Preserving Languages Through Song.

Chaka V. Grier reports on “how musicians are keeping endangered languages alive”:

“I struggle to talk about languages as dying,” says Jeremy Dutcher, the singer/songwriter whose 2018 Polaris Prize–nominated debut Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa has garnered widespread acclaim since it was released in April. “That [dying language term] often gets put on this project because there are so few speakers [of Wolastoqey, the language of the album].

“But as one of my elders, Maggie Paul, says, ‘Our languages are in our songs. They never died. They had to go away for a while for safekeeping. Now is the time to bring them back.’ I let those words guide the work I do.” […]

Societal devaluing transformed into revitalization is something Belizean producer Ivan Duran can attest to. In 1995 he founded the now Montreal-based label, Stonetree Records. It was one of the first to focus on the sparsely spoken language and music of Central America’s Garifuna culture, which at the time was chiefly used in song but little in daily life due to a convergence of events. […]

Surprisingly it would be this disappearing language within Belize, a country where Garifunas are only 5 per cent of its population, that would put the country on the world’s radar.

“Apart from the [coral] reefs and tourist activities, most of the world knows Belize because of Garifuna music. It has always been very important for the language and also for the sense of pride in the culture because the music became its first export – the first product of the culture that actually travelled around the world and became recognized. And that created a big sense of pride in the community.” […]

University of Toronto scholar and historian of Yiddish culture, professor Anna Shternshis was researching for a book on Soviet Jewish history and culture during the Holocaust when she came across an archive at Vernadsky National Library in Kiev.

“I was interested in how Yiddish speakers made sense of the war. Almost half of the Jews that were killed in the Holocaust were from the Soviet Union and the majority of them were Yiddish speakers and their history is not very well known.”

Shternshis’s discovery of rare Yiddish songs recorded and collected from “people who didn’t make it usually to the end of the war” was a revelation.

Shternshis was interested in why people sing before they die, sing in the midst of violence, and use music as historical documents, even as eyewitnesses. The songs were eventually put to music with the guidance of composer Psoy Korolenko and became the album Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs Of World War II. The songs are rare – many of them were by women and children, and in Yiddish, a language nearly annihilated by genocide.

I was especially pleased to see Shternshis quoted, because last year I copyedited her excellent When Sonia Met Boris: An Oral History of Jewish Life under Stalin, from which I learned a great deal about Jewish life in the Soviet Union. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Christopher Culver says:

    Isn’t the point of language preservation to, well, actually preserve the language, that is, allow it to be spoken in a decent array of daily contexts? If a song is sung but the words are essentially learned by rote, by people unable to actually create any original utterance in that language on their own, then that language does not sound very preserved.

  2. A lot of people used to have passive knowledge of Latin grammar through memorizing Catholic prayers.
    I don’t think anyone is saying that revitalization stops at songs, but they are one good first step.

  3. What Y said. There isn’t just One Right Way to help languages, and if people enjoy singing them, it certainly can’t hurt.

  4. Jeffry A. House says:

    People who’d like to hear a song from this album can find it here:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NnDJNoNVqGw

    First a recorded elder sings a capella, then Jeremy Dutcher repeats with piano accompaniment.

  5. Christopher Culver says:

    “I don’t think anyone is saying that revitalization stops at songs, but they are one good first step.”

    It is all well and good if it is indeed only a first step. However, for anyone who has worked with endangered languages in states that dislike their minorities, it is easy to be cynical about this. The authorities will often support cultural productions like singing of traditional songs as a token effort, as a way to claim they care about preserving minority languages, all the while discouraging or outright banning active use of the language in spheres of everyday life or in the media. It is all too often a way to pull the wool over people’s eyes, it doesn’t lend any significant support to the survival of these languages.

  6. Yiddish occupies a weird niche, since it was traditionally seen as a language only of workaday matters and low culture. One hundred years ago, in the Ashkenazic community, everybody spoke Yiddish, but if you spoke Hebrew, that meant you were learned, a scholar. Now, the reverse is true; Hebrew is commonplace, but only those learned in Jewish cultural history know Yiddish. But Hebrew was always the special language of our people, the one with which the sense of our unique heritage was attached, whether the spoken vernacular of the day was Aramaic, Yiddish, or English.

    This means that vernacular songs are probably the one area where most Jews would feel there was still a uniquely Yiddish cultural heritage worth preserving (as opposed to the non-linguistic elements of Ashkenazic culture, which are mostly well preserved in both America and Israel, the hubs of Judaism today). While most Jewish children can get access to all sorts of material in English or Hebrew, they mostly encounter Yiddish in fixed expressions or in songs. (Sadly, Marvelous Marvin, the guy who taught Yiddish childrens’ songs at our temple, died last year.)

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    If it’s singing in Yiddish that you want, come to New Jersey later this month for a run of performances of what may be the only Cuban-Yiddish opera in captivity. (It has apparently already been performed in Havana, with a cast that learned the Yiddish parts of the libretto phonetically.)

    https://www.peakperfs.org/event/hatuey-opera/2018-09-14

    FWIW, the number of fully-fluent Yiddish speakers in the U.S. and in the world as a whole is almost certainly increasing, because the originally small fraction of the Ashkenazic community that avoided losing it over the course of the last century not only still has it but is passing it on to their kids and having lots more babies-per-capita on average than non-Yiddish-speakers are. So the work of the Marvelous Marvins of the world is not at this point the primary strategy for the survival of Yiddish-qua-Yiddish on the planet and can be appreciated for what it is without demanding it be more than that.

