herman newt: archery

painters paint, builders build and archers…

er, well, no, lisa, they don’t arch, they… er, practice archery.
is archery the art of making arches then, or of arching? well, not one would think, primarily. one’s intention would be, you are correct, i think, lisa, to forcefully project aimed arrows point first at the highest possible speed at a target in order, ideally, to pierce it. one would get around to observing that this involved making arches as a sort of secondary consideration, wouldn’t one?

so why call it archery and not bowery or arrowery, or bow-and-arrow-ery, or something like that? did archer come from arch or arch from archer? has archer got some other meaning besides the perfectly serviceable bowman (or bowperson, to update to gender inclusive language)? let’s investigate.

now in this flat expanse of mud i’ve just cleared with a few deft swishes of my tail, i’m going to draw with one of the tiny almost translucent fingers of one of the tiny hands on the end of one of my tiny front legs the letters that spell the word archer. ARCHER there, i’ve done it, in roman letters, not uncials, just to show you that i can.

look at it, get the feel of it, let it speak to your soul. then, i want you all to take out your favourite voice-recording device, plug in the mike, switch it on to record, press start and say it out loud. “archer”. then play it back to yourself a few times, listening carefully.

in past exercises of this sort i’ve asked you to pronounce the word under the lens (or under the eye of newt, as in this instance) in as many ways as you have ever heard it said, or can imagine that it could ever have been said. but this time, just say it once, casually, sneaking up on it, so to speak, in your own native or foreign (if english is not your native language) accent.

then, take out your favourite coloured pencil, crayon or texta, or just use your toe if you prefer, and write, in any alphabet known to have been in use by english-speaking populations when the word ‘archer’ was first coming into general use, phonetically – according to whatever phonetic values are known to or can reasonably be argued to have been represented by the letters of that alphabet – your representation of the sounds you hear yourself producing when you read it.
for example, if you pronounce the r in archer, your phonetic representation will include a sign or character for the sound r, but if you don’t, it won’t. if you represent the sound of the first vowel as a long u for umbrella, doubling it to show length, uu might be your symbol, or if you use a for aha instead with an h to show lengthening, you might use ah for the first vowel.

for vast numbers of literate english speakers, past, present and future, the lengthening of the a would be indicated by following it with an r.

no, phillipa, the phonetic alphabet won’t help you in this exercise – the writers of old, middle-aged and ancient texts didn’t use it – they spelt ‘phonetically’ as above or obeyed book-learned spelling rules that are now not easy to relate with any certainty to any actual, hands-on, down-and-dirty speech sounds, so it’s worse than over-kill. it supports some delusional historical linguistics without clarifying the real stuff.

within living memory, when phonic values of letters were taught to small children, they used to chant things like:
‘æ’ and a ‘rrrr’ make the ‘aah’ in ‘archer’. they’d have added moreover, with reference to the second syllable that ‘eh’ and a ‘r’ make the ‘ah’ in archer, having also noted that ‘k@’ and a ‘h@’ make the ‘tch@’ in archer (where @ = eu as in…er…, sometimes named schwa, but don’t squint too closely at the rationale of it – it’s an infant science, linguistics).

i should here remind you that, incarnating for the good of all beings (albeit most inconveniently) as a juvenile human in a rural south oz primary school (after two years of kindy) i, herman newt, have first-hand experience of this, indeed, i chanted along with the rest (and what a weird mob of kangaroos, sheep, red-back spiders, king brown snakes, newts, cuttlefish, kittens, puppies and tommy-the-toy-trucks we were – but that’s dreamtime stuff, y’know, and i only mention it to explain how a newt came to be chanting english-language phonetical propositions as a five-year-old human in one of the classrooms of a small rural school way out in the spinifex), and can assert that i, this wet little amphibian in mufti, would have been at the time struggling (and i add, winning the struggle) to get the letters to spell a word that would perhaps have been spelt more phonetically as ‘aacha’. but that’d make it look dutch and so in english, you have the option of using a line above the vowel to indicate lengthening, so it looks like this: ācha.

isn’t that gorgeous? – ācha

now this little exquisitude instantly sends the newt diving into the oh so intelligible murk of its database where, while it’s gone, i, blue-stocking the bard (bardly treated as i am still being on account of not seeing the value of using the international phonetic alphabet to minutely describe the phonic values of words whose pronunciation can only be guessed at) shall hum you a few bars of that hoary old ballad, ‘bold robin hood and the impertinent 21st century ballad-singer’, although i’d just like to mention that if this blog doesn’t support the æ and the ā symbols, you’d no doubt guess, wouldn’t you, what they were meant to be.
hmm mmmmm hm hmmmmmmm
hmmm hmmmmmm hmhmhm hmm
hmmm……… oh, look, the newt, it’s surfacing. i’ll get out of your way.

