Category Archives: Dialectology

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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Filed under Aborigines, Altaic, Amerindians, Anthropology, Applied, Asia, Basque, Cantonese, Caucasus, China, Chinese language, Cultural, Dialectology, Europe, Germanic, Indo-European, Isolates, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Mandarin, Min Nan, Near East, Papuans, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Russian, Science, Siberian, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics, Turkic, Turkish

The Chinese Language: The Wily Tiger That Cannot Be Tamed

Putonghua is the official version of Mandarin which the Communist government determined was to be the official language of the nation. It was created in 1949 and modeled mostly but not entirely on the variety spoken in Beijing.

Although Putonghua seems to be killing off a lot of dialects or even microlanguages, I have a feeling that this is mandatory. Nevertheless the process of accelerated language change in China (Why?) seems to be even catching up with Putonghua. For instance, Putonghua of course was modeled on the Beijing language. However, this was Beijing Mandarin of 1949, and it was also the language of the suburbs, not to the city.

Since then, Putonghua has taken off on its own and so has Beijing Mandarin with the strange result that the hard Beijing Mandarin of hutongs in the center of the city is now often unintelligible to Putonghua speakers! So this is a case of a standard language and the lect it was modeled off taking off via independent evolution such that 70 years later, the original lect is no longer intelligible with the Standard that was modeled on that very lect!

Chinese lects are wildly different, and tones adds another mess into the matter. This has shown up even in Putonghua, where some Putonghua varieties are now unintelligible with the rest of Putonghua due to severe influence of the local lects on the standard and possibly regional evolution of the standard! Hence even Putonghua seems to have split off into several languages itself! Thus Guangdong Putonghua, Anhui Putonghua, Shanghai Putonghua, Jianghuai Putonghua and Zhengcao Putonghua are no longer fully intelligible to Putonghua speakers outside the region!

In addition, Taiwan Mandarin, Tibetan Mandarin and Malay Mandarin have all taken off on their own independent evolutionary tracks such that these are no longer fully intelligible to Standard speakers either! So since 1949, Putonghua has split into at least 8 different languages that lack full intelligibility with each other!

It seems the Chinese tried to lasso that wily creature called the Chinese language to rein it in and domesticate it somehow, but the wily creature keeps slipping away due to its endlessly morphing patter.

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Filed under Asia, China, Chinese language, Dialectology, Government, Language Families, Left, Linguistics, Maoism, Marxism, Politics, Regional, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics

Linguistic “Science”: Let’s Get the Scientists out of Science and Let the Politicians Do Science Instead

As you saw in a previous article, the Chinese government, against all reason and for purely dishonest political motives, lies and says there is only one Chinese language, when in fact linguistic science (SIL) says there are 14 Chinese languages, and Sinologists argue that there are 2,000 Chinese languages!

Linguists let this slide because we have decided to cop out on one of the more important questions of our field, the divide between a language and a dialect. We are copping out because the scientific question itself is politicized as many scientific questions are. But linguists are cowards who are afraid of big, bad politics, so we have decided to just let politicians and other professional liars decide some of the more important questions of our field.

Dig this.

If you ask a linguist what the difference between a dialect and a language is, he will either quote some flippant classroom quote from Paul Weyrich 70 years ago, “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” or he will avoid the question altogether. The standard linguistic cop-out answer is,

Linguistic science has no way to determine what is a language what is a dialect because the question is political and not scientific.

Brilliant! Any time there’s any questions in your scientific field that you don’t want to answer because you’re cowards/sophists, you simply decide that it wasn’t a scientific question at all, instead it was a political question. Wa-la! Problem solved! Now we can get back to the really important stuff, like figuring how many Proto-Indo-European laryngeals there. You know, stuff that everybody needs to know.

But hey, what the Chinese government lies, I mean says, goes, and all of us linguistic “scientists” (snicker) go along with this anti-scientific BS because we have decided that this particular branch of so-called science is so stupid that we can’t even figure out if a given lect is a language or a dialect because we idiotically state that there are no criteria for making such a discernment.

So of course, we throw the scientific question over to the most honest people in the whole world, the politicians! Yeah! That’ll solve the problem. How bout all of us social “scientists” get together and decide to let the world’s politicians (venerable empiricists of course) decide the most important questions of our field because we are too stupid to figure them out on our own. Let’s get the scientists out of science and let the politicians do it instead. That’s what the official determination of linguistic “science” (snicker) is.