  8. When I was studying Mongolian in a desultory manner in China, along with the (poorly taught) language classes there was also a class, very well attended, singing Mongolian folk songs. The teacher would explain the words and a bit of grammar before we all started listening to and practising the song.

    It’s an easy and self-satisfying way of connecting to a language and culture but I agree with Chris Culver, it doesn’t actually take you very far. (I also knew a Mongolian woman who thought she was learning Chinese by listening to Chinese songs…)

    There is an app available on computer and mobile called “ehshig” which gives access to a huge range of Mongolian music, which is very popular among Mongols in China.

  9. Stu Clayton says:

    What is the Yiddish for Yiddish-qua-Yiddish ?

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Many years ago while a student of English in Paris, I found out that there was a class in Portuguese. The reason was that Portuguese was one of the requirements for a degree in Spanish (which I did not speak at that time), but nobody was checking who was attending what class. So I learned some Portuguese every Saturday morning. The course was not oriented towards speaking ability, but the prof did pay attention to pronunciation. In order for us to hear actual Portuguese, every second Saturday he would bring a recording of a Portuguese or Brazilian song, along with a sheet of linguistic and cultural notes to the words of the song. I always made an effort to learn those songs by heart, singing them to myself when I was alone. It was so long ago that I have forgotten most of them, but once in a while one of my favourites comes back to me and I start to sing. Of course what you learn from a song is often of limited practical usefulness, especially if you only listen, but they still provide a great entry into the language and culture.

  11. Mary-Lucie, seconded. French pop songs is a very good window into (some aspects of) French language. I never went past 1970s, but recordings that I listened to had very clear pronunciation, very easy to follow if you know or read the words. If I forget French completely, the last phrase to go will be “J’aime Paris au mois de mai”.

  12. Buryat language in northern Mongolia is on the way to extinction. The young Buryats no longer speak it on daily basis and totally switched to standard Mongolian (which is closely related to their version of Buryat anyway).

    But…

    They all still sing Buryat songs. In fact, everyone in the area, including the Khalkha Mongol majority, can sing Buryat songs.

    For most, the only words of Buryat they know is from these songs.

    It’s kind of similar to Ukrainian songs in southern regions of Russian. Nobody nowadays speaks Ukrainian, but everyone knows Ukrainian songs.

  13. Not sure if the filter will let it through, but here is an example. One of the most popular Buryat folk songs ever turned into Mongolian pop hit.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36LEJVR9Kw0

    I am pretty sure most Mongols know Buryat word “hatarish” (let’s dance) only from this song.

  14. CC, I’m sure you are right, from your experiences in the former USSR. I was thinking of North American languages: here music, song, and prayer are very much restricted to their communities. The dominant culture is not interested in listening to them, let alone promoting them.

  15. Also, I can’t think of anything like “folk music” in native North America, in terms of style or performative context, that could be naturally assimilated into Western musical culture.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    @Y, you can see the album mentioned in the linked story in broader context here in another piece from the same source handicapping the Polaris prize shortlist nominees. Dutcher’s work is lumped together with the work of Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a hip hop duo all the way from the other side of the (rather large) continent who I infer do their rapping in English rather than their ancestral language (Haisla, which they may or may not have any fluency in). In the superficial/recycled-press-release register the article is written in, it’s “The Indigenous next wave’s Polaris hot streak.”

    https://nowtoronto.com/music/features/polaris-prize-short-list-2018/

  17. I once read a thriller based on Navajo “skin-walker” legends.

    I kept thinking that it would have made a fantastic movie, way better than these stupid vampire films.

    But as I understand, it’s kind of local thing, totally unfamiliar to the rest of America.

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    As to “assimilat[ion] into Western musical culture,” Y may be underestimating the sort of willful eclecticism that would welcome the chance to add a little indigenous accent to a post-modern mix. Here’s an excerpt from the wikipedia article about another Canadian musical ensemble that got long-listed but not short-listed for the Polaris this year:

    “The group was originally conceived while Kato Attwood and Alaska B were art students at Concordia University, as an art project exploring and subverting the cultural signifiers of their shared Asian Canadian heritage;[2] both are of mixed Asian-European heritage, and were previously members of the defunct Montreal noise rock band Lesbian Fight Club.[4] They developed a music and performance style that incorporated aspects of Asian C-pop and J-pop, progressive rock, heavy metal and industrial music,[2] with roots in Haudenosaunee and First Nations culture, as well as Buddhist philosophy, anime and manga, Chinese opera and Kabuki and Noh theatre.[4]”

    This is not your father’s Canadian Content rock music. The guys in the Guess Who recording vernacular classics like Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon back in the day were totally incapable of giving that sort of art-school manifesto explanation of what they were doing.

  19. Oh, sure, and I once heard on the radio in Labrador some country music in Inuktitut. The assimilation I meant is what Christopher Culver was talking about: taking traditional genres of music of the minority culture, and integrating them into the majority culture’s listening repertoire (in the US it would be under the umbrella of “World Music” or what not). Many cultures have traditional genres which already appeal to Western ears, and which have always meant to be heard as musical entertainment in some sense. I don’t know of anything in North America which fits these criteria, but I’m no expert and I may be missing something.

