HOW MANY TIBETAN LANGUAGES?

Victor Mair has an interesting post at the Log about an article (in this 2008 book) by Tibetanist Nicholas Tournadre in which Tournadre says that there are 220 “Tibetan dialects” derived from Old Tibetan:

In a forthcoming work, Tournadre states that these “dialects” may be classed within 25 “dialect groups,” i.e., groups that do not permit mutual intelligibility. According to Tournadre, the notion of “dialect group” is equivalent to the notion of “language,” but does not entail standardization. Consequently, says Tournadre, if the concept of standardization is set aside, it would be more appropriate to speak of 25 languages derived from Old Tibetan rather than 25 “dialect groups.”

This fascinates me; does anyone know how controversial it is?

Comments

  1. I’d heard before that the language of Kham, for instance, was unintelligible with “Standard Tibetan”, so Tournadre’s idea doesn’t seem so controversial to me.
    Mair goes on to Chinese and hints at political reasons why people can look at a herd of elephants and profess to see only one elephant (the unity of the script, unity of the culture, etc.), but in the case of Tibetan it seems to me that there are equally strong reasons why Tibetans would want to insist that Tibetan is one language and not many. For a start, recognising separate languages would deny the integrity of Tibetan culture and make it easier to justify splitting off Tibetan territory and incorporating it into Chinese provinces (as has already been done).
    The idea of dialect groups without a standard dialect to unify them makes a lot of sense to me. In Europe, the standard languages sit on top of a welter of distinctive dialects. The “dialect groups” of German are, I believe, mutually unintelligible, but the existence of Standard German creates a focus that allows people to pretend they are speaking variants of a single language. The existence of Dutch as a distinct standard only goes to prove how much our perceptions of language are moulded by the “standard language and dialects” model.
    In the case of Chinese dialects (such as Wu), the dialect groups exist in objective sense, but since there is no real standard Wu language to unify them, people are not necessarily conscious of being speakers of a Wu language.

  2. According to Wikipedia (at the article on Amdo Tibetan language), “(Amdo) is one of the four main spoken languages of Tibetan, the other three being Standard Tibetan (ü ke) Kham (kham ke) and Ladakhi (tö ke). All four main languages of Tibetan share a common written script but their spoken pronunciations, vocabularies and grammars are different.”

  3. in the case of Tibetan it seems to me that there are equally strong reasons why Tibetans would want to insist that Tibetan is one language and not many
    Yes, and I understand and sympathize with their desire to be seen as a single people/country, but I refuse to let politics impinge on my ideas about language. Thanks for your interesting commentary, and I agree about the idea of dialect groups without a standard dialect to unify them.

  4. David Waugh says:

    How do you count dialects? How many dialects of Engish are there?

  5. As an aside, I don’t like Mair’s example of trilingual speakers (Mandarin, their local dialect, and English). The same thing can happen in English. I knew a Scottish immigrant family in Australia where the kids spoke Scottish at home and Australian English in the outside community. Does this mean Scottish and Australian English are separate languages? Or just different dialects of the same language? David Waugh’s question is a good one.

  6. In broad outline, not controversial at all. There is generally agreed to be a Tibetic group, within which is a Tibetan group. This latter group is divided in the usual way into North, Central, South, etc. Among the Central Tibetan languages is Central Tibetan, aka just Tibetan, the quondam official language of Tibet.
    Exactly how many languages there are in Tibetic or Tibetan is certainly controversial, but the same may be said of the Romance or Germanic groups. Ethnologue lumps all Low German varieties spoken in Germany into two languages, Westphalian and (non-Westphalian) Low Saxon, but finely splits the closely related varieties across the Dutch border into eight languages. And how many languages are spoken in Iberia? At least three, but after that the number may be increased almost ad libitum.

