McKenna, Chris (RDSSW) chris.mckenna at defra.gsi.gov.uk
Mon Feb 23 17:14:04 GMT 2004

-----Original Message-----
Sent: 21 February 2004 15:58

On a lighter note.....


Owen Alun and Brendan O'Corraidhe

In the beginning there was an island off the coast of Europe. It had no
name, for the natives had no language, only a collection of grunts and
gestures that roughly translated to "Hey!", "Gimme!", and "Pardon me, but
would you happen to have any woad?"

Then the Romans invaded it and called it Britain, because the natives were
"blue, nasty, brutish [British] and short." This was the start of the
importance of u (and its mispronounciation) to the language. After building
some roads, killing off some of the nasty little blue people and walling up
the rest, the Romans left, taking the language instruction manual with them.

The British were bored so they invited the barbarians to come over (under
Hengist) and "Horsa" 'round a bit. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes brought
slightly more refined vocal noises.

All of the vocal sounds of this primitive language were onomatapoedic, being
derived from the sounds of battle. Consonants were derived from the sounds
of weapons striking a foe. "Sss" and "th" for example are the sounds of a
draw cut, "k" is the sound of a solidly landed axe blow, "b", "d", are the
sounds of a head dropping onto rock and sod respectively, and "gl" is the
sound of a body splashing into a bog. Vowels (which were either gargles in
the back of the throat or sharp exhalations) were derived from the sounds
the foe himself made when struck.

The barbarians had so much fun that decided to stay for post-revel. The
British, finding that they had lost future use of the site, moved into the
hills to the west and called themselves Welsh.

The Irish, having heard about language from Patrick, came over to
investigate. When they saw the shiny vowels, they pried them loose and took
them home. They then raided Wales and stole both their cattle and their
vowels, so the poor Welsh had to make do with sheep and consonants. ("Old Ap
Ivor hadde a farm, L Y L Y W! And on that farm he hadde somme gees. With a
dd dd here and a dd dd there...")

To prevent future raids, the Welsh started calling themselves "Cymry" and
gave even longer names to their villages. They figured if no one could
pronounce the name of their people or the names of their towns, then no one
would visit them. (The success of the tactic is demonstrated still today.
How many travel agents have YOU heard suggest a visit to scenic

Meantime, the Irish brought all the shiny new vowels home to Erin. But of
course they didn't know that there was once an instruction manual for them,
so they scattered the vowels throughout the language purely as ornaments.
Most of the new vowels were not pronounced, and those that were were
pronounced differently depending on which kind of consonant they were either
preceding or following.

The Danes came over and saw the pretty vowels bedecking all the Irish words.
"Ooooh!" they said. They raided Ireland and brought the vowels back home
with them. But the Vikings couldn't keep track of all the Irish rules so
they simply pronounced all the vowels "oouuoo."

In the meantime, the French had invaded Britain, which was populated by
descendants of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. After a generation or
two, the people were speaking German with a French accent and calling it
English. Then the Danes invaded again, crying "Oouuoo! Oouuoo!," burning
abbeys, and trading with the townspeople.

The Britons that the Romans hadn't killed intermarried with visiting Irish
and became Scots. Against the advice of their travel agents, they descided
to visit Wales. (The Scots couldn't read the signposts that said, "This way
to LLyddyllwwyddymmllwylldd," but they could smell sheep a league away.) The
Scots took the sheep home with them and made some of them into haggis. What
they made with the others we won't say, but Scots are known to this day for
having hairy legs.

The former Welsh, being totally bereft, moved down out of the hills and into
London. Because they were the only people in the Islands who played flutes
instead of bagpipes, they were called Tooters. This made them very popular.
In short order, Henry Tooter got elected King and begin popularizing ornate,
unflattering clothing.

Soon, everybody was wearing ornate, unflattering clothing, playing the
flute, speaking German with a French accent, pronouncing all their vowels
"oouuoo" (which was fairly easy given the French accent), and making lots of
money in the wool trade. Because they were rich, people smiled more
(remember, at this time, "Beowulf" and "Canterbury Tales" were the only
tabloids, and gave generally favorable reviews even to Danes). And since it
is next to impossible to keep your vowels in the back of your throat (even
if you do speak German with a French accent) while smiling and saying
"oouuoo" (try it, you'll see what I mean), the Great Vowel Shift came about
and transformed the English language.

The very richest had their vowels shifted right out in front of their teeth.
They settled in Manchester and later in Boston.

There were a few poor souls who, cut off from the economic prosperity of the
wool trade, continued to swallow their vowels. They wandered the countryside
in misery and despair until they came to the docks of London, where their
dialect devolved into the incomprehensible language known as Cockney. Later,
it was taken overseas and further brutalized by merging it with Dutch and
Italian to create Brooklynese.

That's what happened, you can check for yourself. But I advise you to just
take my word for it.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


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