Category Archives: Italo-Celtic-Tocharian

Evidence That Some Languages are Harder to Learn Than Others

From here and here.

The standard view in Linguistics is that there are no easy or hard languages for either children L1 learners or older and adult L2 learners. It is also said that all languages are equally complex and no language is more simple or more complex than any other. On its face, this seems preposterous, especially for L2 learners. Linguists say that it all depends on what L1 you are coming from.

There are anecdotal reports that Navajo children have a hard time learning Navajo as compared to children learning other languages, but Navajo kids definitely learn the language.

Reportedly, Nambikwara children do not pick up the language fully until age 10 or so, one of the latest recorded ages for full competence. Nambikwara is sometimes said to be the hardest language on Earth to learn, but it has some competition.

Adding weight to the commonly held belief that Arabic is hard to learn is research done in Germany in 2005 which showed that Turkish children learn their language at age 2-3, German children at age 4-5, but Arabic kids did not get Arabic until age 12.

This implies that from easiest to hardest, it is Turkish -> German -> Arabic.

Italian is still easier to learn than French, for evidence see the research that shows Italian children learning to write Italian properly by age 6, 6-7 years ahead of French children. So at least in terms of writing, it is much easier to learn to write Italian than it is to learn to write French.

Careful studies have shown that English-speaking children take longer to read than children speaking other languages (Finnish, Greek and various Romance and other Germanic languages) due to the difficulty of the spelling system. Romance languages were easier to read than Germanic ones. So in terms of learning to read, from easiest to hardest, it would be Romance languages -> Finnish/Greek -> Germanic languages except English -> English.

Suggesting that Danish may be harder to learn than Swedish or Norwegian, it’s said that Danish children speak later than Swedish or Norwegian children. One study comparing Danish children to Croatian tots found that the Croat children had learned over twice as many words by 15 months as the Danes. According to the study:

The University of Southern Denmark study shows that at 15 months, the average Danish toddler has mastered just 80 words, whereas a Croatian tot of the same age has a vocabulary of up to 200 terms.

[...] According to the study, the primary reason Danish children lag behind in language comprehension is because single words are difficult to extract from Danish’s slurring together of words in sentences. Danish is also one of the languages with the most vowel sounds, which leads to a ‘mushier’ pronunciation of words in everyday conversation.

Therefore, Danish is harder to learn to speak than Croatian, Norwegian or Swedish. From easiest to hardest to learn to speak, it is Norwegian/Swedish -> Danish and Croatian -> Danish.

Russian is harder to learn than English. We know this because Russian children take longer to learn their language than English speaking children do. The reason given was that Russian words tended to be longer, but there may be other reasons. So from easier to harder to speak, it is Russian -> English.

It is said English-speaking children reach full adult competency in the language (reading, writing, speaking, spelling) at age 12. Polish children do not reach this milestone until age 16. So from easier to harder, it would be Russian -> Polish -> English.

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A Look at the Portuguese Language

From here.

This post will look at the Portuguese language from the view of how hard it is to learn for the native English speaker. The European and Brazilian versions of Portuguese will both be looked at in this context.

Portuguese, like Spanish, is also very easy to learn, though Portuguese pronunciation is harder due to the unusual vowels such as nasal diphthongs and the strange palatal lateral ʎ, which many English speakers will mistake for an l.

Of the nasal diphthongs, ão is the hardest to make. In addition, Brazilian (Br) Portuguese has an r that sounds like an h, and l that sounds like a w and a d that sounds like a j, but only some of the time! Fortunately, in European (Eu) Portuguese, all of these sounds sound as you would expect them to.

Portuguese has two r sounds, a tapped r (ɾ) that is often misconceived as a trilled r (present in some British and Irish English dialects) and an uvular r (ʁ) which is truly difficult to make. However, this is the typical r sound found in French, German, Danish and Hebrew, so if you have a background in one of those languages, this should be an easy sound.  L2 learners not only have a hard time making them but also mix them up sometimes.

You can run many vowels together in Portuguese and still make a coherent sentence. See here:

É o a ou o b? [Euaoube]
Is it (is your answer) a or b?

That utterance turns an entire sentence into a single verb via run-on vowels, five of them in a row.

Most Portuguese speakers say that Portuguese is harder to learn than Spanish, especially the variety spoken in Portugal. Eu Portuguese elides many vowels and has more sounds per symbol than Br Portuguese does. Portuguese has both nasal and oral vowels, while Spanish has only oral values. In addition, Portuguese has 12 vowel phonemes to Spanish’s 5.

Portuguese has also retained the archaic subjunctive future which has been lost in many Romance languages.

Try this sentence: When I am President, I will change the law.

In Spanish, one uses the future tense as in English:

Cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley.

In Portuguese, you use the subjunctive future, lost in all modern Romance languages and lacking in English:

Quando eu for presidente, vou mudar a lei. – literally, When I may be President, I will possibly change the law.

The future subjunctive causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners and is one of the main ways that it is harder than Spanish.

There is a form called the personal infinitive in Portuguese that also causes a lot of problems for Portuguese learners.

In addition, when making the present perfect in Spanish, it is fairly easy with the use have + participle as in English.

Compare I have worked.

In Spanish:

Yo he trabajado.

In Portuguese, there is no perfect to have nor is there any participle, instead, present perfect is formed via a conjugation that varies among verbs:

Eu trabalhei – because Eu hei trabalhado makes no sense in Portuguese.

Portuguese still uses the pluperfect tense quite a bit, a tense that gone out or is heading out of most IE languages. The pluperfect is used a lot less now in Br Portuguese, but it is still very widely used in Eu Portuguese. The pluperfect is used to discuss a past action that took place before another past action. An English translation might be

He had already gone by the time she showed up. The italicized part would be the equivalent to the pluperfect in English.

O pássaro voara quando o gato pulou sobre ele para tentar comê-lo.
The bird had (already) flown away when the cat jumped over it trying to eat it.

Even Br Portuguese has its difficulties centering around diglossia. It is written in 1700’s Eu Portuguese, but in speech, the Brazilian vernacular is used. Hence:

I love you

Amo-te or Amo-o [standard, written]
Eu te amo or Eu amo você  [spoken]

We saw them

Vimo-los [standard, written]
A gente viu eles  [spoken]

Even Eu Portuguese native speakers often make mistakes in Portuguese grammar when speaking. Young people writing today in Portuguese are said to be notorious for not writing or speaking it properly. The pronunciation is so complicated and difficult that even foreigners residing in Portugal for a decade never seem to get it quite right. In addition, Portuguese grammar is unimaginably complicated. There are probably more exceptions than there are rules, and even native speakers have issues with Portuguese grammar.

Portuguese gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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Phrasal Verbs in English

From here.

English verbal phrases or phrasal verbs are a nightmare for the English language learner. English language learners often say that phrasal verbs are one of the hardest if not the hardest aspects of learning English. Even after many years of even one or more decades of learning English, English L2 speakers often do not have phrasal verbs down pat (to have down pat is another phrasal verb by the way).

Phrasal verbs are not very common in other languages, and where they exist, you can often piece together the meaning a lot easier than you can in English. Phrasal verbs are formed by the addition of a preposition after the verb which changes the meaning of the verb. Phrasal verbs are probably left over from “separable verbs” in German. In most of the rest of IE, these become affixes as in Latin Latin cum-, ad-, pro-, in-, ex-, etc.. In many cases, phrasal verbs can have more than 10 different antagonistic meanings.

Here is a list of 123 phrasal verbs using the preposition up after a verb:

Back up – to go in reverse, often in a vehicle, or to go back over something previously dealt with that was poorly understood in order to understand it better.
Be up – to be in a waking state after having slept. I’ve been up for three hours. Also to be ready to do something challenging. Are you up for it?
Beat up
– to defeat someone thoroughly in a violent physical fight.
Bid up – to raise the price of something, usually at an auction, by calling out higher and higher bids.
Blow up – to explode an explosive or for a social situation to become violent and volatile.
Bone up – to study hard.
Book up – all of the booking seats have been filled for some entertainment or excursion.
Bottle up – to contain feelings until they are at the point of exploding.
Break up – to break into various pieces, or to end a relationship, either personal or between entitles, also to split a large entity, like a large company or a state.
Bruise up – to receive multiple bruises, often serious ones.
Brush up – to go over a previously learned skill.
Build up – to build intensively in an area, such as a town or city, from a previously less well-developed state.
Burn up – burn completely or to be made very angry.
Bust up – to burst out in laughter.
Buy up – to buy all or most all of something.
Call up – to telephone someone. Or to be ordered to appear in the military. The army called up all males aged 18-21 and ordered them to show up at the nearest recruiting office.
Catch up
– to reach a person or group that one had lagged behind earlier, or to take care of things, often hobbies, that had been put off by lack of time.
Chat up – to talk casually with a goal in mind, usually seduction or at least flirtation.
Cheer up – to change from a downcast mood to a more positive one.
Chop up – to cut into many, often small, pieces.
Clam up – to become very quiet suddenly and not say a thing.
Clean up – to make an area thoroughly tidy or to win completely and thoroughly.
Clear up – for a storm to dissipate, for a rash to go away, for a confusing matter to become understandable.
Close up – to close, also to end business hours for a public business.
Come up – to approach closely, to occur suddenly or to overflow.
Cook up – to prepare a meal or to configure a plan, often of a sly, ingenious or devious nature. They cooked up a scheme to swindle the boss.
Crack up
– to laugh, often heartily.
Crank up - elevate the volume.
Crawl up – to crawl inside something.
Curl up – to rest in a curled body position, either alone or with another being.
Cut up – to shred or to make jokes, often of a slapstick variety.
Do up – apply makeup to someone, often elaborately.
Dream up – to imagine a creative notion, often an elaborate one.
Dress up – to dress oneself in formal attire.
Drive up – to drive towards something, and then stop, or to raise the price of something by buying it intensively.
Drum up – to charge someone with wrongdoing, usually criminal, usually by a state actor, usually for false reasons.
Dry up – to dessicate.
Eat up – implies eating something ravenously or finishing the entire meal without leaving anything left.
End up – to arrive at some destination after a long winding, often convoluted journey either in space or in time.
Face up – to quit avoiding your problems and meet them head on.
Feel up – to grope someone sexually.
Get up – to awaken or rise from a prone position.
Give up – to surrender, in war or a contest, or to stop doing something trying or unpleasant that is yielding poor results, or to die, as in give up the ghost.
Grow up – to attain an age or maturity or to act like a mature person, often imperative.
Hang up – to place on a hanger or a wall, to end a phone call.
Hike up – to pull your clothes up when they are drifting down on your body.
Hit up - to visit someone casually or to ask for a favor or gift, usually small amounts of money.
Hold up – to delay, to ask someone ahead of you to wait, often imperative. Also a robbery, usually with a gun and a masked robber.
Hook up – to have a casual sexual encounter or to meet casually for a social encounter, often in a public place; also to connect together a mechanical devise or plug something in.
Hurry up - imperative, usually an order to quit delaying and join the general group or another person in some activity, often when they are leaving to go to another place.
Keep up – to maintain on a par with the competition without falling behind.
Kiss up – to mend a relationship after a fight.
Knock up – to impregnate.
Lay up – to be sidelined due to illness or injury for a time.
Let up – to ease off of someone or something, for a storm to dissipate, to stop attacking someone or s.t.
Lick up – to consume all of a liquid.
Light up – to set s.t. on fire or to smile suddenly and broadly.
Lighten up – to reduce the downcast or hostile seriousness of the mood of a person or setting.
Listen up – imperative – to order someone to pay attention, often with threats of aggression if they don’t comply.
Live up – to enjoy life.
Lock up – to lock securely, often locking various locks, or to imprison, or for an object or computer program to be frozen or jammed and unable to function.
Look up – to search for an item of information in some sort of a database, such as a phone book or dictionary. Also to admire someone.
Make up – to make amends, to apply cosmetics to one’s face or to invent a story.
Man up – to elevate oneself to manly behaviors when one is slacking and behaving in an unmanly fashion.
Mark up – to raise the price of s.t.
Measure up – in a competition, for an entity to match the competition.
Meet up – to meet someone or a group for a get meeting or date of some sort.
Mess up – to fail or to confuse and disarrange s.t. so much that it is bad need or reparation.
Mix up – to confuse, or to disarrange contents in a scattered fashion so that it does not resemble the original.
Mop up – mop a floor or finish off the remains of an enemy army or finalize a military operation.
Move up – to elevate the status of a person or entity in competition with other entities- to move up in the world.
Open up – when a person has been silent about something for a long time, as if holding a secret, finally reveals the secret and begins talking.
Own up – to confess to one’s sins under pressure and reluctantly.
Pass up - to miss an opportunity, often a good one.
Patch up – to put together a broken thing or relationship.
Pay up – to pay, usually a debt, often imperative to demand payment of a debt, to pay all of what one owes so you don’t owe anymore.
Pick up – to grasp an object and lift it higher, to seduce someone sexually or to acquire a new skill, usually rapidly.
Play up – to dramatize.
Pop up – for s.t. to appear suddenly, often out of nowhere.
Put up – to hang, to tolerate, often grudgingly, or to put forward a new image.
Read up – to read intensively as in studying.
Rev up – to turn the RPM’s higher on a stationary engine.
Ring up – to telephone someone or to charge someone on a cash register.
Rise up – for an oppressed group to arouse and fight back against their oppressors.
Roll up – to roll s.t. into a ball, to drive up to someone in a vehicle or to arrest all the members of an illegal group. The police rolled up that Mafia cell quickly.
Run up
– to tally a big bill, often foolishly or approach s.t. quickly.
Shake up – to upset a paradigm, to upset emotionally.
Shape up – usually imperative command ordering someone who is disorganized or slovenly to live life in a more orderly and proper fashion.
Shoot up – to inject, usually illegal drugs, or to fire many projectiles into a place with a gun.
Show up – to appear somewhere, often unexpectedly.
Shut up – to silence, often imperative, fighting words.
Sit up – to sit upright.
Slip up – to fail.
Speak up – to begin speaking after listening for a while, often imperative, a request for a silent person to say what they wish to say.
Spit up – to vomit, usually describing a child vomiting up its food.
Stand up – to go from a sitting position to a standing one quickly.
Start up – to initialize an engine or a program, to open a new business to go back to something that had been terminated previously, often a fight; a recrudescence.
Stay up – to not go to bed.
Stick up – to rob someone, usually a street robbery with a weapon, generally a gun.
Stir up – stir rapidly, upset a calm surrounding or scene or upset a paradigm.
Stop up – to block the flow of liquids with some object(s).
Straighten up – to go from living a dissolute or criminal life to a clean, law abiding one.
Suck up – to ingratiate oneself, often in an obsequious fashion.
Suit up – to get dressed in a uniform, often for athletics.
Sweep up – to arrest all the members of an illegal group, often a criminal gang.
Take up – to cohabit with someone – She has taken up with him. Or to develop a new skill, to bring something to a higher elevation, to cook something at a high heat to where it is assimilated.
Talk up – to try to convince someone of something by discussing it dramatically and intensively.
Tear up – to shred.
Think up – to conjure up a plan, often an elaborate or creative one.
Throw up - to vomit.
Touch up – to apply the final aspects of a work nearly finished.
Trip up – to stumble mentally over s.t. confusing.
Turn up – to increase volume or to appear suddenly somewhere.
Vacuum up – to vacuum.
Use up – to finish s.t. completely so there is no more left.
Wait up – to ask other parties to wait for someone who is coming in a hurry.
Wake up – to awaken.
Walk up – to approach someone or something.
Wash up – to wash.
Whip up – to cook a meal quickly or for winds to blow wildly.
Work up – to exercise heavily, until you sweat to work up a sweat. Or to generate s.t. a report or s.t. of that nature done rather hurriedly in a seat of the pants and unplanned fashion. We quickly worked up a formula for dealing with the matter.
Wrap up
– To finish something up, often something that is taking too long. Come on, let us wrap this up and getting it over with. Also, to bring to a conclusion that ties the ends together. The story wraps up with a scene where they all get together and sing a song.
Write up
– often to write a report of reprimand or a violation. The officer wrote him for having no tail lights.

Here is a much smaller list of phrasal verbs using the preposition down:

Be down  – to be ready to ready to do something daring, often s.t. bad, illegal or dangerous, such as a fight or a crime. Are you down?
Burn down
– reduce s.t. to ashes, like a structure.
Get down – to have fun and party, or to lie prone and remain there. Get down on the floor.
Drink down
to consume all of s.t.
Kick down – Drug slang meaning to contribute your drugs to a group drug stash so others can consume them with you, to share your drugs with others. Often used in a challenging sense.
Party down – to have fun and party
Pat down – to frisk.
Take down – to tackle.
Cook down – to reduce the liquid content in a cooked item.
Run down - to run over something, to review a list or to attack someone verbally for a long time.
Play down – to de-emphasize.
Write down – to write on a sheet of paper

Italian has phrasal verbs as in English, but the English ones are a lot more difficult. The Italian ones are usually a lot more clear given the verb and preposition involved, whereas with English if you have the verb and the preposition, the phrasal verb does not logically follow from their separate meanings. For instance:

andare fuorito go + out  – get out
andare giù
- to go + downget down

German has phrasal verbs as in English, but the meaning is often somewhat clear if you take the morphemes apart and look at their literal meanings. For instance:

vorschlagento suggest parses out to er schlägt vorto hit forth

whereas in English you have phrasal verbs like to get over with which even when separated out, don’t make sense literally.

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Somerset English

Here.

The Somerset English dialect.

I am sorry, but this is some of the most messed up English I have ever heard in my life. I could barely make out a single word this fellow is saying. Speaker is an elderly man, about 80 years old, from Somerset County in southwest England. This area is south of Wales and east of Cornwall in a region called Exmoor. It is heavily forested with rolling  hills. This is a rural area where homes are spaced far apart. Sheep grazing is a common industry.

This man’s speech was probably typical of the region 80 years ago, in the 1920’s. Nowadays few young people speak like this anymore, as most have adopted the more popular London dialect.

