September 18, 2006

From Russia to Wales, with Llove

The latest from the annals of linguistic silliness, a Western Mail (of Wales) article (of 9/16/06) reproduced on the ic wales site: "Welsh language traced - to Russia!"  Tryst Williams wrote:

VODKA, furry hats, gymnastic dancing, the setting for one of the greatest Bond movies - Russia has given us a lot.

But research has discovered that it also gave Wales the Welsh language - from Russia With Llove, as it were...

Researchers documenting the history of Welsh have traced it back to the plains of Russia 6,000 years ago.

Clever reader, do you get it?

[The spelling <Llove> is a little orthographic joke, though not a very impressive one, since I doubt very much that anyone in Wales pronounces English love with an initial voiceless lateral fricative.  In any case, thanks to Thomas Thurman for the pointer.]

I realize this is a huge anti-climax, but Williams is talking about Proto Indo-European:

But while today's local population might not travel far, the language that flourished there in about 4,000BC between the Caspian and Black Seas certainly has.

It is there that linguistic historians believe the so-called "Indo-European" group of languages first developed among a tribe of nomadic farmers. This common language would eventually spread and give rise to such diverse tongues as Welsh, German and Sanskrit.

Not to mention, umm, Russian.  And Greek and Latin.

But it's all about Welsh.  It's the Local Hook.  There's a tragic plane crash in Baluchistan, and the Fresno Bee manages to find a local resident whose brother went to college with one of the victims.  (I'm making this up, but real examples are only too easy to find.)

And of course it's historically confused.  In 4,000 B.C. there was no geographical or political entity Russia.  No Russian people.  No Russian language.  (Furry hats, probably.  Gymnastic dancing, maybe.  Vodka, no.)   Russia didn't give anything to Wales, or to Italy and Scandinavia and the Balkans, or to Persia and India.

But it makes a cute story -- which, by the way, is about a new TV series tracing the history of the Welsh language, from the Eurasian heartland to Scotland and finally to Wales.  (Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland are not mentioned in the story.  The point is to get to Wales.)

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 18, 2006 08:02 PM