Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What a fish ...

Welcome, on board, Stumblerette! I guess I'm not thinking of the new members of Team Verb as doing 'guest posts' but as being regular part of the team.

But to business -- your very fine post on our impressive state fish. I would have been very happy to buy the folk etymology of 'elongated mask' for this fish -- the (apparently public domain) image at the left doesn't show it that well, but I can believe somebody would see the face as stretched forward (compared to some fish, certainly). That is, it's not elongated vertically, but horizontally. I guess that's what makes good folk etymology. ('Sparrow grass' for asparagus never made much sense to me, by comparison.)

We need input from some of the Algonquian specialists on the word, surely, but as a fan of all things Wisconsin, I've always read Leonard Bloomfield's work on Algonquian. (He was born up near Sheboygan, was a grad student in German linguistics at Madison for a while, and of course did incredibly important research on Menominee.) In his famous essay "On the sound-system of Central Algonquian", he shows a regular correspondence between Proto-Central-Algonquian *l and n in most of the Central languages. He says other languages in the family typically have maintained l. So, I'm figuring this is probably a case of distinct but related words being in the mix.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary Online regards this as likely dissimilation. I suspect they are wrong on this one, and they should check with a real specialist in Algonquian historical linguistics.

6 comments:

Joe said...

Yeah, that's not an unusual sound change -- alveolar sonorants merging.

Stumblerette said...

Thanks for the welcome! So the Latin name was fixed before that merge happened?

Mr. Verb said...

Actually, as I understand Bloomfield, across the Algonquian languages some have the merger and some don't. I was wondering if maybe the Latin name and the English name came from different ones. But that's wild speculation and we need expert help on this.

rv said...

I haven't read Bloomfield on this, but the word for muskie in Ojibwe dialects spoken in Wisconsin and Minnesota is maashkinoozhe, which seems to end with the regular word for 'pike,' ginoozhe. In Odawa (another dialect of Ojibwe historically spoken in Wisconsin), the word for muskie is either maazhi-gnoozhe or mji-gnoozhe, both of which literally mean 'bad pike.' It's possible to analyze the Wisconsin/Minnesota word similarly. So the question is then, is the English some mangled form of the Ojibwe, or is it possibly borrowed from another Algonquian language? I don't know. There are huge problems with pronunciation shifts occurring once words come into English, e.g., the word Chippewa is simply an anglicized version of Ojibwe! But one _can_ see some correspondence between the Ojibwe and the English.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, RV. I guess a muskie is a 'bad pike' in the sense that Shaft is bad: Having seen muskie up close, it's one of the few things in the water up here I would not want to tangle with. (Sturgeon are big and ugly, but ... muskie are BAD.)

By the way, I'm tempted to put an -s on plural muskie, unlike most other fish: two pike, two bass, two trout, but two bluegills (for me at least). Wonder what the deal is there?

rv said...

Yes, the thought crossed my mind too that muskies might be "bad" in the MJ sense as well. The word for 'pike' in southern Ojibwe, ginoozhe, has the root /ginw/, 'long,' and the /oozhe/ is presumably some combination of morphemes specifying having a body of particular quality. In southern Ojibwe, too, the generic word for 'fish' is giigoonh; in northern Ojibwe, however, the generic for 'fish' is ginoozhe, i.e., the word for 'pike' in the south. There's a middle range where ginoozhe means both 'fish' and 'pike,' and then a northern range (Severn Ojibwe) where the word for 'pike' is nijwaabiish, i.e., a completely different word. Related to this, in the south the word for tree is mitig, and zhingob the word for 'balsam fir.' In Severn Ojibwe, zhingob is the generic for 'tree,' though it also means 'spruce.' I scarcely know how to sort out the coniferous words in English. But the connections of language to geography found in Ojibwe are quite interesting, given its range over such a vast region of the central North America.

Yes, it's interesting that muskie pluralizes in the regular fashion whereas so many other game fish do not. Off the top of my head, my impression is that exocentric compounds tend to pluralize regularly, e.g., swordtail, bullhead, bluegill, etc; while endocentric compounds pluralize according to their head, e.g., Coho salmon, Atlantic salmon, brown trout (?). I don't think I have a preference with regard to 'two musklunges' vs 'two musklunge,' though I have a definite preference for muskies. Maybe the ending here is somewhat morphologically salient, aligned with kitty, doggy, etc, i.e., some sort of diminutive of affection, and being a derivational head, is imposing its will on the whole.