Category Archives: Isolates

Is There a Language That is (Nearly) Impossible to Learn to Speak Without Growing up with It?

Answer from Quora

I recently talked to a man who is learning Min Nan, which is a Sinitic language often called a dialect of Chinese. He told me that Min Nan speakers say that the tones are so hard that no one who doesn’t grow up speaking Min Nan ever seems to get it very well.

Cantonese is a similar language that is very difficult. It is much harder than Mandarin, and many native Mandarin speakers say they tried to learn Cantonese and gave up on it because it was too hard. Cantonese has nine tones.

Basque is said to be very hard to learn unless you grow up with it. There is a joke that the Devil spent seven years trying to learn Basque, and he only learned how to say Hello and Goodbye.

Navajo would also be hard. Even Navajo children struggle quite a bit learning Navajo and don’t seem to get it well until maybe age 12. When Navajo children arrive at school, they often do not speak Navajo well yet.

Korean is a surprise, but apparently it is very hard to learn well. A native Korean speaker told me that Korean is so hard that no Korean speaker ever speaks it with 100% accuracy, and everyone makes errors.

Czech is also hard. Even most Czech speakers never get Czech all the way. They have TV contests in Czechoslovakia where they try to stump native speakers with hard forms in the language. If you can last 30 minutes without making even one error, you win. I think only two men have been able to do it, but one was a non-native speaker!

Piraha, spoken in the Brazilian Amazon, is also very hard. Over the course of a few centuries, several Portuguese speaking priests had tried to learn Piraha, but they had all given up because it was too hard. And these same priests had been able to master a number of other Indian languages, but Piraha was just too much. Daniel Everett learned the language and wrote important papers on it. He is only of the only non-native speakers who was able to learn the language.

Tsez, spoken in the Caucasus, is also murderously hard. Every verb can have over 100,000’s of possible forms. I understand that even native speakers make regular errors when speaking Tsez.

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Filed under Altaic, Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Basque, Brazil, Cantonese, Caucasus, Chinese language, Czech, Dene-Yenisien, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Isolates, Korean language, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Mandarin, Min Nan, Na-Dene, Navajo, Near East, Regional, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Slavic, South America

More on the Remains of Ancient Australoid “Indo-Pacific” Languages in India

Jm8: Might there have also been more than one language family among the proto-Australoid peoples of India I wonder (including Austroasiatic) (like there are in Australia and Papua today), since India is big and had been inhabited for a very long time (being among the longest inhabited areas outside Africa)?

It would be interesting to investigate the distribution of Austroasiatic influence over the various Dravidian languages to see where in India it is stronger.

This article suggests that Austroasiatic is not indigenous to India (but rather to south east Asia).

I had though that the Veddoid/early Australoid languages of India might be lost forever and only (maybe) partly reconstructible (in as few aspects) from their influences on other languages that replaced them. But if they were Austroasiatic (and represented by those languages surviving in Andra Pradesh), then that is not the case.

“The Vedda/Australoid people are speakers of the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. There is an Austroasiatic layer in both Dravidian and Indic. It is the oldest layer.”

That’s interesting. I thought Austroasiatic was associated with Southern Proto (Paleo?)-Mongoloids (like some of the Northeast Indian tribes — and Vietnamese is Austroasiatic). But maybe it predates the split between Australoid and Proto-Mongoloid peoples (some Paleomongoloid descendants of course still somewhat resemble Australoids, or did not that long ago in prehistory), which would be interesting. It’s it a very old and deep language family? I know there are some tribes in East Central India (Andra Pradesh I think) that speak Austroasiatic, and they look phenotypically a bit like something transitional between South Mongoloid and Australoid.

“I am not aware of theories showing Dravidian close to Australian languages.”

It might be discredited now (I’ll try to look into it, and the Austroasiatic influence on Dravidian, which is interesting). The theory (I think) was only that there might be a substratal influence of something like one of the Australian families on Dravidian (but still that Dravidian came mostly from somewhere the Middle East — or consistent with that idea anyway).

It might make sense that there is a substratal influence from “Indo-Pacific” languages such as those from the Andaman Islands and West Papua in Dravidian, but I have never heard of it. That would be an older layer underneath even the Munda layer in Dravidian.

There was no split between Australoids and Proto-Mongoloids. The former simply transitioned into the latter. Austroasiatic is associated with the Paleomongoloids and Neomongoloids of SE Asia. Austroasiatic is indeed old and deep, and the evidence for Austroasiatic is about as good as the evidence for Afroasiatic and Altaic. This doesn’t make sense because Afroasiatic and Austroasiatic are generally recognized families, but Altaic is not, although there evidence for the two former is no better than the evidence for the latter.

They were not lost forever as Kusunda, Nihali and the Vedda language substrate seem to be the remains of the tongues of the original Australoid speakers. The original tongues were not Austroasiatic – those languages came later. However, at the moment, most of the highly Australoid people in India speak a Munda language like Santhal. Apparently the Munda languages were once widespread over the whole continent, but most of them were replaced by Dravidian and Indic intrusions. In the more settled people, Dravidian and Indic replaced Munda languages, but in the tribals, the earlier Munda tongues lingered perhaps due to their inaccessibility living in the forest and the fact that the scheduled tribes are mostly outside the caste system.

