NINILCHIK.

Bill Poser sent me a link to Our Ninilchik Language, “an online dictionary of the old language of Ninilchik, Alaska”—said old language being Russian! From the Introduction by Andrej Kibrik Wayne Leman [thanks, Peter!]:

In 1847 Gregorii Kvasnikoff, a Russian Orthodox Church missionary, brought his wife Mavra of Kodiak Island, half Alutiiq and half Russian, and their large family, to Ninilchik. They settled into the valley at the mouth of the what is now called the Ninilchik River and stayed. Not long after Kvasnikoffs arrived, Oskolkoff sons came with their mother and stepfather. Oskolkoff sons married Kvasnikoff daughters and all the old families of Ninilchik descend from these unions.

The Kvasnikoffs and Oskolkoffs brought the Russian language to Ninilchik. Russian continued to be spoken in the village long after Alaska was purchased by the U.S. from the Russians in 1867. There was a Russian school in the village which taught basic Russian literacy to the children and probably schooled them some in the Old Church Slavonic language used in the Russian Orthodox Church services in the village church…

This dictionary is an attempt to preserve some of the language of the people of Ninilchik. Our village language was mostly Russian, reflecting the vocabulary of Russian spoken by the Kvasnikoffs and Oskolkoffs in the late 1840s. It is Russian unaffected by the changes which have occurred in the Russian language (in its various dialects) in Russia through the tumultuous years of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Communist era, modern technological advances, and the fall of Soviet Communism. Our village language also included some words from southern Eskimo dialects as well as borrowings from Athabaskan dialects…

I grew up in the 1950′s hearing Russian spoken a great deal in Ninilchik. Villagers regularly spoke Russian to each other. My father spoke Russian to his mother and siblings. Some of my cousins spoke some Russian if they came from families where Russian was spoken in the home. I did not; my mother had come to Ninilchik from California. But I learned a number of Russian words and could understand some of what I heard of conversations.

Then, suddenly, in the mid 1950′s, Russian stopped being spoken in public. My father stopped speaking Russian to his siblings and his mother (until just before she died).
I have done my best to spell and record the words of our village…

What a remarkable find! Once again my hat is off to someone who took the time and trouble to record an obscure and “useless” form of language, this one of particular interest to me. I should add that the words are spelled phonetically: “So the word for ‘dog’ is written in this dictionary as sabaka, which is how it is pronounced in Ninichik as well as in Moscow.” Here‘s the A section of the dictionary, from which we learn that initial y- gets dropped (az’ík ЯЗЫК. n. tongue, language). I had no idea Russian Alaska had left this heritage behind. Thanks, Bill!

Update (March 2014): The links in the post are now dead, but for the moment the site is archived here.

Comments

  1. Peter Austin says:

    I believe the introduction was written by Wayne Leman (see the final sentence “wayne dot leman at gmail dot com (replace the “dot” and “at” words with the usual email symbols)” not Andrej Kibrik. The page you link to has a link to Kibrik’s PDF article, but the Introduction itself (and the dictionary compilation) is the work of Leman. Kibrik grew up in Russia, not Alaska.

  2. It’d be nice to find more extensive resources for Лыгъоравэтльан from across the water too.
    Кыткытръогьэ. Тиркытир а’к,агнэтын,огъэ. Пэтле рагръон,н,он,ыт рэквытти.

  3. AJP Crown says:

    Bill Poser has some interesting photographs on his blog, I thought.

  4. Thanks very much, Peter, I corrected the post.
    For those who are wondering, fiosachd is talking about Chukchi. (Don’t worry, I had to google it myself.)
    And yes, those are nice photos!

  5. AJP Crown says:

    It’s the green-leather upholstery.

  6. AJP Crown says:

    M’ir’ikánskay yaz’ík English language.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Bill’s pictures have nothing to do with Ninilchik or Chukchi (also known as Luoravetlan), they are of the interior of British Columbia, Canada, not too far from the Alaska panhandle.

  8. Can anyone tell what happens to the letter ы in Ninilchik? The introduction says the apostrophe is meant to make a consonant soft, and ы (in my mind at least) can never do that, but there’s язык given as “az’ík”. Listening to “fish” it sounds like “рыба” to me, but does the English orthography give any indication as to whether it’s ы or и? Are there any insights hidden in Kibrik’s article?

  9. AJP Crown says:

    Finally, Marie-Lucie. You ought to look at the LH Forvo post, below. There are samples of people pronouncing Occitan words, but I need you to review it before I will feel comfortable with them.

  10. Ryan,
    Kibrik writes that the contrast between hard and soft consonants is frequently neutralized in the Ninilchik dialect. For example, before /i/ it is only conserved for /l/ vs. /lʲ/, which explains az’ík and r’íba.

