Category Archives: Danish

Fake Controversies, Fake Settled Questions, and Ideological Authoritarianism in Modern Linguistics, with an Emphasis on Mutual Intelligibility and the Dialect/Language Question

There is a lie going around that the dialect/language question is controversial in Linguistics. It really isn’t. Most linguists have a pretty good idea of where to draw the line. If you don’t believe me, study the internals of the Summer Institute of Linguistics change request forms for languages. The field is a lot more uniform on this question than the cranks think.

Hardly anyone thinks Valencian is a separate language. There were 5-10 experts writing in on Valencian and they were all in agreement.

Romagnolo and Emilian were split with zero controversy. All it took was a few authoritative statements by the experts in these varieties to settle the question.

In other words, the language dialect question is what is known as a fake controversy.

Really the only controversy about this question comes from nationalists and language activists.

Sadly, many linguists are nationalists, and their work has been poisoned by their ideology for a long time now. Some of the worst ones of all are in Europe.

Linguistics in the Balkans and Poland has been badly damaged by nationalist linguists for a long time, with no sign of things getting better.

Similar nonsense is going on in of all places ultra-PC Denmark and Sweden. Bornholmian and Southeast Jutnish should have been split from Danish long ago. In fact, Jutnish was split, but Danish nationalist linguists pathetically had it removed.

The many langues d’oil have never been listed and probably never will be. No doubt this is due to the state of Linguistics in ultra-nationalistic France. There are easily 10-15+ langues d’oil that could be split off.

Greek linguist nationalists have raised their ugly heads over splits in Macro-Greek.

Bulgarian Linguistics is all nationalist and has been lost in retardation forever now. No, Macedonian is not a Bulgarian dialect.

There have been some ugly and ridiculous fights in the Baltics especially with Estonian and Latvian, neither of which is a single language. I doubt that Estonian and Latvian linguists are comporting themselves well here given the fanatical nationalism that overwhelms both lands.

There are easily 350-400 language inside of Sinitic or Chinese according to the estimate of the ultimate Sinologist Jerry Norman. The real figure is clearly closer to 1,000-2,000 separate languages. Chinese nationalism is mandatory for anyone doing Sinitic linguistics. No one wants to bring down the wrath of the Chinese government by pulling the curtain on their big lie that Chinese is one language. I am amazed that SIL even split Chinese into 14 languages without getting deluged with death threats.

Arabic is clearly more than one language, and SIL now has it split into 35 languages.  This is one odd case where they may have erred by splitting too much. That’s probably too many, but no one can even do any work in this area, since Arabists and especially Arabic speakers keep insisting, often violently, that Arabic is a single language. Never mind that they routinely can’t understand each other. We have Syrians and Yemenis at my local store, and no, the Syrian Arabic speakers cannot understand hard Yemeni Arabic, sorry. Some of the Yemeni Arabic speakers have even whispered conspiratorially in my ear when the others were not around that speakers of different Yemeni Arabic varieties often cannot even understand each other, and that’s not even split by SIL. I have a feeling that the Arabic situation is more like Chinese than not.

A Swedish nationalist wiped out several well documented separate languages inside of Macro-Swedish simply by making a few dishonest change request forms. SIL pathetically fell for it.

Occitan language activists wiped out the very well-supported split of Occitan into six separate languages based on ideology. They are trying to resurrect Occitan, and they think this will only work if there is one Occitan language with many dialects under it. Splitting it up into six or more languages dooms the tongue. So this was a political argument masquerading as a linguistic one. SIL fell for it again. Pathetic.

No one has talked much about these matters in the field, but a man named Harold Hammerstrom has written some excellent notes about them. He also takes the language/dialect question very seriously and has proposed more scientific ways of doing the splitting.

SIL was recently granted the ability to give out new ISO codes for languages, and since then, SIL has become quite conservative, lumping varieties everywhere in sight. This is because lumping is always the easy way out, as conservatives love lumping in everything from Classification to Historical Linguistics, and the field has been taken over by radical conservatives for some time now. Splitters are kooks, clowns, and laughing stocks. One gets the impression that SIL is terrified to split off new tongues for fear of bad PR.

As noted above, the language/dialect question is not as controversial in the field as Net linguist cranks would have you believe. SIL simply decides whatever they decide, and all the linguists just shrug their shoulders and go back to Optimality Theory, threatening to kill each other over Indo-European reconstructions, scribbling barely readable SJW sociolinguistic blather, or whatever it is they are crunching their brains about.

