Language in Medieval Europe.

Bartlett’s The Making of Europe (see this post) has an interesting chapter on “Language and Law” (pp. 197-220), which begins:

Conquest and colonization created on the frontiers of Latin Christendom societies in which different ethnic groups live side by side, and everywhere in the frontier zone of Latin Europe race relations were thus a central issue. It is worth stressing at the outset that, while the language of race—gens, natio, “blood,” “stock,” and so on—is biological, its medieval reality was almost entirely cultural. […] In contrast to descent, [custom, language and law] are malleable. They can, indeed, with varying degrees of effect, be transformed not only from one generation to the next, but even within an individual lifetime. New languages can be mastered, new legal regimes adopted, new customs learned. […] If we define, say, ‘German’ and ‘Slav’ by customs, language and law rather than by descent, the grandchildren of Slavs could be Germans, the grandchildren of Germans Slavs. When we study race relations in medieval Europe we are analysing the contact between various linguistic and cultural groups, not between breeding stocks.

The section on language contrasts the regions with “a relatively high degree of linguistic and cultural homogeneity and dominated by more or less standard languages” (English in England, Languedoil north of the Loire, Languedoc south of it, Low German in north Germany, etc.) with “the conquered and colonized peripheries, which were characterized by a ubiquitous mixture and intermingling of language and culture”:

As one travelled from Trier to Vienna or from Béarn to Provence, one would notice the shift from one local variant to another. In complete contrast, the conquered and colonized peripheries of Europe were familiar with languages of completely different language families being spoken in the same settlement or street. […] The streams, hills and settlements of the frontier zones began to show signs of a double identity: ‘the place is called woyces in Slavic and enge water in German’, explains one east Pomeranian document. […]

Bilingualism was not unusual at many social levels. Even in the tenth century Otto I of Germany had command of both German and Slav. In the Frankish Morea successful leaders would know French, Greek and perhaps even Turkish […]. In the fourteenth century the descendants of the Anglo-Norman invaders of Ireland were composing poetry in Irish. […]

The variegated linguistic patterns of the frontier regions were reflected in their naming practices. A process of mutual influence meant that by the fourteenth century Slav farmers might be called Bernard and Richard, English settlers in Ireland might have Irish names, and a descendant of Welsh upland princes might be quite unrecognizable as Sir Thomas de Avene. Simultaneous binomialism is an even sharper symptom of the linguistic and cultural pluralism of the frontier zones. In the tenth century Otto II was accompanied after the rout of Cap Colonne by ‘one of his knights, Henry, who was called Zolunta in Slavic.’ […] Przemysl Ottokar II even had two seals, one for his Czech-speaking lands, inscribed with the name Przemysl, one for his German-speaking lands, bearing the name Ottokar. Among the Mozarabs of Toledo, Romance-Arabic binomialism was widespread. ‘In the name of God,’ begins one document of 1115, ‘I, Dominico Petriz, as I am called in Romance (in latinitate) and in Arabic (in algariva) Avelfaçam Avenbaço; also I, Dominiquez, as I am called in Romance, and in Arabic Avelfacam Avencelema…’ […]

A growing strand of linguistic nationalism or politicized linguistic consciousness emerges in the later Middle Ages. A symptom of the identification of language and people is the use of the word for language in contexts where it almost certainly means ‘people’. The West Slav word jazyk denoted both ‘language’ and ‘people’ […]. The German translation […] uses zung, i.e. ‘tongue’, and this has a similar semantic complexity. Iaith, the Welsh word for ‘language’, was likewise ‘charged in contemporary parlance with a far greater range of attributes than the purely linguistic one’. […] In Latin documents lingua enshrines the same ambiguity. […] In all these instances a semantic ambiguity points to a conceptual one — ethnic and linguistic identity tended to blur into one another.

We discussed the flexibility of ethnic identities last year; it is important to keep such things in mind to counteract the simplistic, ahistorical claims of ethnic nationalists.

