BABBEL BLOG.

Mara Goldwyn sent me a link to the new Babbel Blog, of which she’s co-editor. She says, “We focus on issues of language, education and technology,” and there’s some interesting stuff up; I was particularly taken with “Trying to get them to use modal verbs while they’re being chased by a bear”, an interview with Todd Bryant, who teaches German using the online game World of Warcraft:

I don’t think you can teach German entirely within World of Warcraft. But as an additional hour in the evening, whenever they would otherwise be watching a film or TV in German, I think it’s certainly better than those kinds of activities, because they have to produce language as well as just receive it; they need to speak and they need to write and if they don’t understand something, that affects their gameplay. So they really need to concentrate on the language they are exposed to.
I thought it was really good for them. They were exhausted at the end of an hour – concentrating that long in German after only six weeks of German! And they were really, really, tired, but also very motivated.

Incidentally, to whoever sent me the copy of Danske stednavne med udtaleangivelse [Danish place names with pronunciations], by Kristian Hald: thank you very much! Danish pronunciation is very hard to figure out from the spelling; I’m not surprised, for example, that Vrads Sande is /vras sanǝ/, but I wouldn’t have been able to guess it.

Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    The first time I heard a Dane pronounce “Kierkegaard” in the standard Danish way I was utterly flummoxed.

  2. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, Danish is like English or French in that you never know what bits of the word to leave out, whereas in Norwegian or Italian you just say it all, including repeating a double consonant. However, since the spellings for Danish and norke bokmål are very similar, you can always just pronounce every letter and say you’re speaking Norwegian.
    The other thing about Danish is their extraordinarily complicated way of counting. It’s rather like the French quatre-vingt-dix-huit kind of thing, except it extends throughout the first hundred numbers, roughly. If Sili were here he could explain it, but I think he’s disappeared.

  3. AJP Crown says:

    Babbel Blog is very good, by the way. There’s an amusing interview with a Hollywood accent coach, in which Mara Goldwyn sounds rather like Terry Gross. They obviously need comments, though; there were no posts with 326 comments. Perhaps Language can rent us out at a dollar a comment.

  4. The first time I heard a Dane pronounce “Kierkegaard”…
    Tell us more: how does a Dane pronounce “Kierkegaard”?
    I’ve heard that Danish is to Swedish as Portuguese is to Spanish, in that there is a one-way filter: Danes can understand Swedish but Swedes can’t understand Danish. The problem with Portuguese to Spanish ears is that it seems to consist entirely of consonants, but I gather Danish presents the opposite problem: too many vowels and not enough consonants.

  5. michael farris says:

    “The problem with Portuguese to Spanish ears is that it seems to consist entirely of consonants”
    Ths is absolutely true of Portuguese from Portugal. I remember arriving at Faro airport and one of the people I was travelling with thought their had to be something wrong with the loudspeakers.
    Other kinds of Portuguese retain far more vowels. I’ve heard Portuguese from African speakers with almost Spanish style vowels which makes it very easy to understand.

  6. michael farris says:

    While I’m here, IIRC it’s easier to hear the consonants in Greenlandic Danish than in the standard language from Denmark. I’m not sure about Faroese Danish (or what it would sound like from Iceland if it’s still widely taught there).

  7. I’m not sure about Faroese Danish (or what it would sound like from Iceland if it’s still widely taught there).
    The Icelander (hah, singular) I know online mentioned that it is. I think it was or is called “Scandinavian,” though, which to me makes it likely to have Norwegian pronunciation.

  8. Faroese Danish doesn’t really exist as such. Although it’s an official language on the Faroes, it’s not anyones first language there. The accent depends upon the proficiency of the speaker and can range from near-native to heavily accented – from a danish point of view, that is.
    The accented version would be easier for an Icelander or a (west-coast)Norwegian , but not necessarily for a Stockholm Swede.
    You can’t quite compare danish spelling to english. It’s actually possible to infer pronouciation from the spelling. The rules are mostly regular; it’s just that they are very complicated.

  9. Other kinds of Portuguese retain far more vowels
    Yes, you’re absolutely right. I almost wrote “Portuguese Portuguese” in my earlier comment, because Brazilian is nowhere as difficult to understand. (I don’t remember if I’ve heard African Portuguese.)
    We have some Catalan visitors at the moment, and something I find quite curious is that whereas Catalan is much more difficult to read than Portuguese, spoken Catalan is much easier to make sense of than spoken Portuguese Portuguese. In fact to a considerable extent I’d claim that written Portuguese is Spanish with some regular and predictable differences, like -ção for -ción, etc. and a general hatred of the letter n.
    I’m not sure how much it’s used in Europe, but in Latin America Brazilians use a “language” called Portuñol when trying to communicate with Spanish speakers, which is essentially a matter of pronouncing all the vowels in a Spanish way and substituting -ción for -ção, etc.