  7. SnowLeopard says:

    My Tibetan-language materials are all pretty explicit about being based on the Lhasa dialect, in which various consonant clusters are retained in the written language but manifest in the spoken language primarily as stress (in the case of s in the final position) or tones or by changing the character of the vowel sound. There are apparently some dialects where those consonants are actually pronounced instead. I imagine that this, among other factors, contributes significantly to the mutual unintelligibility of various dialects.

  8. David Lindley says:

    If I may comment as an ignorant amateur, it strikes me that ‘mutual intelligibility’ or the lack thereof is a dodgy criterion for distinguishing dialects and languages. For example, I spent some months in Finland many years ago, and was told that Estonians (this was in the Soviet era) would turn their TV antennas toward Helsinki to listen to the Finnish news, which they could understand fairly easily.
    On the other hand, I once heard a recording (from the 1930s, I think) made in a village in deepest darkest Dorset, and I could make out hardly a word of what the old codger was saying. (I’m from Oxfordshire).
    So it seems, empirically, that distinct languages can be mutually comprehensible, and dialects can sometimes be mutually incomprehensible, or pretty nearly. Which means, I guess, that politics of one sort of another is unavoidable in deciding what is a language and what is a dialect.

  9. David,
    Yes, your example shows clearly why the concept “distinct language” is so problematic. “Estonian” and “Finnish”, it could certainly be argued, are really dialects of one language. Calling the speech forms “distinct” simply because of historical and literary traditions does not change the actual relationship between them. Just as “Bosnian”,”Croatian”, “Montenegrin” and “Serbian” may or may not be distinct languages depending on your political point of view.

  10. It is important to distinguish the big picture, which is what’s important here, from the infinite variety of edge cases and niggling details. Regardless of how intelligible or otherwise a Montenegrin or Dorset villager may be, it would be absurd to claim that German and English, or Serbian and Slovak, were not separate languages, and the same is true of Mandarin and Cantonese. If a person accepts that basic assertion, I’m happy to chat for days about the edge cases. If they’re using the edge cases to try to blur the whole subject in order to claim that Chinese is a single language, they’re propagandists with no interest in actual languages or linguistics.

  11. John Emerson says:

    As far as I know, the only dialects unintelligible to me are in Britain itself. Australian, Canadian, South African, New Zealand, black American, and the various Southern American dialects are intelligible, though a few are difficult. However, most of my study of British dialectology has been done via Monty Python.

  12. ignoramus says:

    So Interesting, Dialects versus Language group.
    For a start, one has to take the politics and tribalism out of the equation.
    Iberia has how many versions of verbal communication? of course the Arabic version has vanished?
    British Isles has how many forms?. Manx anyone?
    Europe how many are non Indo-European?
    so & so on for the rest of the planet.
    One power group loves to monopolise, one answer fits all, yet in nature as soon as standardization takes hold, a sport will occur and a new variation of non conforming communication takes pace as there will always those that want to communicate in privacy.
    e.g China [ Mandarin, local, world].
    Father tongue, mother tongue and business.
    The most modern lingo one, being tex[t]ing.
    RE: England of my child hood, could not travel more than 10 miles before I was an estranger and not understanding a word said, yet in the States,every state, I could comprehend the lingo, exception being Brooklyn.
    So I can Understand the Powers to be, trying tell us that they speak with a common tongue, but is it not true that the written form is understood by most?
    thus more people can can comply with the written utterance, where as in Iberia, the words written not always understood thus lack of compliance..

  13. sethmichaud says:

    The dialect in nGolok prefecture in Qinghai is notorious for being incomprehensible to other Tibetans. I once had my Tibetan tutor (from Lhasa) yell a phone number in Mandarin to a nGolok speaker on his cell phone. His explanation? It was simpler than trying to do it in Tibetan.

  14. “Estonian” and “Finnish”, it could certainly be argued, are really dialects of one language.
    Nope.
    No way.

