GRIMM’S LAW—A WEIRD CHANGE IN LANGUAGE? Kids, Grimm’s Law is wonderful. It is useful; if you are trying to learn German it tells you how to remember lots of German words. It’s elegant; it works on so many words that it seems magical. Grimm’s Law is named after one of the Grimms that gave us Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Among other things, it says that words that in most Indo-European languages that begin with p, t, and k begin in Germanic languages with f, th, and h respectively. Pater in Latin becomes father in English (and vater, pronounced fater, in German); tres in Latin becomes three in English; and canis in Latin becomes hound in English. John McWhorter say that the changes described by Grimm’s Law are “weird.” It’s common for an Indo-European language to change the way Sicilian Italian has changed—unstressed vowels dropping off and “p” sounds becoming “b” sounds. He argues that it’s “weird” for a “p” sound to change to “f”—he can’t imagine “a generation starting to say “fopcorn” instead of “popcorn” or “thop” instead of “top.” He says that these changes “are not things your typical Indo-European language pulls.” And he has a theory as to how the changes happened.
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