Comments

  1. Jim (another one) says:

    I understand that in the Middle Ages a lot of Slavs “patched over” to German culture, especially ones that were living on what had been Gothic territory along the Baltic (Question for David or Piotr – did that land fall vacant after those Goths started migrating?) There’s even a group, the Mazurs, who were originally Lechitic but by the end of WWII were considered German enough that they were expelled.

    This was also the period when the Danelaw was becoming English again.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    A symptom of the identification of language and people is the use of the word for language in contexts where it almost certainly means ‘people’

    Perhaps that is what happened with “langue d’oïl” and “langue d’oc”, where the second phrase ended up as the name of a province.

  3. J. W. Brewer says:

    I would like to compliment Jim (another one) for his use of “patched over” and propose that more medieval historians ought to consider whether the distinctive jargon of outlaw biker culture might be usefully applied by analogy in their scholarly writing.

  4. I interpreted the metaphor as having to do with patch cables, but no matter.

  5. Fess up, Jim (another one): are you an outlaw biker or a cable guy?

  6. J. W. Brewer says:

    For marie-lucie’s potential benefit, here’s a recent Canadian-journalist-English example of the usage: http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2015/02/13/vagos-patched-over-to-outlaws-police.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you JWB! Just what I needed to read. I was glad to see that I was not the only person who did not know the meaning of “patched over”.

  8. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    While the Middle Ages didn’t have modern nationalism yet, they were far removed from a harmonious multicultural idyll. Perhaps especially the Central European Middle Ages with their fierce Christian-Pagan conflicts which added to ethnic divides. It might’ve been useful for Otto I to speak Slavic but at the same time Germans employed very nasty, apartheid-like laws aimed at eradicating Slavic population from the conquered lands (e.g. Slavic speakers couldn’t join guilds, couldn’t trade in towns etc.). When a Polish prince Władysław the Short quenched a mutiny of Cracow’s burghers in 1312, he ethnically cleansed the city from German-speaking burghers supposedly making them say a shibboleth in Polish beforehand. Maybe the ethnic discrimination was less systematic and ideologized than later on but very much real and brutal.

  9. While the Middle Ages didn’t have modern nationalism yet, they were far removed from a harmonious multicultural idyll. Perhaps especially the Central European Middle Ages with their fierce Christian-Pagan conflicts which added to ethnic divides. It might’ve been useful for Otto I to speak Slavic but at the same time Germans employed very nasty, apartheid-like laws aimed at eradicating Slavic population from the conquered lands (e.g. Slavic speakers couldn’t join guilds, couldn’t trade in towns etc.).

    Yes, Bartlett goes into all that in detail. Obviously I’m only quoting selected bits that I find particularly striking; I don’t think anybody thinks the Middle Ages were a harmonious multicultural idyll.

  10. According to the Urban Dictionary, “patch over” refers to members of a biker club changing the patches (“club colors”) on their jackets when their club merges into a larger one. Like John, I thought it referred to patch cables.

    “Patch over” in both senses could be a useful euphemism in IT to play down the difficulties in migrating from one platform (in any sense) to another. I’m going to use it in that way at the first opportunity.

  11. Trond Engen says:

    Jim (one or other): Question for David or Piotr – did that land fall vacant after those Goths started migrating?

    (Not David or Piotr, so consider this preliminary.)

    No, there are contemporary tales of how the Goths maintained political relations with those who stayed behind. The bonds eventually got strained as different neighbourhoods demanded different allies, or as diversification of investment made steppe politics more important to (Steppe) Gothic economy than the Baltic trade. Those staying behind finally got overrun by their old subjects or incoming Slavs. Some were absorbed, others migrated.