  15. “If they’re using the edge cases to try to blur the whole subject in order to claim that Chinese is a single language, they’re propagandists with no interest in actual languages or linguistics.”
    That is definitley the case WRT to Chinese, but there is smoething else going that buttresses it. In Chinese one of the terms used for language is “wen2″ which is used in terms like “zhong1wen2″ for the general langauge, basically Mandarin, along with a number of other terms. It also specifically means the written language. A lot of people consider the written form to be primary and the spoken form secondary. Even though even the written forms don’t cohere enough to constitute a real unified language, they are still a lot closer and less opaque that the spoken languages, so a person can get away with calling them all one language, expecially if they are nationalists. (small n)

  16. Yes, your example shows clearly why the concept “distinct language” is so problematic. “Estonian” and “Finnish”, it could certainly be argued, are really dialects of one language. Calling the speech forms “distinct” simply because of historical and literary traditions does not change the actual relationship between them. Just as “Bosnian”,”Croatian”, “Montenegrin” and “Serbian” may or may not be distinct languages depending on your political point of view.
    You really are out of your mind if you compare the Estonian/Finnish situstion with Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian. Those Yugoslav varieties are all based upon Neo-Shtokavian, i.e. one subdialect of one of the three main dialects of the, uh, buffer zone between Bulgarian and Slovenian. The distinct standards are only fine-tuning.
    On the other hand, Finnish and Estonian have never had a literary language in common. While the two languages are obviously related, they are distinct, and there are no intermediate dialects. There is no vowel harmony in Estonian, and Estonian keeps the monophthongs in words such as Soome “Finland”, in Finnish Suomi (and in Finnish dialects often Suami).
    Vocabulary is obviously vastly different, full of faux amis.

  17. ‘While the two languages are obviously related, they are distinct, and there are no intermediate dialects.”
    Panu, what’s the history involved – geographic separation, etc?

  18. Trond Engen says:

    Whatever number of separate dialect groups or languages one separates Tibetan, or Chinese, or South Slavic, or English, or Letzebuergesch, into, the number will be arbitrary without a transparent and useful criterion. And mutual intelligibility isn’t one, since it’s highly asymteric, influenced by sociolinguistics and exposure. Thus, I subscribe to the view that whenever speech-varieties share enough features that it’s convenient in some contexts to talk of them as one, they get a name, and whether or not that or something else is what constitutes a language is a political question.
    If we still were to discern, sosiolinguistics is the key, also because it incorporates the long term result of politics. I’ve half-seriously suggested this sociolinguistic definition of language:

    A language is a group of speech varieties that diachronically are developed together from a common source and synchronically are converging to the same ideal or set of ideals.

  19. you really are out of your mind
    I’m sure I am, but that’s not relevant to the matter at hand. I would say you are being a touch sensitive. I said “could be argued”, that’s all. I’m very happy to hear your arguments against the proposition that Finnish and Estonian are dialects within a continuum, I have no stake in the outcome. I’m not a specialist in Finno-Ugric languages by any means. I had just always heard the Estonians can understand Finnish pretty easily, more easily than Americans can understand Scots, for example. Is it more the case that Estonians simply learn Finnish by watching television and the languages really aren’t that close? (A lot Albanians understand Italian thanks to television, and Albanian is in no way close to Italian). I do have to say the absence of vowel harmony doesn’t seem like a very big deal to me – some Turkish dialects drop vowel harmony as well, it doesn’t seem to have any real effect on intelligibility with neighboring dialects that preserve it.

  20. I’m sure we could engineer a parallel universe in which Finland and Estonia agree to unite and linguistically set up two equally valid standard dialects for their united language, Helsinki standard and Tallinn standard. I’m sure a great folklore would grow up about faux amis and eventually, for technical fields, a standardised vocabulary would gradually be agreed upon for purely pragmatic reasons.
    In another parallel universe, I’m sure that Norway could break away from Denmark, and a splinter group would propose a new standard language to prove that Norwegian is not simply a dialect, but a totally distinct language from Danish… oh, wait, that’s not a parallel universe, that’s our own universe…