  10. Crown, AJP says:

    I bet your Catalan visitors can understand Occitan, but you should ask if they can understand Piedmontese, i.e. around Turin, I just read that they’re related. Yes, it’s much easier to for Danes to understand Norwegian or Swedish than vice versa. I suspect, if a British person really got into Danish, that there are similarities to British dialects. I remember how very similar the Low German of the Friesian islands is to a Norfolk accent.

  11. rootlesscosmo says:

    @Athal Cornish-Bowden: Wikipedia has it in IPA, along with a sound file that gives what I take to be the standard Danish pronunciation. I can tell you that the name has (to my rhotic US English ear) no “r’s” in it at all.

  12. You’re welcome. I’m afraid I kept procrastinating on getting it in the post together with Bulbul’s so in the end I never got around to write an accompanying letter.
    Very glad you liked it. It seemed right up your alley when I found it.
    The trouble with Danish writing is the ridiculous number of silent letters. And the spoken language tends to snub off endings and reduce all vowels to /ɑ/ and /ə/. Sweedish does have more vowels than Danish, I think. And they certainly enunciate more of them. Sadly, I have a tin ear, so I’m afraid I usually switch to English …
    Yes. As touched upon in the old “I have three cows to feed” post, Danish counting is vigesimal in nature:
    ten – ti
    twenty – tyve from “two tens”
    thirty – tredive /’trɑðvə/ from “three tens”
    forty – fyrre(tyve) this is complicated because the spelling implies “four twenties but does in fact come from “four tens”
    fifty – halvtreds(indstyve) now we’re getting to the fun: “half-third times twenty”. “Halvtredje” meaning two-and-a-half is pretty much obsolete today, but “halvanden” mening “one-and-a-half” is ubiquitous (as in Demotic)
    sixty – tres(indstyve) “three times twenty”
    seventy – halvfjerds(indstyve) “half-fourth times twenty”
    eighty – Firs(indstyve) “four times twenty”
    ninety – halvfems(indstyve)
    It’s pretty rare to see the whole “times twenty” bit used today, unless someone wants to emphasise. It’s still the proper form to use to form the ordinals from the numerals, though. So 57th is “syvoghalvtredsindstyvende” (or “57.”). It’s becoming increasingly common to hear “syvoghalvtredsinde” instead though (beware the frequency and recency illousions, though!).
    Notice the ‘odd’ ds in 50 and 70, but not in 60. Those are obvious when one notices the pattern for the half counts: one, half-second, two, half-third, three, half-fourth, four, half-fifth, five, …
    They come from using the ordinal with the “half” bit.
    Oh! And as in German, we still use those halfs with the time, so “halv tre” is “half two” when going from Danish to English. Halfway to three.
    Sorry for the absence. My revalidation job has been upped to 5 hours five days a week, and that seems to call for at least two hours of napping when I get home. So I’m awfully behind on blogreading.

  13. Crown, AJP says:

    Thanks very much, Sili. For the first time, I’m actually going to PRINT OUT this comment.

  14. Oh dear. I wish I’d put more effort into it then …
    Thank you, I guess …

  15. Crown, AJP says:

    No I understand it completely now, it’s exactly the same in Norwegian except for the thirty to ninety stuff, but the fractions are the same. Thanks again.

  16. No I understand it completely now…
    me too! Yes, thanks very much. I’ve had this explained to me many before, but now I feel it might sink in. Maybe I just needed to read it.
    You could also have mentioned the other feature shared with German: that numbers above twenty follow the four-and-twenty blackbirds pattern. The combination of those issues makes it verrrry difficult for me to figure out numbers quickly in conversation. I am not good at math, and it’s just extra taxing on my poor little brain.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    I bet your Catalan visitors can understand Occitan, but you should ask if they can understand Piedmontese, i.e. around Turin, I just read that they’re related.
    Of course Catalan and Piedmontese are related, as they are both Romance languages, like Occitan. But they are not as closely related to each other as are Catalan and Occitan (which, after all, are neighbours). I haven’t heard that much of either, but enough to notice that Piedmontese and Catalan sound more like (Southern) French than Occitan does, because they use e for the unstressed vowel as in French where Spanish and Italian have a (official, normalized Occitan also uses a as in the Middle Ages but the vast majority of its local varieties use o). Another way that all three resemble French is that they have a final consonant (even if not always pronounced) where Spanish or Italian have a final o following: this is why the capital of Piedmont is Turin locally (and as written in French) but the Standard Italian is Torino. In both Catalan and Occitan this word would have lost the final n and end in stressed i.
    Whether the Catalan visitors understand Occitan would depend on which variety of Occitan they heard (and which variety of Catalan they spoke): the geographically closest varieties would be the easiest to understand.