Pitiful. Just pitiful.

You wonder why people chuckle when you say the phrase “social science.”

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Filed under Chinese language, Dialectology, Government, Language Families, Linguistics, Politics, Science, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics

Massive Update of A Reworking of Chinese Language Classification

My Internet enemies (you know who you are) love to rip me to pieces over this stuff, but I suspect that is because they operate under the cover of anonymity plus the general loud-mouthed jerk “troll culture” of the Internet combines to provides a Linguisticus Sociopathicus that is seldom found in the hallowed halls of reserved academe.

The funny this is, if this Chinese work is so horrible, why has it earned praise from some of the world’s top Sinologists, who in fact actually assisted me with the project? Perhaps they should answer that. If I “know less about Linguistics than a Linguistics 10 student” then why do I sit on the review board of a peer-reviewed linguistics academic journal? Why did an 80 page paper of mine that will soon be published in a book make through two peer reviews and a dozen editors, including some of the world’s top Turkologists?

The funny thing is that I get along pretty well with other linguists outside of the Internet. We work together calmly, chat about this, that and the other, share papers and gather information from each other, all the things that academics do. I even get addressed as Dear Colleague. And then on the Internet, suddenly I’m so stupid I don’t know what a verb is. Whatever.

Anyway, a huge project of mine, A Reworking of Chinese Language Classification, has received a massive update. It underwent a ton of fixes, a lot of dead links were removed, and many matters were cleared up or explained better. Also the language count jumped by 200 from ~360 to 573. Now some of these may not be full languages and I may be exaggerating but I believe that using the 90% intelligibility criterion, there are a good 2,000 separate languages within Sinitic alone.

We simply cannot carve them out because the Chinese government will go crazy, and no Sinologist wants to make the Chinese government mad. The Chinese government lies and says there is one Chinese language with 3,000+ dialects in it, including such massive lects as Cantonese, Hakka, Min, Hui, Wu, Peng, Gan and Ji? Not to mention that Mandarin itself is of course not a single language but is actually a collection of scores or more languages inside of itself.

The project involves a brief description in English of the Chinese lects, stating such things as names, where they are spoken, the number of speakers, classification, degree of endangerment, linguistic history and development, classification issues, mutual intelligibility issues, dialects within, membership in language groups, the language/dialect question, anthropological history, sociolinguistic issues historical and modern, future trends, controversies, and sometimes more arcane linguistic data.

I am not trying to brag here and I am not real familiar with the literature, but my account of Chinese dialects is the most thorough such account I have ever run across so far in English. Now there may be better publications out there, but I am not aware of them. Further, most do not seem to have tackled the dialect vs. language problem.

Almost all of the good material on this stuff is in Chinese, and I do not read Chinese, so this caused massive problems, but I seem to be able to deal with them ok, as a lot of the research that I referenced was in Chinese and I am able to sort of make my way through it to get the gist of it despite the language barrier. I have also come up with a few native speaker informants who have given me excellent information on their particular lects. For instance, I recently ran into a speaker of something called Cambodian Teochew (I had no idea such a thing existed) who told me that the four SE Asian Teochew lects, Malay Teochew, Thai Teochew, Cambodian Teochew and Vietnamese Teochew, were not mutually intelligible. That is, there are four separate languages within Overseas Teochew alone! Unbelievable.

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Filed under Asia, Cantonese, China, Chinese language, Comparitive, Dialectology, Government, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Mandarin, Regional, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics

Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in Germany?

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

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

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

Danish spoken a bit up by the Danish border.

Sorbian is spoken in the central east.

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

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

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Danish, Dialectology, Dutch, Europe, Frisian, German, Germanic, Germany, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sociolinguistics

Why Use 90% As a Split Between Language and Dialect?

AP writes: A question: how is it decided that the cut-off between a language and dialect is 90% MI? Rather than 95% or 85%? Is there an agreed-upon standard?

There is no agreed-upon standard, as the whole dialect versus language and even the notions of mutual intelligibility can be fraught with much controversy in the linguistic community. However, there can be general agreement about a few things in these areas.

The difference of course is completely arbitrary, but above 90%, most speakers regard their comprehension as “full” or say things like “I understand it completely” and most people refer to the other lect as a dialect of a language as opposed to a separate tongue altogether.