  21. In discussions of such topics I think it would be useful *not* to re-invent the wheel. A sociolinguist named Heinz Kloss came up with some notions which are quite useful in making sense of this: AUSBAUSPRACHE [language by design], ABSTANDSPRACHE [language by distance] and DACHSPRACHE [over-arching (standardized)language]. Basically, Tibetan varieties are ABSTANDSPRACHEN with respect to one another, with a DACHSPRACHE whose non-existence would make the claim that there exist many Tibetan languages uncontroversial (the same is true of Sinitic, Arabic, and Malayic varieties).
    Finnish and Estonian are a bit of a mirror image of the above: both are AUSBAUSPRACHEN, without whose existence one would probably (on account of structural similarity/mutual intelligibility) consider them both varieties of one language. The same thing could be said of the (mainland) Scandinavian languages. The various new standard languages of Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia are AUSBAUSPRACHEN taking as their basis closely related varieties which used to be subsumed under a single DACHSPRACHE (Serbo-Croatian).
    The use of the three concepts really clears things up, I think. Then again, I’m no sociolinguist, so what do I know?

  22. For example, I spent some months in Finland many years ago, and was told that Estonians (this was in the Soviet era) would turn their TV antennas toward Helsinki to listen to the Finnish news, which they could understand fairly easily.
    And they still do, particularily to watch sports and the weather. Though this does not mean they understand. Any understanding comes from years of exposure and the build up of some passive competence, as when Estonians go shopping in Helsinki and speak some sort of Finnstonian. Finns on the other hand have a more difficult time picking apart Estonian because they don’t get as exposed to the language. Also, the status of the languages is also different. A Finn is not out of the ordinary at all using Finnish in a shop in Tallinn but it would be less expected that an Estonian would do likewise in Helsinki.
    “Estonian” and “Finnish”, it could certainly be argued, are really dialects of one language. Calling the speech forms “distinct” simply because of historical and literary traditions does not change the actual relationship between them.
    I disagree. Now, if you changed Estonian with Karelian I would agree. A dialect continuum exists through Finland, through Karelia and on to the Vepsian speaking areas. (see the chapter on Karelia in Taagepera’s The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State).

  23. Bathrobe says:

    Etienne, yes, I think the concepts do clear things up a lot. I think that the Ausbausprache and Dachsprache concepts are fairly easily grasped. Abstandsprache is not so easy. How are Abstandsprachen defined? And who defines them, linguists or laymen? When are two “dialects” distinct Abstandsprachen and when are they the same language?

  24. @ Bathrobe: Wiki has an article on it and also you might want to google “Glocalisation and the Ausbau sociolinguistics of modern Europe”, a 2004 paper by P. Trudgill on the matter which you can download in PDF format.
    Finnish and Estonian are a bit of a mirror image of the above: both are AUSBAUSPRACHEN, without whose existence one would probably (on account of structural similarity/mutual intelligibility) consider them both varieties of one language.
    @ Etienne. I don’t know any Estonians or Finns who would attribute their languages’ status as ‘languages’ simply to the existence of a separate standard.

  25. Finnish and Estonian are a bit of a mirror image of the above: both are AUSBAUSPRACHEN, without whose existence one would probably (on account of structural similarity/mutual intelligibility) consider them both varieties of one language. The same thing could be said of the (mainland) Scandinavian languages.
    Again: Finnish and Estonian have never shared the same written language or literary tradition, and there is no dialect continuum. One should be wary of applying Scandinavian analogies. The languages are indeed structurally very similar, but phonology is different and so is vocabulary.
    Obviously Estonians did pick up a considerably amount of Finnish watching TV across the Gulf of Finland, but this does not mean those Estonians would have been able to produce acceptable utterances in anything even approaching normative Finnish. I would rather compare the situation with Italian and Spanish – two obviously related languages with a high amount of mutual intelligibility, but without a common literary tradition, and showing considerable structural and phonological differences.

