Do the Koreas Speak the Same Language?

Deborah Smith, who translated a manuscript smuggled out of North Korea, discusses an interesting issue:

One question I’ve often been asked since I started learning Korean is: do the two halves of the peninsula speak the same language? The answer is yes and not quite. Yes, because division happened only in the previous century, which isn’t enough time for mutual unintelligibility to develop. Not quite, because it is enough time for those countries’ vastly different trajectories to impact on the language they use, most noticeably in the case of English loanwords – a veritable flood in the South, carefully dammed in the North. The biggest differences, though, are those of dialect, which have pronounced regional differences both between and within North and South. Unlike in the UK, a dialect doesn’t just mean a handful of region-specific words; conjunctions and sentence endings, for example, are pronounced and thus written differently. That’s a headache until you crack the code.

But while the original manuscript of The Accusation apparently contains around 200 words that the average South Korean would be unlikely to know, I was lucky to be working from a version that had already been edited for publication in South Korea. I also had a generous friend, Kyeong-soo, to consult in those few instances when even the internet drew a blank. Still, these blanks tended not to be drawn over anything to do with ideology, party rank or the apparatus of state. Rather the challenge was capturing details such as children playing on sorghum stilts – a specificity of a culture that is in danger of becoming shared only in memory, whose evocation reaches back to a time when north Korea meant simply the collection of provinces 100 miles up the country where the food was milder, the winters were colder, and where your aunt and uncle lived.

An interesting question, but frustratingly dealt with, in that she doesn’t give any examples; fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue. (Thanks, Trevor!)

Comments

  1. The post WWII cultural tendencies of the two were in opposite directions. For a number of years the ROK forbade publications in the general arena about Communism which has its own vocabulary which is ubiquitous in the DPRK. There already were north and south local variations in pronunciation and terminology. Official DPRK publications tend to use many more Sino-Korean vocabulary items than the ROK which still uses a considerable number as well, but which also has absorbed English and other neologisms as well.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    I remember reading similar articles about the two Germanies.

    Concerning dialects and many other things, the GDR has been called the revenge of the Saxons on the Prussians.

    Official DPRK publications tend to use many more Sino-Korean vocabulary items than the ROK

    Interesting, considering their early and total abandonment of Chinese characters.

  3. People seem to be fascinated by linguistic differences between split states like the two Koreas, the two Germanies, the two Vietnams, etc. There appears to be much less interest in other cross-border differences — for example, Dutch and Flemish, Rumanian and Moldovan, or Korean as spoken in China and Korean in the two Koreas, Kazakh as spoken in China and that spoken in Kazakhstan, or (my predictable favourite) Mongolian as spoken in Mongolia and that spoken in China and Russia. Perhaps it’s because of the high profile of split states, or because strong binary oppositions are more striking, but I’ve always felt that big obvious splits are less interesting than more subtle, asymmetrical ones.

  4. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    for example, Dutch and Flemish, Rumanian and Moldovan, or Korean as spoken in China and Korean in the two Koreas, Kazakh as spoken in China and that spoken in Kazakhstan, or (my predictable favourite) Mongolian as spoken in Mongolia and that spoken in China and Russia.

    Polish as spoken in Poland and the one spoken in Lithuania (especially and perhaps paradoxically to an outsider — in the Vilnius region) is another interesting, controversial and under-researched case. While the acrolectal/literary/official Lithuanian Polish is very much like the one in Poland (differing in regionalisms and a few phonetic features like the tendency to pronounce “ł” conservatively as a velarized lateral, which is heard very rarely in Poland nowadays, or the palatalized pronunciation of “l”), there are also basilectal/slangy varieties filled with Russian and Lithuanian loanwords that don’t exist in Poland, neologisms and dialectal pronunciations (e.g. vowel reduction).

  5. Fascinating, I didn’t even realize Poland was still spoken in Lithuania!

  6. Well, only anglophones would speak “Poland” in Lithuania. Pedo mellon a minno!

    David M:

    Korean differs from Japanese in that Chinese characters are used only to write Sino-Korean words, never native words. And if North Korea retains more such words, South Korean still has plenty: some 60% of the vocabulary (though of course native words are more common).

    Indeed, the Unicode Standard includes separate code points not only for every hanja (unified with their Chinese and Japanese reflexes), but for every reading of every hanja: most hanja have only one reading, but a few hundred have two and a few have three. And this was done at a time when North Korea was not participating in Unicode. Consistent use of these Unicode code points allows mechanical round-tripping between hanja and hangul.

    North Korean students are actually taught some 3000 hanja, though they rarely see them: South Korean students are taught only 1800.

  7. It is a debatable question whether the language spoken at home by some two hundred thousand Lithuanian Poles is actually Polish.

    Sure they can read and speak standard Polish and they consider themselves Poles and many have second Polish passport and so on.

    But from strictly linguistic point of view, the “Polish” language of Lithuania is probably just a Belarussian dialect.

  8. Well, only anglophones would speak “Poland” in Lithuania.

    Woops! How’d I do that?

    But from strictly linguistic point of view, the “Polish” language of Lithuania is probably just a Belarussian dialect.

    That would make sense. We had an extensive discussion of Slavic dialects/languages in those parts some time ago.

