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Time and Tide and Tijd and Ty

Amsterdam February 5, 2001 -- Obviously I'm a big
language lover. An amateur linguistic entomologist. Make
that etiologist. This place is a treasure trove for
comparison of North Sea pronunciations, but even more
for comparisons of North Sea concepts as reflected in
the variations in utterances from one language to
another around the rim of the Sea.

If I had a lifetime again, I would happily devote it
to comparative linguistics. I'm not sure, though, that
once into it I would not become bored, as has been the
pattern of my scholastic activity so far. I once had
a math teacher in one of my colleges, who, after I had
struggled with long division all my life, excitedly
discovered that I have or had a strange facility for
Number Theory. She was crestfallen when I told her
that I hate numbers. Even though I might be able to turn
water into wine, I don't want to do it all the time. I'd
rather continue to struggle along with that nemesis, De
But, of course, as always, I digress.

These North Sea languages all fall into the Germanic
category, which as I understand it anyway, can be
subsequently divided into two distinct branches: High
German & Yiddish and Low German & the rest of us. Dutch
falls right in there with High German and Yiddish, I
think, because its plurals are formed by the addition of
the syllable "en" to the singular form of the word.

And of course, the study of human migratory patterns
of a thousand years ago, which I don't have time for
anymore, fits right in there.

Fits in because, remember, the word always comes before
the letters; people always manage to talk to each
other just fine without some smartass monk coming
along and getting it all in writing. Written language
is like music theory: it's all hindsight; some
scholarly dude saying Charlie Parker was touching on
the Mixolydian mode when in fact Bird was doing no
such thing...he was just playing his horn. The
scholar dude has tools for analysis, tools which
Charlie may have been and probably was aware of, but I
guarantee he wuzn't thinkin' Now I'm gonna touch on
the Mixolydian mode. And that's how people talk. We
are all masters of improvisation in our native
tongues. Another digression.

So that long before some little smartass monk went
away and spent twenty years learning the alphabet so
that he could come back and codify what people were
saying around him, people were communicating just
fine...just not in written form. And when you had a
hundred or a thousand of these little bastards getting
the language spoken around them down in print, or
script, there is gonna be some variation in how each
little guy hears a spoken word, even if that word is
the same word as is spoken across the Sea by cousin
Lars or Uncle Elred. And so there is going to be a fairly
wide range of how certain sounds are interpreted
At last, you note, we arrive.

The Dutch generally write the sound English "eye" as
"ij." In fact, is certain fonts "ij" looks a whole lot
like "y", only with two dots above it. Anyway when you
see the word "tijd", you know to pronounce it 'tide'.

They have another tricky little monk remnant: ui,
which they pronounce as ou. That is, the Dutch word
for 'house' is house, only they write it 'huis'.
Actually, my artist friend Hans at the bar insists
that the correct pronunciation of that vowel sound is
a-u. Virtually the same to us, but the Dutch are HARD
taskmasters when it comes to correct pronunciation of
their language. Get it right for one guy, and it
won't be for the guy next to him. I think it's just a
national conspiracy directed against outsiders in

Guess what the word for snow is. Sneeuw. Which in
this case actually IS pronounced snee-oo.
One of the points of this diatribe, which maybe I'll
tighten before I send it out and maybe I won't, is
that ole thing about words and the baggage -- the
whole slew of meanings, nuances, emotional content --
that each one carries in the culture it resides in.
Oops. Preposition alert. Well, no matter.

Consider the North Sea, then.
A body of water surrounded by islands, fjords, bogs,
marshes, what have you, inhabited by people who've
been speaking what is basically the same language for
about a thousand years now...ever since those big
dudes from Denmark started going out berserking and
raping and pillaging and stuff, but also leaving
cultural doodah in their wake; supplanting the Celts
to the west and the Teutons to the east.
And with any geographical spread you're gonna have
variations in pronunciation as subjected peoples adopt
the language of their conquerors only to be conquered
again by speakers of a more southern tongue, but we
won't be going to Hastings today.

Point of this whole windy day is that the Sea is
common to all who reside near its shores. It provided
and provides a living to them, and its lore is central
to their survival. It is, or was, The Big Mama to all
of them.

I used to wonder stuff like "where did the word
'Yuletide' come from?". I mean the Yule log and all
that, but why 'tide'?

Remember way back there about four miles of text ago I
was talking about how the Dutch pronounce 'tijd'?
Mostly, 'tijd' is the Dutch word for 'time'. Now, of
course, it all makes sense. If one lives on the Sea, the
coming in and going out of the tide is gonna be a big
deal. One will wonder, though not necessarily using the
words, exactly what TIME the TIDE will come in tomorrow.
And, ultimately, one might ask one's neighbor, "hey, Hans,
what's the tijd today?" Meaning what time the tide comes
in. Or goes out. So that, even more ultimately, 'tijd'
will come to have the same meaning as 'time' and will
eventually replace it in Amsterdam Dutch. And to a
lesser extent in Olde English.

Dutch has lost the word 'time'. It has been
supplanted by 'tijd'. So that when they are REALLY
talking about the 'tide', they have to use a new
shortened variation, 'TY'. Pronounced as Tij.