Category Archives: Indo-Hittite

A Look at the Persian Language

From here.

This post will focus on how hard it is to learn Persian if you are an English language speaker.

Persian is easier to learn than its reputation, as some say this is a difficult language to learn. In truth, it’s difficulty is only average, and it is one of the easier IE languages to learn. On the plus side, Persian has a very simple grammar and it is quite regular. It has no grammatical gender, no case, no articles, and adjectives never change form. Its noun system is as easy as that of English. The verbal system is a bit harder than English’s, but it is still much easier than that of even the Romance languages. The phonology is very simple.

On the down side, you will have to learn Arabic script. There are many lexical borrowings from Arabic which have no semantic equivalents in Persian.

English: two (native English word) ~ double (Latin borrowing)
Note the semantic transparency in the Latin borrowing.

Persian: do (native Persian word) ~ tasneyat (Arabic borrowing)
Note the utter lack of semantic correlation in the Arabic borrowing.

Some morphology was borrowed as well:

library (has an Arabic broken plural)

It is a quite easy language to learn at the entry level, but it is much harder to learn at the advanced level, say Sufi poetry, due to difficulty in untangling subtleties of meaning.

Persian gets a 3 rating as average difficulty.


Filed under Afroasiatic, Applied, Arabic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Semitic

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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Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Danish, Dene-Yenisien, English language, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Na-Dene, Navajo, Norwegian, Oghuz, Polish, Romance, Russian, Slavic, Swedish, Turkic, Turkish

A Look at the Portuguese Language

From here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuando yo soy presidente, voy a cambiar la ley.

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

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

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

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

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

Compare I have worked.

In Spanish:

Yo he trabajado.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you

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

We saw them

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

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

Portuguese gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.


Filed under Applied, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Portuguese, Romance, Spanish

A Look at the Dutch Languages

From here.

Here we will look at the three languages in the Dutch family – Dutch, Afrikaans and Flemish, from the point of view of how hard they are to learn for a native English speaker. The main focus will be on Dutch, but Afrikaans will also be discussed. Flemish will be discussed only peripherally.

Dutch is harder to learn than English due to the large number of rules used in both speaking and writing. The Dutch say that few foreigners learn to speak Dutch well. Part of the problem is that some words have no meaning at all in isolation (meaning is only derived via a phrase or sentence). Word order is somewhat difficult because it is quite rigid. It helps if you know German as the rule order is similar, but Dutch word order is harder than German word order. Foreigners often seem to get the relatively lax Dutch rules about word order wrong in long sentences.

Verbs can be difficult. For instance, there are no verbs get and move. Instead, get and move each have about a dozen different verbs in Dutch. A regular Dutch verb has six different forms.

Dutch spelling is difficult, and Most Dutch people cannot even spell Dutch correctly. There are only two genders – common and neuter – as opposed to three in German – feminine, neuter and masculine. In Dutch, the masculine and feminine merged in the common gender. But most Dutch speakers cannot tell you the gender of any individual word. In the Netherlands now, most Dutch speakers are simply using masculine for most nouns other than things that are obviously feminine like the words mother and sister.

However, in Belgium, where people speak Flemish, not Dutch, most people still know the genders of words. Not only that but the 3-gender system with masculine, feminine and neuter remains in place in Flemish. In addition, in Flemish, the definite article still makes an obvious distinction between masculine and feminine, so it is easy to figure out the gender of a noun:

ne man, nen boom, nen ezel, nen banaan (masculine)
een vrouw, een koe, een wolk, een peer (feminine)

In addition, most Dutch speakers cannot tell you what pronoun to use in the 3rd person singular when conjugating a verb.

This is because there are two different systems in use for conjugating the 3sing.

The basic paradigm is:

hij      he
zij (ze) she
het      it

System 1
male persons       hij
female persons     zij
neuter words       het
animals            hij, unless noun = neuter
objects            hij, "       "
abstractions       zij, "       "
substances         hij, "       "

System 2
male persons       hij
female persons     zij
all animals        hij
all objects        hij
all abstractions   zij
all substances     het

For instance, melk is a common noun. Under system 1, it would be hij. But under system 2, it would be het because it is a substance.

Dutch has something called modal particles, the meanings of which are quite obscure.

Some say Dutch is irregular, but the truth is that more than Dutch has a multitude of very complex rules, rules that are so complicated that is hard to even figure them out, much less understand them. Nevertheless, Dutch has 200 irregular verbs.

Dutch pronunciation is pretty easy, but the ui, euij, au, ou, eeuw and uu sounds can be hard to make. Dutch speakers say only Germans learn to pronounce it correctly.

Dutch is almost being buried in a flood of English loans. While this helps the English speaker, others worry that the Dutch nature of the language is at risk.

Dutch seems to be easier to learn than German. Dutch has fewer cases, thus fewer articles and and adjective endings. There are two main ways of pluralizing in Dutch: adding -‘s and adding -en. Unfortunately, in German, things are much more complex than that. Dutch has only two genders (and maybe just a trace of a third) but German definitely has three genders. Verb conjugation is quite similar in both languages, but it is a bit easier in Dutch. Word order is the same: complex in both languages. Both languages are equally complex in terms of pronunciation. Both have the difficult ø and y vowels.

