests’). However, words which must appear before the noun, notably the article la ‘the’ and numbers, do not agree (en la tri arbarojn grandajn ‘into the three big forests’). Adverbs are marked by the ending -e; notably, they tend to be used with the verb ‘to be’ (similarly to Slavic languages, but not Romance or Germanic): Estas klare ke mi vidis arbaron grandan ‘It is clear that I saw a big forest’.

In modern Esperanto, adjectives and adverbs can be turned directly into verbs in preference to using the “copula” (esti ‘to be’):

  • Estas grave ke vi ne vidis tion / Gravas ke vi ne vidis tion ‘It matters that you did not see that’
  • Vi laudire estas prava / Vi laudire pravas ‘Apparently you are right’

Exactly when this is deemed “allowable” varies according to usage and style.

The only article is la. The article may be omitted, and must be if it has an indefinite meaning (similar to English ‘a/an’).

Prepositions have very strict meanings which (in theory at least) must not be breached. There is a spare preposition je for when the meaning is unclear.

Key prepositions: case prepositions are de, al, kun; other prepositions include por, en.

Note the accusative is used with motion towards, except with case prepositions:

  • Mi estas en la arbaro ‘I am in the forest’
  • Mi iras al la arbaro ‘I go to the forest’
  • Mi iras en la arbaron ‘I go into the forest’

In modern usage, je is often abandoned and prepositions are increasingly used in line with English:

  • je 1887 / en 1887 ‘in 1887’
  • je la mila fojo / por la mila fojo ‘for the thousandth time’

Word order is generally SVO; but the passive is generally avoided, which can give different word orders (Mi vidis arbaron grandan ‘I saw a big forest’; Arbaron grandan mi vidis ‘A big forest was seen by me’).


Esperanto is deceptively Romance-looking. In fact, its phonology and some of its characteristics (notably the question particle cxu required for “yes/no questions”) are markedly Slavic, a product of its geographical origin.

Adverbs and word-building are a key feature of the language, particularly when combined: mia ‘my’ + opinio ‘opinion’ = miaopinie ‘in my opinion’; plena ‘full, complete’ + Esperanto plenesperante ‘completely in Esperanto’; kontrau ‘against, opposing’ + flanko ‘side’ =  kontrauflanke ‘on the other side’.

What next?

Let us now move on to the natural modern national languages (at last!)

We will go through the Romance ones to start with, starting with Italian (for reasons to be discussed).

Patro nia, kiu estas en la cxielo, Via nomo estu sanktigita. Venu Via regno, plenumigxu Via volo, kiel en la cxielo, tiel ankau sur la tero. Nian panon cxiutagan donu al ni hodiau. Kaj pardonu al ni niajn sxuldojn, kiel ankau ni pardonas al niaj sxuldantoj. Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton, sed liberigu nin de la malbono.



How to learn languages – Middle English

Let us just stop on the way through linguistic history to take a quick glance at Middle English.

It seems astonishing now, but English just before the Black Death in the mid-14th century was a colloquial language of low status. The administrative and high language of England was Norman French (and the ecclesiastical language was Medieval Latin, based on Classical). Furthermore, English was spoken only in England and parts of Wales; the language descending from Anglo-Saxon in use in Scotland was recognised as a separate language, Scots.

The Black Death changed that somewhat, as it was indiscriminate, killing the French-speaking aristocracy in big numbers. As survivors rose up the social scale consequently, so did English; the King’s Speech was presented to Parliament in English for the first time in 1362. Soon, English also had Chaucer, a major literary figure. This, all combined with ongoing wars with France, saw English become the language of late medieval English nationalism. The rest of the rise from there to global status is history.


So what was the language of Chaucer like?


There was no standard English at the time, but of course the bizarre linguistic truth is that modern Standard English spelling reflects it well, being based on the pronunciation of Middle English, not Modern English. This means a word like name ‘name’ was pronounced exactly as it looks (and as it still is in modern German); <e> was never silent. Words such as night were just losing the middle consonant sound (close to IPA /x/, cf. modern German Nacht) at the time of Chaucer. In words such as write, knife or gnat, the initial /w/, /k/ and /g/ were sounded; as was the /l/ in talk.