  9. SFReader, Hat: actually, I believe that both Belarussian and Polish are spoken in Lithuania, and that the dialect (of each language) spoken within its borders differs enough from the non-Lithuanian standards that local activists have, for both varieties, sought to create a local written standard: some discussion is found on page 83 of:

    Dulicenko, Aleksandr Dmitrievie. 1994. “Fenomen literaturnyx mikrojazykov v sovremennom slavjanskom jazykovom mire,” Biblioteca Slavica Savariensis 2: 76-84.

  10. Likewise Valday area Russian dialects may be considered a form of Belorussian (and as recently as hundred years ago these villagers identified as Belorussians). The crucial identifier in such cases is probably religion. Catholic Slavic in Lithuanian tends to view itself as Polish, while Orthodox Slavic in Russia, Russian?

  11. David Marjanović says:

    North Korean students are actually taught some 3000 hanja, though they rarely see them: South Korean students are taught only 1800.

    Not the other way around?

  12. Nope. See also the section “Print media” at that link for where hanja actually are used (in the North, mostly for advertising or decorative uses; in the South, in newspaper headlines, legal documents, scholarly monographs, and along with hangeul in proper names).

  13. Ethnic origin of Lithuanian Poles is quite suspect as well.

    It appears that most of them are actually Lithuanians who were linguistically Ruthenized (Belarussianized) and culturally Polonized.

    Some of them may have been genuine colonizers, but from the south, not from the west – ie, Ruthenians, not Poles.

  14. But from strictly linguistic point of view, the “Polish” language of Lithuania is probably just a Belarussian dialect.
    I have Polish Lithuanian friends, and what they speak, also among themselves, is not some Belarussian – Polish mixed dialext and even less a Belarussian dialect, but Standard Polish with non-Standard pronunciation; as Ксёнѕ Фаўст said, one of the features is velar “l” instead of Standard Polish /w/; another is that the alveolo-palatals (ć, dź, ś, ź) are realized as palatalized t͡s, d͡z, s, z. So in these regards, their Polish is a bit closer to Belarussian than to the Polish Standard (and represents a historically older Polish pronunciation), but the lexicon and grammar is clearly Polish, and their Polish also doesn’t share Belarussian features like lengthening of certain plalatalised clusters, depalatalisation of /r’/), vowel reductions like akan’ye, etc. I don’t know what Lithuanian Poles speak in the villages, but what urban Poles in Vilnius speak can’t be classified as a form of Belarussian.

  15. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    But from strictly linguistic point of view, the “Polish” language of Lithuania is probably just a Belarussian dialect.

    As much as English is just a French dialect, ’cause it contains so many Romance loans. I’m not saying that there are no ethnic Poles in the area that speak Russian or Belarusian rather than a Polish dialect at home (I’ve seen some statistics online that claim that about about twenty percent speak something else than Polish at home) but Polish is well established in Lithuania and easy to tell apart from Belarusian (even if it has many Russian loanwords and linguistic hybrids may have emerged for some speakers). E.g. the development of Proto-Slavic nasal vowels is totally different.

  16. SFReader says:

    This source claims that Poles in Lithuania (and in western Belarus) speak so called “prosta mowa” which in his opinion is a dialect of Belarussian, not Polish.

    Quote:

    To jak wytłumaczysz dlaczego te osoby rozmawiają „po prostemu”, czyli twoim zdaniem po białorusku, ale deklarują narodowość polską?

    (how do you explain why these people speak “prosta mowa” which is Belarussian in your view, but nevertheless consider themselves of Polish ethnicity?)

    To jest bardzo skomplikowana kwestia. W tym miejscu bałbym się dać jakąś jednoznaczną odpowiedź. Właściwie ponad 90 proc. moich rozmówców deklarowało narodowość polską. Nazywali siebie albo Polakami, albo Polakami wileńskimi. Nawet spotkałem się z określeniem, że „jesteśmy piłsudskimi Polakami”…. Doświadczenie i wiedza naukowca podpowiada mi, że po polsku rozmawiano w miastach i miasteczkach. Na pewno w Wilnie gwara białoruska miała drugorzędne znaczenie, a dominowała polszczyzna, rozmawiano w jidysz. Natomiast na wsi było inaczej. Kiedy rozmawiałem z panią, która urodziła się w roku 1927 lub 1929 i zapytałem ją: w jakim języku rozmawiano w domu przed wojną? Odpowiedziała: Po prostemu. A rodzice? Też po prostemu. A dziadkowie? Również. I tak odpowiadało mi większość osób. Z tego wynika, że na tych terenach już co najmniej w II połowie XIX wieku rozmawiano „po prostemu”. Widać zatem z jednej strony powszechne używanie gwary białoruskiej, a z drugiej strony mocne przywiązanie do narodowości polskiej. Trudno powiedzieć, czy to są Białorusini, którzy się spolonizowali, czy Polacy, którzy ulegli białorutenizacji, czy też Litwini którzy najpierw zbiałorutenizowali się, a potem spolonizowali. To jest pytanie do historyków. Trzeba by też badać historię każdej rodziny, każdego człowieka. ”.