    Add: that “indigenous accent” goes back to Buffy Sainte Marie at least, but that’s not comparable to, say, Tuvan hunting songs performed in their entirety in Carnegie Hall.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a hip hop duo all the way from the other side of the (rather large) continent who I infer do their rapping in English rather than their ancestral language (Haisla, which they may or may not have any fluency in)

    Rapping implies a sophisticated command of the language used. In spite of Wikipedia saying that Haisla is spoken by “several hundred people” on the Canadian West Coast, the chance that the Kids in question have any command of Haisla beyond (at best) a few words and phrases (such as for welcoming people to a traditional ceremony) is practically nil.

  21. What is the Yiddish for Yiddish-qua-Yiddish ?

    Yiddish vi Yiddish?

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    Nice, that exposes the absurdity of “qua” between two instances of the same word. Whether it’s “Yiddish vi Yiddish” or “Yiddish as Yiddish”, you have to wonder: instead of as what else ? Yiddish as English ? Yiddish vi varnishkes ?

  23. Oh, sure, and I once heard on the radio in Labrador some country music in Inuktitut.

    I bet it didn’t sound as odd as the Navajo country music I heard in Arizona. The combination of a very familiar style, one associated very strongly with English, with a completely unfamiliar and (to anglophone ears) frankly Martian language was deeply disturbing. Hearing Navajo-language music in a traditional Navajo style wouldn’t have been so odd. Even hearing, say, a Bach Mass sung in Navajo – because you’re used to classical music being in several languages.

  24. Nice, that exposes the absurdity of “qua” between two instances of the same word. Whether it’s “Yiddish vi Yiddish” or “Yiddish as Yiddish”, you have to wonder: instead of as what else ?

    Not always absurd. You might say, for example, “very few students here are interested in Latin qua Latin; they just want to learn it because it helps them with their anatomy lessons”.

  25. I had similar reaction listening to Erzya music on Youtube.

    Here was a girl with the most typical Russian name and surname, with absolutely Russian face, singing to a traditional Russian folk tune and pronouncing words with typical Russian accent.

    But I couldn’t recognize a single word, though it sure felt that I should.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    pronouncing words with typical Russian accent

    Maybe not even – Erzya & Moksha have about as many palatalized consonants as Russian.

  27. Rap is very popular in Mongolia and is sung in Mongolian. It doesn’t sound at all odd when you get used to it.

    From the 1980s-90s, Yothu Yindi were a successful Australian indigenous band blending rock and traditional instruments, singing in their native language as well as English, who entered the Australian musical mainstream. While I doubt that many white people raced out to learn Yolngu as a result, I think their success raised the profile and status of indigenous languages and cultures. Since there is little respect for Aboriginal language and culture in many quarters in Australia, I think that on the overall this was a positive development.

  28. In my neck of the woods Innu is a vulnerable rather than an endangered language, but it is relevant in the context of this thread to point to the success of an Aboriginal music band, Kashtin, whose songs were wholly in Innu (the singers’ L1). They were very popular in Quebec in the late eighties/early nineties: this song,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfccVzCw4Uc

    especially, was for a time inescapable to anyone in Montreal who listened to the radio regularly. The band’s overall impact upon the perception of Innu (and more broadly, aboriginal, or, as we say in Canada, “First Nations”) language(s) and culture(s) by mainstream Quebec culture was quite positive, I think (much like what Bathrobe describes for Australia above).

    More specific to Quebec in North America was the success of the Corsican singer Petru Guelfucci: here’s his best-known song, with Corsican subtitles (like Kashtin’s above, it too was inescapable for a time if you listened to the radio in Montreal regularly):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVCH8E9n37E

    It was quite popular elsewhere, and indeed spawned a number of adaptations: here’s a bilingual Hebrew-Corsican one (I suspect that it is the only Hebrew-Corsican song in existence, actually):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnCmfWxwCWs

    Indeed, if any Hebrew-speaking hatter could offer a translation of the Hebrew first half of the song, I would be grateful.

  29. Y: Err, regarding your 12:15 comment, some parts of North America have shown real interest in songs in Indigenous (or, as we say in Canada, “First Nations”) languages: in Quebec in the late eighties/early nineties several songs by the music band “Kashtin” (all in Innu) were ubiquitous on the airwaves (their first hit, “E Uassiuian”, especially: indeed, a Quebec humor group actually produced a parody of the music video, which does indicate how popular the original was). As in the case of Australia which Bathrobe describes above, the overall impact of these songs on mainstream society’s perception of Innu and, more broadly, indigenous languages and cultures was quite positive, I think.

    Indeed, at about the same time a Corsican singer, Petru Guelfucci, also became quite popular in Quebec: his song “Corsica” (wholly in Corsican) likewise was inescapable for radio listeners for a time (not that I’m complaining, mark you!). This song became very popular elsewhere (I even found a bilingual version (adaptation?): first half in Hebrew, second half in the original Corsican).

  30. I believe rap is popular in Mongolia because it is quite close to more traditional folk genres.

    Like this, for example

    https://youtu.be/-qeAu5sX4hA

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW the point I was trying to make about “Yiddish qua Yiddish” is that there are various subcultures within the Ashkenazim these days. Yiddish is quite healthy within one of those subcultures but close to extinct in the others.
    So the language qua language is not particularly endangered in the near term — there is a critical mass of kids being raised as L1 speakers and there will likely continue to be human beings on the planet earth who speak it for some time to come. What is critically endangered is the combination of Yiddish fluency and non-Hasidic Ashkenazicness, which might thought a genuine cultural loss to be mourned or to be resisted, and those in those communities who view this development as unfortunate may not feel fully comforted by knowing there are Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn where you can still hear people speaking Yiddish to each other in public. But that’s a different sort of loss than what is usually meant when people talk about dying languages.

