Luxembourgish.

Jennifer Rankin writes for the Guardian about a language not often discussed:

Luxembourgish, traditionally just spoken at home, can sound like a curiosity. It was not even a national language of Luxembourg until 1984 and is hardly spoken outside the Grand Duchy. Nearly half of Luxembourg’s 576,000 inhabitants are foreigners, many of whom find it easier to speak one of the country’s other official languages, French and German, or even English. “You can live in Luxembourg without knowing a word of Luxembourgish,” says Schmitz. “[But] it is fun, it expands your view and your children cannot talk in a secret language that you do not understand.”

Now Luxembourg’s government wants to boost the status of the language further with a 40-point action plan that aims to promote it in schools, libraries, government offices and embassies. Luxembourgish will be codified, with an academy, nationwide spelling campaigns and the completion of an online dictionary. Schoolchildren will be able to do poetry slam, creative writing and theatre in the language. […]

“The goal is not to make Luxembourgish the official language, but to allow it to coexist with the other official languages, French and German,” Guy Arendt, Luxembourg’s culture minister, told the Guardian. “I am not one of those who believes our language is on the point of dying or disappearing. Emails, SMS and social networks have made Luxembourgish, in its written form, more used than ever before.”

Luxembourgish is also being heard on the big screen. Jérôme Weber, a film director, says more people want to shoot films in Luxembourgish. “It is quite a big trend right now, to push the Luxembourgish language and culture and I want to be part of it.” His latest film, The Past We Live In, is about an old man’s memories of being conscripted into the Wehrmacht during the second world war. Weber says it was obvious this Luxembourgish story should be told in the national language. Yet the influence of English is hard to break; he writes his scripts in English first.

Sandra Schmit, an author and translator, thinks Luxembourgish is becoming “a real literary language”, like English in the time of Chaucer.

There’s also a list of “Luxembourgish key phrases”: Kënnt Dir mir wann ech gelift soen, wou een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt? “Please can you tell me where is the best place to try gromperekichelcher (potato pancakes)?” Thanks, Trond and Kobi!

Comments

  1. Matthew Roth says:

    Very interesting. Luxembourgish frustrated the Nazis to no end in World War II, both as the peoples’ identity, instead of claiming to be German, and as a language, used to resist the imposition of only or primarily German.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    From the article:

    An earlier petition complained about Luxembourgers’ tendency to pepper their native language, related to German, with French words.

    To be fair, people have been complaining about that for 350 years straight.

    Kënnt Dir mir wann ech gelift soen, wou een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt?

    Analysis:
    ë is stressed [ə], or so I read recently. No idea where it comes from regularly.
    dir looks like the 2sg dative, but it’s the 2pl nominative resegmented: kënnt_ir > kënnt_dir.
    wann ech gelift is a calque of s’il vous plaît without the il. Occured as wenn es euch beliebt (obsolete) in Standard German, with a different prefix.
    soen – instead of becoming [g̊] as in Upper German, the of sagen has dropped out.
    een – “one”.
    beschte – I didn’t expect to find word-internal /st/ > /ʃt/ that far north; it’s a southwestern thing.
    Grompere – potatoes not as “earth apples”, but as “ground pears”, Standard German *Grundbirnen. Also found in Styria, and from there in Hungarian (krumpli), Slovene (krumpir) and FYLOSC (krompir).
    -kichelcher – double diminutive of “cake” (Standard German Kuchen; *Küch-el-chen) with an explicit plural ending added.
    krittkriegt with probably regular vowel shortening.

  3. Squiffy-Marie von Bladet says:

    I heard that Luxembourgish was used in kintergarten, German in primary schools and French in secondary. I know that parliamentary proceedings are published in Luxembourgish as a newspaper supplement, because I had one. I failed to find any evidence of literature, despite looking. (I could have looked harder, probably, but I did look in bookshops in Luxembourg.)

  4. David M: Thanks very much for that analysis!

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    The son (aged maybe 11 or 12) of a college classmate of mine decided last year on a whim to teach himself Luxembourgish, because, hey, there are internet resources available, and you can access them as easily from Manhattan (where he lives) as anywhere else. Not sure what level of fluency he’ll end up with, but it’s the sort of admirable self-assigned project that gives one confidence that there will still be LH commenters (or the functional equivalent in some slightly different social/technical context) a half-century from now.

