sobota, 1 kwietnia 2017

II/3: Singular “They” in English

On one occasion I have noticed an interesting usage of their pronoun on a website: X has changed their profile photo. “Has” and “their”? The important fact may be that it was a Russian website translated to English so the original possessive pronoun was probably своё. This Russian form provides us no information about the gender of possessor (it tells us about the gender of the possessed object); probably this is the reason of using a singular gender-neutral pronoun in English translation.
The singular “they” is not a product of modern-era political correctness, but an old phenomenon that occurred in English since the 14th century. However, until recently it was not accepted by traditional prescriptivist grammarians and its correctness is still disputed; on the other hand, the English Wikipedia provides us in the article about Singular They (including its derivatives: their etc.) an example from such a formal text like... the Canadian Criminal Code:

if a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that, because of their physical condition, a person may be incapable of providing a breath sample...
(subparagraph 254(3)(a)(ii)); an amendment form 2008

The article quotes also, for instance, George Bush:

If anyone tells you that America's best days are behind her, then they're looking the wrong way. President George Bush, 1991 State of the Union Address

The rival pronoun used in situation when we do not know the gender of person we are talking about, is generic he:

No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. — Article 15, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

However  its usage is dropping and some people reject it (because of its alleged sexism), as well as some reject singular they. One another proposition for gender-neutral pronoun, that applies mainly to written English, namely he or she, is also often rejected as clumsy, awkward and overly political correct.

poniedziałek, 27 marca 2017

II/2: A-prefixing in English

A couple weeks ago I have read – and  listened as well – a song of the newest (2016) Noble Prize winner on literature, Bob Dylan. The lyrics was entitled “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and the title itself contained a strange grammatical form which attracted my attention, and I am not talking about the use of alveoral nasal /n/ instead of velar nasal /ŋ/ in the present participle suffix -ing, marked by -in' notation. This allomorph is quite common for informal English. But why a-?

Obviously, Bob Dylan used it for purpose of obtaining the number of syllables he wanted, but it is not like that he invented an non-existing form or added an accidental syllable. In fact, he used an archaic or – depends on context – a regional form.

There are at least two prefixes having form of a- /ə/ in English, one of Ancient Greek origin (along with its prevocalic allomorph an- /æn-/, used also before the letter 'h'; pronounciated in some words as /eɪ̯/; meaning “not”, used to form antonymes) and one(s) of Germanic origin and it will particularly interest us. For the record, there is also one or three a- originating in Latin ab-, ad- or ex- but they are rare and no longer productive as well as... absent in the Bob Dylan's lyrics.

The Germanic a- has several etymologies confused during development of the Modern English. The Oxford English Dictionary states as follows:

“[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a-looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic [nice-sounding], or even archaic, and wholly otiose [pointless].”

One of these a- prefixes can be found in such words as arise or ashame; the second one formed e.g. await; the third one is found in anew.; all of them are no longer productive and, I presume, were confused several centuries ago. The fourth and latter one originating in the preposition a and one of its meaning is “in the act or process of”. We can found the a-prefixing in some folk songs like A-Hunting We Will Go or religious ones like Here We Come A-wassailing; moreover, it is still common in present-day Appallachian and Ozark English (both are subdialects of Southern American White English) until today. You can learn more about this phenomenon here:

niedziela, 12 marca 2017

II/1: Polish loanwords in English, Part One

English, being an international and hegemonic language on a level never known before on planet Earth, has a great impact on nearly every possible alive human language. Recently, the largest amount of loanwords (and even suffixes, at least in some slangs) in Polish comes from English; it is also the main source of internationalisms (even if, sometimes, roots of a word are Ancient Greek or Latin). The Polish loanwords in English are not so many. However, the opposite direction is also possible; Polish language is even, sometimes, source of internationalisms. We will look at some examples of them.

