Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 24

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues (between heritage trips!).

24 WILLEM HIETBRINK & OTHERS ON DUTCH

A somewhat extreme proposal regarding language origins is that of Willem Hietbrink and Ronald Lagendijk (both Dutch), who propose in Het Oertaalwoordenboek (Rotterdam, 1994) that all expressions in all languages are ‘corruptions’ of meaningful short sentences in contemporary or near-contemporary Dutch, often via series of intermediate forms (without providing historical evidence of these intermediate forms). For instance, English exact derives from Dutch ik zeg ‘t dich (‘I say it to you’), via ‘k sektik, ‘k sakt. Of course, the chronology does not work; many of the non-Dutch words cited have established etymologies or indeed were themselves already used long before the development of the modern Dutch language.

Hietbrink analyzes Dutch as having 24 consonants and fifteen vowels. (The usual analysis is different; for instance, Standard Dutch is held to have fourteen monophthongal vowels and nine diphthongs. Hietbrink appears to have been distracted by the spelling.) He refers to the Dutch phonological system as ‘the alphabet’; thus he is naïvely folk-linguistic in treating the spelling rather than the phonemics as primary. Indeed, he appears to believe that this 39-phoneme system is valid for all languages. (This is reminiscent of spelling reformers who imagine that their reformed system for spelling English can also replace the International Phonetic Association Alphabet for the transcription of other languages.) Hietbrink goes on to claim that there are thus only 24 x 15 = 360 ‘combinations’ of vowels and consonants that human beings can pronounce, at least as long as they use the Roman alphabet (of course, the spelling/writing system used will in fact have no decisive effect on what sequences can or cannot be pronounced). This assumes that only syllables of the form Consonant-Vowel or Vowel-Consonant occur; but many languages, including Dutch, also permit many more complex syllable structures, such as Consonant-Vowel-Consonant. In addition, even some of the short Dutch words cited by Hietbrink have more than one syllable.

Hietbrink’s work resembles that of early modern Dutch-speaking writers such as Jan van Gorp (seventeenth century) and Simon Stevin (late sixteenth-early seventeenth centuries), who worked before scientific linguistics had developed.

More next time!

Mark

For my book Strange Linguistics, see:
http://linguistlist.org/pubs/books/get-book.cfm?BookID=64212

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

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One Response to Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 24

  1. Russian Skeptic says:

    Oh, how familiar! We too have guys who reads any (especially ancient) languages as distorted Russian. They are Zadornov and Chudinov, The latter allegedly deciphers ‘hidden’ Slavonic inscriptions in Stone Age cave paintings and Etruscan sculptures.

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