Friday Night Dialogues: The origins of language

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Friday Night Dialogues at

REPORTER FILE PHOTO  Friday Night Dialogues presents noted linguistic professor Barry Nobel on May 5 at the Shelter Island Library.

Linguistic scholars have traced the history of the English language as far back in time as 4,500 B.C., when the ancestors of much of Europe and Asia once spoke in the same mother tongue.

On Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m., noted linguistic professor, Barry Nobel, comes to “Friday Night Dialogues @ the Library” to track that history — in one hour!

In his remarks, “A Brief History of the English Language,” Mr. Nobel will discusses how English evolved from a common ancestor — “Proto Indo European” language, which is the scholarly linguistic reconstruction of the most widely-spoken language family in the world — the Indo European language.

Linguistic scholarship shows that this root language evolved from ancestral tongues spoken across a broad expanse of the Mediterranean world, extending from Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq, mostly) in the south, to Asia Minor — most of what is present-day Turkey — in the north.

In the ancient world, Asia Minor was the seat of kingdoms and great cities, including Thrace, Ionia and, most famously, Troy.

Language from these ancient roots has spread throughout the globe and is marked by its diversity: the Indo European language is the same-source cradle from which English, Russian, French, Latin and Hindi ultimately come. As one scholar put it, “Farsi and English were 6,500 years ago the same language. That’s pretty cool, and it gives you a sense of unity.”

Mr. Nobel will take us through centuries of talking — explaining the evolution of Middle English, discussing loanwords from French and classical languages, charting the influence of Old Norse and Celtic and much more.

Additionally, he will touch on the linguistic role of inflections, and enlighten us about various attempts though the years to regulate the English language as well as giving attention to the emergence of Modern English and briefly discussing Modern Language Dialects.

Mr. Nobel holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from Ohio State University and he taught linguistics and English at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. Since “moving back to the mainland,” as he puts it, he has pursued other careers, but his interest in language remains strong, and he often lectures and gives seminars on linguistic diversity as well as the history of the English language.

Friday Night Dialogues in the Library’s Community Room is free with donations greatly appreciated.

Coming up: On Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m., John Spillane will speak about the 106th Rescue Wing and his involvement with the events recorded in “The Perfect Storm,” by Sebastian Junger.

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