  11. If you want to see some really unusual pictures, check out these pictures on our local news site:
    Opinion 250. They’re of a group of five lynx on a road in southern BC. It is VERY unusual to see five lynx in a group like that. Indeed, many people never see a lynx at all. Oh, for a linguistic touch, the Carrier word for lynx is borrowed from Gitksan.

  12. Hmm. HTML seems not to work. The URL from my previous message is: http://www.opinion250.com/blog/view/11676/1/5+lynx+in+one+group-+unusual+%3f?

  13. Bill: HTML works fine; you forgot the a in “a href.” I fixed it for you.

  14. Oh, for a linguistic touch, the Carrier word for lynx is borrowed from Gitksan.
    I’m finding wasi. Is that right?

  15. John Emerson says:

    Maybe they’re evolving sociality.
    The cutest thing I’ve ever seen was a mommy skunk and her four half-grown baby skunks. They walked proudly, their tails held high, their black and white fur glossy and fresh in the bright sun, and rippling in the breeze.

  16. John Emerson says:

    Maybe they’re evolving sociality.
    The cutest thing I’ve ever seen was a mommy skunk and her four half-grown baby skunks. They walked proudly, their tails held high, their black and white fur glossy and fresh in the bright sun, and rippling in the breeze.

  17. Lukas,
    Just to clarify, the vowel (ы or и or whatever) is preserved from the Russian of the 1840s, but palatization may or may be the same?

  18. Ryan,
    In standard modern Russian, the sound of /i/ (written as ы or и) depends on the palatalization of the preceding consonant. I guess it’s the same for Ninilchik Russian. Incidentally, there’s two recordings of /riba/ on the Ninilchik web site. In one of them, the /r/ sounds hard and and the /i/ ы-like. In the other one the /r/ is soft and the /i/-sound is more like an и.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    BP: Oh, for a linguistic touch, the Carrier word for lynx is borrowed from Gitksan.
    I was under the impression that it must be the other way around. A lot of animal vocabulary in Nisqa’a and especially Gitksan is borrowed from Athabaskan and the opposite is only true for names of marine animals such as the killer whale. I don’t remember the Gitksan offhand but the Ni word for lynx is we:x, which is consistent with an earlier *we:keh or *wa:keh (k palatal) which would probably also fit with a possible ancestor for Ca wasi. Would that work?

  20. Marie-Lucie,
    Carrier wasi has no Athabascan etymology. Moreover, Father Morice reported that in the late 19th century there were still elders around who knew the older Carrier term that had been replaced by wasi. This is why I have taken the loan to be from Gitksan into Carrier rather than the other direction. A guess as to the reason for the loan would be that it is like the other unexpected loan from Gitksan into Carrier, mai “(blue)berry”, which is probably a case in which the producers of a valuable trade good adopted the term used by the purchasers, as Wichmann and Dakin have proposed for the adoption of the Nahuatl term for cacao by the non-Nahuatl-speaking people who traded it to them. mats of dried blueberries were one of the main items traded out toward the coast by the Carrier. I’m thinking that lynx pelts may have been a sufficiently important trade item that the Carrier adopted the Gitksan term for the same reason.

  21. I have wi:ʃ for lynx in Gitksan.
    Incidentally, none of the marine animal terms seem to have made it into Carrier proper except for “fur seal”, which is Carrier kw’ʌni. Witsuwit’en has nexɬ for “killer whale”, but I don’t think this has even made it into Babine, much less Carrier proper.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    All right then, Bill, thank you for the explanation. As for mai, the meaning of ma:y’ is not just blueberry but any kind of berries. But the original meaning as reconstructed from the form must mean “load” – referring specifically loads of freshly picked berries being carried on the back on the way home.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    I have wi:ʃ for lynx in Gitksan.
    I am surprised at the final [ʃ], which is not supposed to be part of the consonant inventory unless as a realization of /s/. Could it be from a retranscription of a sh used by someone for palatal [x]?

  24. Marie-Lucie,
    In Carrier mai means any kind of berry, or even, post-contact, fruit, but the epitome of berry is blueberry, so it has that hyponymic meaning too. It also seems to have come to mean anything squat or stubby, so it turns up in the compounds for the fingertips and toes and as the slang term for a little boy’s membrum virile. It has even become a verb stem, meaning “squat, stubby”.

  25. Marie-Lucie,
    Hmm. I don’t have a Gitksan dictionary on-line and can’t off the cuff find my paper copy so I’m not sure about that Gitksan form.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    It is always interesting to see how semantic evolution can go in so many different directions! “load” for ma:y’ is my own reconstruction and I am not implying that this meaning is current or even remembered. “blueberry” being the epitome of berries as you say, is called sim-ma:y’ or “best/real-berries”.

  27. John Emerson says:

    I love this stuff.