    The language used on that Canadian dude’s record in the original post, by the way, seems to be one of the labels used on the New Brunswick side of the border for the language more commonly known on the Maine side of the border as Passamaquody. Googling will lead you to some info about language-preservation/revival efforts in Maine that go beyond singing (which isn’t to say there aren’t comparable more-than-singing efforts underway in New Brunswick that were just outside the scope of the article linked by hat and thus not mentioned).

  32. Etienne, I am distinguishing between 1. Western music, indigenous style (Innu Pop and such) and 2. Indigenous music, westernized or not. It’s the latter that I am saying is not going much beyond native communities, and is not likely to.

    P.S. I’ll try to figure out later today the Hebrew in the song.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Comment to E uassiuan, 3 years ago:

    All Kasthin songs reminds me of my childhood. Then I grow up, and I still love them. ❤❤❤ in Greenland they’re still famous 👍👍👍

    The Corsica song is an interesting experience from a phonetic point of view. Most strikingly, in the word Corsica itself, there’s no trace of [r]!

  34. @ Y

    Yothu Yindi is obviously an exception, but of course that is not in the US. Different musical situation, different marketing… I guess many different factors.

  35. Here are the lyrics (with translation) to “E Uassiuian” (note correct spelling); very nice song!

  36. Etienne, I couldn’t quite understand all the lyrics, but I have this, with some uncertainties: “In our hearts lies our dead, the dreams of our childhood, the remnants of the desire of our lives, the vistas of our homeland. God exists in the eyes, us two who love each other. And time flows like water, like a source […] for life, Corsica.” Very different from the Corsican lyrics.

  37. Y: Thanks! I certainly expected the Hebrew lyrics to be different from the original, but not THAT different. Interesting.

    I find it interesting that Kashtin is said (in the comment quoted by David) to (still) be famous in Greenland: by contrast, when I taught in the Canadian West, none of my colleagues, even those in Indigenous Studies, had ever heard of them.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    had ever heard of them

    Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana; Amelia Earhart flies, like, a plane. I have a colleague who not only didn’t know who Luke’s father was, she didn’t know who Luke was either.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    (Source for “flies, like, a plane”.)

  40. David: I expressed myself poorly: these were colleagues in Indigenous Studies at two different Canadian Universities, both in Western Canada. I agree that individuals can often be ignorant of things both of us would find quite basic, but when several people are ignorant of something/someone directly relevant to their field of expertise, well, I think that means something…

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Sorry, I simply overlooked “in Indigenous Studies”.

  42. A few of NZ’s most iconic songs are in Maori. And there is a small Maori language music scene, which as of recently also includes the first te reo heavy metal band. That can’t be a bad thing for the language, but I’m not sure it can do all that much to help either. I think music has the best chance of aiding language preservation when it’s in a genre that will be considered cool by kids (which unfortunately usually does mean westernized to at least some extent) and there’s still a significant base of L1 kids for it to appeal to and build off of.

    In cases where language transmission in the home has largely stopped, I think it has a lot of potential to improve the language’s visibility and image, but ultimately just isn’t in a situation where that would translate to a significant effect on preservation. Which isn’t to say I don’t think it should be done or encouraged. I believe creating art in these languages is worth it and has plenty of merit in and of itself, regardless of how much or how little it can do to reverse or slow down these processes.

  43. Christopher Culver says:

    ” I was thinking of North American languages: here music, song, and prayer are very much restricted to their communities. The dominant culture is not interested in listening to them, let alone promoting them.”

    How much do Native American communities actually want the outside world to listen to their songs? So often, the only time I hear mention of Native American song or religious ritual is when Native American activists are insisting that these are for inside the group only, and not for disclosure to outsiders.

  44. I find it interesting that Kashtin is said (in the comment quoted by David) to (still) be famous in Greenland: by contrast, when I taught in the Canadian West, none of my colleagues, even those in Indigenous Studies, had ever heard of them.

    when several people are ignorant of something/someone directly relevant to their field of expertise, well, I think that means something…

    Interesting how much of a bigger mark they left in Greenland than they appear to have across most of Indigenous Canada. According to Wikipedia, after Quebec, they became successful in Greenland before the ROC. And an article in a Greenlandic paper from a few years ago refers to Vollant as a legend, and mentions how many in Greenland can still sing along to Kashtin’s Innu lyrics. Not sure what, if anything, might explain the difference. Also not sure why I could’ve sworn Greenlandic had already been offered as an option on Google Translate for a while now. Apparently not yet.

    I remember the song they did for Dance Me Outside, which used to be shown every couple of years on Croatian TV.

  45. In the American West, American Indian music and dance are reasonably popular entertainment for tourists. Years ago, my family was vacationing at the resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, and they had nightly salmon bake dinners with traditional music and dance. The dance, in particular, felt extremely authentic, since it was not done by professionals, but rather by teens and young adults who were studying traditional tribal performance. Seeing a hoop dance done in person, outside beside a bonfire, was really an amazing experience.

  46. Etienne: “Indigenous Studies” is awfully broad. They probably didn’t know anything about Australian Aborigines either, or for that matter German literature, despite the undoubted indigeneity of the Germans.

    Chris: It depends. The Hopi keep many of their rituals secret from most of their own people as well, whereas Navajos are quite happy to let anyone attend an Enemy Way.