1. ogonek /ə'gɔːnɛk/ or /ə'gɒnɛk/ plural: ogoneks – from Polish «ogonek» [ɔ'ɡɔnɛk] (literally: 'a little tail', the diminutive form of ogon – 'a tail'). In English it means «˛», a diactical mark resembling a hook attached beneath (bottom down corner or directly under) a vowel letter of some languages using the Latin alphabet usually to indicate nasalization (with exception of Lithuanian language). It is used also in some scholarly phonetic notations (of Slavic languages, including Old Church Slavonic, Proto-Germanic language, Vulgar Latin and Native American languages), then only in order to indicate nasalization.
Langugages that use ogonek:
From among European languages: Polish, Kashubian (a Lechitic language formerly considered to be a dialect of Polish), Lithuanian (historically to indicate nasalisation, now for the vowel length), Elfdalian (a Scandinavian language traditionally regarded as a dialect of Swedish),
From among Native American languages: Cayuga (a severely endangered Iroquioan language of Canada and United States), Winnebago (a Siouan language of the Great Plains), Dogrib (an Athabascan language of the Northwest Territories of Canada), Creek (a Muscogean language of United States), Navaho (an Athabascan language of United States), Western Apache (closely related to the former one), Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache, Tutchone (a threatened Athabascan language of Canada), Gwich’in (another one Athabascan language, spoken in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories).
The ogonek is clearly an internationalism.

wtorek, 24 stycznia 2017

[9] The Abrahamic religions - a brief introduction. Part Five: Chalcedon and the Great Schism

The second schism took place in 451. Sees of Alexandria and Antioch seceded after the Council of Chalcedon under the pretext of very small christological differencies with Rome and Constantinople. Armenian state church took the chance of independence from Rome as well. The so-called Oriental Orthodox Church came into being. Today many Oriental Orthodox Churches now view the Chalcedonian Schism as having resulted from a difference in semantics rather than actual doctrine. But I think that the true reason was imperial politics of Constantinople that wanted to dominate whole eastern part of the Empire.
There is also an interesting fact about the Oriental Orthodoxy. Maybe during your childhood you heard a joke: „How do two popes greet each other?” And if you have said „I don't know” or some like that, the joke teller laughed at you saying „Ha-ha-ha, silly you, there's only one pope in the world”. So, today you will be able to response that it is not true. And not only because of abdication of His Holiness Benedict 16th. There is an another bishop who uses a title of pope. He also resides in the Holy See, but in Alexandria in Egypt. He is the head of Coptic Orthodox Church as well as the whole Oriental Orthodox Church. Other churches within the Oriental Orthodox Communion are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, headed by the Catholicos of All Armenians, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church existing in India, the Ethopian Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Each of them are autocephalus but recognise the Pope of Alexandria as the first among equals. There are also various small schismatic churches of Oriental Orthodox tradition like for example the Celtic Orthodox Church that claims to have roots in ancient Celtic Christianity in the British Isles.
The story of schism repeated once again in 1054. This event is called the Great Schism. Constantinople rejected to recognise the primate of Roman Pope. The two biggest churches in the world came into being: one called „Roman Catholic Church” and the second one called „Eastern Orthodox Church”.
But there were in ancient times also some churches outside the Empire in the Western Europe. The best example is the mentioned Celtic Christianity that seceded due to geographic isolation and reunited with Rome in the Middle Ages. Today's Anglicanism consider itself to be a succesor of these churches.