  28. John Emerson says:

    I love this stuff.

  29. Well, I have weex for lynx in Gitksan, but don’t know the IPA transcription.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    I have weex for lynx in Gitksan, but don’t know the IPA transcription.
    The “ee” would be a long vowel otherwise similar to English “e” in bet, or one similar to the “ee” in English teeth if Bill’s record (presumably from some other person’s transcription) is accurate (in that case, the two pronunciations reflect two different dialects). The final “x” is like the final sound of German ich.
    Incidentally, fiosachd, where did you get your information on Gitksan?

  31. I love this stuff.
    Me too!

  32. Lukas,
    What exactly is the difference in standard Russian? I’ve always seen the character’s value given as [ɨ], but when I hear Polish spoken (where y is given the same IPA value in all texts I’ve seen) that sounds like the i in it, and the Russian ы when stressed sounds to me more like a diphthong of some sort.

  33. Stephen Mulraney says:

    Can’t someone answer Ryan’s description of yeru with a Mandelshtam quote…..?

  34. Is this the quote about it being the ugliest and most unique sound in the Russian language, or something along those lines? Or was that Nabokov, or someone else entirely?

  35. AJP Crown says:

    We thought we saw lynx footprints last week, but now I think they were just dog prints that had melted a little bit into a larger size.
    Isn’t that interesting — about how we didn’t see a lynx? Ok, the only thing I can contribute is the Norwegian word for lynx, which is gaupe.
    I love Bill’s pictures.

  36. Quoting Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

    When a preceding consonant is hard, /i/ is retracted to [ɨ]. Formant studies in Padgett (2001) demonstrate that [ɨ] is better characterized as slightly diphthongized from the velarization of the preceding consonant, implying that a phonological pattern of using velarization to enhance perceptual distinctiveness between hard and soft consonants is strongest before /i/. When unstressed, /i/ becomes near-close; that is, [ɨ̞] following a hard consonant and [ɪ] in most other environments. [...] When preceded and followed by coronal or dorsal consonants, [ɨ] is fronted to [ɨ̟]. After a labial + /l/ cluster, [ɨ] is retracted, as in плыть [plɨ̠tʲ] (‘to float’); it is also slightly diphthongized to [ɯ̟ɨ̟].

    I don’t know any better than that.

  37. Lukas,
    I think that answers my question. Russian seems to have such elusive sounds.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    Fascinating discussion!
    Incidentally, the IPA symbol for the ich-Laut (the voiceless palatal fricative) is [ç].

  39. Stephen Mulraney says:

    Actually, I don’t remember the exact image. Maybe something about the impossible sound yeru tearing the mouth?

  40. Thanks for the blog post and interesting comments. I’m pushing as hard as I can to tidy up fieldnotes from the past (including Kibrik and Bergelson’s). I’m able to phone relatives who still speak our Ninilchik dialect of Russian. Palatalization is a mixed bag. It’s very clear in some words. In other words it seems to have been lost. I have gotten a great deal of help recently from Hayim Sheynik, another Russian linguist, who has been working through my database and pointing out differences between “standard” Russian and our A-dialect. For those interested, keep checking back with the online dictionary since I update it periodically with the latest revisions to the database. I also update the sound files which I have been recording. There is a link to them from the main page of the site.
    I feel a great urgency to do this work since the handful of speakers remaining are all elderly.
    I would welcome further feedback and suggestions for making this database as useful as possible. For my part, the motivation is deeply personal, having grown up hearing the language spoken. I want to preserve our unique dialect for future generations, even if they do not learn to speak it. I have worked with other languages over my linguist career, but there is something very special about doing work on a language so close to the heart.

  41. It’s great to hear from you, and I’m very glad you’re doing this work. If I were in control of grants, I’d give you one!

  42. Hayim Sheynin says:

    As far as I can understand, Wayne Leman’s Ninilchik Lexicon is the first try to record a large number of words of the spoken language which is gradually dying. In the lexicon are included words W. Leman heard from his parents and relatives. All the “deviations” from standard Russian can be explained by the fact that from the start first settlers spoke a certain Russian dialect which in many cases differed from the standard Russian, but when combined with transmission of the language by Aleutiq women, it definitely passed certain processes of pidhinization and creolization. In addition, contacts with local neighbors, speakers of Atabaskan languages, particularly Denaina people brought some local terms (mostly for local flora, fauna and products of food and clothing). It is remarkable the paucity of foreign words. On phonetical level, it is worth to notice the simplification of consonant clusters, on morphological level, the lost of gender and simplification of temporal structure of verbs.
    For those interested in Russian dialectology the vocabulary presents considerable material. I was glad to go through the lexicon and to solve some of the problems, as well as to add a number of Russian Cyrillic spellings. I believe those who will follow on the steps of Wayne Leman may do a lot of additional work, but he has the merit of the pioneer in the field.

