Category Archives: Indo-Hittite

How To Divide Languages from Dialects – Structure or Intelligibility?

There are many ways of dividing languages from dialects. The three general methods are:

1. Historical

2. Structural

3. Intelligibility

The traditional method has tended to utilize structural and sometimes historical, but intelligibility is also often used. For an example of historical, let us look at some lects in France and Spain.

The various “patois” of French, incorrectly called dialects of French, are more properly called the langues d’oil. It is often said that they are not dialtects of French for historical reasons. Each of the major langues d’oil, instead of breaking off from French Proper (really the Parisien langue d’oil) had a separate genesis.

This is what happened. France was originally Celtic speaking. Around 700-800, the Celtic languages began being replaced by vulgar Latin. People didn’t travel around in those days, so a separate form of vulgar Latin + Celtic evolved in each region of France: Gallo and Angevin in the northwest, Poitevin and Saintongeais in the west, Norman and Picard in the north, Champenois, Franche-Compte and Lorrain in the east, Berrichon, Tourangeau and Orleanais in the center. None of these split off from French (Parisien)!

Each one of them evolved independently straight up from vulgar Latin on top of  a Celtic base in their region from 700-1200 or so. The distance between the langues d’oil and French is almost as deep as between English and Frisian.

After French was made the official language of France in 1539, the langues d’oil came under French influence, but that was just borrowing, not genetics.

In addition, in Spain, there are various languages that are not historically related to Spanish. Aragonese is straight up from vulgar Latin on a Basque base, later influenced by Mozarabic. Catalan started evolving around 700 or so. Murcian evolved from vulgar Latin later influenced by Mozarabic, Catalan and Aragonese. Extremaduran, Leonese and Asturian also broke off very early. None of these are historically Spanish dialects because none of them broke away from Spanish!

Of course it follows that langues d’oil, Catalan and Aragonese, evolving independently of French and Spanish from 700-1200 to present, will have deep structural differences between themselves and French and Spanish.

So you can see that the historical way of splitting languages ties in well with the structural method. Where languages have a deep historical split and a millenia or so of independent development, it follows logically that some deep structural differences would have evolved in a thousand years or so. So these two methods are really wrapping around each other.

Now we get to intelligibility. Intelligibility actually ties in well to structural analyses. Linguists who say we divide on structure and not on intelligibility are being silly. Where you have deep structural differences between Lect A and Lect B, it logically follows that you have intelligibility problems. Profound structural differences between two lects makes it hard for one to understand the other. The differential structure really gets in the way of understanding. So once again, one method is wrapping around the other.

As we can see, historical, structural and intelligibility analyses of splitting languages all tend to be part of the same process, that is, they are all talking about the same thing. And they will tend to reach similar conclusions when it comes to splitting languages.

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Filed under Aragonese, Asturian, Catalan, Celtic, Dialectology, Europe, France, French, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Leonese, Linguistics, Regional, Romance, Sociolinguistics, Spain, Spanish

Dying Minority Languages and Standardization: Some Problems

I have been studying some of the minority languages of Europe lately. One thing that they have in common is that in a number of cases, there have been proposals made for centralization and standardization of the language. Dying languages very much need standardization. This is because in many cases, these languages are split up in a number of dialects. These dialects are typically quite different, and in many cases, they are flat out separate languages with poor intelligibility with other dialects.

If everyone just goes on speaking their dialects, they won’t be able to talk to other speakers much, and the language will soon die, because most dialect speakers are 35-60+. It’s not a useful solution. Sure, the dialects are very interesting and it might be nice to preserve them, but it seems to be a lost cause. Further, most dialects are not being passed on to children anymore. For the languages to survive, the dialects must all die.

For instance, Occitan has a multitude of dialects, 23 of which are actually separate languages. A unitary Occitan has been created based on Languedocien, one of the largest Occitan macrolanguages. The problem is that this new neo-Occitan is nothing like the Occitan spoken by  Auvergnat, Croissant, Limousin and Gascon speakers.

Further, the unitary spelling and writing style does not represent the way that these languages speak. For instance, a particular word may be written in a unitary way in neo-Occitan, but the graph for that word would look nothing like the way the word is pronounced in the speaker’s language. The word “bricklayer” might be written something like “frondyard.” Ridiculous or what?

