Lexical Distance Among the Languages of Europe.

Just a map, but a nicely done one, with some interesting discussion (and explanation of obscure abbreviations) in the comments. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. What’s a Greek?

    It’s just a mix of French and Albanian!

  2. @SFR: With a dash of Dutch and Lithuanian, apparently.

  3. I haven’t read the many comments below the map. I understand that the line styles indicate lexical distance, but it’s not clear to me what the actual distances between the languages on the diagram signify, and what determines which languages are connected by a line and which aren’t.

  4. Any realistic representation of lexical impact, it should be directional. For example, there’s much more French in English, German in Polish or Latin in Albanian than vice versa. And… whassat? Hungarian influence in Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian? I beg your pardon?

    “The original research data for the chart comes from K. Tyshchenko (1999), Metatheory of Linguistics.” Not from real-world text corpora?

  5. Trond Engen says:

    I also wonder why certain lines are not drawn. Lack of available data? Catalan-Provençal, Romanian and Greek-any Slavic language in the Balkans, Greek-everywhere, Hungarian-any neighbour, Dutch-Scandinavian languages, German-Estonian…

  6. Did some googling and found that the author of the original research for the map is this great Ukrainian linguist (in every sense of the word):

    Тищенко, Константин Николаевич (укр. Костянти́н (Кость) Микола́йович Ти́щенко) (30 июля 1941, Глухов Сумская область) — украинский лингвист, педагог, переводчик. Доктор филологических наук (1992), профессор (1995). Автор более 180 трудов по метатеории языкознания, знаковой теории языка, лингвистических закономерностей, вопросов оптимизации морфологического описания языка, преподавания языков, проблем развития языка, романского и восточного языкознания, а также цикла статей по германистике, славистике, кельтологии, баскскому языку, финскому языку, балканистике и алтаистике. Преподаватель нескольких десятков различных языков. Читает лекции по общему языкознанию, ведет практические занятия по французскому, фарси, финскому, итальянскому, баскскому, валлийскому и др. языкам. В 2001–2010 гг. был заведующим основанного им Лингвистического музея при Киевском университете. С 2011 — профессор кафедры Ближнего Востока.

    check the Ukrainian Wikipedia article on Tyshchenko.

    https://uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Тищенко_Костянтин_Миколайович

    It’s simply overwhelming…

  7. Found some English review of Tyschenko’s career and his work on the theory of lexical distance among European languages here

    http://wantedinlinguistics.blog.tiscali.it/2014/01/14/the-theory-of-lexical-distance-among-european-languages-by-kostiantyn-tyshchenko/

    Professor Tyshchenko of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University has several dozen languages in his arsenal, including exotic like Basque, Welsh, Finnish, Persian and others. He does not view his multilingualism as worthy of special note, because it is merely a research tool to him. Tyshchenko is known for several accomplishments, such as a meta-theory of linguistics which one of his colleagues aptly dubbed “the periodic system” for linguistics. He is also the founder of the world’s first and only Linguistic Educational Museum (located in the Red Building of Kyiv University) where he eagerly acquaints students and interested outsiders with the achievements of the modern linguistic science. Finally, Professor Tyshchenko has authored a series of works that trace the influence of other peoples in the language, history and genotype of Ukrainians.

  8. I have strange feelings about this character.

    His credentials are amazing, but so far I’ve never heard of him (and I bet none of the Hatters have). And his metatheory of linguistics or theory of lexical distances or theory of Avestan influence on Ukrainian and so on all sound like the stuff of usual nationalistic pseudo-science.

    I don’t know.

  9. Yeah, from a cursory look at his video lectures at YouTube I understand he has found evidence of a mighty satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire in the Dnieper basin (which is why Ukrainian is so Iranian), and he believes the westernmost Slavic languages (Sorbian and Polabian) have particularly close ties with Ukrainian.

  10. Uh-oh! Well, it’s still a pretty map…

  11. never mind. we’ll forgive him for the pretty map and as far as I am concerned, having learned 50 languages does make him a great linguist….

  12. David Marjanović says:

    or theory of Avestan influence on Ukrainian and so on all sound like the stuff of usual nationalistic pseudo-science

    Sounds like Balkan-style nationalism to me, except that would tend to go in the other direction: I bet somebody has proposed Serbian influence on Avestan somewhere.

  13. The Wikipedia map of Persian satrapies shows one on the northern coast of the Black Sea, including Crimea. But the Black Sea Scythians were never subjugated by the Persians. The Sakā paradraya from the Old Persian lists of administrative units stands for the main satrapy of the Dahae, and the only minor satrapy on the continent of Europe, Skudra (comprising Thrace and Macedon), probably did not extend north of the Danube.

