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PostThe Circular Nose: French, Portuguese...and WAIS (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 07/28/19 3:14 am)
Gary Moore writes:
Last night a whim called me aside from other research to look into a Background Riddle--one of those nagging little mysteries rarely even articulated as such, much less getting hot pursuit. This Riddle--like a faint echo underneath more pressing questions--immediately flags its own marginality. It is: How come two disparate heirs to the Latin language, French and Portuguese, came to have ornate nasal sounds, while others did not?
To me this triviality suggests a panorama, in elusive clues that the nasals may be euphonious hangers-on from the depths of a tomb otherwise sealed: the tomb of the ancient Celts. Could language itself help show why the French have their special love of euphony, of spoken beauty, while also casting a light into something special and whimsical in the Celtic culture that once covered Bronze-Age Europe?
I've brought up this subject before, but last night the Web--while offering its by-now familiar dismissals of the subject--suddenly offered up a lone voice that pinpointed the question much as I had, in a disembodied PDF that at first glance seemed appropriately cryptic. The breadth of knowledge expressed by the voice--an astonishing, eclectic mix--began intriguing me, while there was also a willingness to make the confession of ignorance on this particular subject that was necessary for inquiry.
"I have never heard of any research into the occurrence of nasalisation in various languages," the invisible hand wrote. "Can anyone throw more light on this?" It turned out that at the bottom, modestly unobtrusive, was the author's name: "Ronald Hilton - 5/13/03." In surprise, I peered more closely at the Web address, and saw: "WAIS."
JE comments: "Portuguese is just Castilian mumbled through the nose." Professional linguists wouldn't accept this description from RH, but in a practical sense he hit it, well, on the nose:
Gary Moore has found a variation on the "WAIS Effect"--Google a recondite fact or question that vaguely sticks in your mind, and the first "hit" is from the WAIS archives.
Just yesterday I had my own brush with the WAIS Effect: my mom asked why handwriting in America has gone the way of the milkman. Remember Sasha Pack's mention of his colleague Tamara Thornton, who wrote a cultural history on precisely this topic?