Anglo-Saxon regarded /f/ and /v/ as the same letter (the distinction was only brought in by the influence of Norman French), and these were still variously pronounced around the country and thus used in writing almost interchangeably in some areas. Scribes also used <v> and <u> interchangeably, treating them as absolutely the same letter.

Early Middle English also retained the letter “yogh” <ȝ>, which is usually (but not always) now /g/; it was pronounced somewhere between /g/ and /y/ before /e/ and /i/ (and similar vowels), but more like a hard /x/ (as in Scottish ‘loch‘) otherwise. It also retained “thorn” <þ>, now a <th>.


In the Middle English period, variations in spelling and usage were widespread, depending on geographical origin, exact time, and even on simply fitting on to the page or the line. People even wrote their own name variously! This mattered less, as proportionately fewer people were literate.

A “chancery standard”, forms to be used by the Civil Service in effect, did develop from the fifteenth century, but widespread standardisation only occurred well after the invention of the printing press into what is regarded as the (Early) Modern English period.


Vocabulary was similarly mixed between Latinate (French and Latin) and Germanic origin as now, although there was a greater awareness of the distinction (the oldest known song in the English language, Sumer is icumen in ‘Summer has arrived’ dates from early Middle English, but its vocabulary is entirely Germanic).

Key numbers:

  • 1 one, 2 tuo/twei, 3 thri, 4, fower, 5 five, 6 six, 7 sevene, 8 eight, 9 nine, 10 ten;
  • 11 eleven, 12 twelve, 16 sixteen, 17 seventeen; 20 twenty, 24 fower-and-twenty;
  • 100 hundred; 1000 thowsand;
  • 456789 fower hundred six-and-fifty thowsand sevene hundred nine-and-eighty

NB: one was pronounced to rhyme with alone.

Ordinal numbers generally added -the, but from thri this was thridde.


Nouns had largely lost the Anglo-Saxon “case” system, although the possessive remained, written -(e)s (no apostrophe). More irregular plurals remained in regular use (e.g. namen ‘names’).

Verbs “agreed” with their subject and had a wider range of endings with which to do so. There were more “strong” verbs (marking past forms by vowel change rather than an ending) than in Modern English; thus irregular help-halp-(i)holpen stood alongside sing-sang-(i)sungen. The i- or y- prefix (cf. German ge-) on participles was generally lost during this period.

Present of liken ‘to like’ (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):

  • Singular I like, thou likest, he/sche/hit liketh;
  • plural we liken, you liken, they liken.

Past participle liked; present participle likand; gerund liking.

Imperative like (singular); liketh (plural).

Past of liken ‘to like’ (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):

  • Singular I likede, thou likedst, he/sche/hit likede;
  • plural we likeden, you likeden, they likeden.

Past of singen ‘to sing’ (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):

  • Singular I sang, thou songe, he/sche/hit sang;
  • plural we songen, you songen, they songen.

Adjectives only “agreed” with nouns by adding -e after the definite article, a possessive or in the plural (but not otherwise): his longe name ‘his long name’, longe namen ‘long names’; a long name ‘a long name’. Adverbs were beginning to be distinguished (usually by the ending -liche, often reduced to -lie).

Pronouns maintained a distinction between the singular þu (later thou; object þe/thee) and plural ye (object you). Singular possessive forms came to be distinguished between mine/thine (the original forms, used latterly only before vowels) and my/thy (used before consonants) – cf. usage even in Modern English of the indirect article an/a.

Key personal pronouns (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):

  • Direct: Iþu/thou, he-sche-hit; we, ye, heo/they
  • Oblique: me, þe/thee, him-hir-hit; us, you, hem/them
  • Possessive: mine (my), þin/thine (thy), his-hir-his; oure, your, hire

Prepositions were similar to today, but there were also combined forms with locational pronouns in much wider use that in Modern English: hence ‘from here’; whither ‘where to’. One noteworthy preposition since lost was umbe ‘around’ (cf. modern German um).