It is said that this accent is similar to that spoken by early immigrants to America from the Mayflower era to 50 years later, who came disproportionately from southwestern England for some reason. Why? Easy access to the coast from which to sail ships? There is a town in Virgina called Tangier that retains a Restoration Era English accent to this very day. It was settled in 1670 by English form the southwest of England near where this Somerset dialect is spoken.

The entire accent in this region is known globally by the term “West Country dialect.” It encompasses most of southwest England over to Cornwall, east to Bristol or so and then southeast at least to Bournemouth on the coast. It is quite a strong accent, and it is rather unique.

I am not sure what this even sounds like. It might sound a bit like Scottish or possibly like Scouse from Liverpool. It is possible that Middle or even Old English sounded something like this. A commenter from Ireland said that it sounds something like Irish Gaelic for some odd reason. Why would an English accent sound like Gaelic? Because of the nearby influence of Welsh perhaps?

But honestly I felt that it sounded more like German, or better yet, Frisian, than anything else. There is a dialect of Danish, actually a separate language, called Jutish spoken in the far south of Denmark that sounds something like Scots and possibly like this dialect. Danes report that Jutish, at least the hard form spoken by people middle aged and older, is not intelligible with Standard Danish. However, Jutish or Synnejysk is further from Standard Danish than Danish is Swedish. If this is true, then Jutish is surely a separate language.

As Old English came from the Frisian (especially North Frisian) region of far northern Germany and far southern Denmark, it makes sense that these lects would resemble each other. Recall that three tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, were the ones who invaded England, conquering it from decaying Roman rule. Old Saxon pretty much went to Frisian, especially West Frisian. The language of the Jutes is maintained today by the Jutish speakers.

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Differential Mutual Intelligibility between Portuguese and Spanish

Here.

I discussed this earlier. While intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese is high, it is not equal. Portuguese speakers often say they understand Spanish better than Spanish speakers say they understand Portuguese. The only intelligibility study found that Spanish speakers had 50% intelligibility of Portuguese but Portuguese speakers had 58% intelligibility of Spanish.

The link shows you why this is so. There are two factors. One is that Portuguese has a more complicated vowel system with nasalized vowels. The other is that Spanish is more staccato, with words being separated more in speech while Portuguese is more connected with words flowing together. Spanish speakers are lost in the vowels and can’t pick the words apart from the river of speech.

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Interesting Comments on Galician

I just received these comments from a Galician speaker who lives in the Galician region of Spain. Galician is a language related to Portuguese that is spoken in the far northwest of Spain.

Interesante conversación. Qué pena que no la haya visto en su día.

Vivo en Galicia, pero nací en Madrid y hablo Castellano y también Gallego.

En galicia la gente de la calle lo que habla es castrapo. Una jerga con estructura sintáctica del gallego, usando palabras castellanas y con entonación gallega. Por eso, dice el artículista, la gente castellana entiende al de la televisión pero no entiende a la gente de la calle.

Cualquier gallego entiende el portugués escrito, pero la fonética del Portugués se aparta mucho del gallego y del castellano y lo que entiende por escrito no lo entiende si lo oye.

El gallego es un idioma practicamente muerto, porque con la televisión gallega lo que han conseguido es hacer un gallego con una estructura castellana usando ciertas palabras gallegas y con entonación castellana.

Los jovenes no quieren hablar gallego, solo lo habán los que van poco a la escuela, abandonan el sistema educativo, que curiosamente es donde se enseña. Entre marineros, labradores y gente de oficios bajos es donde se habla más el castrapo, porque el gallego de le TV tampoco lo habla nadie. Y cuando la gente que suele hablar castrapo habla castellano es penoso oirles.
Incluso los que hablan bien castellano cometen un sin fin de faltas tanto de pronunciación como de sintaxis y de léxico. Los gallegos son lo que hasta ahora hablan peor el castellano en España. En poco tiempo supongo que les superarán los catalanes que hablarán castellano como lo puede hacer un japonés medio.

Lo malo es que unos cuantos iluminados utilicen la lengua como arma política, y pretendan, como en Cataluña, erradicar el castellano en aras de conseguir un país que nunca existió. Mira el ejemplo tonto de los integracionistas gallegos, quiren pasar de tener una lengua reconocida en España a tener un dialecto del portugués, no reconocido ni por los portugueses.

Es sencillamenente, lo que solemos decir: joder por joder.

Saludos a todos.

My translation:

Interesting conversation. Too bad I didn’t see it until now.

I live in Galicia, but I was born in Madrid and speak Castilian and Galician.

In Galicia the street people speak something called Castrapo. This is a language with Galician syntactic structure and intonation but using Spanish words. The author of the piece is correct that Castilian speakers people understand the “TV Galician,” but they don’t understand Castrapo.

Any Galician can understand written Portuguese, but Portuguese phonetics deviates so much from both Galician and Castilian that it is hard for a Galician speaker to understand. When you see it written, you can understand the words you could not understand when it was spoken.

The sad truth is that Galician is a language that is almost dead due to what Galician television has done by creating a fake Galician language using a mix of Spanish and Galician words with Spanish intonation.

Young people do not want to speak Galician anymore. They  only know whatever Galician they were taught in school (Galician is now taught in the schools of the region), and after school they are not exposed to it much anymore. Castrapo is spoken by working class people – sailors and farmers. These same folks refuse to use TV Galician.

Unfortunately, most Castrapo speakers do not speak Spanish very well. Listening to them speak Castillian is painful.

Even those who speak well Castilian commit endless errors of pronunciation, syntax and vocabulary (This implies that Castrapo does use some Galician vocabulary). The Galicians speak some of the worst Castilian in Spain.

The trouble is that a few intellectuals use Galician as a political weapon, and intend, as in Catalonia, to eradicate Castilian in order to create a country that never existed. Look at the example of the silly Galician integrationist grouping that want to go from having a language recognized by Spain and turn it into a dialect of Portuguese which at any rate is not even recognized by the Portuguese themselves.

This is what I have heard about the situation in Galicia. However, what I heard is that the situation of the Galician language is not nearly so dire as portrayed by the author. TV Galician is indeed a fake language invented for TV, so like Spanish that it is intelligible to most Spanish speakers.

I have also heard that Galician is not completely intelligible with Portuguese, not even way down on the southeast border of Galician where it is said to be intelligible with the Tras Os Montes dialect of Portuguese. Galician speakers in this border area say the two languages are indeed close there, but they use Castillian to communicate with Portuguese speakers from across the border because Galician-Portuguese communication is too fraught with errors of understanding.

Galician is indeed in bad shape in the cities, but it is doing well in the countryside. There is indeed a movement for Galician independence that is led by intellectuals, but it does not seem to have much support among the population. The Galician government complains of lack of funding for Galician education and TV. All in all, I would say that Galician is doing pretty well for a non-state language, and I suspect that it will still be vigorous in 60 years or so.

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Why The ETA Political Wing Was Banned

Repost from the old site.

I received an interesting email from one Gonzalo Polo (website here), a Spanish nationalist. I am publishing the parts of it that can be published here. I normally don’t post the names of emailers as it is a violation of Netiquette, but he issued a veiled threat to me, so he gets named. If you don’t want me to reveal contents of your mails, don’t threaten me.

I always supported the Basque and even Catalan separatist causes. In the Basque movement, I supported the armed wing called the ETA. This mail points out some less than flattering things about the ETA, so I am running it, and it also tells us some interesting stories about the history of the Iberian Peninsula.

I am posting it to provide another perspective to the National Question in Spain.

I still think that Spain should allow a referendum on independence, and that is really what this whole fight is all about. I understand that Spain will never hold this referendum, which makes me wonder when they crow that only a minority of Basques support separatism. So hold the referendum already. Truth is, I do not think that Spaniards are civilized enough to split up their nation.

Few nations are.

Only the former USSR and Czechoslovakia have broken up peacefully, with Quebec and and the UK showing a willingness at least. Spaniards have always been terribly intolerant as a people, a tradition like the peculiar one of church-burning that is proving hard to break.

At least the intolerance part is traced by Carroll Quigley back to the Arab occupation, said influence of which makes the area from Latin America across the Mediterranean to Pakistan the Peru-Pakistan Axis, as he calls it.

That much of Spain’s industry is in the Basque Region makes separatism supposedly lethal for Spain, but I doubt it. Spain is a mature and wealthy country and I think they could handle separatism just fine, but Spaniards are just too backwards to do it. I include the famously liberty-lovers the French in this backwardsness, and all of Asia, including those supposedly more highly evolved humans in Northeast Asia.

China is utterly insane when it comes to Tibet (as we saw in the past few days) and Taiwan, and in this way they are firmly in a backwards Asian tradition. Burma, Indonesia and India won’t tolerate separatism either, and the result has been horrible massacres and even genocides.

I suggest that a willingness to break up one’s country is the ultimate act of a civilized people, and it is a litmus test for seeing how civilized you are. By that test, most of the world fails except for some Europeans, but that makes sense. Europeans are the only people who will even try to play by the rules of war either.

