David J. Peterson on Creating Languages.

I wrote about David Peterson, who invents the languages for Game of Thrones, here, and we had a nice long discussion, but there’s now a wide-ranging interview with him at A.V. Club that goes into a lot of stuff not covered in the previous article, and the guy is very articulate about languages and what’s involved in creating them, so I can’t resist posting this one as well. Here’s a sample:

AVC: One of the things that’s interesting about what you’re doing is that you have to make these languages sound real and plausible in ways that most of us can understand but can’t quite articulate. What is that stuff we’re picking up on?

DP: First of all, there’s a big difference between producing something that looks like language as text and producing a spoken element that sounds like language. There are two different things going on here. The first is that when I’m creating a language, I’m trying to produce something that’s maximally authentic—so that if a linguist were to look at it, and we said this is a new language that appeared in the middle of Australia, they would look at it and say, “Oh, wow.” It’s got to have that. It has to have the grammar behind it, and the history behind it that produces that grammar.

But when it comes to speaking, that’s a different skill set. And there are people that aren’t even language people, per se, but can produce fluent-sounding gibberish. Language creators have the ability to create inflectional prosody. And that’s the thing that ends up selling a language; it’s something that I create on purpose and try to encode.

AVC: How many languages are you working on in the Game Of Thrones universe right now?

DP: So there’s Dothraki, and that’s a very easy one because it’s just a nice isolate. It’s related to another language in the universe, but we haven’t seen that and probably won’t, I’m guessing, in the show. So there’s that. Then in the very first season, they had me come up with little sketches for something that the White Walkers would speak. And something that Mirri Maz Duur would speak when she was doing the chanting from Asshai’i. That language. Two little sketches—they weren’t full languages. I don’t think that they ended up using either of them, honestly, in the show. I did those things, but I’d say they’re probably non-canon at this point.

Then from the Valyrian family, I created High Valyrian—a dead language that’s still spoken by a lot of people as an academic literary language. Among the Targaryens, it was kept alive as a family language. That’s why Daenerys speaks it—and presumably Viserys, her brother, also spoke it. It just never came up. So there’s that.

Descended from High Valyrian is Low Valyrian—what’s spoken in Slaver’s Bay. The first instantiation of this we saw was Astapori Valyrian. The reason that they spoke this is because the old Valyrian Freehold basically sacked the old Ghiscari Empire five times, and then after the fifth time, they completely obliterated and destroyed their capital city, Old Ghis. That empire was destroyed and became a part of the Valyrian Freehold. At that point, Valyrian, as it was, took over as the primary language spoken throughout Slaver’s Bay, supplanting the old Ghiscari language. All this history, this comes directly from the books.

Astapori Valyrian is an evolved form of High Valyrian. It’s about the same relationship as Italian is to Latin. But there are also a bunch of borrowed words from Ghiscari. Ghiscari hasn’t been developed as a full language, because it’s dead and nobody speaks it. But it has a phonological character that we’ve seen from names in the books. Like Hizdahr zo Loraq and Reznak mo Reznak. So we see a little bit of what it would have sounded like. I sprinkled Ghiscari loanwords through Low Valyrian. Yunkai basically speaks the same language. It might be a little different in spots, but we can treat it as the same language.

The next variety, which has a very different sound, is Meereenese Valyrian. It’s the same language as Astapori Valyrian for the most part, except that it has more Ghiscari loanwords and the sound of it is really, really different. And that was done specifically at Dave’s and Dan’s request. Daenerys understands Astapori Valyrian, which is a bit of a stretch, but we’ll take it. But they want her to not be able to understand the people of Meereen. It’s not a different language. But I made it sound so different that somebody who isn’t completely fluent in this Low Valyrian variant wouldn’t understand it. People from Astapor probably understand it and think it’s somebody with a really, really thick accent. But somebody who isn’t super keyed into it is probably going to get lost, and that’s in effect where Daenerys is. She can’t follow it at all. It just sounds too different.

As you can see, he puts in an incredible amount of work on this stuff, and the way he talks about it makes me curious about watching the show (as does, of course, jamessal’s enthusiasm). By the way, anyone who’s curious about the “Ki fin yeni!” in the interview’s title can find the translation here under “Common Phrases.”


  1. It’s a strange art form, language creation: although I enjoy it myself, I have zero interest in (and even feel some vicarious embarrassment at) the productions of others. I can’t think of another creative field of which this is true.