    It wouldn’t make sense to leave the Baltic coastline empty. I think it’s quite clear that a subset of the Goths (like subsets of other East Germanic peoples) followed the trade route step by step to its other end in steady pursuit of a better deal in the lucrative trade in Amber, Furs, and Slaves (not the least to stop being net producers of the latter, now that I think of it). Controlling the whole inland route between the Baltic and the Black seas was beneficial. And for some time it was “home”.

    There’s even some linguistic evidence for the contact with the old country. There are loanwords in West Germanic that seemingly must have entered the Germanic still-maybe-a-continuum through Gothic very early. (I’m too tired to check which ones. It’s been a long week.)

  12. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    I don’t think anybody thinks the Middle Ages were a harmonious multicultural idyll.

    I reacted that way because I’ve seen too many naïve attempts at debunking nationalistic interpretations of history in the internet, along the lines of “nationalism began in the 19th century, before that rulers didn’t care about the ethnicity or language of those whom they ruled”. This seems to frequently turn up in local squabbles about the identity of some historical figures or right to certain lands. Well, in fact medievals were quite capable of playing the ethnic card (in a pretty shocking way) when it suited them, even if this was generally overshadowed by unifying (or divisive) effects of religion.

  13. Oh, sure, I just wasn’t aware of that particular strain of naive debunking.

  14. The etymology of shibboleth shows that linguistic features have been used as a rough-and-ready method of ethnic determination for thousands of years, and probably for long before that:

    And the Gileadites took the passages [fords] of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay [note: standard negative answer to an affirmatively framed question];

    Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand [dubious].

         —Judges 12:5-6 (KJV)

    See WP for a list of shibboleths historical, doubtful, and mythical.

    Nevertheless it is probably fair to say that the widespread use of language as the principal identifier of ethnicity is a 19C notion.

  15. Chapter 9, “Power and Blood,” begins “In any ethnically diverse society political competitors seek to manipulate or harness racial feelings of hostility and solidarity,” so I think there’s going to be plenty of anti-sweetness-and-light material.

  16. Jim (another one) says:

    “propose that more medieval historians ought to consider whether the distinctive jargon of outlaw biker culture might be usefully applied by analogy in their scholarly writing.”

    Biker culture, specifically Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG, the law enforcement term) parallels the early stages of feudalism very closely. Here’s a bit of parallel terminology – “count” – count < comte < comite, who led a comitatus. "Comitatus" – gone together – is a pretty close translation of "gang."

    "I reacted that way because I’ve seen too many naïve attempts at debunking nationalistic interpretations of history in the internet, along the lines of “nationalism began in the 19th century, before that rulers didn’t care about the ethnicity or language of those whom they ruled”.

    Couple of things. One is that the fact that people shifted ethnic and linguistic identities shows that those identities mattered enough to warrant the effort. So no, it was not some kind of rainbow coalition paradise of multicultural bliss. The second is that nationalism is more than a sense of distinct and defined ethnicity. It is also requires territory and a state apparatus – a nation – to be nationalism. In a period of dynastic empress, that clearly did not exist n medieval Europe, anywhere. The ethnicities mattered a great deal on the level of trade networks and that kind of personal networking but on the political level other factors mattered much more.

  17. It also requires territory and a state apparatus – a nation – to be nationalism.

    Surely the sense of Irish nationalism, to pick just one example, preceded by centuries the forms of the Irish state. (I discount for this purpose the Irish Parliament, which was essentially the political organ of the English settlers.) And the territory can likewise be aspirational: we can speak of Jewish nationalism as soon as the settlement of Palestine becomes an idea, long before it is a fact, which in turn is long before the founding of the Jewish state.

  18. I don’t see that Irish nationalism in the original sense (the one that preceded by centuries the forms of the Irish state) is anything more than “we’re sick and tired of being kicked around by the goddamn English,” which is exactly parallel to the contemporaneous Slavic sense that “we’re sick and tired of being kicked around by the goddamn Germans” during the Ostsiedlung. The case of Jewish nationalism and the settlement of Palestine is different, because it came after a century of the development of modern (ethnic-nation-based) nationalism and was obviously heavily influenced by it.