The Catalans seem to be debating separatism in their media, and there are some interesting debates going on. One of them is revolving around the nature of the ethnic nationalism that Catalan nationalism is. There are good progressive arguments saying that all ethnic nationalism leads to some variety of fascism, since, like the anti-Semitism I discussed previously, the impulse has nowhere to go but to the Right.

Put another way, internationalism is language of the Left (yet note armed separatists are often Leftists) and nationalism is the language of the Right. It was only the stew of 70 years of internationalism that so wore down the nationalist sentiments of the USSR and enabled them to cleave off 15 republics with very little bloodshed.

There were bloody and fascist-like nation-building episodes in many of these new countries, but that’s just the normal nation-building experience, and if we had to deny the legitimacy of every nation that had ever done this, we would have few countries left on the globe.

It’s probable that that same evil Commie internationalism allowed the Czechoslovaks to separate so amicably. You can’t say that 43 years of Goulash Communism didn’t do any good at all.

Nationalism created the Axis in World War 2 and probably led to World War 1 too. All these fetishists of the state that demand states have their precious “monopoly on violence” and that all armed non-state actors surrender all arms immediately or be destroyed as “terrorists” might want to think that one over sometime. Note that the worst enemies of the Axis ultranationalists were the armed partisans, often Communists.

If you lurk around Internet fascist, Nazi or nationalist forums long enough (and I like to do this for a lark) you will notice that these types hate no one worse than Communists. As nationalists are often not members of the towering heights of capital, one wonders what all the fuss is about.

Fascists, and the nationalists who dress up like them once in a while, Halloween-like, hate Commies over the nationalism question. Commies are dubious, at best, about nationalism. The blood drenched soil of ethnic and Lazarus-like nationalism is the essence of fascism. That’s what the whole bloody Commie-fascist fight is all about in a nutshell.

There’s also the fact that fascism is a last-ditch effort of capital to preserve its privileges in the environment of a serious threat by the Left. The seriousness of the Left Threat provokes a deadly anti-Communist reaction in the fascist. Commies are no longer some ludicrous phantasm – they are marching in the streets – and we need to kill as many of them as possible and put the rest in jail.

It’s curious why more don’t support ethnic separatism. Ask an American, if you can get lucky and find one who even understands the concept, and 90% chances are they support the state and oppose the armed separatists everywhere on Earth. Most folks you meet on the Net are the same way.

But go to a separatist region and you will find large numbers who support separatism. It seems we are not empathizing well enough with the national aspirations of our brother humans.

That ethnic nationalism brings out the caveman in anyone is shown how the separatist Catalans are total nationalist pigs when it comes to granting the Occitan speakers their legitimate human rights.

The ETA political wing was banned (although their men were elected in the last elections to the Basque Parliament under another name, and therefore they act as deputies in the Basque Parliament and mayors in some villages) because they used the public money they earned to send it to the ETA, and also because they gathered information about politicians and submitted it to ETA.

They have decided to boycott Spanish elections so they do not present candidates.

The current President of the Basque Parliament (the moderate Basque PNV) and all political parties of Euskadi (including leftist radical but non-violent Basque parties) define the ETA as a terrorist group (the EU and the US also).

In the last general elections of Spain the political wing of ETA asked Basques not to vote. Even considering that in the villages where ETA supporters have more influence, that this means that if you vote you become a target, people who decided not to vote grew 10 per cent since last elections.

ETA murdered a retired socialist politician who walked in the streets along with his wife and daughter a day before the elections. He was a poor man who worked in a highway booth and handed tickets to the drivers. ETA political wing’s major of the village of Arrasate-Mondragon refused to condemn the assassination.

For this reason all the rest of the parties who governed the town in coalition with this party (including radical left parties) determined not to back her position. This means that there will be soon be another mayor in this town formed by a coalition of the rest of the parties.

For your information I would like to highlight that the PNV (the moderate Basque party) is so scared about the ETA that in the last Basque elections, they could not find candidates for some towns. The Spanish socialist and conservative parties found candidates and, for instance, Mrs. Regina Otaola (Otaola is a Basque name and she is 100% Basque) is the current mayor of Lizarra.

All socialist and moderate candidates in the Basque Country have bodyguards. The man who was murdered two days ago had no right to have a bodyguard because he retired from politics so he was an easy target.

I also would like to inform you that the population of the Basque country is diminishing, the reason being that about 1/3 to 1/4 of 100% Basques have determined to run away from their homeland – the reason being that they want their children to live in a non-violent atmosphere so they have moved to other regions of Spain, for instance my brother-in-law Mr. Aguirre Ormaetxea (100% Basque).

For your information, the language spoken in Galicia is not a dialect of Portuguese, although both languages have a common origin. In the 8th century the Arabs invaded the entire Iberian Peninsula except the mountains of the north. Only the mountains of the North of Spain from Galicia to Catalonia were not invaded.

The original Spaniards (a blend of races and peoples united under the Roman Empire and highly sophisticated at that time, as opposed to people from Northern Europe) started to recover territory from North to South.

Little kingdoms such as Portugal, Castilla, Navarra, Leon and Aragon started to fight Arabs. Galicians joined the kingdom of Leon and Portuguese created the kingdom of Portugal.

Catalonia at that time was invaded by the Emperor of the Sacred Roman Empire, a German emperor of the tribe of the Francs who controlled France and Germany under the blessing of the Pope. The Catholic Church maintained the fiction that the Roman Empire was still alive.

Catalans expelled the Francs from the Hispanic Mark (the name of Catalonia at that time that included a province that nowadays belongs to France) and joined the kingdom of Aragon (a big kingdom that nowadays covers the regions of Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca and Valencia). The French Catalans do not have a Catalan department; Catalans have no rights as a minority in France.

The valley of Aran is part of the province of Lerida (Catalonia), although it is located in the Northern part of the Pyrenees Mountains. People from Aran speak an Occitan (Langue d’Oc) dialect similar to the one was spoken in all Provence before the Germanic tribes imposed French (the former Langue d’Oil that was spoken in Norther France).

Occitan is not spoken nowadays in France. The nationalist Catalan parties do not allow the Aranese language to be taught at school, and they force children to learn Catalan instead of their native language.

The Catalan and Spanish languages are spoken in all the Mediterranean coast from the Border of France to the region of Murcia (including the Balearic Islands). Catalan was never spoken in the current region of Aragon except in the border with Catalonia where children are able to learn the Catalan language thanks to the Aragon Government.

In the Regions of Majorca and Valencia, Catalan is freely spoken as well as Castilian. The people of these regions vote PP or PSOE – Spanish conservative or socialist parties. In the last general elections, the winning party was the Socialist Party, and nationalist CIU party obtained only 11 seats. Furthermore, the president of the Catalonian Parliament is also a socialist.

Catalan radical nationalists pretend to create a new country that would include the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca together with French Catalonia. French Catalans, Valencians and people from Majorca want to remain in Spain and dislike Catalan imperialism.

I would also like to point out that Guernica is a painting the Republican Legitimate Spanish Government asked Picasso (Picasso was born in Andalusia, namely in Malaga) to paint in order to show the world the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Once the painting was finished, it was shown for the first time in the Universal Expo of New York, namely in the Spanish pavilion.

The US government refused to return the painting to Spain once the war was over, and it remained in the Metropolitan until Franco died. I would like to point you out that around one million people died in the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was bombed by the Germans, but many other Spanish towns were also bombed and destroyed by the Russians.

I would like to highlight that neither the US nor the European democracies helped the Republican Government of Spain because they were scared about Hitler so they preferred not to see what it was happening except for Germany (who backed Franco) and Russia (who backed Republicans.)

Once the Civil War was over, many republicans ran away from Spain and stayed for years in concentration camps in France (my grandfather among others).

Many democrats felt that the US and the European democracies were acting in bad faith, so many people (like Hemingway) came to Spain to fight as volunteers with the Republic.

P.S. In a recent poll published by The Economist, you can read that only between 1/4 and 1/3 of Spanish Basques back independence. In the last elections to Spanish parliament Basque PNV party obtained only 300,000 votes in the Basque Country.

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The Basque Independence Movement

Repost from the old site.

Although it is not a popular cause in the US, this blog strongly supports the armed struggle of ETA, the armed Basque nationalist Red front. The Basque cause is very poorly known in the US and probably in most of the rest of the world, hence, here is a bit of a primer.

The Basque people are probably the last remaining group of the original populations that inhabited Europe before the Indo-European (IE) invasion and conquest about 8000 years ago. The best theory indicates that the IE people probably came out of the southern Ukraine near the Black Sea.

Their first stop was Anatolia, and this is why the Hittite languages (ancient languages of Anatolia, or Turkey) are by far the most divergent languages in the IE language family.

In fact, I subscribe to a controversial theory that renames Indo-European as Indo-Hittite due to this deep split. For those who don’t know about the IE language family, IE, or proto-IE (PIE), was the mother tongue of most of the languages of Europe.

European languages in the IE family include English, German, French, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Irish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Romanian, Moldavian, Albanian, Slovenian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Lithuanian and Latvian and some lesser-known ones.

