MANX: NOT EXTINCT!

A BBC News story from last week alerts us to the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, Manx is not extinct:

The global cultural body UNESCO has agreed to change its classification of the Manx Gaelic language as “extinct” following protests from the island….
Chief Minister Tony Brown wrote to UNESCO claiming the language was still flourishing on the island.
The classification will now be changed to ‘critically endangered’.
Government minister Phil Gawne, who is a fluent Manx speaker, added that as well as Mr Brown’s letter there were many others sent by Manx speakers.
Several letters were sent from children who attend the Bunscoill (Manx language school) in St Johns.
The children asked: “If our language is extinct then what language are we writing in?”

What indeed? I know there are those who pooh-pooh the significance of the revival of “minor” languages, but it warms the cockles of my retrograde heart. (Thanx for the Manx, Maureen!)

Comments

  1. ObQuote: I’m not dead!

  2. Also, I am shocked – shocked! – to learn that your comments don’t allow embedded YouTube videos.

  3. Wiki: Manx itself can be divided into two dialects, Northern Manx and Southern Manx.
    It’s less than thirty miles long.

  4. Cliff Crawford says:

    “The Manx language was thought to have died out in the mid-19th Century” – I thought the last native speaker died in the 1970’s?

  5. “it warms the cockles of my retrograde heart”: then we’ll call you Language Homburg.

  6. or Language Heart

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    I take it there is some significant degree of mutual intelligibility between Manx and both Irish and Scottish Gaelic in spoken form, with the distinctive interest of Manx (from a distance) lying in its very different approach to spelling, which is due to the contingencies of a different history. But given the at least very-close-to-extinction discontinuity in even spoken Manx and the comparative paucity of old Manx texts, if you were trying to create a new generation of Manx-speaking and Manx-literate schoolchildren it would seem to make sense to instead teach them spelling conventions as close as possible to those used in Ireland and Scotland, in order to plug them to the maximum extent possible into a somewhat larger-scale Goidelic-literate community that would thus have increased odds of survival (they could even go on field trips to the Hebrides or the West of Ireland and be able to read the signs). But I suppose that might assume a level of pragmatism versus romanticism (or coalition-building versus particularism) unlikely to be found among self-conscious language-revivalists.

  8. Yeah, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Manx revivalists to go the “I can’t believe it’s not Gaelic!” route. The whole point is to create your own special and distinctive thing.

  9. “in order to plug them to the maximum extent possible into a somewhat larger-scale Goidelic-literate community that would thus have increased odds of survival”
    Supposedly there was up until the 1600’s a literary standard form of Gaelic that was understood throughout the entire region from southernmost Ireland to the very tip of Scotland. It was not exactly artifical but no one actually spoke it. Then when things fell apart in that era, all that remianed were the various spoken forms. I don’t know how well that comports with whatever the dates are for the various orthographies Ireland or Scotland, but it does comport with the role of the literary class in that society – they could go anywhere and perform.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    Hat’s use of the verb “create” rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? But I’m gonna stick to the position that it’s just a dialect of Gaelic with different spelling conventions until I see evidence of the Manx army & navy . . . Although compared to other things the Manx government might be spending discretionary income on this seems pretty harmless and I expect the kids will as adults be just as functional in English as their monolinguistically-educated peers.

  11. michael farris says:

    “But I suppose that might assume a level of pragmatism versus romanticism (or coalition-building versus particularism) unlikely to be found among self-conscious language-revivalists.”
    Hearing a presentation on the dire straits of a number of finnic languages in the former Soviet
    Union (and the problems of revivalists in settling on orthographies etc) I posed the sugquestion “Why don’t they learn Estonian and/or Finnish first?” since that would be easier and doable and could provide a good foundation for actually preserving whatever is unique in the other languages.
    It was not well received. I think revivalists are almost by definition extreme purists.

  12. Michael:
    I imagine they’d pretty much have to be purists, especially when trying to revive a moribund or extinct language. To teach them a more popular, still spoken language first, then teach them a similar language, would undoubtedly (well perhaps that’s a bit strong of a word) foster a hybrid language, not quite one or the other, which would greatly disappoint those who had hoped to revive the original language to the best of their ability.
    But I’m an American native English speaker, so what do I know? (grin)

  13. clodhopper says:

    Language has two major components, one to communicate with as many people that you like or to speak and not have eavesdroppers understand.
    Poor Islanders have a problem that the land grabbers come from many foreign cultures
    A Partial list: Baltic North men leftover from the hey day of picking up girls in their long boats, a thousand years ago, Men Of Lancashire, ex Picts, Southern men of Eire, Northern Men of Ireland, and the men of Harlech and a need to keep TT a running and their Parliament busy and the kitty full.
    Everyone should have at least two languages [in & out], one for commerce and another to talk with ones compatriots in secret besides e-texing.
    Me it be Saxon with Roman overtones with a smattering of cockney with a dab of Walian.
    The Brain needs as many sound groups as possible.

