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November 15, 2009


Leon Garcia G

Do you hate yogurt too?

Leon Garcia G

Yo no.

Justin E. H. Smith

Yogurt's alright (actually I've been 100% vegan for four months now, though I doubt I would have been had I been born a Turkic pastoralist, and certainly enjoyed my share of kefir and ayran in Anatolia and Central Asia). But again, the reasons for 'yogurt' being spelled with a 'y' in English are quite different from the reasons why 'yoga' is spelled with a 'y' in, e.g., German.

Justin E. H. Smith

By the way, Leon, your wonderfully Spanish postscriptum reminds me of something I've been wondering about for some time, namely, the way in which 'y' came to be used for initial jotation in Spanish. I suspect it has something to do with the contraction of 'ii' or 'ij' (as you see in Dutch sometimes, where for example 'Snijders' gets written as 'Snÿders' and finally as 'Snyders'), and thus is independent of the history of the Greek upsilon. Do you know whether there are any old Spanish texts with alternate spellings of 'yo', such as 'io' or 'jo' or maybe even 'ijo'?

Leon Garcia G

Thanks, Justin.I was actually wondering exactly the same when I wrote it.
Castilian has been using the spelling "yo" for a long time, and I don't recall any alternate spellings, although one may be able to find some in old manuscripts, as the early language was very ortographically unstable . You can find "Yo" already in the medieval spelling of Cantar del Mio CId (12th-14th cc) As you know, the noun "Yo" derives from the Latin "eu" (ego). Both the old Galaico-Portugués of King Alfonso X (13th c.) and modern Portuguese conserved the latin spelling (eu), which phonetically is much softer than "Yo". Tuscan language, on the other hand, derived "eu" into a very sharp "io" (ee-ô). Having said this, I find that even Alfonso X was already using "y" for the initial jotation of "ya" ("already").
Then, early transliteration of the very old Arabic Jarchas into Castilian, also show that "y" was used to represent jotation, middle and initial. Here's one from the 12th century (""O, my dear mother, in the morning light, Good Abu-l-Haggag, his face of dawn":)

"Ya matre mia al-rahima, / a rayyo de manyana:
¡Bon Abu-l-Haggag, / la fage de matrana!"

Whether the initial Spanish jotation for "yo" is related to the contraction of "ii" or "ij", I simply don't know. It would be worthwhile to figure that out. However, it seems to me that Castilian Jotation is often marked and distinguished by a strong Arabic influence. The Castilian "J" (Jota) is a very strong fricative, and sometimes forces itself over the softer "y" . You wrote for instance about the common English and French spelling of the jotation in "Conjugation", which you correctly relate to योग. In Spanish the term "conjugación" is spelled also with middle "j", but the phoneme, unlike the French and English, is fricative, hard. Then, in Spanish the cognates "Yugo" ("yoke") and "conyugal" (which you spell "conjugal"!) are spelled with the soft "y" jotation...
In so many words, you can make the case that:
shows that our common Indo-European ancestors took their pastoral customs from the steppes all the way into the bedroom!
Which goes to show that the oscilation between the askesis of योग and the काम (kama, pleasure) of the conjugal bond can be considered to be, at least linguistically, somewhat coherent, even if other aspects of marriage, of course, are not...
By the way, one of the reasons I've loved Hatha yoga for the past 30 years is that you really don't need any gear whatsoever to practice it, not even a soft mat. Just a clean, level spot. Like you, I also deplore that yoga has been made into a consumerist fad since the '90s-- but even if the askesis of योग has been conveniently abandoned in the American "studios", at least the by-products of the regular practice of Hatha yoga (health, beauty, calmness), are potentially very positive for the body social. And, mind you, there are people in some corners of America who are actually practicing the other yogas (Karma, Bhakti, Jnana) as well.
Even if you dislike yoga, I see that you love योग. I suppose that this is because the devanagari is not tainted yet with the abundant stigmata of yuppie-ness, but mostly because in reality you are an accomplished practitioner of ज्ञान योग-- Jnana Yoga.
In the end, the best definition of योग is found in the Bhagavad Gita (2:50)--
योगः कमस कौशलम (yoga karmasu kauÌalam):
"Yoga is skill in action."

