The translations of the oh-so-spontaneous sentence rendered in German, Dutch, and Norwegian were confirmed for me by Sean Boggs, Peter Bakker, and Kurt Rice, respectively.
WE SPEAK A MISCEGENATED GRAMMAR
Welsh do: Gareth King, Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 189.
Welsh progressive: Ingo Mittendorf and Erich Poppe, “Celtic Contacts of the English Progressive?” in The Celtic Englishes II, ed. by Hildegard L. C. Tristram (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2000), p. 118.
Cornish do: Henry Jenner, A Handbook of the Cornish Language (London: David Nutt, 1904), pp. 116-17.
Cornish progressive: Mittendorf and Poppe, p. 118.
Bryson quote: Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990), p. 49.
Genetic data on England: Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006), pp. 379, 412-13.
Burial styles: Heinrich Härke, “Population Replacement or Acculturation? An Archaeological Perspective on Population and Migration in Post-Roman Britain,” in The Celtic Englishes III, ed. by Hildegard L. C. Tristram (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2003), p. 19.
King Ine’s laws: Referred to in Härke, consulted in John M. Stearns, The Germs and Developments of the Laws of England Embracing the Anglo-Saxon Laws (New York: Banks & Brothers, 1889). (Kessinger Publishing reprint)
Crystal quote: David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 8.
Jamaican patois sentence: Robert LePage and David DeCamp, Jamaican Creole (London: MacMillan, 1960).
Twi sentence: Rev. J. G. Christaller, A Grammar of the Asante and Fante Languages Called Tshi. (Basel: Basel Evangelical Missionary Society, 1875), p. 118.
Germanic do: Unfortunately the most thorough examination and the closest one to being handy is in German: Werner Abraham and C. Jac Conradie, Präteritumschwund und Diskursgrammatik (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001), pp. 83, 87.
Nanai sentence: V. A. Arvorin, Sintaksicheshie Issledovania po Nanaiskomu Jazyku (Leningrad: Nauka, 1981), pp. 79-80.
Italian do-support: Paola Beninca and Cecilia Poletto, “A Case of Do-support in Romance,” Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 22 (2004): 51-94.
“Regularity” account of meaningless do: Andrew Garrett,
“On the Origin of Auxiliary Do,” English Language and Linguistics 2 (1998): 283-330.
Meaningless do and verb placement: Tony Kroch, John Myhill, and Susan Pintzuk, “Understanding Do,” Papers from the Chicago Linguistics Symposium 18 (1982): 282-94.
Old High German sentence: Erich Poppe, “Progress on the Progressive? A Report,” in The Celtic Englishes III, ed. by Hildegard L. C. Tristram (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2003), p. 71.
Colloquial Indonesian versus written Indonesian: David Gil, “Escaping Eurocentrism: Fieldwork as a Process of Unlearning,” in Linguistic Fieldwork, ed. by Paul Newman and Martha Ratliff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Dante and Italian: Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators (New York: Vintage, 1992), pp. 258-59.
Arabic dialects: Alan Kaye and Judith Rosenhouse, “Arabic Dialects and Maltese,” in The Semitic Languages, ed. by Robert Hetzron (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 309.
Spanish in Ecuador: John Lipski, Latin American Spanish (London: Longman, 1994), p. 251.
Old English speakers’ culinary options: Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, The Year 1000 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1999), pp. 136-38.
Uralic and Russian: Valentin Kiparsky, Gibt es ein Finnougrisches Substrat im Slavischen? (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1969), p. 23.
Dravidian and Indo-Aryan: Thomas Burrow, The Sanskrit Language (London: Faber & Faber, 1955), pp. 380-86.
Possible Celtic loanwords: Andrew Breeze, “Seven Types of Celtic Loanword,” in The Celtic Roots of English, ed. by Markku Filppula, Juhani Klemola, and Heli Pitkänen (Joensuu, Finland: University of Joensuu Faculty of Humanities, 2002), pp. 175-81.
Northern Subject Rule: Juhani Klemola, “The Origins of the Northern Subject Rule: A Case of Early Contact?” in The Celtic Englishes II, ed. by Hildegard L. C. Tristram (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2000), p. 337.
Passage from traditional judgment of Celtic contribution: Tauno F. Mustanoja, A Middle English Syntax, Part I (Parts of Speech) (Helsinki: Société Néophilologique, 1960), pp. 584-89.
Going to history: Culled from an especially accessible account, Guy Deutscher, The Unfolding of Language (New York: Metropolitan, 2005), pp. 146-51.
Dalby: Andrew Dalby, Dictionary of Languages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 675.
McCrum et al. quote: Robert McCrum, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English (New York: Viking, 1986), p. 61.
Crystal quote: David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p.8.
A LESSON FROM THE CELTIC IMPACT
Cantonese data: Stephen Matthews and Virginia Yip, Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 56.
Frisian data: Pieter Tiersma, Frisian Reference Grammar (Dordrecht: Foris, 1985), pp. 55-56, 77, 116.