    Does anyone know what he means by “inflectional prosody”?

  2. Sounds to me like the sort of error reporters make when a source says something they don’t quite get.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    “inflectional prosody”

    Intonation – the range of pitches and pitch contours the language uses: whether it’s a “singsong” or a “lilt” or “harsh” or “flat”…

    “Inflection” is often used for the intonation of a question (usually rising pitch, but sometimes a buckling one like in Russian, and so on and so forth).

  4. jamessal says:

    Does anyone know what he means by “inflectional prosody”?

    The interviewer actually followed up on that:

    AVC: So what’s inflectional prosody?

    DP: It’s when you’re listening to the first vocalization programs that computers had. You had them read a sentence, and it’s a fluid English sentence, but it does not sound human at all. And it wasn’t just because of the pronunciation of the sounds. It’s the way that the sentence flows. Every single language has its own intonational pattern—things that get reinforced to help do the grammar, basically. You could take fluent sentences of English, and [Speaks like a robot.] if you read everything exactly the same, that’s what it sounds like. It sounds like Vicki the robot.

  5. jamessal says:

    Unfortunately I couldn’t find it online, but on HBO, in the “Extras and Credits” of many of the first season’s episodes, there’s a great clip about the invented languages, with interviews of Peterson and the actors speaking Dothraki. (Synchronistically, even though I’ve been watching the show for years now, I came across and watched the clip only just yesterday, before seeing Hat’s post.)

  6. jamessal says:

    By “on HBO,” I meant available on HBO On Demand, and that’s actually just an assumption; I use Roku to watch TV.

  7. Valyrian clearly serves as a Latin analog in this universe, although in the case of the Targaryens, I think you could also draw parallels to something like Manchu during the Qing period, where a foreign dynasty conquers a big country and maintains their language within the family for several centuries. (The series has a fun way of recombining historical elements like that.) In line with what Peterson said about Martin’s naming practices, the Targaryens have “classical”-sounding names which set them apart from the native Westerosi, who bear an array of lightly modified English names.

    Now, one believability issue that was raised in the previous thread is the fact that the Common Tongue is Modern English – and if I remember correctly, Martin has said that they really are speaking English, not some other tongue in dramatic translation, like in the LotR universe. So of course, it makes not one bit of sense that their speech is full of French- and Latin-derived words in a world with no France and no Rome – and with none of the Valyrian words that you actually would expect in their universe. There was a time when this really would have bugged me, but now I’m largely willing to put it out of my mind and take the universe for what the author intends it to be. Martin just isn’t a language guy; to the extent that languages do feature in his world, it’s to support his main goal of telling stories inspired by history. In this respect, as in several others, he’s a sort of a reverse Tolkien.

  8. Stefan Holm says:

    Prosody is a much underestimated aspect of language (and probably the main obstacle to overcome in artificially created speech). Comprehensive studies have for long been made by Swedish dialectologists and they all boil down to the conclusion: prosody is what matters.

    In dialects there are local words and expressions and there are varieties in the pronunciation of vowels, consonats and diphthongs (as when the Aussies replace their brain with a brine. But exposed to different dialects these variations mean nothing to a Swedish listener compared to the prosody of the speaker in deciding where he/she comes from.

    J.W. mentioned the “Swedish chef” in the Muppet show. Nobody, absolutely nobody, with Swedish as L1 would hesitate in placing his gibberish in the region Dalarna (Dalecarlia). And that’s consistent with the actual story. The “chef” was a Swede from Dalecarlia who got displeased with his backseat role in the show and in protest started to talk balderdash – but with the unmistakable Dalecarlian prosody he couldn’t avoid.

    Now this could be more important in Swedish than in other languages since it is one of very few European ones that are tonal (‘sing-song’). The others I can think of are Norwegian, Lithuanian and Serbian. I’d be very interested in learning about this importance of prosody in the dialects and sociolects of other languages – like for instance the American ‘valley girl uptalk’.

  9. Does anyone know what he means by “inflectional prosody”?

    As jamessal points out, that’s addressed in the interview itself. I couldn’t quote the whole thing, so I have to assume people interested in the details will click through.