Children are being taught neo-Occitan in special language schools. The neo-Occitan is regarded as an abomination by speakers of traditional dialects, and neo-Occitan speakers can’t understand traditional dialect speakers.

A similar thing is going on with the Breton language in Brittany in northwest France. This is actually a Celtic tongue similar to Welsh that is strangely enough spoken in France. Breton is actually made up 4 major dialects that are frankly all separate languages. Intelligibility is poor between the four Breton lects, but the lects are not being passed on to children and most speakers are over 50 anyway.

In schools called Diwans the children are being taught a neo-Breton, an invented “language that no one speaks.” The neo-Breton speakers come out of the schools, and they can’t understand speakers of the traditional Breton lects. And speakers of traditional dialectal Breton can’t understand neo-Breton. Kids and their elders are speaking the same language, but they can’t understand each other. Sad situation.

In the Basque country, a similar situation is going on. The schools are teaching a neo-Basque, a fake language made up of the amalgamation of all of the major Basque dialects plus a lot of made-up neologisms. Speakers of traditional dialects have a hard time with neo-Basque, and neo-Basque speakers have a hard time with traditional speakers.

Nevertheless, there is no way around standardization. Teaching every group of children the separate small dialect of their region is useless. It will create new generations of speakers that can’t even communicate with most of the speakers of the language. If they are taught the unified language, at least they will be able to communicate with all other speakers of the language, at least when the older dialect speakers die off.

Languages must be standardized. It’s essential. Not only so everyone can talk to everyone, but so that everyone can read everyone. Can you imagine what chaos it would be if every writer of English wrote English phonetically in exactly the way that they speak it. You might have millions of different Englishes out there. Yet this is the way that nonstandardized languages are typically written, phonetically.

Further, spelling must be standardized. There must be a correct way and an incorrect way to spell most any given word of English. This makes reading faster and communication transparent. If you don’t like English spelling rules, then don’t write in English!

It’s easy to understand why typical dialect speakers regard the neo-languages are some sort of abomination. Let us use an example from English.

Suppose there was an attempt to unify all of the Englishes on Earth into some sort of World English.

This language would include speech and writing based on the phonetics of various types of British English, Scottish English, African English, Indian English, Singlish, Australian English, Canadian English and New Zealand English.

As if that were not bad enough, the speech and writing would also be based partly on various US Englishes: Southern English, Ebonics, New York English, Boston English and Appalachian English.

If you turned on the TV, the announcers would be speaking in some insane English based on all of the English dialects listed above. Any English writing would also be phonetically based on a mixture of all of the above dialects. The new language would also have a ton of new terms derived from slangs of the various Englishes.

Could you imagine how furious we speakers of US English would be? This is the way traditional dialect speakers feel about the unified neo-languages slated to replace their dialects.

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Filed under Basque, Celtic, Dialectology, Europe, France, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Isolates, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Linguistics, Occitan, Regional, Romance, Sociolinguistics

Does Language Learning Carry Over to New Languages?

Not nearly as much as one might think.

For instance, I am relatively well versed in the Romance languages. I can read Spanish quite well, but not fluently. I can read a bit of French. And I have studied reading Italian and Portuguese for a bit.

So one would think that with all that Romance under my belt, I could just jump right into some new Romance languages and read them just like that, right?

Not so fast now.

Lately I have been going through lots and lots of Occitan texts on the Net. Occitan is approximately between Spanish and French. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of Occitan. Sometimes I can pick out a bit of information that I am looking very hard for, but mostly I just throw up my hands. My online translator calls Occitan “Catalan” and tries to translate it into English. Some say that Catalan and Occitan are one language. According to my translator, that is not so. Running the Catalan translator through Occitan fixes it up a bit, but it still leaves a gigantic steaming mess on the page. It’s nearly useless.

With Portuguese, Spanish and French, one would think Catalan would be a breeze, right? Think again. My translator is almost always able to grab it, but sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, I am stuck with Catalan and I am well and truly lost. Once again, I just throw up my hands. Obviously, it looks like some kind of Iberian language, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just don’t want to bother with it.