Nineteenth-century “errors”: Richard W. Bailey, Nineteenth-Century English (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), pp. 215-61.
Portuguese-English book: Pedro Carolino, The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1883), p. 120. (This source is usually encountered today in abridged editions; I refer to an ancient copy of the entire book.)
WE SPEAK A BATTERED GRAMMAR
Old English and Old Norse sentences: Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, The Year 1000 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1999), pp. 33-34.
Sapir quote: Edward Sapir, Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1921), pp. 169-70.
Number of Normans: John Gillingham, “The Early Middle Ages,” in The Oxford History of Britain, ed. by Kenneth O. Morgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 121.
William of Nassyngton: David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 31.
Linguistic equilibrium: R. M. W. Dixon, The Rise and Fall of Languages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
Welsh case markers and Old English: An example is Hildegard L. C. Tristram, “Attrition of Inflections in English and Welsh,” in The Celtic Roots of English, ed. by Markku Filppula, Juhani Klemola, and Heli Pitkänen, (Joensuu, Finland: University of Joensuu Faculty of Humanities, 2002), pp. 111-49.
Altaic-Mandarin hybrid languages: Examples most handy are three consecutive articles on the Hezhou, Tangwang, and Wutun dialects, on pp. 865-97 in a volume commonly available in university libraries: Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the
Americas (Volume II.2), ed. by Stephen A. Wurm, Peter Mühlhäusler, and Darrell T. Tryon (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1996).
Concentration of Danes: John Blair, “The Anglo-Saxon Period,” in The Oxford History of Britain, ed. by Kenneth O. Morgan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 107-8.
Northern English suffixes: Sarah Grey Thomason and Terence Kaufman, Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 278.
Dorset gender: William Barnes, A Glossary of the Dorset Dialect with a Grammar of Its Word Shapening and Wording (London: Trübner & Co., 1886), p. 17-18.
Case markers in Gamalson inscription: Tamas Eitler, “An Old Norse-Old English Contact Phenomenon: The Retention of the Dative Plural Inflection -um in the Northumbrian Dialect of Old English, in The Even Yearbook 5, ed. by Laszlo Varga (Budapest: Eotvos Lorand University Department of English Linguistics Working Papers, 2002), pp. 31-48.
“You mistake you” observation: Kirsti Peitsara, “The Development of Reflexive Strategies in English,” in Grammaticalization at Work, ed. by Matti Rissanen, Merja Kytö, and Kirsi Heikkonen (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997), p. 337.
Matti Rissanen, “Whatever Happened to the Middle English Indefinite Pronouns?” in Studies in Middle English Linguistics, ed. by Jacek Fisiak (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997), pp. 513-29.
Favorite star: Roger Lass, “Phonology and Morphology,” in The Cambridge History of the English Language (Vol. 2), ed. by Norman Blake (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 23-155.
Schwa-drop observation: Thomason and Kaufman, p. 277.
Funny passage on gender in English: Chun-fat Lau, “Gender in the Hakka Dialect: Suffixes with Gender in More Than 40 Nouns,” Journal of Chinese Linguistics 27 (1999): 124-31.
Hashimoto on Chinese: Mantaro Hashimoto, “The Altaicization of Northern Chinese,” in Contributions to Sino-Tibetan Studies, ed. by John McCoy and Timothy Light (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986), pp. 76-97.
DOES OUR GRAMMAR CHANNEL OUR THOUGHT?
Standard go-to Whorf text: John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee
Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956).
Kawesqar: Jack Hitt, “Say No More,” The New York Times, February 29, 2004.
“Users of markedly . . .”: Carroll, p. 221.
“Newtonian space . . .”: Carroll, p. 153.
Hopi data: Ekkehart Malotki, Hopi Time: A Linguistic Analysis of the Temporal Concepts in the Hopi Language (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1983), p. 534.
“No words . . .”: Carroll, p. 57.
“Potential range . . .”: Carroll, p. 117.
“We cut nature up . . .”: Carroll, pp. 213-14.
“It might be said . . .”: Carroll, p. 151.
“The thought of the individual . . .”: Dorothy Lee,
“Conceptual Implications of an Indian Language,” Philosophy of Science 5 (1938): 89-102.
“It is clear that linguistic determinism . . .”: Carroll, p. 117.
Clark: Herbert H. Clark, “Communities, Commonalities, and Communication,” in Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, ed. by John J. Gumperz and Stephen C. Levinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 343.
Wilson on Russian: Lewis A. Dabney, Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), p. 409.
French verbs: Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), p. 48.
Boro verbs: Abley, pp. 122-27.
Second in European languages: Martin Haspelmath, “The European Linguistic Area: Standard Average European,” in Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook, ed. by Martin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wulf Österreicher, and Wolfgang Raible (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2001), pp. 1495, 1503.
“Does the Hopi . . .”: Carroll, p. 85.
“Our objectified view . . .”: Carroll, p. 153.
Montagnais: Abley, pp. 276-77.
Cree: Thomas Payne, Describing Morphosyntax: A Guide for Field Linguists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 211.
