New Dialects.

1) Of Welsh. The Economist writes about efforts to revive the Welsh language:

But the Welsh that can be heard in schools and that is spoken by the sports commentators on the Blue Boar’s small television set is different from the kind that many native speakers grew up with. A standardisation centre at Bangor University has added new words, such as “cyfrifiadur” for computer. Old words that had fallen out of use in many parts, like “brechdanau” [sandwiches], have been revived. Grammar is more English and less complicated. [...]

Not everybody is delighted with the new lingo. “So bloody fake”, mutters the Blue Boar’s landlord at the television, while local comedians like Daniel Glyn mock the clunky phrases on stage: “I can speak English and Welsh, but neither of them proper, bach.” Jonathan Snicker of St John’s College, Oxford, says the change breaks the link between older villagers and the urbane young, who can struggle to understand each other.

But Colin Nosworthy, a spokesman for the Welsh Language Society, points out that the birth of a new dialect is a good sign for a language. “Better a slack Welsh than a slick English,” he says—and many agree.

Including me. (Thanks, Kobi!)

2) In English. Pamela Druckerman writes in the NY Times about her native city:

Miami even has a homegrown dialect. Young Latinos — regardless of whether they even know Spanish — speak English with a Spanish twang. To non-Miamians, they sound like extremely fluent immigrants. Phillip M. Carter, a linguist at Florida International University, says that when young born-and-bred Miamians visit the rest of America, or even Boca Raton, people often ask them what country they’re from.

“Miami English” is also proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan. People typically don’t realize they’re speaking a dialect unless they leave Miami, Mr. Carter says.

It’s not in the least surprising, but I hadn’t read about it before.

Comments

  1. des von bladet says:

    Carmarthen is a place. The Dismalbladet doesn’t do bylines.

  2. …urbane young or urban young…?

  3. Carmarthen is a place. The Dismalbladet doesn’t do bylines.

    D’oh! This is what comes of posting late and distracted. Thanks, fixed.

  4. “Better a slack Welsh than a slick English,”

    Love it!

    I would think vigor would count for more than purity when you are trying to revive a language community.

    Here’s how some people approach the problem:
    http://www.tulaliplushootseed.com/video_25-Halloween%20verbs%20Cartoon%20with%20Words%20-%20Open-Close.htm

    “Grammar is more English and less complicated. [...]”

    English is just returning the favor then.

  5. I would think vigor would count for more than purity when you are trying to revive a language community.

    You’d think, but some people are just plain in love with purity, whether in politics, language, or any other human attribute.

  6. Funny how language, so ready to gaily morph on its own, resists deliberate manipulations.

  7. No vigor, no purity. To get to Carnegie Hall you must practice for years in the local choir. Purity is a manufactured product, it doesn’t grow on trees.

  8. But the Welsh that can be heard in schools and that is spoken by the sports commentators on the Blue Boar’s small television set is different from the kind that many native speakers grew up with.

    I heard very similar complaints once from a charming Galician gentleman.

    To his credit, when I observed that the Spanish that can be heard in schools and that is spoken by the commentators on TVE can be quite unlike the kind that many native speakers grew up with, he quickly saw the point.

  9. “No vigor, no purity.”

    No lie. Dead things rot and become very impure.

  10. vigor would count for more than purity

    In some ways purity is aligned vigor in this effort: in particular, Standard Welsh is mostly pronounced as it is spelled (modulo issues around y, wy, -au, and sometimes vowel length). Local Welsh is often not.

  11. Des: “Carmarthen is a place. The Dismalbladet doesn’t do bylines.”

    Carmarthen would have been the byline of the heir apparent of the Duke of Leeds, had the dukedom not died out in the 60s. The heir of the Marquess of Carmarthen was the Earl of Danby and Lord Danby’s heir apparent was Viscount Latimer.

    However, according to the Duke of Leeds’s “Talk” in Wikipedia:

    I may be wrong, but I was under the impression only two courtesy titles could be used for a marquess’ or duke’s heirs and one for an earl’s heir. This means the son of an earl can use one of his father’s lesser titles as a courtesy title, but the grandson cannot. The grandson of a marquess or duke can use one of his grandfather’s courtesy titles, but his son (the Duke’s great-grandson) cannot.