  14. clodhopper says:

    PS.I hate monopolies and clones and “regurgitators” of the party line, it is the variations that makes for interest. One language be evil just like having only GM cars, no ugly Lexus, one food like Potato, The Irish Know that monopoly. The List of monopoly making schemes is endless.

  15. The purism is to a large degree understandable, though. These folks are by definition not learning Manx for pragmatic reasons. There is nobody that they can communicate with better for learning Manx. They want to reestablish a connection to their past culture, and they want to maintain certain folkways and traditional aesthetics.
    In the Yiddish community one sees similar deep-seated conflicts w/r/t to pragmatism vs. purism. Aside from a very small minority who learn Yiddish in order to better work among ultra-orthodox Jews, nearly everybody learns Yiddish in order to maintain a connection to traditional Yiddish culture, in the forms of its drama, poetry, literature, and song.
    So every once in a while you get a big row when someone says, ‘Yiddish is dying! We’re all fucked!’ and someone else says, ‘Actually, there’s hundreds of thousands of people whose first language, and whose daily language, is still Yiddish. And they live in Brooklyn.’ And the doomsayer has to say, ‘Well, yeah… But they don’t speak the kind of Yiddish I’M interested in. Their Yiddish has a lot of English words in it and they don’t always get all their genders right.’ You know, like a living language.
    I’m certainly sympathetic to the purists, though. I mean, I didn’t get into Yiddish to speak with the Hasidim either, unless they want to talk about the short stories of Y. L. Peretz (hint: they don’t). Language revival or preservation is full of really thorny issues like this. Most of the times I start thinking about it, I get really depressed and wonder if I should just learn Spanish instead, so I can have long conversations with the guys at my taqueria.
    These questions, I should note, are even thornier among native speakers of English, who generally have started out at the top of the language pyramid and thus don’t really HAVE to learn a language for anybody.

  16. Excellent points, clodhopper and Z.D.
    I hate monopolies and clones and “regurgitators” of the party line, it is the variations that makes for interest.
    You and me both, amigo.

  17. Bill Walderman says:

    There’s an article on the back page of the current TLS about contemporary Cornish poetry, which is apparently flourishing.

  18. The Omniglot blog (http://www.omniglot.com/blog/) has quite a few entries about Manx.

  19. I remember an anecdote about G.B. Shaw in which he, giving a lecture in Ireland, scoffed at the notion of reviving the Irish language. When the audience became restive, he told them to be quiet, or he would complete the lecture in Irish, and none of them would understand him. They quieted down for the rest of the lecture.
    I know that Shaw was opposed to the neo-Irish movement championed by W.B. Yeats and others, but I’ve not been able to find any confirmation of the anecdote. It does sound Shavian, though.

  20. in order to plug them to the maximum extent possible into a somewhat larger-scale Goidelic-literate community that would thus have increased odds of survival
    Why should this apply only to endangered languages? I firmly believe that Norwegian (both types), Swedish, and Danish should be melded into an über-Scandinavian that could become a major language in its own right, not just a collection of semi-dialects.
    And if Southern Slavic (Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian) could become a single language, that would be a force to be reckoned with!
    I’m not sure how feasible it would be, but perhaps Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian could be made into a single language, with recognised sub-varieties as a counter to Great Russian chauvinism.
    Dutch and Flemish are already effectively a single language, but what would be wrong with “consolidating” it a bit more? We all know that French is so powerful in Belgium only because of the power and prestige of the neighbouring French state, otherwise it would simply be poor little Walloon. If Dutch and Flemish united, the scales might be tipped decisively in favour of Dutch/Flemish! And perhaps we could throw Afrikaans into the mix. Dutch would become a world language again!
    The possibilities are endless. Portuguese and Spanish. American and British English (oh, sorry, that’s already been united). The miserable existence of so many poor little regional languages could be decisively changed by consolidation into über-languages, giving them critical mass and finally a decent place in the sun.

  21. michael farris says:

    bath,
    There are different economies of scale involved. Take the case of Valenciano, it’s historically done a lot better when it’s allied itself to Catalan and a lot worse when it’s tried to go its own way. The current compromise is that Valenciano is the name of Catalan in Valencia.
    That’s a case where a minority language does better by allying itself with another (though Catalan doesn’t need Valenciano to successfully compete with Spanish, Valenciano, and probably Balearic, definitely need(s) Catalan).
    “Norwegian (both types), Swedish, and Danish should be melded into an über-Scandinavian that could become a major language in its own right, not just a collection of semi-dialects”
    Norwegian and Danish makes sense (though I prefer Bokmaal to Danish) adding Swedish in there less so. It’s my impression that
    “And if Southern Slavic (Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian) could become a single language, that would be a force to be reckoned with!”
    Serbo-Croat was a major European language, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin are minor local languages of no special interest to outsiders. I think a new name (like Shtokavian since all the standards are based on that) makes more sense than a series of micro-standards, but that’s not my call.
    Slovenian doesn’t merge in so well with them. And while Macedonian and Bulgarian could merge easily, they couldn’t with the others. Slovenian, Shtokavian and Macedo-Bulgarian are logical language divisions. But if the locals want 7 languages where 3 would do who am I to argue?
    “I’m not sure how feasible it would be, but perhaps Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian could be made into a single language, with recognised sub-varieties as a counter to Great Russian chauvinism.”
    Well Ukrainian has had its ups and downs since independence (though all in all has trended upwards, but Belarussian has mostly had downs and shows no signs of reversing that and AFAIK Russian is the preferred language for most purposes (and virtually public purposes) in Belarus.
    “Dutch and Flemish are already effectively a single language, but what would be wrong with “consolidating” it a bit more?”
    I wasn’t aware of any strong separatist movements and Dutch and Flemish are basically ethnic and not language names (the Flemish people I’ve known don’t claim to speak a different language than Netherlanders but do recognize strong cultural differences between the two groups).
    “And perhaps we could throw Afrikaans into the mix. Dutch would become a world language again!”
    Nyah, that would just create massive diglossia in SAfrica (hardly needed).
    “Portuguese and Spanish.”
    Why? I actually think it would be better for all concerned if Brazilian and Portuguese gave up the ghost and split (with written Brazilian coming more into line with spoken Brazilian).
    “American and British English (oh, sorry, that’s already been united).”
    Maybe getting less so. I’ve noticed recently that I can’t eavesdrop too well on everyday real British speakers. During a recent vacation at a hotel (and town) with a lot of Brits I found I understood between 50 and 90 percent of what they were saying to each other (closer to 60-70 most of the time).
    “The miserable existence of so many poor little regional languages could be decisively changed by consolidation into über-languages, giving them critical mass and finally a decent place in the sun.”
    Give that strawman heck, bathrobe!
    In the final analysis drawing language lines is a multi-dimensional task and reducing it to any single parameter (whether mutual intelligibility, cultural compatability, size of population, or whatever) is not especially helpful.
    Getting back to Manx, from what I understand, Scottish and Irish Gaelic and Manx are apparently all close enough in spoken form that a compromise standard could accomodate all speakers (even if it didn’t perfectly reflect any particular spoken version). United, they would probably be stronger in some ways (and weaker in others). If the speakers themselves aren’t interested there’s no point in trying, but dismissing the idea out of hand is narrow minded.

  22. D. Gown: an über-Scandinavian that could become a major language in its own right
    Regarding Skandinavian (and don’t forget Iceland). I like to think of English as that descendant über-language. For internal purposes, the ‘dialects’ will always (hopefully) be more useful. While Norwegians can usually put on a fairly good show of speaking Swede & Dansk, the Danes & Swedes never, never reciprocate.

  23. Well, early this week I did read a short bit of chemistry history in Swedish. I was rather impressed by how much I understood – and could infer from context.
    But of course that’s because I know that particular subject well enough already to draw parallels. I can’t read litterature in Swedish (at least I couldn’t when we had to in school all those many years ago).

  24. The five official Scandinavian languages have always seemed indicative of an extreme, though perhaps praiseworthy, stubbornness. They even have different alphabets. (People tell me that Icelandic really is different, though).
    Certainly the Norwegians with their two official languages, neither of them Danish, deserve some sort of prize. I’ve even been told that nynorsk is actually a sort of artificial koine and that the actual popular dialects are all different.

  25. Sili: A chemist friend of mine actually learned chemistry-Swedish in order to learn about forest-products chemistry. He’d already been forced to learn German, which seems to have hung on in chemistry long after the other sciences had abolished all language requirements, and getting by with very rudimentary Swedish wasn’t too hard.

  26. mollymooly says:

    Supposedly there was up until the 1600’s a literary standard form of Gaelic that was understood throughout the entire region from southernmost Ireland to the very tip of Scotland.

    Some of the late 19th-century Irish revivalists wanted the classical language to be the model for revival. They lost out to the vernacularists. Getting the anglophone enthusiasts to learn it might have been feasible, but there was no chance of getting the western peasants to switch from dialect to classical, when they were too busy switching to English.

  27. “Actual” is actually one of my favorite words, and when writing for publication, even wedsite publication, I take care to edit most actuals out.

  28. clodhopper says:

    Languages die when the right to live well is NOT threatened, and you do not have hide thy Ideas, but Languages thrive behind closed doors when survival is at Issue, e.g Basque.
    See Arabic for the contentious divisions.
    When neighbouring areas fail to communicate with each other, they develop new strains, and will become a language if the rifts fail to mend and become chasms, that is why Ebonics and other under class lingos show the fault lines of miscommunication.
    The English Lingo is a stew , there was the language of the rulers, the language of the preachers, the language of the enforcers, the
    language of the masterless ones.
    There are still spots in Wales where they will not speak the Royal Prince language.