    Nobody, absolutely nobody, with Swedish as L1 would hesitate in placing his gibberish in the region Dalarna (Dalecarlia). And that’s consistent with the actual story. The “chef” was a Swede from Dalecarlia who got displeased with his backseat role in the show and in protest started to talk balderdash – but with the unmistakable Dalecarlian prosody he couldn’t avoid.

    That’s really interesting, and it was worth making the post just to learn it!

  10. John Wright says:

    A truly enriching interview to read – thank you for sharing.

    Puts me in mind of an interview I once saw on telly with Anthony Burgess, when he spoke about how he created the primitive language used in the film Quest for Fire.

  11. What about the language mix Burgess made up for Clockwork Orange ? As I recall (zero reliability here) it was essentially English with Russian words thrown in, like “droog” for “friend”. From the feel of it not so different from TexMex. Did that have much influence on subsequent tv-series languages ? Blade Runner, maybe, with that mix of English and Japanese (Chinese ?).

  12. Although Blade Runner was never a tv series.

  13. In the episode of The Muppet Show with Jean Stapleton, it was revealed that the Swedish Chef was actually Japanese (although Stapleton pointed out that his Japanese was as fake as his Swedish).

  14. Martin has said that they really are speaking English, not some other tongue in dramatic translation, like in the LotR universe.

    Bah. What does he know?

    The poet may of course have some critical ability of his own, and so interpret his own work; but the Dante who writes a commentary on the first canto of the Paradiso is merely one more of Dante’s critics. What he says has a peculiar interest, but not a peculiar authority. Poets are too often the most unreliable judges of the value or even the meaning of what they have written. When Ibsen maintains that Emperor and Galilean is his greatest play and that certain episodes in Peer Gynt are not allegorical, one can only say that Ibsen is an indifferent critic of Ibsen. Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads is a remarkable document, but as a piece of Wordsworthian criticism nobody would give it more than about a B+.

    Critics of Shakespeare are often supposed to be ridiculed by the assertion that if Shakespeare were to come back from the dead he would not be able to understand their criticism and would accuse them of reading far more meaning into his work than he intended. This, though pure hypothesis, is likely enough: we have very little evidence of Shakespeare’s interest in criticism, either of himself or of anyone else. But all that this means is that Shakespeare, though a great dramatist, was not also the greatest of Shakesperean critics. Why should he be?

         —Northrop Frye, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time” (recycled in different form in Anatomy of Criticism)

    Wikipedia says the inspiration for the Swedish Chef is disputed. The specifically Dalecarlian prosody suggests that the claim of the chef Lars “Kuprik” Bäckman (from Rättvik) may be correct, though people associated with the show deny it, not unnaturally.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    I’d be very interested in learning about this importance of prosody in the dialects and sociolects of other languages –

    Most non-tonal languages of the world put, all else being equal, a higher pitch on stressed syllables. Swiss German uses a lower pitch instead; then the pitch jumps up for the next syllable, and the following one may have a falling pitch. That’s very distinctive.

  16. There are some languages that subjectively sound “sing-songy” to me, which are not tonal. Mexican Spanish, at least the dialects I hear in the US; Swiss German, at least the dialects I have heard (St. Gallen); or England/Scotland border dialects of English. From memory, I’d say what they have in common is a wide and consistent distinction in pitch and/or length between stressed and unstressed syllables, which gives the impression of a repeating phrase of short-long or high-low notes.

  17. “Mexican Spanish, at least the dialects I hear in the US….”

    It’s interesting that you should say that. Last year I spent some time p̶r̶o̶c̶r̶a̶s̶t̶i̶n̶a̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ on Youtube looking up different accents of Spanish and to see what other people thought of the Mexican ones. One impression that came up fairly frequently among other Spanish speakers is that the Mexican accent(s) sounds “cantado” or “sung” which is funny because I would’ve thought the Italian-sounding Porteño accent from the River Plate region would be the one that sounds sing-songy to others.

  18. Does anyone know what he means by “inflectional prosody”?

    As jamessal points out, that’s addressed in the interview itself. I couldn’t quote the whole thing, so I have to assume people interested in the details will click through.

    Yep, my bad. I don’t see how what he’s describing is different from just “prosody”, though. That’s a weird use of “inflectional”.

  19. I would’ve thought the Italian-sounding Porteño accent from the River Plate region would be the one that sounds sing-songy to others.