SIL grants an ISO code or refuses to grant one, and that’s that. No ISO code, no language. The main problem is that they refuse to split many valid languages mostly out of PC fear of causing a furor. Most of the opposition to splitting off new languages comes from linguistic hacks and cranks who exist for the most part on the Internet.

Most real linguists don’t seem to care very much. I know this because I talk to real linguists all the time. When it comes to the dialect/language split, most of them find it mildly intriguing, but hardly anyone is set off. You tell them that some dialect has now been split off as a separate language or two languages have now been merged into one, and they just perk up their ears and say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Sometimes they shrug their shoulders and say, “They (SIL) are saying this is a separate language now,” as if they really don’t care one way or another.

Linguists definitely get hot under the collar about some things, but not about the dialect/language question, which is regarded more as a quizzical oddity. Most linguists furthermore care nothing at all about the mutual intelligibility debate, which at any rate was resolved long ago by SIL way back in the 1950’s. See the influential book by Cassad written way back then for the final word on the science of mutual intelligibility. Some enterprising linguists are finally starting to take mutual intelligibility seriously, but even they are being much too wishy-washy and unsciency about it. A lot of very silly statements are made like “there is no good, hard scientific way to measure mutual intelligibility, so all figures are guesswork.”

There’s no need for these theoretical shields or hyper-hedging because no one cares. No one in the field other than a few nutcases and kooks on the Internet even gives two damns about this question in the first place. The mutual intelligibility question is actually much less controversial in the field that the linguist kook loudmouths on the Net would have you believe.

We have more important things to fight about, like Everett’s resurrecting of the hated Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (defended pathetically by the Old Guard and under attack by the Everett crowd who everyone hates); not to mention Altaic; and Joseph Greenberg’s poor, regularly pummeled ghost, along with mass comparison in general.

The field is full of many a silly and pretty lie. One for instance is that Linguistics rejected the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis long ago, and now it is regarded as a laughing stock. Actually that’s not true. Really a bunch of bullies got together and announced very arrogantly that Sapir-Whorf was crap, and then it become written in stone the way a lot of nonsense our field believes does.

If you go back over the papers that “proved” this matter, it turns out that they never proved one thing. They just said that they proved Sapir-Whorf was nonsense, and everyone fell for it or just got in line like they were supposed to.

Not to mention that Linguistics is like an 8th Grade playground.

Let’s put it this way. If you advocate for Sapir-Whorf in academia, I pray for your soul. You also damn well better have tenure.

I don’t know how anyone advocates for Altaic these days. I would never advocate for Altaic or any remotely controversial historical linguistics hypothesis without tenure.

The field is out for blood, and they burn heretics at the stake all the time. We’ve probably incinerated more wrong thinkers than the Inquisition by now.

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Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in Germany?

Montleek:  Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

Germany is a very chaotic situation with a dialect in every town or village.

Dutch is actually spoken up near the Dutch border, but the form is not intelligible at all with Dutch across the border. You get into the different dialect in every town here.

Danish spoken a bit up by the Danish border.

Sorbian is spoken in the central east.

Frisian is spoken in the northwest and in the far north.

There are up to 138 separate languages within German by my calculation and splitting down to dialects, there must be many more, surely hundreds and maybe over a thousand. There are 3-4 languages within the Macro-Dutch spoken on the border and a dialect in every town. The Danish spoken in the north is not very dialectally diverse. Frisian is spoken as North Frisian and Saterland Frisian, but there may be up to five languages inside North Frisian. Sorbian is spoken in two forms, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian, and both are separate languages.

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Is English a Scandinavian Language?

Philip Andrews writes:

It is surprising how little attention is paid to the influence of the Danelaw on the English language. no one in Old English academia seems to want to touch it. It’s a Norwegian article that has claimed English is a Scandinavian language.

Anglo-Saxon and the Early post-Norman Conquest English church put the dampers on the Scandinavian influence. Even the story of the Norman Conquest’ reads quite differently in the Norse Saga version to how it comes through the AS Chronicle.

AS lost most of its grammar to the Norse of the Danelaw. That’s why English has not the inflection system of Continental Germanic but rather that of Norse. I’m happy to think of English as Norse in grammar and Syntax but mostly Latin-French in vocabulary. About 60+% of English derives from Latin-French.

Personally I question the old story of the Normans being ‘Northmen’. Another AS/Norman manipulation. It was 1,000 years ago but the Normands were in what is now France earlier. Records 1,000 years ago as now were subject to political manipulation.