  43. A few pictures of Bolivian Old Order Russians here (who migrated together with Alaska Nikolaevsk Old Believers from Harbin to Brazil, but then went their own way in the 1970s). A picture shows hand-written traditional song book. The notes say i.a.:
    В школе преподают два боливийских учителя. Основные предметы — испанский язык, чтение, математика, биология, рисование. Русский язык учат дома. В устной речи тоборочинцы привыкли смешивать два языка, а некоторые испанские слова и вовсе вытеснили русские. Так, бензин в деревне называют не иначе как «гасолина», ярмарку — «ферия», рынок — «меркадо», мусор — «басура». Испанские слова давно обрусели и склоняются по правилам родного языка. Есть и неологизмы: например, вместо выражения «скачать из интернета» в ходу слово «дескаргарить» от испанского descargar. Некоторые русские слова, повсеместно употребляемые в Тоборочи, давно вышли из обихода в современной России. Вместо «очень» старообрядцы говорят «шибко», дерево называют «лесиной». Старшее поколение ко всему этому разнообразию примешивает португальские словечки
    http://lenta.ru/photo/2014/11/10/toborochi/#22

  44. Fascinating, thanks for sharing it!

  45. While we’re at the general topic of Russian archaicisms … we argued yesterday about the origin of the proverb “и на старушку бывает прорушка”. The word прорушка sounds like something broken through, and indeed, for the respective verb Dahl has examples of horses breaking through the river ice or firemen breaking through the ceiling while tearing a breaking roof apart. But the noun is explained as a rough equivalent of “mistake”, with the aforementioned proverb being the only example, so it’s hard to say if this meaning was original or merely inform by the folk saying.
    In the past I always thought that it was about the irregular periods of this unlucky woman, but I am not so sure anymore. Any better guesses?

  46. The more common form is И на старуху бывает проруха. In my (third) edition of Dahl there are other examples of the ‘mistake’ sense: “Живет и на старухе проруха” and “Попал в проруху.” I think it’s easy enough to get from the пробить sense of прорушить to the ‘mistake’ sense (“Oops, I put a hole in it!”) that no special explanations are necessary.

  47. — А нищий-полуидиот? — спросил Остап, чувствуя, что парад удался. — Хорош?

    — Мальчишеская выходка! И книга о миллионерах — тоже. А когда вы пришли в виде киевского надзирателя, я сразу понял, что вы мелкий жулик. К сожалению, я ошибся. Иначе черта с два вы бы меня нашли.

    — Да, вы ошиблись. И на старуху бывает проруха, как сказала польская красавица Инга Зайонц через месяц после свадьбы с другом моего детства Колей Остен-Бакеном.

  48. Here they claim that проруха ‘breach, hole in the ground’ acquired the dialectal meaning ‘failure, mistake’ via the expression попасть в проруху ‘be caught in a pitfall’ (fig. = ‘find oneself in a hopeless situation’). But of course double entendres are common in folk sayings, so some sort of sexual innuendo may well have been intended by the coiners of the phrase.

  49. I mean the proverb.

  50. That makes sense.

  51. И на старуху бывает проруха, как сказала польская красавица Инга Зайонц через месяц после свадьбы с другом моего детства Колей Остен-Бакеном.

    It would have made a nice Wellerism, had Ostap Bender not mentioned Inga and Kolya earlier.

  52. Wellerism. I read the whole article and I confess I still don’t know how to tell a Wellerism from a non-Wellerism; it doesn’t help that they don’t have any actual Weller quotes.

  53. “Business first, pleasure arterwards, as King Richard the Third said wen he stabbed t’other king in the Tower, afore he smothered the babbies.”

  54. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie (2009): All right then, Bill, thank you for the explanation. As for mai, the meaning of ma:y’ is not just blueberry but any kind of berries. But the original meaning as reconstructed from the form must mean “load” – referring specifically loads of freshly picked berries being carried on the back on the way home.

    Interestingly, the Germanic word for berries originally meant “load” too, being < PIE *bher-.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: Wellerism

    Norwegian folk wit is full of sayings like that, some turning well-known sayings around, others just playing with general folk wisdom or usual phrases.

    I hope the wind turns before we go home, said the woman, she was rowing against the wind.

    One thing less undone, said the man, he had beaten his wife.”

  56. Trond: The Germanic ‘berry’ words have modern /r/ from rhotacised *z, and go back to PGmc. *βasja- ~ *βazja-. The Vernerian variant was in all likelihood generalised from the collective plural *βazjō (the plural of ‘berry’ is obviously a frequently used form), but note Gothic weina-basi ‘grape’. OE basu ‘purple’ may be related, but there is no secure etymology beyond Germanic.

