Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 24

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


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!


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3 Responses 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.

  2. berend willem hietbrink says:

    Hietbrink bedoeld slechts spreektaal duizenden dialektische spraak klanken door de comerce schrift verhaspeld. Engels is nog maar half dutch diets duits Van orgine in galen sax=angelsax toen nog 100% dutch. Thans mix met latijn steenkolen engels wereld taal quantum massa maakt nimmer kwaliteit.

  3. marknewbrook says:

    I thank BWH for his contribution. As far as I can see, my original comments are correct. I would also argue that the lexical (and grammatical) relationship between English and Dutch, while obviously close (West Germanic), is not as close as is suggested here. MN

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