  29. I’ve even been told that nynorsk is actually a sort of artificial koine and that the actual popular dialects are all different.
    You obviously know a little about this, you don’t capitalise ‘nynorsk’, as most English speakers would. As you may know, nynorsk is only a written form and it’s used for many different dialects. An example would be the phrase ‘I don’t know’, which is jeg vet ikke in bokmål and eg veit ikkje in nynorsk; not so terribly different, but it is the cause of endless discussion. My 15 year-old’s class are ‘forced’ to study nynorsk, she says, except for those with non-Norwegian mothers (but not fathers, like her) and those with dyslexia.
    One interesting Skandinavian-language solution I saw in the supermarket the other day comes from the US firm Sun Maid Raisins, who print one side of the box Russin, the Swedish, and the other Rosiner, the Norwegian and Danish. The only problem is that previously, every time I’d seen ‘Russin’ I’d thought they were suspicious boxes of Swedish raisins that must be past their sell-by date.

  30. I’ve even been told that nynorsk is actually a sort of artificial koine and that the actual popular dialects are all different.
    You obviously know a little about this, you don’t capitalise ‘nynorsk’, as most English speakers would. As you may know, nynorsk is only a written form and it’s used for many different dialects. An example would be the phrase ‘I don’t know’, which is jeg vet ikke in bokmål and eg veit ikkje in nynorsk; not so terribly different, but it is the cause of endless discussion. My 15 year-old’s class are ‘forced’ to study nynorsk, she says, except for those with non-Norwegian mothers (but not fathers, like her) and those with dyslexia.
    One interesting Skandinavian-language solution I saw in the supermarket the other day comes from the US firm Sun Maid Raisins, who print one side of the box Russin, the Swedish, and the other Rosiner, the Norwegian and Danish. The only problem is that previously, every time I’d seen ‘Russin’ I’d thought they were suspicious boxes of Swedish raisins that must be past their sell-by date.

  31. John Emerson says:

    Actually (!) I didn’t know. Nynorsk is primarily a different spelling convention? I had thought that it was a new standard spoken language with less Danish influence, based on a generic norse dialect, and thus implied significantly different speech. Now it sounds more like Pu-tong hua / simplified characters — a less Beijing version of Mandarin with a very different writing system.

  32. michael farris says:

    Nynorsk is basically a conlang.
    The idea was “What would a literary language for Norway be like if Danish didn’t exist and western dialects were used as a base”. This is why it (in its more extreme forms) disallows some kinds of words that are considered Danish (for example those ending in -else) even though they occur in every spoken dialect.
    There is a spelling pronunciation used for some purposes but there’s never been any serious effort to propose or propogate a spoken standard.
    Also, while the philosophy behind Nynorsk still has a constituency it’s never seriously challenged the primacy of the Danish derived systems.
    I also remember a story in a Norwegian paper which I forgot to bookmark and which I don’t think was translated into English. Anyway, it indicated that children educated exclusively in Nynorsk were performing worse on reading tests than those educated in bokmaal. IIRC this was attributed to a lack of reading materials (almost all non-school reading material for children, including translations, is in bokmaal).

  33. John E: Norwegian doesn’t have a dominant spoken standard, any more than English does; there is no stigma against speaking in one’s local dialect. Nynorsk writing is based primarily on the spoken dialects of the west, where Danish influence was less (though of course most speakers of those dialects, just like all the others, prefer to write Bokmål).
    Nynorsk is, however, definitely more than a mere spelling convention: there are differences in morphosyntax as well as lexicon (the words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are notoriously not only different but actually unrelated in the four Scandinavian standard languages). Furthermore, there is a standardized way of speaking Nynorsk, which is not anyone’s native dialect, but is used in broadcasting, on the stage, and in other such artificial situation.

  34. John Emerson says:

    In any case, the Norse deserve high praise for making things unnecessarily interesting.

  35. The UNESCO classification of a critically endangered language states that: “the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently”.
    This is not the case for Manx – there are speakers of all ages, including more than 50 children at the Manx-medium primary school, and the language is spoken regularly in that school, in a few families, and by hundreds of adults at classes, in conversation groups, traditional music sessions and other activities.
    Manx disappeared as a community language in the early 20th century and the last native speaker is said to be Ned Maddrell, who died in 1974, though there were other native speakers around after that who were too ashamed to admit that they spoke the language.
    There is considerable mutual intelligibility between the Gaelic languages, particularly between southern dialects of Scottish Gaelic, Manx and Ulster dialects of Irish. This applies to the spoken languages, but not to the written languages. The Irish dialect of Raithlin Island and the Scottish Gaelic dialect of Galloway, both of which are extinct, were closest to Manx.

  36. Trond Engen says:

    I feel like I should have added something to this detour into Norwegian, but I don’t like to enter debates on contemporary Norwegian since they often end in meaningless battles. This seems like a civilized lot, though, with no other Norwegians yet, so I’ll make an exception. The different comments on Nynorsk read together get close to the situation, but I’ll add some nuances at a couple of points.