    (This is very complicated question. For now, I hesitate to give a clear answer. Over 90% of people I interviewed declared Polish ethnicity. They called themselves Poles or Wilno Poles. I even encountered a view that “we are Pilsudsky Poles”. Experience and scientific knowledge tells me that Polish was spoken in cities and towns. Perhaps in Wilno, Belarussian language had secondary importance and Polish language dominated along with Yiddish. But in rural area, situation was completely different. When I spoke with a lady born in 1927 or 1929, and asked her: what language did you speak at home before the war. She said we spoke “prosta mowa”/simple language. And your relatives. Also in prosta mowa. And your grandparents? Same. And this was the answer given by many people. This means that in these localities, prosta mowa was spoken at least since the second half of 19th century. And later we see widespread use of Belarussian language from one side, but from the other side, great attachment to Polish ethnicity. It’s difficult to say whether they are Belarussians which later were Polonized or Poles which were Belarussianized or perhaps they are Lithuanians who were first Belarussianized and then Polonized. This is a problem for historians. We need to check history of every family, or every individual)

  17. Possibly relevant: according to the 2009 census in Belarus, 40.9% of ethnic Poles used Belarusian as their home language (the highest rate in any ethnic group) and 50.9% used Russian, apparently leaving only ~8% for Polish.

  18. If you speak or read Dutch, though, this skit on the West Vlamings dialect is hilarious.

    Is admittedly a trifle niche.

  19. Tangentally related to all this, I like Coby Lubliner’s essay on the New World/Western European approach to nationhood and ethnic identification versus that popular in, among other areas, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, etc. I think the Seipel line is a useful concept to have to hand.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    this skit on the West Vlamings dialect is hilarious

    I don’t understand enough Dutch to actually find it funny (dude from West Flanders demands his dialect should not be given subtitles on TV, thereby demonstrates that it should be…). The difference to the subtitles is impressive, though. K becomes [ʔ] between vowels, -en is a syllabic nasal (like in much of German) instead of [ə] like elsewhere in Dutch, sch is [sk] like in Afrikaans…

  21. Tangentally related to all this, I like Coby Lubliner’s essay

    That’s extraordinarily interesting, and I’m going to post it — thanks!

  22. @Aidan Kehoe: Along those lines, the persistent unwillingness of the US Census Bureau to recognize “Jewish” (or subdivisions thereof) as an ancestry category annoys me. It seems absurd to suppose that if your ancestors were culturally traditional Yiddish speakers living in the ethnic mélange of old East-Central Europe you should report the “ancestry” of whatever dynastic state or latter-day republic they happened to fall within, but that’s what the policy suggests – likely out of a fear of anything even resembling sectarianism. I recall seeing a highly detailed ancestry dot map of New York City which assiduously reported everything from Dominican and Italian down to Scottish and Welsh, and doing a double-take at the apparent fact that the city was totally Judenrein.

  23. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Ethnic origin of Lithuanian Poles is quite suspect as well.

    It appears that most of them are actually Lithuanians who were linguistically Ruthenized (Belarussianized) and culturally Polonized.

    Well, the upper social strata across whole Kresy eventually became Polonized. Until the XX century many ancestors of the today’s Poles of Lithuania would even call themselves ‘Lithuanians’ (admitting to the heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). Perhaps, if Lithuanian nationalists hadn’t been so exclusionary, the ethnic affiliations could have developed quite differently: say, a Lithuanian nation bilingual in Polish and Baltic Lithuanian (or with even more languages). But they preferred to stick to the “one people-one language” thing and ended up with a large and troublesome minority around their capital.

    This source claims that Poles in Lithuania (and in western Belarus) speak so called “prosta mowa” which in his opinion is a dialect of Belarussian, not Polish.

    Apparently, some of them do.

    “Prosta mowa” can indeed refer to a Belarusian dialect used by Poles but also to a non-standard Polish dialect.

    From an interview with a linguist Krystyna Rutkowska on the Polish minority news site zw.lt:

    Tu znowu mamy mieszankę terminologiczną, bo to określenie ,,po prostu” pochodzi z ludu. Kiedy pojedziemy np. do Niemenczyna, to starsza pani powie nam, że rozmawia ,,po prostemu”, ale tak nie jest, ponieważ rozmawia po polsku. W taki sposób określa swój język, który uważa za niepoprawny, potoczny, „prosty“. W naukowej literaturze używa się dotychczas określenia „po prostu“, „język prosty“ w odniesieniu do odmiany gwarowej języka białoruskiego, która szeroko jest używana we wsiach na pograniczu z Białorusią, w rejonie solecznickim.

    in translation:

    Here we have terminological mixture again as this term “in the simple language” originates from common people. If we went, for instance, to Nemenčinė, an old lady would tell us that she’s talking “in the simple language” but it’s not so because she’s speaking Polish. She’s calling her language like this since she considers it to be incorrect, colloquial, “simple”. In scientific literature the term “simple language” is employed for a dialectal variety of the Belarusian language, which is widely used in the villages close to the Belarusian border, in the Šalčininkai area

    This paper (in Polish) divides the Poles of Lithuania into several areas with different linguistic systems (Polish-at-home and among neighbours; Belarusian-at-home with Russian, Lithuanian and Polish in other spheres etc.). There’s also a version in Lithuanian on the website. Here’s a map with the data points mentioned in the paper.

