Category Archives: Indo-European

Is Romance Mutual Intelligibility Overrated?

Paul S. writes:

I can speak Spanish decently, though I read it better, and that wasn’t a tough read. That being said, I can read Portuguese pretty well too and can’t understand it spoken much at all.

Well try doing research in Portuguese then. I can speak a bit of Portuguese, and I have been trying to read it for some time now. Lately I am doing a lot of research, and much of it is in Spanish. I use translators a lot, but even then I have to go back to the original Spanish. I can do research ok in Spanish, but it is not real easy.

I also run across a lot of Portuguese, Galician and Asturian. Research is quite hard in all of these. I am having an extremely hard time reading Portuguese, and previously I thought I could read it fairly well. Also I have a friend in Brazil, and she used to send me mails all the time in Portuguese, and honestly, I was pretty lost reading that stuff. I think Spanish-Portuguese written intelligibility is overrated.

I cannot understand much spoken Portuguese either. I watched a clip on Youtube the other day about some city council meeting in a town on the Spanish-Portuguese border, and I could not understand a word they said.

I have a feeling that the oral intelligibility of Romance is also overrated. You hear a lot of anecdotes. Eonavians said that Western Asturians could not understand one word of Eonavian, which is a Western Asturian-Eastern Galician transitional dialect!

Castillian speakers who went to Valencia to live said that after seven years, they still could not understand one word of Valencian and Catalan spoken at normal speed. However, they could understand TV announcers in those lects very well because the announcers used Castillian intonation as opposed to Catalan/Valencian intonation.

Some people from the north of Spain say that they cannot understand a single word of the hard Andalucian spoken on the streets of the big cities.

Commenter James Schipper lived in Brazil for years and is fluid in Portuguese. However, he only understood 40% of the strange lect spoken in Hermisende, Zamora, in Spain. Linguists say that this is a Galician dialect with heavy Portuguese influence and significant Leonese influences. On some linguistic maps, it is colored as a Portuguese dialect.

He was also able to understand only 25% of Alistano Leonese.

And we haven’t even left the Iberian Peninsula yet!

A while back, in a large city in northern Italy, an old woman had become lost. They took her into the police station and she was chattering away for a few hours. They kept asking her questions but she did not understand them as she didn’t speak Standard Italian. People had all sorts of theories on where she was from. Some thought Greece, and there were many other guesses. Finally a worker came in who was familiar with the strange Western Lombard dialect from the high northern Italian mountains that she spoke. The old lady and the cops all spoke a Northern Italian dialect, and none of them could understand the old lady.

On the border of France and Italy in and around the city of Menton near Nice, a lect called Mentonasque is spoken. It is close to the old language of Nizzard spoken in Nice. This is an Occitan-Ligurian transitional dialect, a halfway between Maritime Provencal Occitan spoken in France and Ligurian spoken in Italy. Nevertheless, Mentonasque speakers say that they cannot understand a word of the Ligurian spoken in Italy. And linguists now see Mentonasque as a Ligurian dialect!

One would think that if these languages were that close, one could learn one or another of them pretty easily. To some extent this is true, but not to the extent of dialects of a single tongue or very closely related languages where you can adjust fairly easy over a period of 1 hour-3 weeks.

For instance, in Asturias, there are many Castillian speakers who have been living there for some time who simply state that they cannot understand Asturian. If they were really so close, one would think they would have picked it up easily over the years.

Down in the Bierzo zone transitional between the Leonese and Galician languages, there are Castillian speakers who have been living there for years who cannot understand Leonese, Galician or Berciano. With languages like that being spoken around them all the time, one would think they would have picked up them easily over the years.

The truth is that these languages are not as close as they seem, and much has to do with intonation as the example of the Castillian speaker living in Valencia indicates. In addition, one way to tell that you are dealing with a separate language and not a dialect of a single tongue is that the other language doesn’t necessarily get easier to understand the more you hear it. The factor of motivation cannot be ruled out. The Castillian speakers above who cannot understand Galician, Leonese, Berciano, Asturian, Valencian, Catalan or Andalucian have obviously never taken the time to try to learn the language. They simply cannot be bothered. If people do not want to try to learn a language, even a very closely related one spoken around them all the time, they simply will not learn it.

It is said that after 2-3 months of close contact, a Castillian speaker can pick up Aragonese, Catalan, Asturian, Leonese or Galician. But that is if one is sufficiently motivated. The powerful variable of motivation in language learning cannot be underestimated.

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Filed under Andalucian, Applied, Aragonese, Asturian, Catalan, Dialectology, Europe, France, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Italy, Language Families, Language Learning, Leonese, Linguistics, Multilingualism, Occitan, Portuguese, Regional, Romance, Sociolinguistics, Spain, Spanish

Research in a Foreign Language

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on Iberian Romance languages. I tend to dive into one subject and then I often just tunnel away at it like a tunnel rat until it feels like I am one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. Then at some point, when I have completely tunneled out the subject as far deep as I want to tunnel, I move over to something else and I am might start tunneling away at that one too.

Research is a blast to me. I could research all day and all night to my heart’s content. I usually take notes while I am doing it, and I am typically formulating hypotheses, testing them out, seeing the results, drawing conclusions, and then changing my conclusions around. What is great is that when you do research all of these new questions keep popping up. Questions that don’t have very obvious answers. Some of the questions are suggested by others, and others I dredge up myself just by looking at the data. For a given subject, at times there are  number of competing theories that try to explain the data. I like to work through the theories and try to figure out which one fits the data best.

Plus I get to get away from the frequently ugly world of other humans and politics and just wallow away in something fun. People can be a pain sometimes and politics often just makes me depressed and angry. Like real depressed and real angry. But the stuff I research about is often outside of politics. Or if there is politics involved, I could care less about those particular issues because they are not important to me.

So for Iberian Romance, unfortunately, there is but a limited amount of data in English. Much of the data is in, you guessed it, Spanish! Quite a bit is also in Portuguese. Some of it is Galician. And unfortunately some of it is in Asturian or Extremaduran. You can use translators to translate some of these languages, but the translators do not work real well. A lot of times when the translation looks a bit funny, you go back to the original language and then compare that L2 with the English translation. For Spanish, Galician and even Portuguese, I can often figure out what they are really trying to say by looking at the original text and the English translation.

Some of the data is in online books, and those are written in Spanish only. Not only that, but there is no way to translate it from the books. So you just have to work your way through the Spanish and try to glean what you can get out of it. It is not as hard as it seems.

I was amazed at how well I can read Portuguese, but I must say, reading Portuguese is dramatically more difficult than reading Spanish.

Galician is sort of in between. It is like Portuguese with a lot of Spanish mixed in, so it seems easier to read than Portuguese.

Asturian and the few texts in Extremaduran are total disasters. I really do not have the foggiest clue what they are saying. The written standard for both languages is very odd and even if you can understand Spanish, Galician and Portuguese fairly well, good look with Asturian!

Anyway, if any of you had to do research in a foreign language, could you do it? Have you ever done research or in depth type reading in any language (L2) other than your native language (L1)? If so, tell us what your native language is and what languages you are capable of doing research or in depth reading in.

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Filed under Asturian, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Portuguese, Romance, Scholarship, Spanish

La Almedilha Portuguese

Portuguese is spoken in several places in Spain. One of those places is the town of Al Almedilha in Salamanca Province, where it is spoken right on the border with Portugal. This area was part of Portugal until the 1100’s when the kingdom of Leon conquered it for Spain. Nobody is very sure about what this language is. Linguists are uncertain whether this lect is Galician, Portuguese or Extremaduran.

Intelligibility with Portuguese is not known, but speakers got subtitles in a Galician documentary. It is strikingly similar to the Fala Galician spoken in the nearby Xalima Valley. But Fala is intelligible with Galician, so then why the subtitles for Galicians listening to La Almedilha? The implications are that this lect is not fully intelligible with Galician. Galician speakers say this lect is not Galician. Portuguese speakers who hear this say it sounds like the Portuguese spoken in far northeastern Portugal.

However, older reports from 1962 said that this was a Senabrese Leonese dialect with some Portuguese influences. In that case, it would be similar to Mirandese, Rio de Onorese and Guadramiles, and it may be more similar to . Mirandese than anything else. It would be interesting to see how intelligible this lect is to Mirandese speakers.

Actually what this looks like more than anything else is the remains of the old Galician-Portuguese language that is still spoken in the Baxia Limao and Tras os Montes region of far northeastern Portugal. This language is also called either Old Portuguese, Old Galician or Medieval Galician. It was spoken and written in Portugal and Galicia from 800-1516. This also sounds a lot like Brazilian Portuguese. Galician also sounds like Brazilian Portuguese. This is because Brazil was colonized by Portuguese from the northern part of Portugal, so they continue to speak with a Northern Portuguese/Galician accent.

If you speak Portuguese, could you listen to this woman’s speech and tell me whether you can understand it or not?

I understood some of it, but then I do not really understand Portuguese anyway.

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Filed under Europe, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Portugal, Portuguese, Regional, Romance, Spain

Alistano Leonese

As you can see, I really love Romance languages and I especially love Iberian Romance, probably because I understand, speak, read and even write Spanish pretty well. Hence, all of the Iberian Romance languages related to Spanish are pretty interesting to me.

I am finally figuring this show out. The announcer, who I previously thought was speaking some sort of Castillianized Asturian, is instead simply speaking Castillian Spanish. It is hard to understand because I cannot understand Castillian very well.

This clip is interesting. The announcer speaks Castillian all the way through it, but the 88 year old man speaks two languages. For most of the clip he speaks Castillian, but it is apparently so Leonized that I had the darnedest time understanding. So let us call his speech Leonese Castillian. At one point, the announcer asks him to speak something in Alistano and then he breaks into a short tale in Alistano. This starts at 3:54 and goes until 5:13. Then he goes back to his Leonese Castillian again. The Alistano was almost comical-sounding and I could barely get a single word of it. It almost sounded like a language from outer space.

If you can speak Spanish, see how well you can understand:

1. The Castillian of the announcer.

2. The strange Leonese Castillian of the old man.

3. The Alistano Leonese from 3:54 to 5:13.

Here are a couple of maps.

This shows the Asturian-Leonese language area at this time.

This shows the Asturian-Leonese language area at this time.

Western Asturian-Leonese is spoken in the orange area, except that Mirandese seems to be a separate language. In Leon, it is called Western Leonese and in Asturias, it is called Western Asturian. Western Asturian still has a lot of speakers. Western Leonese and Western Asturian do not seem to differ a lot. Western Leonese is the only Leonese that is in decent shape at all.

The green area is called Central Astur-Leonese. The Asturian standard is set in Central Asturias, which is where most of the speakers are. Leonese speakers dislike this standard because it is far from what they speak. This is one of the arguments they use to say that Leonese is a separate language from Asturian. As you can see, Central Leonese is in quite bad shape.

The brown area is Eastern Asturian-Leonese. The dialect is in quite bad shape. Even Eastern Asturian is not doing well. Eastern Leonese is almost dead, but it still has a few speakers.

The map shows the brown area extending into the western half of Cantabria, but this is not correct, as the lect spoken in Cantabria is Cantabrian, not Asturian, and it seems to be another language altogether. Cantabrian is frequently said to be dead, but that does not seem to be the case. There were monolingual speakers until very recently.

They had stubbornly refused to learn Castillian as they considered it to be an imposed language. In the mountains of Cantabria, as 2007, children were still showing up in school speaking a relatively pure Cantabrian. There were frequent complaints of teachers not being able to understand their students. As recently as 2003, a relatively pure Cantabrian could still be heard on a daily basis in the mountains. Cantabrian is best seen as an Asturian-Castillian transitional language.