Dutch gets a 3 rating, average difficulty.

Afrikaans is just Dutch simplified.

Where Dutch has 200 irregular verbs, Afrikaans has only 6. A Dutch verb has 6 different forms, but Afrikaans has only 2. Afrikaans has 2 fewer tense than Dutch. Dutch has two genders, and Afrikaans has only one. Surely Afrikaans ought to be easier to learn than Dutch.

Afrikaans gets a 2 rating, very easy to learn.


Filed under Afrikaans, Applied, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Dutch, German, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics

A Look at the German Language

From here.

We will look at German from the POV of how hard it is to learn German, coming from the background of a native English speaker.

German’s status is controversial. It’s long been considered hard to learn, but many learn it fairly easily.

Pronunciation is straightforward, but there are some problems with the müde, the Ach, and the two ch sounds in Geschichte. Although the first one is really an sch instead of a ch, English speakers lack an sch, so they will just see that as a ch. Further, there are specific rules about when to use the ss (or sz as Germans say) or hard s. The r in German is a quite strange ʁ, and of common languages, only French has a similar r. The ç, χ and ‘ü sounds can be hard to make. Consonant clusters like Herkunftswörterbuch or Herbstpflanze can be be difficult. Of the vowels, ö and ü seem to cause the most problems.

There are six different forms of the depending on the noun case:


but 16 different slots to put the six forms in, and the gender system is irrational. In a more basic sense and similar to Danish, there are three basic forms of the:


Each one goes with a particular noun, and it’s not very clear what the rules are.

One problem with German syntax is that the verb, verbs or parts of verbs doesn’t occur until the end of the sentence. There are verbal prefixes, and they can be modified in all sorts of ways that change meanings in subtle ways. There are dozens of different declension types for verbs, similar to Russian and Irish. There are also quite a few irregular verbs that do not fit into any of the paradigms.

German also has Schachtelsätze, box clauses, which are like clauses piled into other clauses. In addition, subclauses use SOV word order. Whereas in Romance languages you can often throw words together into a sentence and still be understood if not grammatical, in German, you must learn the sentence structure – it is mandatory and there is no way around it. The syntax is very rigid but at least very regular.

German case is also quite regular. The case exceptions can be almost counted on one hand. However, look at the verb:


in which the direct object is in dative rather than the expected absolutive.

An example of German case (and case in general) is here:

The leader of the group gives the boy a dog.

In German, the sentence is case marked with the four different German cases:

Der Führer (nominative)
der Gruppe
gibt dem Jungen (dative)
einen Hund (accusative).

There are three genders, masculine, feminine and neutral. Many nouns that you might think would be feminine are actually masculine, for instance,  petticoat is masculine! Any given noun inflects into the four cases and the three genders. Furthermore, the genders change between masculine and feminine in the same noun for no logical reason. Gender seems to be one of the main problems that German learners have with the language. Figuring out which word gets which gender must simply be memorized as there are no good clues.

Phonology also changes strangely as the number of the noun changes:

Haushouse (singular)
Haeuserhouses (plural with umlaut)

But to change the noun to a diminutive, you add -chen:

Haueschen – little house (singular, yet has the umlaut of the plural)

This is part of a general pattern in Germanic languages of roots changing the vowel as verbs, adjectives and nouns with common roots change from one into the other. For instance, in English we have the following vowel changes in these transformed roots:

foul filth
tell tale
long length
full fill
hot  heat
do   does

Much of this has gone out of English, but it is still very common in German. Dutch is in between English and German.


For sick, we have:

krank      sick
kränker    sicker
kränklich  sickly
krankhaft  pathological
kranken an to suffer from
kränken    to hurt
kränkeln   to be ailing
erkranken  to fall ill

For good, we have:

gut     good
Güte    goodness
Gut     a good
Güter   goods
gütig   kind
gütlich amicable

German also has a complicated preposition system.

German also has a vast vocabulary, the fourth largest in the world. This is either positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. Language learners often complain about learning languages with huge vocabularies, but as a native English speaker, I’m happy to speak a language with a million words. There’s a word for just about everything you want to say about anything, and then some!

On the plus side, word formation is quite regular.

Pollution is Umweltverschmutzung. It consists, logically, of two words, Umwelt and Verschmutzung, which mean environment and dirtying.

In English, you have three words, environment, dirtying and pollution, the third one, the combination of the first two, has no relation to its semantic roots in the first two words.

Nevertheless, this has its problems, since it’s not simple to figure out how the words are stuck together into bigger words, and meanings of morphemes can take years to figure out.

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

vorschlagento suggest parses out to er schlägt vorto hit forth

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

Reading German is actually much easier than speaking it, since to speak it correctly, you need to memorize not only genders but also adjectives and articles.

German is not very inflected, and the inflection that it does take is more regular than many other languages. Furthermore, German orthography is phonetic, and there are no silent letters.