  47. Traditional tribal dance at the wedding in Yakutsk.

    https://youtu.be/yCndnhAEEl0

    Somehow dancing in a nice dress and high heels in a luxury restaurant makes it more authentic, not less.

  48. January First-of-May says:

    I had similar reaction listening to Erzya music on Youtube.

    Here was a girl with the most typical Russian name and surname, with absolutely Russian face, singing to a traditional Russian folk tune and pronouncing words with typical Russian accent.

    But I couldn’t recognize a single word, though it sure felt that I should.

    Reminds me of someone’s description of TV programs in Welsh (paraphrasing from memory): “it’s just like a normal English family scene, except everyone is speaking Martian”.

    (I thought it was, in fact, an old comment on LH, but my attempts at googling didn’t find it.)

  49. Trond Engen says:

    My wife and I are watching the Welsh crime drama Hidden (Craith) on Norwegian TV. It’s the first time we’ve heard long stretches of dialogue in Welsh, and to both of us it sounded oddly Finnic. I’m not sure why, but my hypothesis is that it’s the general sound of Northern European — and what Scandinavian would sound like without the tonality and the familiar words.

  50. How much do Native American communities actually want the outside world to listen to their songs? So often, the only time I hear mention of Native American song or religious ritual is when Native American activists are insisting that these are for inside the group only, and not for disclosure to outsiders.

    Activists are always noisier than non-activists and therefore attract more attention from the media. There have been many cases where activists have insisted on positions that the majority of those they were allegedly advocating for didn’t hold. Obviously, I’m not saying that activists should be ignored, just that their statements should not be taken as reflecting general opinion.

  51. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    From our 2014 discussion on the subjective sounds of languages: “Welsh sounds like nothing. I don’t know how it’s possible, but I watched the movie Hedd Wyn and it seemed like they were talking English except that they weren’t.”

  52. My wife and I are watching the Welsh crime drama Hidden (Craith) on Norwegian TV

    How was it? I love listening to Welsh, but I’ve never really managed to warm to Y Gwyll.

  53. Trond Engen says:

    Good enough. I came for the Welsh and stayed for the Welsh, but I also enjoy the drama. The first episode was slow and somewhat dreary, but it grew on us, and now we’re eagerly awaiting each episode. Two in a row late Friday evening, as NRK has chosen to do it, is a bit too much, though, so we keep the second for later. Maybe we’ll watch episode 6 (of 8) tonight.

  54. CC: As Hat said, it varies. As Brett said, and as I have seen, there are some performances aimed at acquainting non-Indian audiences with traditional culture, but their context is usually tightly controlled by the performing community. This is in contrast to, say, Balkan folk musics, which are still performed (I presume) in their original contexts, but also by musicians from other countries in the broader context of musical entertainment.

    Another issue is that ownership of traditional songs in indigenous North America (at least on the west coast) has been taken very seriously in the past, and no less so in the present. Performing a song without permission from its owner is unnambiguously offensive.

  55. John Cowan: Oh, I agree these Indigenous Studies “professors” knew nothing whatsoever about Australian Aborigines either. But the fact that none of these Canadian-born professors at two Canadian Universities had even heard of this Canadian Indigenous band (one of whose singers is apparently a “legend” in Greenland -thanks for the article, Gwenllian) seems to indicate that the band in question (Kashtin) was not that widely known in Canada outside Quebec. I think none of my students had heard of them either (which is perhaps more significant, come to think of it).

    Oh, and as for the “undoubted indigeneity of the Germans” -That’s only partly true. Present-day German-speaking Europe South of the Danube and West of the Rhine was (wholly or predominantly) Romance-speaking originally, and some areas remained Romance-speaking long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (The Moselle valley, for instance). Later, in the ninth century, most of Present-day German-speaking Europe East of the Elba was Slavic-speaking (+ West Baltic, further East), and indeed some areas West of the Elba were also Slavic-speaking. So were large chunks of Austria and Bavaria, and indeed I have sometimes wondered whether the spread of Germanic South of the Danube might not have been eased by the competition of Slavic and Romance at the time (And I have to admit that a text in Slavicized Romance or Romance-flavored Slavic from that part of the world would be a VERY nice discovery!)

    Then add to this the originally Frisian- and North Germanic-speaking parts of present-day Germany (Along most of the North Sea Coast between The Netherlands and Denmark and in most of Schleswig-Holstein, respectively). Incidentally, there exist some Slavic loans in Frisian and Old English which are unknown elsewhere in Germanic, which in turn suggests that Slavic and Ingvaeonic Germanic were directly in contact in Northern Germany at some point.

    There then remains an “Indigenous core” within German-speaking Europe, granted, but it is much smaller than German-speaking Europe as a whole.

    Oh, and the discussions around Erzya sounding like Russian and Welsh sounding like English or some Finnic variety remind me of what a Stockholm Swedish-speaking linguist of my acquaintance once remarked: in Finland he could not, from afar, tell the difference between Finnish and Finland-Swedish speakers, acoustically, but he could identify native speakers of non-Finnish Swedish instantly.