It’s said that Aragonese is nearly a Spanish dialect. Intelligibility is on the order of 80%. But try reading an Aragonese text sometime. It’s clearly derived from something like Spanish, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just want to run away from it. Try to read it and you are quickly lost and angry. My online translator thinks that Aragonese is Spanish. Run Aragonese through the Spanish translator and it fixes it up a bit, but it still a crazy mess and you can’t make a lot of sense of it.

Galician is a sort of Portuguese-Spanish hybrid that is often intelligible to many Spanish speakers. But don’t bother with trying to read Galician texts. They’re a frustrating mess. I dipped into it a bit, but it’s so screwed up and confusing that I quickly gave up.

One would think that with a bit of French under the belt, one could pick up on the various French patois of the langues d’oil. Forget it. It looks like a chaotic disaster on the page. The translator calls the various patois French. Running them through a French translator in general doesn’t really improve matters all that much. It’s still a messy disaster.

The moral to the story is don’t think that semi-getting a few languages under your belt is going to help you even with reading closely related languages. Things are not so simple.

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Filed under Applied, Aragonese, Catalan, Galician, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Multilingualism, Occitan, Romance

What Languages Are You Studying?

Please feel free to update us on your current language learning endeavors, if they exist.

As for me:

English: Native speaker, no need to study anything. In fact, it’s unusual that I run across a word that I don’t know. The most recent one was analphabetism. I bet you don’t know what that means.

Spanish: I have been studying Spanish on and off since I was 6 years old. Studying Spanish is more or less of an ongoing thing with me. We have a lot of bilingual signs and prinouts in our area. I often read them with the English translations to bone up on my Spanish.

I could do better. There is a bilingual newspaper that is issued around here for free, but I never bother to pick it up.

Part of the problem is that when you are as good at Spanish as I am, learning more Spanish (such as reading Spanish papers) is really a serious drag. Spanish as written down especially in papers does not translate literally. Not only are there a ton of not commonly used words, but there are also a lot of figures of speech. In addition, there are lots of phrases, that, when looking at the Spanish and then at the English, one wonders how they managed to go from one to the other. The Spanish-English translation is not transparent at all.

As you learn Portuguese, French and Italian, it only helps you with your Spanish, though the assistance is not obvious. After a while, all Romance just starts running together. You might as well just study Latin and get it over with.

I speak Spanish to Spanish speakers around here on a regular basis. It’s a lot of fun, and they really appreciate if you can speak three words of their language, unlike the French.

The Spanish-speakers who are actually born in Mexico appreciate it a lot more than the ones who are born in the US. I am not sure why that is, but in so many ways, Hispanics who were born in Latin America are much better people than Hispanics who were born on the US. It’s popular to dog on Latin America, but Latin American Hispanic culture is much superior to US Hispanic culture.

There are deep elements of respect, pride, kindness, brotherhood, politeness and dignity present in Latin American Hispanic culture that are almost neutered in US Hispanic culture. US Hispanics are pretty much just typical asshole Americans, except that they happen to be Hispanics. And in many ways, such as the lumpenization of their culture, US Hispanics are actually worse than the rest of Americans.

I’m not sure what it is with US Hispanics, but something has gone terribly wrong. They’ve lost most of what’s grand about Latin American culture, and they’ve replaced it with what’s worst about US culture, in addition to concocting up various cultural poisons of their own. It’s cultural mongrelization of the worst sort, all of the bad, none of the good and a bunch of new innovations, almost all bad.

Portuguese: Past. I studied it a bit in the past when I was hanging around with this Brazilian woman. Now I’ve given it up. I am already studying Spanish and French, and after a while, you are just studying too many Romance languages. The words are so similar that you start getting them all tangled up in your head. You go to say a Spanish word and you say the Portuguese, Italian or French word instead. If you have some Spanish (especially), French and Italian, you get lots of help with Portuguese.

Italian: I study this language a little bit, but not too much. I am not very good at it, but it’s interesting. If you know some French, Spanish and Portuguese, you can go a long way with Italian.

French: My latest fetish is French. I am not very good at it, so I am at the point where learning the language is fun because you’re always learning new stuff. I have blown off verbs and just concentrate on vocabulary. Verbal conjugations in Romance languages suck anyway. Even in Spanish, they can be quite complex.

German: Past. Mostly I just picked up some basic vocabulary. Attempts to run beyond that, I am afraid, run into Hell. I understand that they still have case, and that the nouns are pretty crazy. There are supposedly other difficult aspects of this language, but I am not sure what they are. Learning basic vocabulary is pretty fun though.