    Nynorsk is basically a conlang.

    This is an often repeated statement, especially by those opposed to Nynorsk, but it’s false. Nynorsk was at the outset the result of a thorough phonological, morphological and lexical description of spoken Norwegian, giving a morpho-phonemic model of the language at large (much as modern English).
    Later reforms have given a more shallow phonemic rendering (and the same can be said of Bokmål), gaining similarity between the norms on the cost of dialectal universality and historical continuity. OTOH, some shared variant forms based on the inherited (rather than danified) lexicon of Eastern Norwegian have been removed from both norms in recent years.

    In any case, the Norse deserve high praise for making things unnecessarily interesting.

    I’m a huge fan of the lingistic diversity. The current tendency seems to be that Nynorsk loses ground at the same time as written Bokmål is becoming less diverse and more conservative and removed from the spoken language. I dislike that immensely. Not because I don’t like conservative Bokmål, but because I don’t like it being the only language around. And I don’t like not being able to hear the writer’s own voice.

    Trond Engen

  37. I’m a huge fan of the lingistic diversity. The current tendency seems to be that Nynorsk loses ground at the same time as written Bokmål is becoming less diverse and more conservative and removed from the spoken language. I dislike that immensely. Not because I don’t like conservative Bokmål, but because I don’t like it being the only language around. And I don’t like not being able to hear the writer’s own voice.
    By god, you’re a man after my own heart. Wanting to “hear the writer’s own voice” is one of my main reasons for learning languages.

  38. I’m glad you stepped in, Trond. I hate to be the sole representative of Norway here (though I would be willing to do it for money).

  39. michael farris says:

    “Nynorsk was at the outset the result of a thorough phonological, morphological and lexical description of spoken Norwegian, giving a morpho-phonemic model of the language at large (much as modern English).”
    Then why were so many forms common to all dialects excluded?
    From all the data I hate, whatever else Nynorsk is, it (in its earliest incarnations) was not an attempt to build a standard language based on how Norwegians actually spoke.
    If it were that then it would be somewhere around the more innovating varieties of bokmaal (including things like the past tense in -a) or the closer to bokmaal varieties of Nynorsk (including Danish derived forms that have penetrated to every nook and cranny of the country).
    I myself would prefer the abandonment of official standards by declaring everything that’s ever been accepted in any variety of Norwegian (from riksmaal to landesmaal) equally correct and let individuals mix and match as they saw fit. But since I’m not Norwegian I don’t get a say.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    Then why were so many forms common to all dialects excluded?
    That was purism. Of course, and I should have said so, Nynorsk was also a purist project. The abandonment of Danish and Low German loans, and perhaps especially the productive -else and -ning endings was alieneting. Some of this, though, was meant to happen in both norms. The development of a new technical and administrative terminology based on native resources was a common idea of the day.
    From all the data I hate, whatever else Nynorsk is, it (in its earliest incarnations) was not an attempt to build a standard language based on how Norwegians actually spoke.
    If it were that then it would be somewhere around the more innovating varieties of bokmaal (including things like the past tense in -a) or the closer to bokmaal varieties of Nynorsk (including Danish derived forms that have penetrated to every nook and cranny of the country).

    I think maybe we speak of somewhat different things. Aasen’s Landsmaal unites the different spoken varieties of his day by reconstructing the underlying phonemic structure common to all or the largest possible range of dialects, and, likewise, an underlying grammar that is simplified differently in different dialects. The result, obviously, is a written language that is extremely conservative and were the pronunciation rules are different for all dialects.
    For the learner this proved to be difficult, since few rules would be clear by inference in the opposite direction — from spoken to written language. In that way it may be likened to modern English or French, languages that are ortographically conservative and can afford it because of their long tradition of common literacy. In its noun morphology it had archaic vowel alternations in the paradigmatic endings that were kept in only a few dialects. Difficult to introduce, but not different from Standard Swedish, where they’re still kept (to some degree), in spite of almost as little support in contemporary dialects. Thus: It was the introduction of a language that required the existence of an already established society literate in it. Naturally it wasn’t old before the first simplifications of grammar were introduced.
    A common language, “Samnorsk”, more along the lines of the innovative dialects and the city colloquials was always the dream of linguistic reformers. The gradual merger was official policy until WWII, when the puppet regime cancelled the last pre-war reform and introduced a united norm based on conservative Bokmål with some elements taken from conservative Nynorsk, with the resonsible minister planning to introduce more and hoping to eventually revive the language of the Medieval kingdom.
    After the war the attempts to reintroduce the pre-war reform policy met a growing front of dismay led by the new Riksmål movement, using organized actions, end of the world warnings and nazi accusations much like a current American “debate”. For the last decades Nynorsk has been reformed in the direction of colloquial Bokmål, while in Bokmål colloquial forms have gradually disappeared.
    [Language Hat: Kjartan Fløgstad, himself belonging in the reformist end of the Nynorsk specter, reflecting his industrial town background from Sauda, wrote an essay on this a few years ago. Which I haven’t read, either.]
    I myself would prefer the abandonment of official standards by declaring everything that’s ever been accepted in any variety of Norwegian (from riksmaal to landesmaal) equally correct and let individuals mix and match as they saw fit. But since I’m not Norwegian I don’t get a say.
    Of course, individuals do that, too, so the development isn’t uniform. Myself, in spite of being a declared fan of the variation, prefer writing in the colloquial, “Samnorsk”, end of the Bokmål specter that some once hoped to make the only norm. But that’s because it’s the best fit to my spoken variety.

