In this part, I introduce another path towards finding the hidden meaning behind sounds and the words they form. As sneaky as ever, this time they are hiding in plain sight, in each syllable or sound of names of places, and common names.

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Carmen Jimenez Huertas, No venimos del latin: Edición revisada y ampliada (2015)
In english: Romance Did Not Begin in Rome: A critique of the Latin origin of Romance languages (2018)


Hello and welcome to Language with Chu. This is part three of the series on sound and complexity, or sounds and meaning. If you haven’t watched the previous two parts, I recommend that you do that because I’m following up on that. Click right here and you’ll see them, and I’ll leave the links at the bottom as well.

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So let’s go back to how to find meaning in sounds. This one is another book. It’s in Spanish, but you can find it in English. I believe the title is “Romance didn’t start with Latin” or something like [see references] that. Just look for the author and you’ll find it. That’s another topic for another video on how or why she thinks, and is very convincing about, the fact that Latin is not the mother of romance languages.

But what I want to pick from this book in relationship to sounds is that she quotes philologists and linguists who have taken names of places. Names of places are usually the ones we assume are the most arbitrary, or maybe they have a historical trace somewhere, but we don’t think that Paris means anything or London, right? Usually you just take it as a proper name, and that’s it.


Well, what these people did was divide the different names of places, which you see in this column, and again, they don’t mean anything in theory. And then, they took a syllable that they had in common. And they looked at the landscape, and by looking at the landscape, they saw that, say, for example, these places [with “ba”] all have to do with water. Then, the “ka” places had to do with rock, /k/. Okay, so could that be… could that relate to some actual words? Yeah, in Spanish, roca, coral, calcio, etc. Those have to do with stone, something rigid. And the towns that are full of stone, or coral, or whatever, have the /k/, /ka/ sound, etc. And these are thousands of words that then gave each of these particles a meaning.


So then, what happens when you go, for example, and take a simple name? This is a town next to Barcelona, and if you go by the general assumption you say, okay, it either has to do with “Valerius”, some kind of Roman person, a general, whatever, that went to that town, or with valerian root. Except [there is no famous Valerius recorded in that town, and] valerian root wouldn’t show up throughout the whole year, so there would be times when the landscape was bare. That wouldn’t serve as a landmark or anything. So then, if you use the particles that I just told you about, and combine their meaning, it becomes a lot more interesting. A name that seemed complete completely arbitrary or random, or maybe historical or whatever, ends up being all these meanings that you can see here. And the town just happens to be in a big valley, and it’s the union, the confluence of several rivers, it’s surrounded by water, is big, etc. So, it’s a bit of a coincidence when you see so many patterns like this all over and over.

And even simple words. For example, she talks about the word “calabaza”. In Spanish, it means “pumpkin”, and when you break it into these particles, you end up with something that says “hard water container”. And that’s the use of pumpkin in many Spanish-speaking countries. Actually, traditionally in many countries it was used as a water container. You dry the pumpkin, and use it as a water container, still today. So a word that sounds completely random (nobody knows where it comes from) becomes something that, chunk by chunk, has meaning.

Another example is the word slave, which supposedly, comes from Latin slavus, except that in Latin, “slave” was servus, not slavus. So that’s already kind of iffy. And then, somehow this /k/ sound appears because all the Latin languages share it, and even German. They all have that /k/ sound added to the words esclavo, esclave, etc. If you use the particles, the same kind of particles, you end up with these four, and each one means: “es” is usually associated with words that have to do with “used to be”, “ex” like as an ex-minister. Then “c”, living being or human being. “La”, related to, and like we saw here the “ll”, union, meeting, it’s something that relates things, links things. And then, here in “vo” you have free and unbound. So, if you combine them together, you get something along these lines: “Used to be free human”. Well, what’s a better name for a slave than “used to be a free human”? You see? So, even these particles could actually have a lot of meaning.

The author speculates that it could be that all their romance languages, and others, shared a common ancestor which that was an agglutinative language. That means, it’s a language that collects all these little chunks that you see in the screen, for example, and all these chunks have meaning, and it glues them together, just to simplify what that type of language is. I don’t know if it’s that, it could be. It could be that languages in the past used to all be agglutinative, but I tend to think that it’s not so much the structure, the type of language they were, as it was this knowing what sounds conveyed, or choosing sounds for what they conveyed. So, so far we’ve seen two theories: phonosemantics by Margaret Magnus, and this one from Carme Huertas. And I’m moving on to the third one, so stay tuned for part four. See you in a bit.