  18. My mother’s Danish cousin did business in Norway and said he could understand it perfectly. He said Danish was like barking and Norwegian was like singing. Still, he had an -sen name on his mother’s side and hyphenated his name just to be able to use that ending, so I guess he was eager to publicize his Danish blood. He also lived in Greenland for several years but said nothing about a different language there. Of course it gave him a headache to speak English for any length of time. My grandfather grew up about 20 km from the German border and people say he talked about being able to understand German, but not speak it.

  19. 3sx2qL czipbvdnqawz, [url=http://okjxnhptuwad.com/]okjxnhptuwad[/url], [link=http://zasgpbnqldtb.com/]zasgpbnqldtb[/link], http://ncpbgmdnzmzk.com/

  20. Ah, yes. I completely forgot to mention the stupid organisation of ones and tens. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason I’ve become halfway innumerate after attaining some degree of fluency in English. I seem to recall some studies showing that this flaw leeds to Danish children developing a feeling for the positional system much later than others (shades of Sapir-Whorph?). I think the example was asking Danish and Chinese kids to represent different numbers with Lego. Chinese kids were supposedly more likely to count out, say, four blue blocks and seven red ones for the number 47, while Danish kids would just patiently count out 47 random bricks.
    It might also be worth mentioning that on cheques (though those are a dying phenomenon) numbers are spelt out in a more ‘Swedish’ manner:
    DKK 25,347.69 (25.247,69 in Danish) would be spelt “toti fem tusind tre hundrede firti syv 69/00″.

  21. It might also be worth mentioning that on cheques (though those are a dying phenomenon) numbers are spelt out in a more ‘Swedish’ manner…
    And of course on the 50 crown note the number is written out as “FEMTI.”

  22. We spell firti ‘førti’ in Norway.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    It might also be worth mentioning that on cheques (though those are a dying phenomenon) numbers are spelt out in a more ‘Swedish’ manner:

    Wow. This borders on the Cebuano situation, where native, Spanish, and English numerals are used for different purposes, and those places in England that have separate numerals just for counting sheep.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Ah. Kierkegaard is pronounced just the way I’d have imagined, except that the d is silent and there’s this glottalization thingy.

  25. Yeah, “stød” is a bitch. But it’s all the difference between mum and murder. Or dad’s and mincemeat. Very confusing.
    Interestingly. If that map’s to be trusted I grew up just on the border. Too bad we never spoke dialect at home. Comes from having mixed parentage, I guess.

  26. Thank you, David, for the sheep-counting link. Fascinating!

  27. using the online game World of Warcraft for teaching language
    Last summer I met a German guy with nearly fluent English. I asked how he did it and he said he used the game “Monkey Island”. I’m always looking for something free and intuitive my students can do online as I have 8 hours a week to fill in my computer class. I tried to download the free short version in our computer lab, but there appears to be a firewall preventing it. I’ll have to find out the hours of the computer tech and see if this can be done on a couple computers.
    World of Warcraft is popular here with some teachers, but as far as I can tell, it’s not free. Funding anything in public institutions here–even something small like computer disks or coffee and donuts–is a year long process that you have to do on your own time using approved vendors and is not guaranteed.
    Someone told me about Runescape, there’s a free version you don’t have to download, but so far I haven’t had time to figure it out–my students have the link, but they haven’t figured it out yet either.

  28. John Emerson says:

    I have a friend who taught him tolerable reading Italian off the liner notes of prog rock CDs.

  29. John Emerson says:

    I have a friend who taught him tolerable reading Italian off the liner notes of prog rock CDs.