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    Part of the problem is that there is no standard spoken form of Welsh. There is a literary standard, but it is considerably farther removed from any contemporary form of spoken Welsh than even very formal contemporary English is from any modern spoken English. (In English terms, think something like the Authorised Version of the Bible, or even Chaucer.) Native Welsh speakers themselves have to learn it in school; it is (or was) a diglossic situation a bit like Arabic, and with a similar denigration by those who’ve been initiated into the literary tradition of actual spoken forms of the language as being debased and illegitimate.

    [To give an idea of the gap: "I love you." Spoken "wy'n dy garu di" (and other variants); formal written "caraf di"]

    All this causes obvious problems for anyone setting out to teach spoken Welsh to non-speakers. A few decades back the preferred solution was to teach an artificial construct called (misleadingly) Cymraeg Byw “Living Welsh” which bore something of the same relation to actual spoken Welsh that YIVO’s Standard Yiddish does to real Yiddish dialects. Although there is now more of a focus on teaching something more like the real thing(s) the effects linger, and in fairness there really isn’t any very clear wholly satisfactory solution.

    The problems are compounded (ironically) by the fact that teaching of Welsh is compulsory in Welsh schools, which demotivates pupils and has resulted in the standard of the teaching being shockingly low because there aren’t enough good teachers. The level attained in the exams is correspondingly remarkably low; I know myself of a candidate who got a top grade in the exam for 16 year olds two weeks after he found out that Welsh has grammatical gender, a fact which he had not imbibed from years of formal instruction …

    Unfortunately political will, though welcome as far as it goes, isn’t enough to save a language.

    I agree though it’s better to speak the language in a way that would shock our forefathers rather than to stop speaking it. There was a similar discussion about Irish on the Log a little while back IIRC.

    Another instance I came across of this same attitude is Kolyma Yukaghir; according to Elena Maslova’s grammar more people claim currently to speak it than a couple of decades ago, and she has quite an extensive discussion of how this seems to reflect a fairly deliberate decision to maintain the language even in an increasingly Russified form that previous generations would have considered quite substandard.

  13. One of my signatures (let’s hope it looks right):

    John Cowan http://www.ccil.org/~cowan cowan@ccil.org
    Most languages are dramatically underdescribed, and at least one is
    dramatically overdescribed. Still other languages are simultaneously
    overdescribed and underdescribed. Welsh pertains to the third category.
    –Alan King

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is a rather good grammar in English of genuine modern Welsh by Gareth King in the Routledge Comprehensive Grammars series. It’s far from comprehensive to the extent that some of the major English grammars are, but then that’s not surprising. It’s properly descriptive and happily includes even some of the more radically calqued-from-English constructions likely to give purists apoplexy.

    There are monographs about syntactic issues (interesting because Welsh is VSO) and the like too. Overall modern spoken Welsh is probably about as well documented as any language with less than a million speakers is likely to be barring fortunate strokes of luck like earning the interest of a Bloomfield or a Sapir.

    There are quite a number of grammars of Literary Welsh, in Literary Welsh, aimed at native Welsh speakers. They tend to be long on morphology and not so much into syntax, as you’d expect given their relative age and the specific purpose they’re meant for. For a newish example, S J Williams “Elfennau Gramadeg Cymraeg” (2nd ed 1980) is a workmanlike and good book for its purposes. Characteristically, the example sentences are frequently drawn from the Welsh Bible translation of 1588, which was itself composed in a language (“Late Modern Welsh”) already old-fashioned at the time, modelled on the bardic tradition of Early Modern Welsh, which is generally said to begin with Dafydd ap Gwilym in the fourteenth century. The other notable thing is the title, just: ” Elements of Welsh Grammar” – no need evidently being felt to specify that it treats Literary Welsh exclusively.

  15. Elfennau = Elements: beautiful!

  16. per incuriam says:

    “Better a slack Welsh than a slick English”

    There is a very similar dictum for Irish: “Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste” (better broken Irish than clever English).

