Last weekend one of the choirs I sing in presented a concert which had been delayed and disrupted by COVID and reduced in numbers by choristers travelling. Alongside works in English, liturgical Greek and Latin, we sang works in Church Slavonic (a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) and Latvian (a new work by a local composer of Latvian birth or heritage).
Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Indo-European languages, so I was on the lookout for any words which are obviously related to other IE languages I know about. But the only words I could discern are loan words into those languages just as into English: kheruvímy (cherubim) in the former and fenikss (phoenix) and oranži (orange) in the latter (all heavily influenced by the pronunciation and spelling of those languages). There is also trisvętúju in the former, which is guessable as trinity.
Even though all these languages are Indo-European, they are obviously very different. Even though Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Balto-Slavic, they are obviously very different. Among other things, Church Slavonic is Slavic and Latvian is Baltic. Also, the texts we sang are liturgical dating to perhaps the 9th century and a 19th century secular poem.
Linguists started by comparing closely related languages, such as Church Slavonic, Bulgarian and Macedonian, and Latvian and Lithuanian, then work their way back from there, eventually linking Polish, Czech and Slovak, the Balkan languages, the Russian-related languages and others into Slavic and thence with Latvian and Lithuanian into Balto-Slavic and then Indo-European. (Some people have attempted to reconstruct further back than than that, but their efforts are speculative and inconclusive at best.)
PS The Latvian poem is Putns ar uguns spārniem (which I can’t find anywhere online) by Aspazija. The title translates as Bird with wings of fire. I wondered if putns is related to a certain Russian surname, but no, the certain Russian surname apparently comes from put (path or way) + in (belonging to) and probably means something like ‘one who travels on a path’. (I couldn’t find any authoritative source and am relying on several user-submitted websites.)
One of my first piano learner’s books had a piece called Air from Bach, which I first pronounced as /bætʃ/ (batch). When one of my older sisters told me it was /bak/ (bark) (non-rhotic in Australia), I didn’t believe her until someone else (maybe our piano teacher or grandmother, assured me that it was. Except it’s not. The sound at the end is /x/, a voiceless velar fricative, the sound at the end of Scottish loch, or /χ/ a voiceless uvular fricative. Most English speakers don’t bother, either with Bach or loch or any other relevant word, but I vaguely remember hearing a monologue by Garrison Keillor on how he first started in radio. He volunteered for a student radio program (?to impress a girl), and when he needed to study, he’d put on the complete and uninterrupted recording of the Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bacchh (in the days of LP records?). I can’t find that online. If anyone can help me, I’d be grateful.
I was reminded of this by the username of my chief commenter of recent times, Batchman. While ch in English can be /k/ (architect), /tʃ/ (bachelor), /ʃ/ (champagne) or /x/ (loch), tch can only be /tʃ/ (unless is is split across two syllables, as in chitchat (which might end up as chi-chat in rapid speech)). Basically, words with /k/ are Greek, words with /tʃ/ are Germanic and words with /ʃ/ are French.
A colleague informed us that today is National Grammar Day. He also has a desk calendar of Shakespearean insults, which often turn out to be strangely appropriate to what’s going on in our team, department and company. The combination of Shakespeare and grammar reminded me of the following quotation, from Henry VI pt 2:
Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the Realme, in erecting a Grammar Schoole … thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear.