Category Archives: Indo-European

Listen to the Romanian Language

Romanian as spoken by a Romanian TV announcer. I didn’t understand it when I first heard it. This time I listened right up close and I didn’t have the faintest idea of what she was talking about. If someone told me this was a Romance language, I would tell them that they were joking.

Here is another one, by a young man with thespian tendencies who loves the sound of his own voice and loves to see himself on film. The audio is much better on this one than on the TV announcer. It’s as loud and clear as you need it to be. Nevertheless, I did not have the tiniest clue of what he might be talking about, and I was basically lost in this whole video. It seemed like I might have heard a recent English borrowing or two, but that’s useless if you don’t understand what he is talking about.

Now mind you, I know Spanish quite well, and I also have some knowledge of French, Portuguese and Italian. I can understand Spanish videos fairly well, and I can understand something of Italian and Portuguese videos. French, not so sure. I can read it a bit, but I am pretty lost with the spoken language.

Nevertheless, despite my Romance background, I am utterly lost with Romanian, and not only that, but it doesn’t sound like Spanish, Portuguese, French or Italian.

I have heard a TV announcer speaking Romansch once and if this sounds like anything, it might sound like Romansch.

What does it sound like? No idea. How about Italian mixed with Czech!?


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

English Speakers in the EU

% in each country who can hold a conversation in English.

% in each country who can hold a conversation in English.

Hmm, let’s see now. If you want to find an English speaker, leaving aside the UK and Ireland for now, what are your best bets? It turns out that more people in The Netherlands speak English than in any other European country. Close behind are Sweden and Denmark. After that, it is Austria, Cyprus and Finland. Further behind still are Slovenia, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Greece and Estonia.

Bringing up the rear are Latvia, and then even further behind are Lithuania, France, Poland, Italy and Romania.

The worst places of all to find someone to speak English to are Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Spain and Hungary.

Of course, your mileage may vary. A friend of mine from Sweden, who speaks English well, was just visiting his brother in Barcelona, Spain. The brother speaks Swedish, Spanish and Catalan now. My friend does not know Spanish or Catalan so he has to try to communicate with people in English, but he told me it was hard because “no one speaks English here.”

It is pretty amazing that Spaniards are some of worst in Europe at speaking English.


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

Mutual Intelligibility of Scots and Scottish English with Other English Varieties

Lesley writes:

Do you mean Scots as in Robert Burns or just a Scottish accent with slang e.g Trainspotting? I’m not sure Scots (Robert Burns) is a different language as such, just a far older dialect, like the English Shakespeare wrote in or they wrote in the 17th century etc, certain ways of speech have changed over the centuries and certain words have fallen out of common use. Even writers like Jane Austen write a fair bit different than people would today, but she can still be understood after a short time with a little patience. Actual Old English is another language though:

(Sorry to repeat myself)

I’d say Robert Burns and Shakespeare are about equally hard to understand to modern readers or listeners, but it’s far easier to make out some of what their saying than it is with Old English – which is a completely different language. I think understanding Shakespeare or Robert Burns could be taught in a few short lessons, where as to learn Old English would be more like trying to learn German or something, though we’d notice a few similarities to English.

I think if you are talking about Americans inability to understand Scots (Robert Burns) without any proper lessons then fair enough, but if your just taking about a Scottish accent i.e like the one in Trainspotting, then it’s probably more a case of they just don’t want to attempt to understand.

The 42% figure is for the real Scots language, not for Scottish English, the dialect used in Trainspotting.

Middle English (Canterbury Tales) and Modern English are two separate languages.

Shakespeare is much easier to understand than Scots. When I play a video of a person speaking Scots to an American English speaker, they look puzzled for a bit, then they start shaking their heads and laughing, then pretty soon, they just start waving their hands and laughing and leave the room, saying, “I don’t want to listen to this anymore.” When I go to ask them, they usually say they could barely understand a single word of it. However, some American English speakers say they can understand it better than that.

Two men were speaking Scots while I was walking into a coffee shop recently. The rhythm of it sounded very familiar, and I kept thinking maybe they were speaking English, but obviously they were not speaking English at all. Instead they were clearly speaking some weird foreign language. I thought it might have been Dutch or Danish. They got in back of me in line and I asked them what language they were speaking and they looked offended and said, “English.” I shook my head and said, “Huh?” They didn’t want to pursue it any further, but it was soon obvious that they were speaking Scots.

A former commenter on this blog speaks Scottish English but he tells me that he can’t really understand a word of Scots except for the variety spoken right around where he grew up. He said Scots speakers from 20-30 miles away can’t understand each other. He said he had a Scots speaking with co-worker who spoke a Scots variety different from the one he grew up once for 9 months, and in that whole time, he understood maybe 10 words. He just nodded his head and said, “Sure thing, mate,” whenever the man said anything.

Americans who watch Trainspotting typically say that it is horribly hard to understand and often say they wish it had subtitles. I believe later versions did have subtitles. It is certainly not true that Americans do not want to understand Scottish English. We simply cannot make heads or tails of what in God’s name they are talking about no matter how hard we listen to them.

But Americans understand Scottish English better than Scots.

Americans have a horrible time with Scouse, Yorkshire, Geordie, Cockney, Somerset and other atrocities, whereas the British have an easier time with them. I have an English friend from Somerset who lived in the US for six years. She tells me that people were always saying that they could not understand her. I sometimes have a hard time understanding her myself!

Lesley comes from London. Speakers of British English can definitely understand the more difficult British English lects better than we Americans can. I also hear that they can understand Scottish English and even Irish English better than we can. So the British cannot translate their experiences to ours.

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

Good Evidence for the Aryan Migration Theory

From the comments section, nice stuff. He is right.

The IE people who invaded India did come from Southern Russia bringing the horse, the chariot, the Sanskrit language, the IE religion and Gods and also the swastika symbol, the oldest symbol in the world. The Indian revisionists are trying to change all this by trying to make the Indus  Civilization part of the Aryas, people who called themselves noble.

One deep and telling difference between the two is that the Indus Civilization, brilliant as it was, is covered in cemeteries, whereas the IE peoples cremated their dead. Also, one other factor is that the Indus Script is not a language or it would have been the national language of India. The introduction of Sanskrit by the IE people overwhelmed India with its different dialects.

The problem facing the Indian revisionists is that IVC being in existence for over 5,000 years had enough time to make their language the national language of India but it did not happen. Natural earthshaking events, decline of its civilization and the spread of Sanskrit evolving into Hinduism sounded its death knell.

Apparently, the Vedas does not describe the civilization for its a fact that when the IE tribes appeared in India, the IVC had vanished. One other outside factor is that the mythological pantheon of the IVC does not have the horse or chariot. The Aryas or noble ones did.

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Filed under Anthropology, Asia, Cultural, Hinduism, India, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Language Families, Linguistics, Nationalism, Political Science, Regional, Religion, Sanskrit, South Asia, Ultranationalism

How Do Literary Authors of Small Languages Survive?

One wonders how a literary author of a small language could possibly survive, but they do. The following nations at the very least have, good, thriving publishing industries in their native languages, however, they do not have huge, world-class publishing industries.

Tier 1:

Albania (Albanian)

Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro (Serbo-Croatian)

Bulgaria (Bulgarian)

Burma (Burmese)

Czech Republic (Czech)

Denmark (Danish)

Finland (Finnish)

Georgia (Georgian)

Greece (Greek)

Iceland (Icelandic)

Hungary (Hungarian)

Iran (Persian)

Macedonia (Macedonian)

Norway (Norwegian)

Poland (Polish)

Romania (Romanian)

Slovenia (Slovenian)

Sweden (Swedish)

The Netherlands (Dutch)

Ukraine (Ukrainian)

Tier 1 are relatively small languages, but authors writing in those languages, especially novelists, can probably sell a lot of books simply because the market is rather small. All of those countries have thriving publishing industries.

Further, many of these languages are translated into German. More books are probably translated into German than any other continental language. Germany is basically a clearinghouse for translations from smaller European countries. If your work in say Czech gets translated into German, it will get much wider readership because many Europeans even outside of Germany speak German. German is one of the main lingua francas of Continental Europe.

Books in Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, Georgian, Gikuyu, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian are often translated first into German and then into other languages. Germany is often the first stop for a foreign translation from a big author from Continental Europe, and a German translation often comes before an English one.

The other big language that Continental European books get translated into is French. French of course is a huge language in Continental Europe and is spoken even by many people outside of France. If you publish in your small language first, you often wish to take it to France to get your first or second translation done. France, like Germany, specializes in translations of good authors of small Continental languages.

Books in Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Basque, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malayalam, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu and Vietnamese often receive a French translation, though a German translation is more common.

Works in Albanian, Arabic, Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian, Sanskrit, Swedish and Turkish are sometimes translated into Spanish. Works in Albanian, Arabic, Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian are sometimes translated into Italian.

Works in Macedonian are typically translated first into French.

Most Albanian works also go into French first.

Some Persian works are translated first into Urdu.

Other languages have thriving industries of all sorts of published materials:

Tier 2:

China (Chinese)

Italy (Italian)

Japan (Japanese)

Korea (Korean)

Portugal and Brazil (Portuguese)

Russia (Russian)

Spain and Latin America (Spanish)

Turkey (Turkish)

Tier 2 are huge languages in their own right with vast publishing industries in their native languages. In addition, works in these languages are often translated into German and French.

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Filed under French, German, Language Families, Linguistics, Literature

What Is a Group of Cats Called?

A group of cats is known as a glaring, a clowder, or a clutter of cats. Glaring may have a sort of shaded meaning in that it is sometimes defined as a group of cats who don’t exactly get along with each other or who live in some sort of a tenuous peace with each other.

Glaring at least is from 1450, Middle English. Exact etymology is not known, but it may be a Gaelic borrowing.

Clowder is related to clutter. Clutter is a Welsh borrowing. Both are from around the same time period as glaring.

There used to be all sorts of collective nouns for many common species, but most of these words have dropped out of the language. A very interesting one is a murder or crows -> a group or flock of crows. We still have herd for cows, pack for dogs, school for fish and flock for birds, but most of the rest are gone.

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Filed under English language

Are Persian and Kurdish Mutually Intelligible?

The answer is not at all. There is no mutual intelligiblity (MI) between the two – the intelligibility figure is essentially 0%.

One commenter said that Persian-Kurdish MI is about the same as between English and Spanish.

What is odd is that Kurdish and Persian have a lexicostatistics rating of 80% of a 41 word Swadesh basic vocabulary list. That is, 80% of the words are cognates on that list. That list is not so good for judging MI though. For that, I would go with a Swadesh-215 list, including borrowings. You should get quite a bit lower numbers on the Swadesh-215 list than on the Swadesh-41 list as basic vocabulary tends to change less between any two related languages.

So you see that even in languages where 80% of the core vocabulary consists of similar words, they can’t understand a word of each other’s speech when they talk to each other. How fascinating.

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Filed under Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Language Families, Linguistics

What Is the Intelligibility of English with Spanish and Other Romance Languages?

I would the regard the mutual intelligibility (MI) of English with not only Spanish but Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian to be 0%. Sure there are similar Latinate cognates in English via Latin borrowings in the Middle Ages, but that won’t be enough to make a conversation intelligible. I meet English speakers all the time who tell me they can’t speak or understand a word of Spanish. They never say, “Well, you know, English and Spanish are so similar that, even though I don’t speak Spanish, I can still get a lot of the conversation.”

I also meet monolingual Spanish speakers around my town all the time. I start speaking English to them, and they just wave their hands and say, “No speak English.” So I shift to Spanish with them, and they look like they just saw God. Sometimes I shift back to English again in the conversation, and that baffled look returns to their face. It’s obvious that they don’t understand a word of it.