A few tongues in Europe are non-IE, such as Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Estonian and Basque. Outside of Europe, we have some other IE languages in some pretty distant places, including Kurdish, Persian, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Sanskrit and a variety of languages related to them that are not well known by Westerners.

Apparently a divergent group of PIE left the PIE homeland and moved into the area of India, Iran and Afghanistan thousands of years ago.

Before the IE people spread out over Europe 8000 years ago, Europe was home to a variety of peoples who are very poorly known. Almost nothing is known about their civilizations (such as they existed), who they were, what they did, how they lived, what they ate, much less what languages they spoke.

The original inhabitants of Europe at this time weren’t Cro-Magnons, but they weren’t exactly Manhattan metrosexuals with cell phones either. After the IE people spread out across Europe, they apparently displaced, intermarried with, or wiped out almost all of the indigenous people of Europe.

One group that held out for a while were the Etruscans, residents of Italy. We actually have some retained some scraps of the Etruscan language somehow, but it doesn’t seem obviously related to anything else. The only other group that held out was apparently the Basques.

The theory that the Basques are the last remaining original inhabitants of Europe has long been a popular theory based on the fact that the Basque language is unlike any other language in Europe, or, really, in the world. Formally, Basque is considered to be a language isolate – not related to any other language.

However, I believe, based on very controversial theories, that Basque is related to some languages of the Caucasus (such as Chechen), an obscure group of Siberian tongues known as the Ket Family, an obscure language in far northern Pakistan called Burushaski, and also to the vast Sino-Tibetan family, of which Chinese is the most famous member.

Basque seems to me to be closest to various Caucasian languages. The latest genetic research has shown that the Basques have a blood type frequency that is divergent from all other populations in Europe. Interestingly, the closest people with this blood frequency are in the Caucasus Mountains.

In their mountain hideaways, the rugged Basques fought off many intruders and managed to keep a lot of other conquerors out of their hair with a hands-off attitude. Although the Romans conquered the area, they basically left the Basques pretty much alone as too much hassle, a common attitude of many conquerors that came through the region.

The Basques converted to Christianity along with the rest of Europe, and are known for their passionate, conservative Catholicism. With the consolidation of the Spanish nation, the question of how to deal with the Basques came up. For centuries, most governments in Spain and France preferred to pretty much leave the Basques alone.

During the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39, the Basque Region was a hotbed of Communism, Socialism, Anarchism and all varieties of Leftism. It was a major Republican stronghold. The Spanish Anarchists even “ruled” parts of the Basque country for part of this time, probably the only time in history that any humans have ever lived under anarchist “rule”.

The Basques fought very hard against fascism. Picasso’s famous “Guernica” painting is a painting of the Franco-Nazi air raid on the city of Guernica in the Basque Country, a raid that killed 6,000 people and outraged the world. A Basque Communist female fighter named “La Passionara” became quite famous.

The flood of Nazi guns was too much for the Republicans. The Republicans lost the war and fascism, in the persona of Generalissimo Franco, came to Spain. During World War 2, many Basques fought for the resistance against the Nazis, especially in France. The Basque region was known as a major redoubt and rear base for the French resistance.

When Franco came to power, a new chapter of history opened for the Basque struggle. Franco tried to consolidate Spain as no ruler ever had before. He demanded that all regional minorities adopt a “Spanish” mindset, language and loyalty. He ferociously tried to wipe out all vestiges of the Basque, Catalan and Galician languages and cultures.

Catalans speak a Romance language in between Spanish and French and live along the southern coast of Spain by the French border in and around Barcelona. The Romance family is a subfamily of IE that is derived from Latin. Romance includes Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Catalan, Sardinian, Corsican, Romansh (an obscure language in Switzerland) and some lesser-known tongues.

Galicians speak a dialect of Portuguese, believe it or not, and live along the rocky northern coast of Spain by the border with Portugal. Many Galicians are fishermen.

The Basque people resisted Franco for a while, but he put many of them in prison and really hurt the Basque movement. In 1959, a faction broke away from the Basque Nationalist Movement, formed the ETA, and took up arms.

They planted several bombs in Spanish cities that year. In 1968 , the ETA officially adopted armed struggle. The insurgency has been going on for 46 years now, though it is not as strong as it used to be.

Hardly any Americans realize the significant level of support for even the armed insurgency in the Basque country of Spain. As of a few years ago, there were regular street protests and even riots, as young nationalists run amok through the streets, smashing stuff and writing graffiti.

I have seen video footage in the past decade of very militant pro-ETA rallies in the Basqueland with large crowds of supporters milling around.

Many folks you would consider to be regular folks – middle-class people who dress well, drive nice cars and have good jobs – are strong supporters of even the armed Basque movement. It’s quite a shock to see dowdy-looking housewife types and middle-aged office workers with potbellies angrily waving banners supporting the ETA bombers.

Yet this is the reality of popular support for Basque nationalism, even the armed wing, in the Basque Country. Although Batasuna, the political wing of the ETA, was banned recently, another party took its place and garnered around 15-20% of the vote. Total support for complete independence in the Basque Country or Euskara, as they call it, is around 35-40%, or possibly higher, in my opinion.

Note: I just spoke to a German Communist friend of mine about the support level for the independence movement in Basqueland. Here is what he said: “Oh, I think almost all Basques support full independence. And even many Spanish migrants in Basqueland don’t really oppose the ETA or the independence movement.”

Note the presence of Spanish migrants who have moved into the Basque Country, mostly to take jobs. They are really the wild card in any poll about levels of independence support in Basqueland.

What is the struggle about, anyway? Well, a significant number of the Basque people (maybe almost 100% – see above) want independence from Spain.

Possibly a lesser number desire independence from France, but the struggle in French Basqueland is another matter and beyond the scope of this post. The Spanish government has always refused to hold a referendum on independence for Euskara, a key Basque demand.

The Czech Republic split from Slovakia, referendums have been held on independence in Scotland and Quebec, and yet Spain bucks the tide in the civilized world. The economy is surely a stickler. The Basque country holds much of Spain’s heavy industry, and how well Spain would fare economically after Basque succession is largely unknown. But it should at least be a subject of discussion, and Spain has put it out of limits.

As long as Spain refuses to provide a Basque referendum on independence, the Basque struggle, including probably the armed front, will go on. That’s all there is to it. Spain can end the insurgency tomorrow by opening peace talks with the ETA (Spain has never done this) and ultimately agreeing to hold a referendum on Basque independence.

An interesting sidelight to the Basque struggle is the role of women and feminism in the conflict. Some of the toughest ETA cadre have been women, often tougher than the men. And ETA male fighters, though nominally Marxist, have long been known to hold surprisingly conservative, Old World type views on the role of women in Basque society, opinions heavily tinged by conservative Catholicism.

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Are Spanish and Portuguese One Language?

Janie writes:

And Robert, your comment about ”There should be a link to the Spanish-Portuguese study. The rest is just native speakers guessing”, sounds like a weak and unfair attempt on your part to discredit the opinions of others. Just because you have an MA in Linguistics doesn’t make you an infallible expert on language matters. If anything, a person with a PhD in Linguistics would certainly seem more credible to me.

As a previous writer correctly pointed out, sometimes the ‘real’ labs are, as he put it, ‘the streets’. Much of my graduate sociology graduate research was conducted ‘on-the-streets’. When you mingle with the speakers of languages, in this case Portuguese and Spanish, you gain a very different perspective, certainly different than what your academic labs statistics show. For the record, I am a native Spanish speaker from Spain. In Europe, Portuguese and Spaniards have no trouble at all communicating with one another – we consider ourselves brothers, historically, culturally and linguistically. This is fact.

Additionally, I actually studied in New Jersey where there are tons of Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I have many friends who speak these two languages, and I have heard them conversing rather effortlessly with one another all my life. What are you going to tell me, that I’m imagining things? Please. You might be tempted not to post this, but please do the right thing and do post it. Judging from some of the earlier posts, I can assure you that there will be many future responders who will agree with many of the things I have said.

Yes, and many Spanish speakers around me told me flat out that “they can’t understand Portuguese.” On the Net, when I write in Spanish to my Brazilian friends who speak Portuguese, *they can’t really understand me.* I asked them if they speak Spanish, and they said, “Not really.” And in the article the commenter commented on, there are many reports of Spanish and Portuguese speakers not understanding each other very well.

That’s right, I do not believe that it is the typical experience of Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Europe to communicate effortlessly.

I understand that Spanish speakers can’t even understand Fala, and that’s Galician (Portuguese with heavy Spanish influence) with heavy Castillian influence on top of that. Spanish speakers say they “can’t understand a word” of Fala.

On a recent program on Galician TV, a variety of odd forms of Galician or Portuguese spoken in Spain were highlighted. All of these odd forms received subtitles on Galician TV. Brazilian Portuguese speakers told me that they often have a hard time understanding and especially reading European Portuguese. Speakers of the Portuguese dialect closest to Galician report that attempts to speak with Galician speakers on the border with Spain are so difficult that both parties resort to Castillian to be understood. And Ethnologue says that is one language. Portuguese speakers report that they can’t understand Barranquenho, an archaic form of Portuguese full of Castillian spoken on the border with Spain.