  30. Crown, AJP says:

    That’s a lovely link about the shepherds, David. I had no idea. I love the words and rhymes. Also the way they may have used base five sounds very credible. Thank you. It led me to the conclusion that ‘Four score years and ten’ is not so bizarre after all; it was probably a quite normal rural expression in the 1860s.
    Sili, in Norway they are trying to do away with the ‘fire-og-tyve’ -type number system. I was taught to say ‘tjue-fire’ in language classes when I came here; but now, like most older adults, I use both systems (it depends on the age of the person I’m talking to).
    I must say this is a very interesting thread for me.
    Marie-Lucie & Athel, I should have said that the reason I’m interested in the Piedmontese connection is because I read a little while ago Primo Levi’s book “The Periodic Table”, in which in one chapter he traces his Jewish forebears’ movements in Southern France and Spain and then to Venice and finally to Turin. I wanted to reread the history he gives of family names, but I’ve lent it to my mother so I can’t look anything up. Anyway, I recommend it if you haven’t read it.

  31. SnowLeopard says:

    Korean also seems to have two entirely distinct counting vocabularies up through 99, both base 10, one of which is loosely derived from Mandarin. Within the circumscribed world of my Pimsleur CDs, one is used for telling time and ordering drinks, and the other seems to be reserved exclusively for talking about money. The appropriate chapter of the grammar on hand suggests the choice may be far more complicated than that.
    I also seem to recall that although Yup’ik Eskimo has a nicely developed counting system based on groups of five up to twenty (including the delightful “arvinlegen” for six–roughly, “crossing over” to the other hand, and “qulngurita’ar” for nine– almost but not quite ten), in Greenlandic all of the cognate numerals above 12 have been replaced by their Danish counterparts.

  32. I bet your Catalan visitors can understand Occitan, but you should ask if they can understand Piedmontese.
    Too late to ask them, unfortunately, because they left for Valencia at 5 o’clock this morning (ugh!). I did ask them a different question, however, why it was that I could understand quite a lot of their Catalan, but much less of what our friends from Barcelona say. They said that Western Catalan (which is what one speaks in Valencia, though it’s not what I would call west) has a sound system much closer to that of Castilian than Eastern Catalan has.
    I haven’t heard much Occitan, but I’ve heard a bit of Provençal, because the Marseilles regional programme of France 3 has programmes in or about Provençal from time to time, and it sounds a lot more like French than Catalan does. However, I suspect that that is because there are no native speakers of Provençal any more; they’re nearly all French people who have learned it in an artificial way, and speak with a French accent. (I say “nearly all” rather than “all”, because there probably exist a few foreigners who’ve learned it for some reason — I know a Professor of Physiology at Oxford who is as English as I am who is fluent in Occitan.)

  33. michael farris says:

    Korean and Japanese both have dual counting systems one native and one borrowed from Chinese.
    IIRC the two have become intertwined in Japanese especially classifier constructions while they’re a little more separate in Korean.
    Vietnamse theoretically has a dual system but the Chinese numbers aren’t used so often in the modern language

  34. From what I little I recall hearing about Kalaallisut the word for twenty means something like “a whole human being”.
    Apparently it gets very complicated from there, hence the preference for Danish.
    I do believe that Greenlandic doesn’t have this ridiculous obsession with ‘purity’ so they adobt words left, right and centre (including lots of English from the US base at Thule). But of course conjugating them according to their polysynthetics.

  35. Crown, AJP says:

    Do you know if there is, for example, a vocabulary of contemporary physiology in Occitan and if that came down via Latin or across from French or English? Occitan is supposed to have 450,000 words according to one Wiki-quoted estimate, which would give it as many words as English (excluding technical expressions) and ten times as many words as, say, Norwegian. My numbers are probably off, but you get the general idea.

  36. Perhaps Language can rent us out at a dollar a comment.
    Aha, a business plan!
    *rubs hands, cackles greedily*
    Also, I’m back from NYC, which is where I spent yesterday; thanks for not burning the place down while I wasn’t around to supervise. And Sili, thanks for both the book and the numerical explanation, which was remarkably lucid!