    Another interview with Mrs Rutkowska:

    Gdzie dziś jeszcze można usłyszeć język gwarowy?

    — Tym językiem mówią przedstawiciele najstarszego pokolenia w takich miejscowościach jak Niemenczyn, Mejszagoła czy Troki. Często nie znają oni także języka prostego, który występuje raczej na pograniczu litewsko-białoruskim, w okolicach Solecznik

    in translation:

    Where can you still hear [Polish] non-standard dialects?

    Such language is still spoken by the oldest generation in such places as Niemenczyn (Nemenčinė), Mejszagoła (Maišiagala) and Troki (Trakai). Also, they often don’t know the “simple language”, which rather occurs in the Lithuanian-Belarusian borderland, in the vicinity of Soleczniki (Šalčininkai).

  24. Lazar: Treating “Jewish” as an ethnicity, quite apart from being arguably contrary to law (which forbids the Census to collect data on religion even when the religion matches up with an ethnicity), also has the problem that it divides the “eastern” Jewish nation from the individual Jews from “western” countries, who will tend (if Lubliner is correct) to report their ethnicity as French or British or German or what not. A friend of mine had an Irish/Jewish father and a “national” Jewish mother. She tended to think of herself as Jewish, but her brother thought of himself as Irish; both were born in the U.S. and were Americans first — that was a given.

  25. From what I gather, the law bans the government from asking questions about religion in the census (“a person may not be compelled to disclose information regarding his religious beliefs or membership in a religious body”), but I don’t see the problem in allowing someone to report an ancestral affiliation that has a religion associated with it – there are many groups like that. (French Canadian ancestry, for example, would be just as good an indicator – or non-indicator – of Catholic practice.) Some people’s ancestors may have gone through a “bleaching” process, associating more with a given country along the way, but the same could be said of someone descended from Ruhr Poles who gives their ancestry as German. There can be no aim of comprehensivity on the topic, but I’d just prefer that people have the option.

  26. Well, Lubliner says:

    When I fill out the United States census form I check “some other race” and then specify “Jewish”; my life was marked by my being Jewish by race, and being “white” has no personal meaning for me.”

  27. January First-of-May says:

    I wonder what my uncle (who had lived in the USA for the last decade or so) would fill out as the ancestry if ever asked – having been born in what is now Uzbekistan to parents who were evacuated there in the 1940s from different parts of what is now Belarus.
    He’s Jewish, obviously, but that’s apparently not an option, and “Belarussian” would be anachronistic at best (and “Uzbek” just plainly not true).

    In his place, I’d probably answer “Polish”, but I doubt that his ancestors had actually been Polish (even territorially) in the last 2-3 generations (though his last name used to be of obvious Polish origin before he changed it in Israel).

    I know that he counts as Uzbek for green card purposes (which helped him a lot in getting one).

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    The US taboo against collecting census-type data on Ashkenazic-Americans means we have less reliable data (in various sorts of dimensions) on that ethnic group than we do on, say, Swedish-Americans. Perhaps that’s a tolerable side effect of a taboo that it’s beneficial on net to adhere to. That not *all* members of that ethnic group would so self-identify is hardly unique to that group, and obviously means the data in an alternative world where “Ashkenazic” was thought just as good an answer as “Swedish” to that sort of question wouldn’t be perfect, but I think it would certainly be better data than we currently have. The increasing prevalence of mixed marriages (and thus a continuing increase in the percentage of people with plausible claims to multiple ethnicity and a lot of individual idiosyncracy re which of the possibilities gets prioritized in self-identification) are making data gathered along ethnic/racial lines less meaningful in general, but we are still a long way in the U.S. from it being meaningless (just as, e.g., there are all sorts of long-term historical processes making regional accents in AmEng less sharply distinctive than they once were but we’re a long away away from them being indistinct and it would be imprudent to assume we’ll ever get there).

  29. IMHO some people treat official governmental papers way too seriously. Also, I understand that answer “white” can be only given to the race (not ethnicity, country of origin, nationality etc.) question. And most Jewish people are unquestionably white (having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa) whether it makes difference for anything of substance or not. It would even work if Jews happen to be some wayward group of ancient Egyptians.

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    The boundary between racial categories and ethnic categories is a somewhat fuzzy one. I guess in a US context both involve some tension between classification based on self-identification (and some obligation to defer to the self-identification of others) and classification based on external social convention, although the balance between those competing perspectives may be struck differently. One complicating factor at present is the current U.S. notion of “Hispanic” identity, which is officially supposed to be an ethnic-rather-than-racial designator but is used in practice in a quasi-racial way and, more to the point, is *important* — i.e. there are strong bureaucratic imperatives for institutuions to keep track of how many of their employees or students or customers or what have you are or aren’t Hispanic whereas the incentives for keeping track of how many of them are or aren’t Swedish-American are much weaker.

  31. I identify with Lubliner completely regarding the ethnic category on forms.

    The odd overlap in Judaism between religion and ethnicity, which to my knowledge has no exact equal, throws off people from other cultures (such as the American one.) Suppose your parents were Japanese, converted to Judaism, then married and had you. If you then became a secular atheist, you would, by many criterions (including that of Israeli religious authorities), be considered Jewish, despite having no religious or genetic Jewish affiliation.