sobota, 21 stycznia 2017

[8] The Abrahamic religions - a brief introduction. Part Four: Early Schisms

Catholicism and the Early Schisms
After the First Council of Nicea there were another councils convened in order to condemn several new heresies. Nevertheless, these heresies were short-lived and not very influential, and they slightly differed from the Orthodoxy. In 380 AD, however, a completely new chapter in the history of Christianity began. The Christian Church was established as a state religion of the Roman Empire, and it was the second state church in (the) history (the first was Armenian Church). Afterwards, Christianity became a political issue and, as a result, some problems usually attached to politics aroseA phenomenon of schisms came into existence, a the phenomenon that finally led to the birth of Anglicanism. A schism is an institutional division between two or more churches not caused by the differencies in their faiths, but usually resulting from political and other non-religious reasons such as geographic isolation.
In the 4th and 5th century, the Roman Empire was not the only state where Christianity existed. When it eventually became the state religion of the Empire, Christians began to be regarded as the agents of Rome within the states that had rocky relations with the Empire. I mean here the Sassanid Empire in today's Iran. In 424, local bishops recognised their leader as the patriarch and cut ties with the Roman Church. The Persian Church became later the Church of the East which exists to the present and is one of the main branches of Christianity. During the Middle Ages it formed the second great Christian world beside Christianity in Europe, but it was almost unkown to the Western World. It was present from Persia as far as India and China, but later it declined. Until the twentieth century, it was widespread among hereditary patriarchs (the post passed from uncle to nephew due to celibacy). Another schism took place in the 20th century, however, concerning this and other issues. The Church of the East is now divided into the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East. Contrary to a popular belief, the doctrine of the Church of the East is not based on Nestorian teachings condemned in the Council of Ephesus. They claim that Nestorianism is a heresy and consider calling them „Nestorians” offensive.
However, the existence of a formal schism between the Roman Church, its successor churches and the Church of the East seems doubtful when we recall a story that happened seven centuries later. A Mongolian monk from the Church of the East arrived on a diplomatic mission to Rome and received the Holy Communion from the hands of the Roman Pope! It is impossible for a person regarded as schismatic to receive the Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church. This story has led me to the conclusion that the statement of Persian patriarchs that they were not in the communion with the Roman Church was a lie whose purpose was to avoid persecutions. Real schism took place many years later, mostly due to geographical isolation.
At the very beginning of Christianity as a state religion of the Roman Empire, there were five major episcopal sees: one in Rome, one in Constantinople, one in Alexandria, one in Antioch and the last one in Jerusalem. The bishops of these sees were called patriarchs. Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were already prominent from the time of early Christianity, while Constantinople came to the fore upon becoming the imperial residence in the 4th century. Thereafter, it was ranked consistently just after Rome. Jerusalem received a ceremonial place due to the city's importance in the early days of Christianity. The first four of them were also strong political centers in the Empire; only Jerusalem did not form a separate political entity. The cities were also driven by a desire to dominate each other and it finally led to other schisms.

środa, 11 stycznia 2017

[7] The Abrahamic religions - a brief introduction. Part Three: Christianity and the early heresies

Christianity and the early heresies

Christianity came into existence as a sect within Ancient Judaism and its split with Judaism took place in the time of the Rejection of Jesus by Jews (circa 33 AD) or in the time of the Council of Jerusalem (circa 50 AD), when the Apostles rejected the most of Jewish religious laws such as male circumcision. The first divisions within Christianity arose probably in these times. The first controversions included: rejecting or maintaining the Jewish law, accepting the divinity of Jesus or treating him as a prophet and accepting or rejecting the conception of the Holy Trinity. Numerous sects seceded from that? some scholars call „Pauline Christianity,based on recognizing Paul the Apostle as the greatest missionary in the history, or „Proto-Orthodox Christianity”. Some of these sects are quite important for understanding the history of the Abrahamic religions, which is why I have mentioned them before, but the majority of them was short-lived. What is more, we do not know much/ a lot about them since Christianity was illegal and persecuted by the Roman Empire up to 313 AD, when it was eventually legalised.

Demographically, the biggest sect was Arianism, and it was probably the only one that survived in the Roman Empire up to the legalisation. It is also of considerable importance for some doctrines that emerged later during the Reformation. Beside Gnosticism, Arianism was the most important Non-Trinitarian doctrine. Its father, bishop Arius of Alexandria denied the true divinity of Jesus and stated that he was only the son of God and was created by Him. Do you know who was his mortal enemy? Lucifer. Saint Lucifer, bishop of Cagliary, known for his passionate opposition to Arianism. How was it possible that he bore such a name? In these times the word „Lucifer” meant simply „light-bringing” and it would be connected with the chief of the fallen angels much later. Returning to the subject at hand, Arianism had a great impact on the mentioned Proto-Orthodox Christianity. In order to regain the unity of all Christedom, the First Council of Nicea was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who (had) converted shortly before. The Council codified the most important doctrines of the Christian faith in the Nicene Creed, which is believed to be the simplest definition of Christianity. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxes, Oriental Orthodoxes, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists and many others fight the Arianism every time when they recite „We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” 

