A Language Journey

It’s funny, isn’t it, when you look at some words that are different in spelling and pronunciation and meaning and yet, you just know that they are related in some way despite their obvious differences – a bit like in Thailand when hawkers assures you that the cheaper copy they are attempting to foist on you is “same-same but different” to the original model.

Anyway, shortly after I decided to start this blog, Peregrinations, somebody mentioned something about falcons and pilgrims and that got me thinking!

The Peregrine falcon – named appropriately for its far ranging migrations – might well have mirrored the linguistic change from PEREGRINE to PILGRIM.

Latin provided the noun /peregrinat/, the verb /peregrenari/, the adjective /peregrinus/ all from the original stem /peregre/ which roughly meant “abroad” or “foreign”. Peregre itself was made up of the prefix /per/ through and the root /ager/ field, by which, through some labyrinthine process, we eventually arrive at the word agriculture in modern English.

All very well and fascinating, no doubt but how did the /per/ of peregrinations change to the /pil/ of pilgrim?

P E R E G R I N E
P I L G R I M

An area in in SE France, on the Mediterranean coast, east of the Rhône provides a clue to the language shift here. Provence, from Latin /provincia/ ‘province’, was the first Roman province to be established outside Italy, hence its name and the Romance language Provençal (sometimes called langue d’oc or Occitan) spoken there facilitated the transition from the original Latin /peregrinus/ or ‘foreign” through Provençal /pelegrin/to the Middle English /pilgrim/.

Languages, being what they are, tend to shift, never remaining static and it must have been an easy slide from the Roman side of the Alps down into Provence for the vowel shift from the /E/ in /pergere/ to the Provençal and on to Middle English, just in time for what linguists refer to as “I-Mutation” or the Great Vowel Shift, along with the accompanying consonant substitution from /R/ to /L/. Perhaps that substitution was similar to the substitution of /L/ for /R/ so prevalent among many Chinese learners of English where /Fried Rice/ becomes /Flied Lice/.

Provençal itself, closely related to French, Italian, and Catalan was the language of the troubadours in the 12th–14th centuries but the spread of the northern dialects after unification with France in 1481 led to its decline.