    I tried to identify the author of the map, and found this:

    This account has been confirmed by a CheckUser as a sock puppet of Artin Mehraban (talk · contribs · logs), and it has been blocked indefinitely.

    But his maps are still there, confusing Wikipedia users.

  14. J. W. Brewer says:

    Well, one thing that pretty map indicates is an empirical contention that there is less lexical distance between Ukrainian and Polish than there is between Ukrainian and Russian. Which seems a bit implausible . . .

  15. Not that much, Ukrainian words are exact cognates to Polish words, only with East Slavic sound changes.

  16. Jim (another one) says:

    No surprises but one link caught my attention, the link between Irish and Portuguese. It makes sense, it’s just that you don’t often see it noted.

  17. Well, one thing that pretty map indicates is an empirical contention that there is less lexical distance between Ukrainian and Polish than there is between Ukrainian and Russian. Which seems a bit implausible . . .
    Well, Ukrainian looks like Russian with lots of Polish loanwords, so that’s not that implausible…

  18. Let me try another essentialist definition: Russian is East Slavic spoken as the L form of Church Slavonic, and Ukrainian is East Slavic spoken as the L form of Polish.

  19. Russian is East Slavic spoken as the L form of Church Slavonic, and Ukrainian is East Slavic spoken as the L form of Polish.

    I love it!

  20. And both are on the queue for the next Essentialist Explanations edition.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    *applause*

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    I certainly don’t find it implausible that Ukrainian would be lexically closer to Polish than Russian is. I only find it implausible that it diverges from Russian toward Polish by greater than 50% of the total “distance” between Russian and Polish, at least if your metric for distance is a sensible one. And that perhaps not coincidentally seems like the exactly the sort of implausible claim you would make if you were incentivized to overstate the degree of difference between Ukrainian and Russian because your nationalism was overriding your scholarship. Note that the same pretty map shows English as closer to German than to French, despite the massive number of French-origin loanwords in English.

  23. An anecdote re Polish and Ukrainian. When I was in the US Army–in a military intelligence unit in Germany–we had a number of men who were native speakers of one of the two languages. Some were young men of my age at the time (early 20s; this was 1970-1), who had come to the US as young children and had grown up in Polish or Ukrainian communities in the US; others were somewhat older non-commissioned officers who had managed to enlist in the US Army in the decades after WWII. The Polish speakers and the Ukrainian speakers could understand one another to some extent, and of course they shared a common cultural background that set them off from the rest of us (though this wasn’t a source of tension).

    Our unit fielded a volleyball team, in which most if not all of the members were Polish or Ukrainian, against teams from other US Army units in Germany, for whom the Polish-Ukrainian back-and-forth that went on among our team’s members on the court was a great source of puzzlement–exactly what army did the team they were playing come from?

  24. The question is, of course, what vocabulary list is used to make these comparisons. It can’t be the whole vocabulary of every language; it might be just one of the Swadesh lists. The Ethnologue says: “The percentage of lexical similarity between two linguistic varieties is determined by comparing a set of standardized wordlists and counting those forms that show similarity in both form and meaning”, but it doesn’t say what wordlists.

  25. I can’t imagine a sensible Swadesh-type list yielding more “lexical similarity” between Hungarian and Lithuanian than between Lithuanian and Polish. And any such list would be bound to show a lot of similarity between German and Polish (mostly due to one-way borrowing). And why should Slovene have some similarity with Albanian than isn’t shared by Serbo-Croatian? The map looks rubbish to me.

  26. Thanks!

    J. W. Brewer: I don’t know about the data either. I still consider such a result not intrinsically improbable, because classification and lexical similarity measure very different things. Classification in general prefers shared sound changes, while lexical similarity would be based on cognacy and/or superposability. Ukrainian koróva “cow” is of course more similar to Russian koróva than to Polish krowa, but any sane measure of lexical similarity will give an equal point for Ukrainian-Russian and Ukrainian-Polish. Slavic languages being too similar one another (we Chinese would consider all of them subdialects of a single Chinese macrodialect), with only a couple of examples of Ukrainian robíti “to do” = robićdelát’, the balance will be seriously tilted towards Polish.