Yes and the split between the Munda languages and the rest of the Austroasiatic is very deep. Austroasiatic can almost be split into Munda and non-Munda as two basic parts of the family. And there is not a lot left connecting the Munda languages to the rest of the family.

Kusunda, Nihali and the substrate of the Vedda language of Sri Lanka are thought to be the remains of the languages of the original Australoid speakers. These languages may be related to the Andaman Islands languages and Papuan languages. I know there is a connection between Kusunda and Andaman Islands languages and West Papuan tongues. There is some theorized relationship with such “Indo=Pacific” tongues and Nihali and the Vedda substrate also.

Yes, the Mundas came into India relatively lately and surely replaced nearly all of those original Andaman/Papuan languages of the Australoid people.

At the moment, Kusunda and Nihali are isolates, and even the Andaman tongues are split into two different families, so right now there are already separate language families among these Australoid people.

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The Influence of the Tongues of Australoid/Vedda People in India on Dravidian Languages

Jm8: I wonder what influence the languages of the proto-Australoid/Veddoid peoples had on modern Dravidian languages. It seems pretty clear that Dravidian came primarily from a Near Eastern family also ancestral to Elamite (Elamo-Dravidian) in Iran and reached India around the Neolithic. But I wonder if Veddoid peoples’ languages could have a substratal influence on Dravidian (or at least some Dravidian languages—esp those farther south or the tribal ones), even perhaps playing a role in its divergence from its Elamo-Dravidian root; depending on where Dravidian truly diverged (e.g: If it diverged within the Indian subcontinent—like around Pakistan/NW India—, where proto-Australoid peoples lived).

The influence of those peoples might be hard to assess. I recall a while ago reading about an old theory that Dravidian had some grammatical similarities to certain Australian Aboriginal languages (Northern maybe?).

But did these similarities also exist I wonder in the one surviving Dravidian language of the North, Brahui in Pakistan, whose speakers presumably have much less native proto-Australoid ancestry?

One might possibly also check for similarities to Andamanese languages (a bit of a long shot I know).

The Vedda/Australoid people are speakers of the Munda branch of Austroasiatic. There is an Austroasiatic layer in both Dravidian and Indic. It is the oldest layer.

I am not aware of theories showing Dravidian close to Australian languages.

There is a moribund language spoken in Nepal called Kusunda which appears to be related to West Papuan the Andaman Islands languages.

Keep in mind that in mainstream Historical Linguistics (which has deviated far away from anything sane anymore anyway), there is no Papuan language family. Instead, Papua is divided into 37 separate language families and 20 isolates. They also say there is no Australian language family,  although I believe R. W. Dixon made a case for one. Instead we have 20 different language families and four isolates in Australia. And they do not posit that the Andaman languages form a coherent family. There are two separate families even in the Andaman Islands, with Ongan and Greater Andamanese, with no demonstrated relationship between them. I have looked at the Andaman languages, and trust me, some of them are extremely far apart.

The people positing that Papuan, Australian and Andaman are language families or even that all three together form a single family called Indo-Pacific (Joseph Greenberg’s hypothesis) are all long-rangers whose views are not accepted in mainstream linguistics. However, Steven Wurm accepts a much-modified and more conservative view of Greenberg’s theory.  In addition, it appears that Trans New Guinea, West Papuan, Greater Andamanese and some Timorese languages, all included in Greenberg’s Indo-Pacific, show striking similarities which to my mind could only be genetic.

At any rate mainstream Linguistics is very conservative as far as Historical Linguistics goes. The existence of Elamo-Dravidian, which should be obvious to anyone looking, is not even regarded as proven.

I have looked at Dravidian quite a bit, and I did not think it was even close to the putative Nostratic family of Northern Eurasia. Instead it seemed to be closer to Afroasiatic than anything else. If Elamite was spoken in Western Iran, and before that the proto-Dravidians were in the Levant (according to the old theories), then it would make sense that Dravidian would be closer to Afroasiatic than anything else.

Keep in mind that Afroasiatic is a very old family – it may be 13-15,000 years old. And the fact that it is even regarded as proven at all (yes there are some ultra-splitters who are now saying that Afroasiatic is not even real) shows how wrong Historical Linguistics is when they say that any relationships older than 8,000 years cannot be proven because they are beyond the means of the comparative method of Historical Linguistics. If anything over 8,000 YBP is unknowable as far as the comparative method is concerned, then how did we prove Afroasiatic which goes back 15,000 YBP?

But Comparative Linguistics has gotten totally offtrack. Whereas traditionally, we simply observed languages and threw them into families based on obvious similarities and only after that reconstructed, now they have it backwards. No matter how much the languages look alike, we can’t put them into a family unless we have reconstructed all the way back to the proto-languages and found regular sound correspondences. Only then do we prove relatedness.