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    One recurrent problem with ethnic categories is that there are lots of different levels of generality and people can and do have multiple “nesting” senses of identity. The same person may well self-identify as a Sicilian-American in some contexts and an Italian-American in others, and perhaps also as a Catholic-American in others (i.e. contexts where Catholicism has a quasi-tribal aspect to it rather than an abstractly theological one). This makes perfect sense until they’re dealing with someone else who is, in a given context, conceptualizing things at a different level of generality and the two sides end up getting confused and talking past each other. I tend to think “Ashkenazic” is the most useful level of generality for purposes of discussing ethnic-group issues in the U.S., precisely because non-Ashkenazic American Jews are often materially different from them on the sort of markers that go to the cultural-rather-than-theological side of the identity — although of course sometimes American Jews of non-Ashkenazic ancestry assimilate into the Ashkenazic-American community, especially if they live some place where there aren’t enough of their particular alternative ethnicity to reach critical mass as a community. .

  33. In his place, I’d probably answer “Polish”, but I doubt that his ancestors had actually been Polish (even territorially) in the last 2-3 generations (though his last name used to be of obvious Polish origin before he changed it in Israel).

    Gotta wonder what is the surname which sounds “obviously Polish”. Most Ashkenazim in Poland were precluded by law from taking surnames used by Christians (although exceptions abound), and most Ashkenazim of Belarus are a branch of Litvaks, with a far more tenuous connection to Polish Jewry. In any case in the gubernias of the Russian Empire which correspond to today’s Belarus, the surnames were given to the Jews long after these areas were wrestled from Poland – and it was only in Russian Empire where the Jews were really free to pick German- or Polish-styled surnames.

    Have you checked the areal of the surname in Alexander Beider’s excellent book, btw?

  34. If you then became a secular atheist, you would

    … suffer through a whole lifetime of “Dot funny, you don’t rook Jewish” jokes.

  35. “The same person may well self-identify as a Sicilian-American in some contexts and an Italian-American in others, and perhaps also as a Catholic-American in others…”

    Sometimes 2 or more identities at the same time, too. When I was growing up, the Italian Catholic Federation was fairly active in my parish and it’s not uncommon to hear people refer to themselves as Irish Catholics.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    And most Jewish people are unquestionably white (having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa) whether it makes difference for anything of substance or not. It would even work if Jews happen to be some wayward group of ancient Egyptians.

    By a European definition of “white”, yes, absolutely. But in the US many define “white” a lot more narrowly. For the Middle East and North Africa they recognize a “brown race”; even the term sand nigger exists. All Hispanics are excluded, too, even though “Hispanic” is officially a cultural term that has nothing to do with biological ancestry and may overlap with all “races”.

    Relatedly, the same person can be “black” in the US, “colored” (as opposed to “black”) in South Africa, and “white” in Brazil. Somewhere on YouTube there’s a video where Trevor Noah talks about coming to the US and suddenly finding himself black.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    David, how much time have you actually spent living in the United States? Who are these “many” who “recognize a brown race”? As far as I can tell, the primary proponents in contemporary American politics for reclassifying Arabs for census-etc. purposes as other-than-white (fun fact: they are already apparently other-than-white in Canada!*) are left-wingers and/or ethnic-group nationalists who find whiteness politically embarrassing and think an officially-sanctioned non-white status would somehow be beneficial. I should perhaps add that I’m certainly not claiming there is no anti-Arab bigotry in the U.S., but e.g. the not-very-edifying anti-Italian and anti-Polish jokes that were still current in reasonably polite company as recently as my own childhood did not presuppose the butts of the bigotry were non-white.

    In a current U.S. context, as best as I can tell the only people who deny that common-or-garden-variety Ashkenazic Jews are “white” are: a) raving anti-Semites; and b) a smallish but non-zero subset of white (per any ordinary theory of what the word means in the relevant context) American Jews, perhaps not all acting for the same motives. Indeed at one point in the mid-90’s the Village Voice ran a story headlined “Jews Are Not White People” by the then-trendy Michael Lerner. He seemed to mean this as a good thing, from his rather imho questionable political perspective, but I found it very striking that the headline sounded exactly like the title of a bigoted pamphlet you would have expected someone like David Duke to have been disseminating. There is perhaps the additional complicating factor (within at least the hot-house world of college-town left-activist politics and similar subcultures) of some people trying to squeeze the Israeli/Palestinian conflict into a whites-v.-non-whites schema which really doesn’t fit it. (Western v. non-Western is at least a defensible way of framing that conflict, but treating whiteness and Westernness as perfectly co-extensive seems both unjustified and highly likely to lead to pernicious consequences.)

    *OK, further fun fact. I have at least twice met Coptic-Americans who professed to not understand why they were not considered “African-Americans,” on account of Egypt being unquestionably part of Africa and their families having lived in Egypt since time immemorial. I was never quite sure if they were sincere or trolling.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    David, how much time have you actually spent living in the United States?

    Wrong question. Right question: how much time have I spent listening to/reading what Americans say/write?

    Who are these “many” who “recognize a brown race”?

    About half of the entire Internet.