German, like Dutch, is being flooded with English loans. While this helpful to the English speaker, others worry that the language is at risk of turning into English.

Learning German can be seen as a pyramid. It is very difficult to grasp the basics, but once you do that, it gets increasingly easy as the language follows relatively simple rules and many words are created from other words via compound words, prefixes and suffixes.

Rating German is hard to do. It doesn’t seem to deserve to a very high rating, but it makes a lot of people’s “hardest language you ever tried to learn” list for various reasons.

German gets a 3.5 rating, moderately difficult.


Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, German, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics

Does English Grammar Have Rules?

From here.

One problem with English grammar is that it is a mess! There are languages with very easy grammatical rules like Indonesian and languages with very hard grammatical rules like Arabic. English is one of those languages that is simply chaotic. There are rules, but there are exceptions everywhere and exceptions to the exceptions. Grammatically, it’s disaster area. It’s hard to know where to start.

It is often said that English has no grammatical rules. Even native speakers make this comment because that is how English seems due to its highly irregular nature. Most English native speakers, even highly educated ones, can’t name one English grammatical rule. Just to show you that English does have rules though, I will list some of them.

*Indicates an ungrammatical form.

Adjectives appear before the noun in noun phrases:

Small dogs barked.
*Dogs small barked.

Adjectives are numerically invariant:

the small dog
the small dogs
The dog is small.
The dogs are small.

Intensifiers appear before both attributive and predicative adjectives:

The very small dog barked.
*The small very dog barked.

The dog was very small.
*The dog was small very.

Attributive adjectives can have complements:

The dog was scared.
The dog was scared of cats.

But predicative adjectives cannot:

The scared dog barked.
*The scared of cats dog barked.

Articles, quantifiers, etc. appear before the adjective (and any intensifier) in a noun phrase:

The very small dog barked.
*Very the small dog barked.
*Very small the dog barked.

Every very small dog barked.
*Very every small dog barked.
*Very small every dog barked.

Relative clauses appear after the noun in a noun phrase:

The dog that barked.
*The that barked dog.

The progressive verb form is the bare form with the suffix -ing, even for the most irregular verbs in the language:



The infinitive verb form is to followed by the bare form, even for the most irregular verbs in the language:

to be
to have
to do

*to was
*to are
*to am.

The imperative verb form is the bare form, even for the most irregular verb in the language:



All 1st person present, 2nd person present, and plural present verb forms are equivalent to the bare form, except for to be.

All past tense verb forms of a given verb are the same regardless of person and number, except for to be.

Question inversion is optional:

You are leaving?
Are you leaving?

But when inversion does occur in a wh-question, a wh-phrase is required to be fronted:

You’re seeing what?
What are you seeing?

*Are you seeing what?

Wh-fronting is required to affect an entire noun phrase, not just the wh-word:

You are going to which Italian restaurant?
Which Italian restaurant are you going to?

*Which are you going to Italian restaurant?
*Which Italian are you going to restaurant?
*Which restaurant are you going to Italian?

Wh-fronting only happens once, never more:

What are you buying from which store
Which store are you buying what from?

*What which store are you buying from?
*Which store what are you buying from?

The choice of auxiliary verb in compound past sentences does not depend on the choice of main verb:

I have eaten.
I have arrived.

*I am eaten.
*I am arrived.

cf. French

J’ai mangé.
Je suis arrivé.


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

Phrasal Verbs in English

From here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vorschlagento suggest parses out to er schlägt vorto hit forth

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


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

More Out of India Idiocy


This is the latest nonsense out of India purporting to undo the Aryan Migration Theory. It is written by high caste Hindu idiots for political reasons, namely to swipe back at South Indians and Dalits who claim that Aryans imposed caste Hinduism on them at the point of a sword. The fact is that South Indians misrepresent the case. The Aryans did not sweep into Northwest India, conquer the Dravidians, and push them south. The Aryans conquered in the north, and they bred in with and mixed with the locals. In time, caste Hinduism spread to the south of India.

Michael Witzel is probably the pre-eminent scholar of Sanskrit and the Aryan Migration question. Here is his response to this irresponsible study, which unfortunately was published in a peer reviewed journal. Briefly, the India Today piece completely misrepresents the study and the authors of the study also make many other misrepresentations of the data. I am afraid that this is the way Indians do science, just like they do everything else – with massive corruption and political overtones. As more and more Indians get into science, we can count on science becoming more and more corrupt and less and less scientific.

I asked Prof. M. Witzel about a popular news item in Indian English press.
Here is his reply.

Happy Holidays!
N. Ganesan

From Michael Witzel answering my question.