  6. I failed to find any evidence of literature
    Last year, my wife brought me a Luxemburger magazine back from a trip. It was mostly in German, but it had a humorous comic strip in Luxembourgish.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Hans: It was mostly in German, but it had a humorous comic strip in Luxembourgish.

    This is typical of a region in which many people are bilingual in the dominant language and a local dialect. I know two typical examples from France. I grew up in Normandy but my mother’s family was from the South (her parents’s native language was the local variety of Occitan). In Normandy the local newspaper had a regular humorous column in the rural dialect (not normally written, so without an official spelling), purported to be written by a savvy old peasant. In my grandparents’ case, the newspaper published in Toulouse (the closest large city) also included a similar column in Occitan (then written in a French-inspired spelling, closer to local pronunciation than the present “graphie occitane” which is inspired by the medieval spelling).

  8. marie-lucie says:

    David M: ë is stressed [ə], or so I read recently

    As in Albanian?

  9. US has about 710 thousand people per member of the House of Representatives (the smallest district is about 530 thousands). By this measure, Luxembourg should have a parliament of one. (I understand, the usual measure is really a cubic root of the population, not a proportion. And the US House is on the smaller side. But, hey, just another Luxembourgian joke)

  10. So sch and sh are both utilized for [ʃ]?

  11. I looked up recipes for Gromperekichelcher. They seem identical to what I know as latkes.

  12. @MarieLucie, “As in Albanian?”

    What is written <ë> in Standard Albanian is more complicated than merely a neutral vowel. Among speakers of the Geg variety, this may actually be a low back nasal vowel (/ã/). And even among Tosk speakers for whom the standard orthography was supposedly created, final *ə has generally been lost, so when you see <-ë> at the end of a word, you don’t usually pronounce it, although the vowel of the preceding syllable is lengthened compensatorily. (Within a Balkan historical context, one does wonder why Romanian has preserved the final reduced vowel everywhere but Albanian didn’t.)

  13. 1-David: nice analysis, but I wonder whether the 2pl nominative pronoun “dir” might owe its initial /d/ to the influence of the 2sg forms rather than to morphological re-analysis of the verbal /t/ suffix: I’m no Germanic scholar, but in those continental Germanic varieties where the 2pl pronoun has initial /d/ the explanation I have always encountered (i.e. as presented by real Germanic scholars) involves the influence of the 2sg forms. Mark you, both factors may have played a role, in Luxemburgish and elsewhere…

    Another possible factor may have been analogy: “Mir” being both the dative singular and the nominative plural of the first person pronoun, perhaps speakers came to feel that the dative singular form “dir” of the second person could/should also be used as a nominative plural. Again, this could have been A factor rather than THE factor which caused the change…

    2-I do not understand the structure of “een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt”: this “déi” looks like a genitive plural form of the definite article, but both the English and the German wiki pages indicate that Luxemburgish lacks a genitive case for nouns, and indeed both agree that the genitive case in Luxemburgish exists only in fossilized phrases. The case system seems to be nominative/accusative versus dative, with “déi” being given as a stressed form of the feminine singular and of the plural nominative/accusative definite article.

    So: is the sentence a mistake? Is its structure due to German influence, with “déi” being used because of its formal similarity to the German genitive plural definite article “der”? Or could it even be due to French influence, with “déi” being chosen because of its formal similarity to French “des”? Or am I misunderstanding something basic here? (Sigh. It wouldn’t be the first time…)

    Hoping for some answers, preferably from a Germanic scholar…

  14. ë is stressed [ə], or so I read recently. No idea where it comes from regularly.

    It’s the default allophone of short /e/. A fully front realisation occurs only before velars; elsewhere it’s strongly centralised and variably rounded — a kind of [ɵ ~ ə] sound.