  56. David Marjanović says:

    Well, if we’re taking that kind of timeframe into consideration, how old is the presence of Algonquian in the eastern half of North America?

    were also Slavic-speaking. So were large chunks of Austria and Bavaria,

    Austria, yes (Linz is basically the western tip of the area without Slavic placenames); Bavaria, only along what is now the Czech border and northwest of there.

    and indeed I have sometimes wondered whether the spread of Germanic South of the Danube might not have been eased by the competition of Slavic and Romance at the time

    The population density of the whole area was so low that I doubt there was any competition. Odoacer had ordered the Romance population to move off to Italy, and while obviously not everyone followed that order (especially in the defensible towns), many people apparently did (taking the bones of St. Severin with them); and the Slavic expansion appears not to have been accompanied by a population explosion, just by the availability of empty space and possibly a desire to flee the Avars.

    Between these two phases, the Longobards settled in the Danube valley just northwest of Vienna, and some of their graves date from after the year when they officially moved to Italy. It has long been speculated (in the absence of evidence either way) that they contributed to Bavarian ethnogenesis and/or are responsible for a few lexical commonalities between Gothic and Bavarian.

    Incidentally, there exist some Slavic loans in Frisian and Old English which are unknown elsewhere in Germanic, which in turn suggests that Slavic and Ingvaeonic Germanic were directly in contact in Northern Germany at some point.

    It is known that Slavs reached the North Sea just north of Hamburg, between the Saxons and the Danes – long after the Angles & Jutes had set sail. Do you know examples of these words?

    There then remains an “Indigenous core” within German-speaking Europe, granted, but it is much smaller than German-speaking Europe as a whole.

    Going a bit farther back in time, there’s a Celtic substrate lurking there.

    Oh, and the discussions around Erzya sounding like Russian and Welsh sounding like English or some Finnic variety remind me of what a Stockholm Swedish-speaking linguist of my acquaintance once remarked: in Finland he could not, from afar, tell the difference between Finnish and Finland-Swedish speakers, acoustically, but he could identify native speakers of non-Finnish Swedish instantly.

    The tones alone will do that. Finland-Swedish lacks them.

  57. @Etienne, Y:

    I couldn’t quite understand all the lyrics, either, but I think it’s “our home” (/be’te.nu/, rather than “our dead”), “moments of kindness” (/rig’e ‘xe.sed/, rather than “remnants of the desire”), “of those whom we love” (/ʃel ‘e.lu ʃe’a.nu o.ha’vim/, rather than “us two who love each other”), and something like “how much strength will there be for the lifetimes” (/’ka.ma ‘ko.ax yi’hye ʃle (??) tku’fot ha.xa’yim/, rather than “like a source […] for life”). I agree with the rest of Y’s translation.

    So, putting it together, something like:

    > In our hearts lies our home,
    > The dreams of our childhood,
    > The moments of kindness in our lives,
    > The vistas of our homeland.
    >
    > G-d exists in the eyes of those whom we love,
    > And time flows like water;
    > How much strength will there be for the lifetimes?
    >
    > Corsica!

    (N.B. There’s a word in the last line that I couldn’t make sense of, something like /ʃle/. I ended up just translating it as if it were /lə/ “for”. Even with that decision, the last line could be a question, an exclamation, or even just a noun clause. A literal translation would be “How much strength will be ʃle the lifetimes”.)

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Welsh sounding like English

    As a teenager I once spent a couple of weeks with my English “pen pal’s” family who lived next to the Welsh border. At that time I could hold conversations with English speakers but sometimes had difficulty understanding them if they spoke between themselves. One day we all went over the border into Wales and stopped at a store run by Welsh people. I did not hear any Welsh spoken, but I found those Welsh people’s English much easier to understand than the actual English speakers’. It was much closer to a French accent! My recollection is rather dim, but perhaps the main difference was word stress, which was much weaker in the Welsh people’s speech.

  59. This recent article analyses the political divide between the two Germanies. By that analysis, East Germany (including Prussia) is the Slavic half, which Western European Germany ate, but never fully digested.

  60. Thanks, Ran! I’m not very good at transcribing songs (in any language)

    /beitenu/ for /metenu/ makes sense.
    /rig’e ‘xe.sed/: I’d imagined /sridei xefets/ שרידי חפץ.
    /ʃel ‘e.lu/: I’d heard /ʃneinu/. Your version is grammatical, mine not quite.
    /’ka.ma ‘ko.ax/: I’d heard /kǝmakor/ כמקור.

    I once commented here on LH on how Hebrew /e:/, /ε/ and /ǝ/ have all merged in Modern Hebrew. This song demonstrates that the diphthong /ei/ is irregularly merged with those as well.

  61. @SFReader: you are right, the way it’s part of what I’d call a typical post-Soviet wedding makes the Gulun look like a living tradition and not like something put on by the local preservation society.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Hans, I agree. It would be more suspicious if the couple had dressed in traditional clothes but danced to current pop music.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    Celtic substrate:

    – “rowan” in German has been mentioned twice in two years here at LH (further link to academia.edu behind the first link, to the pdf of the same paper behind the second).

    – Famously, Old English has two verbs for “be”, both with complete paradigms, whose usage can apparently be mapped to the two verbs for “be” of Old Irish. So this has long been thought to be Celtic influence. Yet, in the other West Germanic languages (all the way down to the earliest written documents), the single verb for “be” is a highly irregular mixture of forms of the two verbs that are kept separate in Old English (…plus a third, which also participates in Old English). This paper, in German with an English abstract, finds a trace of more complete separate paradigms in various Dutch and northwestern Central German dialects.