Well, Ganesan, I have answered that, based on my genetic etc. background info and info from my geneticist friends [who include Thangaraj, Pitchappan :-) ] — but this msg. has not appeared on IDDOLOGY@yahooo yet, where this “news” was broadcast a few days earlier…

Here a copy:

The INDIA TODAY article (below) bristles with misrepresentations and outright misinformation, in part by the authors of the genetic study mentioned here:

On Dec 11, 2011, at 7:19 PM, Sri Venkat wrote:
> Dinesh C. Sharma New Delhi, December 10, 2011 | UPDATED 10:22 IST
> Indians are not descendants of Aryans, says new study.
> <>

Briefly, it is well known that “The origin of genetic diversity found in South Asia is much older than 3,500 years when the Indo-Aryans were supposed to have migrated to India”. Geneticists point to the Out of Africa movement around 65-75,000 years ago. As a result, Reich et al. have shown that two ancient population segments evolved in South Asia around 40 kya, the ‘Ancestral North Indians’ (ANI), (genetically close to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans) and the ‘Ancestral South Indians’. Add another, Neolithic migration from the Greater Near East some 10,000 y.a.

Then, it is usually said that “migration of Indo-European speakers from Central Asia … was responsible for the introduction of the Indo-European language family.” Indeed. Indo-Aryan language, religion, etc. have been imported from the Ural steppes/Central Asia. Note the many *early*, pre-Vedic loan-words into *early* Uralic language, and now also loans from the Bactria-Margiana culture (2400-1600 BCE) into Indo-Aryan. By people with one or another genetic set-up (see below on R1a).

The rest of the so-called “Aryan Invasion” is an outdated 19th century theory, just as the early 19th c. one that imagined Indo-Europeans migrated out of India (as some Hindutvavadins now reassert!). There was indeed a movement northward out of South Asia/Greater Near East during the warm period around c.40,000 y.a., but that is some 38,000 years BEFORE Indo-Aryans even came into existence. (Same mistake made in the 2005 CA schoolbook fiasco!)
> “Our study clearly shows that there was no genetic influx 3,500 years ago,” said Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj.

Absolute genetic dates (just as in linguistic reconstructions) need to be supported by outside evidence, such as finds of skeletons. For the period around 1500 BCE, we still have error bars of 3000 years in genetic reconstructions, which makes pronouncements about a non-existent “Aryan” move into South Asia very moot indeed.

We will have to await the further, so far very uncertain resolution of the early Y chromosome R1a haplogroup (c. some 20-34,000 years old), to form an opinion. Ra1 has been attributed to speakers of Indo-European (as it is prominent in Eastern Europe), but it also occurs throughout South Asia, tribal populations included. We need to know which one of its unresolved sub-strains moved, when and where. We do not know that…yet.

When L. Singh says, “It is high time we re-write India’s prehistory based on scientific evidence,” we can only agree.

However, not when he says, “There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India or even something such as Aryans existed”.

Dr Singh does not understand that Indo-Aryan language (and religion) simply could not exist in thin air. You need a population. Obviously they had Ural area ancestors, whatever their genetic set-up upon entering from Afghanistan.

Even his assertion, “If any migration from Central Asia to South Asia took place, it should have introduced apparent signals of East Asian ancestry into India” is patently wrong as Eastern elements entered Central Asia only much later.

For further details see my recent message to the IER list.


Sequel to my last, general comment:

1. First of all, it is rather unfortunate that the authors of the paper have highlighted the “Aryan Invasion Theory” in their summary and later on as well. That is 19th century talk!

Since at least the 1950s (FBJ Kuiper 1955, Przyluski even in 1920s, etc.), Indologists have stressed the complex interactions between Indo-Aryan speakers and local speakers both in the Greater Panjab and beyond, from the oldest text (Rgveda, c. 1200-1000 BCE) onward, which has some clear non-IA poets and kings. The great, late Kuiper’s last paper (2000) has the title a “bilingual poet”.

Since 1995, I too have written about acculturation, and that maybe “not one gene” of the Ural steppes people had survived by the time the pastoral Indo-Aryan speakers arrived in the Greater Panjab (via the Central Asian river pastures/Tienshan/Pamir meadows, the BMAC, Hindukush, etc., with many chances for gene flow from all these areas).

That Indo-Aryan language, religion, ritual etc. have been imported from the Urals/Central Asia (note the *early* loan-words into Uralic, and now also BMAC loans words into Indo-Aryan!) is beyond any reasonable doubt. By people with one or another genetic set up, — which one that is the question.

I will await the further resolution of the Y chromosome haplogroup Ra1* –note the “western” affinities in the paper of Brahmins and Ksatriyas even in U.P. — as to see exactly which genetic strain may have entered South Asia around 1500 BCE, — if any.

2. Co-author Lalji Singh says as per the article in DNA :

“We have conclusively proved that there never existed any Aryans or Dravidians in the Indian sub continent. The Aryan-Dravidian classification was nothing but a misinformation campaign carried out by people with vested interests,” Prof Lalji Singh, vice-chancellor, Banaras Hindu University, told DNA.”

Again harking back to *supposed* British interests in the 19th century. But, the two language groups definitely are as separate as they are from Bantu, Chinese or Papua. Indo-Aryan is definitely not = Dravidian language or its original culture, just as little as Basque, Uralic are not Indo-European. Confusion of language, genes, ethnicity, etc.