Why did William go to the Pope for a Blessing for a Crusade? Because he was intent on driving the pagan Vikings out of England and Christianizing the place under Norman tutelage. Hence the Harrying of the North. Yorkshire is still far more ‘Norse’ than any other part of England. Listening to people north of Watford speak English and you’re listening to Norse accents speaking English. With Norse words in dialects. If William hadn’t come with mounted archers (from the East) he could never have defeated the Vikings.

Much of English history abroad (empire etc.) equates to versions of Viking raiding. Old Norse habits die hard.

I don’t really agree with this, but it is an interesting idea anyway.

I did some research on this question recently. England was settled by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.

There is a Low German language called Anglish which is spoken in an areas of the far north of Germany called Schlesweig-Holstein. Anglish is apparently the remains of the Low German language spoken by the Angles. This is a peninsula that connects Germany with Denmark. The southern half of the peninsula is Germany, and the north half is Denmark. Anglish is not readily intelligible with any other Low German language, even those nearby.

The Saxons were found a bit to the south, but I believe that they also came from this peninsula.

And it is interesting that in this part of Germany, especially around Fleisburg on the border, the dialect of Low German that they speak is more or less intelligible not with Danish but with a Danish dialect called South Jutnish that is so divergent that in my opinion, it is a separate language from Danish. Danish speakers have poor intelligibility of South Jutnish. From the Net:

Sønderjysk is often seen as very difficult for other speakers of Danish even other Jysk or Jutnish dialects to understand. Instead of the normal Danish stød, it has tonal accents like Swedish. Many of the phonemes are also different, including velar fricatives much like in German. It also has the definite article before the noun, as opposed to the standard Danish postclitic article. South Jutlandic is surely a separate language.

So in this part of Germany, there are Low German lects that are actually intelligible with Danish lects. So here is where “German” and “Danish” are nearly transitional. However, Standard German and Standard Danish are not intelligible with each other at all. Nevertheless, German speakers can pick up Danish and other Scandinavian languages pretty easily.

And South Jutnish itself is interesting in that Jutnish was one of the languages spoken by one of the tribes that invaded England, the Jutes. So one of “Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded England actually spoke something like “Danish.” South Jutnish itself is said to be quite a bit like English, especially the older forms of English. There are stories about speakers of the pure Scots language spoken in Scotland going to the South Jutnish area and being able to converse with South Jutnish speakers.Scots can be thought of as English  from 500 years ago because Scots split from English about 500 years ago. So in this case we have West Germanic and North Germanic speakers who are able to actually converse.

There is also a suggestion based on the fact that North Germanic South Jutnish is intelligible with whatever odd West Germanic Low German lect is spoken near Fleisburg that South Jutnish itself may be nearly German-Danish transitional.

A few take-home points: the “Anglo-Saxons” actually something a lot more like Low German than Standard German. Low German and Standard German are separate languages and German speakers cannot understand Low German. And the “Anglo-Saxons” also spoke something like “Danish” in the form of Jutnish. Also all of these Low German lects that made up “Anglo-Saxon” came from the far north of Germany where “German” and “Danish” start to nearly blend into each other or better yet where West Germanic and North Germanic are almost transitional.

In addition to the evidence coming from the Danelaw area of England where actual Danish speakers settled, it appears that the Scandinavian or North Germanic influence in English is more with Danish than with any other Scandinavian language.

However, 2/3 of the Anglo-Saxon components were actually from West Germanic Low German lects which are not readily intelligible with any Danish, not even with South Jutnish.

It is often said that the closest language to English is West Frisian, spoken in the northwest of the Netherlands. This is a Germanic language that is close to Dutch. In fact, some say that West Frisian itself is straight up from Old Saxon, which is the language that the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons spoke. A man who is able to speak Old English went to the West Frisia area of the Netherlands and spoke to an old farmer there who spoke good West Frisian. They were actually able to hold a conversation in English from 1,000 years ago and West Frisian of today. West Frisian of course is a West Germanic language.

However, if you look into the mater a bit more, the language that is closest to English is the endangered North Frisian, with 66% cognates with English in the most frequently used words, a bit more than West Frisian. Nevertheless, 66% cognates in the most frequently used words doesn’t do any good for intelligiblity. I listened to a 10 minute broadcast of an old woman speaking North Frisian and I could not understand one word.