But Linguistics never worked that way before. Relatedness was posited simply on observation, and only later was the hard reconstruction work with regular sound correspondences done.

According to Lyle Campbell, Joanna Nichols and others unfortunately at the top of Historical Linguistics nowadays, Sir William Jones could not have even posited the existence of an Indo-European family because we had not yet reconstructed Proto-Indo-European and its regular sound correspondences yet. See? They’ve got it backwards.

Anyway even IE is not well understood. How’s that Laryngeal Theory working out for you guys? Coming right along, right? Didn’t think so. Just as I thought.

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Filed under Aborigines, Afroasiatic, Anthropology, Asia, Australia, Comparitive, Dravidian, India, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Iran, Isolates, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Nepal, Pacific, Pakistan, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, South Asia

Repost: Historical Linguistics Mired in Stick in the Mud Conservatism

I have some folks in the field of Linguistics who are apparently my out and out enemies. Why they want to play like this is not known. I don’t want to fight with them. I’m not sure I want to be friends with them either since they are such total pricks and anonymous cowards, but jerks are better than enemies. They started it.

Here they profess to take this paper apart, but they do no such thing which is as usual for these pitiful jokers. Even the title is false. I’m not a STEMLord you boneheads. I’m  terrible at physical sciences. I got my degree in the same hokey social science that they did.

I am simply a social sciences dissident like Steven Pinker. Many of our fields are mired in all sorts of unproven or out and out false politically correct nonsense which passes as dogma simply because it is a political proper belief. This is because they believe what they want to believe. On the other hand, they get social science nihilistic on other things and insist that this or that is not proven, endlessly moving goalposts so it can never be proven. Or they state that many things are unprovable and unmeasurable. I can’t even begin to list the number of things in this field that are apparently unmeasurable. It’s hard to imagine that there is any question in science that is unprovable or unmeasurable. It just sounds like more goalposts-moving.

Historical Linguistics is one of the more brutal subfields in Linguistics, probably because you can hardly prove much of anything.

It involves looking at languages and arranging them into families and then arranging them in the families in a proper fashion. So an essential aspect of Historical Linguistics is the discovery of new language families and the elaboration of existing ones. The former is pretty much over in this field because this silly discipline has decided that there will be no more large or old language families discovered. Nonsensically, this has resulted in an utterly idiotic proliferation of insipid “isolates” which are languages that cannot be proven to be related to others. But actually, long-rangers have already stacked most all of the world’s languages into decent families and in their view there are no isolates left.

In addition, there are all sorts of idiotic small families with a couple to separate members, and said family is not related to anything else. I guess nothing’s related to anything then! The bizarre fact is that this preposterous fake science takes great pride in this silly nihilism. Obviously every language is related to every other language ultimately because surely language arose only once in mankind’s history.

Nevertheless, Linguistics insists that this obvious fact is not proven, so I guess it’s not even a fact. Instead the dead solid truth is that somehow there scores of isolates and silly small language families that have no relations. Surely that is a false conclusion. The only way it could be true is if language arose scores of times all the way down to a few thousand years ago.

There were scores of bands of humans who had no language whatsoever except grunts and sign language, and they all independently developed language scores of times in the last ~50,000 years. It was an incredible case of parallel development, the most amazing the world has ever seen. Because this is the only  way that Linguistics’ crazy conclusion could be true. So Linguistics is now stating essentially is that this is what happened – language being independently developed all over the world down to the last several thousand years. Dumb, huh?

Historical Linguistics also involves the reconstruction of dead languages or earlier aspects of existing languages. The dead languages have left no record and are often 7-10,000 years old. The earlier phases of existing tongues also have often left no record.

So it is unprovable guesswork guessing at what ancient languages looked like, with no real way to prove if anyone is right or wrong because the languages no longer exist.

On top of that, the field has become mired in stick in the mud conservatism such that I doubt if any new ancient language families are going to proven in my lifetime. The conservatives keep moving the goalposts, and no evidence is ever good enough. Linguistics is ecstatic about this because endlessly moving the goalposts so you can never prove anything anymore means that Linguistics is now really groovy and scientific and this cures their physics envy.

Really it’s just another fake science in the social sciences, although a lot of the more basic work is indeed factually and empirically based. So the field encompasses a lot of excellent empirical based work. In addition, there are a number of preposterous leftwing shibboleths that everyone in the field has agreed are settled truth. Linguistics has adopted these silly ideas because they are leftwing and PC, and the field is at the heart of SJW Central Command. Mixed in with these silly politically based agreed upon facts (for which there is typically no evidence whatsoever) there is this prideful stubbornness and ultra-conservative attitude in Historical Linguistics because the way to be all sciency is to deny forever more any new language families. Because that cures our physics envy and makes us feel all sciency.