Cantabrian seems to be together with Extremaduran in a single tongue, Cantabrian-Extremaduran. Both seem to represent far extensions of Eastern Leonese. In the case of Extremaduran, this is an Eastern Leonese dialect that got isolated down in Extremadura with the rapid expansion of Castillian. Extremaduran is intelligible with Cantabrian, but not with Central Asturian. This implies that we have two separate languages here.

The blue area on the map is Galician-Portuguese. The border between Galician and Portuguese is the red line on the far right of the picture. Galician is not well understood in Portugal, but people on the border speak a different lect that is intelligible on both sides of the border in the Minho and in Tras Os Montes. This lect looks Galician-Portuguese transitional, but it seems to be more Galician than Portuguese. In the Spanish part of the Minho, few residents speak Castillian because they have no use for it as all of their trade is across the border with Portugal. Spanish Minho speakers say that Minho Galician is not understood well outside of the Minho.

The yellow zone seems to be an area that was formerly Galician-speaking but has now gone over to Castillian. However, the Castillian in this area is heavily Leonized as you can see in the clip above. Castilian influence on Leonese was strongest in the south as this area is a lot less rugged so the language could penetrate easier. Up in the north, the Astur-Leonese area is very mountainous so Castillian had a harder time penetrating. Many towns still have only a poor road or even no road connecting them with the outside world.

Leonese in Zamora.

Leonese in Zamora.

A better view of the languages of Zamora. As you can see, the far west of the province is indeed Galician speaking. The bright orange area is Leonese speaking, but Leonese here is in very bad shape and in many places, it is dying out. The yellow area is Castillian with heavy Leonese influence. The light area is some sort of a Leonese-Castillian transition zone. However, I would argue that Leonese is in terrible shape in the light orange area and is almost extinct in its purer form. Nevertheless, the speech here is quite Leonized.

Aliste on the map is where the Alistano speaker in the video is from. As you can see, it is at the far southern end of Leonese, and this is where Castillian influence was strongest.

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Filed under Asturian, Europe, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Samples, Leonese, Linguistics, Portuguese, Regional, Romance, Spain, Spanish

Asina Falamos

A very nice documentary about the Leonese language spoken in Leon today. As you can see, in some towns there are still children speakers. In other places, most are middle aged or elderly.

If you can speak Spanish or Portuguese, see how much of this Leonese you can get. Cover up the subtitles to make it harder. Even after a full 30 minutes of this, I still could barely make out any of this language. Some speakers do not get subtitles. Their lect also sounded very strange, but then Castillian sounds odd to me. One middle aged tailor seems to be speaking Castillian with heavy Leonese influence. The professor is simply speaking Castillian, but I still had a hard time with her because Castillian Spanish is hard for me to hear. The young librarian from Astorga gets subtitles, but he is a lot easier to understand. I assume he is speaking some sort of Leonese with heavy Castillian influences.

If you can speak Spanish or Portuguese, see how much you can understand of:

Any of the Leonese speakers.

The tailor speaking Leonese-Castillian.

The professor speaking Standard Castillian.

The librarian speaking Castillianized Leonese.

I really enjoyed this video. The scenery is incredible. This is an area of high mountains and it gets quite cold in the winter. In fact, it is not unusual for it to snow here! The villages are ancient, located in steep mountains and hard to access. The houses look like the type of ancient homes they have been building here for hundreds of years. Clearly this is a very isolated area. The economic prospects in this area are not good, so many young people move away to make money. Nevertheless, there is a certain joyous and timeless way of life here that I found utterly charming. It sure would be a beautiful and wonderful place to visit just to see a rustic way of life.

 

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Filed under Europe, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Leonese, Linguistics, Regional, Romance, Spain, Spanish

Check Out Porteño

In the town of Hermisende that squats right on the borders of Zamora (Leonese speaking), Galicia (Galician speaking) and and Portugal (Portuguese speaking), a very strange dialect called Porteño is spoken. It is referred to as either Portuguese or Galician. It also has substantial Leonese influences. The best analysis seems to be that this is a Galician dialect with heavy Portuguese influences and substantial Leonese influences. However, in the comments below the video, a commenter says, “This is not Galician. If it soudns like anything, it sounds more like Portuguese from the 1800’s.”

