Welcome to The Winged Schwa: A place for languages, history, and those who love them.
Reading this newsletter should feel like wandering through the private library of an old philologist where someone has gone before you and left bookmarks in all the most interesting places.
Whether we’re talking about a thorny etymology, a mystery of historical sound change, or a tricky bit of Old English grammar, I will guide you through all the most interesting parts, using language you don’t need to be a linguist to understand.
Why this newsletter?
Through my work as a public educator in linguistics and teacher of ancient languages, not a day goes by when I do not find something fascinating that deserves to be better known. Unfortunately, most of this gold is locked away in obscure articles behind paywalls, in the endnotes of etymological dictionaries, and distributed in a thousand books.
Those with an interest in historical linguistics and ancient languages must therefore choose: study this stuff formally or limit their engagement to reading the occasional etymological tweet. I’d like to open up a third option: to read high-quality, in-depth – yet not quite academic – investigations into the history of the languages we know and love.
Given that I’m writing this in English and you’re reading this in English, a lot of this will deal with the history of the English language, since it’s a language I know we have in common. But I also suspect you’re more omnivorous than that, so I will supplement your etymological diet with content on Latin and the Romance languages, other Indo-European languages, and languages from the many other families of the world.
I will summarize existing research, collect and sift through competing schools of thought, and attempt to answer our burning questions about languages and their history, all the while remaining in the spirit of friendly, jargon-free conversation.
In essence, this is the stuff I wish I could have read before I became a linguist.
Here are some lovely things readers have said about The Winged Schwa:
Best newsletter I receive.
—Natasha Lipman, author of The Rest Room
Who am I?
I am a linguist,1 teacher, and livestreamer whose mission is to bring linguistics out of the ivory tower. My specialties are historical linguistics, Old English, Latin, ancient language paedagogy, and constructed languages. I'm also an omnivorous and somewhat incorrigible learner of languages, currently focusing on Yiddish and Mandarin.
I’ve been producing linguistics content for the public since the fall of 2020 in one form or another, whether by writing, creating videos, or teaching courses. Although platforms and formats may change, my mission has remained the same: to teach the public about the wonderful thing that is human language.
I hope you’ll join me on this quest!
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PhD University of Arizona, 2014.