Actually many of the long-rangers have gathered excellent evidence for their work, all of which is rejected. For instance, Altaic now has a 1,000 page etymological dictionary of all things and there are many reconstructed forms and a great deal of commonality in basic morphology, core vocabulary, pronouns and language structure. We also have quite a few actual paradigms which are impossible to derive in unrelated languages. The long-rangers churn out many papers and here is where the real science is. They are doing dramatic work and proving  a lot of new things.

On the other hand, the fake science folks on the other end chant over and over in Gregorian fashion, “You didn’t prove it. You didn’t prove it. You didn’t prove it.” No matter what evidence is assembled and presented, the response is always this autistic nihilism of “You didn’t prove it.” The arguments of many of the deniers have been destroyed already. The deniers now take the preposterous position that there has been mass borrowing of personal pronouns in Asia and the Americas in particular. Such mass borrowing of personal pronouns would have had to have taken place on a scale almost never seen on Earth. In fact, personal pronouns are borrowed only very rarely. In Altaic we have pronoun paradigms cascading down through person and number, all lined up like the Marines in perfect formation.

This is waved away with “You didn’t prove it.” In fact, the standard line in Linguistics as voiced with complete seriousness by one of the top linguists in the field is that the stunning pronoun paradigms in Altaic were all borrowings. That statement is insipid on its face. It doesn’t even qualify as theory because it’s not even possible. They might as well say, “Bats flew out my butt” as there  was mass borrowing of entire pronoun paradigms.

In addition, Altaic has a huge amount of core vocabulary in common including forms that match in say Turkish and say Evenki. Apparently the Evenki and the Ottomans borrowed from each other. How? Bats flew out my butt.

Typically and for many decades now, all of these cognates in core vocabulary are said to be borrowings. There are specialists who spent most of their careers ferreting out these “borrowings” most of which are actual cognates. These men frittered away a lot of their careers on a theory that is obviously false. For the only way Altaic could not be true is if this vast amount of borrowing actually took place. The level of borrowing of core vocabulary postulated for Altaic is on a scale that is far beyond the language borrowing we have seen anywhere else on Earth. In other words, it didn’t happen. Bats flew out my butt. Once again it fails even the hypothesis stage because hypotheses are supposed to be plausible and anti-Altaic fails that those grounds alone.

Being a Historical Linguistics conservative is the hip and cool thing to be in Linguistics, and the peer pressure in the field is worse than an eighth grade playground. If you take a liberal position that says that some ancient language family like Altaic exists, the peer pressure on you as a fraud, idiot, kook, crank and loser is unbelievable. I am amazed that there are any liberals left promoting daring new ideas on ancient language families.

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Simplification of Language with Increasing Civilization: A Result of Contact or Civilization Itself

Nice little comment here on an old post, Primitive People Have Primitive Languages and Other Nonsense? 

I would like to dedicate this post to my moronic field of study itself, Linguistics, which believes in many a silly thing as consensus that have never been proved and are either untrue or probably untrue.

One of the idiocies of my field is this belief that in some way or another, most human languages are pretty much the same. They believe that no language is inherently better or worse than any other language, which itself is quite a dubious proposition right there.

They also believe, incredibly, that no language is more complex or simple than any other language. Idiocy!

Another core belief is that each language is perfectly adapted for its speakers. This leads to their rejecting claims that some languages are unsuitable for the modern world due to lack of modern vocabulary. This common belief of many minority languages is obviously true. Drop a Papuan in Manhattan, and see what good his Torricelli tongue does him. He won’t have words for most of the things around him. He won’t even have verbs for most of the actions he sees around him. His language is nearly useless in this environment.

My field also despises notions that some languages are better suited to poetry, literature or say philosophy than others or that some languages are more or less concise or exact than others or that certain concepts or ways of thinking are better expressed in one language as opposed to another. However, this is a common belief among polyglots, and I would not be surprised if it was true.

The question we are dealing with below is based on the notion that many primitive languages are exceeding complex and the common sense observation that as languages acquire more speakers and civilization increases, one tends to see a simplification of language.

My field out and out rejects both statements.

They will tell you that primitive languages are no more complex than more civilized tongues and that there is no truth to the statement that languages simplify with greater numbers of speakers and increased civilization. However, I have shot these two rejected notions to many non-linguists, and they all felt that these statements had truth to them. Once again, my field violates common sense in the name of the abstract and abstruse “we can’t prove anything about anything” scientific nihilism so common in the intellectually degraded social sciences.

Indeed, some of the most wildly complex languages of all can be found among rather primitive peoples such as Aborigines, Papuans, Amerindians and even Africans. Most language isolates like Ket, Burashaski and Basque are pretty wild. The languages of the Caucasus are insanely complex, and that region doesn’t exactly look like Manhattan. Siberian languages are often maddeningly complex.

Even in China, in the remoter parts of China, language becomes highly differentiated and probably more complex. I know an American who was able to learn Cantonese and Mandarin who told me that at age 35, for an American to learn Hokkien was virtually impossible. He tried various schemes, but they all failed. He finally started to get a hold of the language with a strict eight hour a day study schedule. Anything less resulted in failure. Hokkien speakers that he spoke too said you needed to grow up speaking Hokkien to be able to speak the language well at all. By the way, this is another common sense notion that linguists reject. They say there are no languages so difficult that it is very hard to pick them up unless you grew up with them.