  37. Crown, AJP says:

    The business plan is that you take 15% and in some cases, with really provocative comments about panties, only 12%. Nevertheless, with the huge backlog you must have by now you ought to be able to give up this book-editing madness and devote yourself to us full-time.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    I haven’t heard much Occitan, but I’ve heard a bit of Provençal, because the Marseilles regional programme of France 3 has programmes in or about Provençal from time to time, and it sounds a lot more like French than Catalan does. However, I suspect that that is because there are no native speakers of Provençal any more; they’re nearly all French people who have learned it in an artificial way, and speak with a French accent.
    Provençal is one of the dialects of Occitan. In the Middle Ages (when Southern culture was a lot more sophisticated than the Northern one, especially from a literary point of view) the words Provence and Provençal were applied to most of the area, and that continued until a few decades ago, but now Provençal is only applied to the Occitan speech of Provence. The “true Occitan” or the basis of the normalized variety applies more to the central area, still called Languedoc (from langue d’oc, oc being the old way of saying “yes” in the language).
    You are right about why the Provençal you hear sounds like French – many people are trying to learn it but if they don’t come from a local rural area (especially if they are from the Northern half of France) they will speak Provençal with a French accent, that is, not observing the stress pattern of Provençal, which is similar to that of Spanish or Catalan.
    My own mother had spoken Occitan as well as French as a small child, from being sent to live with relatives in Languedoc during the first world war, and although she lost her fluency at a young age and grew up in Paris she sometimes came up with snatches of Occitan, but she spoke it with a very strong French accent, quite unlike her parents who were native Occitan speakers from a rural area (but of course did not want their children or grandchildren to learn it as it was a sign of rurality and they had been punished for speaking it in school). My own knowledge of Occitan is much more passive than active, although I have been told that my pronunciation is right on – I try to speak like my grandparents rather than my mother.
    Do you know if there is, for example, a vocabulary of contemporary physiology in Occitan and if that came down via Latin or across from French or English? Occitan is supposed to have 450,000 words according to one Wiki-quoted estimate
    I doubt it very much! (both the existence of such a dictionary – although it is possible – and especially the huge number of words). Occitan covers 5 or 6 major dialects, each with minor local variations, and the high number of words probably reflects the many dialectal versions of the same words (in this case, it would be the number of entries rather than separate words). It is likely that new technical terms have been coined (or rather adapted from French or Latin) for scientific purposes in recent years, but the bulk of the vocabulary would reflect a former way of life which was mostly rural (although for a long time the Southern cities also spoke Occitan, and the upper class was bilingual, especially the men, who had had more education in French). As I said earlier, the Wiki article on Occitan seems to me to be overoptimistic. I should add that there are many interesting and colorful words in those dialects: as in Spanish and italian there are suffixes which add emotional meanings, especially pejorative.
    I have a book (not a scholarly one) published a few decades ago, stressing the linguistic variety in France, both in French and in the minority languages. It contains a few pages of Occitan from a novel: a conversation between two friends, living in Paris. They need to buy subway tickets, and therefore to speak to the ticket seller, a woman from the Caribbean: the exchange is in Occitan! This could be an attempt to demonstrate that Occitan has a word for everything, but it seems to me ridiculous to pretend that the ticket seller also speaks Occitan. Were that the case, surely the ticket buyers would react in some way to the unexpected situation, just as the Caribbean lady would certainly react if addressed by ordinary-looking Frenchmen in Creole. It is not as if the Occitan-reading public is ignorant of French.

  39. Languedoc (from langue d’oc, oc being the old way of saying “yes” in the language)
    Don’t they still use it, then? Apparently oc came from Latin, hic, hæc, hoc. I thought that was very interesting because that must have been how the Romans said yes, which was something that had always bothered me about Latin (no yes and no words).
    In the Middle Ages (when Southern culture was a lot more sophisticated than the Northern one, especially from a literary point of view
    It said in Wiki that Dante praised the 12th c. Occitan troubadour Arnaut Danièl in the Pergatorio: as “il miglior fabbro” (the best craftsman/creator, literally “the best smith”) and [Arnaut Danièl was] called “Grand Master of Love” by Petrarch. In the 20th century [Arnaut Danièl] was lauded by Ezra Pound as the greatest poet to have ever lived, in his work The Spirit of Romance (1910).
    When I become dictator we’ll all be speaking Occitan.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    It is not that they don’t use the word (some dialects may still say oc, I don’t know), but that it has evolved: in my grandparents’ village they said o or o be (literally like oui bien).
    The origin is indeed Latin hoc. In the Northern half of the country they said hoc ille which evolved into oïl and later oui (pronounced like English we).

  41. Marie-Lucie, thank you for your very full comments about Occitan.
    You’ve sort of said already, but could you confirm that whatever the definition used by linguists, in practice when ordinary people today talk about “Occitan” they usually mean the form used in the Languedoc and they don’t usually include Provençal. I realize that it’s all a matter of gradation, and that there are no hard frontiers between the whole range of dialects spoken all acros southern France and north-eastern Spain.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Athel, it would depend on whose definition of Occitan one uses, but I think you are right. It is more difficult to reconcile the two dialects at the geographical extremes (Gascon in the West and Provençal in the East) with the normalized version of Occitan than for the more central varieties.