    Part of the complexity is caused by the fact that “white” people are Regular-Americans, Default-Americans; “race” is understood as something that other people have. So, once people are defined as “other”, they can’t be “white”. And indeed I’ve encountered Jews (Ashkenazim, born & bred in the US, including at least one native speaker of Yiddish) who say that their experience is that their acceptance as “white” is precarious, fragile and somewhat conditional, and sometimes breaks down.

    some people trying to squeeze the Israeli/Palestinian conflict into a whites-v.-non-whites schema

    I’m not sure if I’ve encountered that. But I’ve encountered plenty of Americans trying to frame European xenophobia in terms of race, which doesn’t work well and misses a couple of things.

    I have at least twice met Coptic-Americans who professed to not understand why they were not considered “African-Americans,”

    The Africanists at the University of Vienna have long been demanding that egyptology be transferred to them from Ancient Orient studies…

  39. DM, I simply quoted the census definition.

    Most people, in my living experience, are less formalists then I am. If census defines what it means by “white” than that’s what it is. Many people seem to want to find some reason behind any definition and see whether that reason (rather than the definition itself) applies to them or somebody else. The correct question is then “are Ashkenazim more different from what can be thought of as some European median than the sundry variety of European minority groups?” The answer probably is “yes, if (ancestor’s) religion counts” and “no, if religion is excluded”.

  40. SFReader says:

    Asians are WHITE. (namely East Asians, Central Asians, Siberians, Alaskans and Aleutians. Plenty of South-East Asians and upper caste South Asians too. I assume that Middle Easterners are counted as white by everyone except for the racist fringe)

    I don’t know what sort of color blindness affects people in America, but that’s a fact. All these people have white skin, which tans easier than skin of people of European extraction, but otherwise it’s as white as it gets.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: there are all sorts of long-term historical processes making regional accents in AmEng less sharply distinctive than they once were but we’re a long away away from them being indistinct and it would be imprudent to assume we’ll ever get there).

    According to what I have read in linguistics articles dealing with the topic, the once expected “ironing out” of American dialectal differences under the influence of radio and TV has not occurred, instead there is increasing regional differentiation.

    white

    In France, no official documents ask for your race, and there is no such thing as the “one drop” criterion which causes some very fair-skinned people to be identified as “black”. Such people might be identified as “part black”, and Obama, for instance, as “part white”, but those would be descriptions like “blond” or “red-haired”, carrying no social implications.

    When I came to the US as a student, I was shocked when asked on some document to declare whether I was White, Black or Other. I left a blank, but then was sharply told that I needed to check my race. I was tempted to check “Other”, but thought that if I did I would probably be questioned about what kind of “Other” I was, so I reluctantly checked “White”.

    It seems to me that the notion of “White” in the US is getting more and more restricted (at least according to what I read in mainstream media: only people of obvious Northern European origin (“blue-eyed blonds”) seem to qualify. But this is true among others too: I was told by a girl of mixed African-European heritage that I knew very well: “You don’t look really white, you look more … Italian!” Actually I think I look sort of generically European, with brown hair and eyes and not very white skin. People trying to guess my origin have placed it in almost every country in Europe except France, and I have been taken for Jewish and also Native Canadian. But all my known ancestors are French.

  42. SFReader says:

    Hence, my advice to people of Asian ancestry who had misfortune to live in America.

    Just state that you are white on every form which asks for your race. And if they act surprised, say “Are you blind or what?”

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    David, with all due respect, the subset of Americans who shoot off their mouths in various corners of the internet are not likely to be statistically representative and you are making sweeping statements of dubious empirical accuracy about things and people you perhaps don’t actually know as much about as you believe you do. I also suspect that your internet exposure may have been underweighted with respect to the perspectives of black Americans and who *they* typically think are white and what they typically think of white people who claim not to be.* (Similarly, I think if Marie-Lucie were to ask blacks who live in Brooklyn or Queens what they think of the contention that Americans living in adjoining neighborhoods of Italian or Greek or Albanian etc. ancestry and “Mediterranean” complexion are not white, she would be met with incredulity and/or laughter and ditto, if not worse, if she were to pose the same question of the local Mediterranean-American population.)

    I have seen stuff walking down the street in Vienna that looked offensively racist by modern American standards, but I try to remind myself that I am missing a lot of context and should probably refrain from sweeping generalizations about the Viennese based on a limited sample size or from putting too much weight on the lamentable tendency of their ancestors to vote for Karl Lueger (whose name I have apparently been mispronouncing all these years?).

    *One of the more hilarious moments during the poisonous NYC racial politics of the 1980’s was when a colorful activist named Sonny Carson was accused, based on some incendiary-sounding remarks, of being anti-Semitic. He vehemently denied the charge, claiming that he disliked all white people equally and certainly didn’t dislike Jews any more than their fellow whites who were goyische. Part of the political context (although I’m not saying he wasn’t sincere) was that it might well have been genuinely worse for his reputation to be perceived as specifically anti-Semitic than to be perceived as merely anti-white across the board.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    I also suspect that your internet exposure may have been underweighted with respect to the perspectives of black Americans and who *they* typically think are white and what they typically think of white people who claim not to be.

    Certainly, yes.

    I have seen stuff walking down the street in Vienna that looked offensively racist by modern American standards

    Some of that is a coincidence, but racist prejudices of course exist in Vienna. What’s your point?

  45. David Marjanović says:

    In the late 19th century a Japanese-American sued to be recognized as “white”, pointing out that he was literally white.