  41. John Emerson says:

    Personally, I think that it’s wrong to hate data. Data are neutral and have no moral status or ersonhood.

  42. John Emerson says:

    Now Samnorsk, riksmaal, and landesmaal. Even more unnecessarily interesting than I thought.
    Are mixed marriages usually able to figure out how to raise the kids?

  43. Graham Asher says:

    I’m rather glad that my language, British English, no longer seems to be unifying with North American English, apart from a constant rain of lexical items, many of which end up with a slightly different meaning over here. In my youth a lot of ‘trendy’ (media mostly) types affected a ‘mid-Atlantic’ accent, but there was a backlash against that in the 80s, at least that was my impression, and we seem to have shaken off the linguistic cringe. How long that will last I can’t tell.

  44. michael farris says:

    John, you filthy data lover you.
    If you want the whole range from most Danish-like to ‘purest’ non-Danicised Norwegian, it goes something like this:
    1. Riksmål – No official status, but the de facto standard for a lot of (most?) publishing.
    2. Bokmål – One of the two official written standards, with more conservative (ie Danish) and more folkish (ie Nynorsk-ish) variants. I’m not vert clear on how very conservative Bokmål differs from Riksmål but apparently it does.
    3. Samnorsk – Abandoned and very unloved attempt to cobble together a single standard out of versions that were too different for that to work. No one is using as far as I can tell.
    4. Nynorsk – Other official written standard, reformed version of Landsmål with some traits that allign it more closely with Bokmål. Most deadtree publishing in Nynorsk seems to be government funded but it has a definite web presence in the form of individual writers who use it instead of Bokmål.
    5. Høgnorsk – New name for revived Landsmål that rejects most of the 1917 reforms. No official status but has a handful of backers.
    All of these are written standards of course and don’t really have spoken forms. Foreigners are usually taught written Bokmål and a spoken form that more or less reflects urban educated classes of East Norway.

  45. Michael, there is no such thing as an accent that reflects the urban educated classes of East Norway. There are regional accents, including ones for rich areas like the west side of Oslo, but Norwegian accents don’t in the main have the social stratification baggage that you find in the US and UK (and other countries).

  46. Michael, there is no such thing as an accent that reflects the urban educated classes of East Norway. There are regional accents, including ones for rich areas like the west side of Oslo, but Norwegian accents don’t in the main have the social stratification baggage that you find in the US and UK (and other countries).

  47. michael farris says:

    Yeah I was having trouble formulating that, how would you describe the general pronunciation that gets taught to foreigners?

  48. J.W. Brewer says:

    Maybe the rival factions of Norwegians should compromise on Manx as a completely neutral standard? It’s probably got some Old Norse kicking around its lexicon etc. given the history of that part of the world.

  49. It’s pretty close to an Oslo-type accent, but it’s also dependent on the teacher. At my first classes, in Oslo, they tried to tell us that avis (newspaper) was feminine, ei avis, something that was so on the cutting edge of political correctness that nobody I met had ever heard it.
    I’ll ask my wife…

  50. It’s pretty close to an Oslo-type accent, but it’s also dependent on the teacher. At my first classes, in Oslo, they tried to tell us that avis (newspaper) was feminine, ei avis, something that was so on the cutting edge of political correctness that nobody I met had ever heard it.
    I’ll ask my wife…

  51. Trond Engen says:

    ‘Avis’ is feminine to me.

  52. michael farris says:

    Feminine gender is an example (maybe) of how different kinds of published Norwegian can be differentiated.
    I don’t think any of the literary books I have in Norwegian (not so many, between 20-30) use feminine gender at all (certainly not ei and I don’t think -a).
    On the other hand some online bokmaal newspapers seem to use it sometimes. Similarly, for ‘girl’ online newspapers usually use ‘jente’ (definite either jenten or jenta) while all the books I have use the Dano-Norwegian ‘pike’ (definite form piken).
    The past in -a seems to have disappeared in bokmaal.

  53. Hmmm. According to the Wiktionary entry for pike, “Jente is the standard appellation for girl in Norwegian, however, pike may also be used observing its somewhat conservative tint.”