  57. Re: Wellerisms — I’ve just found this blogger’s pick. One of my favourites is missing, though:

    “Now we look compact and comfortable, as the father said ven he cut his little boy’s head off, to cure him o’ squintin’.”

  58. marie-lucie says:

    French berries

    There is a French word for generic ‘berry’, une baie, but this word is a technical botanical term rather than part of everyday vocabulary as in English or German: hardly anybody would use it in the context of berry-picking or making desserts (we would use the specific berry name(s)). The TLFI gives the etymology as Latin baca, which seems close enough to the Proto-Germanic form to be a borrowing from some Germanic or pre-Germanic language. Does that seem reasonable?

  59. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: PGmc. *βasja- ~ *βazja-

    Yes, of course. Mea culpa. Besides the Gothic form I should have remembered the puzzling French framboise.

  60. The TLFI gives the etymology as Latin baca, which seems close enough to the Proto-Germanic form to be a borrowing from some Germanic or pre-Germanic language. Does that seem reasonable?

    The Latin word is bāca (with a long root vowel), so the only thing it has in common with Germanic ‘berry’ is the initial /b/. If Latin had borrowed the (pre-)Germanic word, it would have become something like *basium.

    As Trond correctly points out, framboise does contain the non-Vernerian allele of the ‘berry’ word. It reflects Frankish *brāmbasi < **βrēm(a)-βasja-, in which the first element is the Germanic term for ‘thorny bush, bramble’. German Brombeere ‘blackberry’ is the same word with Verner’s Law.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Trond and Piotr. I had never tried to look up the origin of framboise ‘raspberry’. The TLFI is not very helpful on this topic. I suppose that the initial fr rather than br may have been influenced by that of fraise ‘strawberry”?

  62. David Marjanović says:

    Gothic weina-basi ‘grape’

    Oh, so maybe the prescriptivist German Weinbeere for one single grape isn’t so artificial after all?

  63. I suppose that the initial fr rather than br may have been influenced by that of fraise ‘strawberry’

    That’s the usual explanation.

  64. If Latin had borrowed the (pre-)Germanic word, it would have become something like *basium.

    Da mi basia mille, deinde centum! (But it doesn’t scan.)

  65. Oh, so maybe the prescriptivist German Weinbeere for one single grape isn’t to artificial after all?

    Not without precedent, at any rate. A single grape was called wīnberġe in Old English, vínber in Old Norse, and wînberi in Old High German.

  66. Stefan Holm says:

    And vinbär is ’currant’ in Swedish (sing. and pl. since neuters ending in a consonant are the same in plural). It’s however of late origin – currants don’t seem to have been of interest to Gmc people until recently. No common name exists. It’s Johannisbeere in German, aalbes in Dutch, ribs in Danish, rips in Norwegian and rifs in Icelandic, where the berries (red, black and white) weren’t introduced at all until late 19th c.

    Grape in Sw. is druva, an obvious calque from German ‘Traube’. The umlauted NW Gmc ‘berry’, ‘Beere’, ‘bär’ together with attested Gothic ‘weina-basi’ looks like evidence enough for a *βazi- / *βasi- origin.

  67. Indeed, the name of the bayLaurus nobilis‘ is < baie, though now also applied to the whole shrub Myrica gale as well as its berries; in both cases it is usually reinforced with native -berry. Etymonline says that berry and apple are the only surviving native fruit names. Grape is from French, as the g- shows, though ultimately Germanic in origin.

  68. David Marjanović says:

    And vinbär is ’currant’ in Swedish (sing. and pl. since neuters ending in a consonant are the same in plural).

    Feminine in German; somehow, gender seems to be remarkably unstable in NW Germanic.

    Nonetheless, the endingless plural does exist in my dialect (where the -e has fallen off as well); the standard adds the expected -n instead.

    ribs in Danish, rips in Norwegian

    Ribisel in southern German, from Latin ribes; passed on to Czech as rybizly (plural).

  69. Feminine in German; somehow, gender seems to be remarkably unstable in NW Germanic.

    OE berġe was also a feminine, and a weak stem (pl. berġan). I haven’t studied this development in any detail, but the following scenario seems likely: the PGmc. neuter *βasjaN had the collective plural βazjō, which came to be interpreted as a feminine mass noun. It was dialectally extended with the “individuating” nasal suffix to make it countable again, hence WGmc. *barjōn-.

  70. Stefan Holm says:

    the standard adds the expected -n instead

    Talking about plural in –n it is believed to be a 16th c. import from High German into Swedish, mediated through the translation of Luther’s bible. Gender and plural of nouns is a hell of a mess in Swedish and admittedly the hardest obstacle to overcome for L2 speakers. But plurals of neuters are in fact regular:

    (1) Ending in a consonant → plural = singular; (2) Multisyllables ending in a stressed vowel → plural in -er, e.g. kafé – kaféer, parti – partier (loanwords, mostly from French); (3) Others ending in a vowel → plural in -n, e.g. bi – bin (bee), rike – riken (realm, country, empire), dilemma – dilemman.