    (He lost.)

  46. January First-of-May says:

    Gotta wonder what is the surname which sounds “obviously Polish”. Most Ashkenazim in Poland were precluded by law from taking surnames used by Christians (although exceptions abound), and most Ashkenazim of Belarus are a branch of Litvaks, with a far more tenuous connection to Polish Jewry. In any case in the gubernias of the Russian Empire which correspond to today’s Belarus, the surnames were given to the Jews long after these areas were wrestled from Poland – and it was only in Russian Empire where the Jews were really free to pick German- or Polish-styled surnames.

    That makes sense – didn’t think of it that way!
    I thought it was Polish because it started with a common Polish name and slapped a common Polish ending on it in a common Polish pattern.
    But it could just as easily have been a Jewish name specifically made to sound Polish (which might well have been more plausible outside of Poland).

    The last name is still mine (and my father’s), so I’m not mentioning it here directly. If you want to discuss it more seriously, I’m willing to take it to email (january one may dog gmail point com, one as in the digit one).

    Have you checked the areal of the surname in Alexander Beider’s excellent book, btw?

    I haven’t, because I can’t recall having heard of those books before, and looking them up they appear to be about two orders of magnitude out of my budget.
    There’s a search page out there that says which volume a particular surname (plus a bunch of close phonetic matches) appears in – I entered mine and the actual equivalent versions only showed up in the Polish one, but some very close variations (missing one or two letters) appeared in some other volumes too. No details further than that, however.

    I know my paternal grandmother’s family came from Shchedrin (and in fact some of the last names I know from that branch actually appear on the Shchedrin genealogy sites, though so far I wasn’t able to find an actual connection beyond that), but I don’t know/recall even that much about my paternal grandfather’s family (partly because the grandfather in question died about a decade before I was born, partly because I never asked much in the first place).

  47. In the late 19th century a Japanese-American sued to be recognized as “white”, pointing out that he was literally white.
    I’m sure we already discussed the case of an Indian scholar who argued, in the 1920s, that he was white based on both IE linguistics and the ancient history of subjugation of the darker-skinned locals in India. Lost too. It was very important at the time because Asians were totally barred from immigrating into the US (while the Jews and the Eastern Orthodox Christians were nearly-totally barred but without a racial or religious test, by simple means of draconian quotas being imposed on their whole home countries)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Bhagat_Singh_Thind

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Japanese = white

    Apparently, in South Africa during the apartheid regime, which divided the population into four classes, there was a controversy about how to classify people of Japanese origin, who were finally added to the “white” class. Chinese people on the other hand were put into a different, less privileged class. I think this difference had to do with economics more than racial classification, since commercial ties with Japan (actual or desired) were quite important at the time, and legal discrimination against Japanese people would have been a serious obstacle to trading relations.

  49. One crazy case in South Africa was that of Sandra Laing, a girl who was born to apparently white parents but who looked Coloured. She was initially classified as white, then as Coloured (and forced to change schools), then as white again after the law was changed in her favor – before petitioning to become Coloured once again so that she could marry a Zulu man.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    The never-used race map in my school atlas (from 1991 or 1992) had all of northern India as “europid”, and southern India painted as “contact or transition race” between europid and “Old Layer races”… The formerly Soviet Central Asia was such a transition between “europid” and “mongolid”.

  51. SFReader says:

    Useful Russian race map.

    http://bagazhznaniy.ru/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Karta-vozniknoveniya-civilizacii.jpg

    According to this map, people in St.Petersburg belong to another race, which is different from the race of people of Moscow.

  52. started with a common Polish name and slapped a common Polish ending
    Did I guess it right that the name was Lech? But looking up the present-day usage patterns, it wouldn’t be even in the top 100…
    http://www.behindthename.com/top/lists/poland/2014

  53. January First-of-May says:

    Did I guess it right that the name was Lech? But looking up the present-day usage patterns, it wouldn’t be even in the top 100…

    No, it wasn’t – but the name I meant isn’t on that list either (though I think it’s a variation of one that is).

  54. Rodger C says:

    What a wonderful map! Though not called by those names in the legend, the three races of Europe are obviously the old Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean, as in Belloc’s “The Three Races”:

    I
    Behold, my child, the Nordic man,
    And be as like him, as you can;
    His legs are long, his mind is slow,
    His hair is lank and made of tow.
    II
    And here we have the Alpine Race:
    Oh! What a broad and foolish face!
    His skin is of a dirty yellow.
    He is a most unpleasant fellow.
    III
    The most degraded of them all
    Mediterranean we call.
    His hair is crisp, and even curls,
    And he is saucy with the girls.

    I can’t quickly find a version with his drawings.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Useful Russian race map.

    Interesting, though in some places it clearly copies linguistic or even political boundaries… and calling the Ainu “australoid” is a bit desperate. 🙂

    In the early 20th century there were classifications with up to 66 races.

    Yesterday I came across a fresh comment out there on teh intarwebz saying that Trump’s base is “basically white ISIS”.

  56. @SFReader: Not quite as absurd as the maps of a generation or two earlier, though, which portrayed the Finns, Hungarians and Osmanli Turks as “Mongoloid” based on their linguistic affiliations.

