30 November 2023

Video of the day -- four languages

A comparison of four very-closely-related languages.  Try to ignore the written forms (writing is generally only a very limited and imperfect representation of actual speech) and just listen to the pronunciation.  It gives a good sense of the way languages with a common origin tend to gradually evolve apart, and how much or little mutual comprehension is possible between similar languages.


Blogger NickM said...

My wife speaks a bit of German and her sister lives in Germany - she's a teacher there. I got a B in GCSE English in 1990 - I can ask where the railway station is :-( I have noticed over the last few years German is taking on an increasing number of English loan words. Watching German TV is weird for me. Yeah, I need the subtitles but I can follow a surprising amount from the audio. This only applies to things like the news or dramas set well into the C21st. So I know how languages diverge (English as spoken in England is very variable a lot of the vocab in my native North East has a lot in common with Norwegian or Danish) but they also converge.

01 December, 2023 03:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I recall years ago seeing a movie in Dutch and being surprised at how much I could understand even though I've never studied Dutch. It's somewhat intermediate between English and German, which I do mostly understand, and that helped. I certainly couldn't speak Dutch based on that, since I couldn't predict what the right forms are even if I would understand them when I heard them.

Japanese has picked up a lot of English loan words too, but that wouldn't make a Japanese sentence any easier for an English-speaker to understand, because the structure and basic grammatical logic are too different. Germanic languages are still fairly similar in those ways, despite oddities like "do support" in English or the V2 rule in the others.

01 December, 2023 12:55  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

This is fascinating, I sometimes study obscure languages and roots. The biggest surprise for me as an ex pat in Europe was the pockets of odd languages and dialects scattered about and how that came to be. Italy particularly interesting. Never knew there were so many

I am half Irish so the Gaelic languages are of great interest. My town south of Prague actually bears a Gaelic name from 1000 years ago

And as I’ve learned Czech I can figure quite a bit of the other Slavic languages, even get basic Cyrillic letters now. Of course the numbers are all the same basically etc.

I imagine you could strategically learn languages in order to better understand an entire tree. Like for instance learning Hungarian isn’t going to get you much of anywhere. I think it’s related to Finnish & Estonian and that’s it

And when you’re in Holland it strikes me how much closer their language/grammar is to English than German is, how they grasp English better with a clear accent, the commonalities were surprising. Cool people too

Then there’s the ones NObody knows where they came from like Basque 🤷‍♂️

02 December, 2023 23:47  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

You know another thing, I toured Allsace once, in France. They have a wonderful Bugatti museum, the Maginot line, American graveyards. This is where Audie Murphy made his name in WWII

But it’s a separate culture -Germanic- with a unique dialect that came to there through Upper German like Bavaria, then Switzerland and around to the spot is where these people and language had their origins. Far eastern France

So Alsatian German looks a lot like German to you or me, but it’s actually mutually unintelligible (!) from standard German directly across the Rhine river in Germany.

I heard a few people speaking it there and it was a trip. They have enough local identity that there’s actually an independence movement (ALSASS FREI!’) and with a website and some graffiti that they want to separate from France, and then the food/wine is fantastic, Flammekueche & Choucroute Garnie

The architecture is stunning. But because of this route the people took to get there, it’s actually the farthest removed German from standard Low German form, farther than Swiss German

02 December, 2023 23:56  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

First thing that surprised me in Holland was we all know ‘What is that?’ in German as ‘Vas is das?’ Pretty close

Not only is the Dutch ‘Wat is dat’?, but spoken it actually sounds pretty much same as English Certainly a mutually intelligible expression

Plus almost everybody there speaks great English anyway, must be easier for them than a German. And so close to the UK

03 December, 2023 00:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Interesting -- I had no idea you lived in Czechia. Europe used to be even more of a hodgepodge of little enclaves, before all the population movements at the end of World War II. And of course some languages like Ladino (a Spanish-derived language spoken by Jews in Greece) were rendered practically extinct by the Holocaust.

English in its development was much more influenced by Celtic languages than most people realize, though this was mainly from the Brythonic languages (Welsh/Cornish type) than Gaelic. The oddest feature of English grammar, "do support" is an example. That feature doesn't exist in any language on Earth except English and the Celtic languages. In pre-Roman times Celtic was far more widespread, extending as far east as what is now Turkey. There are probably a lot of originally Celtic place names scattered across Europe.

My knowledge of Arabic makes a lot of Hebrew words and constructions seem familiar, though I certainly can't understand spoken Hebrew. My efforts to learn Russian didn't get very far, but looking at any other Slavic languages, the similarities are obvious. Slavic languages are very similar, with Bulgarian being the odd one out (no case system except with pronouns).

Hungarian is related to Finnish and Estonian, but it's a really distant relationship, like between English and Bengali. Knowing Hungarian wouldn't help much with Finnish.