North Frisian, which actually may be up to five separate languages, is also spoken in that same peninsula of far northern Germany that Anglish, Saxon and Jutnish were spoken in. However, it is spoken on the east coast of the peninsula whereas Anglish and Saxon were spoken more to the west. So once again with North Frisian and English we see one more connection with this far northern part of Germany that borders on Denmark. Yet North Frisian is a West Germanic language, not a North Germanic Scandinavian language.

A language called Ingeavonic was spoken long ago in this region, and some put “Anglo-Frisian” in a West Germanic node under Ingeavonic. For a long time there was something called the North Sea Fisherman’s lect that originated in this same part of Germany but over on the west coast by Fleisburg rather than on the east coast by the North Frisian language. It was said that fishermen from all over the North Sea from the nations of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden spoke this lingua franca or trade language. This North Sea Fisherman’s language is said to have looked a lot like Ingaevonic.

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Is English a German or Scandinavian Language?

S. D. writes: I’m German American. Half my family is Prussian German and the other half is from Munich in the South. I can answer this, sort of.

English is actually from Denmark.

These folks were never from Germany, they were from Saxony and Angles They were Scandinavians.

Normans brought a great deal of Latin words into the English language but they themselves were Norwegians.

Brits have no German in them. They are Scandinavian and Celtic. Their language reflects this.

Wait a minute. English is a West Germanic language. It is in the same branch of Germanic as German. The most closely related language to English is Frisian, which is spoken as probably up to seven separate languages in Northwestern Netherlands and Northwestern and Far Northern Germany.

Scandinavian is North Germanic. All of these languages are straight up from Old Norse.

English is up from Old German, or more properly the Anglo-Frisian branch. Frisian is straight up from Old Saxon, which gives you a clue to what the Anglo-Saxons were speaking.

A man who knows how to speak Old English recently went to Frisia with a TV crew. He stopped and talked to an old farmer who was a Frisian speaker. He could actually communicate with this guy with him speaking Old English and the farmer speaking Frisian (“Modern Saxon”). If you look at Old English, it looks like German. If you hear a tape of someone reading Beowulf, it sounds like someone speaking German. Not only that, but you cannot understand a word.

The British are mostly a Celtic or even a pre-Celtic people. On top of that is layered some German (the Anglo-Saxons), some French (the Normans) and some Danish on the east and north, formerly the Daneland.

I have heard stories about the Normans being Vikings or Norwegians, but I am not sure about that. They were living in France when they invaded. One of my distant ancestors is Eleanor of Acquitaine, Queen of England. She was from the West Central Coast of France.

The Normans brought a lot of French words into English. Actually they spoke Norman, which is a completely separate language from French and is still alive to this day, though it is endangered. But it is related to French. Norman split off from Old French in ~800-1000 CE.

The Scottish and especially the Irish have a lot of Scandinavian blood in them due to a lot of Viking raids in those places. That is why there is all the red and blond hair and green and blue eyes there (red hair and green eyes in Ireland and blond hair and blue eyes in Scotland).

It is true that a lot of Latin borrowings came into English during the Norman period and even afterwards, as Latin was the language of science, technology and government. Some Danish words did go into English from the Daneland. Scots and a lot of the incomprehensible English dialects from northeastern English such as Geordie have heavy Danish influence.

However, there is a little something to your theory. The three tribes in that area that all invaded England were called the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. The Angles and Saxons lived from northeastern Netherlands through Northwestern and Far Northern Germany, but the Jutes actually did inhabit Far Southwest Denmark. They speak a language down there called South Jutish, and I am told that Danes cannot understand it at all. However, I have heard that a Jutish speaker and a Scots speaker from Scotland can actually somewhat communicate along the lines of the Old English speaker and the Frisian farmer!

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A Look at the Danish Language

Danish is a harder language to learn than one might think. It’s not that hard to read or even write, but it’s quite hard to speak. However, like English, Danish has a non-phonetic orthography, so this can be problematic. It has gone a long time without a spelling reform, so there are many silent letters and sounds, both vowels and consonants, that make no sense.

In addition, there are d words where the d is silent and other d words where it is pronounced, and though the rules are straightforward, it’s often hard for foreigners to get the hang of this. The d in hund is silent, for instance. In addition, the b, d,  and g sounds are somehow voiceless in many environments, which must be a hard sound to make. There are also the strange labiodental glide and alveopalatal fricative sounds. In certain environments, d, g, v, and r turn into vowels.

There are three strange vowels that are not in English, represented by the letters æ, ø and å. They are all present in other Scandinavian languages – æ is present in Icelandic and Norwegian, ø is part of Norwegian, and å is part of Norwegian and Swedish, but English speakers will have problems with them. Danish language learners often report having a hard time pronouncing Danish vowels or even telling one apart from the other.