  26. I had just always heard the Estonians can understand Finnish pretty easily, more easily than Americans can understand Scots, for example. Is it more the case that Estonians simply learn Finnish by watching television and the languages really aren’t that close?
    You could say that. Also, Corcaighist’s sociolinguistic points regarding the status of the languages are very valid.
    The difference from continental Scandinavian and the Yugosphere is also seen in the fact that a native speaker of Finnish with no formal study of the language and with no bilingual dictionary certainly won’t be able to read a newspaper or book in Estonian or follow a learned discourse in the language. A speaker of Swedish can read any Danish or Norwegian (both kinds of Norwegian) newspaper and most of the modern literature without difficulty.
    I would say that the difference between Finnish and Estonian is more like that between continental Scandinavian and Icelandic.
    And I’d like to point out that all this is very much experience-based, because I am a native speaker of Finnish, a highly proficient and fluent speaker of Swedish, and proficient (albeit not very fluent anymore) in Modern Icelandic. I have also done some serious attempts to learn Estonian, but I still couldn’t say anything intelligent in Estonian, or read a book. So, I would rather prefer people here not to pronounce weightily upon languages they know next to nothing about.

  27. So, I would rather prefer people here not to pronounce weightily upon languages they know next to nothing about.
    So, fairly new to the whole internet thing, are we?

  28. John Emerson says:

    Norwegian is not simply a dialect, but a totally distinct language from Danish…
    Two languages, both totally distinct from Danish, but one of them more totally distinct from Danish than the other.

  29. John Emerson says:

    In discussions of such topics I think it would be useful *not* to re-invent the wheel.
    True, but not fun.

  30. David Lindley says:

    Well, crikey! As the person who originally brought up this whole Finnish-Estonian thing (though my man in Dorset seems to have been sadly forgotten), I feel as if I should apologize for sending the discussion whirling far from Tibet and China. On the other hand, I have been enlightened by the responses, so my thanks to all.

  31. Bathrobe says:

    @ Panu: Your point is interesting and well taken. It’s good that you’ve enlightened us, since Estonian and Finnish aren’t necessarily areas that even the well read are highly knowledgeable about. But there’s no need to feel too indignant about someone’s random musings. The people here are pretty understanding once things are explained.
    @ Corcaighist: I read the Trudgill paper on glocalisation. What he talks about (the proliferation of new Ausbausprachen) seems to be a manifestation of “Europe of the regions” (i.e,, emphasis on local regions rather than nation states) that I seem to remember reading about at least a decade ago.

  32. I wouldn’t say that Norwegian is totally distinct from Danish, but Danish has fewer words for snow.

  33. (and the ones it has cannot be pronounced.)

  34. Bathrobe: Basically, a minority variety is an Abstandsprache when it’s impossible for even the dümmster anzunehmender Nationalist to swallow the claim that it’s just another local variety of the Dachsprache. Examples are Welsh (in the U.K. or Argentina), Basque (in Spain or France), Slovene (in Austrian Carinthia), and German (in Slovene Carinthia).

  35. “dümmster anzunehmender Nationalist to swallow the claim that it’s just another local variety of the Dachsprache. Examples are Welsh ”
    Of what Dachsprache is Welsh a local variety? Are you just a really extreme Cornish or Breton nationalist?

  36. Bathrobe says:

    I was under the impression that the West German dialect continuum had several distinct Abstandsprachen, e.g. Alemannic, Low Franconian, Low German, etc. Linguists presumably know how these classifications have been arrived at. Whether laymen know or not is another question. For example, the Low German dialects of the eastern Netherlands are apparently (according to Wikipedia) regarded as “dialects” of the Dutch Dachsprache, even though they belong to a different Abstandsprache from the Low Franconian of which Dutch is an Ausbausprache.

  37. Michael Farris says:

    What I’d heard regarding Finnish and Estonian) was that in the Soviet era Estonions esp in the north would watch Finnish tv for a variety of reaons. They were highly motivated to understand and over time managed to learn to passively understand a relatively large amount. After the end of the CCCP the motivation waned and now most just don’t have the kind of exposure to Finnish to keep up their receptive skills.
    On Tibetan I have no strong opinion, beyond pointing out that neither splitters nor lumpers are free from non-linguistic ideological agendas.
    I do think that politically those who self-identify as Tibetans would benefit from a spoken lingua franca to go with the more or less uniform script.

