or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Ruins

Today I got an e-mail from my friend Ralph, who with his wife is traveling in, well, most of the known world. Right now they're in Turkey, and wouldn't you like to see some of their pictures? Of course you would. There's one above, and there are lots more here.

In his e-mail is the following sentence, referring to the local buildings (these travellers have an eye for architecture):

Those that aren't intact are preyed upon for spolia, and are incorporated in new buildings.

"Spolia". Maybe you've seen it before, but I hadn't. Isn't it great?

You can quickly and easily figure it out. Obviously Latin; no question about that. Plainly the source of the English word "spoils", as in "the spoils of war"; "spolium" is "booty" (the "treasure" sense, not the modern "derriere" sense, which is an alteration of "body"), and therefore "spolia" is plural, from the verb "spoliare", "to rob, to plunder".

A few seconds' thought will tell you that "spoil", meaning "to damage" (used transitively) or "to become damaged; to decay" (intransitively), is from exactly the same place. It is a very short leap from "to plunder" to "to sack: to destroy".


Reader Clare wrote,

General question: Do you know if a source language, analogous to IE, exists for Asian languages?

I was going to quote The Simpsons' Reverend Lovejoy ("Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but"), but the answer is even simpler than that; there isn't one and can't be one, because "Asia" is an enormous entity with a great many peoples and languages from a great many sources. Wikipedia has a list of the top ten language families by number of speakers, and eight of those families contain Asiatic languages.

The question is a bit like asking, "Is there a single source language for all European languages?", and again there isn't, because Europe contains such languages as Dutch, Finnish, and Turkish, each of which belongs to a different language family--Germanic (born of Indo-European), Finno-Ugric, and Turkic, respectively--not to mention Basque, which is apparently unrelated to any other living language.

Asian languages come from many more source languages than European tongues: Japanese, Laotian, and Korean, to grab just three at random, all have different roots. There may well be similarities between any two languages: geographical proximity and the natural human propensity to borrow useful words makes sure of that. But there's no one underlying source for all the languages of the region.


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