With a little persistence... and Verner's Law!... you can tackle most any problem.
October 9, 2009 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Verner's Law. Ari Hoptman (his website) explains early Germanic sound laws to his young friend Frankie, who has tossed aside his copy of Braune’s Gothic grammar in disgust. If you want to know what makes historical linguists tick, this is a great way to find out. Warning: links to seven-minute YouTube with two sequels; disclaimer: I myself have a copy of Braune’s Gotische Grammatik within arm’s reach and I have spent time reading the Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, so I may be especially susceptible to jokes about William Jones, the Brothers Grimm, and Danish linguists.

(Via Wordorigins.org, and I will quote Dave Wilton's warning about the third segment: "This last video gets pretty dry, so unless you are really interested in the mechanisms of consonant shifts in early Germanic languages, you may want to skip ahead to the last two minutes.")
posted by languagehat (15 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I'm friendly with Ari -- he's been a fixture of the Twin Cities comedy scene for at least a decade now, and his sense of humor manages to blend very dry, academic, intellectual ideas with a broader and daffier and older brand of comedy than you find nowadays -- he's a giften mimic, and can, on request, do impressions of Mel Brooks, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and an endless number of other classic comedians, and can sing novelty songs they originated.

Also, if you've seen A Serious Man, he's the guy on the tenure committee who keeps poking his head into Gopnik's office. Ari has, rather modestly, sold tickets at a midnight cabaret in Minneapolis for as long as I have known him, and here's a story I wrote in 2000 about his friendship with the cabaret's founder, Leslie Ball. I've always found Ari to be a distinct talent, well off the beaten path, but world-class, and have scratched my head for years about why he doesn't have an international cult following. Especially since he's a professor of German, and so should by all rights, have a German fan base. Maybe he does. I don't know from nothing about what's popular in Germany.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:23 AM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is one of those things that if I try to talk about it at a party I get politely ignored, right?

P.S I am so gonna talk about this at parties
posted by The Whelk at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Languagehat, your high-test nerdery really raises the bar beyond where it's reasonably possible for other nerds to match. Thanks a lot.
posted by dammitjim at 11:30 AM on October 9, 2009

I so wish I'd had these during my historical linguistics class.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:32 AM on October 9, 2009

See, American linguists drive like this, but Danish linguists drive like this.

(thanks languagehat, I dig this)
posted by MidAtlantic at 11:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just ntoiced the first quote on his Web site:

"Two decades from now, when we look back on this modest notice for a small cabaret show, we may well be asking ourselves how Hoptman ended up as the center square in the German version of Hollywood Squares--but for now we can enjoy watching his star, still at the very beginning of its ascent."

That's me too.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:33 AM on October 9, 2009

"The more you know about the rules of early Germanic prosody, the more rewarding life can be."
True dat.
posted by klarck at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2009

The Whelk: This is one of those things that if I try to talk about it at a party I get politely ignored, right?

Not the right party you won't!

(With a particular group of friends I have the likelihood of us talking about linguistics increases the drunker we are)
posted by Kattullus at 12:41 PM on October 9, 2009

Incidentally, Verner's Law is an injoke among that particular group of people. I immediately emailed those videos to them.
posted by Kattullus at 12:52 PM on October 9, 2009

That was more interesting than I would have guessed and explains a couple of things I'll forget later on.
posted by ersatz at 2:00 PM on October 9, 2009

Ooh a cliff hanger.

I'd like to see more videos like this please.
posted by empath at 7:06 PM on October 9, 2009

Note to self: get drunk with Kattullus someday.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:51 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

you're not guaranteed to talk about linguistics. we talked about D&D, if i remember correctly.
posted by empath at 10:14 PM on October 9, 2009

Oh, that'd be fine too. :)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:03 AM on October 10, 2009

This would have been so useful just a couple of months ago when I was trying to cram A History of the English Language into a summer session. I tried to explain what I was studying to my wife but she just looked at me with eyes filled with horror and pity.
posted by Tashtego at 10:15 AM on October 10, 2009

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