That’s about it. For the most part, as a language learner, I concentrate on the Romance languages. They are difficult enough, believe me! Going beyond Romance seems like a gigantic PITA to me. You’re pretty much traveling to whole new planets. Why bother when Romance is hard enough as it is?

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Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, French, German, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italian, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Portuguese, Romance, Spanish

Reclassification of Occitan: A Massive Update

My post on the reclassification of the Occitan language* has received a massive update. The piece has doubled in size to 59 pages. In addition, I increased the number of languages from 12 to 22. This was a ton of hard work, and it was hard to find good data on these questions. Unfortunately, most of the good data was in the French language, which luckily I can sort of read. Quite a bit was also in Occitan, which honestly I can hardly read at all.

Occitan, a sort of cross between Spanish and French, is spoken in the south of France. It is in extremely bad shape, although it has up to 3 million speakers. It receives no support at all from the Jacobin government in France. “French is the official language of the state,” it says right there in the Constitution. France can’t ratify the EU Charter on Minority Languages because it violates the French Constitution.

*Mostly of interest to people into linguistics, France or the Occitan language.

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The Essential Unity of the Romance Languages

Let us take a look here.

English translation: She always closes the window before dining (or having dinner/supper).

Latin (Illa) claudit semper fenestram antequam cenat.
Aragonese (Ella) tranca/zarra siempre la finestra antes de zenar.
Aromanian (Nâsa/ea) încljidi/nkidi totna firida ninti di tsinâ.
Asturian (Ella) pieslla siempre la ventana/feniestra enantes de cenar.
Bergamasque (Lé) la sèra sèmper sö la finèstra prima de senà.
Bolognese (Lî) la sèra sänper la fnèstra prémma ed dsnèr.
Catalan (Ella) sempre tanca la finestra abans de sopar.
Corsican (Northern) Ella chjude sempre u purtellu primma di cenà.
Corsican (Southern) Edda chjudi sempri u balconu prima di cinà.
Emilian (Lē) la sèra sèmpar sù la fnèstra prima ad snàr.
Extremaduran (Ella) siempri afecha la ventana antis de cenal.
Franco-Provençal (Le) sarre toltin/tojor la fenétra avan de goutâ/dinar/sopar.
French Elle ferme toujours la fenêtre avant de dîner/souper.
Friulian Jê e siere simpri il barcon prin di cenâ.
Galician (Ela) fecha sempre a fiestra/xanela antes de cear.
Italian (Ella/Lei) chiude sempre la finestra prima di cenare.
Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) Eya syémpre serra la ventana antes de senar.
Ladin (Val Badia) (Ëra) stlüj dagnora la finestra impröma de cenè.
Leonese Eilla pecha siempre la ventana primeiru de cenare.
Milanese (Le) la sara semper sü la finestra prima de disnà.
Mirandese Eilha cerra siempre la bentana/jinela atrás de jantar.
Mozarabic Èlla cloudet sempre la fainestra abante da cenare. (reconstructed)
Neapolitan Essa nzerra sempe ‘a fenesta primma ‘e magnà.
Norman Lli barre tréjous la crouésie devaunt de daîner.
Occitan (Ela) barra sempre/totjorn la fenèstra abans de sopar.
Picard Ale frunme tojours l’ creusèe édvint éd souper.
Piedmontese Chila a sara sèmper la fnestra dnans ëd fé sin-a/dnans ëd siné.
Portuguese Ela fecha sempre a janela antes de jantar/cear.
Romanian Ea închide totdeauna fereastra înainte de a cina (înainte de cinare).[2]
Romansh Ella clauda/serra adina la fanestra avant ch’ella tschainia.
Sardinian Issa serrat semper sa bentana antes de chenare.
Sicilian Idda chiudi sempri la finestra avanti ca pistìa/cena.
Spanish (Ella) siempre cierra la ventana antes de cenar.
Umbrian Essa chjude sempre la finestra prima de cena’.
Venetian Ea a sara sempre la fenestra vanti de disnar.
Walloon Ele sere todi li finiesse divant di soper.

Fascinating. Just how many language are we dealing with here anyway? One language (Latin) with 36 dialects or 36 languages?