One advantage of all of the Scandinavian languages is that their basic vocabulary (the vocabulary needed to converse at a basic level and be understood) is fairly limited. In other words, without learning a huge number of words, it is possible to have a basic conversation in these languages. This is in contrast to Chinese, where you have to learn a lot of vocabulary just to converse at a basic level.

As with Maltese and Gaelic, there is little correlation between how a Danish word is written and how it is pronounced.

Pronunciation of Danish is difficult. Speech is very fast and comes out in a continuous stream that elides entire words. Vowels in the middle and at the end of words are seldom expressed. There are nine vowel characters, and each one can be pronounced in five or six different ways. There is nearly a full diphthong set, and somehow pharyngealization as accent is used as an accent. Danish has a huge set of vowels, one of the largest sets on Earth. The sheer number of vowels is one reason that Danish is so hard to pronounce. Danish has 32 vowels, 15 short, 13 long and four unstressed: ɑ, ɑː, a, æ, æː, ɛ, ɛː, e, e̝ː, i, , o, , ɔ, ɔː, u, , ø, øː, œ, œː, ɶ, ɶː, y, , ʌ, ɒ, ɒː, ə, ɐ, ɪ, and ʊ.

There is also a strange phonetic element called a stød, which is a very short pause slightly before the vowel(s) in a word. This element is very hard for foreigners to get right.

Just about any word has at least four meanings, and can serve as noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Danish has two genders (feminine and masculine have merged into neuter), and whether a noun is common or neuter is almost impossible to predict and simply must be memorized.

From here.

This is a look at the Danish language from the viewpoint of how hard it is for an English speaker trying to learn the language.

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.

Danish gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

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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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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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The Northern Germanic Languages

A friend of mine has a post up at his site referring to an earlier post of mine, Scientific Studies of Intelligibility in Scandinavian Languages.

North Germanic has been traditionally divided by East Norse (Swedish, Scanian, Danish, etc.) and West Norse (Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic). There are much greater differences between dialects of Swedish and dialects of Norwegian than between Swedish and Norwegian themselves. Nobody can understand the Danes because their pronunciation is so different.

Icelandic, German, Dutch and Swedish are much more inflected than English is.Even Danish is quite a bit more inflected than English. English has clearly lost most of its inflection.

For a modern Swede, Dane or Norwegian, trying to read Icelandic is like if we English-speakers tried to read the Old English of Beowulf. Icelandic is the odd man out of the North Germanic languages.

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Filed under Danish, Dialectology, Dutch, English language, German, Germanic, Icelandic, Indo-European, Language Families, Linguistics, Norwegian, Swedish

Yet Another Scandinavian Intelligibility Study

We’ve reviewed several of these studies before, and this subject seems to send a lot of Scandinavians up the wall for some reason. Especially Swedes are quite insistent that Swedish and Norwegian are a single language. They get pretty furious when people say that they can’t completely understand each other. A new study I found adds some weight to that notion. Here are the results of a study of Scandinavian students on an intelligibility test of other Scandinavian languages:

                  Swedish  Norwegian Danish
Norwegians        89                 75
Swedes                     83        24
Finnish Swedes             75        14
Danes             53       57

As you can see, Norwegian and Swedish are almost dialects of a single language. In this test, Swedish-Norwegian intelligibility was 86%. That’s not quite dialects of a single language, but it’s very close. It’s better to say that they are extremely closely related languages. If we include Finnish Swedes, the results go down somewhat, but most Swedes don’t live in Finland.

Norwegian-Danish intelligibility was lower, but still high, at 66%. That’s higher than Spanish and Portuguese. Norwegians can understand a lot more Danish than the other way around, but the Danes can’t seem to understand their neighbors very well.

Swedish-Danish intelligibility was lowest of all at 39%. It’s safe to say that these two don’t understand each other well at all. The Swedes and especially the Finnish Swedes can hardly understand Danish people at all.

Here are the results of a study of “Dutch” students on an intelligibility test of other “Dutch” languages:

                         Dutch  Frisian  Afrikaans
Dutch                           55       62
Frisians                                 67
South Africans           44     25

The intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is much exaggerated. Swedish and Norwegian are much closer. Combined intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is only 53%. That’s about the same as Spanish and Portuguese, not so good. In particular, Afrikaans speakers seem to have a hard time understanding the Dutch.

