A World of Languages.

A nice infographic by Alberto Lucas López:

There are at least 7,102 known languages alive in the world today. Twenty-three of these languages are a mother tongue for more than 50 million people. The 23 languages make up the native tongue of 4.1 billion people. We represent each language within black borders and then provide the numbers of native speakers (in millions) by country. The colour of these countries shows how languages have taken root in many different regions.

Obviously one can always quibble about the details, but at least Chinese is called a macrolanguage that “includes different languages and dialects” (though Arabic is treated as a single language), and it’s a striking way to present the information.

Addendum. Matt Zajechowski and a team at Olivet Nazarene University have developed an interactive graphic/map that covers the second most spoken languages around the world, which makes a nice companion to the posted one. Thanks, Matt!

Comments

  1. fisheyed says:

    It’s an attractive info graphic. I was surprised by Lahnda, which I had never heard of. It is listed as 88.7 mil, though wiki gives c. 25. Punjabi, which overlaps Lahnda, is not listed at all, though Wiki gives 100 mil.

  2. Ethnologue (Where the data is from) has somewhat of a fetish for including Lahnda. Everyone who speaks it thinks they speak Punjabi, except for a part on the Sindh-Punjab border (around Multan) where there’s a movement to get their dialect classified as a separate language called Seraiki. I’m not sure why they use the Lahnda classification, which doesn’t seem to reflect the actual situation on the ground.

  3. SFReader says:

    Native speakers don’t exist.

    All languages are acquired.

    I realized this when I witnessed language development of minority children in Russia.

    These children are exposed to Russian on TV which they start watch even before they acquire their native language from parents. And they go to kindergarten at age as low as two and of course, Russian is spoken there too.

    Is there any good reason why they should not be counted as native Russian speakers?

    Same thing happens around the world every day.

    And that’s why native speakers statistics on this info graphic are bogus.

    Number of English speakers worldwide who are essentially native speakers is closer to one billion, for example.

  4. Interesting, but Africa seems to have been omitted entirely, other than the Arabic-speaking parts. I’m no expert on Africa, but there are a lot of people living there. There’s no African language that comes up to the number of speakers of some of those other languages that are on there?

  5. Well, Africa does have a lot of linguistic diversity: 2,138 to Asia’s 2,301, according to Ethnologue. There are some prominent languages there, though often their significance depends heavily on L2 use (for example, Swahili and Lingala). As far as I can tell, the strongest contender is Hausa, which appears to have around 35 million L1 speakers and 50 million total speakers.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I read Victor Mair’s post about this at Language Log before I saw yours, and I found his criticisms convincing. Part of the problem, however, is that one is told wildly different things by different speakers of Chinese. When I was in China in 1983, when the Cultural Revolution was still a recent memory, some guides told me that when they went into the countryside to show solidarity with the peasants the speech they heard was utterly unintelligible, and remained so all the time they were there. At least one, however, said exactly the opposite. I imagine she spoke as a person of Hanzhou, but anyway, and she said that it took her less than a week to be able to understand the people in the countryside that she was sent to (I don’t remember where she said she’d been, but it was remote from Hanzhou), and that she had little difficulty understanding people who spoke Cantonese.

    However, I’m more interested today in your remark that “Arabic is treated as a single language”, as I was talking to someone the other day about this. His father is Syrian, but he doesn’t speak Arabic himself, though he has made efforts to learn it. He said two things that interested me, first that the consonants in different forms of vernacular don’t vary very much from those of standard Arabic, but the vowels vary a lot, but once you get used to the systematic variations you can make sense of unfamiliar vernaculars. (The Arabic speakers I meet every day tend to be from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and they tell me that it doesn’t take very long to get used to the way others from the same region speak. However, I imagine they show more homogeneity than one would find between, say, Morocco and Iraq.) The other thing he said was Syrian and Lebanese Arabic are the closest to standard Arabic: is that just what Syrians like to believe, or does it have a measure of truth?

    Last week I saw his father (whom I knew already), who hasn’t lived in Syria for at least 30 years, and his aunt and cousin, who live in Damascus today. After the aunt and cousin had left the father said that they tend to ridicule his Arabic, saying he speaks the way people did in the past. I know the feeling, as I’m quite conscious that my English sounds old-fashioned to people who live in England. (My daughter was likewise told by a British person that she met that “you speak like my grandmother”). My wife is even more conscious of this in relation to her Spanish when she is in Chile.