  15. I do not understand the structure of “een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt”

    Because this is a subordinate clause governed by wou ‘where’ (Standard wo), it is in SOV order. Een is the subject: it is ‘one’ (as David M glosses it) in the sense of ‘someone’. Déi is therefore the plural article, and the whole thing means ‘someone gets the best G.’

    Wikt.en says that kriegen ‘get, catch’ with a short vowel in the 2sg and 3sg is common everywhere in spoken German. The verb is not often used in writing, which has allowed the spelling and pronunciation to diverge in mesolectal varieties. This is not true of the homonymous kriegen ‘make war’.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    As in Albanian?

    I just found out it is “more often slightly rounded [ɵ̞] than unrounded [ə]”, so probably it sounds exactly like the reduced vowel of French.

    So sch and sh are both utilized for [ʃ]?

    Sh was used in an earlier proposed orthography that didn’t catch on.

    Another possible factor may have been analogy: “Mir” being both the dative singular and the nominative plural of the first person pronoun, perhaps speakers came to feel that the dative singular form “dir” of the second person could/should also be used as a nominative plural.

    Possible.

    But then, plural mir is thought to have a very similar origin: -/nwir/ &gt: -/mːir/ reanalyzed as -|n mir|.

    the structure of “een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt”

    Een here seems to be “one” as in “one does not simply walk into Mordor”: wou een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt = wo *einer die besten G. kriegt = “where one gets the best G.”. In other words, déi is the plural nom./acc. article, agreeing with the explicitly plural Gromperekichelcher. (In Standard German, -chen diminutives aren’t marked for plural because -en happens to already be a plural ending. Judging from Wikipedia, -er seems to be highly productive in Luxembourgish.)

    Wikt.en says that kriegen ‘get, catch’ with a short vowel in the 2sg and 3sg is common everywhere in spoken German.

    …Yes, likely because of the consonant cluster (it also happens for gib(s)t). Doesn’t happen in or around Austria, where shortening before consonant clusters seems not to have happened (it’s quite inconsistent in Standard German spelling and pronunciations) and the dialects never had the necessary long monophthong in this word to begin with (it’s still a diphthong there).

    the homonymous kriegen ‘make war’.

    Quite unlike the colloquial “get”, this one is so rarefied that it’s probably in nobody’s active vocabulary and exclusively gets spelling pronunciations. The normal expression for “wage war” is Krieg führen, and the distant second is sich bekriegen (said of at least two parties, so hardly ever in the singular).

  17. I’m guessing many people here heard the NPR segment this evening in which a few staffers attempted to reproduce Robert Siegel’s accent, followed by a comedian expert in impressions talking about it. I’d be interested in people’s reactions.

    It was interesting to me, since I was on the one hand unimpressed, but then on the other hand, he clearly caught some things that I might not have reproduced. I tend to start from vowel sounds (and the vowels the comedian and the NPR producer talking to him attempted made this distinguished New Yorker sound like a Chicago cabbie.) But I had zeroed in on Siegel’s S’s, and this guy put in words what my tongue was doing to replicate Siegel’s S’s. He caught the rhythm and the tones better than I would have.

    I tend to think of someone’s voice in terms of accent, and if I were to imitate them, I’d start with a few sounds in order to determine how to hold my mouth and tongue – sort of the resting pose that I think typically defines accent, from which the rest of the accent usually flows naturally.

    The people in this segment clearly were listening along axes i was not. It was difficult to check my hasty impulse to judge their output as poorly done, because they didn’t catch some things I would have caught, and to credit them for all the things I wouldn’t have.

  18. I missed the NPR segment, but found it online.

  19. I tend to think of someone’s voice in terms of accent, and if I were to imitate them, I’d start with a few sounds in order to determine how to hold my mouth and tongue – sort of the resting pose that I think typically defines accent, from which the rest of the accent usually flows naturally.

    There is a technical term for this: the articulatory setting, or the default configuration of the movable parts of vocal tract (the tongue, lips, jaw, soft palate + uvula, root of the tongue + pharyngeal wall, larynx) assumed before one speaks. For me too it’s the first thing to think of when trying to imitate an accent.

  20. I missed the NPR segment, but found it online.

    Thanks, that was very enjoyable! I found Carruth pretty amateurish, but Kite captured the essence of the Siegel manner.