I have emphasised the most important fragments of the text that are meant directly against Arianism. The followers of Arianism and other Non-Trinitarian doctrines were among the most hated during the whole history of Christianity. Their denying of the divinity of Jesus was considered as a blasphemy against God. This was also one of the reasons of the exile of the Polish Brethen, the only banned denomination in the history of independent Poland. Even today, the acceptance of the dogma of the Holy Trinity is the first condition to join the World Council of Churches, which simply means that Non-Trinitarians are basically regarded as non-Christians by the mainstream Christianity.

[6] The Abrahamic religions - a brief introduction. Part Two: from Simon the Magician to the Holy Prophet

Mandaeans and Gnostics
Ancient Judaism has given birth to numerous religions that have dominated the modern world. The most important to us and the biggest is Christianity, which has its beginnings in an ancient sect within Judaism, but we know this story. However, I think that the Mandeaens are almost unknown in the Western societies. They are also called the Christians of the Saint John because they recognise John the Baptist as one of their most important teachers, and claim direct descent from the prophet Noah. However, calling them „Christians” is quite incorrect because, despite their respect for John, they maintain that Jesus was a false messiah. They also consider the Holy Spirit that is mentioned in the Bible to be an evil being, and Abraham and Moses to be false prophets. As you can see, even recognising them as an „Abrahamic religion” may be very controversial despite their descent. Moreover, they are believed to be the only Gnostic sect surviving from the late antiquity to the present. The Gnostics have never formed a single religion. This term is rather used to describe a number of traditions that have similar features such as dualism and antimaterialism beside many differences, and have been united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in the material world created by an imperfect god, the demiurge, who is frequently identified with the Abrahamic God. They had roots in the early Christianity with strong influences of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion, the Neo-Platonic philosophy and Greco-Roman mystery religions such as Hermetism. In the Christian tradition, Simon the Magician mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles is believed to be the founder of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was ancestral to several medieval heresies such as Catharism, destroyed by the crusades.

Some scholars believe Islam to be a child of early Nontrinitarian sects within Christianity as well. I personally consider Islam to be descended from the Ebionites, a group that rejected the divinity of Jesus and were present in Arabia during the ancient times. According to modern mainstream Islam, the Ebionites were the group who was faithful to the original teachings of Jesus, unlike the mainstream Christianity, who abandoned the pure monotheism of Jesus by adopting the dogma of the Holy Trinity. The main evidence supporting the idea that Muslims originate from Christians is their recognition of Jesus as a prophet and a belief in the virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. On the other hand, one of the first men to believe in the prophethood of Muhammad according to the Holy Quran was an Ebionite monk, a distant cousin of the prophet.

Islam has various branches and schools which often consider each other to be unbelievers. Nowadays, there the major branches include the Sunni, Shia and Ibadi, who are are divided into many schools. The Sufis, who are organised in mystical orders, originate from Sunni Islam, as well as the Salafis do, who are responsible for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and are despised by traditional Muslims as heretics. The both of them are mortal enemies to each other. Next, Quranism, a radical school that holds that the Quran must be the only source of the Islamic faith and rejects the authority of Hadith, has emerged from Sunni Islam as well. What is more, the Alawites, the Druzes of Shia origin and the Ahmadiyya movement consider themselves Muslims, but they hold belief in various new prophets, messiahs, or even God incarnations after Muhammad. There is still another group, the Babists and Bahaists, who also have their own prophets, but emphasize their separation from Islam. Furthermore, so-called Black Islam came into being among black nationalists and separatists in the USA, which is a separate branch of Islam.

A representation of Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel

Native Kurdish religions such as Yarsanism, Chinarism and Yazidism have their roots predominantly in Islam and Zoroastrianism. Yazidis have a reputation as devil worshippers due to their belief that the fallen angel repented, redeemed himself and now he is the ruler of the world. They call him „Melek Taus,” which means „the peacock angel”.