    One other point about the infographic is that it seems to completely ignore the large number of French speakers in Africa. All of the Africans I meet are, of course, highly educated people, but even so there is a lot of French spoken in Africa, especially in Tunisia.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hausa is pretty certainly the non-Arabic African language with the most L1 speakers, and has a very large number of L2s with variable levels of competence; even very competent speakers normally speak a version of the language different from the L1, though; for example, lacking grammatical gender. I was once told off by a Nigerian interpreter for using (or trying to use) grammatical gender properly in my Hausa, on the grounds that as I was plainly not a Bahaushe it just seemed weird for me to try to talk like one. People are very used to using and understanding L2 Hausa.

    African diversity differs from Asian inasmuch as whereas in Asia a very high proportion of the population speaks one or other of the big languages as L1, in Africa outside of the Arabic zone it is probably the rule rather than the exception to have a small language as L1. The distribution of numbers of speakers among the various languages is very different; and of course Africa has a very much smaller total population than Asia to speak 2000+ languages.

    The matter is complicated by the fact that high-competence multilingualism is very common, and it can be difficult sometimes to draw a neat line between L1 and L2 in such circumstances. Nevertheless (in Africa at any rate) SFReader’s implication is wrong. A great many small languages are spoken and are in no imminent danger of disappearing at all. (My favourite African language, Kusaal, has increased in L1 speakers from about 250,000 in the 1990s to something like 350,000 as the population increased.)

    With the small languages there is a mostly strong correlation between language and self-assigned ethnicity; this sometimes results in what is from the linguistic point of view a single language having no traditional overall name (just as with Swedish-Danish-Norwegian.) It does mean that speakers would regard it as bizarre to stop speaking their L1 just because they have acquired good competence in another more-widely spoken language. And the very fact that it is common to be multilingual means that there is no real pressure for one language to ease out another from its own domain.

    There are admittedly quite a few exceptions even in Africa; a great many Nigerian Fulbe can only speak Hausa and know no Fulani, for example (a long-term consequence of Usman dan Fodio’s Fulbe-led jihad which created the Sultanate of Sokoto on top of several very old Hausa city-states.)

  8. Mair has no idea about degrees of intelligibility in any non-transplanted languages. Mandarin, except Jìn (which is now counted apart) and some of the “Jiānghuái” dialects, is as non-diverse as Allemanic or Ibero-Romance, and should be quite uncontroversially counted as a single language.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Athel Cornish-Bowden:

    My experience of Francophone African is pretty much confined to Burkina Faso and Togo; I imagine Senegal (for example) might be a bit different. However nobody there is an L1 French speaker (apart from resident Frenchmen) and knowledge of French beyond the most basic level is confined to a pretty small educated elite, despite the status of French as official language. Even in Ouagadougou people usually speak Moore to one another rather than French.

    When working in rural Burkina Faso I found perhaps less than one in twenty people able to speak French well enough to hold a conversation with. (Old soldiers from France’s wars in Indochina, for example.) This was probably rather less than the proportion of good English speakers where I lived in Ghana.

    Don’t know about Algeria and Tunisia, which sound quite a different proposition. Lameen Souag is the man to ask …

  10. SFReader says:

    Jin Chinese is interesting, because its speakers colonized central Inner Mongolia, including its capital Hohhot.

    Presumably, just like their Mongol neighbours, their children are being assimilated and becoming Mandarin L1 speakers by exposure to TV, kindergartens and schools.

    I wonder what variety of Chinese is spoken by Tümed Mongols, original inhabitants of Hohhot, who are said to have long assimilated and now reportedly speak only Chinese.

    Is it Jin Chinese? Bathrobe might know.

  11. Modern citizens of Hohhot usually speak a form of Jin.

  12. Wikipedia’s list gives the top 100 languages by native speakers only, and the most populous African language given (after Arabic) is Hausa, with 34M. Then we get Yoruba (28M), Swahili (26M), Amharic (25M), Oromo (24M), Igbo (24M), Somali (15M), Akan aka Twi/Fante (11M), Zulu (10M), and Kirundi, Shona, Mossi aka Moore, Xhosa (all about 8M). Several of these are languages of wider communication.

  13. SF Reader,
    “Number of English speakers worldwide who are essentially native speakers is closer to one billion, for example.”

    Lopez simply erased 75 million L1speakers of English in the US. It may just be some Hispanophone agenda of his, or it may be that he thinks everyone is monolingual. It looks like he looked at the Census numbers on speakers of various languages and assumed none of those people spoke English. Pretty stupid if that’s what eh did.