The intelligibility of Frisian and Dutch is also much exaggerated. Here, Dutch understood 55% of Frisian, about the same as Spanish and Portuguese. Frisians were not tested on Dutch since they all understand Dutch.

References

Gooskens, Charlotte. 2007. The Contribution of Linguistic Factors to the Intelligibility of Closely Related Languages. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 28:6, 445-467.

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Filed under Afrikaans, Danish, Dialectology, Dutch, Frisian, Germanic, Language Families, Linguistics, Norwegian, Sociolinguistics, Swedish, West Frisian

Scientific Studies of Intelligibility in Scandinavian Languages

I’ve been asked to provide this information from some folks who, incredibly, are insisting that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all one language. What makes it even more painful is that at least one of them is a Swedish-language speaker.

I suppose it makes sense that people are outraged by the splitting of these closely related languages. Many Swedes and Norwegians can understand the other language pretty well. I think a lot of this is because they have actually learned the other language, but at any rate, intelligibility between these languages varies. In order to communicate well, Swedes and Norwegians often have to speak slowly. There are all sorts of other variables, but I think that in cases of 90-100% intelligibility, we are looking at a lot of bilingual learning.

I only had one set of figures for the Scandinavian languages, but these were attacked because, while detailed, they lacked a reference for who or what study, if any, came up with those numbers. In looking around, I quickly discovered that there have been intelligibility studies with the Scandinavian languages. Unfortunately, they don’t look good for the case that this is all one language. The data is from a study conducted by the Nordic Cultural Fund from 2002-2005. Subjects were young people under the age of 25. The results can be seen here:

%            Danish    Swedish   Norwegian Average

Århus 	               37.4      46.8      42.1
Copenhagen 	       36        41.3      38.7
Malmö        50.8                49.7      50.2
Stockholm    34.6                55.6      45.1
Bergen 	     65        61.5                63.2
Oslo 	     65.7      71.2                68.5
Faeroe Is.   82.8      57.5      70        70.1
Iceland      53.6      33.4      34        41.9

The highest score of all is Faroese-Danish. Faroese understand 82.8% of spoken Danish. However, this is contaminated by the fact that all Faroese must begin taking Danish classes at Grade 3, and they are tested at Grade 9 to see if they can go on to a higher level.

From www.faeroe.fo

Faroese is the official language of the ‘fólkaskúli’, and it is the first language that students are taught. Students then begin to learn Danish in third grade and English in fourth grade. In eighth and ninth grade, the curriculum consists of a number of compulsory subjects which prepare the students for upper secondary school and a range of optional subjects from which the students can choose. At the end of ninth grade, students need to pass an exam that gives them entry to upper secondary schools.

The worst scores of all are for Iceland. Icelandics understand only 34% of Swedish and 33.4% of Norwegian.

Although not tested, the intelligibility of Faroese and Icelandic is one way. The Faroese understand the Icelandic, but not the other way around. This is due to dipthongization and other phonological things in Faroese.

Malmö is located in Scania in the south of Sweden where they speak a dialect called Scanian that is closer to Danish. That is why Malmö understands Danish better than Stockholm does.

Based on the notion that >90%+ intelligibility would be the minimum necessary to say that these lects are all one language, the notion that these five languages, much less that big three, are all one language is simply not supported by the available data. In fact, we are not even able to combine even two out of the five into a single language. Hence, all five Scandinavian languages are separate languages, not dialects of one or more macrolanguage.

Are they close? Sure. Are they all one language? Sure doesn’t look like it. Could a speaker of one quickly pick up another one. Quite possibly.

References

Delsing, Lars-Olof and Åkesson, Katarina Lundin. 2005. Håller Språket Ihop Norden? In Forskningsrapport Om Ungdomars Förståelse Av Danska, Svenska Och Norska. Data above is from Figure 4:11: “Grannspråksförståelse bland infödda skandinaver fördelade på ort”, p.65, and Figure 4:6: “Sammanlagt resultat på grannspråksundersökningen fördelat på område”, p.58.
Maurud, Ø. 1976. Nabospråksforståelse I Skandinavia. In Undersøkelse Om Gjensidig Forståelse Av Tale- Og Skriftspråk I Danmark, Norge Og Sverige. Nordisk Utredningsserie 13. Nordiska Rådet, Stockholm.
Smith, Norval. Linguistics professor, Netherlands. July 2013. Personal communication.
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Filed under Danish, Dialectology, Germanic, Icelandic, Linguistics, Norwegian, Sociolinguistics, Swedish