  19. @John Cowan: But nobody speaks of “Jewish nationalism,” and, by and large, I don’t think they every did. A new word had to be coined for the concept, “Zionism,” and it only refers to a particular kind of Jewish nationalist behavior. Moreover, while I am a strong supporter of both Ukraine and Israel and independent, democratic states, I could never call myself a “Ukrainian nationalist” (even if I have family roots there); yet there’s no problem with me calling myself (a non-Israeli) a “Zionist.” (Well, there is a problem, but that has to do with the current political situation in Israel and the co-option of Zionism by factions that I do not agree with.)

    The key difference that makes “Irish nationalism” a reasonable term, even for the period when there was no independent Irish state, while “Jewish nationalism” seems strikingly inapposite during the same periods, is that there was no physical territory where Jewish identity was dominant. Ireland had a majority Catholic population and a popular culture with a strongly Celtic character. Beyond the level of individual shtetls, there were no locations where Jewish was the dominant identity. And even the small communities that were majority or almost entirely Jewish were not cultural self-sufficient; they relied and close commercial and cultural contacts with Jews and gentiles in the surrounding area.

    So cultural identity alone may not be enough to make “nationalism” possible for a group of people. A nationalist government is certainly not required, but some kind of regional cultural dominance seems like it may generally be necessary.

  20. I don’t see that Irish nationalism in the original sense (the one that preceded by centuries the forms of the Irish state) is anything more than “we’re sick and tired of being kicked around by the goddamn English,”

    Well, precisely, and such is nationalism, just as Kurdish nationalism today is “We’re sick and tired of being kicked around by the goddamn Turks, Arabs, and Persians.” There’s more to it than that, but that’s the feeling that drives people toward independence. We too in the US were sick of the goddamn English back in the day, though we are not ethnic nationalists (always excepting the Know-Nothings, nowadays referred to as “low-information voters”, though it is not a matter of ignorance but of the will to ignorance).

    But nobody speaks of “Jewish nationalism,” and, by and large, I don’t think they every did.

    100,000 ghits doesn’t compare to six million for Zionism, but it’s not chopped liver either.

  21. Well, precisely, and such is nationalism, just as Kurdish nationalism today is “We’re sick and tired of being kicked around by the goddamn Turks, Arabs, and Persians.” There’s more to it than that, but that’s the feeling that drives people toward independence.

    But the “more to it than that” is precisely the modern ideal of (ethnic-nation-based) nationalism, which is quite a big difference. The Irish of the thirteenth century didn’t want an Irish parliament and a national language, they wanted the English to leave them alone so they could go back to squabbling in their various dialects of Irish.

    We too in the US were sick of the goddamn English back in the day

    No, we were not; we were as English as they, we just wanted no taxation without representation. Very few colonists would have had any desire to stop being subjects of the king if the king had been willing to treat them fairly, and even after things had gotten bloody and a substantial segment of the population (though not a majority) did want to stop being subjects, there was no clear mandate for a unified, independent American nation-state (and I still resent the creation of the absurd term “anti-Federalists” for the people who were in fact the true federalists).

  22. I just looked at the first few pages of Google hits of “Jewish nationalism,”* and I found more or less what I expected. There were some nineteenth century documents, from before “Zionism” was a fully established term. There are quite a number of pages that are using “Jewish nationalism” as part of an explanation of the term “Zionism.” But the largest number of pages using that phrase appear to be antisemitic to a greater or lesser degree. There are also a couple of pages from Jewish sources that appear to be trying to reclaim the term from the antisemites.

    * I should point out that this is exactly the kind of search for which I would expect Google’s knowledge of my own interests might cause the algorithm to feed me a rather different set of search results that other people.

  23. The Irish of the thirteenth century didn’t want an Irish parliament and a national language, they wanted the English to leave them alone so they could go back to squabbling in their various dialects of Irish.