  14. Along with usual problems of counting Hindi and Urdu as two languages and Arabic as one with 242 million native speakers, not to mention the ridiculousness of an exact figure for the world’s languages, it’s also crappily done: it is quite obvious the infographic merely scraped data from Ethnologue and did so without any checking. For example, Austria is not listed among countries speaking German which is because the Ethnologue entry for Standard German, for some reason, only lists the Voralberg State for Austria (http://www.ethnologue.com/language/deu). There is also the mysterious figure of 0.7 million speakers of German in Switzerland. Now the only explanation for that I have is that a) they only consider Standard German and b) someone misunderstood the Swiss census figures: a comparable number appears in the entry for “Languages spoken at work” which is one of the categories that make the distinction betwen Deutsch and Schweizerdeutsch. The total population figures don’t make that distinction, so there is no way to tell how many people in Switzerland speak Hochdeutsch and how many speak Schwyzertüütsch. (http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/de/index/themen/01/05/blank/key/sprachen.html).

  15. “The other thing he said was Syrian and Lebanese Arabic are the closest to standard Arabic: is that just what Syrians like to believe, or does it have a measure of truth?” Oh if I had a penny for every time someone said that…
    The definitive answer: no, they’re not.

  16. J. W. Brewer says:

    In the US (and I expect also in several other Anglophone countries), the line between L1 and L2 is likewise very difficult to draw because there are millions of Americans (some US-born to not-very-assimilated immigrant parents, others immigrants at a comparatively young age) whose L1 was not English, but Spanish, or Korean, or Bengali, or Russian, or what have you, but who as adults live their lives primarily in English and have English fluency indistinguishable (often including pronunciation) from that of monolingual Anglophone children of monolingual Anglophone parents. For some purposes you may want to track them separately, and if they retain sufficient fluency in their L1 (which varies) you may want to count that for some other purpose, but for counting “native” English speakers it really makes very little sense to exclude them.

  17. There are two pervasive myths about Arabic varieties and Modern Standard Arabic:

    1) “My variety is closest to MSA.” This is generally bullshit.

    2) “Bedouin varieties are closest to MSA.” This has a little more legitimacy, but not much; it’s generally about how the sons (fathers?) of the desert preserve the true spirit of Arabness, as opposed to the slackers who live in towns.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    I think you’ve put your finger on the principal problem. SFReader too.

    I suppose there is a danger of misinterpreting linguistic reality through the goggles of our modern Anglophone mindset which more or less takes it for granted that a person will have only one L1 unless their actual parents have different L1s, so that anything else they speak (even if they have pretty much native-level competence) gets labelled as an L2 regardless.

    Across the whole sweep of human history and geography that has very likely been the exception rather than the rule; at the very least it has only become so prevalent as a result of the relatively recent great expansion of a very few particular languages in the train of empires, then compounded greatly in just the last two centuries by the deliberate destruction of internal diversity occasioned by modern ideas of nationhood.

    I suppose great linguistic diversity need not necessarily go with high rates of proficient multilingualism (not much need for it if you’re the only hunter-gatherer band for many miles around) but it must make it a lot more likely.

  19. Presumably those bands had the usual human “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another” (Adam Smith), so at least some of them needed to be multilinguals. See the Kula trade ring.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thinking about Ghanaian friends:

    Hardly any Ghanaians in Ghana deliberately raise their children as English speakers from the get-go (I do know of exceptions, but they’re pretty exceptional exceptions due to unusual family circumstances. Why would you set out to deprive your child of his/heritage?)

    However, Ghanaian English – which is vital, autonomous and distinctive (any Anglophone West African can tell straight away if a West African speaking English is from Ghana or Nigeria or elsewhere) – Ghanaian English is not learnt from books the way an Englishman learns French in school: it’s acquired much more as US immigrant children pick up English outside the home and end up speaking indistinguishably from the children who use English at home.

    L2 doesn’t seem an adequate label for this. It’s rather another Ghanaian language, normally acquired a few years later than their “mother tongue”, but quite early enough to end up with L1 level competence. Where it differs from UK or US English that is not because of faulty acquisition but because it is a different standard.

  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Thanks, bulbul and John Cowan: that’s basically what I thought, but I didn’t want to argue with some who in principle knew more about it than I did.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The infographic also shows 1.1 million people in Singapore using English as their first language, and only 1.8 million using “Chinese”. That cannot be right, can it? When I was in Singapore in 1996 I had the impression that despite the ubiquity of English on public signs only a small proportion of the population spoke it as their everyday language and far more than double that small proportion spoke “Chinese” or Tamil.