    Sadly though there is (unlike e.g. Russian) no way whatsoever to decide the gender of a noun from its outlook. Plural of common gender (former masculine and feminine) with its origin in the already complicated ON system has passed through a helix of dialectal splits and levellings and is completely haywire (even if some hints do exist.

  71. a helix of dialectal splits and levellings
    Would it mean that it would be hellishly difficult for a lifelong user of a written norm to write another norm correctly? Like for a Swede to write good Danish, or for a Nynorsk writer to write good Swedish, or something.

  72. The more I learn about the Scandinavian languages, the more bewildering and frightening they seem. How do you say “Lasciate ogni speranza” in Danish?

  73. “Lad alt håb fare, hvo træder ind”. Not so difficult to spell, harder to pronounce ;-)

  74. /laɂaɂhopfaɂvotræɂəinɂ/?

  75. Stefan: You might want to look at our 2012 discussion of German plurals. And yes, the unpredictability of gender is one of the things that makes learning the Germanic languages (except English) so delightful: David M has been known to say that he’s glad he didn’t have to learn German.

  76. Stefan Holm says:

    As for La Divina Commedia I don’t think there is any translation in my dialect available since we officially (in written language) abandoned the inflection of verbs in plural (early 1950s). So it goes:

    I som här inträden, låten hoppet fara lit. ’You who here enter, let the hope fare’, i.e. go (travel) away, as in fare(-thee-)well). The good news are that the pronunciation, opposite to Danish, is straightforward. It’s, allow for the diacritics, IPA (almost).

    As I mentioned, this is the tricky stuff. The rest of Swedish native speakers of English will find easy as a pie. The verbs for instance follow close to the English system, even when it comes to the strong ones. Anyone could guess what dricka-drack-drucken, springa-sprang-sprungen or finna-fann-funnen mean? Well, we don’t use the present participle to express the imperfective mode (’he was eating’) and don’t insert that do/did word in questions or negations but have kept it the Shakespearean way, i.e. changing the word order in questions.

    Strong/weak declension of adjectives is just a threshold (like the Russian ‘alfavit’). Once you’ve learned it you’ll never make any mistakes. The passive voice marker ‘-s’ (c.f. Russian ‘-ся’) as in bakas, ‘is baked’ would relieve American linguists from their seemingly eternal problem of explaning what ‘passive’ means – even to educated people.

    What I’ve said here is principally valid also for German, even if it differs somewhat when it comes to preterite vs. past preterite and the position of the verb in a clause.

  77. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: Feminine in German; somehow, gender seems to be remarkably unstable in NW Germanic.

    The messiness at the feminine/neuter border goes right back to the reordering of IE collectives.

  78. Trond Engen says:

    minus273: Would it mean that it would be hellishly difficult for a lifelong user of a written norm to write another norm correctly? Like for a Swede to write good Danish, or for a Nynorsk writer to write good Swedish, or something.

    No. Or, well, it would take immersion or some practice. I know Danes and Swedes working in Norway writing decent Norwegian after a short while, and the same goes for Norwegians working abroad. If I were to guess, I’d say that Danish is the easiest since it’s quite regular in its mergers, Bokmål, Nynorsk and Swedish are more difficult because of the inconsistencies resulting from dialect mixture and the retained archaisms that are hard to predict for those lacking them. But you’ll find those in any national language.

  79. Stefan Holm says:

    Written and spoken are two different matters. Due to the Copenhagen sovereignity over Norway for some 400 years, a period during which a national Norwegian legislative system was written down, Danes and Norwegians understand each others written languages almost perfectly. Swedes just understand it ‘almost’ perfectly. Typically the declaration of contents on food stuff etc. sold throughout Scandinavia comes in two versions: ‘Se’ and ‘Da/No’.

    Maybe it’s easier for Swedes than the other way around. We have kept 6 ways of forming plural: -or, -ar, -er, -r, -n and – (plural = singular). The reasons for this are probably two: (1) the double tone accent, which puts a secondary stress on the ‘unstressed’ syllable and thus protects it from being lax or reduced. (2) The more than 300 years common literacy among Swedes, which has exposed them to the conservative written language (deviating from their everyday spoken one).

    This literacy origins from a law given by king Karl XI in 1686 about husförhör, ‘house examinations’. It obliged the priests to once a year visit every home in their parishes and question the family members about the content of the Bible – and check if they could read it!!! If not both the peasant and the priest could be in great trouble.