Justin E. H. Smith

I can't get jotation out of my head!

I hadn't thought of it before, and would certainly have to check, but am now fairly certain that in both English and Spanish the initial 'y' preceding a vowel is a contraction or transformation of 'i' or 'j', and thus has no genealogical relation to upsilon, in contrast with medial vowel 'y's as in 'clyster'. Think, e.g., of the transformation of the Norse 'Jorvik' into English 'York'.

I'll leave it to you, Leon, to determine whether I'm a yogi or not, though I'm really glad you got my drift about the योग/yoga distinction. I confess that in the past I've come to greatly resent the attitude of some practitioners of yoga (in the narrow sense) in my life, who maintained that because they do yoga in the narrow sense, everything else they did was in some broader sense yoga too, whereas, because I do not do yoga in the narrow sense, nothing else I do is yoga either. And this seemed to me to boil down to the assertion: "Everything I do is sacred; everything you do is profane." Now I have no way to test the first part of the claim, but I do get the sense it's a bit too dichotomous, and it does make me want to say: "You do your yoga of the double dog and the sun salutation, I'll do mine of scratching my ass while eating handfuls of Cheetos over the sink." My point is that one could not say a priori what domains of action will sparkle with skill or excellence, and one ought not exclude any action outright from the domain of the sacred.

Leon Garcia G

Your hypothesis about the common origin of our use of the intial "y" makes sense, but it is up to the professional linguists to discuss this point with you más a fondo.
On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree with you in that the attitude of many yoga practitioners is very pretentious, ego driven and outright stupid: all that yoga is NOT supposed to be! The point of the above quote from the Bhagavad Gita --and of the poem as a whole, really--is precisely that, like you say, "no action can be excluded from the domain of the sacred"-- as long as it is performed with what we may term here "a unified consciousness." In that sense, even scratching your ass while eating Cheetos may very well become your "royal road" to a philosophical Eureka, which would be as "sacred" as someone else's sitting all day on his ass chanting mantras ready to enjoy Nirvana. You will agree that this is about recognizing a semiotic yoke between Eureka and Nirvana, so to speak.
And I am not referring to the ass.
By the way, invoking ass-scratching as a response to the insufferable claims of some petulant practitioners of "yoga" is rhetorically very effective, so I appreciate that-- after all, the ass is a metaphor for all that is execrable and profane. However, speaking of the otherwise sacral character of the ass, I remember reading in the autobiography of Alain Danielou (a highly recommendable and amusing book, by the way), how he spontaneously achieved an ineffable, divine, ecstasy the first time that a lover penetrated his ass when he was a young student in an American college. Danielou goes on to say that years later he learned from a Tantra practitioner in India that anal penetration is one common method to achieve Samadhi, a fact that allows him to rail against the prejudices of his Catholic upbringing (his mother was a very famous French holy woman!).
But let's leave the ass behind (pun intended) and let me tell you that your other rhetorical trope, the Cheetos, reminds me of the following passage of the Zen monk RInzai:
"In Buddhism there is no place for using effort. Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you're tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand."
"Yoga", "Tantra", "Zen"-- these Asian philosophical modes of existence have been devalued in translation --like so much else-- by the empty gestures of our consumerist culture. But in reality they all agree with you in that "one ought not exclude any action outright from the domain of the sacred."
Based on that statement, I can definitely determine that you are a very skillful jnana yogi. But let us invoke a more familiar Western source to help us dispel once and for all the false dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, something which we agree on. In the words of the immortal Groucho Marx:

"In the beginning, there was nothing. Then God said, 'Let there be light'. And there was still nothing but you could see it."


Seriously, don't worry about it.

Acai berry

i love yogurt... like i love my name, interesting post though

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