  43. thanks for not burning the place down while I wasn’t around to supervise
    I take it you haven’t seen the whisky cabinet yet…
    I have a friend who taught him tolerable reading Italian off the liner notes of prog rock CDs.
    My count:
    English – Star Trek TNG
    German – MacGyver, Star Trek TOS and DS9, Babylon 5
    Finnish – Salatut elämät and various Playstation games
    Catalan – surprisingly enough, Stargate. I had no idea anything was dubbed into Catalan, let alone Stargate.

  44. michael farris says:

    The only series that’s helped me was Monk (and Columbo) in Czech. Cheap dvds of both can be found in Poland but without the original soundtrack. Instead, the options are Polish (sometimes also Russian) voiceover (yech) or dubbed into Czech so I watch the Czech version with Polish subtitles.
    I sometimes watch part with Czech subtitles too but I usually understand more of the spoken dialogue with Polish subtitles for some reason.
    Also I once spent a couple of months following a Brazilian soap with Dutch subtitles. I could only understand bits and pieces of the dialogue and half understand the subtitles but it was easy enough to follow the various plots. Sadly, after it ended it was replaced with an American soap I had no interest in.

  45. Crown, AJP says:

    I just happened to look up Champollion on Wiki for something my wife needed, and I noticed there’s nothing about his having spoken Occitan (or actually any other contemporary European language apart from French). But do you think that’s right, Marie-Lucie, that he wouldn’t have spoken Occitan as his first language? It sounds a bit odd, considering where he grew up (Figeac, département Lot, it’s also the setting for “Lacombe, Lucien” and the birthplace of Charles Boyer, apparently). It’s right plonk in the middle of Occitània, no matter what geographic definition you use.
    I discovered a useful French Wiki jumping-off point (portal) for Occitan and Occitània:
    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portail:Occitanie
    where they even have gastronomic links (Fromages : le roquefort, le cantal, la fourme d’Ambert, le bleu d’Auvergne, le pélardon, le picodon, l’ossau-iraty, le rocamadour, le pérail, le bethmale, le saint-nectaire, le salers, le banon) as well as the information that Richard Cœur de Lion était aussi troubadour, il composait ses chansons en occitan. It is obviously one of the great medieval culture languages, as you implied yesterday, Marie-Lucie.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Champollion: given that he grew up in a small town, he probably grew up bilingual in French and Limousin, the local dialect of Occitan, but only French would have been considered important, so it is not surprising that the role of Occitan would have been left unmentioned.
    I did not know about Richard Coeur de Lion, but a number of poets from various origins are known to have written in Occitan, including some Italian ones, such was the prestige of its literature at the time.
    The high Occitan culture was wiped out with the Albigensian crusade: many people in the area, including most of the upper class, had become adepts of Catharism, a barely Christian “heresy”, and a particularly horrendous crusade was launched against them from the North, with papal blessing.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    I had missed some of the comments on number systems above. Quite a few languages have number words that refer quite clearly to parts of the body or to gestures made when counting with the hands. The 5-, 10- and 20- based systems are obviously based on the number of our fingers and toes rather than on mathematical principles: from that point of view the 12-based system is much more useful.
    Years ago I read a very interesting book about the origins of number words, translated from German, but unfortunately I have forgotten both the name and the author. But there is a more recent and more comprehensive book on number systems, originally in French but it has been translated, by a Mr Zifrah ( I think that is the right spelling). The book received a prize of some sort. Sorry to be so vague, but the book is worth looking for.

  48. Thanks, that’s very interesting. I’ll look up Catharism and the Albigensian crusade.

  49. John Emerson says:

    For awhile I was reading detective fiction, without a dictionary, in languages I didn’t know (Catalan, Dutch, Norwegian) which were cognate with languages I knew. The stereotyped plots, settings and writing made that possible. You need cognates and a a grammatical anchor, though (at least I did): I had no luck with Polish or Finnish. A Rosetta Stone experiment with those two languages would have taken a lot more work.

  50. John Emerson says:

    For awhile I was reading detective fiction, without a dictionary, in languages I didn’t know (Catalan, Dutch, Norwegian) which were cognate with languages I knew. The stereotyped plots, settings and writing made that possible. You need cognates and a a grammatical anchor, though (at least I did): I had no luck with Polish or Finnish. A Rosetta Stone experiment with those two languages would have taken a lot more work.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    John, that is an excellent idea. I learned a lot of English reading detective novels. Wanting to know what is going to happen prevents you from reading the dictionary instead. But in a language I am not very familiar with I don’t like to read something if I am not sure of how to pronounce it. For instance, I would like to improve my (never very advanced but now very rusty) Russian by reading, but I don’t often know where to place the stress, and for dialogues it is frustrating not to know what the intonation would be. I wonder where I could find “talking books” – recorded books – in Russian. Even books that I would not be particularly interested in if they were in French or English become much more interesting when there is a linguistic challenge. If detective novels are not available or suitable, collections of short stories are especially good for this purpose.