    Well, yes, if you go back that far. I was thinking more of Tudor and Cromwellian times, and certainly by 1798 at the very latest we can speak of Irish nationalism as far more than a matter of grumbling, or even of ethnicity:

    A war that we [the English] understood not came over the world and woke
    Americans, Frenchmen, Irish; but we knew not the things they spoke.
    They talked about rights and nature and peace and the people’s reign:
    And the squires, our masters, bade us fight; and never scorned us again.
    Weak if we be for ever, could none condemn us then;
    Men called us serfs and drudges; men knew that we were men.
    In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,
    We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,
    We lay in living ruins; firing and fearing not
    The strange fierce face of the Frenchman who knew for what he fought,
    And the man who seemed to be more than a man we strained against and broke;
    And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke.

    we just wanted no taxation without representation

    No parliamentary taxation at all: the “without representation” part was just window dressing, as it would either have been grossly impractical or a farce. In any case, there were many English restrictions, notably the strictures against seizing Indian land, that we wanted very much to be rid of.

    the absurd term “anti-Federalists”

    Short for “anti–(Federal Constitution)”, I think. Fine distinctions between confederations and federations are anachronistic.

  24. In any case, there were many English restrictions, notably the strictures against seizing Indian land, that we wanted very much to be rid of.

    Sure, but it was the restrictions that we wanted to be rid of, not the Englishness.

  25. If getting rid of the restrictions meant getting rid of the English (and it did, in the sense of the English rulers), then we got rid of them. No, we didn’t dump our Englishness, or at least not the parts we thought of as essential to Englishness.

  26. I always wondered how the word shibboleth was rendered in the Greek and Latin bibles. Neither language has the “sh” sound. Latin doesn’t have “th” either.

  27. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    The LXX does not render the word shibboleth but paraphrases it: Judges 12:6 (cod. A) καὶ εἶπαν αὐτοῖς εἴπατε δὴ σύνθημα καὶ οὐ κατηύθυναν τοῦ λαλῆσαι οὕτως … (“And tell them, ‘Say the password,’ and they did not succeed to speak it so …”).

    The Vulgate tries to convey the idea with sounds that work in Latin (sebboleth vs. tebboleth): interrogabant eum dic ergo sebboleth quod interpretatur spica qui respondebat tebboleth eadem littera spicam exprimere non valens …

  28. If getting rid of the restrictions meant getting rid of the English (and it did, in the sense of the English rulers), then we got rid of them. No, we didn’t dump our Englishness, or at least not the parts we thought of as essential to Englishness.

    My point is that therefore it had nothing to do with nationalism.

  29. Jim (another one) says:

    “Surely the sense of Irish nationalism, to pick just one example, preceded by centuries the forms of the Irish state.”

    And yet the O’Neills and the O’Donnells chose to fight each other to a standstill, ignoring the English threat and basically handing that end of the country to them – only to see the heads of both tribes get onto the same boat to go into exile. Nationalism is more than a feeling of being ethnically distinct and tied to some stretch of land. that’s the difference between the Lakota Nation and various groups in California who do not call themselves nations. The difference is that for it to be nationalism the sense of unity has to override every other consideration and result in unity of political action.

    “No, we were not; we were as English as they, we just wanted no taxation without representation.”

    And yet we (mixed marriage, long story) or many of us do not call ourselves English and reject the designation. We are the ethnicity that dare not (or prefers not) to say our name – so much so that for census purposes when people respond on the ethnicity question with “American” that is tabulated as English, and it’s a sizeable proportion of that population. And this started right at the Revolution. Before that time the English all called themselves English and when you see a reference to Americans, it is generally a reference to Iroquois or Delawares to whatever. That all ended very abruptly. One consequence of that is the body blow the Anglican Church took in the new nation, and has never really recovered from. Then later of course the upper crust developed a really severe form of Anglophilia.