    – After a long introduction, this paper (in German, no abstract at all) points out that something odd has happened to the basic demonstrative pronoun in non-Ingvaeonic West Germanic. The Gothic and Old Norse paradigms can be effortlessly traced back to PIE, but of the Old Saxon and Old High German forms shown in Table 8 (nom./acc. m./f.), which are mostly obviously cognate with each other, not one can be derived from the Proto-Germanic reconstruction. Similar things hold for the interrogative pronoun. Finally, in OHG, the strong nominative of adjectives developed a set of alternative endings copied straight from the demonstrative pronoun. These new demonstrative pronoun forms can be explained as the stem of the (neuter) demonstrative pronoun followed by the anaphoric ( > 3sg personal) pronoun. Support for this idea is found in odd spellings in early OHG documents that can be interpreted as vowel clusters with a syllable boundary through them, later replaced by the most similar diphthongs or long vowels that were available. Who else has such composite demonstrative pronouns? Celtic. One is even attested twice in Gaulish. And in Celtic, this composition makes sense as a consequence of a reanalysis that was possible because of a peculiarity of Celtic word order that is nowhere attested in Germanic.

    – The first footnote in that paper cites another paper as saying that Gaulish was still used in Trier shortly after 400 AD. I’ll try to find it.

    – Maroboduus, king of the Marcomanni. The name of the tribe is Germanic, but the name of the king is on the Celtic side (second footnote of the same paper), and would probably have been transmitted as *Badumerus otherwise, judging from his contemporary Segimerus. …Maroboduus was deposed and exiled by “Catualda, a young Marcomannic noble living in exile among the Gutones” (one click away from the above). That name looks immediately Celtic to me, too, while for a Germanic interpretation it would be helpful if the spelling began with ch.

    – Finally, the West Germanic shift of [ð] to [d] in all positions, even between vowels, is a bit odd on its own terms. It looks to me like a substrate effect. Phonologically, the substrate could be just about anything; geographically, Celtic is the obvious candidate.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    This recent article

    I don’t think we need to go that far down in history. The GDR was already “the revenge of the Saxons on the Prussians”, and a harrowing revenge it was! Rather, two facts about communism in general and the GDR in particular are to blame.

    First, communism has never quite known what to do with the 19th-century western European concept of “nation”, which it took for granted and didn’t question. The GDR seems to have taken the Yugoslav approach to nationalism: all conflicts between the nationalities have been solved in the best possible way, Friendship of Peoples, hooray, now shut up forever. The Nazis were bad and evil, enough said, never talk about them again. The western approach to the recent past – scandals, upheavals, loud discussions, and treating the subject in school ad nauseam – seems to have been far more successful.

    Second, the GDR didn’t experience much immigration. It’s the same in the US and everywhere else: the people who hate immigrants the most have never seen one.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    – The first footnote in that paper cites another paper as saying that Gaulish was still used in Trier shortly after 400 AD. I’ll try to find it.

    Here, where Google Scholar can’t find it. I’ll read it tomorrow.

  66. Is that typical post-Soviet or something indigenous to Yakutia?

    There is this: Olena Podluzhnaya, who is described on Youtube as a “Russian shaman lady” but is actually Sakha. The Sakha are the northernmost branch of the Turks.

  67. Second, the GDR didn’t experience much immigration. It’s the same in the US and everywhere else: the people who hate immigrants the most have never seen one.

    Gruppe der Sowjetischen Streitkräfte in Deutschland was stationed in GDR on permanent basis. It numbered about 2.9 mln men in 1949, but gradually went down to half a million by 1980s.

    I would say that in East Germany more men aged 18-20 spoke Russian than German.

    Of course contacts between Soviet soldiers and German civilians were deliberately restricted, but so is the case with immigrants.

    By 1980s, GDR also had Third-World real immigrants too – the Vietnamese and Mozambicans were main foreign laborers in East Germany.

  68. Good enough. I came for the Welsh and stayed for the Welsh, but I also enjoy the drama. The first episode was slow and somewhat dreary, but it grew on us, and now we’re eagerly awaiting each episode. Two in a row late Friday evening, as NRK has chosen to do it, is a bit too much, though, so we keep the second for later. Maybe we’ll watch episode 6 (of 8) tonight.

    Thanks! I’ve been taking a bit of a break from crime dramas, but I think I’ll give this one a try.

    Welsh sounding like English

    I don’t hear it at all. I’m always struck by how unlike English it sounds, especially contrasted with the enormous influence English has had on pretty much every other aspect of the language. I’d guess that it’s the frequency of anglicisms and code switching that makes people perceive it that way, but that wouldn’t really fit for Hedd Wyn.

    Now Basque definitely does sound to me quite a bit like Spanish when I’m not paying attention. But it’s hard to say how much of what I’ve heard has been Basque as L1, especially given how effective Basque schools are supposed to be at producing fluent L2 speakers..

  69. Lars (the original one) says:

    Last time this came up we found out that the official UN definition of indigenous peoples leaves out those with real political power — which makes total sense for the purpose. So Danes and Germans aren’t indigenous in any case, though we can always discuss if they fulfil other criteria.

    And of course we know that there were reindeer hunters in Denmark soon after the glaciers retreated, and then hunters and fishermen along the coast after the interior became a forest — both long before any IE peoples came. I assume something similar is true for the areas in Germany where PG was the first IE language.

    And as someone said above, even if the pre-Columbian population in non-Arctic America does represent the first migration of modern humans to those continents (do we know?), it is unlikely that any given group was the first to arrive in the location where they were before the Europeans started pushing people around. Except maybe in Tierra del Fuego, sadly I think those guys may have been displaced numerous times to end up down there but they may have been the first to arrive.