  38. I would imagine there would be quite a bit of disagreement about where to draw the line that defines something as a separate dialect.
    Speaking for the world that greatly respects the individual word: today is the first day of National Poetry Month!

  39. John Emerson says:

    A new tack on the quotation: “25 languages derived from Old Tibetan rather than 25 “dialect groups” seems to assume that Old Tibetan was unified and without dialects, and that the present situation is the result of the differentiation of a single language. This is possible and in some cases has been attested, I think, but it seems unlikely in Tibet.
    I’ve come across the same thing in Karlgren. Discussing Chou Chinese, he derives all Chinese dialects from the Chou court language; but then, when discussion T’ang Chinese 1500 years later, he derives the Chinese dialects from the Tang court language.
    There should be a name for these hypothetical origins. Probably there is. It’s really just a manner of speaking, but sometimes people take it more seriously than they should.

  40. estonian says:

    About the continuum of baltic-finnic dialects. I am not a linguist, but my impression is for the existence of such a continuum and my impression is that finno-ugric linguists also share that impression. Estonian saare dialects were similar to kura dialects in present-day Latvia, north estonian dialects are close to varsinaissoumi and southern finnish (etelä-suomi) dialects and to vadja, etc.
    In some ways, estonian dialects appear to be more “evolved” when compared to finnish dialects. Estonians consider finnish language as more archaic (more verbose) and that is why estonians are more easily able to emulate the “archaic” form of their own dialects than finns are able to emulate the “future” form of their own. Of course, this might just be a side effect of Helsinki and Turu becoming prominent urban centres and influencing the recent evolution path of finnish – southern Finland having had very close ties with north-western Estonia through ages.
    About the snow.
    I cannot resist the temptation to note that the word ‘luminosity’ bears similarity with the estonian and finnish word ‘lumi-ne’, meaning ‘snowy’. The similar stems for light and white are common in finnic languages as well – the finnic root ‘valg-’ depicts light (valgus), white (valge) and flow (valu, valg-uma). So that pattern might also apply to snow-white relations in english and possibly other indo-european languages. ‘Flow’ is another possible remnant stem from the ice-age proto-(non-indo)european past. And then we have ‘ice’, ‘jääs’ in estonian means ‘frozen/in ice’. ‘Ice’ is ‘jää’. Then we have ‘mainland’ in english, which might as well mean ‘land-land’, since ‘main-’ is similar to ‘maa/maan’ which literally denotes both the land and the mainland (and the Earth and ground in general) in estonian language. Estonians used to self-descibe themselves as mainlanders (maalased / maarahvas) and islanders (saarlased / saarerahvas) and it is very unlikely that finnic peoples have loaned that from elsewhere after the last ice age. There are other such examples.
    I am in favour of the scientific view that finno-ugric, saami and basque represent the remnants of some of the few dialects that have survived the last ice age in Europe. And that since most of the contemporary europeans are considered to be the descendants of ice-age europeans, then at some time most europeans switched over to indo-european dialects. It certainly shows in the indo-european vocabulary depicting nature.
    Of course, it could also be that the many similarities represent a more widespread common vocabulary of the past and not specific to just the past or present european languages.
    I have a strong passive knowledge of finnish from watching the Finnish TV and I’d say that the common baltic-finnic vocabulary based on dialects is much larger than the common vocabulary based on the official finnish and estonian would suggest. One simply does not know enough of regional dialects to observe that (and that goes for me as well, for sure), but one should know more to understand more of your own language/dialect.