Below 90%, it starts getting a lot more iffy, and down towards 80-85%, people start saying things like, “I understand most of it but not all!” and people start regarding the other tongue as possibly a separate language, although still tends to be quite a bit of controversy around whether the L2 is a separate language of a dialect of another language because the intelligiblity is so high.

Around 80% comprehension, it gets hard to talk about complex or technical things. Communication about such things is significantly impaired at this level. Also after studying Ethnologue for a very long time, I noticed that they tended to use 90% as a cutoff for language versus dialect most but not all of the time. This was most important in the huge section on Indian languages of Mexico, in which separate languages (part of a larger macrolanguage) are often spoken only a village away.

Some famous linguists who are acquaintances of mine (they have Wikipedia pages) told me that they thought that 90% was a good metric. Also I have a long article coming up as a chapter in a peer reviewed book being published out of Turkey. The main Turkologist I worked with on that chapter told me that he thought 90% was a good metric.

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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Speakers’ Mutual Intelligibility (MI) Perceptions: How Rough Speaker MI Characterizations Line Up with Actual MI Percentages

Many times, when asking speakers how much they understand of another language, a process known as determining mutual intelligibility (MI) of two languages, speakers will give you a rough impressionistic description of how much they understand of the other language, but they will not give you even an estimated % for how much they understood.

I have been studying the mutual intelligibility of different lects for years now. Most of my work has been in Slavic, Turkic, Germanic, Sinitic and Romance. Over that period, I have heard many offhand MI descriptions of two lects many times. I also heard a number of MI% estimates of the same two lects. In many cases a speaker would give me both an MI impressionistic description and an MI% estimates. After a while, I learned that some impressionistic MI descriptions lined up quite well with certain MI%’s.

Obviously the best way to determine MI between two lects is via a scientific MI study. However, these are not commonly done, and many researchers do not want to do them.

The typical situation for the linguist looking to estimate MI between lects is that no scientific study has been done on these two lects, nor is one likely to be done in the forseeable future. Linguists have to make use of the information we have at the moment, and linguists commonly give estimates for MI of pairs of lects that are not based on scientific studies. Raw MI estimates are used very commonly in Linguistics, even in academic Linguistics journals and books.

With that in mind, here are the results that I learned over years of MI study:

“I couldn’t understand it at all. I maybe recognized 3 words.” = 0-5% MI

“I understand almost nothing, no more than a few words.” = 5-10% MI

“I understood  handful of words here and there.” = 10-20% MI

“I can’t even get the gist of it.” 20-30% MI

“I can get the gist of it or the general meaning but not much else.” = 30-40% MI

“It’s hard to understand.” = 40-60% MI

“I can understand it, but not completely!” = 60-80% MI

“I understood almost everything” = 80-90% MI

Some variation of “I understood it perfectly, no problem.” = 90-100% MI

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An Overview of the Corsican and Sardinian Languages

Italian writes:

I’m surprised, I thought Corsican was close to the Tuscan dialect and part of the Central Italian languages, much unlike Sardinian?

This is correct, but in the north of Sardinia are two languages that are Sardinian-Corsican transitional. One is Gallurese, and the other is Sassarese.

Gallurese is close to Corsican and Sassarese and not as close to Logudorese and Campidanese to the south, which are the real pure Sardinian languages. Gallurese has only 81% lexical similarity with Sassarese. Some people say Gallurese and Sassarese are are just Corsican. Indeed, the Encyclopedia of Endangered Languages treats Gallurese as an outlying dialect of Corsican.

However, Gallurese is not even intelligible with itself, so the idea that it is a Corsican dialect seems dubious. For instance, Santa Teresa Gallurese (Teresino) and San Teodoro Gallurese are not intelligible with the rest of Gallurese. San Teodoro is transitional Gallurese-Logudorese, and Teresino is transitional Gallurese-Corsican.

Sassarese is close to Gallurese and Corsican and not as close to Logudorese and Campidanese to the south. Sassarese has to be seen as the same language as Gallurese due to claims that they are mutually intelligible, but such claims may be dubious.

Sassarese has much more Logudorese influence than Gallurese does. Gallurese has only negligible Logudorese influence. So in that sense, Sassarese and Gallurese are quite different.