  70. January First-of-May says:

    I think I discussed a while back whether there are any populations left who were (effectively the same as, or at least directly descended from) the first humans to arrive to a particular place where they still currently live, and if so who they are.

    IIRC, a bunch of assorted Polynesians (most notably the Maori, but in their specific case the inner tribal division makes things tricky) are the most likely candidates; don’t recall if there are any others generally accepted.

    There are, of course, a few more cases of populations settling on lands that had previously been empty, but only due to extinction and/or displacement of people who had previously lived there; perhaps the most obvious example is the Inuit settlement of Greenland shortly after the Viking colonies there died out.
    I’m only aware of one such case in Europe – the Kursenieki of the Curonian Spit (and even they would probably have lost any indigenous status after the 1945 displacement).

  71. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    Well, the Iceland case depends on whether you think the monks count as settlers or not. Australia seems a safe candidate.

  72. Pama-Nyungan family could be of Papuan descent, we don’t really know. It’s recent enough for sure

  73. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    Papuan is a wastebasket taxon, but as I understand it, people still think Australian as a whole has a common ancestor.

  74. Lars (the original one) says:

    But language != people.

  75. New Guinea and Australia used to be the same continent until some 14 thousand years ago.

    Any common ancestor of Australian languages has to be the common ancestor of Papuan languages too

  76. Not at all. Just because they are on the same continent doesn’t tell you if their ancestors had split 5,000 or 50,000 or 200,000 years ago.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    singing in Innu

    I listened to the recording of Kashtin singing in Innu and immediately recognized the melody as something I had heard before (though not recently), probably in English. It does not surprise me that this song should be popular regardless of the language of the words, but judging from this sample, the Innu language does not seem to have “difficult” or “harsh” sounds. The reception would probably be different if the indigenous language chosen was one from the Salishan or Wakashan families (surviving to some extent on Vancouver Island and some areas of the continental coast). Some of those languages have not only uvulars but pharyngeals, which may or may not be glottalized as well. They do have musical traditions, which involve a lot of drumming. Other indigenous traditions which have recently attracted interest, though apparently not a degree of “assimilation”, are Inuktitut and Tuvan “throat singing”.

    Among the group I know best (in Northern BC), some members of clans have been composing new, short songs for special clan occasions, in a style inspired by older traditional songs . On a particularly important occasion twenty years ago, the signature of a preliminary treaty with the federal and provincial governments, I had the pleasure of listening to a beautiful composition involving no singing but only percussion on different types of traditional drums, with varied rhythms, intensities, ranges, timbres and blends of these making this music truly memorable.

    Australia/Papua

    I don’t know what geneticists say, but Papuans and Australian aborigines do not look at all similar to each other except for having dark skin. Australians look somewhat like people from Southern India. The ill-fated Tasmanians looked different from both, though perhaps closer to Papuans.

  78. Trond Engen says:

    Any common ancestor of Australian languages has to be the common ancestor of Papuan languages too

    No, the last common ancestor of one could well fit within the phylogeny of the other.

  79. marie-lucie says:

    some speculations on Australian and Papuan languages

    Australia, like North America and Eurasia, includes vast plains with few obstacles to migration. This is typical of a territory where a population can expand and transmit its language to the inhabitants if any, giving rise to new languages still preserving a lot of common features. Typical examples outside of Australia are Indo-European and Algonquian. On the other hand, New Guinea is a country of mountains and valleys where the many small inhabitable regions are separated by serious physical obstacles, so the population consists of small groups with little contact with each other, a situation that leads to the development or maintenance of large numbers of languages and families. In the Americas this is typical of the Pacific Coast with its many small language families hemmed in between the sea and the mountains. According to this now well-known principle (Johanna Nichols), if the languages of Australia and Papua are related (and this is only a hypothesis), one would expect that those of Australia descend from only one or two of the ancestors of Papuan languages (Trond), and therefore that those languages (if themselves related to each other) would have already been diversified by the time they were brought to Australia. But this scenario seems to imply that the original inhabitants of Papua and Australia were from the same ethnic stock, something which does not seem to me to fit their differences. Alternately, the Tasmanians could have been related to the Papuans and have occupied Australia itself, but been replaced at a later date,by the current Australian aborigines, who may be related to a South Indian population. These are only speculations, since I know little about Australian languages (except the probable existence of the Pama-Nyungan family) and next to nothing about the Papuan ones.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    The oldest human remains in Australia are so old – over 60,000 years – that the phenotypic differences between present-day Papuans, Australians and Tasmanians could easily have evolved in place. I need to find our previous discussion, but the evidence for an immigration from India seems to have evaporated.

    There seems to be a consensus that Pama-Nyungan has several identifiable relatives, all of them in northern Australia. Whether all Australian languages share an exclusive common ancestor does seem to be controversial, but alternatives have not been suggested, whether involving any of the many, many underresearched Papuan families or not.

    By 1980s, GDR also had Third-World real immigrants too – the Vietnamese and Mozambicans were main foreign laborers in East Germany.

    Yes, and there were very few of them, compared to the Italians and Yugoslavians in the West. Even fewer of them stayed, again unlike the Western situation.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    DM, Thanks for the clarification.

  82. Very glad to hear Dutcher has won.

  83. Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa

    Until I spotted the q I thought this was Polish.

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