    Heh. The River Plate region (specifically, Buenos Aires) is where I learned my Spanish, and of course it sounds perfectly normal to me. The Mexican accent, on the other hand, does sound sing-songy.

  20. Stefan Holm says:

    If you are really interested in Swedish phonology, there is a standard work by Gösta Bruce et.al. called Vår fonetiska geografi (hope this link works): https://www.studentlitteratur.se/html/demo/var_fonetiska_geografi/ (click on ‘Boken’). There as an appetizer the pages 67-87, the chapter about pitch, is available on line. The text is in Swedish but diagrams and maps tell the whole story with some explanations:

    The first recordings of Swedish prosody were made by a German linguist, Ernst A. Meyer, between 1937 and 1954. The primitive devices in those days only allowed for very short expressions. So people where asked to say things like hundra dollar (hundred dollars) and tio kronor (ten crowns).

    Based upon Meyer’s material Swedish linguist Eva Gårding during the ‘70s typologically classified the Swedish dialects into five main types: 0, 1A,1B, 2A and 2B. Now look at page 71, where the diagram shows the difference in pitch between them for acute and grave accent respectively. As you can see in type 0 there is no difference between dollar (acute) and kronor (grave). In 1A and 1B the grave has one pitch peak while in 2A and 2B it has two pitch peaks. The next page (72) shows the geographical distribution based on Meyer’s material.

    Now a more comprehensive study was done around 2000 in the ‘SweDia’ project, illustrated on page 74. Each sign on the map corresponds to four recordings (younger female, older female, younger male and older male). It matches the earlier material – i.e. prosody has been quite stable in Swedish during the 20th c.

    If you now look at pages 79, 81 and 83, you will find the tonal patterns for longer words like in this case mobiltelefonen, ‘the cell phone’ (The last one on p.83 should be named 2B though).

    This was the pitch. Respiratory stress is a little different and shown in the diagrams on p.84. The solid lines mark pitch in ‘short compunds’ and the dotted line in ‘long compounds’, i.e. where there is at least one unstressed syllable between the one with primary and the one with secondary respiratory stress. First arrow marks the primary stress. Second arrow marks the secondary stress in ‘short’ compunds and third arrow the secondary stress in ‘long’ compounds.

    The ‘Swedish chef’ was a 1B guy while I’m a 2B ditto (2A and 2B are the historical dialects ‘svea’ and ‘göta’ respectively, comprehending some 85% of the natives). And Trond, who can read the text, probably agrees that standard Norwegian prosody is closest to 2B and that may explain the occurences of this in Jämtland (up northwest in the map on page 74).

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Stefan Holm: (hope this link works)

    Sorry. Not for me, anyway. (I’m on holiday with only my iPad for browsing and don’t feel like figuring out what’s wrong.)

  22. Works for me.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    Too bad, since I’ve been looking for a map of Swedish tonology. But I’m just about to start a double diagonal transection of Sweden from north to south and will obviously return with profound new insights.

  24. (Hmm, my comment seems to have gone west.)

    When I learned to pronounce tone 1 and tone 2 words in Swedish, I learned the 2A intonation.

    It seems weird to tone 2 “grave”; I’d expect “circumflex”, especially in the two-humped or Bactrian dialects.

  25. Unfortunately the link seems to require Flash, which the iPad doesn’t support.

  26. Stefan Holm says:

    Sure, John, ”grave” isn’t accurate. Nowadays you mostly see ”tone 1” and ”tone 2″ – or “single tone” and ”double-tone”.

    The thing is, that names of grammatical features historically have been borrowed into Swedish “mechanically” from the Latin and French grammars: Some examples are “imperfektum” (=preterite), “supinum” (=past preterite), “presens konjunktiv” (=optative), “imperfektum konjunktiv” (=subjunctive).

    “Akut” and “grav” fits into this. They were copied from French accent aigu and accent grave and supposedly mediated through German to our outskirts of the continent. Who didn’t want to have the same features in one’s own native speech as in the one spoken at Versailles by l’ancien régime?

    And of course you learned the 2A intonation – it’s the Stockholm one and proclaimed as standard, a counterpart to RP if you like. It is by the way not any longer politically correct to talk about “sveamål” (Swee, 2A) and “götamål” (Geat, 2B). East Central Swedish and West Central Swedish is what you’re supposed to say.