  23. It’s probably this sort of half-L1-ness that allowed Hebrew to be revived: male Jews had been learning it starting at age 3 for a very long time, well within the critical period for L1 acquisition. The same thing is true of Indian English, of course.

  24. Athel,

    The Arabic speakers I meet every day tend to be from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and they tell me that it doesn’t take very long to get used to the way others from the same region speak
    Ehm.

  25. @Athel C-B:

    I don’t know the numbers but a lot of people of Chinese descent in Singapore do speak English preferentially at home and in their social circles. They all had to learn Mandarin at school if they were born in the last 40 years or so but if their home “dialect” is not Mandarin then it may be treated as a foreign language and they may not speak the language of their ancestors, because of the government’s policy of promoting Mandarin as the prestige “dialect”. Birth certificates in Singapore contain a field for “dialect”.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    My experience of Francophone African is pretty much confined to Burkina Faso and Togo; I imagine Senegal (for example) might be a bit different. However nobody there is an L1 French speaker (apart from resident Frenchmen) and knowledge of French beyond the most basic level is confined to a pretty small educated elite, despite the status of French as official language. Even in Ouagadougou people usually speak Moore to one another rather than French.

    In contrast, I once knew someone from Abidjan who said, with some embarrassment, that she could only (or almost only?) speak French. Is Abidjan perhaps so mixed that French is the only language everyone has in common?

    When working in rural Burkina Faso I found perhaps less than one in twenty people able to speak French well enough to hold a conversation with.

    Interesting; the child soldiers in the Congo speak French quite well.

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    @David M:

    My experience may quite possibly be atypical; if there is one thing you can say with little fear of contradiction about Africa, it’s that it’s very, very diverse.

    Don’t know much about Abidjan, as I’ve only been there once, and at that for a conference with pretty minimal chance for interaction with Ivoireans. It struck me as not so much atypical for Africa as practically like being transported to another planet. Or Alphaville. I recall driving in from Ghana and suddenly finding myself on a eight-lane highway where everyone was observing the speed limit. Surreal.

    Armies presumably are very likely to use international lingua francas as working languages. Good place to learn French/English/Arabic, I guess … or Latin, back in the day …

    I should say that my experience of Africa is heavily skewed to small places a long way from big capitals (which in one sense, I suppose, makes it a more “typical” Africa. If there were any such thing.)

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    Again, the West Africans who you are likely to meet in Europe or the US tend to be about as typical of West Africans in general as the Europeans you meet living in West Africa are typical of Europeans. For a start, you need what in local terms is very serious money indeed to be able to come, or a sponsor who is likely to be very picky about who they support; and/or you need to have managed against considerable odds to get educated to a level where you have skills marketable against those of Western indigenes, a feat which is rarely possible unless you’re from an unusually privileged background already.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thinking about this a bit more, there may well be important differences in this between Francophone and Anglophone West Africa, arising ultimately from the rather different colonial philosophies of the Brits and the French.

    The Brits tended to go for “indirect rule” via what they imagined to be indigenous power structures, and while in their better moments may have supposed themselves to be generally helping along the development of the locals would have been mystified at any idea that the object was to turn them into Englishmen; whereas the French were more prone to regard themselves as the bearers of La Langue et Civilisation Françaises and certainly included some who did indeed regard it as their destiny to turn West Africans into Frenchmen.

    Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of Cote d’Ivoire, was a French government minister. It is inconceivable that Kwame Nkrumah would have been a British Cabinet minister; the Four Communes in Senegal had a seat in the French parliament until 1940; it is not thinkable that Westminster would have had an Honourable Member for Lagos. There has always in the Francophonie been the concept of the évolué, who was basically an African (or Asian) Frenchman; the idea is still significant, and has no real parallel in the English speaking world.

  30. There is some pretty good commentary on the infographic here:

    http://humanswhoreadgrammars.tumblr.com/post/121095215741/

    The post concludes: “I think this is a quite a good infographic, if one reads all the fine print and understands how Ethnologue works. People don’t read all the fine print. Most people don’t know how Ethnologue works. This is where it all breaks down.”

  31. Yes, that’s a good caveat.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    That link caused me an unfortunate double-take. “Humans WHAT? Oh.”
    Parsing the promotion of promiscuity …

  33. I had exactly the same response to that URL!

  34. fisheyed says:

    The Brits…would have been mystified at any idea that the object was to turn them into Englishmen;

    We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    Macaulay, even so, doesn’t propose that these “interpreters” would actually become English, much less that that was the aim for the whole subject population.