The implication here is that Min Nan is even more complex than the difficult Mandarin or even the forbidding Cantonese, which even many Mandarin speakers give up trying to learn because it is too hard.

Min Nan comes out Fujian Province, a land of forbiddingly high mountains where language differentiation is very high, and there is often difficult intelligibility even from village to village. In one area, fifteen years ago an American researcher decided to walk to a nearby village. It took him six very difficult hours over steep mountains. He could have taken the bus, but that was a four-day trip! A number of these areas had no vehicle roads until recently and others were crossed by vast rivers that had no bridges across them. Transportation was via foot. Obviously civilization in these parts of China is at a more primitive level, and it’s hard to develop Hong Kong-style cities in places with such isolating and rugged terrain.

It’s more like, “Oh, those people on the other side of the ridge? We never go there, but we heard that their language is a lot different from ours. It’s too hard to go over that range so we never go to that area.”

In the post, I theorized that as civilization increased, time becomes money, and there is a need to get one’s point across quickly, whereas more primitive peoples often spend no more than 3-4 hours a day working and the rest sitting around, playing  and relaxing. A former Linguistics professor told me that one theory is that primitive people, being highly intelligent humans (all humans are highly intelligent by default), are bored by their primitive lives, so they enjoy their wildly complex languages and like to relax, hang out and play language games with them to test each other on how well they know the structures. They also like to play tricky and maybe humorous language games with their complicated languages. In other words, these languages are a source of intellectual stimulation and entertainment in an intellectually impoverished area.

Of course, my field rejects this theory as laughably ridiculous, but no one has disproven it yet, and I doubt if the hypothesis has even been tested, hence it is an open question. My field even tends to reject the notion of open questions, preferring instead to say that anything not proven (or even tested for that matter) is demonstrably false. That’s completely anti-scientific, but that’s the trend nowadays across the board as scientistic thinking replaces scientific thinking.

Of course this is in line with the terrible conservative or reactionary trend in science where Science is promoted to a fundamentalist religion and scientists decide that various things are simply proven true or proven not true and attempts to change the consensus paradigm are regarded derisively or with out and out fury and rage and such attempts are rejected via endless moving of goalposts with the goal of making it never possible to prove the hypothesis. If you want to see an example of this in Linguistics, look at the debate around  Altaic. They have set it up so that no matter how much existing evidence we are able to gather for the theory, we will probably never be able to prove it as barriers to proof have been set up to make the question nearly unprovable.

It’s rather senseless to set up Great Wall of China-like barriers to proof in science because at some point,  you are hardly proving anything new, apparently because you don’t want to.

Fringe science is one of the most hated branches of science and many scientists refer to it as pseudoscience. Practitioners of fringe science have a very difficult time as the Scientific Establishment often persecutes them, for instance trying to get them fired from professorships. Yet this Establishment is historically illiterate because many of the most stunning findings in history were made by widely ridiculed fringe scientists.

The commenter below rejects my theory that increased civilization itself results in language simplification, as it gets more important to get your point across as quickly  as possible with increasing complexity and development of society. Instead he says civilization leads to increased contact between speakers of different dialects or language, and in such cases,  language must be simplified, often dramatically, in order for any decent communication to occur. Hence increased contact, not civilization in and of itself, is the driver of simplification.

I like this theory, and I think he may be onto something.

To me the simplification of languages of more ‘civilized’ people is mostly a product of language contact rather than of civilization itself. If the need arises to communicate with foreign people all of the time, for example in trade, then the language must become more simple in order to be able to be understood by more people.

Also population size matters a lot. It has been found that the greater the number of speakers, the greater the rate of language change. For example Polynesian languages, although having been isolated centuries or even millennia ago, still have only minor differences from one another.

In the case of many speakers, not all will be able to learn all the rules of a language, so they will tend to use the most common ones. And if the language is split in many dialects, then speakers of each dialect must find a compromise in order to communicate, which might come out as simple. If we add sociolects, specific registers for some occasions, sacred registers, slang etc, something that will arise in a big and stratified civilization, then the linguistic barriers people will need to overcome become greater. So it is just normal that after some centuries, this system to simplify.

We don’t need to look farther than Europe. Most languages of the western half being spoken in countries with strong trade links to one another and with much of the world later in history are quite analytic, but the languages of the more isolated eastern part are still like the older Indo-European languages. Basques, living in a small isolated pocket in the Iberian Peninsula, have kept a very complex language. Icelanders, also due to isolation, have kept a quite conservative Germanic language, whereas most modern Germanic languages are ridiculously simplified. No one can argue in his sane mind that Icelanders are primitives.