My understanding is that even on the border of Spain and Portugal, border villages can’t exactly communicate with each other.

Spaniards can’t even understand other forms of so-called Castillian which are said to be one language.

Spaniards cannot understand either Asturian or hard Extremaduran. In fact, Extremaduran speakers can’t understand Asturian, and some say that that is one language. The Castillian spoken by old Galician women is so odd and full of Galician that most Spaniards cannot understand it. Spaniards can’t even understand Aragonese very well. In fact, on opposite ends of Aragonese, Aragonese speakers can’t even understand each other. Spaniards, especially from the north around the Basque country, can’t understand a word of hard Andalucian. Some Manchengo speakers even say that they are not understand by speakers of Standard Castillian.

Asturian speakers can’t understand Galician, and both are almost Portuguese. Younger speakers of West Asturian Eonavian can’t even understand Galician, and Eonavian is the closest Asturian to Galician.

If Spaniards can’t even understand other forms of so-called Castillian, how the Hell can they understand Portuguese?

When people speaking different languages talk to each other, they can often negotiate a certain meaning by speaking more slowly, adjusting their speech, etc. That doesn’t mean that they are speaking the same language. I meet Italian speakers around here, tourists who are confounded by English. I speak Spanish to them, and we negotiate some sort of a meaning where they can figure out what to order or whatever. So Spanish and Italians are the same language? No.

The intelligibility test for Spanish and Portuguese was very good. The results came back 54% intelligibility. The truth is that with 54% intelligibility in a face to face encounter, you may be able to negotiate some sort of a meaning via the mechanisms I described above. Intelligibility studies produce proper and correct results.

If what you say is true, that Spanish and Portuguese speakers communicate “effortlessly” everywhere they go, then guess what? Spanish and Portuguese are the same language! You believe that?

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An Excerpt From the “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar

Repost from the old site.

For this post I am going to post a bit from a delightful book I just came across called The Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar, a French novelist. It was translated from French to English in the 1950’s and 60’s by her lesbian live-in partner, Grace Frick. The English translation was published in 1963. Frick’s translation was widely praised.

This is a psychological and historical novel, not an actual memoir, and perhaps that is why it sounds so contemporary. This choice novel, a best seller in France 50 years ago, is just as contemporary as if it had been written yesterday. A film adaptation by John Boorman is due to start shooting in Italy in Spring 2006.

No matter how long ago they lived, the Romans were so much more like us than we ever want to believe. The fictional voice of Hadrian, the third of the five so-called “good Roman emperors”, so eloquent, learned and wise, could be that of a high-ranking military or political official in 2006.

I will intersperse this bit of treasure with my comments, which will be in bold. My comments will often try to relate this ancient events to contemporary events, to show how history lives within all of us, as we are all products of the past and molders of the future, and how thereby the past, present and future tend to merge via human agency, culture, genetics and tradition.

We are where we are and we do what we do in part because of history, whether we like it or not. And what we are and do now creates the future, whether we like that or not.

Hence, as Kurt Vonnegut notes in one of his books, referring to a obscure science fiction short story (I think, The Music of the Spheres by Stuart J. Byrne, but I may be wrong), the past, present and future are all simultaneously occurring right at this very moment.

But I digress…

This section refers to the Simon Bar Kokhba Rebellion (otherwise known as either the Second or Third Roman-Jewish War) amongst the Jews which took place in the Roman colonial province of Judaea (now Israel or Palestine) from 132-135 AD. There is also a passing reference to Jewish heroine Esther and the Jewish holiday of Purim, the celebration of which just passed us by.

Since this blog frequently discusses Israel, Jews, Palestine and the conflict in that region, and a recent post discussed Purim, I figure this excerpt has contemporary relevance, if only to replay the skipping record called “History repeats itself”.

Perhaps the word Judaean is more appropriate than the word Jewish in this context, since the Jewish religion at that time was quite different, in my opinion, despite what Zionist propaganda tells us, from modern rabbinical Judaism. Hence, I will use Judaean instead of Jew when describing this war. This is also a dig at Jewish primordialist volkisch Zionism, which I oppose).

Judaea was still majority-Judaean at this time, even after the failed First Judaean Revolt and the destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem around 65 years prior that left around 950,000 Judaeans dead and many others sold into slavery.

Though this blog supports most anti-colonial rebellions as a general rule, it is interesting to see the Bar Kokhba Revolt through the eyes of a secular Roman. Hadrian felt the Judaeans were fanatics, and clearly they were.

Many Romans also felt that the Christians of that time were also fanatics, and in fact many of them were also. In the Romans’ eyes, all the Romans asked was for the Christians to swear allegiance to Rome and pay their Roman taxes, and the Christians refused to do either, especially the swearing allegiance part. Instead, they preferred to kill themselves.

The Romans thought these suicides were the acts of an insane religious fanatical death cult, in the same way that many of us nowadays feel that Muslim suicide bombers are part of a crazy fanatical religious death cult.

Many Romans were secular, believe it or not, especially the educated ones. They had their Roman gods, of course, but many Romans, especially the ruling classes, didn’t really believe in their own gods very much.

In 130, Hadrian visited the devastated city of Jerusalem, which had still not been rebuilt after the Romans laid it to ruins some 70 years prior. Hadrian felt sorry for the Judaeans and promised to rebuild the city.

But the Judaeans became angry when word got out that Hadrian was going to rebuild the city as a pagan metropolis instead of a Judaean holy city and that he was going to rebuild the Judaeans’ Second Temple as a pagan temple to the Roman god Jupiter. The new city was to be named Aelina Capitolina. The Judaeans regarded the excavation of the Temple to rebuild it as a pagan monument as a religious transgression.

In 131, Hadrian added insult to injury by banning circumcision, which the Judaeans practiced as an essential part of their religion. Hadrian viewed circumcision as primitive, barbaric, body mutilation.

The Jewish wise man Akiva convinced the Judaean religious leadership of the Sanhedrin to rebel against the Romans. A military hero named Simon Bar Kokhba was chosen to be the leader. The name means sun of a star in Aramaic. It is interesting that the Judaeans at that time were speaking Aramaic, not the Hebrew of primordialist Zionist fantasy.

Simon Bar Kokhba was also designated the Judaean Messiah. This designation deeply offended many Christians (who were still mostly converted Jews at this time) since they felt that Christ was the real Messiah. Consequently the Christians would not support the rebellion.

In 132, the rebellion began, and the Judaeans had learned from the two previous rebellions and fought well. The Romans were routed, and for 2 1/2 years a Judaean state called The Era of the Redemption of Israel was formed. Bar Kokhba designated himself Nasi Israel, or ruler of Israel.

The crazy, endless procession of animal sacrifice at the Judaean Temple was restarted, which, in my opinion, is an example of one of the most primitive forms of ethnoreligious barbarism known to mankind (Sorry, Jewish readers!).

From morning to evening, the line of Judaeans with animals to sacrifice would snake away from the Temple and the blood of the slaughtered beasts ran red like a river away from the building!

The Romans gathered up a huge army and fought for three years. In 135, Bar Kokhba was driven to a redoubt at Betar. The fortress of Betar was then overwhelmed and the Judaeans were defeated. 580,000 Judaeans lay dead.

Much later, the name Betar was adopted in the 1920’s by a Jewish proto-fascist organization in the Jabotinskyist tradition. In my opinion, the recrudescence of the Betar decades later became the Kach or Kahane Movement, although the original Betar Movement apparently still exists at a much reduced level, since I visited their website not long ago.

However, just to demonstrate the proto-fascist roots of the Israeli Likud party, let us note that current and former Israeli Likud leaders such as former Prime Ministers Yitzak Shamir and Menachem Begin, current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and former Defense Minister Moshe Arens are all former members of Betar.

The fact that the US media fawned and fawns over such crypto-fascist characters is profoundly disturbing and makes one question the extent to which our media believes in democracy, if such folks are regarded as role models.

Hadrian tried to wipe out the Judaean religion, which he felt was the source of repeated rebellions. He banned the Judaean calendar and Torah Law and had many Judaean scholars executed. He built Roman statues on the ruins of the Temple and burned the Judaeans’ sacred scroll.

Jewish scholarship moved to Babylonia (Iraq) where the Babylonian Talmud was written hundred of years later, from 400-700, laying the foundation for modern rabbinical Judaism. Judaism started to reject radicalism and messianism and became more cautious and conservative. This can be seen in the Talmud’s reference to Bar Kokhba as Ben-Kusiba, which means false prophet.

As the final insult, he renamed Judaea to Syria Palaestina, after the Judaeans’ ancient, now-extinct enemies, the Philistines. This is one silly reason that Jewish Zionists find the geographical term Palestine so infuriating and illegitimate. Do Zionists really get livid about events 1,870 years ago? Zionists do.

It is interesting that hysterical, racist Jewish Zionist promoters of settler-colonialism in Palestine may be entirely wrong about the name Palestine coming from the Roman renaming of Jerusalem as Syria Palaestina, even if ultimately the dispute is just more Zionist verbal subterfuge and sophistry.