Word order was predominantly SVO, and VSO in questions (Likest thou me? ‘Do you like me?’), although there were notable exceptions (the main part of the verb phrase often went to the end in subordinate clauses: whan he hath hire name sungen ‘when he has sung their name’). Negation was predominantly by addition of the particle nat (or similar) after the verb: he singeth nat ‘he does not sing’. This could be supported by a pre-verbal particle ne (effectively meaning doubled negation reinforced the negative): he ne singeth nouȝt ‘he sings nothing’.


Middle English was more quintessentially Germanic in character than the modern language, but much less so than Anglo-Saxon.

Dialects varied but, unlike modern “BBC English”, Middle English was almost certainly spoken with a rising intonation; and it would have been more vocalic than the modern language (notably because /e/ was always pronounced).

What next?

Let us get to the modern day now… but with a twist…

Fader oure that art in heuene, halewed be þi name: come þi kyngdom: fulfild be þi wil in heuene as in erþe: oure ech day bred ȝef us to day, and forȝeue us oure dettes as we forȝeueþ to oure detoures: and ne led us nouȝ in temptacion, bote deliuere us of euel.

Air routes another tale of shocking Executive incompetence

Last summer the Executive – a DUP First Minister and Economy Minister and a Sinn Féin deputy First Minister and Finance Minister – announced that it was giving £9 million of your and my money to an American airline to continue to operate the profitable Belfast-Newark route.

As highlighted on these pages at the time, this was a deeply shocking move. Essentially it amounted to using your and my rates to add to the profit of a foreign airline.

It emerged subsequently that the Executive had no business case for this spending, that it was operating contrary to Civil Service advice, and indeed that value for money could not be demonstrated. This is grotesque incompetence, even before it turned out that it was also illegal and the route duly closed anyway last month.

One of the many reasons there was no value for money was that it did not once occur to the DUP or Sinn Féin Ministers that, even if you acccept a Belfast-US air link is essential, there were other airlines available. The only reason for continuing with the particular airline they wished to pay was that it had been operating the route.

Note that the route was profitable by the airline’s own admission. Its issue was that, by moving planes from the Belfast route to another route, perhaps within North America, it would be even more profitable for it. Quite how DUP and Sinn Féin Ministers became experts in international air routes to assess on their own that the compensatory cost would be £9 million is unknown…

Even basic common sense would tell you that, if you needed a particular route to be maintained, what you would in fact do is tender for an airline to operate the route.

And so it turns out that at least one other airline is interested in operating the route. So why on earth did the DUP and Sinn Féin top Ministers try to allocate £9 million while never bothering to check?

One volunteer blogger, paid nothing and with no advisers, could work out that allocation of £9 million of your and my money was dubious. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin (with their big salaries and SpAds) are guilty, on this issue alone, of gross and costly incompetence.

How to learn languages – Gothic

Gothic? I mean, come on…


Gothic is important because it is the earliest attestation of a Germanic language – the family which includes German, Dutch (and Afrikaans), the Scandinavian and Insular Nordic languages, and of course English. It offers the best comparison, therefore, between Germanic of the time that Classical Latin became Late Latin (and thus of the ancestor of languages like German and English at the same time as the ancestor of languages like French and Spanish).

The parallel is, unfortunately, not exact. Gothic was an East Germanic language, and in fact has no surviving daughter languages; nevertheless, it would have been largely mutually intelligible with Anglo-Saxon, Old German dialects and Norse and therefore it shows many of their distinct Germanic features.

It is also useful because it is attested in a Bible translation (which makes understanding far easier). This dates from the fourth century and thus, as noted above, from the time of Constantine (when even written Latin began to display some of the features of Late rather than Classical Latin).

What was Gothic like?


Gothic was, fundamentally, not unlike Vulgar Latin phonologically but with a lot more fricatives (/f/, /v/) rather than plosives (/p/, /b/, etc).