Well, Lalji has stayed at Hyderabad for a long time. Did he ever try to speak Hindi/Urdu to native, mono-lingual Kannada speakers? He would had have as little luck as I would have with any Indo-European language in Estonia, Finland or Hungary.

Why does he have to comment about things (language, culture) that he does not understand?

““The study effectively puts to rest the argument that south Indians are Dravidians and were driven to the peninsula by Aryans who invaded North India,” said Prof Singh, a molecular biologist and former chief of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.”

Same mistake. Of course, South Indians are Dravidian speaking. And they even are genetically (ASI) different from North Indians (ANI), which this co-author should know from his own (and D. Reich’s) paper. Same confusion of genetics, language, ethnicity (“race”)…

The idea of Aryans “driving Dravidians’ South”, too, is 19th century talk. See above. The reality is much more complex. For example, Frank Southworth has shown that Maharashtra was Dravidian speaking well into the Middle Ages, and Gujarat too has Drav. place names. There was a lot of give and take between the two language families, as is seen in the many Dravidian loans in Sanskrit, etc. and the many Indo-Aryan loans in Drav. languages.

3. Unfortunately, as some years earlier before, Gyaneshwer Chaubey chimes in: “According to Dr Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Estonian Biocentre, Tartu, Estonia, who was another Indian member of the team, the leaders of Dravidian political parties may have to find another answer for their raison d’être.”

A clear, political statement based on wrong science: see immediately below. By Dravidian parties he means those restricted to Tamil Nadu. Well, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra too speak Dravidian, as do many tribes in Central India (Gonds, etc.)

“We have proved that people all over India have common genetic traits and origin. All Indians have the same DNA structure. No foreign genes or DNA has entered the Indian mainstream in the last 60,000 years,” Dr Chaubey said.”

Sorry, *all Indians* with the same DNA structure? Their own paper says differently. He could also say that all ex-Africa populations have the same genetic origin…

And no “foreign” genes? What about all these Persians, Greek/Macedonians, Saka, Kushana, Huns, Arabs 711 CE+, Muslim Turks (1000+, 1200 CE+), Mughals, Afghans 1700 CE, Portuguese, etc., British….? Sure, they all never had Indian wives…

“Dr Chaubey had proved in 2009 itself that the Aryan invasion theory is bunkum. “That was based on low resolution genetic markers. This time we have used autosomes, which means all major 23 chromosomes, for our studies. The decoding of human genome and other advances in this area help us in unraveling the ancestry in 60,000 years,” he explained.”

I hope he will learn to distinguish between the Out Of Africa migration, the Neolithic one from western Asia around 10,000 y.a. (detailed in this very paper!), and the trickling in of Indo-Aryan pastoral speakers c.1500 BCE??

4. Said geneticists *still* cannot distinguish between speakers of a particular language and their genes. Writing in English — are Lalji Singh and Gyaneshwer both Anglo-Saxons? Or me, for that matter?

It is one thing to explain genetic results to the gullible public, but to confuse them with wrong data from linguistics, archaeology etc. is despicable.

5. “According to Prof Singh, Dr Chaubey, and Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj, another member of the team, the findings disprove the caste theory prevailing in India.”


“Interestingly, the team found that instead of Aryan invasion, it was Indians who moved from the subcontinent to Europe. “That’s the reason behind the findings of the same genetic traits in Eurasiain regions,” said Dr Thangaraj, senior scientist, CCMB.

Well, as detailed in my last note, the well-known northward movement into N. Eurasia from South Asia during the warm period around 40,000 years ago, has NOTHING to do with the 19th century’s “Aryan Invasion,” dated around 1500 BCE! I suppose they can count and calculate?

6. Finally, the unavoidable dot on the i, from the ubiquitous Dr K., — who has nothing to do with this genetic paper or topic. Bad choice by the DNA newspaper!

“Africans came to India through Central Asia during 80,000 to 60,000 BCE and they moved to Europe sometime around 30,000 BCE. The Indian Vedic literature and the epics are all silent about the Aryan-Dravidian conflict,” said Dr S Kalyanaraman, a proponent of the Saraswathi civilization which developed along the banks of the now defunct River Saraswathi.”

Through Central Asia?? There is no evidence at all for this, neither archaeologically or otherwise. Central Asia — deserts and all — was settled, pace Wells, only much later. Dr K. is not up to date: Rumania was reached
already by 42 kya…

As for “Vedic literature and the epics are all silent about the Aryan-Dravidian conflict”, he should re-read the Rgveda (in Sanskrit), not the outdated 100 year old English translation of Griffith. The non-Indo-Aryan speaking populations there (Dasyu, Daasa) clearly are in conflict with Indo-Aryan speakers…

Finally, having studied *administration* (PhD Manila), he is not up to date on archaeology either. The Harappan civilization developed in the Piedmont west of the subcontinent (see books by the late G. Possehl) and it spread eastward, also to the Ghagghar-Hakra river, which Dr K anachronistically calls, in Hindutva fashion, Sarasvati — well before the river got its Vedic name, c.1200 BCE.