  27. J. W. Brewer says:

    minus273 – that’s a fair point re how finely-tuned the measuring instrument is or isn’t assumed to be given the high percentage of situations where the words in all three languages are obviously cognates. My sense is also that there’s some regional variation in the percentage of Polish loanwords in active use in Ukrainian, and that could also affect the result. Quite possibly also some variation in register, with a “literary” register plausibly (given the cultural/political dynamics) shaped by some extent by a self-conscious desire to maximize distinctions from Russian, because less nationalistically-minded writers would have been more likely to just write in Russian. NB that the most recent Nobel laureate in literature (Svetlana Alexievich), who was born in the Ukrainian SSR and raised in the Byelorussian SSR, writes in Russian despite not being an ethnic Russian. She gave her acceptance speech in Russian, except for one brief portion where she deliberately code-switched into Belarusian and then back out again, which was sort of beautiful and sort of heartbreaking.

  28. An old joke: a Polish and a Russian (Soviet) border guards walk opposite each other on two sides of the border.
    – How do you say “zhopa” [ass] in Polish? – cries the Russian guard.
    – Dupa!
    – That’s just as good.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    And why should Slovene have some similarity with Albanian than isn’t shared by Serbo-Croatian?

    I think the absence of stippled lines means that comparisons were not made; and which ones were made appears to be pretty random.

  30. “She gave her acceptance speech in Russian, except for one brief portion where she deliberately code-switched into Belarusian and then back out again, which was sort of beautiful and sort of heartbreaking.”

    Does anyone actually speak Belarusan? Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that Belarusan is a artifact of 19th century nationalism that was cobbled together out of several west-Russian rural dialects and perpetuated in the Soviet era as a token nod to nationalism within the centralized Russocentric Soviet state; and that business in Belarus is universally conducted in Russian, with Belarusan as essentially window-dressing–even more so than Irish in most of Ireland.

    Maybe someone who knows about this can give me a more nuanced picture.

  31. From what I can gather online, it appears that roughly one eighth of the population uses Belarusian as their primary language, while another eighth uses something intermediate between the two – so I suppose its position is marginally stronger than that of Irish. Wiki also claims, based on a dead hyperlink from the Belarusian government, that Poles are the ethnic group most likely to use Belarusian at home, having abandoned Polish almost entirely.

  32. See also this comment by SFReader.

  33. Jim (another one) says:

    “Our unit fielded a volleyball team, in which most if not all of the members were Polish or Ukrainian, against teams from other US Army units in Germany, for whom the Polish-Ukrainian back-and-forth that went on among our team’s members on the court was a great source of puzzlement–exactly what army did the team they were playing come from?”

    Think of the fun you would have had if someone had thought to put them on various command nets at different echelons.

  34. It would have been great if the author had included Turkish, since many Balkan languages have many Turkish loanwords. Also, Romanian has a lot of Slavic loanwords (e.g. even da = yes), but it’s somehow invisible.

  35. An old joke

    Where does the humor come in? The Polish guard’s answer is straightforwardly correct, and the Soviet guard’s answer makes no sense to me.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    even da = yes

    Perhaps less surprising given the fact that there was no Latin word for “yes”; the Romance languages have innovated words for this new concept in different ways, and Romanian borrowed one instead of repurposing an existing word or contracting a longer phrase.

    Sometimes Romanian is the only one to have kept a Latin word; Italian and everything to the west of it has imported “fresh”, while Romanian uses rece, Latin recens.

  37. Where does the humor come in? The Polish guard’s answer is straightforwardly correct, and the Soviet guard’s answer makes no sense to me.

    I assumed the funny part was just the guard’s pleasure in learning another dirty word, but I’ll let Russian readers provide a more knowledgeable answer. Here’s a version in Russian:

    Советско-польская граница. По разные ее стороны стоят два пограничника и переговариваются от скуки. Русский: “А как по-вашему будет ж*па?” Поляк: “Дупа”. Русский: “Тоже красиво”.

    And here’s one where the nationalities are reversed (the Pole thinks the Russian word is nice):

    Русский и поляк разговорились на тему родственных языков, сопоставляют звучание слов.
    – Как по-польски будет “паровоз”?
    – Потяг.
    – Ага, от слова “потянуть”, понятно. И звучит…
    – А как по-русски “дупа”?
    – Жопа.
    – Хм… Тоже красиво…

  38. David Marjanović says:

    – Потяг.

    A rather etymological rendering of pociąg. 🙂

  39. Here’s a prettier and more extensive version of the map, with pictures of Tyshchenko in front of his enormous original hand-drawn map, which reaches farther into Asia. And with a link to an interview with him. (Added: bad link for the interview. I can’t find an archived version.)

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