On the other hand, Romanian, being spoken in the more isolated Balkans, has retained more of the complex morphology of Latin compared to West Romance languages. And of course advance of civilization won’t automatically simplify the language, as Turkish and Russian, both quite complicated languages compared to the average European tongue, don’t seem to give up their complexity nowadays.

On the other hand, indigenous people were living in a much more isolated setting compared to the modern world, the number of speakers was comparatively low, and there was no need to change. Also, neighboring tribes were often hostile to one another, so each tribal group sought to make itself look special. That is the reason why places with much inter-tribal warfare like New Guinea have so many languages which are so different from one another. When these languages need to communicate, we get ridiculously simple contact languages like Hiri Motu.
So language simplification is more a result of language contact rather than civilization itself.

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Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in Spain?

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. 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 .

In Spain, there is are several major languages such as Asturian-Leonese, Extremaduran-Cantabrian, Eonavian/Berciano, Basque, Catalan, Aragonese, Benasquesque, Galician and some odd forms of Portuguese. Murcian, Andalucian, Churro and Manchengo are very marginal cases, but are probably better seen as divergent dialects of Castillian.

With Catalan and Asturian-Leonese, you are absolutely in a situation of a different lect in every town or even village.

Eonavian is absolutely a separate language though it is not recognized. Berciano is the southern part of the Eonavian language.

There is definitely more than one language in Galician.

Cantabrian is actually a language and not a Spanish dialect. In fact, it is a part of the recognized language called Extremaduran.

There may be 3-4 languages inside Basque; surely there are at least two.

Benasquesque is actually a separate language between Catalan and Aragonese.

Occitan is only spoken as Aranese, but is probably a separate language.

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The Basque-Caucasian Hypothesis

I have gotten a lot of crap from my enemies for being on the Academia.edu site in the first place, but really anyone can join.

The following was posted by one of the reviewers in an Academia session by one of the leading lights of the Basque-Caucasian theory. As you can see, the mythological and multiple lines of genetic evidence are starting to pile up pretty nicely too. This is neat stuff if you are interested in the Basque-Caucasian link in addition to work going on into the remains of the Neolithic Farmers who were subsumed in the Indo-European waves. It turns out there is quite a bit left in different parts of Europe, especially in terms of Neolithic Farmer mythology.

From a discussion among academics and independent scholars on a paper on the Basque-Caucasian Theory in Historical Linguistics during a session in on Academia:

I am not a linguist but interested in the topic as it proposes a linguistic correlation between Caucasic languages and Basque, as it parallels my own current research on reconstructing European Paleolithic mythologies using ethnographic analogies constrained by on archaeogenetics and language macrofamily correlations.

Tuite (2006, 2004, 1998, 1997) has pointed out the hunter-gatherer beliefs and myth motifs shared across a ‘macro-Caucasic’ area to the Hindu Kush and into Western Europe. Basque deities Mari, Sugaar, and Ama Lurra and their associated mythologems have striking similarities to the macro-Caucasic hunter mythologies (not found in Finno-Ugric or Middle Eastern ancient mythologies.)

I am currently writing a paper identifying many examples of Southern/Western Gravettian art in Italy, Spain, southern France that appear to depict imagery only explicable by analogy to Macro-Caucasic religious myth and ritual.

With respect to mtDNA fossil genetics, three skeleton samples are from Paglicci Cave, Italy, ~25 cal BP: one is macro-N-mtDNA (homeland Caucasus/Caspian/Iran; currently highest frequencies Caucasus, Arabia), and two skeletons, RO/HV-mtDNA (homeland northern Middle East; currently highest frequencies, Basque, Syria, Gilaki, Daghestan).

During the later Magdalenian another diffusion occurs apparently by a similar route: HV4-mtDNA emerges in Belarus-Ukraine (~14±2 ka) and under Late Glacial Maximum HV4a (~13.5 ka) moves south and splits in the three refugia: southern Italy, southern Russia (HV4a1, ~10 ka), the Middle East (HV4a2, ~9 ka), and Basque area (HV4a1a, ~5 ka, suggesting full emergence of distinct Basque culture and language), (Gómez-Carballa, Olivieri et al 2012).

These studies further support the existence of a Macro-Basque-Caucasic mythological stratum as well as shared language substrate.

The cutting-edge liberal theory is that Basque (and some other odd far-flung languages) is part of the Caucasian language family. In other words, at one time, the Basques and the peoples of the Caucasus like Chechens were all one people.

What this probably represents is the ancient Neolithic farmers who covered Europe before the Indo-European invasion replaced almost all of the languages of Europe. All that is left is Basque and the peoples of the Caucasus. Everything in between got taken by IE except for some late movements by Uralic and Turkic speakers. Up in the north, the Lapp Uralic speakers are, like Basques, the last remains of the Neolithic farmers. The Sardinians also an ancient remaining group of these people, but their language has been surmounted recently by a Latinate tongue.

As it turns out, the Basques and Caucasians also share a number of cultural similarities. There are also some similar placenames. And there is some good genetic evidence connecting the Basques with the Caucasian speakers.