In sum: for all discussants: as the old proverb has it, “shoemaker, stick to your own tools”!

‘nough said.


On Dec 11, 2011, at 11:50 AM, Michael Witzel wrote:

> This paper  has been out for a few days, and I got a copy from a co-author, one of my Estonian friends.
> I have immediately protested to them and have also critiqued the comments published by DNA. Note that the latter comments are attributed just to three (not all!) Indian co-authors, but do not come from the slew of other authors. The reason, as usual, seems to be politics and notoriety (to attract more finances?)
> To set the record straight, a few general remarks first:
> 1. There is nothing new in the result about an early Out of Africa movement (to South Asia) of *anatomically modern humans* (not Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo Erectus) at c. 65-75 kya. There are some hints about earlier dates but they are based on debatable stone artifacts, not skeletons.
> 2. And we also knew well about the movements from there to northern Eurasian areas during the warm period around c. 40,000 BCE: archaeologically attested by skeletons, both in the Beijing area (Zhoukoudian c.40 kya, via S.E. Asia), and in Europa (Rumania, c. 42 kya).
> See my friend Peter Underhill (Stanford) et al. 2010 paper:
> 3. Obviously this early movement has nothing to do with the current Hindutvavadin theory of an “Out Of India” move of the Indo-Europeans, who would have settled Europe: that would be tens of thousands of years later. (The same mistake was made during the CA schoolbook affair … by a CA biologist! They never learn…)
> For a popular overview with maps see St. Oppenheimer’s website  or that of the National Geographic.
> Around 40,000 BCE there were neither “Aryans” nor Indo-Europeans around, not even speakers of the giant Nostratic language family, at best of the still earlier hypothetical Borean super-language family, proposed by my friend, the Africanist Harold Fleming (see WIKI). Likewise, no Dravidian language family yet, which may in fact be part of Nostratic anyhow.
> This northward move is a general phenomenon, as is the subsequent severe contraction southward during the last Ice age around 20 kya, when the four or five major human types (not “races”) developed in isolation: Europe, S.Asia, (Sunda Land: S.E. Asia), E. Asia, Sahul Land (New Guinea-Australia), — for example with two separate, independent mutations producing white skin color in Europe and in East Asia.
> 3. The paper by my Boston geneticist friend David Reich et al. has shown that South Asia has two ancient population segments evolving from the early Out of Africa people around 40 kya, the ‘Ancestral North Indians’ (ANI), (genetically close to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans) and the ‘Ancestral South Indians’ (ASI), so named after I had cautioned him and Nick Patterson about the political danger involving the naming of these groups. As you can see, even this nomenclature did not help to dispel preconceived Hindutva bias about “Aryans” and Dravidians.
> At 40 kya there were no “Aryans” and no “Dravidians” around yet.
> 4. If we then want to speak about “Aryans” (more correctly: speakers of Indo-Aryan language) and speakers of the early Dravidian language at all, we first of all have to disconnect language from ethnicity or “race”. I am not an Anglo-Saxon, just because I speak and write in English here, nor are Chaubey, Singh and Thangaraj.
> Language can change within 2 generations, as all Americans know and as Indians *should* know: not just in large cities, but also in tribal areas where people take over the dominant regional language, for obvious social reasons.
> The 3 Indian geneticists quote by DNA confuse language use with genetic setup, ethnicity, culture, religion etc. All of them easily (and *mutually*) transgress genetic boundaries.
> 5. If when then speak about Indo-Aryans or Dravidians at c. 3500 years ago, and want to link them with genetic data, we must take into account that all these studies are based on modern DNA, and depend on *assumed* mutation rates (going back to the Chimpazee-Human split of 5-7 million years ago); the genetic results thus provide good *relative* dates, but not absolute dates.
> Absolute dates (just as in linguistic reconstructions) need to be supported by outside evidence, such as finds of skeletons of anatomically modern humans, as mentioned above. (By the way these are earlier at Lake Mungo in Australia at c. 50 kya and Europe/China than in South Asia, where they only appear in Sri Lanka at c.30 kya. Facetiously: an Out of Australia migration to Eurasia?)
> 6. Worse, there are huge error bars in all these models. It may not matter very much if we have error bars of some 10,000 years for the Out of Africa move, but for the period around 1500 BCE, we still have error bars of 3000 years, which makes all pronouncements about a non-existent “Aryan” move into South Asia, based on current genetic data, very moot indeed.
> The “Western Asian/Central Asian” strain in northern India/Pakistan (as per this paper by Metspalu et al.) may well be due to Persian, Greek/Makedonian, Saka, Kushana, Hun, Arab (711 CE+), Islamic Turks 1000 CE/1200 CE, Portuguese etc. (1500 CE+) or British gene influx.
> I will await the further, so far very uncertain resolution of the Y chromosome R1a haplogroup to form an opinion. Ra1a has been attributed to speakers of Indo-European (as it is prominent in Eastern Europe) but it also occurs throughout South Asia, tribal populations included. We need to know which sub-strain moved: when and where.
> 7. All of which leaves most of the comments by Singh, Thangaraj and Chaubey high and dry. More about them in my next message.
> An interesting weekend, apparently. Luckily, the semester is over…

> Cheers,
> Michael

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Filed under Anthropology, Antiquity, Asia, Asian, Cultural, Dravidian, East Indians, Eurasia, Genetics, History, India, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Physical, Politics, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, South Asia, South Asians

Is Wurzel English a Separate Language?