  54. Wiktionary also gives this for avis:
    avis m. and f. (definite singular avisa/avisen; indefinite plural aviser; definite plural avisene)

  55. I suppose it’s true that Danish word usage rather than accent is a sign of the small amount of Norwegian snobbery that exists. I know one family where one brother uses pike instead of jente /jenta and the other brother says efter instead of etter (they have no Danish familial connection that I know of).
    That’s interesting that you say avisa, Trond. I’ve finally met someone who uses it.
    My wife & daughter say only the østland’s accent (from South East Norway) that is taught to foreigners, even in Bergen! That’s weird and sad in some sense, though I admit I’d feel kind of annoyed if I’d been taught to use a very distinctive and unusual accent without my knowledge or consent.

  56. … it’s …

  57. Trond Engen says:

    This goes both ways. There’s a distinct wave of Dutch immigrants to Norwegian rural areas. I’ve met some who say that the language course didn’t prepare them for what they’d actually meet. When a linguistically inclined Danish internet acquaintance of mine decided to take up Norwegian he chose archaic Nynorsk because that enabled a more systematic approach to the correspondences than the mish-mash of loans in different stages of phonetic rendering that makes up Bokmål. To him other varieties then became understandable as simplifications along rules he could comprehend. Along that line it makes pedagogic sense to teach the feminine gender for any word that can take it, but explain something about the dialect situation and the sociolinguistics that rules the use of the feminine gender for many speakers.

  58. it makes pedagogic sense to teach the feminine gender for any word that can take it,
    This is something for John Emerson: by putting a noun that is more commonly masculine into feminine, you can make a social and political statement about yourself, but neuter is always neuter. Who says genders are pointless in languages?

  59. michael farris says:

    “by putting a noun that is more commonly masculine into feminine, you can make a social and political statement about yourself, but neuter is always neuter. Who says genders are pointless in languages?”
    Technically, you can’t make a masculine noun into feminine in Norwegian, but there’s a group of nouns that can be either common gender or feminine and which you choose can say something about you or the noun in question, especially if it’s a human being.
    One textbook I have mentions for example that dronning (queen) is much more likely to be treated as common gender (dronningen) than feminine while vaskekone (cleaning lady) might well be treated as feminine (vaskekona)

  60. I don’t know this ‘common gender’ thingy. I thought it was called ‘masc.’ when it had the -en ending. This must be something new, and probably a good idea since feminine isn’t used very much (except by Trond).

  61. Trond Engen says:

    by putting a noun that is more commonly masculine into feminine, you can make a social and political statement about yourself
    In writing, perhaps. The radical wing of Bokmål was hijacked by the young marxists in the 70es — they clearly overinterpreted the term ‘radical’ — and since then the risk of being percieved as a revolutionary has been part of the sociolingusitics of writing.
    In speech the marked/unmarked distinction is rather the opposite, and one might make a distinct conservative statement, or be percieved as doing so, by choice of register or pronunciation.
    One textbook I have mentions for example that dronning (queen) is much more likely to be treated as common gender (dronningen) than feminine while vaskekone (cleaning lady) might well be treated as feminine (vaskekona)
    There are several factors that work together here.
    First, as has been noted the danified refister is also the written register, and feminines that are restricted to or more common in writing and officialese tend to become common, like ‘kvinne’ “woman”. Second, and subsequently, for speakers of (especially) Eastern Norwegian urban dialects the danified register is the polite one. As a queen she is more likely to be treated in the polite, danified register. Feminine nouns especially belonging to this polite register will be treated as common. ‘Pike’ has two distinct uses, one is romantically for “girl”, taking the common gender, the other is “maid (female servant)”, taking the feminine. Furthermore, in the high register, the feminine definite article ‘ei’ is likely to become ‘en’. In phonology the Eastern Norwegian retroflexes, and especially “tjukk l” are generally avoided.
    As sociolingustics go, women tend to speak more in this high register. Many young girls now speak in a tone that would have been parodical when I was their age a generation ago. And the epicenter of this new speech is the western suburbs of Oslo.
    Mirroring the female language, there’s a mainly masculine register that avoids these polite forms and the careful application of the common gender. Here there’s a tendency to make scholarly loans and even inherited masculines ending in -e into feminines. I don’t know how this applies to young men from Western Oslo, though. I /think/ they have the phonology of their female classmates but a more “masculine” lexicon, including some feminine nouns.
    And for all of us the choice of written language is not so much about how we speak as about our ideals for speech. Thus, spoken language follows where written language leads.
    But all this sounds much more difficult than it is.

  62. Thanks, Trond. I look forward to spotting those finer points about registers.
    Have you noticed one other thing from the West side of Oslo (Bærum/Asker)? Youngish people who are fluent in English and yet assume an unnecessarily strong Norwegian accent and intonation when they speak? What’s that all about, for heaven’s sake? When my daughter is around them (her English is as good as mine), sometimes even she does it.

  63. Thanks, Trond. I look forward to spotting those finer points about registers.
    Have you noticed one other thing from the West side of Oslo (Bærum/Asker)? Youngish people who are fluent in English and yet assume an unnecessarily strong Norwegian accent and intonation when they speak? What’s that all about, for heaven’s sake? When my daughter is around them (her English is as good as mine), sometimes even she does it.