The biggest distinction was that Gothic displayed stress generally on the first syllable of the word; Classical Latin had moved this, typically to the penultimate. Thus, in terms of intonation, the two languages would have sounded significantly different. Another marked difference was that Gothic almost certainly maintained a glottal stop before words beginning with a vowel (partially a consequence of its stress system, perhaps), whereas Latin did not.

Otherwise, it had similar sets of consonants and vowels, and numerous diphthongs (although these differed in some ways). The consonants <b> and <d> had much softer sounds in certain contexts, almost like modern English <th>.

Consonants were devoiced at the end of a word (as is still the case in Modern German), but there was no sign yet of rhotacism (switching from /s/ to /r/, which occurred in all other Germanic languages – cf. English ‘lost’ versus ‘forlorn’).


Gothic had no ‘standard form’ as such, and most of its speakers were illiterate. However, written forms are taken from Wulfilas’ Bible translation of the fourth century (to some degree his writing therefore constitutes a ‘standard’ version in retrospect).


Key numbers:

  • 1 a’ins, 2 twa’i, 3 þrija, 4 fidwor, 5 fimf, 6 sai’hs, 7 sibun, 8 ahta’u, 9 niun, 10 tai’hun;
  • 11 ainlif, 12 twalif, 16 sai’hstai’hun, 17 sibuntai’hun; 20 twa’i tigjus, 60 sai’hs tigjus;
  • 70 sibuntehund; 100 taihuntehund; 200 twa’i hunda, 1000 þusundi;
  • 456789 fidwor hunda sai’hsuhfimftai’hun þusundjos sibun hunda niunuhahta’uhund

Vocabulary was almost entirely Germanic in origin, but this meant not always Indo-European – some linguists suggest as much as a third of Germanic vocabulary is of different origin (it is thought that Germanic tribes were the fastest to move west from the Proto-Indo-European homeland).

Gothic contained the verb þulan ‘to tolerate’, which remains in (Ulster) Scots thole


Gothic maintained three genders and the Indo-European declension system (where noun endings were different according to groupings determined by the final vowel), which was also retained to an extent even in Late Latin, but interestingly was probably already largely lost by this time in other Germanic languages (which retained merely a “strong” and a “weak” declension). It also therefore retained three genders and even three numbers (including dual; known in Ancient Greek but not even in early Latin).

Similarly to Latin in all ages, Gothic verbs “agreed” with their subject in person (I, you, he/she/it etc) and number, although there were no distinct 3rd person dual forms. Endings or changes to root vowel could mark one of two voices (active or middle, effectively now passive) or three moods (indicative; optative, effectively now subjunctive; or imperative). Infinitives, present participles or past passive forms could be turned into nouns. Where Gothic verbs were markedly different from Latin was that they could only be marked for two tenses, past and present (or “not past”) – a marked comparative simplification. Gothic verbs were either “strong” (forming their past by way of a vowel change: e.g. bindan ‘to bind’, band ‘bound’) or “weak” (forming their past essentially by adding -d or -t); this division is maintained in all Germanic languages to the modern day, although the number of strong verbs has declined considerably (from probably approaching 1000 in Gothic to under 200 in most Germanic languages and dialects today).

The Gothic verb sōkja ‘to seek’, in the present active indicative (1st, 2nd, 3rd person):

  • singular sōkja, sōkeis, sōkeiþ; dual sōkjōs, sōkjats; plural sōkjam, sōkeiþ, sōkjand

Adjectives “agreed” with nouns for case, gender and number. The subsequent division between “weak” and “strong” endings was not yet relevant.

As with Latin, Gothic made use of clitics to mark whether a question was being asked – Gothic -u was equivalent to Latin -ne. These were lost in all other Germanic languages.

There is some dispute over Gothic word order, which was relatively free but seemingly essentially still SOV.

Key personal pronouns in Gothic (1st, 2nd person, nominative/accusative/genitive/dative):

  • Singular: ik/mik/meina/mis; thu/thuk/theina/thus. 
  • Dual: wit/ugkis/igkara/ugkis; jut/igqis/igqara/igqis.
  • Plural: weis/uns/unsara/uns; jus/izwis/izwara/izwis.