Even though I have had four years+ of Spanish in school, and I started studying Spanish when I was six years old, I am typically befuddled by in vivo native Spanish speakers. Around town here, I am around native Spanish speakers all the time. Even if they are standing right next to me, I often cannot understand one single word that they say. Now if I talked to them and got them to slow down their Spanish, we could have a bit of a conversation, but as is, forget it.

I have heard French audio on the Net and in my former town, there were French tourists who came into town a lot. I would often be buying coffee and French speakers would be blabbing away all around me. I can never understand one single word of spoken French.

I haven’t heard much Italian in vivo, but I have heard quite a bit of it on Internet audio and video. Spoken Italian is simply gibberish to me to a large degree. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Usually you can understand a language in audio or video better than in vivo, because speakers on audio and video are more professional speakers and are trained to speak slowly and clearly whereas in vivo, most speech is much more rapid and less clear.

I have also heard Italian on a Youtube video, and it made no sense to me.

Now this is all coming from a guy who is advanced in Spanish.

So obviously I would say that English has 0% intelligibility with all of the Romance languages.


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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, English language, French, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italian, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Romance, Spanish

Mutual Intelligibility Chart for the Slavic Languages

Look at how close they are!

Look at how close they are!

This chart is based on lexicostatistics. The best way to do this is with a Swadesh-215 list with borrowings included. You really need to include borrowings when testing mutual intelligibility (MI) because borrowings are frequently used in conversation, and with MI, you are testing whether or not people can understand each other. A Swadesh-215 list is better because more similarities will show up than with a Swadesh-100 list, and there is no need to limit your words when testing MI because people don’t limit their speech to simple vocabulary, except in this slum where I live.

As you can see, once you start getting over 90% cognates (see Ukrainian-Belorussian and Czech-Slovak) you are very close to the same languages. At the very least, you have two very closely related languages, and I do believe that Belorussian is separate from Ukrainian and Czech is separate from Slovak and MI tests show this to be true (MI 82% between Czech and Slovak).

Note that MI is apparently lower between Belorussian and Russian than between Belorussian and Ukrainian. That is interesting because many Russian nationalists say that Belorussian is a Russian dialect. Note also that Bulgarian and Macedonian, often said to be one language, have fewer cognates than between Czech and Slovak. Based on this chart, Bulgarian and Macedonian surely appear to be separate languages, as far apart as Polish and Slovak.

Note how close both Czech and Slovak are to Polish and Slovenian! Note also how close Serbian is to Slovenian and Macedonian.

It is also interesting how close Upper and Lower Sorbian are to each other. I wonder what the MI is like between them.

It is really amazing how closely related the Slavic languages are to each other.


Filed under Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Bulgarian language, Czech, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Polish, Russian, Slavic, Slovak

Yola Is a Dialect of English?

I will show you that video of a man singing in the Yola language once again to see if you can figure out WTH he is talking about.

There you go. Do you have any idea WTH he is singing about, for God’s name? Of course you don’t. So how in the heck is that a dialect of English? It’s only a dialect of English if you can basically understand the person.

If you can’t understand them, they aren’t speaking English -they’re speaking a foreign language.

That’s as clear as air.

Here is a section of text written in the Yola language from 1836:

MAI’T BE PLESANT TO TH’ECCELLENCIE, – Wee, Vassalès o’ ‘His Most Gracious majesty’, Wilyame ee Vourthe, an, az wee verilie chote, na coshe and loyale dwellerès na Baronie Forthe, crave na dicke luckie acte t’uck neicher th’ Eccellencie, an na plaine grabe o’ oure yola talke, wi vengem o’ core t’gie ours zense o’ y gradès whilke be ee-dighte wi yer name; and whilke we canna zei, albeit o’ ‘Governere’, ‘Statesman’, an alike.

Yn ercha and aul o’ while yt beeth wi gleezom o’ core th’ oure eyen dwytheth apan ye Vigere o’dicke Zouvereine, Wilyame ee Vourthe, unnere fose fatherlie zwae oure diaez be ee-spant, az avare ye trad dicke londe yer name waz ee-kent var ee vriene o’ livertie, an He fo brake ye neckares o’ zlaves. Mang ourzels – var wee dwytheth an Irelonde az ure genreale haim – y’ast, bie ractzom o’honde, ee-delt t’ouz ye laas ee-mate var ercha vassale, ne’er dwythen na dicke waie nar dicka.