  41. Thanks, it’s always good to hear from someone who actually knows the language!

  42. Otto Kerner says:

    bathrobe,
    The line you cite from Wikipedia, “(Amdo) is one of the four main spoken languages of Tibetan, the other three being Standard Tibetan (ü ke) Kham (kham ke) and Ladakhi (tö ke)” was added recently and is not necessarily reliable. It strikes me as odd. The three-way division (Central/Kham/Amdo) appears to be based more on the traditional political/ethnographic importance of those three regions within the Chinese-oriented part of the Tibetan cultural sphere. Adding Ladakhi but not, for instance, Dzongkha or Sikkimese, seems arbitrary. Tournadre’s classification has the ring of truth to it, insofar as it includes basically what one would guess it would: a few dialects from inside the PRC that you’ve heard of (if you’re like me), a few from outside the PRC that you’ve heard of, plus a bunch of stuff you’ve never heard of (this is guessable because linguistic diversity sometimes follows other factors of “notability”, but often not. Most people wouldn’t guess that Sardinian is one of the main branches of Romance, for example).

  43. John Emerson,
    How significant are dialects of Latin for understanding variation among Romance languages? I don’t know, so I’m basically asking, but I have a suspicion. If you aren’t studying Sardinian, I thought the relevance was minor. That’s because the form of the language that expanded so rapidly was basically fairly uniform; it had brother dialects and cousin languages, but those were not the ones that expanded through much of Europe. The spread of Tibetan, if anything was more rapid than that. I don’t mean that there are no cases where knowledge of internal variation within Old Tibetan is useful, but I suppose not enough to invalidate the basic concept.
    Also, there may be other languages descended from nonstandard dialects related to Old Tibetan that are not included in Tournadre’s list of 25. I have no reliable information about Tamang other than that it is a close relative of Tibetan. However, if the information in the Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamang) accurately reflects their oral histories, it could imply that they are descended from a group of people speaking another dialect at the same time as Old Tibetan.

  44. minus273 says:

    @Otto: Sikkimese and Dzongkha, as commonly as they are recognized as a separate “Southern” group from Central Tibetan, are thought as Central dialects by a lot of PRC linguists.

  45. “So that pattern might also apply to snow-white relations in english and possibly other indo-european languages. ”
    Not in English specifically, but there is a root ‘~bel” that means ‘white’ in Russian and is the part of the name of a Gaulish sun god, Belinus.

  46. Jim: By Nationalist here I meant a nationalist of the surrounding state: a British nationalist rather than a Welsh one. This may be an abuse of German semantics: I used German partly because of all the X-sprache terms in heavy use on this page, but also to allude to the German geek expression dümmster anzunehmender User (DAU) ‘stupidest conceivable user’, itself a parody of the engineering term größter anzunehmender Unfall (GAU) ‘worst foreseeable accident’, in popular use meaning specifically a loss of coolant or containment at a nuclear power plant.
    One could reply to your question that written Modern Welsh serves as the Dachsprache for the Welsh dialects, or rather cynically that the Dachsprache of Welsh is in fact English (or Spanish in Argentina) despite the Abstand difference which prevents it from being “just another local variety”. It is said that in recent U.K. censuses, Welsh-speakers have been afraid to list Welsh as one of their languages, for fear that they would thereafter be sent government forms such as tax returns in incomprehensible bureaucratic Welsh — they are quite bad enough in English, after all.
    I am by no means a Cornish or Breton nationalist; I am a liberal American, and therefore a believer in self-determination, however.

  47. tax returns in incomprehensible bureaucratic Welsh
    Aren’t the returns what I send back? If there were nothing to stop me doing it in Welsh, I’m guessing I could save a considerable sum with a tax body in London.

  48. Ah, but it has to be bureaucratic Welsh, which means you’ll have to pay a Welsh bureaucrat to do it, so you won’t save any money after all.

  49. Dammit, I was hoping with the layoff the spammers would have moved on, but for some reason they’re drawn to this entry like flies, so rather than keep deleting dozens of spam comments I’m going to close it up again. If you want to comment, please e-mail me and I’ll be delighted to reopen it.

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