It’s all there, but the conservatives are balking, to put it mildly, about linking Basque with the Caucasian languages.

I have long believed in this theory.

I read a book over 20 years ago comparing Basque to the Caucasian languages and a few other distant tongues and thought the case was proved even via overkill by the book. And recent work is so super that one wonders why the conservatives are still winning. I feel that the link between Basque and the Caucasus languages is now proven to an obvious and detailed degree.

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Filed under Anthropology, Antiquity, Art, Asia, Basque, Belarus, Caucasus, Cultural, Eurasia, Europe, France, Genetics, History, Iran, Isolates, Italy, Language Families, Linguistics, Middle East, Near East, Regional, Russia, Spain, Turkic, Ukraine

A Look at the Basque Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Basque language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Basque

Basque, of course, is a wild language. There is an old saying that the Devil tried to learn Basque, but after seven years, he only learned how to say “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Many Basques, including some of the most ardent Basque nationalists, tried to learn Basque as adults. Some of them succeeded, but a very large number of them failed. Based on the number that failed, it does seem that Basque is harder for an adult to learn as an L2 than many other languages are. Basque grammar is maddeningly complex, and it often makes it onto craziest grammars and craziest language lists.

There are 11 cases, and each one takes four different forms.

The verbs are quite complex. The verbal complexity is because it is an ergative language, so verbs vary according to the number of subjects, the number of objects and if any third person is involved.

This is the same polypersonal agreement system that Georgian has. Basque’s polypersonal system is a polysynthetic system consisting of two verb types – synthetic and analytical. Only a few verbs use the synthetic form.

Three of Basque’s cases – the absolutive (intransitive verb case), the ergative (transitive verb case) and the dative – can be marked via affixes to the verb. In Basque, only present simple and past simple synthetic tenses take polypersonal affixes.

The analytical forms are composed of more than one word, while the synthetic forms are all one word. The analytic verbs are built via the synthetic verbs izan “be”, ukan “have” and egin “do”.

Synthetic:

d-akar-ki-o-gu “We bring it to him/her.” The verb is ekarri “bring”.

z-erama-zki-gu-te-n “They took them to us.” The verb is eraman “take”.

Analytic:

Ekarriko d-i-o-gu = “We’ll bring it to him/her.” Literally: “We will have-bring it to him/her.” The analytic verb is built from ukan “have”.

Eraman d-ieza-zki-gu-ke-te “They can take them to us.” Literally: “They can be taking them to us.” The analytic verb is built from izan “be”.

Most of the analytic verbs require an auxiliary which carries all sorts of information that is often carried on verbs in other languages – tense, mood, sometimes gender and person for subject, object and indirect object.

Jaten naiz.
“Eat I-am-doing.”
“I am eating.”

Jaten nintekeen.
“Eat I-was-able-to.”
“I could eat.”

Eman geniezazkiake.
“Give we-might-have-them-to-you-male.”
“We might have given them to you.”

In the above, naiz, nintekeen and geniezazkiake are auxiliaries. There are actually 2,640 different forms of these auxiliaries!

A language with ergative morphosyntax in Europe is quite a strange thing, and Basque is the only one of its kind.

The ergative itself is quite unusual:

Gizona etorri da. “The man has arrived.”

Gizonak mutila ikusi du. “The man saw the boy.”

gizon “man”
mutil “boy”
-a “the”

The noun gizon takes a different form whether it is the subject of a transitive versus an intransitive verb. The first sentence is in absolutive case (unmarked), while the second sentence is in the ergative case (marked by the morpheme -k).

If you come from a non-ergative IE language, the concept of ergativity itself is difficult enough to conceptualize, not to mention actually learn in an ergative language. Consequently, any ergative language will automatically be more difficult than a non-ergative one for all speakers of IE languages.

Ergativity also works with pronouns. There are four basic systems:

Nor: verb has subject only
Nor-Nork: verb has subject + direct complement
Nor-Nori: verb has subject + indirect complement.
Nor-Nori-Nork: verb has subject + direct + indirect complement

Some call Basque the most consistently ergative language on Earth.

If you don’t grow up speaking Basque, it’s hard to attain native speaker competence. It’s quite a bit easier to write in Basque than to speak it.

On the plus side, Basque verbs are quite regular. There are only a few irregularities in conjugations, and they have phonetic explanations. In fact, the entire language is quite regular. In addition, most words above the intermediate level are borrowings from large languages, so once you reach Intermediate Basque, the rest is not that hard. In addition, pronunciation is straightforward.

Basque is rated 5.5, nearly hardest of all.

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Filed under Applied, Basque, Isolates, Language Learning, Linguistics

Is Old High German Close to Old Persian?

I am going to republish this older piece that has been called into question. Supposedly this language is totally made up. However, that is almost certainly not true, although I am looking into it at the moment. A Croatian professor even wrote a 27,500 word dictionary of this language. I am enclosing here 97 different references that discuss this language in the hopes that this puts an end to the Gan-Veyan controversy once and for all.