    “We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,”

    I don’t recognize the poet. It sounds like Marx.

  30. @Jim (another one): It’s Chesterton, “The Secret People.” He had an interesting trajectory.

  31. And this started right at the Revolution. Before that time the English all called themselves English and when you see a reference to Americans, it is generally a reference to Iroquois or Delawares to whatever. That all ended very abruptly.

    Well, yes, that was my point.

  32. various groups in California

    What groups do you have in mind? The Yurok are a nation, even though they are divided into seven federally recognized tribes. Elsewhere, the Kurds are a nation even though they don’t have a territory or polity.

    the sense of unity has to override every other consideration

    Every other consideration? Give me leave to doubt it.

    many of us do not call ourselves English

    Now, sure. I was talking about the late 18C.

    “The Secret People”. Note that it predates WWI.

  33. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    The LXX does not render the word shibboleth but paraphrases it …
    The Vulgate tries to convey the idea with sounds that work in Latin (sebboleth vs. tebboleth).

    Thank you Stephen. That would imply that “shibboleth” as a phrase was not current in Europe while people were still relying on the Vulgate and the Septuagint. We’d be looking at the post reformation period (presumably when the Hebrew text was first used as a basis for translation of the Bible into the vernacular) as a date for the introduction of “shibboleth” as a phrase.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    The Vulgate tries to convey the idea with sounds that work in Latin (sebboleth vs. tebboleth):

    That’s particularly interesting in view of the idea that what actually went on there is that one dialect had already merged Proto-Semitic *[θ] into *[s], while the other one still hadn’t. (The Hebrew shift *[s] > [ʃ], pushed by *[ts] > [s], came later.)

    That would imply that “shibboleth” as a phrase was not current in Europe while people were still relying on the Vulgate and the Septuagint.

    And indeed it isn’t in German or French or apparently any other language not blessed with the original or the King James Version.

  35. Jim (another one) says:

    “The Yurok are a nation, even though they are divided into seven federally recognized tribes. Elsewhere, the Kurds are a nation even though they don’t have a territory or polity.”

    The Kurds certainly are. The Yurok are, if you tell me that. But the Miwok groups are not individually as small groups nor do they comprise a larger entity. The same is true of the Nisenan and other Maiduan groups, The same is true of the various Yokutsan groups in the San Joaquin Valley. This is partly because they lived in large, multiethnic towns before contact. The same is true among the Pomo – seven distinct languages and no general sense of unity. This is why in California people have rancherias rather than reservations, which are more like small towns.

    “Every other consideration? Give me leave to doubt it.”

    It has to override clan or tribal loyalties enough to suppress divisive conflict. This is basic Sun Zi.

  36. zyxt: The OED lists three uses of shibboleth (excluding direct references to the Bible story) in the 1660s, all by Thomas Fuller, and then not again until Sir Walter Scott in 1827. (Fuller was also the first and only writer to use the verb unfriend in the pre-LJ/Facebook era, as far as the OED knows.)

    Jim: There is a Yurok Reservation with about 5000 Yurok living there, and then various Yurok on different rancherias. For California, 5000 is a lot. (Only 10-20 speak fluent Yurok, but language revival is underway with the usual caveats, with perhaps 100 basic-Yurok L2 speakers today.)

    I read a bit about the Pomo, and it’s clear that they are multilingual and have never had political unity. (The Boontling word boo ‘potato’, and possibly boshe ‘deer’ as well, are of Pomoan origin.) I also note that they did have something of a common culture, at least as seen from outside, and practiced both endogamy (at the band/village level) and exogamy. What I don’t know was whether they were more likely to be exogamous with people from other Pomoan-speaking villages than with people from (linguistically) unrelated villages. Do you know the answer to that?

    If by conflict you mean civil war, then I agree. The U.S. is undergoing a seven-way conflict right now of a fairly serious nature, but neither secession nor rebellion is expected: observers, as they don’t say in Ghana, are not worried.