    Good catch, though.

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    He may also represent an earlier phase of British imperial theorising; the arch proponent of Indirect Rule (in Africa at any rate) was Lugard, a good bit later.

  37. Found a similar “infographic” from about 1000 years ago… (not really, but still looks cool 🙂 )

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmud_al-Kashgari#/media/File:Kashgari_map.jpg

    by Mahmud al-Kashgari (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmud_al-Kashgari)

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    @e-k:

    I suppose a map *is* an infographic. And it does look remarkably similar …

    I’ve come across al-Kashgari in passing in reading about Old Turkish. According to the Wiki he was a language-purist pedant! (The Turkic world’s first? Not last, certainly …)

    It’s understandable at least, in much the same way as the attitude of Japanese scholars of the Kokugaku school is understandable. When the received opinion of your more intellectual contemporaries is that your native language is a poor thing compared with Persian/Chinese/whatever it’s natural to want to redress the balance and maybe forgiveable if you go a bit overboard in the process.

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    Macaulay’s Minute in its full frontal glory. Read it and weep.

    http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html

    I must admit it does clearly demonstrate a desire to eradicate Indian culture altogether for the benefit of the benighted Indians themselves, and serenely assumes the obvious superiority of Western culture, indeed the virtual worthlessness of any indigenous culture; this is certainly akin to the French notion that it is their destiny to spread the evident advantages of Frenchness to a whole suffering unFrench humanity.

    I think (though this may be sentimental Francophilia) that there is something at least nobler in intention about the French idea; it’s about the spread of Citizenship, and there *is* a nobility in the idea that there is nothing at all genetic or racial about being a real Frenchman (even if the effects at the end of the day may be no better than Macaulayism. )

    Frederick Lugard was at least consistent; part of the settlement he engineered in what became Nigeria involved giving considerable cultural autonomy to the emirs of the old Sultanate of Sokoto which among other things entailed banning Christian missions; as a highly malign side effect this also made it extremely difficult for northern Nigerians to get any kind of modern education, which (among much else) led to calamitous consequences after independence,

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    Anybody who could write “How Horatius Kept the Bridge” evidently lacked all capacity for rightly judging any cultural issue at all.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Thinking about this a bit more, there may well be important differences in this between Francophone and Anglophone West Africa, arising ultimately from the rather different colonial philosophies of the Brits and the French.

    This has often been remarked upon, with the additional comment that de Gaulle was the only Frenchman to adhere to the English philosophy.

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    The effects of different colonial approaches live on in surprising ways.

    I was once in Burkina Faso with a Ghanaian colleague; we were in an area which in underlying local culture and language was extremely similar to his own home territory not far away across the border. He was telling me that the local Burkinabe would rarely invite you back to their houses, because they weren’t very proud of them, as they were accustomed to spend a lot more money on clothes and personal adornment generally and proportionately less on their houses than his own neighbours did.

    This did rather chime with my own feelings as a Briton about the French …

    I rarely saw a Burkinabe soldier who wasn’t immaculately turned out (but for military effectiveness I’d put my money on the Ghanaians every time.)

    [I note that the spell check has no problem with “Ghana” and “Ghanaian” but can’t cope with “Burkina Faso” or “Burkinabe.” Evident Anglo-Saxon bias. Sapristi!]

  43. Browser spell-checkers tend to be based on public-domain (i.e. pre-1923) wordlists. Ghana has been around a long time, Burkina Faso not so much. Note that it has nothing to do with Hat’s site.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    If it *were* Hat’s site, it would, of course, have been correct. That goes without saying.

  45. David Eddyshaw says:

    In a spirit of scientific enquiry, I’ve just switched from Firefox to Chrome, and discovered that Chrome can do Burkina Faso (not Burkinabe, but that’s forgiveable.)

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hélas, even changing my default system language to French does not help with Firefox.

    And in fact Firefox still objects to perfectly ordinary French words, though Chrome now does what I would have expected and accepts ordinary French words as correct and rejects English.

    It looks like you have to actually reinstall Firefox to change the spellcheck language. But at this point my scientific interest has died.