  27. I hasten to add that the tones were all the Swedish I ever learned, but I do retain them.

    If 2A is at the top of the historical prestige heap, where do the others stand? I’d guess that 0 is at or near the bottom, because it obliterates the “obviously necessary distinction”.

  28. The table at the English Wikipedia is helpful, but needs a row or two for tones.

  29. Stefan Holm says:

    The last 50 years or so have seen a much more tolerant attitude towards dialects. But prior to that others than 2A were considered lowbrow varieties which should be corrected in the educational system (well, my own 2B was accepted, being spoken by a numerous and economically influential part of the population). But you were never permitted to appear on radio, TV, in movies or on national theatre scenes without using the 2A standard.

    In particular the 1A of southern Sweden (the prior to 1658 Danish districts of Scania, Blekinge and Halland) could lead to massive protests if heard in a public context. “We don’t understand a word”, the protesters claimed – which was simply a lie in order to hide the actual “we will not allow anybody to speak otherwise than we”.

    On the other hand the 0 (Eastern, “Finland”, Swedish) was never put into question. The crass explanation is that the Swedish (Stockholm) elite never until this day has forgotten the 1809 loss of their Finnish territory to Russia (and pretend not to hear, when the Finns themselves think of it as their liberation). So in a vain hope for reestablishing the old order this dialect has been kept in esteem

    Today, in the age of descriptiveness, nobody dares to diminish any dialect. But whenever the question is actually discussed, it tends to get emotional. That’s why I like the “prosody approach”. Prosody is according to Swedish professional studies the most conservative element in language and (measured by instruments) thus the most objective way to describe it. The maps and diagrams in “Vårt fonetiska arv” are in that sense objective, descriptive facts.

  30. Perhaps it’s that the mere fact of speaking Swedish rather than Finnish in Finland conveys some status, even if the Swedish in question is rather suspiciously Finnish-like. I didn’t realize that 0 had no currency in Sweden proper, Tornedal being a unified dialect area that just happens to straddle the national border.

  31. Stefan Holm says:

    Swedish is spoken by some 5% of the population i Finland. It is, from historical reasons, constitutionally one of the two official languages in the country. This is today questioned in Finland, primarily by the populist Finns Party http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finns_Party They oppose to the pakkoruotsi, ‘mandatory Swedish’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandatory_Swedish in the Finnish educational system.

    They have got an argument: Only after a decision by the EU the Swedish parliament in 1999 officially admitted the existence of five minority langugages in Sweden. The largest of them is Finnish, spoken by some 100-300 thousand Swedes as L1 (mainly labour force immigration during the ‘50s and ‘60s). The figure is unsure since in Swedish censuses there are no questions about native language. The others are:

    Sami http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_languages spoken by the most probably oldest inhabitants in Scandinavia but endangered after centuries of ethnic persecution. There were times when Saami children were forbidden to speak their language even in the schoolyard.

    Meänkieli http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me%C3%A4nkieli_dialects spoken by people in the Torne river valley on both sides of the Finnish-Swedish border. It’s actually a Finnish dialect and therefore not really endangered.

    Romani chib http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_language the number of speakers unknown but present in Sweden since at least the 16th century. Opposite to the other minority languages Romani chib has contributed with quite many loan words in Swedish, especially in slang.

    Yiddish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiddish_language where the number of L1 speakers is thought to be extremely small (if any). The reason it got the status of minirity language is political – e.g. Swedens all but innocent role in the Holocaust (a good portion of the ideological base for nazi racist theories came from eugenics at the university of Uppsala http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statens_institut_f%C3%B6r_rasbiologi ).

  32. There were times when Saami children were forbidden to speak their language even in the schoolyard.

    This has been a common thing worldwide, I think. Modern ethnic nationalism has historically been about inculcating the national language, and universal primary education is one of the most powerful ways of doing this. The U.S. and the UK, both early modern empires, have done the same with both indigenes and immigrants.

  33. There is a difference, and not a negligible one, between inculcating the national language and punishing children for speaking another one.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    It is by the way not any longer politically correct to talk about “sveamål” (Swee, 2A) and “götamål” (Geat, 2B). East Central Swedish and West Central Swedish is what you’re supposed to say.


  35. David Marjanović says:

    There is a difference, and not a negligible one, between inculcating the national language and punishing children for speaking another one.

    Yes, but for a long time most nationalists and most bureaucrats didn’t understand that.