  37. George Gibbard says:

    what actually went on there is that one dialect had already merged Proto-Semitic *[θ] into *[s], while the other one still hadn’t.

    I don’t think so, since the Arabic cognate is sunbula(t-), ‘ear, spike (of grain)’ (with a different variant of the feminine suffix: *-at- instead of *-t-). So we are talking about what you say is the later Hebrew shift *[s] > [ʃ], which the Ephraimites hadn’t participated in. (Perhaps they had already merged the sound with samekh — as Sibboleth is spelled in the Bible — which as you say could be from *[t͡s].)

  38. George Gibbard says:

    The sibilant DM is calling Proto-Semitic *s (Hebrew šīn) is also š in Jibbali (Oman): šɛt ‘six’ (feminine), šōʕ ‘seven’ (feminine). (Mehri of Yemen and Oman has h in both numerals.)

    Akkadian looks to be a mess from Wikipedia: *θ is š in ‘2’ and ‘3’, but s in ‘8’; meanwhile what I thought was what we’re calling *s is š in ‘6’ and ‘9’, but s in ‘7’.

  39. “The widespread use of language as the principal identifier of ethnicity is a 19C notion.”

    How about amending this to “the principal self-identifier”? As in, we just talk normally; they are barbarians, nemtsy, or mispronouncers of sibilants.

  40. SFReader says:

    That’s definitely not true. The earliest Slavic history – Russia’s Primary Chronicle – is quite clear on identifying ethnic groups by languages they speak.

    А по Оцѣ рѣцѣ… языкъ свой — мурома, и черемиси свой языкъ, и мордва свой языкъ. Се бо токмо словѣнескъ языкъ в Руси: поляне, деревляне, новъгородьци, полочане, дьрьговичи, сѣверо, бужане, зане сѣдять по Бугу, послѣже же волыняне.

    And on Oka river … live people with their own language – muroma, and cheremisa have their own language and mordva their own language. And the people who speak Slavic language in Russia are poliane, derevliane, Novgorodians, Polochane, deregovichi, severians, buzhane which live along Bug river and the Volynians.

    И се суть инии языцѣ, иже дань дают Руси: чудь, весь, меря, мурома, черемись, мордва, пѣрмь, печера, ямь, литва, зимѣгола, корсь, нерома, либь: си суть свой языкъ имуще, от колѣна Афетова, иже живуть на странахъ полунощныхъ.

    And the rest are foreigners speaking foreign languages who pay tribute to Russia: Chud’, Ves’, Merya, Muroma, Cheremisi, Mordva, Perm’, Pechera, Lithuanians, Zemigalians, Courlanders, Neroma, Livonians: all of them have their own languages, they are from the lineage of Japheth and live in northern countries.

  41. …Pechera, Lithuanians…

    You forgot the jäämit!

  42. Arabic cognate is sunbula(t-), ‘ear, spike (of grain)’

    But what about the homonymous word meaning ‘stream, torrent’ (perhaps more naturally suggested by the location on the fords of the Jordan)? What’s the Arabic cognate for that, if any?

    ethnic groups by languages they speak

    Doesn’t look that way to me. What we have here is a list of names of ethnicities. For each, we are told whether they speak a Slavic language or a (non-Slavic) language of their own. That doesn’t make language the primary identifier, or all the Slavs would be lumped together.

  43. SFReader says:

    That’s exactly what author of Primary Chronicle does.

    He says all Slavs are the same people who speak same language!

    Nestor, the first Slavophile!

  44. Jim (another one) says:

    John,

    “I read a bit about the Pomo, and it’s clear that they are multilingual and have never had political unity. (The Boontling word boo ‘potato’, and possibly boshe ‘deer’ as well, are of Pomoan origin.) I also note that they did have something of a common culture, at least as seen from outside, and practiced both endogamy (at the band/village level) and exogamy. What I don’t know was whether they were more likely to be exogamous with people from other Pomoan-speaking villages than with people from (linguistically) unrelated villages. Do you know the answer to that?”