  52. I would like to improve my (never very advanced but now very rusty) Russian by reading, but I don’t often know where to place the stress
    Yes, this is a problem; wrong stress is one of the main things Russians make fun of in foreign accents (e.g., portraying foreigners in movies). There are books for students that print the words with accents, but I find that unnatural; I simply looked up every word I was unsure of, and over the years got even the weirdly shifting stresses under my belt (e.g., prostynyá ‘sheet,’ plural próstyni, prostýn’, prostynyám…).

  53. marie-lucie,
    re: Russian audiobooks.
    I could hook you up, though I’m afraid I only have the usual fare: Harry Potter, Night Watch (the Russian fantasy, not Prachett) and alike. But maybe, just maybe, I can find some short stories…
    By the way, have you tried Librivox?

  54. mollymooly says:

    A friend spent a couple of months working in Malta. They’re trilingual, so the only Maltese he learnt were the numbers from 0 to 5, for radio reports of English soccer scores. (thus, [gibberish] = “at least six”). If he was a basketball fan, he might have learnt higher numbers, though I don’t know if Maltese radio covers the NBA.

  55. Thanks for the librivox link, Bulbul. It’s a shame that they only have one South Asian offering, but it is very nice to hear some of Mirza Ghalib’s famous poetry being read properly for a change.

  56. I’ll look up Catharism and the Albigensian crusade.
    When you do, you’ll find it less confusing if you realize at the outset that the Simon de Montfort that you’ll read about as one of the nastiest people in history is a different Simon de Montfort from the one you learned about in English history. (The latter was the grandson of the former, if I remember rightly). Even so, I don’t suppose that the University of Narbonne will ever feel inclined to forge close relations with Simon de Montfort University in Leicester.

  57. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Thanks. How confusing of them. I still haven’t looked, but I’m planning to.

  58. Here‘s the wikipedia article.
    What I remember is this.
    The Cathari were very grass roots. They had female and male leaders (maybe like the later beguine?). They didn’t need an organized church structure or buildings to function. As churches go, not much of a business model. And not in sync with Rome at all. Their demise was a series of bloody massacres ending in a huge bloody massacre at some big castle thingy. This is the origin of the famous sentiment, “Kill them all! God will recognize His own!”

  59. “Monkey Island” computer game for teaching English…
    This is a DOS program and must run in a DOS compatible environment like Windows 3.1, Windows95, or Windows98. It doesn’t run on XP.

  60. Sili: Danish counting is vigesimal in nature.
    What about the letters lower than 20? I was trying to make out if there was some octal system as I have heard about this in relation to the old futhark alphabet and the old monetary system. I think cartoon pirates still refer to “pieces of eight”.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    The Wikipedia article about Catharism is amazingly detailed, with both historical detail and a lot of speculation, and there are pages of heated discussion. The final massacre took place at the end of the long siege of the castle of Montségur (literally “secure mountain” in Occitan), where the leaders held out, and which is now almost a place of pilgrimage.
    I just want to comment on the etymologies (= word origins and descent) mentioned:
    I don’t know who might have dreamed up the idea that Albigensian comes from albi – gensi meaning “elf – blood” (in what language is not specified). This is mentioned casually without any supporting evidence or indication that it is not generally accepted, and in fact it does not hold water. Albi is the name of a very old city, the name of which is said to have evolved from Albiga, the Latin transcription of a name which was probably pre-Indo-European (this word has nothing to do with the word elf which is of Germanic origin). The inhabitants (most of whom were massacred during the crusade under the assumption that “God will know his own”) are called in French Albigeois and the Latin form was Albigenses, with the suffix -ens- as in other names designating inhabitants of a place, in this case Albiga (Albigensian in English is itself derived from the singular form of the Latin word). So there has never been a real word gensi (of whatever origin or meaning) hiding within this word.
    In the discussion someone mentions a link with the Etruscans (even though there are more than 1000 years between the end of Etruria as an entity and the heyday of Catharism) and there is a reference to a Basque person who thinks that Basque and Etruscan are related because of a slight resemblance between the word “Etruscan” and another word said to be the name of the Basque language in Basque (but the word given is not the usual Basque one). This resemblance is a chance coincidence and the languages are not related, although since Basque has been tentatively linked to a vast number of other languages (including of course Dravidian) but nothing has ever been proven or even strongly supported, it is not surprising that someone might have hit on Etruscan as a potential relative.