Sassarese has a number of dialects. Sassarese is sometimes also known as Turritano. But strictly speaking, Turritano is the dialect of Porto Torres (Portotorrese), and Sassarese is the dialect of Sassari. The dialect of Valledoria is called Muddizzesu.

Typologically, Sassarese is a mix between Gallurese, Sardinian and Italian with Italian plurals. Sassarese arose from  a mix of Tuscan, Corsican, Logudorese and Genoese. The base of Sassarese is 12th Century Pisan Tuscan, and it still resembles a Pisan dialect from the 1100’s. It also has a bit of Genoan in it and quite a few Sardinian words.

The Encyclopedia of Endangered Languages treats Sassarese as an outlying Corsican language. This is the same classification they give to Gallurese. However, given that Sassarese-Corsican intelligiblity is not full, it does not make sense to say that Sassarese is a Corsican dialect.

Gallurese has only 81% lexical similarity with Sassarese. The 81% lexical similarity between Gallurese and Sassarese implies that the two varieties probably are not fully mutually intelligible.

Campidanese is not intelligible with Sassarese.

There are some transitional Gallurese-Sassarese dialects, but most of them are better analyzed as Sassarese.

Castellanese is a transitional Sassarese-Gallurese dialect, but it resembles Sassarese more. Castellanese is really a part of Sassarese, even though it is Sassarese-Gallurese transitional. The dialect of Castelsardo is said to be completely different from the Sassarese dialects of Sassari and Stintino. Intelligibility data is not known.

Castellanese is spoken in Sedini (Sedinese), Turgu (Terghese), Santa Maria Coghinas, Lu Bagnu, Valledoria, La Ciaccia and La Muddizza. In Turgu, three dialects are spoken – Nulvese, Osilese and Castellanese. In Valledoria they speak three different dialects – a mixture of Sedinese and Gallurese, a Muddizza dialect close to Sedinese, and Gallurese from the Aggius region (Aggese). Because we cannot split Gallurese and Sassarese due to claims of mutual intelligibility, we cannot split these Gallurese-Sassarese transitional lects either because at the moment, Gallurese and Sassarese are a single language, so a transitional lect between them is a part of that single language.

Corsican itself is probably more than one language.,

Bonifacio is less intelligible to the rest of Corsican than the rest of the dialects. It is dying out and only has 600-800 speakers or so. It is closer to Genoese Ligurian. It is best seen as a separate language.

On Maddalena Island a lect called Islanu, Maddelaninu, or Maddalenino. It is probably not intelligible with the rest of Gallurese, but it may be intelligible with Bonifacio Corsican and Teresino Gallurese.

It closely resembles Bonifacio. These people came from Bonifacio 200-300 years ago. Subsequently a lot of Genoan words went in when it was a Genoan naval base. This may be best seen as a Bonifacio dialect.

Corsican is spoken on the Tuscan island of Capraia (Capraiese). The language is mostly Corsican, but it has many Ligurian words. Intelligibility between Capraia and the rest of Corsican is not known, but it is probably not full, as Standard Corsican speakers say that they cannot Bastia Corsican which is very close to Capraiese. Capraiese probably lacks full intelligibility with Ligurian.

Corsican is indeed intelligible with Italian, but mostly with Tuscan Italian from Livorno and Florence. Tuscans can understand Corsican perfectly. It is said that Standard Italian speakers can understand it well, but actually Standard Italian-Corsican intelligiblity is somewhat marginal and probably below 90%.

This is interesting because Standard Italian is based on Florence Tuscan from the 1500’s, so one would think that Standard Italian speakers could understand Corsican as well as modern day Tuscans. However, Standard Italian has undergone many changes since the 1500’s to the point where Standard Italian speakers, especially from the south of Italy, say that they cannot understand old Tuscan men speaking hard Tuscan Italian at all. Italian speakers to the north of Italy such as Trieste understand even hard Tuscan quite well.

Sometimes Standard Italian and Corsican are just close enough to more or less understand each other – other times, they are just far enough to not be understood. Intelligibility is probably around 80-90% between the Corsican and Standard Italian. Intelligibility between Corsican and Sassarese is good but not total, possibly on the order of 80%. Intelligibility of Gallurese is said to be “not immediate, but not difficult either.” It is not known how to quantify that.