  21. I remember learning that while the standard Germanic hesitation-noise is centralized, the standard Romance one is closer to [ɛ], fronted and laxed. I suppose this too is a matter of the articulatory setting. There is also a joke whose punchline is “Of course I’m British, my good man; if I were any more British, I couldn’t speak at all!”, which refers to the higher articulatory tension in RP than in American varieties.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    I also wonder what Germans in the regions bordering on Luxembourg make of it. They’ll understand it obviously, at least with a sound exposure to dialect, but what do they make of it in sociolinguistic terms?

    (I may have told this before, but I once discussed language with a Pakistani taxi driver in Oslo. Having noticed that the driver of the next car in line was a Sikh, I asked if the Pakistanis and Sikhs spoke Punjabi with eachother. He didn’t really answer that, but before we veered off into the special Punjabi-Norwegian that he and his friends used to talk while growing up, he said that Sikh Punjabi sounded weird, because it was his own boorish language spoken with a style as if were Urdu.)

  23. Trond Engen says:

    There is a technical term for this: the articulatory setting

    Thanks! I’ve been thinking that the a’s of Indic, the i’s of Latin and the Germanic u’s, maybe even the neverending palatalization of Slavic, are results of different default positions of the mouth. With a term for it I can also pretend to be scientific about it.

  24. Articulatory setting is discussed in an entry in Peter Roach’s blog, “A blog that discusses problems in Wikipedia’s coverage of Phonetics”. Will this internet thing please stop?

    (It’s actually an interesting blog.)

  25. David Marjanović says:

    The (very short) German Wikipedia article cites a thesis from 1925 about the different settings of German and English (no idea which kind of German – the diversity within German feels large to me) and a book from 2001 about hesitation particles in non-native German!

  26. Matthew Roth says:

    The Wikipedia thing is funny. I get annoyed that the usual orthographs are not listed with IPA sounds. But, the symbol for the r in French was more appropriate than the one in my book.

    Also, I tell people to think of what a French person sounds like. Some people are clueless and can’t do it, but dropped h’s, bright vowels (surely /i/, /a/ and /o/ come to mind–they all overdo /e/ because of hearing Spanish), and a distinct /r/ come to mind when hearing Francophones, even when only hearing them speak English. Then, someone who knows the details can correct it based on IPA and knowledge of phonology.

    My church group started Hebrew today, and there is someone who trained as a linguist, as well as me who learned IPA as a language grad student. The book doesn’t use IPA, and its vowel comparisions are for some dialect of English unknown to us; I had to ask why they chose “a as in ‘bat,’” because that is clearly a dipthong…

  27. Allan from Iowa says:

    Does FYLOSC mean the same as BCSM? The acronym is only used here at Languagehat as far as Google knows.

  28. Major thanks for the link to the NPR segment, which I should have tracked down in the first place; for the term articulatory settings; and the link to the Peter Roach blog and its article on articulatory settings. Fun stuff.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    The book doesn’t use IPA, and its vowel comparisions are for some dialect of English unknown to us; I had to ask why they chose “a as in ‘bat,’” because that is clearly a dipthong…

    It’s a monophthong somewhere around [æ] in most Englishes (varying from almost [a] to [ɛ]); that doesn’t really help, though, because Hebrew hasn’t had such a sound in a long time.

  30. Alka [spammer] says:

    Much obliged! I’ve been suspecting that the an’s of Indic, the I’s of Latin and the Germanic u’s, possibly the endless palatalization of Slavic, are consequences of various default places of the mouth. With a term for it I can likewise profess to be logical about it.

  31. The comment from Alka above appears to be generated by a spambot using text from Trond’s comment with some synonym substitutions.

  32. Argh! Thanks, I’ve removed the spam URL. Thanks for the heads-up. Friggin’ spammers…

  33. Trond Engen says:

    It was such an unusually intelligent comment too.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    And so stable…

    *runs, hides under table*

  35. Trond Engen says:

    *able, stable, and smashing the table*

  36. The normal expression for “wage war”

    Slightly off topic – does one ever wage anything else than war? (I suppose one could say that one wages employees. Certainly another word for unemployed in BrE, generally used in a technical context, is “unwaged” – so I suppose the rest of us are being waged by someone. But outside “unwaged” it isn’t really used.)
    But, unlike mongering, which can be done with war but equally easily with fish, cheese, iron, fear, rumour and panic, waging is really only war.