  36. Cutting off people’s access to their native language is a damned efficient way of getting them to use another one. When it’s done voluntarily we call it “immersion” and praise it to the skies. Here’s Tolkien on why involuntary immersion is popular (from “English and Welsh”):

    It is curious that this legal oppression of the Welsh language should have occurred under the Tudors, proud of their Welsh ancestry, and in times when the authority and favour of the politically powerful were given to what we might call ‘The Brut and all that’, and Arthurian ‘history’ was official. It was hardly safe to express in public doubt of its veracity.

    The eldest son of Henry VII was called Arthur. His survival, whether he had fulfilled any Arthurian prophecies or not, might (it may be surmised) have much changed the course of history. His brother Henry might have been remembered chiefly in the realms of music and poetry, and as the patron of such ingenious Welshmen as that numerologist and musician, John Lloyd of Caerteon, whom Mr Thurston Dart has studied and is studying. [...]

    However, as things turned out, music and verse were only the toys of a powerful monarch. No Arthurian romance would avail to protect Welsh custom and Welsh law, if it came to a choice between them and effective power. They would weigh no more in the balance than the head of Thomas More against a single castle in France.

    Governments – or far-seeing civil servants from Thomas Cromwell onwards – understand the matter of language well enough, for their purposes. Uniformity is naturally neater; it is also very much more manageable. A hundred-per-cent Englishman is easier for an English government to handle. It does not matter what he was, or what his fathers were. Such an Englishman is any man who speaks English natively, and has lost any effective tradition of a different and more independent past. For though cultural and other traditions may accompany a difference of language, they are chiefly maintained and preserved by language. Language is the prime differentiator of peoples — not of ‘races’, whatever that much-misused word may mean in the long-blended history of western Europe.

    Continued here.

  37. Stefan Holm says:

    Why not ”götamål” and ”sveamål” you ask, David.

    Well, since the 16th century Sweden has been a very centralized country with all political, economical, cultural etc. power concentrated to Stockholm. It’s not like e.g. Germany, where Berlin, Hamburg, München, Frankfurt am Main etc. very much are (federal) equals.

    Mostly this centralized system has been functioning just fine. But in some areas it has lead to controversies. Official history writing is one, against which in particular the Scanians and the Geats have reacted. For centuries the textbooks described our oldest history from Adam and Eve as emerging from the area around Lake Mälaren. Essential events in the Old Norse mythology as told by the Icelanders where placed in the surroundings. Likewise archeological excavations were concentrated there.

    During the last decades this has changed. No scientists today deny that modern Sweden grew from the south and northwards. Until the end of Bronze age the Lake Mälaren area was sea bottom (since the ice age the isostatic rebound – uplift of the land – is the fastest in the world in the east coast of mid-Sweden). When the ancient legacy of the Swees finally lost it’s glamour it was found convenient to do the same with the Geats and the Scanians. So today we are East Central Swedes, West Central Swedes and South Swedes respectively.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    I see…

  39. Alon Lischinsky says:

    The Swedish I learned in Västerbotten was full of subtle shibbolets that emphatically showed the speaker to be Not From Stockholm™. My own intuitive feeling was that two-peaked tone 2 tended to collapse into tone 1 in certain words (e.g., trädgård), but I’ve never read a good phonetic treatment of the phenomenon.

    Going back to the original topic, I see that Peterson is yet another victim of the mistaken assumption that high should mean ‘erudite, cultured’ when used in linguistic nomenclature. I haven’t read the books or watched the series, but judging from the maps of Westeros I can find online, Valyria was no less coastal than Ghis.

  40. Well, we do use H and L in sociolinguistics, so it’s not just a mistaken assumption. I think “high Tamil” and “low Tamil” might even be the native metaphors; certainly A Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary of High and Low Tamil was published in 1862.

  41. Alon Lischinsky says:

    The sociolinguistic terminology I’m more familiar with tends to use “prestige” and “vernacular” rather than H and L.

  42. Stefan Holm says:

    You are right, Alon In Västerbotten, as in Norrland as a whole, the double peaks collapse into one, when it comes to the <p<expiratory stress. But it is still there in a double raise of the pitch.