    The “purist” is the great bogeyman of the Irish language, the worst purist of all being the L1 speaker. Of these there are still a fair few around but their days are surely numbered. Once the last of them are out of the way the language can finally thrive.

  17. You wouldn’t be a relative of the late Brian O’Nolan, would you now?

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not impossible! The great classical period of Sanskrit poetry and drama dates from centuries after the language had ceased to be anybody’s mother tongue …

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    On descriptive work on Modern Welsh:

    I recall hearing somewhere years ago of a Chinese professor of Celtic languages who used to do fieldwork on Welsh dialects. He used to particularly enjoy the moments in rural Wales when he would go into a pub and watch the locals double-take as he ordered his beer in Welsh.

  20. watch the locals double-take as he ordered his beer in Welsh

    Yu Ming is ainm dom.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t think it was a garbled reminiscence of that, as I think I came across the story many years previously – though that may just be the effect of too much whiskey. Good catch, even so.

  22. No, no; it was only meant to be an analogue, not a source.

  23. J. W. Brewer says:

    There are travelers’ tales about visitors to a particular part of North Carolina in the 1700′s (where many of the early white settlers were Highland Scots) being totally freaked out by encountering black slaves who spoke Gaelic, although obviously there’s no a priori reason why it should be harder for involuntary migrants from West Africa to acquire a Celtic L2 than a Germanic one.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    I remember an account of a journey in the Hebrides just a few years back where the writer saw the teenage daughter of the local Pakistani shopkeeper chatting with her friends in Gaelic outside the shop. If there is ever a need for Panjabi/Gaelic translation services she’ll have it in the bag. Well, it’s all Indoeuropean …

  25. David Marjanović says:

    The “purist” is the great bogeyman of the Irish language, the worst purist of all being the L1 speaker. Of these there are still a fair few around but their days are surely numbered. Once the last of them are out of the way the language can finally thrive.

    BTW, are there any people left who speak only Irish? A documentary (BBC, I think), now on YouTube, shows that there was at least one in 1985, who looked like he was maybe 60 to 70 years old.

  26. Quoth Wikipedia: “[As of 2007] in no part of the Gaeltacht was Irish the only language. Complete or functional monolingualism of Irish is now restricted to a handful of the elderly in isolated regions and some children under school age.”

  27. J. W. Brewer: Can you provide (an) exact reference(s) to those Gaelic-speaking black slaves? I’m very intrigued. If you’re interested, I may have a reference somewhere to some black slaves having acquired their masters’ language in some German-speaking part of the South in colonial times…

    Hat: I had the same reaction as you: when I tried reading Henry Lewis’ book on Latin loanwords in Welsh, YR ELFEN LADIN YN YR IAITH GYMRAEG, it was only after I learned of the passage of intervocalic /m/ to /v/ that I realized where “Elfen”, in the title of the book, came from…

    A question for any Welsh speaker reading this, by the way: has anyone ever tried writing a paragraph or more in Welsh using nothing but Latin loanwords (for nouns, adjectives and verbs)? Considering how many such loanwords exist I imagine it would be feasible…

    All: one aspect of linguistic purism, in Wales and elsewhere, is that it seems to infect scholars as well: everything I have read on Welsh seems to take it for granted that everything in the spoken Welsh of today, in all its diversity, derives from Literary Welsh.

    Now, while the latter is indeed based on a much older variety of the language which was used to translate the Bible in the sixteenth century, I flatly refuse to believe that Wales at that time was linguistically uniform: what made its way into Literary Welsh can only have been a subset of what existed in the spoken language of the time. Meaning that: some of what can be found in spoken Welsh today must derive from unrecorded varieties, some of which may indeed have been more conservative than Literary Welsh, and for ought we know perhaps some such archaic features survive in spoken Welsh today. I write “for ought we know” because this possibility I have just sketched seems never to have been considered.