There are a number of villages in the municipality and they all speak this dialect. Any village’s lect is similar to whichever monolingual village is closest. If the village is closest to a Galician-speaking village, the speech is more Galician. If it is closest to a Leonese-speaking village, the talk is more Leonese. And if it is closer to a Portuguese-speaking village, the speech is more Portuguese.

The Galicians are trying to claim this town as a Galician-speaking town as per current Galician politics. Political Galicianism is trying to claim as many areas outside of Galicia as possible as part of the Galician-speaking world. They have claimed much of the Bierzo region in Leon, although Berciano is probably not a Galician dialect, and it may be more Leonese. Berciano is a Leonese-Galician transitional dialect, but in most places it looks more Leonese than Galician. Even in the supposedly Galician-speaking part of the zone such as the city of Cacabelos, Berciano speakers say that when they go to Galicia, they are not understood.

They are also claiming Eonavian on the borders of the Asturian and Galician speaking areas, although the all but the elderly Eonavian speakers say they cannot really understand Galician. This is because they do not have much exposure to the language and also their Eonavian is heavily Castillianized. This seems to have originally been a dialect of Galician transitional to Asturian (note that older speakers can understand Galician), but it now changing into an independent language.

They do claim the Fala spoken in Caceres, Spain, and in fact, this is a Galician dialect with Leonese and Old Castillian influences.

The Galicianists are also trying to claim Senabrian Leonese. Senabrian is a Western Leonese dialect with heavy Galician influence, however, it is not intelligible with Galician.

And now it appears that the Galicianists are trying to claim Porteño. Hermisende is interesting because the southern part of the municipality speaks Eastern Porteño and the northern part speaks Central Porteño. Rather odd to have two dialects spoken in the same place.

The announcer at the beginning is speaking “TV Galician.” Many Spaniards say they are able to understand this speech well. However, this is sort of a fake Galician that is heavily Castillianized. I can actually understand quite a bit of the first announcer myself with some Spanish background. Then we move on the Porteño speakers. We meet a few of them, and they all speak a very different fala than the announcer speaks. In fact, I did not really understand what they were saying. At the end, we move on to a professor of Galician who seems to speak a harder Galician. I found him a lot harder to understand than the first announcer.

If you speak Spanish or Portuguese, check out this video and tell me how much you can understand of each:

TV Galician announcer at the start.

Porteño speakers.

Harder Galician speaking professor at the end.

 

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Filed under Asturian, Dialectology, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Leonese, Linguistics, Portuguese, Romance, Sociolinguistics

Check Out Cabreirés Leonese

Cabreirés is spoken in southwestern Leon near the Galician border north of the Senabrese speaking area in Zamora to the south.

This is a clip from a video called Asina Falamos which is a documentary of the Leonese language produced in the region. The man is much easier to understand. I believe he is speaking Asturian. His Asturian is very clear. I am not sure if this is what the pure Asturian sounds like or if his is heavily influenced by Castillian. At any rate, I can only understand him about half the time even though he speaks clearly.

I can barely understand a single word of what this woman is saying. Her language sounds like she took Castillian and ran it through a Vegematic.

The last half of the video the woman is speaking most of the time. She is apparently telling a story in Leonese. The only thing that I got out of it is that this story seems to have something to do with a dog.

It is interesting that they are able to communicate even though he is speaking Asturian and she is speaking Leonese.

If you can speak Spanish or Portuguese, see how much of this you can make out.

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Filed under Asturian, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Samples, Leonese, Linguistics, Romance

Check Out Senabrese Leonese

I can speak Spanish fairly well, not perfectly, and my understanding of it is adequate though not perfect by any means. This short video is narrated in Senabrese Leonese, which is still pretty widely spoken in northwestern Zamora, Spain on the Portuguese border near the border with southwestern Leon. Some Senabrese lects have heavy Galician, Castillian and even Portuguese influence.