Basque is almost certainly a survivor from before the Indo-European conquests. Before Indo-European, much of Europe, maybe most of it, probably spoke languages of that type. It has some similarities with the Caucasus languages like Georgian, but I don't think anyone's ever found evidence of a common origin.

Interesting that German (of a sort) is still spoken in Alsace to an extent. German is my best foreign language, so I suspect I could tell the dialect was far removed from standard if I heard it. I hope the separatist movement is small. The last thing Europe needs is a revival of the old territorial squabbles.

Dutch didn't go through the sound shift that changed so many "t" sounds to "s" in southern German, from which standard German was derived. The northern German dialects also don't have that sound shift and thus also sound more like English, but nowadays they're dying out as standard German takes over.

Languages fascinate me too. I'm glad you spotted this post.

03 December, 2023 03:27  
Blogger NickM said...

If you think Dutch is close to English then try Frisian. It's spoken by about half a million people in the Netherlands and Germany.

I think the Finno-Ugric languages are related to stuff spoken in Siberia!

And then there is Maltese which is a semitic language structurally but to my ear sounds a lot like Italian even though they are not structurally connected. It is the only semitic language written with the Roman alphabet.

Of course the real linguistic mystery is why Welsh is utterly incomprehensible to me but German isn't. I live in England but quite close to Wales.

You might find this interesting:


Of course the really, really big mystery is why I've never been able to get to first base with object-orientated computer coding. I just don't get it.

03 December, 2023 03:29  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: There are some Finno-Ugric languages in western Siberia, of both Finnish-like and Hungarian-like types. It's known that the ancestors of the Hungarians came from Siberia originally. Most of those languages have very few speakers left, though.

Maltese is probably phonetically influenced by Italian, despite remaining structurally basically like the Maghrib dialects of Arabic. It's common for languages to pick up phonetic features from other nearby languages, even if they aren't related.

English and German are both Germanic languages, whereas Welsh belongs to a very different branch of Indo-European, so I'd expect Welsh to be less intelligible. I couldn't understand a word of this.

In German the word Welsch (pronounced "velsh", of course), used to be a derogatory term for the French and maybe the Italians. I've heard it used to refer to the ancient Romans.

03 December, 2023 03:39  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

VERY interesting, thanks!

The latest thing in languages I was poking around was the UK, Scotland, some of the northern English accents and their origins. I think I got interested cuz I was listening to songs by George Formby 😁 (Fiona Hill the same)

Also Hiberian English etc. Scots. The history of splits in the language and how dropped consonants etc. of the various dialects came to be

As for the Middle East it’s interesting the extinct ancient languages of the Levant, just read up on that on- Hittite, Akkadian.

Sounds like you’re fairly educated on this topic

06 December, 2023 00:15  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

I know of Frisian certainly, haven’t been through the area yet though. Will do soon on a Nordic trip. That would be intriguing to hear

But it was my understanding that Welsh is in the other Gaelic branch that is related to what traditionally spoken on the Channel islands & Brittany, Cornwall, etc.

06 December, 2023 00:18  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

Interesting thoughts on the Basque language. Perhaps its roots are in Neanderthal 😺

Their location in Spain is surrounded by Neanderthal sites- France,, Gibraltar caves. And we can see from the art & tools they weren’t stupid. How’s that for a wild theory

06 December, 2023 00:24  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

The northern dialects of English can get pretty difficult. My mother was from Sheffield and she once spoke a bit of the dialect she grew up with to me, just so I could hear what it sounded like. It would have been hard to understand if she hadn't explained it to me. I remember passing through the Newcastle area during a family vacation and I couldn't understand what the older people were saying at all. It's probably easier to understand now -- everybody learns standard English in school.

Yes, I've studied linguistics and always been interested in languages, so I've read a lot about them. They can get pretty strange once you get outside the Europe-Middle-East-North-Africa area which has been interconnected for thousands of years.

I'm not so familiar with ancient Middle Eastern languages, though I studied a bit of ancient Egyptian once. Some of them like Sumerian and Elamite are long extinct and weren't related to anything we know of. Of course the Semitic ones like Akkadian were fairly close to their modern relatives.

The living Celtic languages are classified into two groups -- Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, and Breton), and Gaelic (Irish and Scottish). I'm no expert on Celtic languages, but the two types seem very different from each other. Back when Celtic was more widespread, presumably there were other subgroups as well.

Whether the neanderthals had language or not is one of the big unanswered questions about them. We'll probably never know. If they did, I suppose their languages might have had some influence on those of our own ancestors, but it would be pretty difficult to detect. The neanderthals went extinct in most of Europe more than thirty thousand years ago, and languages change beyond recognition in much less time than that. Basque certainly isn't primitive -- it's actually fiendishly complex.

Another survival of pre-Indo-European languages was Etruscan, which died out less than two thousand years ago, but we know frustratingly little about it. There may well be a few unsuspected Etruscan words and features in our own speech -- because it influenced Latin, and Latin influenced everything.

I'd be interested to hear your impressions after your Nordic trip.

06 December, 2023 13:01  

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