thank you, bluestocking!

yes, ācha.

most of you will easily recognize there, in the written form now under our newt’s-eye lens, the irish plural ending –acha, which as nobody any longer disputes at least not with any conviction, is a form of the english –age, which denotes a collective, as in baggage, rather than a plural. in irish now and perhaps but not necessarily in the past, the ch of –acha is pronounced as if spelt with a greek chi, (poor blogger can’t manage the font), that is, like the crunching of something crisp but juicy, an apple, or carrot(eh, what’s up, doc?), or something like that.

these irish ch’s tend to turn up in english as a sound like the tch in church. old irish chach (pronounced ‘tchutch’, with ‘u’ as in ‘uh huh’) is english church, for example, notwithstanding the DIL’s insistence on preserving as sacred the errors of past translators who thought it meant, aah, eeny meeny miney mo, not church, not each, but battle, at least wherever possible, twist the rest of the text as it might, thus sustaining the otherwise unsustainable notion that the irish always were ire-ish, i.e., warlike, and were therefore always at war, not pious, gentle people as they often are now, fond of their churches and reluctant to fight.

(it isn’t that i don’t know that, in hermeneutics which, for those of you who’ve just arrived, means the interpretation of texts, we’re all sometimes reduced to eeny-meemy-miney-mo-type lexicography sometimes, but it’s post-modern to admit it when we are, and not try to destroy all evidence of possible error by poisoning newts. i mean, stop the pollution of waterways and give us newts a chance!)

now in irish, much more than in english, there are many different ways to form a plural. as well as -acha, there is –anna, for example, an english variant of which is ‘any’, related, as you will instantly see, to the variant which occurs in english as ‘one’ and all its cognates in other languages. it’s also related to english and celtic articles an and na. there are other common plural endings as well, but we’ll focus on these two.

the early comparative philologists left us with a legacy of belief in a totally unbelievable tree of language which never did explain gendering of nouns or the varieties of ‘declensions’ of nouns within a language. you can go so far with such a model, even if you allow much pleaching due to intermarriage, conquest and other mergers, but after a while, there you are weaving baskets, probably with waves, and in the best(??!!) ‘academic’(???!!!!)tradition, there’s still a knock-out competition on to decide which theory is right.

last time i looked (and i’m a fastidious newt with a sensitive soul and easily shocked, so i don’t often), i noticed that they’d come up with an extraordinary way of managing the conflict: you acknowledge that the tree-form doesn’t work and declare the wave model therefore the ‘winner’, BUT, and i mean that cyril, so i’ll say it again with emphasis, BUT!!! all current historical linguistics including all the proto-indo-european root words, the gaulish ‘dictionary’, and much other equally dark and desperate lexicographical work on old texts of many languages, assumes a tree, and so we can’t just replace the tree model with a wave one even though as the winner of the power-struggle, it’s ‘right’, because bang would go the entire PIE, and along with it, most ancient history, and wasn’t it hard enough when prasto bit the dust?

so we know that it’s wrong, but it sustains current dogmas upon which so many have built so much, in the way of theories, careers, ego-trips etc, so rather than go to all the trouble of revising it all from the ground up, we’ll keep doing it anyway and ridicule any other theory to death with scorn…

this newt declines to accompany them.

preferring instead the company of frogs, wyverns and other inspired visionaries.

in short ye who have noticed that an awful lot of marrying went on back then, and if you marry continually into your own clan, disaster tends to strike you fair in the gene pool; so when an already dangerously inbred man starts wanting a girl, he starts looking about for a girl just a bit less like the girl that married dear old dad, and marriages probably were made in emhain, or heathen, or edin or eden, or else arranged by taut old tarts and tyrants in all sorts of towers, tars, tour, tarots, turrets, tias, tuas, tewes and tiwas all over the planet. and they usually saved time, money and energy, and acres of achingly pure white, or scarlet, or purple linen, cotton or silk, by marrying them off a hundred or two or four or five couple at a ceremony after giving them a week or so to socialize (grab your partner here we go) – or not as the political climate of the time allowed.

there’s a gorgeous example in the story of the duke of warwick, when the king of england with all his retinue married the princess of france with all hers.

further input would come from the militia, armies sent to defend some far distant land,who were rewarded for service with land and grateful, enamoured wives when the war was over. the school systems and fosterage also mixed languages, and so did the customs of conquest and subjugation.