Wee dwyth ye ane fose dais be gien var ee guidevare o’ye londe ye zwae, – t’avance pace an livertie, an, wi’oute vlynch, ee garde o’ generale reights an poplare vartue. Ye pace – yea, we mai zei, ye vast pace whilke bee ee-stent owr ye londe zince th’ast ee-cam, proo’th, y’at wee alane needeth ye giftes o’generale rights, az be displayth bie ee factes o’thie goveremente. Ye state na dicke daie o’ye londe, na whilke be nar fash nar moile, albeit ‘constitutional agitation’, ye wake o’hopes ee-blighte, stampe na yer zwae be rare an lightzom.

Yer name var zetch avancet avare ye, e’en a dicke var hye, arent whilke ye brine o’zea an dye craggès o’noghanes cazed nae balke. Na oure gladès ana whilke we dellt wi’ mattoke, an zing t’oure caulès wi plou, wee hert ee zough o’ye colure o’ pace na name o’ Mulgrave.

Wi Irishmen ower generale houpes be ee-boud – az Irishmen, an az dwellerès na cosh an loyale o’ Baronie Forthe, w’oul daie an ercha daie, our meines an oure gurles, praie var long an happie zins, shorne o’lournagh an ee-vilt wi benisons, an yersel and oure gude Zovereine, till ee zin o’oure daies be var aye be ee-go to’glade.

For God’s sake, what in the Lord’s name is he going on about anyway? If that’s written in English, how come I haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about because I don’t know what the words he is using mean? If you can’t understand someone’s lexicon, they are not speaking your language. Period. No debate on that.

As linguists, we definitely do not like the idea that there are dialects of a Language X that many Language X speakers can’t make heads or tails of. That doesn’t make sense. If Language X can’t understand Dialect Y of Language X then that means that that “dialect” is no longer a dialect of Language X; in fact, it is a separate language altogether. Call it Language Y then.

By the same token, we really don’t like the idea that you can have speakers of two separate languages that more or less understand each other. Forget that. If speakers of Language X and Language Y can pretty much understand each other, then they are not speaking separate languages. They are speaking a dialect of a single language.

There are all sorts of ideas of where you draw the dividing line at dialect vs. language, but I would put it as 90%.

Below 90% = two different languages.

90%+ = dialects of a single tongue.

This seems to be where Ethnologue chops them up, and I think they do a good job.

Between 80-90%, you have two very closely related languages; so closely related in fact, that speakers often think they are both speaking the same language. For instance, Swedish has 87% intelligibility of Norwegian, which is pretty good. Norwegian comedians sometimes appear on Swedish TV speaking Norwegian with no subtitles.

At around 80%, things start to get a lot dicier. At 80% intelligibility, you can have conversations about day to day quotidian things, but you cannot have conversations about difficult or complex topics. That is, you can talk about the weather and whatnot, but you can’t talk about the political issues of the day in any sort of depth.

Here is the talk page where they decided that Yola wasn’t a language after all, but instead was merely a “dialect of English.” The page was then moved from Yola Language to Forth and Bargy Dialect. Apparently, what they called the Forth and Bargy dialect of Hibernian English was spoken in the area of Forth and Bargy, Ireland perhaps until recently. Books about this “dialect” were written in the 1800’s.

Yola was indeed probably intelligible with Middle English as spoken in England around 1200-1300. That means it was an English dialect, right? Wrong! Middle English isn’t English, or it isn’t Modern English. In other words, Modern English and Middle English are two completely separate languages. Old English is another language altogether.

So each one gave either gave birth to another or was a descendant of another? So what? Ancestor languages and descendant languages are not the same language. For instance, yes, your parents gave birth to you and their grandparents gave birth to them. They are the descendants of their grandparents and you are the descendant of both your parents and your grandparents. Does that mean that you, your parents and your grandparents are all the same person because you gave birth to one another. Come on!

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