Archive for May, 2019

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Some People Like Rap, but I Like Hop-Hip

Richard Firsten is a retired ESOL teacher, teacher-trainer and columnist

Oh, so you think there’s a typo in the title, do you? Well, no, it’s written that way deliberately. And why shouldn’t it be hop-hip instead of hip-hop? The way you’ve reacted to the title, you’d think there’s a rule or something about this. Well, guess what. There actually is!

Way back some 6,000 years or more, there was a language which linguists now refer to as PIE, Proto-Indo-European. It was the mother tongue which gave rise to what we now call the family of modern Indo-European languages, from Hindi and Farsi in the East all the way to Irish and Scots Gaelic in the West.

There was a two-part phonological rule in PIE (which linguists can’t figure out a reason for) that has remained unchanged all these millennia and can still be found in modern English. It’s called ablaut reduplication, and it explains why we say hip-hop and not hop-hip. Following is a list of examples that show you this rule in operation. Let’s see if you can discern what the two parts of the ablaut reduplication rule are. (This is where you cover up what comes after this list so you won’t peek at the answers before trying to figure all this out yourself.)

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