Episode 27: Broken Empire and Fractured Languages

Parchment books begin to replace papyrus scrolls as the Western Roman Empire crumbles. New Germanic Kingdoms emerge in the west, but Latin remains the dominant language in Western Europe.  Latin itself begins to fracture without the Roman educational system to hold it together.  Meanwhile, Gothic words begin to filter into early Spanish.


Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

19 thoughts on “Episode 27: Broken Empire and Fractured Languages

  1. 16:21 is the best pun that i’ve heard in a very long time. Bravo!

    …on my third time through. thanks again.

  2. I’m enjoying your pod cast very much. For this episode, I must point out however, that there is a difference between Calvary and cavalry. You meant the second but said the first many times in reference to the stirrup. My dad does that too and I hear it on TV often! Easy mistake to make.

    Looking forward to listening to more! Thanks.

    • Yes, I tend to pronounce the word as “calvary.” It is actually a very common pronunciation, but technically incorrect as you noted. The word “cavalry” also pops up in future episodes, and I think I got it right in those.

      • I love the show too, and have been encouraging everyone I know to listen to it, but have only just reached the first episode with the mispronunciation/ misuse of the word ‘cavalry’. No good trying to hide behind metathesis I’m afraid. Much better to own up to a simple mistake. Same goes for your correspondent Mr Healey on his high whores.

        Keep up the good work!

        • Why not? It’s a very common instance of metathesis. So much so that it’s one of two examples given by Wikipedia for local metathesis.

        • Stu, your comment makes you sound like a very unpleasant person.

          Beyond that, it’s pretty comical that you’re interested in linguistic prescription while you avow to “love the show;” have you seriously made it all the way to this episode and failed to learn that language is not a set of rules, but a living artifact?

      • If it’s commonly used by native English speakers then it’s not “incorrect”… “non-standard” maybe, but not incorrect.

        • That’s why I qualified it with ‘technically,’ by which I meant according to the official pronunciation guides in most modern dictionaries. But yes, ‘calvary’ is a non-standard pronunciation, but still very common in much of the US (and dare I say even becoming ‘standard’ in some regional dialects of the US based on my observations).

  3. Thank you for acknowledging this mispronunciation. For me it’s like scraping a blackboard with a fingernail. Please, please never say “nucular”!

  4. The transposition of sounds is very common; one of the many things that happens in languages, and for this reason, one of the many sources of why we end up with divergent languages. If your comprehension is actually impeded by the pronunciations of “cavalry” and “nuclear” as noted above, then I could somewhat understand the frustration; if you know what is meant, though, get off your high horse and join the nucular calvary.

    • I actually discussed the impact of metathesis on English in a bonus episode as patreon.com/historyofenglish. Patreon subscribers should check that out as well.

  5. Thanks for such brisk dispatch of the Roman Empire, at least in the West. You galloped through it, with or without stirrups! Makes you wonder what takes others so long to describe it.

    • Thanks! I have to admit that I am not as fascinated with the Roman Empire as some of my contemporaries. I realize its overall importance to the civilization of Western Europe, and I appreciate the contribution of Latin to the development of English, but I don’t care to dwell on Roman matters for an extended period of time. I’m much more fascinated by the Germanic tribes that ultimately gave birth to English and the other Germanic languages.

  6. I’m making my way through the podcast and listening through a web browser while at work, so it’s been interesting reading the comments while learning already learning so much!

    I’d like to jump in on this thread and point out the irony in discussing the correct pronunciation of certain words that are often mispronounced when mispronunciations are what leads to different languages in the first place. If nobody accepted “mispronunciations” as valid, we’d all still be speaking Proto Indo European or whatever came before that. This podcast is about exactly that.

    Not saying we should all start saying nucular, irregardless, arthuritis, and so on, just something to think about!

  7. You mentioned Pappas not being made into books and claim that it was because when riding on the back of a scroll the markings would get rubbed out.
    But that begs the question why didn’t they ever make papyrus books?

    Papyrus, as you describe, was made by laying material crossways in several layers. The end result of this was that you could not write on both sides of papyrus. So a papyrus book is much less useful because you can only write on one side.

    • Actually it is possible to write on both sides of papyrus, and it could be made into books. The early Christians often used both sides of papyrus to write New Testament texts. Experts can tell from careful examination, even of fragments, whether it was from using both sides of a scroll, or from a book! For example if it was from a copy of Matthew’s gospel and we have part of chapter 4 on one side, if the reverse had part of chapter 5 it was likely a book, but if it was from a much later part it would have been a scroll. This is because a scroll would be filled up on one side, then the other. Or the other side might be an unrelated text if it was an old scroll being reused. This using both sides of a scroll was not very common, but was obviously done to save money because the very early church was poor. I have oversimplified a bit, but hopefully my meaning is clear.

      Parchment was more durable than papyrus, so when the church became richer it was preferred over papyrus. But survival of documents also skews the picture as parchment also survives a lot better. Papyrus only survives in very dry conditions, so most of our finds are from Egypt, not just because it was made there but because it survives there.

  8. Thanks Kevin, this is the type of podcast I have been searching for and have not been able to find anything else like it. Every episode is so informative and fascinating. Now that I have found it I am sharing it with friends and family members. Thanks for taking the time to make such amazing content! Much appreciated!!

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