'There is no better choice- you might as well agree. If you resist ...you will die!' written by Suraj, illustrated by Shania

‘There is no better choice- you might as well agree. If you resist …you will die!’ written by Suraj, illustrated by Shania showing  ‘Justice’ with the mask of impartiality torn away and the balanced scales of justice damaged.

‘Resistance’, or the lack of it, is one of the the themes we see running through our readings this week and for the next few weeks.  We spent time discussing the meaning and then teasing out the connotations of what we understand first before rushing thoughtlessly to resources.

We asked questions such as:

  • When is resistance negative?
  • Under what circumstances is resistance positive?
  • When might it be a moral imperative to resist?
  • What conditions cause resistance?
  • What are the qualities of resistor?
  • What are the antonyms of resistance?


Of course our immediate thoughts and musings will alter and adjust to accommodate new learning and discovery but by beginning with what we think we know as group, immediately throws up a host of questions and so begins the investigative process.

Celebrating Errors as Opportunities

One student hypothesis for the morphemic analysis of resist was *<re +siste+ance> while another was *<re+siste + en+ce>. I was glad the analysis with *<siste> had occurred. These analyses show how some students had glommed onto a pattern about reinstating the final non-syllabic <e> without thinking  about the circumstances under which this does and does not occur.

 Too often we see errors as shameful , a reflection of poor teaching or lack of learning. Instead these misanalyses provided an opportunity to briefly consider the roles of the final, non- syllabic <e>.  Will students retain this information? Obviously not- that will be the subject of a later focused inquiry. However, this brief discussion plants the seed, develops an awareness that this single grapheme- all too often daubed as the blooming ‘magic ‘e” is NOT magic but does have several important functions! We briefly discussed how final, non-syllabic <e> can:

  1. cause a single vowel to be ‘long’ as seen in <hate>. However, ‘Awas!’ (danger) as we say here in Malaysia. Never assume this is the only role of this humble grapheme <e> when in the final position of a base. Consider ‘have’, ‘love’, ‘shove’, ‘give’. Nary a long vowel phoneme in earshot! Merely the principle that no English word will end with <v> instead write <ve>.
  2. prevent a single consonant letter which is preceded by a single vowel from doubling under certain circumstances.
  3.  prevent plural confusion as in ‘horse’. Without the <e> we may assume more than one *<hors>. One of the several roles of <e> is to nullify that potential ambiguity.

It was in the end the recognition of other members of the family, those sharing the same base element- such as <resist>, <persist> and <insist> that proved the lack of <e> and allowed us to proceed to :<re+sist+ ance>.

Digging Through the Layers of Time: exposing the distant PIE roots

‘Resistance’ as a noun has been around since the mid 14th c. It’s meaning from Latin resistere is to make a stand, to oppose. In 1939 the term extended to include the concept of an organized, covert position. Through our readings of Nazi Germany and occupied France, we could connect with this. The verb resist is slightly younger than it’s noun relative, first attested in late 14th century. It was here, digging around in the ‘resist’ entry, that we uncovered more about the root: Latin sistere to take a stand, to stand firm. In this entry we were nudged towards assist – obviously sharing the same base element<sist>.

 It was here, ‘assisted’ by assist, that we glimpsed the depth, breadth and enormity of this ancient Proto Indo European root, the name for the family of languages that amongst hundreds, includes English. The tree here shows the sub- families including the three key groups that effect English: Germanic, Greek and Italic. This name has been applied to what is supposed to be the original language. The Proto Indo European language, many argue, was  spoken at least 5, 500 years ago.