    Sometimes I wonder whether, in some remote Welsh dialect spoken today, some Latin loanwords dating back to Roman Imperial times yet survive, unknown to the world of scholarship because they were unrecorded in Old, Middle or Literary Welsh…

  28. “BTW, are there any people left who speak only Irish? A documentary (BBC, I think), now on YouTube, shows that there was at least one in 1985, who looked like he was maybe 60 to 70 years old.”

    Adding to John’s reply, I had a patient last year for whom this was true, about 76 years old or so, a farm labourer who’d never left Connemara. (And another in her 40s, but she had Down’s syndrome, which means she’s less representative of wider society in this.) This was in University Hospital Galway.

    More common there were patients who would manage English but would be much worse at it when in fear or pain, or people speaking a slow and deliberate English where it’s clear they didn’t use it that much. People whose first language was Polish were (are) commoner in Galway city than both these populations combined, but since they’re younger they’re not patients in hospital as much.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks!

  30. Yeah, at first glance it does look like a book about Quenya (“Elven-latin”, as Tolkien calls it for sociolinguistic reasons) influences on the Welsh language. Of course, it’s Sindarin that has the Welsh look and feel, whereas Quenya is essentially Finnish with Latin stress accent.

  31. J. W. Brewer says:

    Etienne: I vaguely think I’ve seen it referenced multiple places, but one specific cite I can dig up re Gaelic-speaking blacks in 18th-century North Carolina (mostly in the Cape Fear Valley) is an anecdote (with a Gaelic punch line in perhaps questionable taste by more modern standards) block-quoted in D.H. Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (page 818 in the version I’m looking at on google books), with a footnote attributing it to a 1961 work by Duane Meyer titled The Highland Scots of North Carolina: 1732-1776, but also (curiously?) to a separate earlier work by Charles W. Dunn called Highland Settler: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Nova Scotia. (Although maybe the earlier North Carolina experience could have been an interesting sidelight to the longer-lasting Gaelic-speaking community in Cape Breton, into which one of my own great-great-grandmothers was born in the 1840′s.)

  32. Quenya is essentially Finnish with Latin stress accent

    And voiced stops, I should add.

  33. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Etienne:

    “I flatly refuse to believe that Wales at that time was linguistically uniform: what made its way into Literary Welsh can only have been a subset of what existed in the spoken language of the time.”

    On first principles alone you must surely be right.

    Traditional grammars of Literary Welsh often appeal to the Welsh poetic tradition to establish “correctness,” especially in morphology, and I imagine that the bardic tradition worked with a sort of koine Welsh right back to mediaeval times, rather like the Old Occitan pattern.

    The only full-scale grammar I know of for Middle Welsh, Simon Evans’, which is an English translation and expansion of his previous grammar in Welsh, makes no mention at all of any geographical dialects. However he explains that the older poetry which must surely date back to a period prior to Middle Welsh has been steadily reworked by copyists so that it now appears as Middle Welsh with occasional archaisms rather than a coherent linguistic layer of its own, so there must have been a lot of normalisation of language going on in literary texts even in the period of Middle Welsh, which would presumably have obliterated any regional variation even more thoroughly than temporal.

    On the other hand, even by this period the Welsh-speaking area was hardly huge, and even now centuries later the modern dialects are not so different as to create any grave communication problems. Moreover there’s nothing as far as I know in any modern dialect which is obviously incompatible with descent from a spoken language not that different in essentials from Middle Welsh. There’s nothing like the Tzakonian dialect of Greece in Wales.

    There are also the resemblances between Literary Welsh and the other Brythonic languages to consider, which on the whole seem to support the idea that the literary language basically does go back to the real previously spoken language rather than being any very radically artificial construct. Dipping into grammars of modern Breton, for example, I see that the usual sentence structure is very like that of Middle Welsh prose and the 1588 Bible, for example in using what in the Welsh tradition is called the “abnormal order” as the unmarked sentence structure. [ It's actually the *normal* order in mediaeval prose, and in the old Bible, and got its exactly-wrong name entirely because it differs from the normal order in later Literary Welsh, which in this respect at least seems to have been influenced by developments in spoken Welsh.]