Warren Port writes about Somerset English. See the link for a baffling sample of this strange form of English.

Admittedly it is a very bad English, and he is exaggerating for effect but I understand most of it except for the odd word. When I was twelve we moved from London to a tiny village called Cattcott ten miles from the Mendips where this recording is from. In the eighties there were some people who spoke that way, probably more diluted now.

I am a linguist. We don’t really call anything “bad English.” All dialects are as good as any other. I just figure if you can’t understand it, it’s a foreign language. I would like to split English into some separate languages because some of them pretty much are.

Really Wurzel is just as much of a valid way to speak English as any others. This man speaks Wurzel, and he is able to communicate just fine with other folks who also speak it, so it is a valid lect. The only problem is that rest of us English speakers speak another English language that is very far removed from this English language, so we can’t understand him. Someone ought to write this language down. It’s cool because it seems like it has a lot of new words that I don’t have in the English language that I speak.

At a minimum, as separate languages, I would probably split off:

Scots. There appears to be more more than one language inside Scots. Scots itself is already split off as a separate language. There appear to be 4 separate languages inside of Scots.

Doric Scots. Doric is spoken in the northeast of Scotland in Aberdeen, Banff and Buchan, Moray and the Nairn. It has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots.

Lallans Scots. This form of Scots is spoken in the south and central part of Scotland. This is the most common form of spoken Scots. Difficult intelligibility with the other lects.

Ulster Scots. This is the form of the Scots language spoken in North Ireland, mostly by Protestants. It has many dialects and has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots.

Insular Scots. Includes the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects. Spoken on some Scottish islands and is reportedly even hard for other Scots speakers to understand. Of all of the Scots lects, this one is the farthest from the others.

Scottish English. We can probably split this off as well because it is probable that there are Scottish English speakers who can’t understand pure Scots very well. While some British English speakers can understand this lect well, others have problems with it. In particular, the dialect of Glascow is said to be hard to understand for many Londoners.

Hibernian English. English spoken in Ireland. There seem to be some forms of Irish English such as the hard lect spoken by the spokespeople for the IRA and its political wing like Gerry Adams, that are very hard for Americans to understand. Some English people also have a hard time with Ulster English.

Geordie and related lects from the far north of England up around Scotland. These lects are spoken around Newcastle in the far north of England on the east coast. Even the rest of the English often have a hard time with Geordie, and when people talk about multiple languages inside English, Geordie is often the first one they bring up.

Scouse. Really hard Scouse is barely even intelligible outside of Liverpool, not even in the suburbs. There is a report of an American who lived in Liverpool for a long period of time, and after 8 years, she still could not understand the very hard Scouse spoken by young working class Liverpool women. While some speakers of British English can understand Scouse, this is mostly due to bilingual learning. Other speakers of British English have a hard time with Scouse.

Potteries. Spoken almost exclusively in and around the city of Stoke on Trent in northern West Midlands. The hard form is not readily understood outside the city itself. The dialect is dying out.

Welsh English. The hard forms of Welsh English are not readily understood outside the region. There are at least 4 separate languages inside Welsh English.

South Welsh English.Welsh English is not a single language but actually appears to be four separate languages. The varieties of South Welsh English spoken in Cardiff and West Glamorgan (Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot) cannot be understood outside the region. It is not known if West Glamorgan English and Cardiff English can understand each other well. North Welsh English, South Welsh English and West Welsh English are as far apart as Newcastle, Cornwall and Birmingham; therefore, all three of them are separate languages.

North Welsh English. This language is spoken in areas such as Anglesy and Llanberis. It often has a soft lilt to it that people find pleasant and soothing. Probably poor intelligibility with West and South Welsh English.

West Welsh English. This is spoken in places such as Aberystwyth and Cardiganshire. Those two dialects are said to be particularly pleasant sounding. Probably poor intelligibility with North and South Welsh English.

Monmouth English. This form of Welsh English reportedly cannot be understood outside of Monmouth itself. Monmouth is a city on the eastern edge of Wales towards the south.

Wurzel. In particular the hard Wurzel form of West Country English spoken in Somerset at least until very recently is not well understood outside of Somerset. In addition, many younger residents of Somerset do not understand it completely. It sounds similar to Irish and has a lot of new words for things. Hard Wurzel is dying out, and its speakers are mostly elderly. The language of Bristol may be possibly be included here.

Weald Sussex English. A variety of Sussex English spoken in the Weald region of Sussex was traditionally very hard for outsiders to understand. It is dying out now, but it still has a few speakers.