I can see 33 languages up there. North and South Corsican are dialects of a single dialect called Corsican, which is a dialect of Italian. Ladino is a dialect of Spanish. All of the rest are absolutely separate languages. There is less than 90% between any of the rest of the 33 languages.

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

Check Out Moselle Franconian

This is one Hell of a bizarre sounding language. I guess it sounds more like French than anything else, but it doesn’t sound much like French either! It doesn’t sound like much of anything!

Truth is, they are actually speaking and singing German in this video, as bizarre as that sounds. Yes, this is actually German. German with a very heavy French influence, but German nevertheless. It’s Moselle Franconian, a middle Franconian language in this case spoken in France in Sarreguemines right on the German border. It’s probably intelligible with other Moselle Franconian languages spoken over the border. I have heard that Germans visiting the city of Trier say that the Moselle Franconian spoken there might as well be Chinese!

These are Middle German languages that developed off the same tree – Franconian – that went to Dutch. The Low Franconian languages went to various forms of Dutch, and the Middle Franconian languages went to German. The Luxembourgish spoken in Luxembourg sounds something like this.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Dutch, Europe, France, German, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Luxembourgish, Moselle Franconian, Regional

Check Out Arpitan

This is the first I have ever heard of the Arpitan language. This segment is the Evolénard dialect spoken in the Valais region of Switzerland. This language sounds completely strange to me. Every now and then, it sounds something like French, but mostly it’s just sui generis. I could not pick up one word of this.

Arpitan split from proto-langue d’oil around 800-900. This is really the intermediate langue between North Gallo-Romance and South Gallo-Romance.

What is Gallo-Romance? Gallo-Romance is that branch of Romance that is derived from the Vulgar Latin that arose from Gaullic speaking regions. The north went to the langues d’oil and French. Langues d’oil started to split around 900 or so. The south went to Rhaetian in the Alps -Romansch and Ladin and the Gallo-Romance languages of northern Italy. It is true – the Italian languages of northern Italy are closer to French than they are to Italian.

Arpitan is said to retain a strong resemblance to Latin itself – it is very archaic.

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Filed under Europe, French, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Italy, Ladin, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Romance, Romansch, Switzerland

Check Out Occitan – North Auvergne Dialect

This is Occitan, strange language that borders Spanish and French. In different regions, it sounds like different languages. In the Aran Valley of Spain, Occitan is so heavily influenced by Catalan, Spanish and Aragonese that it seems I can almost understand it. But here, North Auvergne is under heavy French influence. Honestly, this just sounds like French to me, but every now and then it sounds so odd that you think that could not possibly be French. Might be interesting to see if any French speakers can understand more of this than I can.

Despite the fact that my Spanish is pretty good, I could not understand one single word of this.

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

Language Death Can Occur Very Rapidly

Case in point, Pyrenean Gascon spoken in the High Pyrenees of France. It is apparently a separate language, unintelligible even to the Gascon spoken on the plains. Gascon is a language within Occitan that is spoken in southwestern France near the Spanish border in a region called Gascony. Gascon is probably at least 3 separate languages in itself. Gascon is often said to be quite healthy, with up to 500,000 speakers.

However, these figures are very misleading as the language is in bad shape in France. In Spain, where a dialect called Aranese is recognized as an official language of Spain in the Aran Valley west of Andorra on the French border, the language is in much better shape as it is still spoken by children.

For instance, in the High Pyrenees, only 20 years ago, 40% of the population spoke Pyrenean Gascon. That sounds like a lot, until you look at population figures for the region. Nearly 40% of the population at that time was elderly, as demographics collapsed and young people moved away from the dying rural area to the cities. Only 20 years later, the % of the population speaking the language had dropped from 40% to 1%!

How did this happen? Nearly half the population was elderly, and so were 99% of the speakers of the language. By 2011, in a space of only 20 years, nearly all of that 40% of the population that spoke the language was dead. Once the overwhelming majority of your speakers are over age 65, your language is going to collapse in about 20 years. Think about it.

Amazing. Language speakers collapsed from 40% to 1% in only 20 years. But if you understand demographics, it makes complete sense.

*Note: Careful with the links. Some of them are in French. I can sort of meander my way through French, but you may not be able to.

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Filed under Europe, France, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Occitan, Regional, Romance, Sociolinguistics, Spain