  47. Bathrobe says:

    I am sure Hat will love this passage:

    Within the last hundred and twenty years, a nation which had previously been in a state as barbarous as that in which our ancestors were before the Crusades has gradually emerged from the ignorance in which it was sunk, and has taken its place among civilized communities. I speak of Russia. There is now in that country a large educated class abounding with persons fit to serve the State in the highest functions, and in nowise inferior to the most accomplished men who adorn the best circles of Paris and London. There is reason to hope that this vast empire which, in the time of our grandfathers, was probably behind the Punjab, may in the time of our grandchildren, be pressing close on France and Britain in the career of improvement. And how was this change effected? Not by flattering national prejudices; not by feeding the mind of the young Muscovite with the old women’s stories which his rude fathers had believed; not by filling his head with lying legends about St. Nicholas; not by encouraging him to study the great question, whether the world was or not created on the 13th of September; not by calling him “a learned native” when he had mastered all these points of knowledge; but by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up, and thus putting all that information within his reach. The languages of western Europe civilised Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar.

  48. Mair has no idea about degrees of intelligibility in any non-transplanted languages. Mandarin, except Jìn (which is now counted apart) and some of the “Jiānghuái” dialects, is as non-diverse as Allemanic or Ibero-Romance, and should be quite uncontroversially counted as a single language.

    Catalan, Portuguese and Spanish are uncontroversially a single language.

  49. There is a mistake in the interactive graphic/ map: Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish.

  50. Catalan, Portuguese and Spanish are uncontroversially a single language.

    Exactly. Especially if the remnants of a previously smoother linguistic terrain, like Asturian, Aragonese or Fala, are properly taken account of.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    Catalan, Portuguese and Spanish are uncontroversially a single language.

    Catalan is closer to Occitan than to Spanish-Portuguese.

  52. Catalan is closer to Occitan than to Spanish-Portuguese.

    One of the best things that I have learnt is the fact that the Catalan go-past formation existed in forms of Medieval Occitan. Just too mind-boggling to contemplate it originating in one part of Romania, migrated to another part of it, then died out in its place of origin.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    originating in one part of Romania, migrated to another part of it, then died out in its place of origin.

    Can you be more specific?

  54. Trond Engen says:

    minus273: One of the best things that I have learnt is the fact that the Catalan go-past formation existed in forms of Medieval Occitan. Just too mind-boggling to contemplate it originating in one part of Romania, migrated to another part of it, then died out in its place of origin.

    marie-lucie: Can you be more specific?

    minus273 uses Romania in the sense “The lands of Romance”. The mind-bogglicity gets less mind-boggling when we consider that Medieval Occitan was the central dialect of the western romance linguistic-cultural continuum, and that Catalan was its closest kin, geographically, linguistically, and, at least at times, in terms of economic and political reality.

  55. Can you be more specific?

    Well, I was sorta failed by my memory. Seems that the construction is still present in Gascon and Guardian Occitan.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Trond and minus. I meant about the alleged “migration”. Occitan (with several dialects) covers a wider territory than Catalan, but the Northern end of the Catalan area is in France, on the Mediterranean coast. From the description it looks like an old pattern died out in some areas but was preserved in some others, rather than “migrated” from one place to another.

  57. I think what is being described here is a syntactic pattern that was innovated in Occitan, borrowed into Catalan, and then lost in the language of origin in all but a few dialects. This phenomenon is common enough in vocabulary, as in English dandelion < Middle French dent-de-lion, which was displaced by Modern French pissenlit, except in Switzerland. (The Middle English calque or parallel form piss-a-bed has also been lost.)

  58. J. W. Brewer says:

    That second-most-widely-spoken language graphic linked in the addition to the original post gets a little more bold with the lumping: not only is “Chinese” sometimes-but-not-always treated as a thing, so is “South Asian” and . . . a hitherto-obscure macro-macro-language called “Indigenous.” At the other end of the spectrum they’re also aggressive splitters, e.g. the runner-up language in Montenegro is Serbian and in Moldova it’s Romanian. Did I mention that they’re aggravatingly inconsistent on methodology? E.g., if “Indigenous” (meaning in context Sami/Lappish) is second-most-common in Norway & Finland, then fluent ESL isn’t being counted, which could in principle be a defensible choice because it’s generally school-learned rather than a minority L1. But then they have English as second-most-common in the Russian Federation, so . . .

    I understand that there are probably thorny issues with lack of worldwide consistency in language-use data collection and how it is reported, but putting imperfect and inconsistent underlying data into pretty pictures may be imprudent because it makes it easy for people with even modest acquaintance with the subject matter to just eyeball the pretty pictures and know at a glance that they can’t be right.

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