The Shoemaker's Child - From Dad's Point of View
by Jerry Randal Bauer
I'd been wading through a collection of Chaucer's work and had left it sitting out. Joey, who just turned 11, found it and looked through it.
That evening, he asked me about it. "What language is that written in?"
There are many books in my house. There is a good number of books about language. I was able to show Joey information about the evolution of English, from current theories on the origins of proto-Indo-European, through the Anglo-Saxons, through the Normans, and on to the present.
After Joey understood that Chaucer's language was "Englissh", another aspect of interest was the spelling. The collection has a large preface that explains the relationship between the spelling that Chaucer used and the pronunciation of the words. Joey was intrigued with the idea that orthography had not been invented; that Chaucer could spell words any way he wanted and it was perfectly acceptable.
I showed Joey the Treatise on the Astrolabe. In this, Chaucer explains to his son Lewis about how to use an astrolabe. An astrolabe is an instrument that can be used to determine one's location in time and place. At one point of the explanation he advises, "Forget not thys, litel Lowys." Joey was touched by the casual familiarity in the writing, and how Geoffrey's affection for his son had been carried through these words for 600 years.
In looking at some of Chaucer's vocabulary, our conversation turned to word origins; for some reason, the origins of the words "sheep" and "goat." The etymological dictionary took "sheep" back to Germanic, and "goat" back to proto-Germanic. This wasn't very satisfactory, so we looked in a book about the roots of English. It didn't even have the word "sheep", but gave a supposed Indo-European root for "goat." This still wasn't fulfilling, so we took another tack.
We looked in a book about the development of agriculture. Sheep, goats, and pigs are all native to the mountains of eastern Turkey and were domesticated there about 10000 years ago. This area is not far from the place modern theories hold to be the ancestral land of the people who spoke Indo-European, between the Black and Caspian Seas.
In addition to the dendrochronological tracing of word origins and usage, archaeology, genetics, and other disciplines yield evidence that these people practiced a semi-sedentary form of agriculture. They gradually moved north and west, into the plains of eastern Europe, and from there, spread over the continent.
There is a town on those plains named Tepla. Several generations back, forefather Bauer emigrated from there.
The connections are tenuous, and conjectural, but there is a kind of magical feeling in touching the past. I like it, and Joey likes it. It feels good, to know one's location in time and place. We didn't find the roots of the words "goat" and "sheep", but we looked at the soil where they lie and saw some of our own roots.
Finally, Joey's head exploded, "Mom, daddy's teaching me again!" She replied, "He is always teaching you. Don't forget that, little Joey."
A little learning is a wonderful thing. Maybe I should give Joey an astrolabe. Maybe I already have.
Jerry is a husband, father, son, brother, and friend. He
works as a software engineer. In his spare time (hah!) he
enjoys making music, woodworking, reading, camping, writing,
and a lot of other stuff. He has a wonderful wife and two
terrific sons, aged 23 and 13.
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