    The purpose on the king’s side was to build an army of skilled and educated soldiers for his ambitions to make Sweden the big power of northern Europe. What he didn’t realize was, that commoners who could read the Bible could read other books as well – a fact that eventually contributed to deprive the Swedish kings of their power.

    Spoken language is a completely different matter. Norwegians and Swedes never need to hesitate in mutual communication – provided they don’t use local, rural dialects of course (which practically noone is limited to). Watching TV I can even think of it as an insult to our neighbours (and to me), when interviews with Norwegians are subtitled.

    Danish – yeah, we can communicate orally. But both parties have to try a little. And that’s a matter of psychology, not of language.

  80. I guess I should link this evergreen classic again, for those who haven’t seen it.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    the PGmc. neuter *βasjaN had the collective plural βazjō [...] WGmc. *barjōn-

    I wonder: is there a reason why you use β for PGmc. but b for PWGmc.?

    Strong/weak declension of adjectives is just a threshold (like the Russian ‘alfavit’). Once you’ve learned it you’ll never make any mistakes. [...]

    What I’ve said here is principally valid also for German

    Hah. Combine strong/weak with dative/accusative, then put two (or more) adjectives (or similarly declined words) in a row, and you start tripping up native speakers.

    I’m confident I always get that right; but just yesterday I was struck by a genitive, corrected it after some hesitation, and then corrected it back a minute later.

    We have kept 6 ways of forming plural:

    By somebody’s count, we’ve kept 12 “regular” ones, plus two groups of “irregular” ones for completely or largely unassimilated loans.

  82. I wonder: is there a reason why you use β for PGmc. but b for PWGmc.?

    No particularly strong reason, but IMO the “voiced stops” were definitely fricatives in PGmc., while they tended to undergo “hardening” in WGmc.: *ð in all positions, *β word-initially, after nasals, and when geminated, and *ɣ after nasals and when geminated. It makes more sense to regard the stop articulation as the “default” allophone in WGmc., at least for *b and *d, so treat my choice of symbols as my preferred phonemic transcription.

  83. Strong/weak declension of adjectives is just a threshold

    It’s funny that despite the general loss of case-forms and grammatical gender (together with gender agreement), and the apocope of final -e [ə], Middle English retained the strong/weak distinction in several classes of adjectives till the very end of the period. The scansion of ME verse shows that the final vowel in weak adjectives was a real ending and not an orthographic ornament.

  84. -Watching TV I can even think of it as an insult to our neighbours (and to me), when interviews with Norwegians are subtitled.

    In China, they subtitle all Chinese spoken on TV, even if it’s perfect Mandarin Chinese of educated news anchor.

    Apparently, people just can’t understand what they are saying without subtitles.

  85. Apparently, people just can’t understand what they are saying without subtitles.

    Coupled with widespread watching of fansubbed pirated foreign dramas, this means that to a Chinese like me, television-watching is more a variety of comic-book reading with sound than a variety of radio-listening with pictures. The expectation is different. If I watch something without subtitles, even if in the best Standard Mandarin ever, I need to concentrate a lot to understand what they say on the screen.

    (The fansubs are often of an incredibly high quality. The best of them are bilingual, so that any translation error would be very easily spotted and ignored.)

  86. Stefan Holm says:

    By somebody’s count, we’ve kept 12 “regular” ones

    Well, to and fro you can see people showing off by using foreign plurals like ‘schema – schemata’ (scheme), ‘tema – temata’ (theme), ‘centrum – centra’ (center), ‘forum – fora’ etc. But I wouldn’t call them Swedish plurals. Neither did I count the common umlauted ones like ‘hand – händer’ and ‘fot – fötter’ (foot) nor the irregular like ‘gås – gäss’ (goose) and ‘mus – möss’ (mouse).

    English loanwords typically keep their plural –s for a while but eventually tend to receive a native form. Thus as a teenager in the late ’60:s I went to parties but my sons some 30 years later attended ‘partyn’

  87. Stefan Holm says:

    The difficulties with Danish is more than a joke. This cross-linguistic study shows that even their own children face worse problems than children in other countries to learn their native language.
    http://sprogmuseet.dk/udtale/er-dansk-sv%c3%a6rere-at-tilegne-sig-end-svensk/

    Unfortunately the article is in Danish so you non-Scandinavians won’t understand much. But the initial diagram is clear enough. It shows the number of words children with different natïve languages understand (as an average) between 8 and 15 months of age. The Danish toddlers are hopelessly back (actually together with British English speaking ones – but strangely enough not those learning American English). However they eventually catch up and at the age of 10 no differences are found cross-linguistically.

  88. I make the German plurals, apart from unassimilated classical borrowings, to be only eight: -e (Schuh – Schuhe), -e plus umlaut (Wurst – Würste ), -er (Kind – Kinder ), -er plus umlaut (Buch – Bücher), -(e)n (Frau – Frauen), zero (Onkel – Onkel), umlaut (Vater – Väter, and -s (Auto – Autos). Where do the other four come in?