Back in the Depths of Time: the murky PIE roots

Latin ‘sistere’ is spawned in the PIE root *si-st- a ‘reduplicated form’ of the PIE root  *sta’.  This then intensifies the meaning so not simply ‘stand’ but ‘ to stand firmly’. This much was discovered by one student who comes in to the class before school to learn handwriting  (the beautiful and highly practical ‘Chancery’ of Real Script) and through these ‘handwriting’ sessions, has been working on uncovering the backstory, to reveal the ancestors of the words: resist, stand, consist, exist, statue, and stay. His work below, he realizes, is just the tip of the iceberg. He is determined to find a clear way to represent this and share his discoveries with the class. Stay (should that be <st+ay>?) with us for the next installment, where  the status of this base and the intricacies and spread of the root will be revealed! No rest for our budding etymologist, no matter the cost, he remains constant to the task. The status of this root is simply arresting!!

A glimpse into his thinking so far:

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Just a Jump to the Left

Sir William Jones (1746–1794), Fellow (1776), Chief Justice of Calcutta (copy after Joshua Reynolds), John Linnell (1792–1882), University College, University of Oxford

A brief sidestep from the intended path of resist,  a mere jump on a track to the left, lured by the irresistibly erudite William Jones. William Jones, an 18th century philologist, polymath: poet, lawyer, anthropologist, lawyer, judge, and botanist is renowned for recognizing and discussing the connection between Sanskrit, Latin and Ancient Greek. What a prodigious mind! Thirteen languages tripped lightly from his tongue and the modest claim that he knew another twenty-eight  ‘reasonably well’ by the time he died!

‘Poet, philologist, polymath, polyglot, and acknowledged legislator was the foremost Orientalist of his generation and one of the greatest intellectual navigators of all time.’

His father, a mathematician creator of the mathematical term ‘pi’, died when Jones was three. Despite this setback, his mother’s novel educational approach was to provide our young lad with access to a wide range of books accompanied by the injunction: ‘Read, and you will know!’ Oh, if it were only that simple! Nevertheless, by seven the young Jones must have obeyed his mother’s glorious command as he won a scholarship to Harrow School where his linguistic prowess soon became apparent:, ‘translating and imitating the Greek and Roman classics, teaching himself Hebrew, learning Arabic script, taking the lead in a tragedy he wrote entitled ‘Meleager’, and, having acquired more Greek than the headmaster, Robert Carey Sumner, gaining the nickname ‘the Great Scholar’.

By the age of 26 Jones was hanging out with Dr Johnson ( of dictionary fame) and the other ‘luminaries of the Enlightenment: Fox, Pitt, Boswell, Georgina Duchess of Devonshire, Garrick, Sheridan,Reynolds.’  Jones studied law, which led to India. Knighted at 37 , he was appointed as High Court judge in Calcutta.  He did more than any other writer ‘to destroy Eurocentric prejudice, reshaping Western perceptions of India and the Orient.’ (Franklin, M). The climate, stress and inflammation of the liver sadly took its toll on Jones and he died in Calcutta at 47 but leaving in his wake a translation of Hindu and Muslim laws which apparently paved the way for self government.

‘The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source..’ (Jones,delivered a lecture in Calcutta entitled “The Third Anniversary Discourse, on the Hindus ,Feb.2,1786)

If you are intrigued by the scholarly efforts to reconstruct this language, then now for the ‘pièce de résistance’, listen to linguist Andrew Byrd below recite “The Sheep and the Horses” the PIE fable written in 1868 by German linguist and PIE enthusiast August Schleicher.

‘A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: “My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses.” The horses said: “Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool.” Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.’

For more things Proto Indo European, go here to Archaeology, Telling Tales in Proto Indo European where should you now be enthralled by the sound of this reconstructed language, you can listen to another PIE tale ‘The King and the God!’

Illustration at the post’s beginnings is by Suraj and Shania for the second of our Tiny Tales series. Watch this space!

 re ‘piece de resistance’

 And simply because ‘I never met a word I didn’t like’, to steal unashamedly from Will Rogers, and simply because ‘piece de resistance’ is just that, look at what I discovered about this phrase. Attested in English from 1831, the phrase obviously arrived whole and untampered from French and remains so until this day. Pièce de résistance originally had the sense of “the most substantial dish in a meal.!”