now if you can get either a tree or a wave out of all that i’ll go he! i mean there’s trees, waves, clouds, flowery meadows, oceans, rivers, bogs and thank gaia, lovely murky streams and ponds of the sort that newts delight in, geysers, volcanoes, glittering mica deserts, and oh my one and only indefinable undivided infinite, eternal god that has no face but all faces, no sex but all sexes, no shape but all shapes, no substance but all substances (aren’t we getting ‘ancient-celtic’?), sort of amenable to every possible sort of metaphor; and none of them fit perfectly.

not one. not even bubbles in a cauldron, desmond. not even dragons in full battle-rage.

but looking at language itself as revealed so imperfectly and so fragmentarily and fragmentedly through written texts and the oral traditions, it’s clear that some people who used –acha as a pluralizing ending fetched up cheek by jowl with others who used the ending ‘–anna’ (reduced, it seems, to ‘–ne’ in old english), and it would seem reasonable in referring to them to distinguish between them by calling the –acha-ans ‘achaäns’, or ‘achaeans’ for convenience, and the ‘-anna-ans’ as the annaäns or annaeans. (–an is of course another variant of the complex that the english word ‘any’ is a variant of.)

es, -s, -ith, -the, -adh and more are variants of an ancient es, and the ones who used it would be called ess-ans, (essene, if you spell -anna –ene) and those using a lisped variant would be athene, wouldn’t they?

-achaeans, they’re greeks, aren’t they? athens – that’s hellenic, isn’t it? well, spotted there, deborah, but no, not greek, and yes, hellenic, that is to say, hellish, or of hell. and where on the map do you find hells full of people speaking the languages whose ancient and aging texts have surfaced in the far west of europe? that’s right, wales. cornwall. england.

they tend to spell it heylin, or heyl or hel, hill, hol, hall or hull, or drop the h and spell it ell or el, as in eliseg, ellis, elys etc, and often it is obscured as part of another word, such as llanelli, or pwllheli, or minstrel (minster-hel). it’s a form of hill, and used to be a name for what is now called a hillfort.

helledh was a welsh princess. without the lisp, that’s a lot like hellas. helston is in cornwall, not far from st austell. eolas which is as near to hellas as you can get in irish, means knowledge or information. it turns us as ollamh in irish, meaning a highly educated person (hells were schools very often – refer rhonabwy at the house of heilyn in the welsh tale, the dream of rhonabwy.) ollamh is olaf in the north, and elf or aelf, in english. aelfred, aelfric, you know who i mean, and yes, that’s true, gerald, hellenes are hellenes and aelfs is elfs, and you have to draw the line somewhere, but where, i ask you? where?

nigel, put that comic away or i’ll confiscate it.

that’s right, celia, the –amh, reduced to an –f in english, is doing the work of an old ‘of’ word or ancestor of ‘of’. so yes, i suppose you could say that an elf, ollamh or alvin is a ‘scholar from hell’, but why would you bother????

to sum up, and i’m over my self-imposed thousand word limit by about one thousand one hundred words already, so i’d better be concise:

achaeans, athenians, essenes and the anaeid (id is a form of idh or ith, cognate with the modern english ‘(-e)s’ and denoted a plural or collective noun) were all exported to the east in the form of piles of books. oh, by their human manifestation of course!

but the main thrust is that the achaeans were archer-ans, taken to greece by the charming breton knight himself, and guess what, the ancient greek word for a bow is ‘toxa’, of two forearms’ length, no doubt, which is close enough to t-acha, allowing for a greek accent grappling with brythonic sounds and bewildered by the ‘the’. (they dispensed with the th in their own forms of the).

we’ll look closer at the athenians, who seemed to have colonized greece earlier on (unless the greeks sent atha-ans to briton and everyone’s forgotten about it), later.

and for homework, well, prep if you like, julia, i’d like you all to read once again tirant lo blanc, that bit where he does a convincing impersonation of alkibiades the general who married the king of greece’s daughter after defeating the persians for him, and marries carmesina, the king of greece’s daughter, after she’d handed him macedonia as a gift in order to make him a duke so that she didn’t have to marry a boring old general/captain, and besides, she was besotted with him, he was such a hunk, and besides, he helped her father to defeat the persians – perhaps he resembled george harrison of the beatles… or robin hood. or prince andrew in his youth.

then, in the remaining ten minutes write a twelve page essay on what is the relationship between the ancient greek word ‘damar’, a wife, and the cornish/english river ‘tamar’, (the t mutates easily to d in cornish) and the english, french and germanic words ‘dame’. (hint: start by leniting the ‘m’)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s