    I haven’t heard anything special about exogamy and multi-ethnic town when it comes to the Pomo. I think that was more of a thing in the Central valley. That is an interesting little bit about those words in Boontling. It’s interesting that any whites picked up anything. in the decades after the gold rush there was a psychopath in that area who set up a ranch and killed Pomo for sport.

    Just looking at this geographically, the Pomo didn’t really border many other groups. to their south were Bay Miwok, with kind of an empty zone between them and to the east there was a firm barrier between them and the Patwin Wintu. To the north and south they bordered the Yuki and the Wappo respectively and had probably shouldered those groups aside five or six thousand years ago when they moved in. I don’t know about the Wappo but the Yuki had a reputation for being warlike, quite unusual in California, so that probably argues against much friendly contact.

    “If by conflict you mean civil war, then I agree. The U.S. is undergoing a seven-way conflict right now of a fairly serious nature, but neither secession nor rebellion is expected: observers, as they don’t say in Ghana, are not worried.”

    Seven way conflicts tend to be very stable when they are cold – vis. Qin Shi Huang’s problem in attacking any of the remaining Warring States without having the others gang up on him – and very chaotic and bloody when they go hot – Syria.

    I saw an article yesterday in the Guardian about the way trump is dismissive of the military and veterans. One commenter asked if this meant there’d be a coup if he got in. (uninformed question – the military is quite inured to dismissive attitudes and has been since Vietnam; it’s the adventurism that would provoke a reaction. ) I said nah, a coup would be too much drama but there would probably be a quiet ongoing mutiny, that soldiers are quite good at “obey but don’t comply” even if those soldiers are wearing four stars. Actually it wouldn’t be mutiny because if Trump gives orders aligned with his foreign policy positions, they would be illegal and people would have no choice but to refuse.

  45. Woodhouse (2003) reviews the proposals regarding the s/š of s/šibolet, and concludes that they the sounds were indeed [s] and [ʃ].

    The senses ‘fast stream’ and ‘ear of grain’ are from the same root, or are at least homphonous, in Hebrew and in their other Semitic cognates.

    The choice of meaning for שִׁבֹּלֶת has been overthought, I think. All shibboleths are arbitrary common words. If you ask someone to pronounce Szczecin, it doesn’t matter how close to the actual town they are.
    Anyway, ears of wheat were far more universally encountered at that time and place than swift currents. I’d guess that even close to the Jordan River wheat was more readily in people’s minds, especially the starving Ephraimites (as Woodhouse points out).

  46. Well, maybe elsewhere, but here he lists 7 kinds of Slavic-speakers: оляне, деревляне, новъгородьци, полочане, дьрьговичи, сѣверо, бужане. No?

  47. January First-of-May says:

    I suppose it depends on whether you interpret “словѣнескъ языкъ” as singular or some other form. I don’t know enough about the grammar of whatever this was written in (Old Church Slavonic?), so to me it’s undoubtedly singular, in which case he’s saying that “поляне, деревляне, новъгородьци, полочане, дьрьговичи, сѣверо, бужане, волыняне” all speak the same (Slavic) language (but are otherwise 8 different tribes – you missed one).

    As of 12th century (or a bit earlier), when the Primary Chronicle was written, this might well have been true enough. The separation of Proto-Slavic is what, 8th century? And, IIRC, most of the listed tribes are East Slavic anyway.

  48. Okay, then let’s say they all spoke the same language, or with negligible differences. Nevertheless they are distinct ethnoi here, which reinforces my point: language is not the principal distinguishing feature of an ethnic group. Peoples may speak the same language and yet be distinct, or may (though not shown here) belong to the same ethnic group and yet speak distinct languages.

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