    For all I know though there may be scholarly monographs out there about dialect variation in mediaeval Welsh. If not, perhaps a PhD project for some brave soul …

  34. There’s nothing like the Tzakonian dialect of Greece in Wales.

    Or, on a grander scale, the Min languages of China, which forked off from the rest of Sinitic before the Middle Chinese period that underlies Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. For example, they have never developed /f/. Middle Chinese is an odd duck, though: partly an attested extinct language, partly a proto-language.

    normalisation of language

    Here’s Tom Shippey from his essay “Tolkien’s Academic Reputation” (1989) in Roots and Branches, his 2007 collection:

    Tolkien demonstrated the special, accurate, philological qualities of his texts so powerfully that all other Middle English texts got downrated! Professor Tolkien’s scribes [of the AB language in Herefordshire, who were still learning and writing a standard English long after the Conquest] were reliable, accurate, punctilious. The rest — well (so it seemed), they wrote the way they felt, and every time some new copier came along, he copied what was in front of him, imitated a bit, spelt a few words his own way, produced a garble. and then handed it on to the next garbler. If you had a Hereford text copied by a Londoner copied by a chap who came from Norwich, what had you got? Forget it. Everyone did. The study of Middle English dialects paused for a generation.

    But what happened if the chap from Norwich decided to translate the whole thing into his own dialect? Haven’t you then got a Norwich text? ‘Normalisers’ produce just as good evidence as ‘originals.’ And if there are enough ‘normalisers’ around, sooner or later every text is going to meet one, and get ‘normalised’! And then you have evidence about dialect again. This point has only very recently been insisted on, by Angus Mcintosh and his collaborators, in their four-volume Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English (1986); but that insistence has in a way restored the morale of Middle English Dialectology.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    There’s nothing like the Tzakonian dialect of Greece in Wales.

    Tsakonian isn’t actually Doric, it’s Koiné with a Doric substratum.

    But what happened if the chap from Norwich decided to translate the whole thing into his own dialect? Haven’t you then got a Norwich text?

    Well, this thing is only preserved as a shockingly bad… partial translation from Old Bavarian to Old Saxon; it doesn’t tell us much about Old Saxon… but then, the translator was clearly not a native speaker of Old Saxon.

  36. Koiné with a Doric substratum

    Nick Nicholas treats it as a very deviant Doric descendant with a Koine adstrate/superstrate. I admit the difference is not huge.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: the longer-lasting Gaelic-speaking community in Cape Breton, into which one of my own great-great-grandmothers was born in the 1840′s.

    At that time the language was the dominant one in the region, spoken by all ages and social classes except for a very thin English veneer (and a few French-speaking communities). The situation lasted for more than 100 years after your ancestress was born, but Gaelic suffered a precipitous decline after WWII. In the 1990s I met a young woman, probably in her late twenties, who was bilingual in English and Gaelic because her family included an aged grandmother or great-grandmother who was largely monolingual, so Gaelic had remained the language of the home. This young woman was proud of her ability to speak Gaelic but lamented that there were no people her age that she could converse with in the language. However, Gaelic as a second language is currently quite popular in Nova Scotia, with courses offered at various levels and through various venues, reflecting both a pride in Scottish ancestry and the popularity of Gaelic music (vocal and instrumental) both traditional and modern, well beyond the limits of the “ethnically Scots” part of the population.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    I happily defer to Nick Nicholas over about three sentences on… maybe Wikipedia. :-)

  39. David, despite speaking the “What did you bring that book I didn’t want to be read to out of about Down Under up for?” language natively, I still can’t parse your prepositions.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Sorry, I wrote something only intonation can solve. Nick Nicholas is probably a better source on this subject than whatever I had read, which may have been no more than 3 sentences on Wikipedia.

    Where did he opine on this, however? All I can find is in the second list in this post: “there’s bits of Doric in there, but most Tsakonian words, you can reconstruct armed just with v AD Koine Greek”. Of course that doesn’t quite mean he thinks Tsakonian is mostly descended from Koine; maybe you have to run a few sound changes backwards to get from Koine to Tsakonian – the point in context is just that the correspondences are regular.

  41. It may be that I heard it from him in conversation.

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