  89. David Marjanović says:

    I’m not sure, except that -en and -n must have been counted separately (Semmel – Semmeln, Bauer – Bauern).

    There are not only unassimilated borrowings (not all of them classical), but also borrowings where a native ending is added to the borrowed stem: Frankenstein monsters like Atlas – Atlanten (complete with stress shift).

  90. David Marjanović says:

    No particularly strong reason, but IMO the “voiced stops” were definitely fricatives in PGmc., while they tended to undergo “hardening” in WGmc.:

    I asked because this paper from 1954 says Gothic names show up in Latin with initial b but medial v. This would mean there’s no evidence from any Germanic language that was a fricative (or approximant) word-initially in PGmc., and thus no evidence that anything about it changed between PGmc. and PWGmc..

    Of course Gothic has its own history. There’s no evidence from any Germanic language that initial *x was anything other than [h], and yet there are all those Chatti, Cherusci, Chauci etc. attested from a time that is generally supposed to be well after PGmc. split up… never mind the earlier Cimbri

  91. David Marjanović says:

    Oops, forgot: Upper German has [b̥] in all positions (except where a more recent development has turned it into [v] between remaining vowels), so this might indicate that the PGmc. and even the PWGmc. phoneme didn’t have a special initial allophone. But then, /mb/ didn’t become /mp/ either.

    I wonder if any OHG text not by Notker uses b and p in a consistent way, and some leveling happened later. What I know is that already one of the earliest OHG texts famously translates Latin habent as hapent

  92. It seems to me that the debuccalisation of *x- was more advanced in East Germanic. We have Harii, Hasdingi, and a hypercorrect H in Hermanaricus, Heruli there, while in the West “velar” spellings like Chatti, Charivaldus, Clodovicus, Chardegisilus, etc. are prevalent from Caesar’s time till the 6th century or so.

    Kluge’s Law can only work if we order *D > *T later than the rest of Grimm’s Law, with Verner’s law and the Klugean changes in between. This means that the reflexes of the * series were still something else than voiced stops at that time — in all positions. This simplifies the description of Verner’s Law (fricatives simply get voiced, even after nasals), and gives us a natural explanation of *D > *T: the only surviving stops acquired an unmarked, voiceless articulation. They vacated a niche that would soon be filled by a new generation of voiced stops (from hardened voiced fricatives). How soon initial *β became a stop is anybody’s guess. In Early Old English all d‘s were already stops (like elsewhere in West Germanic), but g remained fricative in most positions, and intervocalic and final *β eventually fell together with *f (lufu, hlāf), which was not yet the case in the oldest texts.

  93. Stefan Holm says:

    An indication of the fricative pGmc origin is the word ’even’. It’s in German ‘eben’ and in Swedish ‘jämn’. It clearly contains a labial and the ‘natural’ reconstruction would be *eβna-. A parallel is the word ‘earth’, in German ‘Erde’ and in Swedish ‘jord’. The possible reconstruction is *erðo-.

    As for the k→h change it’s true that the written evidence is scarce but it somehow follows common sense that it would have passed through a [x] stage. Loanwords into Slavic like Russian хлеб (bread), Sw. ‘lev’, Eng. ‘loaf’, Ger. ‘Leib’, Goth. ‘hlaifs’ just strengthen the case.

    So pGmc like modern Slavic seem to have been a highly fricative dialect.

  94. David Marjanović says:

    How soon initial became a stop is anybody’s guess.

    That was my question. :-) Thanks for reminding me of Clovis & friends (& enemies to the death of everyone in the room), I noticed them earlier but keep forgetting!

  95. David Marjanović says:

    Ger. ‘Leib’

    That’s obsolete/literary for “body” (concrete, not metaphorical); you were looking for its homophone Laib. I suppose the distinction between the spellings is artificial, but Wiktionary doesn’t help.

  96. Eli Nelson says:

    @Stefan: What about the words “even”, “eben” and “jämn”” suggests a original fricative pronunciation here? Two of the three words have a stop. :) If we look at another branch of Germanic, I suppose that the spelling and pronunciation of the Icelandic “jafn” do suggest the possibility of a fricative in this position undergoing fortition.

  97. David: Indeed. Duden says: “ai-Schreibung seit dem 17. Jahrhundert zur orthografischen Unterscheidung von Leib”, and gives the OHG and MHG spellings as leib and leip respectively. It also says “wahrscheinlich eigentlich = ungesäuertes Brot”, which is interesting: the word seems to have undergone part of the same semantic shift as hlaf > loaf, from bread in general to a lump of it.

Speak Your Mind

*