For instance, in the 1100’s BC, Egyptians refer to the inhabitants of Palestine as “Peleset” or “sea-people” because around this time, there was a lot of settlement going on in Palestine via Mediterranean seafaring trade merchants. The Akkadian language from the same period refers to the Southern Syrian region as Palashtu.

In fact, most Egyptian and Akkadian references to the region, even during the Judaean period, refer to it as Peleset (Egyptian also refers to it as Deyen, probably a reference to Danaos of myth) or Palashtu, and less commonly as Israel.

Judaeans only started showing up in Palestine en masse around 900 BC. But according to crazy Zionist ethnonationalist volkisch liars, only the Jews have always been there! Go figure!

Following Hadrian’s order, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina, turned into a Roman pagan city, and Judaeans were forbidden from entering the city. Most modern Jews regard the uprising as a horrible tragedy, and certainly many Judaeans lost their lives.

But at the time, Bar Kokhba was widely regarded as a religious fanatic akin to the way many of us see Osama bin Laden or Pat Robertson, even by many of his own people. As you can see in the text, most Jews outside of Judaea were not much interested in the rebellion, which they tended to view as fanatical and not in their interests.

This text shows another side to the Bar Kokhba rebellion, cleansed of its Zionist primordialist whitewashing, exemplified by Jabotinsky’s proto-fascist Betar above and David Ben-Gurion (the father of Israel) taking his name from one of Bar Kokhba’s generals.

This text comes to me via a friend who got it from a mailing list he is on. He reports that a “cultured Arab” typed the text below out from the novel and sent it to the list. We thank this Arab, whoever he may be, for this bit of manna from heaven.

Now – On to the Romans and the Israelites!

Memoirs of Hadrian

By Marguerite Yourcenar

Translated from the French, New York,1954-1963

Excerpts from pages 233-249 for the years 132-135 AD:

…Jewish affairs were going from bad to worse. The work of construction was continuing in Jerusalem, in spite of the violent opposition of Zealot groups.

[RL: The construction referred to is Hadrian's rebuilding Jerusalem as Aelina Capitolina, a Roman pagan city with a Roman pagan temple built in place of the destroyed Judaean temple. The violent opposition described is that of Judaeans who regarded the construction as a sin.]

A certain number of errors has been committed, not irreparable in themselves but immediately seized upon by fomenters of trouble for their own advantage.

The Tenth Legion Fretensis has a wild boar for its emblem; when its standard was placed at the city gates, as is the custom, the populace, unused to painted or sculptured images (deprived as they have been for centuries by superstition highly unfavorable to the progress of the arts),

[RL: Note that Hadrian regarded the Judaeans as uncivilized, backwards, fanatical barbarians, a view shared by many Romans.]

…mistook that symbol for a swine, the meat of which is forbidden them, and read into that insignificant affair an affront to the customs of Israel.

The festivals of the Jewish New Year, celebrated with a din of trumpets and ram’s horns, give rise every year to brawling and bloodshed; our authorities accordingly forbade the public reading of a certain legendary account devoted to the exploits of a Jewish heroine (Easther) who was said to have become, under an assumed name, the concubine of a king…

…of Persia (Iran), and to have instigated a savage massacre of the enemies of her despised and persecuted race. The rabbis managed to read at night what the governor Tineus Rufus forbade them to read by day; that barbarous story, wherein Persians and Jews rivaled each other in atrocities, roused the nationalistic fervor of the Zealots to frenzy (a feast of Purim).

[RL: Note the Roman view of Purim as a barbaric spectacle of bloodthirsty revenge, a view that, unfortunately, I share. Are the Jews to celebrate this blood-soaked festival, which promotes the notion that Jews and non-Jews are locked in eternal conflict until the end of time, forever? If so, what are the chances of reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews? Zero?]

Finally, this same Tineus Rufus, a man of good judgment in other respects and not uninterested in Israel’s traditions and fables, decided to extend to the Jewish practice of circumcision the same severe penalties of the law which I had recently promulgated against castration (and which was aimed especially at cruelties perpetrated upon young slaves for the sake of exorbitant gain or debauch).

[RL: Note that the Romans put circumcision on a par with castration! I certainly do not agree, being circumcised myself. I regard anti-circumcision activists as ill-advised kooks, and the whole movement has a wide streak of anti-Semitism running through it.

If you are interested in the subject, just search Google and discover all sorts of web pages devoted to the "horrors of circumcision".]

He hoped thus to obliterate one of the marks whereby Israel claims to distinguish itself from the rest of human kind.

I took the less notice of the danger of that measure, when I received word of it, in that many wealthy and enlightened Jews whom one meets in Alexandria (Egypt) and in Rome have ceased to submit their children to a practice which makes them ridiculous in the public baths and gymnasiums and they even arrange to conceal the evidence on themselves.

I was unaware of the extent to which these banker collectors of myrrhine vases differed from the true Israel. As I said, nothing in all that was beyond repair, but the hatred, the mutual contempt, and the rancor were so.

In principle, Judaism has its place among the religions of the empire; in practice, Israel has refused for centuries to be one people among many others, with one god among the gods.

The most primitive Dacians (Bulgarians) know that their Zalmoxis is called Jupiter in Rome; the Phoenician Baal of Mount Casius has been readily identified with the Father who holds Victory in his hands, and whom Wisdom is born; the Egyptians, though so proud of their myths some thousands of years old, are willing to see in Osiris a Bacchus with funeral attributes; harsh Mithra admits himself brother of Apollo.

No people but Israel has the arrogance to confine truth wholly within the narrow limits of a single conception of divine, thereby insulting the manifold nature of Deity, who contains all; no other god has inspired his worshipers with disdain and hatred for those who pray at different altars.

[RL: Here Hadrian hints at an age-old clue to the riddle of anti-Semitism - the chauvinism of the Jews. How did the Jews persevere as a minority for 2000 years amidst frequent oppression? It's the racism, stupid!

How about by preaching racist hatred against all non-Jews, banning most contact with Gentiles other than for business, and even building ghettos for themselves to keep their people from mingling with Gentiles?

How about by saying prayers throughout the day, every day, cursing the Gentiles in every way and wishing for their destruction, and instituting vicious penalties for Jewish women who had sex with Gentile men (like having their noses chopped off)?

Note that as late as 1800, any observant European Jew would refuse to eat or even have tea with any Gentile as a matter of custom. While this sort of behavior is a smart ethnocentric way of ensuring continuity of your race as a minority, it didn't exactly help the Jews to win friends and influence people, and to the extent it yet exists, it still doesn't.

Jewish separation and chauvinism is and was one of the major contributors to anti-Semitism, despite dishonest denials by Jewish scholars who specialize in and propagandize the mystification of anti-Semitism.]

I was only the more anxious to make Jerusalem a city like others, where several races and several beliefs could live in peace; but I was wrong to forget that in any combat between fanaticism and common sense the latter has rarely the upper hand.

[RL: Note here that Hadrian comes across as some sort of a Second Century universalist and multiculturalist!]

The clergy of the ancient city were scandalized by the opening of schools where Greek literature was taught; the rabbi Joshua, a pleasant, learned man with whom I had frequently conversed in Athens…

…but who was trying to excuse himself to his people for his foreign culture and his relations with us, now ordered his disciples not to take up such profane studies unless they could find an hour which was neither day or night…

[RL: Note again the ferocious condemnation by the Judaeans of those Judaeans who had extensive contact with Gentiles and the refusal of the Judaeans to assimilate to larger society in the tiniest way by studying Greek, which they regarded as a sin.]

…since Jewish law must be studied night and day. Ismael, an important member of the Sanhedrin, who supposedly adhered to the side of Rome, let his nephew Ben-Dama die rather than accept the services the Greek surgeon sent to him by Tineus Rufus.

[RL: Wow! Talk about fanaticism! No wonder the Romans were appalled by the Judaeans. The guy let his Judaean son die rather than have a "contaminated" and "unclean" Gentile doctor profane him by operating on his body!]

While here in Tibur means were still being sought to conciliate differences without appearing to yield to demands of fanatics, affairs in the East took a turn for the worse; a Zealot revolt triumphed in Jerusalem. An adventurer born of the very dregs of the people, a fellow named Simon who entitled himself Bar-Kokhba, Son of the Star, played the part of firebrand or incendiary mirror in that revolt.

I could judge this Simon only by hearsay; I have seen him but once face-to-face, the day a centurion brought me his severed head. Yet I am disposed to grant him that degree of genius which must always be present in one who rises so fast and so high in human affairs; such ascendancy is not gained without at least some crude skill.

The Jews of the moderate party were the first to accuse this supposed Son of the Star of deceit and imposture; I believe rather that this untrained mind was of the type which was taken in by its own lies, and that guile in his case went hand with fanaticism.

He paraded as the hero whom the Jewish people had awaited for centuries in order to gratify their ambitions and their hate; this demagogue proclaimed himself Messiah and King of Israel.

The aged Akiba, in a foolish state of exaltation, led the adventurer through the streets of Jerusalem, holding his horse by the bridle; the high priest Eleazar rededicated the temple, said to be defiled from the time that uncircumcised visitors had crossed its threshold.

