So THAT’s what you’ve been up to recently – I had been in two minds about asking you what was brewing.
The tutorial is wonderful – the marriage of scholarship and clarity made visible. And by ‘clarity’ I mean both its metaphorical and literal senses.
On the one hand the explanation of the orthography of ‘doubt’ is as clear and refreshing as spring water, a far cry from the convolutedly opaque and hunch-ridden piffle of the schooling spelling industry’s perplexed animadversions on the presence of ‘b’ in ‘doubt’.
On the other hand the animation is of an entirely relevant visual clarity in its coherent partnership with your spoken exposition, and refreshingly free from the usual superfluous and diversionary buzzes, whistles and flashes of the smart superficiality of the ‘movie’ applications.
And as an added bonus, we now no longer need to be dubitative about the orthographic distinction between the homophones ‘doubt’ and ‘dout’ – a conflation of ‘do – out’, as ‘don’ and ‘doff’ are conflations of ‘do – on’ and ‘do – off’.
Thank YOU, Old Grouch, for dubitative. This video has been a while in the making. David Bernal, the animation director, is brilliant and responsive, and I’d be happy to work with him animating my scripts for the rest of my life.
A couple of people have commented in the video’s You Tube thread that the ‘b’ is absurd because “language is meant to communicate!”
“Yes,” I agree, “and when you know what the ‘b’ is for you can see just how much more the word is communicating than you thought it was!
“But that’s not an efficient communication!” they protest.
“Actually, a word that can communicate its history and its relatives in a single letter is pretty darn efficient,” was my reply.
Congratulations, Gina! Brilliant as always. My wife was watching with me and when the Old English word for ‘doubt’ was introduced she said, “Oh my god…that’s so cool.”
Yes…so, so cool. Seems like you’re churning these out on a regular basis now. More please!
I couldn’t help but read the string of comments on Youtube. With over 25,000 views already, do you plan on keeping up with the replies? I am amazed at how much you’ve contributed to the string so far. Your “unenlightened populace” reply was my favorite!
I can’t and won’t keep up with the YouTube comments forever, but it’s fun for a while. I’m glad you liked the ‘unenlightened populace’ comment; I enjoyed writing it.
If you read through the comments some, then you probably noticed that several people chimed in that in their language (Serbian, Spanish, Dutch, German . . .) the word for ‘doubt’ was also related to ‘two.’ One person even said it’s true in Filipino (which I verified) which, while it’s not an Indo-European language, was deeply marked by both Sanskrit and Spanish.
I’d like to do more videos, would like to work more with David. Of course, I know some seventh-graders in Kuala Lumpur who are much faster at getting their videos animated and published than I am!
I did not think you could top the onion film, but perhaps you did! How fascinating! Can’t wait to share with teachers and students! Thanks for all you are doing for our Real Spelling community which is undoubtedly, the world!
(or should that be undoubtfully?)
Gina, your films are brilliant testaments to the understanding that is there to be gained by learners of a wide variety of expertise when they are presented precise linguistic analysis.
I could use this film as a response to a student’s question about the B in DOUBT in an elementary classroom that has no background in how the structure and history of English spelling works. I could just as well use it in an advanced workshop with teachers that have been working in this way for years. In either case, the original question about the spelling of a single word is answered – but it is simultaneously clear that the spelling of that one word is really just a small almost collateral bonus of the real target of the investigation – the building of a deep and generative understanding of they system and how to investigate it.
Such investigations necessarily introduce that elementary class to a wide variety of vocabulary that is connected in meaning and spelling. Most importantly for the learner new to this kind of work – they are given the experience of understanding the spelling of a word that their previous instruction has taught them to assume was evidence of an irregular un-understandable system. When we use a study of the history of a word to show that there is a reason for that B in DOUBT (or the W in TWO as cleverly hinted in this film) we chip away at the most important false assumption of spelling as irregular and primarily about the representation of sound.
For the more advanced learner, this film guides us through the trail of the history of a spelling, thus helping us become better at navigating the etymological evidence we find when we do our own investigations. For me, your presentation and the animation was particularly helpful for internalizing that process of a spelling growing from Latin to another language and then to English. The reinsertion of a letter in an English spelling by those with Latin knowledge was especially well illustrated. This is not a new idea to me, but it was this presentation of that idea that I think has fixed this concept most clearly. I was also fascinated to discover a similar idea of “two” within the history of the meaning of the word “doubt” in the Old English spelling. The idea of “doubt” signalling being of “two minds” is lovely, but something that warrants skepticism. The fact that this same idea was echoed elsewhere – and as I see from your comments in other languages – provides further evidence of this hypothesis and reminds me of ways to look deeper and farther for etymological hypotheses to understand and explain spellings.
As ever I go on. Suffice it to say that your two short films are indubitably among the richest vehicles available for revealing the order and richness of English spelling to a wide audience. In that assertion, I am definitely of only one mind!
I can’t wait to expand my understanding at your etymology work shop with Douglas “Etymonline” Harper in March!
Thanks for your astute analysis, Pete. See my comment to Aviva regarding the multiple languages aspect. Etymology is frequently misunderstood as just the origin of a single word. It’s not. Etymological study means developing — as you demonstrate here — an ever-deepening understanding of the historical and present-day relationships between words, both within a single language and across multiple languages, across time and space. It’s the stuff of human thought, and because it is built primarily on attested (written) forms, it’s the stuff of human thought made visible as text.
Gina! This combination of clear, succinct narrative clarified even further by spot-on animation is spectacular. Echoing Pete, although I’d been aware of the scribal practice of modifying spellings to conform to Latin, I’d never really “gotten” that practice until seeing this film. It’s also encouraged me to consider other ways of visually representing word “families” to my students. The video makes me think of the bamboo grove in my backyard: one plant will send out subterranean runners all over the yard, and shoots will pop up in unexpected places, but all are united by that original root. Finally, it sent me back to the Etymonline entry for doubt, which references the relationship between the concepts of two (zwei) and doubt (zweifel) in German. This, in turn, has put me on the trail of a host of words with an initial ‘w’ that pertain to back and forth movement. I don’t know where this trail will lead, or in fact whether it will lead anywhere…but that’s the fun of it, right?
Thank you, as always, for a cogent lesson that not only illuminates a single word, but also makes me redouble my efforts to understand our endlessly alluring language!
Several viewers on the You-Tube page with the video have commented that, in their own language, the words for ‘doubt’ and ‘two’ are related — and several of them had never noticed that before seeing the video on ‘doubt! Besides German, we heard from speakers of Dutch, Serbian, Spanish, and even Filipino (which, although an Austronesian language, has been influenced heavily by both Sanskrit and Spanish).
I so love that my work has an international audience, because the understanding that we can bring in from other languages (langues) so deepens our understanding of language (langage), and this is an enormous gift.
As Pete points out in his comment, a precise linguistic analysis can benefit anyone’s understanding, and indeed, the video is now being used in lessons in classrooms and homeschools and tutoring sessions with kids, but also with in-service and pre-service teachers in university courses. Real orthographic study something in which both “good” spellers and “poor” spellers alike can find their own humanity.
Gina, so brilliant- lucid, articulate and witty! Any dubiety about the importance of etymology will be banished by this wonderful film. I so enjoyed the way you showed the connection running through seemingly unconnected words. I love kinetic typology as means of conveying ideas- text and sound in perfect harmony. Wonderful!
That should be ‘typography’ not ‘typology’ as I posted above! However,my inadvertent ‘typing’ led me to discover that ‘typology is a sub-field in linguistics anyway- the classifying of languages based on their structural features. However, ‘typography’ makes more sense in terms of your wonderful animation!