  64. Trond Engen says:

    […] the feminine indefinite article ‘ei’ […]

  65. michael farris says:

    “And for all of us the choice of written language is not so much about how we speak as about our ideals for speech. Thus, spoken language follows where written language leads.”
    This may be my favorite comment ever about the Norwegian language situation and explains a lot of things I’d never quite gotten before.

  66. Trond Engen says:

    Have you noticed one other thing from the West side of Oslo (Bærum/Asker)? Youngish people who are fluent in English and yet assume an unnecessarily strong Norwegian accent and intonation when they speak? What’s that all about, for heaven’s sake? When my daughter is around them (her English is as good as mine), sometimes even she does it.
    Whatever it is I don’t think it’s an Oslo Vest thing. I think what you hear is that although they’ve used English from such an early date that they’re near native speakers, they’ve learned it from their teachers and practised it on eachother, essentially making themselves a distinct speech community with a strong Norwegian substrate. Your daughter is a native speaker of both varieties.
    A friend of my son’s, now 10 or 11, is brought up speaking English at home, having an English mother and a Canadian paternal grandmother. He goes to an International School with some or most of the education conducted in English and some or most of the children being Norwegian*. His English, last time I heard, had a distinctly Norwegian accent, supporting the uncontroversial hypothesis that children pick language up from their piers.
    * I couldn’t find a detailed education program or student statistics online. But have a look at this example of a simple yet highly deceptive webpage.

  67. Trond Engen says:

    pick language up
    Now, there’s a substrate effect for you. It’s even a regionalism within the substratum, giving a hint to the mixed background of the speaker, er, writer.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    the uncontroversial hypothesis that children pick language up from their piers
    OK, maybe not completely uncontroversial. There are some who hold that children shouldn’t be allowed there, let alone pick up language.

  69. I don’t know, I’ve heard bad things about the Int’l School in Bekkestua — not the school’s fault, but stuff like that it’s hard for children to make long-term friendships because the kids come and go with their foreign parents. ANYWAY, Norway has fabulous state-funded education and I think it’s crazy not to take part in the state system!
    Children may pick up language from their peer group, but my daughter picked English up from me. I know this because, for example, she says ‘gawn’ for gone, which is an exaggerated English pronunciation that I quite often use for fun.

  70. I don’t know, I’ve heard bad things about the Int’l School in Bekkestua — not the school’s fault, but stuff like that it’s hard for children to make long-term friendships because the kids come and go with their foreign parents. ANYWAY, Norway has fabulous state-funded education and I think it’s crazy not to take part in the state system!
    Children may pick up language from their peer group, but my daughter picked English up from me. I know this because, for example, she says ‘gawn’ for gone, which is an exaggerated English pronunciation that I quite often use for fun.

  71. Trond Engen says:

    it’s hard for children to make long-term friendships because the kids come and go with their foreign parents
    I haven’t heard that of the school where I live, but I’ve had the thought. If I were going somewhere abroad for a couple of years I think I would be eager to have my children going to an ordinary, local school. The knowledge of culture and language acquired would far outweigh a loss in academic progress due to initial language problems or educational quality, and since their new friends wouldn’t be scattered all over the world they would have somebody to come back to. If I were permanently settled abroad and wanted my children to have a group of friends speaking my language, the answer might be different, though.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Children “picking up” language: we are talking about school-age children here. Children pick up ltheir first anguage (or languages in a bilingual or multilingual environment) from people who talk to them in that language and expect to be answered in it: their parents, other caregivers, siblings. Later (around the time they start school) they are also influenced by their “peer group” of other children of about the same age, whether in the same language (altering their pronunciation, picking up slang or fashionable words, etc) or in a second language, which they can “pick up” quite well if they find themselves immersed in it (spoken to, and expected to speak back). In the case of a bilingual family where one of the parents (or grandparents or other fluent adults) is an immigrant, there is no peer group speaking that language to the child, so the parent (etc) is the only model in their own language and there is no other model to influence the child’s form of speech in that language.
    In the case of AJP’s daughter, she first picked up his brand of English at an early age, but nowadays as a teenager she has classmates who are fluent in English, so when speaking English with them she (more or less consciously) uses their pronunciation of English so as not to stand out from the group. This may then have an influence on the English she speaks with her father.

  73. Trond Engen says:

    Children “picking up” language: we are talking about school-age children here.
    Thanks. They get their accent from their peers, I mean. With that emended I think we say the same thing.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    Yes.

  75. Thanks, both of you. The other thing with English of course is that she has picked up a lot from television, but she’s old enough to be able to judge under what circumstances it’s appropriate to use it.

  76. Thanks, both of you. The other thing with English of course is that she has picked up a lot from television, but she’s old enough to be able to judge under what circumstances it’s appropriate to use it.

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