[RL: Note again the Judaean association of Gentiles with uncleanness, contamination and profaneness. Gypsies also have this view of non-Gypsies, and similarly, they have also played the role of European minority from the East locked into endless conflict with non-Gypsies, as the European Jews from the East were locked into endless conflict with Gentiles].

Stacks of arms hidden underground for nearly twenty years were distributed to the rebels by agents of the Son of the Star; they also had recourse to weapons formerly rejected for our ordnance as defective (and purposely constructed thus by Jewish workers in our arsenals over a period of years).

Zealot groups attacked isolated Roman garrisons and massacred our soldiers with refinements of cruelty that recalled the worst memories of the Jewish revolt under Trajan; Jerusalem finally fell wholly into the hands of the insurgents, and the new quarters of Aelia Capitolina were set burning like a torch.

The first detachments of the Twenty-Second Legion Deiotariana, sent from Egypt with utmost speed under the command of the legate of Syria, Publius Marcellus, were routed by bands ten times their number. The revolt had become war, and war to the bitter end.

Two legions, the Twelfth Fulminata and the Sixth Ferrata, came immediately to reinforce the troops already stationed in Judea; some months later, Julius Severus took charge of the military operations. He had formerly pacified the mountainous regions of Northern Britain…

[RL: This is a reference to the last holdouts of the Celtic Empire, (in this case, Scotland) which once stretched across Europe from one end to the other, already at this time largely destroyed and scattered by Roman conquest.

The most recalcitrant of the Celts were in the far western edges of Europe, in the least habitable and most difficult-to-pacify areas, where to this day, the last holdouts of the Celtic languages Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Breton, and Welsh fight for survival and the Cornish and Manx languages rise from the dead.]

…and brought with him some small contingents of British auxiliaries accustomed to fighting on difficult terrain.

Our heavily equipped troops and our officers trained to the square or the phalanx formation of pitched battles were hard put to it to adapt themselves to that war of skirmishes and surprise attacks which, even in open country, retained the techniques of street fighting.

Simon, a great man in his way, had divided his followers into hundreds of squadrons posted on mountain ridges or placed in ambush in caverns and abandoned quarries, or even hidden in houses of the teeming suburbs of the cities. Severus was quick to grasp that such an elusive enemy could be exterminated, but not conquered; he resigned himself to a war of attrition.

The peasants, fired by Simon’s enthusiasm, or terrorized by him, made common cause with the Zealots from the start; each rock became a bastion, each vineyard a trench; each tiny farm had to be starved out, or taken by assault. Jerusalem was not recaptured until the third year, when last efforts to negotiate proved futile; what little of the Jewish city had been spared by the destruction under Titus was now wiped out.

Severus closed his eyes for a long time, voluntarily, to the flagrant complicity of the other large cities (which) now become the last fortresses of the enemy; they were later attacked and reconquered in their turn, street by street and ruin by ruin. In those times of trial my place was with the army, and in Judea….

In the spring of the third year of campaign the army laid siege to the citadel of Bethar, an eagle’s nest where Simon and his partisans held out for nearly a year against the slow tortures of hunger, thirst, and despair, and where the Son of the Star saw his followers perish one by one but still would not surrender.

Our army suffered almost as much as the rebels, for the latter, on retiring, had burned the forests, laid waste the fields, slaughtered the cattle, and polluted the wells by throwing our dead therein; these methods from savage times were hideous in a land naturally arid and already consumed to the bone by centuries of folly and fury.

The summer was hot and unhealthy; fever and dysentery decimated our troops, but an admirable discipline continued to rule in those legions, forced to inaction and yet obliged to be constantly on the alert; though sick and harassed, they were sustained by a kind of silent rage in which I, too, began to share….

In my dispatches to the Senate I suppressed the formula that is regulation for the opening of official communications: THE EMPEROR AND THE ARMY ARE WELL. The emperor and the army were, on the contrary, dangerously weary.

[RL: The leaders of Roman military campaigns, by tradition, began their missives and return speeches to the Roman Senate with the phrase, "The army and I are well." In this case, Hadrian left out this characteristic phrase. The fact that he did not say it is attested widely by historians, making it one of the most famous aspects of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.]

At night, after the last conversation with Severus, the last audience with fugitives from the enemy side, the last courier from Rome, the last message from Publius Marcellius or from Rufus, whose receptive tasks were to wipe up outside Jerusalem and to reorganize Gaza, Euphorion would measure my bath water sparingly into a tub of tarred canvas; I would lie down on my bed and try to think.

There is no denying it; that war in Judaea was one of my defeats. The crimes of Simon and the madness of Akiba were not of my making; but I reproached myself for having been blind in Jerusalem, heedless in Alexandria, impatient in Rome.

[RL: Hadrian traveled widely.]

I had not known how to find words that would have prevented, or at least retarded, this outburst of fury in a nation; I had not known in time how to be either supple enough or sufficiently firm.

Surely we had no reason to be unduly disturbed, and still less need to despair, the blunder and the reversal had occurred only in our relations with Israel; everywhere else at this critical hour we were reaping the reward of sixteen years of generosity in the Orient.

Simon had supposed that he could count on a revolt in the Arab world similar to the uprising that had darkened the last years of Trajan’s reign; even more, he had ventured to bank on Parthian (Persian) aid.

He was mistaken, and that error in calculation was causing him slow death in the besieged citadel of Bethar: the Arab tribes were drawing apart from the Jewish communities; the Parthians remained faithful to the treaties.

The synagogues of the great Syrian cities proved undecided or lukewarm, the most ardent among them contenting themselves with sending money in secret to the Zealots; the Jewish population in Alexandria, though naturally so turbulent, remained calm; the abscess in Jewish affairs remained local, confined within the arid region which extends from Jordan to the sea; this ailing finger could safely be cauterized, or amputated.

And nevertheless, in a sense, the evil days which had immediately preceded my reign seemed to begin over again….The evening courier had just informed me that we had reestablished ourselves on the heap of tumbled stones which I called Aelia Capitolina and which the Jews still called Jerusalem; we had burned the Ascalon, and had been forced to mass executions of rebels in Gaza.

[RL: The Ascalon was the Judaeans' sacred scroll.]

If sixteen years of rule by a prince so pacifically inclined were to culminate in the Palestine campaign, then the chances for peace in the world looked dim ahead. I raised myself on my elbow, uneasy on the narrow camp bed.

To be sure, there were some Jews who had escaped the Zealot contagion: even in Jerusalem the Pharisees spat on the ground before Akiba, treating that fanatic like an old fool who threw to the wind the solid advantages of the Roman peace, and shouting to him that grass would grow from his mouth before Israel’s victory would be seen on this earth.

But I preferred even false prophets to those lovers of order at all cost who, though despising us, counted on us to protect them from Simon’s demands upon their gold (placed for safety with Syrian bankers), and upon their farms in Galilee.

I thought of the deserters from his camp who, a few hours back, had been sitting in my tent, humble, conciliatory, servile, but always managing to turn their back to the image of my Genius.

Our best agent, Elias Ben-Abayad, who played the role of informer and spy for Rome, was justly despised by both camps; he was nevertheless the most intelligent man in the group, a liberal mind but a man sick at heart, torn between love for his people and his liking for us and for our culture; he too, however, thought essentially only of Israel.

Joshua Ben-Kisma, who preached appeasement, was but more timid, or more hypocritical (than) Akiba. Even in the rabbi Joshua, who had long been my counselor in Jewish affairs, I had felt irreconcilable differences under that compliance and desire to please, a point where two opposite kinds of thinking meet only to engage in combat.

[RL: We see here the ancient complaint against the Jews of "dual loyalty", which obviously is and was often based on verifiable fact (much more so in the past than today).

The Jews have been ferociously ethnocentric for centuries, to the point of seeing non-Jews as agents of contagion and contamination, and even banning Jews from the tiniest non-business relations with Gentiles.

That this mindset would make most Jews (at least until around 1800 or so, and in some places and/or during certain times afterwards) more loyal to the tribe than to whatever despised state they were minority residents in at the time seems as clear as air.]

Our territories extended over hundreds of leagues and thousands of stadia beyond that dry, hilly horizon, but the rock of Bethar was our frontier; we could level to dust the massive walls of that citadel where Simon in his frenzy was consummating his suicide, but we could not prevent that race from answering us…

I raised my head and moved slightly in order to limber myself. From the top of Simon’s citadel, vague gleams reddened the sky, unexplained manifestations of the nocturnal life of the enemy. The wind was blowing from Egypt; a whirl of dust passed like a specter; the flattened rims of the hills reminded me of the Arabic range of moonlight.

I went slowly back, drawing a fold of my cloak over my mouth, provoked with myself for having devoted to hollow meditations upon the future a night which I could have employed to prepare the work of the next day, or to sleep.

The collapse of Rome, if it were to come about, will concern my successors; in that eight hundred and forty-seventh year of the Roman era my task consisted of stifling the revolt in Judea and bringing back from the Orient, without too great loss, an ailing army. In crossing the (camp’s) esplanade I slipped at times on the blood of some rebels executed the evening before.

I lay down on my bed without undressing, to be awakened two hours later by the trumpets at dawn.

End of the excerpt.

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