Hypothetical Chinese sentence: Charles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson, Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 647.
Bloom study: Aldred H. Bloom, The Linguistic Shaping of Thought: A Study in the Impact of Language on Thinking in China and the West (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1981).
Sign language: Leah Hager Cohen, “Deafness as Metaphor, Not Gimmick,” The New York Times, August 23, 2003.
Guugu Yimithirr: Stephen C. Levinson, “Relativity in Spatial Conception and Description,” in Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, ed. by John J. Gumperz and Stephen C. Levinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 180-81.
Pirahã: Dan Everett, “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language,” Current Anthropology 46: 621-46.
Everett on language as thought: He told me, on April 13, 2007.
Gender and thought: Lera Boroditsky, Lauren A. Schmidt, and Webb Phillips, “Sex, Syntax, and Semantics,” in Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and
Thought, ed. by Dedre Gentner and Susan Goldin-Meadow (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 79-91.
Imagining gendered voices: M. Sera, C. Berge, and J. del Castillo, “Grammatical and Conceptual Forces in the Attribution of Gender by English and Spanish Speakers,” Cognitive Development 9: 261-92.
Kay quote: Paul Kay, “Intra-Speaker Relativity,” in Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, ed. by John J. Gumperz and Stephen C. Levinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 110.
Paul Kay and Willett Kempton, “What Is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?” American Anthropologist 86 (1984): 66.
Barnard and Spencer: Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer, eds., Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1996).
Textbook: Conrad Phillip Kottak, Cultural Anthropology (New York: McGraw Hill, 2002).
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
Statement on orphan words: Don Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 295-96.
Semitic etymologies of fright, folk, and maiden: Theo Vennemann has presented these in many places; the handiest is in German (“Zur Entstehung des Germanischen,” Sprachwissenschaft 25 : 233-69). However, the most accessible English-language source is Vennemann’s website, which includes a handout outline of a comprehensive presentation Vennemann has given on the topic.
Historical evidence for Phoenicians’ travel northward: The handiest source in English is Theo Vennemann, “Phol, Balder, and the Birth of Germanic,” in Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen: Festschrift für Jorma Koivulehto zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. by Irma Hyvärinen, Petri Kallo, and Jarmo Korhonen (Helsinki: Mémoire de la Société de Néophilologie de Helsinki LXIII, 2004), pp. 439-57; see also Vennemann’s website.
Hebrew cross and shore and Old English ofer: Saul Levin, Semitic and Indo-European: The Principal Etymologies, with Observations on Afro-Asiatic (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1995), pp. 367-75.
Semitic source for Germanic seven: Levin, pp. 409-12.
Magnum opuses: Saul Levin, The Indo-European and Semitic Languages (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1971); Saul Levin, Semitic and Indo-European: The Principal Etymologies, with Observations on Afro-Asiatic (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1995).
Artifacts in North Sea: Matthias Schulz, “Göttertränen im Watt,” Der Spiegel (December 4, 2006): 160-62.
This book is based on detours in my academic research. My primary research focus has been on creole languages, but certain strains of my arguments in that realm have led me, by chance, to investigations of why English is the deeply peculiar language that it is, compared to its closest relatives, the other languages in the Germanic family.
Over time I realized that this research, taken together, constituted a revised conception of what English is and why. I found emerging in me a certain irresistible desire now familiar as the spark for all of my books: to get what was sticking in my craw down in book form.
I sensed that the point of the book would not lend itself to the process via which books are presented to agents and publishers: summarizing the ideas in outline form. I predicted that in bullet-point format, the thrust of the book would seem too in-house, too pointy-headed, too specialized.
So I did an end run and just wrote the book unbidden and submitted a whole draft to my agent. Much to my surprise, she, Katinka Matson, loved it, and to my further surprise, my now regular publisher, Gotham Books, did, too.
As such, my first acknowledgment is to Katinka, and to William Shinker at Gotham, for being open to a book with such a weird focus. Thanks also to Patrick Mulligan at Gotham for making the manuscript better—and notably for coming up with “Volcanoes” as the mnemonic for Icelandic.
I am also grateful to linguists Werner Abraham, Östen Dahl, Andrew Garrett, Gary Holland, Fred Karlsson, John Payne, Irmengard Rauch, Elizabeth Traugott, Theo Vennemann, and David White for their support for and feedback on the articles that this book is based on. Special thanks to Elly Van Gelderen, a sterling researcher on the history of English but open to new ideas, for first tipping me off that the folks arguing that English is shot through with Celtic influence are not crazy.
My argumentation was also sharpened by feedback at presentations of my work at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Helsinki, the University of Tromsø, the University of Toronto, and the University of Manchester.
Finally, my wife, Martha, read all of the chapters in first draft and restrained me from something linguists writing for the general public must guard against, a tendency to luxuriate in idle details under the impression that this will be comfort food to the general reader. Thank you, Martha, for “getting it” as you do because you have spent years listening to me gabbing about language and linguistics, but remaining aware of how my presentation will come off to readers who did not happen to marry me.