All of the principal Corsican dialects have low lexical similarity with each other. Major Corsican dialects have 79-89% lexical similarity, hence may be separate languages. Dialects are Cismontano Capocorsino,  Oltramontano, Oltramontano Sartenese, Bonifacio, Bastia, and Capraiese (spoken in Capraia). 79-89% is lower than the lexical similarity between languages like French, Italian and Spanish, to give you an idea of how lexical similarity relates to intelligibility.

Indeed, Cismontano speakers cannot understand the Oltramontano Sartenese spoken in Sartene, nor can they understand Bastia. Bastia is close to Capraiese.

Southern Corsican dialects are actually closer to the Gallurese and Sassarese languages than they are to the rest of Corsican.

Sardinian is absolutely at least two languages – Logudorese, Campidanese, and possibly more. Logudorese dialects are not all mutually intelligible, nor are Campidanese dialects. Logudorese and Campidanese are not fully intelligible with each other. Sardinians themselves say that the language changes about every 15 miles in Sardinia, there are many dialects and they can’t understand half of them.

Campidanese is one of the real Sardinian languages. Lexical similarity is only 73% with Logudorese and 66% with Gallurese. There is no way that it could possibly be intelligible with either Logudorese or Gallurese with lexical similarity numbers that low. It is widely used in the south and is very different from the rest of Sardinian. Campidanese has 670,000 speakers. It is spoken by about 69% of the population in the area, but it is understood by 97%. Campidanese is more variable than Gallurese but not as much as Logudorese.

Arborese is often regarded as a fourth split in Sardinian. It is lumped in with Campidanese, but it’s really transitional between Campidanese and Logudorese. It is spoken in Oristano Province, San Vero Milis, Cabras, Milis, Samugheo, Bonarcado. Bonarcado speaks North Arborese, and San Very Milis and Milis speak South Arborese. Milis speaks West Arborese, and Samugheo, Busachi, Neoneli and Fordongianus speak East Arborese. It is spoken in the northeast  of the Campidanese region on the border of Logudorese. Intelligibility between Arborese and either Campidanese or Logudorese is not known.

Barbaricino is another major language-level split in Campidanese. It is spoken in Mandrolisai and Barbagia around the towns of Laconi, Seulo, Samugheo, Sorgono, Meana Sardo, Ortueri, Atzara, Tiana, Aritzo, Belvì, Desulo, Ollolai, Fonni, Orgosolo, Oliena, Ovodda, Mamoiada, Lodine, Gavoi, Olzai,and Tonara. While Barbaricino is similar to Nuorese, it is  very divergent.

Cagliaritano Logudorese speakers cannot understand the Barbaricino dialect spoken in the far north of the Campidanese region near the border to Logudorese. South-Central Barbaricino is probably best seen as a separate language within Campidanese, but it is probably intelligible with Logudorese Barbaricino. Barbaricino, a Campidanese-Logurdorese transitional lect, apparently has dialects that are more Campidanese and dialects that are more Logudorese.

Barbaricino in general does not appear to be intelligible with other Sardinian lects. It  is formally part of Nuorese, even though part of it is Logudorese and part of it is Campidanese. On the other hand, it appears that even the Nuorese spoken in Dorgali is not intelligible with Barbaricino.

There are a number of large language-level major splits in Campidanese. Whether these represent separate languages or divergent dialects is not known.

The following are the large splits in Campidanese:

Ogliastrino is considered by some to be a major language-level split in Campidanese. It is spoken in the east-central part of Sardinia from Tertena to Urzulei and is very archaic.

Sarrabese is spoken in the Sarrabus-Genei region of far southeastern Sardinia around the towns of San Vito, Muravera, Villaputzu and Castiadas.

Sulcitano is spoken in Sulcis around the towns of Iglesias, Carbonia and Sant’Antioco in far Southwest Sardinia on the coast and on the island of Sant’Antioco Island.

Cagliaritano is spoken in the capital of Cagliari and in Quartu Sant’Elena and Sinnai.

Western Campidanese is spoken in the states of Trexenta, Marmilla (Barumini, Tuili, Genoni and Mandas) and Medio Campidano (Gonnosfanadiga, Villacidro, Sanluri and Guspini).