Beatrix writes:

Robert,Is it true that 1,000 yrs ago a German & a Persian spoke basically the same language?

No, it is not  true at all that Old German and Old Persian were the same language 1,000 years ago.

However there are some Croatian dialects such as Archaic Islander Čakavian spoken on the islands off the coast of Croatia that are quite similar to Persian or Iranic. They are actually closer to Kurdish and Zazaki though. They are actually completely separate languages, as the lexical similarity with Croatian is only 4%! There is a theory that the pre-Slavic Croatians may have come originally from Persia, and there may be something to that.

These ancient tongues are the remains of the pre-Slavic languages spoken in this area before the Slavs came. The language that these tongues are closest to is called Liburnian. The Liburnians inhabited that region thousands of years ago. Liburnian is an ancient Indo-European language.

I did a study on one of those old languages, an Archaic Islander Čakavian tongue called Gan-Veyãn. I obtained a short dictionary of Gan-Veyãn and went through half of it from M-Z looking on my guesses as where the roots seemed to have originated. The results were remarkable and are listed in order with the language with the most roots first and the language with fewest roots last.

  • Indic
  • Persian
  • Avestan
  • Hittite
  • Akkadian
  • Basque
  • Tocharian
  • Sumerian
  • Lithuanian
  • Aramaic
  • Hurrian
  • Etruscan
  • Gothic
  • Russian
  • Ukrainian
  • Celtic
  • Kurdish
  • Armenian
  • Latin
  • Arabic
  • Mittani
  • Apian
  • German
  • Geez

I will go down the list now and describe these languages.

Indic means all of the Indo European or IE languages related to Hindi.

Persian is well known.

Avestan is best described as Old Persian.

Hittite is an ancient IE tongue formerly spoken in Turkey.

Akkadian is a language isolate formerly spoken in Iraq by the people of that name who had a kingdom there.

Basque is the well known language isolate and pre-IE language spoken in northeastern Spain. Although it formally has no relatives, I would say it is related to NE Caucasian languages like Chechen. In fact the placename Iberia has deep connections to the land of Georgia.

Tocharian is an ancient IE languages formerly spoken by Caucasian people who lived in what is now Xinjiang in far western China where the Uyghurs now live.

Sumerian is an ancient tongue, a language isolate formerly spoken in the Sumerian Kingdom in Iraq.

Lithuanian is interesting because for some reason it is one of the most archaic living IE languages.

Aramaic of course is the language of Jesus spoken in the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and Turkey. It is still spoken by Assyrian Christians in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to this day.

Hurrian is an ancient IE language like Hittite formerly spoken in Turkey.

Etruscan is an ancient language isolate formerly spoken in Italy.

Gothic is the ancient Germanic language of the Visigoths who lived not only in Germany but also in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Russian and Ukrainian are well known. This ancient language may have roots close to these two Slavic languages because in a way Russian and Ukrainian are ancient Slavic languages being heavily based on Old Church Slavonic, a liturgical language that originated in northeastern Greece with roots close to Old Slavic or even Proto-Slavic.

Kurdish is the well known Iranic language of the Kurds.

Armenian is a living language, but it is rather ancient and archaic as IE languages go.

Latin is well known and these islands were part of the Roman Empire for a while.

Arabic is well known and quite a few languages along the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea have some Arabic in them.

Mittani is a language isolate formerly spoken around northern Iraq and Iran that nevertheless seems to have some relationship with Indo-Iranian languages.

Apian is an ancient IE language formerly spoken in Italy.

German is well known. How German words got into this language is a head scratcher but Croatia itself is quite close to Germany as a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had German as an official language.

Geez is the ancient language of the Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic Christians which was thought to be long dead. However a family in Cairo was recently discovered who spoke Geez at home.

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Filed under Afroasiatic, Arabic, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Basque, German, Germanic, Indic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Irano-Armenian, Indo-Irano-Armeno-Hellenic, Isolates, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Russian, Semitic, Slavic, Tocharian

Answers to the Languages of Spain Post

Map of the languages of Spain.

Map of the languages of Spain.

There are nine languages in the map above.

You folks were not able to answer all nine of them correctly, so I will give you the answers.

Pink – Catalan

Light green – Aranese or Occitan (no one got this one)

Purple – Aragonese (no one got this one)

Aquamarine – Basque

Red – Castillian

Green – Asturian-Leonese

Yellow – Galician

Dark green – Extremaduran (no one got this one)

Brown – Fala (no one got this one)

Aranese is the Aranese dialect of Occitan which is either a separate language or a dialect of Occitan depending on how you look at it. Fala is actually a dialect of Galician but it is considered a language for sociopolitical reasons. There is another part of the dark green Extremaduran language which is typically not recognized. This is Cantabrian, spoken to the east of the green Asturian-Leonese area and to the west of the aquamarine  Basque area.

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Filed under Aragonese, Asturian, Basque, Catalan, Europe, Galician, Geography, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Isolates, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Leonese, Linguistics, Maps, Occitan, Regional, Romance, Spain, Spanish