3rd person also existed with singular and plural in all genders (but no dual).


It is hard to assess the character of the language as almost all we have of it is a religious translation.

Although clearly Germanic (displaying many of the sound shifts which typify it), Gothic is remarkably conservative, probably more so than unattested contemporary Germanic languages to the north and west.

Atta unsar þu in himinam, weihnai namo þein, qimai þiudinassus þeins, wairþai wilja þeins, swe in himina jah ana airþai. Hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga, jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima, swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim, jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai, ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin, unte þeina ist þiudangardi jah mahts, jah wulþus in aiwins.

NI Civil Service must review Audit procedures

This blog post clearly did not convey the intended message with anything like sufficient clarity, so I will simply let the two comments below stand (as they do a much better job of making the point I was trying to make!)

There is no reason anyone would have been negatively affected by it, but sincere apologies for any misunderstanding, the responsibility for which (as ever in my publications) is entirely mine. 

How about just abolishing First Minister?

As I explained here, the role of First Minister and deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland is nothing like as important or powerful in practice as it sounds. Whereas the First Minister in Scotland and now in Wales has a Director’s role, the First and deputy First Ministers in Northern Ireland remain merely Chairs. Even their Ministerial functions, shared rather ludicrously with two extra Junior Ministers with no fewer than eight “Special Advisers”, apply only to the tiny Executive Office.

In fact, for all the fuss made about who is First and who is deputy First, the craziest thing is that the role may not even be necessary at all.

It would be quite possible simply to remove the office from the relevant legislation. An Executive would proceed to be formed, and then the largest parties in each designation in the Executive could simply nominate one of their Ministers their “Senior Minister”, who would perhaps receive a small additional allowance to perform the role of joint Chair of the Executive and whatever representative functions arise. In fact, it would be quite possible for this role to rotate around the Ministers over an Assembly term.

This would have three happy consequences: it would remove the expense which currently comes with such an unnecessary role (no specific extra Ministerial salaries; no Special Advisers; no Junior Ministers); it would remove the delusions of grandeur which have led to its being performed so abysmally; and it would remove the whole issue from Assembly Election campaigns, allowing the focus to be on competence and policy where it should be.

Indeed, you would wonder at anyone opposing this idea…

Never Waste a Good Crisis (III) – Party Donations

By Richard Price:

Waste of public resource is not all that has been unpalatable in the #RHI scandal. We could mention the whiff of cover-up, allegations of out-of-control special advisors, and general bungling and incompetence at the top levels of government. But sitting alongside all of this is an unsettling suspicion that special friends of parties of Government, may have became in-the-know about generous new Government boondoggles, and subsequently benefited.

Those making returns off the renewable heat incentive scheme, that we so far have been allowed to know of, include church organisations with historic links to the DUP and family members of DUP special advisors.

That those with connections to the DUP should be found to be benefitting from schemes put in place by DUP ministers raises particular concerns in an environment where we still enjoy close to zero transparency in respect to political party donations in Northern Ireland.

The Electoral Commission is clear. Information about direct donations to political parties in Northern Ireland should be made public as “It’s important for people’s confidence in the democratic process and in politics generally that there should be transparency about who is funding political parties.”

For as long as information on political party donation remains secret, the public can never know the full extent to which wealthy friends of the DUP derived benefit from the RHI scheme. This is a recipe for ever more cynicism and mistrust towards those in power.

It may well be that the DUP have nothing to hide on this and my suspicion is entirely misplaced. In which case though, why not follow the legal custom of declaration on political party donation that has applied in GB for the past 17 years? Just declare.

On a long-term basis, it is time to bring our laws on political party donation transparency into line with our GB counterparts.

On the back of the #RHI scandal, to rebuild trust in the political process with the public, all Stormont political parties should state their commitment to achieving transparency in respect to party donations, and launch immediate activity to achieve the necessary amendments to legislation to make this so.

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.


So what was “Late Latin” like?


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).


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 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.


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.


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.