[Ads-l] Hip/Hep and "Crying Wolof" (for Horn & Sheidlower)

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed Mar 9 18:08:27 UTC 2016


On Wed, Mar 09, 2016 at 06:48:09PM +0100, Z Rice wrote:
> I thought it might be better if I added this to its own dedicated thread,
> hopefully that's okay:
> 
> Mr. Sheidlower / Mr. Laurence Horn, in my written work I assert that "hip"
> is indeed of Wolof origin and I assert that among the native
> African-American population, the "p" in the term "hip" is simply a mutation
> of the Wolof "w". Thus:

I don't want to get involved in an extended discussion in this medium. But I do want to clarify
a misunderstanding that partly derives from my imprecise writing (and I believe that I have
made this clarification before):

> You wrote in the Slate.com "Crying Wolof" article, that Wolof has no "H".
> However, american english has no initial "X" (the voiceless back-velar
> fricative). The sound that would've been been CLOSEST in the US to that of
> the Wolof "x" is the english "h" (this was not mentioned in the Slate
> article), and in my work, I assert that "x" obviously mutated to "h"; [...]

I did not write that Wolof has no /h/. I wrote, clearly, that Wolof doesn't generally use the _letter_ <h>. My point was not that representing the sound of Wolof word-initial <x> with English <h> is erroneous; I agree that if one were going to write, in English, a word beginning with /x/, then <h> would be the expected letter. 

My point (which I agree was unclear, and which was in any case minor) was simply that it is suspicious and problematic to make etymological claims that demonstrate an unfamiliarity with the alleged source language. If I were to state that the English word "beef" derives from French "biff", one would be correct to be concerned about my making an etymological claim despite being ignorant of the fact that the source word is "bœuf" (in Modern French) or "buef" or "boef" (in Old French) or "be(o)f" (in Anglo-French), but not "biff" in any form of the language. Even if I were still correct that a French word sounding like what an English writer thinks could be spelled "biff" is indeed the source of English "beef", the expected reaction would be "Um, you don't know French."

Jesse Sheidlower

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