At least one of them is considered an excellent representative of the Leonese language as spoken in the 1100’s and 1200’s. There are also some so-called Galician dialects spoken in this region, however, they are apparently not intelligible with Galician proper. The Senabrese Galician and Senabrese Leonese have much in common with each other and are essentially the same language.

Honestly, I really did not have the faintest idea of what this fellow was talking about. I kept turning off the Senabrese captions to be fair, but to tell the truth, the captions weren’t even helping much because I could hardly make sense of written Senabrese!

At one time, Asturo-Leonese was the most widely spoken language in Spain. Around 1000, Castillian began to expand south out of the Cantabria region and over time, it overwhelmed Asturo-Leonese, with Leonese being hit particularly hard. Extremaduran is a Western Leonese lect that got isolated down in Extremadura by expanding Castillian, and Mirandese is a Senabrese dialect that got isolated over in Portugal 1,200 years ago and has since come under heavy Galician influence. Mirandese is no longer fully intelligible with Leonese, even with the Senabrese Leonese it grew out of. At the moment, Mirandese is best characterized as a Senabrese Leonese lect transitional to Galician.

That Castillian actually grew out of Asturo-Leonese is fascinating because it implies that Castillian is an Asturo-Leonese dialect and not the other way around. In the same way, Portuguese is actually a dialect of Galician and not the other way around because Portuguese grew out of Galician.

Leonese is apparently not completely intelligible with Asturian. Instead the intelligibility is ~85%.

Leonese, even Senabrese Leonese, is in quite bad shape, however, unlike other Leonese lects, Senabrese still has child speakers.

If you speak Spanish or Portuguese, see if you can figure out what this guy is saying.

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Filed under Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Samples, Leonese, Linguistics, Romance, Spanish

Is Hardcore New York English a Separate Language?

Steven writes:

You love to categorize, don’t u?

I don’t see the point when I can understand them, all the English accents. Even hardcore NY.

The real true hardcore New York accent is just about dead. In only survives in a few pockets, especially the Bronx. Most of the New York English you hear is understandable.

My Mom works as a secretary as a junior college. A man moved to the area from the Bronx, young Italian man maybe 25 years old. No one could understand him when he showed up, and three months later, still no one could really understand him. They didn’t really understand him any better after three months exposure than on the first day. It got so bad that people started asking him to write down what he wanted.

Furthermore, he did not seem to be able to moderate his accent or make it more understandable. He had one speed and one tone.

After three months, he learned to speak California English and at that point, he was finally understood.

As far as I am concerned, this guy was speaking a foreign language.

There are a couple of reasons that this looks like a foreign language as opposed to a dialect:

1. He was able to adjust his speech to make it more intelligible. Dialect speakers can often “fix up” their speech to make it more intelligible. Speakers of foreign languages often cannot.

2. After three months exposure, California English speakers could hardly understand him any better than on the first day. This is another characteristic of a foreign language. With a dialect, the more exposure you have to it, the better you can understand it. Not so with a foreign language.

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Filed under Dialectology, English language, Linguistics, Northeast, Regional, Sociolinguistics, USA

Is Scottish a Separate Language from English?

thelyniezian writes:

I have certainly heard it argued that the Anglic language spoken in Scotland constitutes a separate Scots language, not simply another set of dialects. However, many people use standard English now anyway if they’re not in casual conversation with other Scots. At least when they go on TV if nothing else. Much the same as with a lot of old English regional dialects, though they’re not different enough to be classified as distinct languages.

The reason they are similar is probably because a lot of the Lowland areas were once part of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms such as Bernicia and later Northumbria, and would have spoken a form of Old English.

Actually, Scots is indeed a separate language. It has an ISO code from SIL, and they are the ones that give out ISO codes. Anything that has an ISO code means that linguistic science feels that it is a separate language. Scots actually split off from Middle English in ~1500, so it has been separated for 500 years. The amount of divergence in Scots (English has only 42% intelligibility of Scots) is around what you might expect after 500 years of separation.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, English language, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Scots