    The portrayals of India reflect the old narrative of conquering white Aryans and conquered black Dravidians (taking the caste system as a straightforward racial hierarchy), which nowadays looks like a pretty bad approximation of the movement of Indo-European language and culture into the subcontinent. Oddly enough, though, you’ll still see it espoused by Dalit and Dravidian nationalists online. (Northern Hindu nationalists, for their part, tend to favor the Out-of-India theory which holds that PIE originated with the Indus Valley Civilization and spread west.)

  57. SFReader says:

    I also learned that African-Americans are not Negroes. They are Mulattoes (mixed Equatorial-Europid race).

    Which is sort of obvious, I guess, given their history and observed color of skin.

  58. SFReader says:

    Racial differences between inhabitants of York and Manchester were also surprising.

    Never noticed that there were any.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    They are Mulattoes

    Specifically “American mulattoes” (race no. 13), like the people on the… Cape Verde islands.

  60. The most amazing for me was race #7. Before looking at the map, I thought it was just a pejorative for Negroes.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    The most amazing for me was race #7.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negrito

  62. I’ve seen the word before but it always takes me aback. Terrible term!

  63. I wonder if there are any studies or sources of information about the differences in the official language used in other same-language states such as: pre-unification German states and the Habsburg Empire (eg. on the Habsburg side, Janner was used v Januar in the north); pre-unification Italian states, the various Malay Sultanates, and Greece v Cyprus v Ionian Islands.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    A lot, including EU regulations, has been written about the differences in Standard German between Germany and Austria. Jänner in particular is still the only current term for that month, including on printed calendars.

    (Feber, on the other hand, is restricted to a few bureaucratic documents and a few such lists of differences. Few people actually use it. Jänner, Februar, März…)

    The English Wikipedia article is actually pretty good.

  65. David Marjanović says:
    The English Wikipedia article is actually pretty good.

    It sure is. And it raises some questions: There is a reference to the pre-1774 standard Oberdeutsche Schreibsprache (Uppper German written language) used in Austria and being replaced by the Chancellery language of Saxony (Sächsische Kanzleisprache or Meißner Kanzleideutsch). Why did this happen? What did the other states of Germany use at the time? What was the Prussian standard and was this enforced by Bismarck after 1871 or was it used before then? What about pre-unification Italy and pre-unification Moldavia and Wallachia? Did the standard Polish language as used by government in Galicia (Austrian ruled) differ from that used in the Russian-ruled Kingdom of Poland?

  66. David Marjanović says:

    There is a reference to the pre-1774 standard Oberdeutsche Schreibsprache (Uppper German written language) used in Austria and being replaced by the Chancellery language of Saxony (Sächsische Kanzleisprache or Meißner Kanzleideutsch).

    Or rather by what Luther etc. had made of it.

    Why did this happen?

    Apparently the differences were felt to be unnecessary, perhaps even artificial. The Upper German written language had been becoming more and more similar to the Protestant northern version.

    What did the other states of Germany use at the time? What was the Prussian standard

    What Luther etc. had made of the Saxon chancellery language.

    I have no idea about Italian, Romanian or Polish.

    Fun fact about Polish, though: the Austrian term Bankomat (“ATM”) has made it to Czech and Polish (and Slovak, IIRC), but it’s unknown in Germany, where people resort to Geldautomat. I bet this tells us something about the history of individual banking corporations in the 1990s.

  67. January First-of-May says:

    the Austrian term Bankomat (“ATM”) has made it to Czech and Polish (and Slovak, IIRC)

    And Russian: банкомат.

  68. SFReader says:

    And what happened to language of the German Democratic Republic?

    Surely it had its share of differences.

  69. David Marjanović says:
    the Austrian term Bankomat (“ATM”) has made it to Czech and Polish (and Slovak, IIRC)

    wow! I had no idea this was Austrian. Bankomat is also used in Croatian.

    It sounds like the ghost of the Black-Gold Monarchy lives on.

    I wonder if this is also the Hungarian word for an ATM?

  70. SFReader says:

    Useful life hack. If you want to know what is the name of a term like ATM in some obscure language (for example Hungarian), the easiest method is to google ATM, find Wikipedia article in English and select the language you want.

    And the answer is

    https://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankautomata

  71. Bankomat is also the trademark (registered in 1968) used by the major Swedish banks for their network of teller machines, as well as one of the more commonly used words for the concept. Preceded by Tankomat for self-service fuel purchases in 1965.

    Neither are known in Denmark, on the other hand we have datamat for ‘computer’.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    And what happened to language of the German Democratic Republic?

    Surely it had its share of differences.

    It did, and magazine articles were written on whether interpreters would be… wait… would be going to be needed in a few decades. In reality, most of the differences were in bureaucratic vocabulary, plus a few things like Plastik (n., W) vs. Plaste (f., E).

  73. I still remember the shock of typing “bankomat” in my google map app in Berlin and being told to go to the Polish border 🙂

  74. In reality, most of the differences were in bureaucratic vocabulary, plus a few things like Plastik (n., W) vs. Plaste (f., E).
    Another is the use of Broiler for “roast chicken” – a case where, counter-intuitively, Eastern Germans use an English word while Western Germans don’t.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    being told to go to the Polish border 🙂

    😀

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