    So in Bruce’s example (see my posting July 14) mo-bil-tele-fo-nen:
    (1) both Geat, Swee and Norrland put a primary expiratory stress as well as a raised pitch on the second syllable (‘bil’).
    (2) Geat and Swee put a secondary exspiratory stress on the penultimate syllable (‘fo’) while Norrland uses no secondary stress.
    (3) Geat raises the pitch on the last syllable (‘nen’) while Swee and Norrland raises it on the penultimate (‘fo’).

  43. “high Tamil” and “low Tamil” might even be the native metaphors

    Nah, it turns out to be ‘smooth’ and ‘rough’. Oh well.

  44. Trond Engen says:

    ‘Platt’ and … something. Can ‘barsch’ stand for ‘boarisch’?

  45. Nah, it turns out to be ‘smooth’ and ‘rough’. Oh well.

    What words are you referring to?

  46. The sociolinguistic terminology I’m more familiar with tends to use “prestige” and “vernacular” rather than H and L.

    I just recently came across this footnote in the text of a talk by Jean-Luc Chevillard:

    When using the technical term “vernacular”, I am aware that there have recently been attempts (on the GB‐INFITT mailing list) to ostracize or to ban that term (even referring to it as the “V‐word”, by analogy with the “C‐word”, the “P‐word”, the “N‐word”, etc.). However, since the term “vernacular” has been used in a precise sense by great linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield, I see no reason to avoid it. Those attempts appear to me as part of a strategy for presenting “Tamil” as an non‐analysable whole, which is precisely the contrary of what I am doing here, and I shall simply ignore them. Discussion about the terminology of a field with people who are not trained in that field can hardly be expected to be rewarding.

  47. Can ‘barsch’ stand for ‘boarisch’?
    In which context? Normally, barsch means “curt”.

  48. I just recently came across this footnote in the text of a talk by Jean-Luc Chevillard

    I like the epigraph: “Linguista sum; nihil linguistici a me alienum puto” (Roman Jakobson). (I changed the URL because the one you used didn’t work.)

  49. Trond Engen says:

    Hans: In which context? Normally, barsch means “curt”.

    In the context of German as Tamil:
    Eng. ‘smooth’ ~ Ger. ‘platt’
    Eng. ‘rough’ ~ Ger. ?

    What I really want is ‘rau’ to be a synonym for Hochdeutcsh, to make German full reverse Tamil, but I’ll settle for less. Hence ‘barsch’.

  50. Oh, I see. But platt is “flat”, not “smooth” (e.g. you can have a surface that is flat, but unpolished, this would platt and rau at the same time), so rau doesn’t work as an oppsite. Fitting opposites to platt would be uneben “rough, bumpy”, hügelig “hilly, undulating”, bergig “mountaineous”. And that’s actually covered in the existing dichotomy, as the Hoch in Hochdeutsch originally refers to the high-lying, mountainous areas in the South. But if you want to go for “smooth” and “rough”, that woiuld be glatt and rau-
    Mini-rant: I find the reformed spelling rau butt-ugly, I normally use the old spelling rauh. I don’t know why, I don’t object against blau and grau, probably, because they were spelled like that before. I could say it’s because the new spelling doesn’t take the etymology into account, but it’s probably just habit. (Don’t get me wrong, there are things I like about the new orthography, like the rules for when to write ß). Rant over.

  51. fisheyed says:

    to make German full reverse Tamil,

    Can we first establish that literary Tamil is called “smooth” ?

    Literary Tamil is called செந்தமிழ், a compound of செம் + தமிழ். Madras Lexicon defines செந்தமிழ் as “refined, standard Tamil“, I have also seen it translated as “perfect Tamil”. Madras Lexicon gives a range of meanings for செம்மை but smooth is not one of them.

    Spoken varieties are called கொடுந்தமிழ், கொடு + தமிழ். கொடுமை has roughness as one of its meanings, but roughness as in uncouth rather than as in opposite of smooth. The Tamil gloss for that meaning makes this clearer, முருட்டுத்தன்மை can’t be used for a tactile description, it’s more like… thuggishness.

    As the saying goes, கல்லாதது உலக அளவு (what has not been learnt is the size of the world), but I have not heard smooth/rough as a metaphor for H/L varieties of Tamil.

  52. கல்லாதது உலக அளவு (what has not been learnt is the size of the world)

    I like that.

  53. ‘Smooth’ was just a conjecture on my part, based on a misinterpretation of ‘rough’. Thanks for digging out the real story.

  54. fisheyed says:

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