Newfoundland English. There are reportedly some hard forms of Newfie English spoken by older fishermen on the coast of the island that are very hard for other North Americans to understand.

Appalachian English. Some forms of Appalachian English from the deep hollows of West Virginia are hard for other Americans to understand.

Mulungeon English. Some of the English lects spoken by Mulungeon groups in central Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, particularly the lect spoken by the Monacan Indians living near Lynchburg, are very hard for other Americans to understand. They seem to have an archaic character and use a lot of new words for things that I could not identify when I heard it. This may be a type of English often said to be archaic from centuries ago that is still spoken in the mountains. The degree to which this is intelligible with the rest of Appalachian English is uncertain.

Tangier English. Spoken on an island off the coast of Virginia by fishermen, this is a relatively pure West Country English lect from 1680 or so that has survived more or less intact. When they speak among themselves, they are hard for other Americans to understand. The degree to which this can be understood by West Country English speakers in England is not known. Unknown intelligibility with Harkers Island English.

Harkers Island English. Spoken on Harkers Island off the coast of North Carolina on the Outer Banks. Has a similar origin to Tangier English. It is hard for outsiders to understand. The degree of intelligibility between Tangier English and Harkers Island English is not known.

New York English. There is a hard form of New York English, not much spoken anymore, that cannot be well understood at least here on the West Coast. Tends to be spoken by working class Whites especially in the Bronx. In general, this lect is dying out. In my region of California, we recently had a man who moved here from the Bronx, a young working class White man. Even after 2-3 months here, people still had a hard time understanding him. He did not seem to be able to modify his speech so he could be understood better, which usually means someone is speaking another language, not a dialect. Finally he learned California English dialect well enough so that he could make himself understood.

Nonatum English or Lake Talk. Spoken only in Nonatum, Massachusetts, one of 13 villages of the city of Newton, mostly by Italian-Americans. Many residents came from a certain village in the Lazio region of Italy. It appears to be a mixture of Italian and Romani, the language of the Gypsies. Not intelligible to those outside the village.

Yooper. Spoken mostly in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, this lect is also spoken in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula and in parts of northeast Wisconsin. Heavily influenced by Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Flemish and French, this lect is hard for outsiders to understand largely due to the influence of these other European languages.

African American Vernacular English or Ebonics. This lect is spoken by many Black people in the US, often lower class people in ghettos or in the country. The hard forms of it cannot be understood at all by other Americans. I once had two Black women in my car for an hour or so. They were speaking AAVE. Over that hour, I do not believe that I understood a single word they said. They may as well have been speaking Greek. Forms spoken in the ghettos of Memphis and in the Mississippi Delta by rural Blacks may be particularly hard to understand.

South African English. While some Americans can understand this hard dialect well, though with difficulty, others cannot understand it. It is not known how well speakers of other Englishes such as British and Australian English can understand this lect.

Jamaican Creole English. Jamaican English Creole is already split off as a separate language. At any rate, in its hard form, it is nearly unintelligible to Americans.

Gullah English Creole is a creole spoken on the Gullah Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Already split off into a separate language. Not intelligible to American English speakers.

Nigerian Pidgin English. The harder forms of this may be rather hard to Americans to understand, but this needs further investigation. The hard forms are definitely quite divergent and seem odd to many Americans. Already split off as a separate language.

Australian English. Some forms of Australian English can be hard to understand for people outside the continent. I found that a form spoken in rural Tasmania was particularly hard to understand. I even have a hard time understanding Helen Caldicott, the famous physician. Other forms spoken more in the rural areas of the main island can also be rather hard to understand. Nevertheless, I can understand “TV Australian” well. However, speakers of British English are able to understand Australian English well, so it is not a language but rather a dialect of British English.

New Zealand English. This is similar but different from Australian English. While most New Zealand English is readily understandable to Americans, some of it can be a bit hard to hear. In the video below, the announcer speaks in TV New Zealand English, which I actually found a bit hard to understand, but I could make out most of it. The comedians spoke in a strong rural New Zealand accent. I could make out a lot of it, but not all of it for sure. However, British English speakers can understand all of the dialogue in this video. New Zealand English is not a language but is instead a dialect of British English.

Indian English. Some of the Indian English spoken by speakers in India can be quite hard to Americans to understand. What we need to know is whether this is a first or second language for them. If they were brought up speaking this Indian English, then it is a separate language. If it is simply English spoken as a second language by a native speaker of Hindi or another Indian language then it is not a separate language. Requires further investigation.

In conclusion, it seems that there are at least 25 separate languages and 3 creoles/pidgins inside of macro-English. 1 other case is uncertain.


Filed under Africa, Americas, Australia, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Canada, Dialectology, English language, Europe, Germanic, India, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Jamaica, Language Families, Linguistics, Nigeria, North America, Regional, Scots, Sociolinguistics, South Africa, South Asia, USA

Somerset English


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.


Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Celtic, Danish, Dialectology, English language, Europe, European, Frisian, Gaelic, German, Germanic, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Irish Gaelic, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sociolinguistics, USA