  62. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Great post, M-L. One thing we still have in common with the Romans is that we like to think that our favourite thing came from the Etruscans. Architects love the Etruscans for their ur-column.

  63. Marie-Lucie, what is the Basque word that the “Etruscans” say is cognate? I once had the good fortune to know two children who were likely the only people in the world trilingual in English, Basque and Maaori, and I had heard the fable of the connexion between the Basque and Etruscan, but I’d never known what “evidence” was offered. Surely they’re not claiming “euskera” or the like as proof that the two are connected?

  64. I’m not sure how much it’s used in Europe, in Latin America Brazilians use a “language” called Portuñol when trying to communicate with Spanish speakers, which is essentially a matter of pronouncing all the vowels in a Spanish way and substituting -ción for -ção, etc.
    I remember reading about Portuñol a couple of years ago in an article discussing its spread through the Spanish Caribbean as well. I wish it well and hope that it gets its own armey un Flot one of these days.

  65. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Why is there any call for it in the Caribbean?

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Stuart: This is the quote about Basque and Etruscan in the Wiki discussion about the Cathars:
    Re Etruscan language: I met a man in Spain who said that the Etruscans ‘spoke Basque’ by which I think he meant the two civilisations were linked. The Basque language is known as Eskudar. Does anyone know if anyone has ever tried to compare Etrsucan with Eskudar?
    I remembered wrongly – so it was not a Basque man who is quoted but just a man from Spain, who obviously did not know Basque, the language being euskara not eskudar.
    The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna. It is not clear where “Etruscans” or in French “Etrusques” comes from – in Latin they were known as Tusci, hence the name of the province of “Tuscany”, and in Greek as Tyrrhenoi or Tyrsenoi. The words are not dissimilar, just not very close, especially because of the initial vowel in French and English.
    Both the Basque and Etruscan languages are considered isolates, so it is quite probable that someone has compared them but found no resemblances. Neither of them has been convincingly linked to other languages.

  67. Thanks for that, marie-lucie. I have long known about the silly attempts made to connect the two, but never knew why. If I remember correctly, there was a pretty good (for a lay audience) article on Basque at [url=http://everything2.com/node/162793]everything2.com[/url]. Nicholas, who contributed there as Gritchka, was very good at educating without condescension or dumbing down, very much like the crew here.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    Stuart, I tried the address you gave but it did not work.
    Actually, I had not known about any attempts to link Basque and Etruscan, but I presume it was a part of trying to prove that the Etruscans were indigenous to Italy, rather than being Anatolian immigrants as was the near-unanimous consensus in antiquity. Now that DNA evidence has sided with the consensus (which is also bolstered by the numerous cultural resemblances long noticed between Etruria and some parts of Anatolia and the Near East), perhaps the linguistic focus will shift (or has already shifted) to the non-Indo-European languages of that area.

  69. Sorry about that, marie-lucie. I wrote the link as if on a forum, not in HTML:
    everything2.com

  70. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Stuart. The text is very well done. At the end Gritchka gives a link to Larry Trask, who was the top Basque specialist in English as well as an excellent overall linguist. For a short introduction to linguistics, Trask’s “Language: the basics” is also excellent.

  71. I shall look out for that Trask book, thanks. Gritchka’s article mentions “The people wear the txapela or beret”. I know from my Basque friends that “tx” is pronounced like the ch in “chin” (My friend anglicised the spelling of her family name to Chopitea, but here brother stuck with Txopitea, and apparently there’s a “txoo txoo” train tourist ride in Basque country), so I wonder if there’s any chance of “txapela” being an import, fcince if it was spelled with a ch, it bears a resemblance to “chapeau”. Am I adding 2+2 to make 7.6 here, do you think?

  72. No, it’s certainly a borrowing; the question is whether they got it from Old French chapel (the source of modern chapeau) or from some related Romance form.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Stuart, this is very astute of you! I knew how to pronounce tx but had not thought of connecting txapela to chapeau, which in Old French was chapel pronounced almost like English chapel (which is from French chapelle) but with stress on the second syllable. One would have to consult a work on the history of Basque (eg Trask’s) to be sure, but it is a possibility.

  74. So, my SWAG about txapela may have been pretty near the mark, if some guy named Larry Trask is to be believed:
    txapela The Basque beret. The word derives from Latin capellum `cap’, and the Basque word has the variants kapela and gapelu.”

Speak Your Mind

*