  37. You can also wage a campaign, but I agree it’s much less common. (Also, your comment brought back to my mind for the first time in decades the Latin expression bellum gerere. Brother Auger would be proud of me!)

  38. Ah yes, good point – I have heard that as well.

    I like “bellum gerere” – which, as “gerere” means “to wear”, clearly translates as “to get your war on”.

  39. Well, that’s where belligerent comes from.

  40. Here are the senses of wage v. from the OED, with the quotations suppressed (where † means “obsolete”):

    I. To gage, pledge.
    †1.
    a. trans. To deposit or give as a pledge or security. Also with down. Obs. c1330—1636

    †b. To offer as a gage of battle. Obs. a1500—a1500

    †2. fig. To offer (one’s oath, etc.) as security for the fulfilment of a promise, etc. c1430—1587

    †3.
    a. To give pledges or pledge oneself for the fulfilment of (something promised). Obs. 1362—c1400

    †b. with obj. a clause. Obs. 1362—c1535

    4. spec. in Law. Now hist.
    a. to wage battle [= Anglo-Norman gager bataille, Law Latin vadiare duellum] : To pledge oneself to judicial combat: = gage v. 1c. 1569—1819

    b. to wage one’s (or the) law (Anglo-Norman gager la ley, Law Latin vadiare legem): (a) to defend an action by ‘wager of law’ (see wager n.2 5a). ¶ (b) In erroneous popular use; to go to law (cf. 10). 1455—1824

    †c. to wage deliverance: = gage v. 1b. Obs. 1607—1656

    5.
    a. To put to hazard, venture or risk the loss of. ?a1400—1825

    †b. refl. To throw oneself on the mercy of another. Obs. c1400—c1400

    †6. esp. To agree to forfeit in some contingency; to stake, wager, bet. Obs. 1484—1742

    †II.
    7. To engage or employ for wages; to hire:
    a. for military service. Obs. c1330—1652

    †b. gen. Obs. 1465—1608

    †c. To bribe. Obs. 1461—a1800

    †d. intr. To make an agreement for wages. Obs. 1608—1608

    †8. trans. To put out to hire. Obs. rare—1. 1590—1590

    9.
    a. To pay wages to. Now rare or Obs. 1393—1833

    †b. Ironically, to reward (for evil). Obs. 1412–20—1412–20

    †c. To pay wages for. Obs. 1638—1638

    d. absol. (fig.) ? To bring reward. c1400—c1400

    III.
    10.
    a.
    (a) To carry on (war, a contest).
    Developed from sense 3: cf. 4a. c1485—1887

    (b) transf. (nonce-use). a1648—a1648

    b. To contend for (a cause). rare. 1845—1845

    †c. intr. in various nonce-uses: To struggle, contend against; to struggle through difficulties; to contend in rivalry. Obs. 1608—1690

    11. trans. To wield (a weapon, etc.). rare. 1836—1865

  41. Zeleny Drak says:

    While Luxembourgish was always strongly used it was until recently quite a limited in more formal situations, so quite similar with other German “dialects”. French or German were the only languages used in law, in politics, radio&TV and so on. The bureaucracy was entirely in one of these languages (mostly French). It only started to change in the 80′-90′ when the economy changed from a industrial based one to a service/banking. Luxembourg started to be flooded by educated French/Germans speakers (until then the emigration was mostly lower class workers, mostly Portuguese). The local middle class suddenly discovered that Luxembourgish can and should be used in official setting as well. The public sector (almost entirely staffed by locals) became the biggest supporter of the use the language and of expanding it range of use.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    bellum gerere

    The Habsburg Hexameter on how to do imperialism right: Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube.

    “to get your war on”

    Wow, so it’s the perfect expression for Fearless Flightsuit going forth to mess up Potamia…

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