Logudorese is the other major split in Sardinian along with Campidanese. It is very different from the rest of Sardinian. Lexical similarity other Sardinian languages is low – 73% with Campidanese and Sassarese and only 70% with Gallurese. There is no way that Logudorese can be intelligible with those three languages with figures that low. Farmers and housewives over 35 speak only Logudorese and hardly speak any Italian. It is spoken by 330,000 people and understood by 533,000.

Logudorese is very different from place to place. Olbia, Berchidda, Oschiri, Tula, Posada and Siniscola all have huge differences in their dialects. It is more variable than Campidanese and much more variable than Gallurese.

Baroniese is major split in Logudorese. It is similar to Nuorese. Baroniese is spoken in the Baronie region in the area of Orosei, Siniscola, Galtellì, Lode and Done.

Nuorese is often considered to be the third major language-level division of Sardinian – Logudorese, Campidanese and Nuorese, but Nuorese is much closer to Logudorese. It is spoken in the east-central part of Sardinia. Nuorese is said to be almost the same language as Logudorese, and the only differences are some archaic words and differences in pronunciation. Apparently Logudorese speakers from Macomer cannot understand Nuorese. Nuorese appears to be a separate language.

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What Is Plattdeutsch?

Beatrix writes:

‘Alt Hoch Deutsch’ (Old High German) sounds a bit like the Plattdeutsch my older Mennonite relatives spoke. But they left West Prussia for the Ukraine in 1802.

Plattdeutsch is a Low German language, and yes, it is an East Low German language with roots in far northeastern Germany and Prussia across the border into what is now Poland. It is close to Pomeranian, a dying East Low German language formerly spoken in that area that died out with the ethnic cleansing of the Germans there after WW2.

It is not intelligible with Standard German or really with any other German language, including other Low German languages. Low German is a completely different language from Standard German. German speakers cannot understand it at all.

Dutch speakers can actually understand Low German languages better than Germans can. That is because in some ways they are quite close to Dutch even though one is Old Franconian and the other is Old German. But there are also German “dialects” that are straight up from Franconian also, especially those spoken in northwest Germany near the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. There are dialects (or really languages in that area that are quite difficult to characterize as either:

German
Dutch
Neither

I am thinking specially of the languages spoken where German, the Netherlands and Belgium all come together around Kerkrade, Aachen and Stolberg.

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Comparison of Old German with Modern German

Althochdeutsch

Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
Sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun,
garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun.

Modern German Language

Ich hörte (glaubwürdig) berichten,
dass zwei Krieger, Hildebrand und Hadubrand, (allein)
zwischen ihren beiden Heeren, aufeinanderstießen.
Zwei Leute von gleichem Blut, Vater und Sohn, rückten da ihre Rüstung zurecht,
sie strafften ihre Panzerhemden und gürteten ihre
Schwerter über die Eisenringe, die Männer,
als sie zu diesem Kampf ritten.

Alothochdeutsch was the first form of the |German language and it can be called Old German. It existed from 500-1000 CE. It is probably somewhat analogous to Old English, but I doubt if the two languages would have been intelligible. The passage above is from 900, written about the same time as Beowulf was written.

It is truly amazing how much German has changed. Old German for all intents and purposes is a completely different language. The two languages look nothing alike at all and there is no way that modern Germans would understand a passage spoken in Old German. In that sense they are analogous to the relationship between English and Old English.

The modern German language called Hochdeutsch or High German is based on the language that Martin Luther used in his Bible translation. Luther was from Saxonia and the language he used was an Upper Saxon dialect modified to make it intelligible to as many Germans as possible.

Presently Standard German is a mix of Upper Saxon and Thuringian spoken with a Northern German accent. No one ever spoke this way naturally as part of their dialect from their home region. For hundreds of years, Hochdeutsch was only a written language. Various German writers used variations of it to try to make their written German as intelligible to as many Germans as possible.

Only around 1800 did Hochdeutsch begin to be used as a spoken language. At this time it began to be taught in schools and for a long time, German students learned it as a what amounted to a foreign language, their first language being whatever German dialect was spoken in their region.

In the 20th Century, Hochdeutsch began to be a common first language for many Germans who grew up speaking it either alongside their regional dialect or instead of the dialect. It was also during the past century that Hochdeutsch began t supplant many German dialects. The truth is that many German dialects are not dialects at all but instead they are full blown language in terms of both intelligibility and structure. Ethnologue lists 20 different German dialects as separate languages and the truth is that there are many more than that.

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