Scrabble yn Gymraeg.

Ingi Birchell Hughes lives in a Welsh village and is learning Welsh, and she didn’t like a piece in the Grauniad:

Last week the Guardian published an odd mean little article about how 5 boxes of Scrabble yn Gymraeg had been lingering unsold on a dusty shelf in Waterstones in Carmarthen.

It was a master class in invalidation — implying, without ever stating, that the reason they hadn’t sold must have been either a lack of Welsh speakers who like to play board games — fitting into the ‘Welsh people are thick’ trope, or worse, a general lack of Welsh speakers, fitting into the ‘Welsh is a dying language’ trope.

I don’t know about you, but most people into board games buy them online. And just so you know most Welsh speakers and learners in Carmarthenshire, who are perfectly able to shop online by the way, are more likely to buy books and other items in the Welsh language from Siop Y Pentan — which happens to also be in Carmarthen. Welsh speaking people have got so used to not having their needs catered for, that they are probably quite surprised that boxes of Welsh Scrabble are to be found in the Carmarthen branch of Waterstones. These are quite possibly, apart from Welsh language course books, the only items Yn Gymraeg in the entire shop.

She describes some of the problems she’s encountered learning the language, e.g.:

Wales is a bilingual country but English is the default language in supermarkets, shops and public spaces. If I go to Germany, and shop in a German supermarket, all the products will be labled German, all the the conversations I have with the checkout person or shopkeepers will be in German. Here in West Wales everything bar occasionally eggs and some milk, is labelled in English. You rarely get immersed in the language in public spaces. If I want to practise my Welsh I can try it out in the chemist — and I have found several chemists more than willing to help me practise. However discussing health matters in your second language is uncomfortable and an irony not lost on me.

Nothing spectacular, but an interesting read.

Comments

  1. I think she’s being a bit unfair to the Guardian article, which after all does include this paragraph:

    > “We thought Welsh Scrabble would be a snapped up in our games section and not linger so long gathering dust – especially in Carmarthen, where we have and order so, so many Welsh books for our customers,” said branch manager Emma Morris.

    (emphasis mine). It’s odd that the article makes no attempt to account for the non-sale of those copies of Scrabble, but I’m not sure that it’s trying to imply any specific explanation.

    It was an interesting post overall, though. She’s clearly thought a lot about these things, and the Guardian article was just the motivation for posting her thoughts.

    (By the way, am I the only one who took a long time to figure out what “Welsh non-speaker” and “English non-speaker” meant?)

  2. I own a Welsh Scrabble set, though not bought in Carmarthen (or indeed bought at all as I won it as one of the highest- scoring learners who played a game in the Learners’ tent at the Eisteddfod one year – I would have got nowhere against actual native speakers of course). Sadly I don’t live in Wales so have few opportunities to use it. Any takers for a game in Hertfordshire (or in New Jersey for the next two weeks?)

  3. gwenllian says:

    I admire the respect Ms Birchell Hughes has for her neighbours and her enthusiasm for the language. So few adults put their plans to learn Welsh into action. And she’s right, Welsh speakers put up with a lot and have plenty of perfectly good reasons to be annoyed and upset. But I don’t think the Guardian article was offensive or misleading enough to merit a rebuttal. To be fair, it wasn’t really necessary either, and I understand (or at least I try) how frustrating it must be witnessing the hateful comments articles like these always attract. But, regardless of the motivation behind it, the original article just reports the facts. As understandable as it is, it’s disheartening how often Welsh speakers and activists choose inconsequential battles to engage in.

    I’m pessimistic about Welsh, but there definitely are a least somewhat more effective ways activists could fight for it. To be clear, I’m not just referring to this text. Scrabblegate and Lucy Inglis being obnoxious about the language are the talk of Welsh Twitter. Meanwhile, the language remains in serious retreat, especially in Ceredigion and this story’s Carmarthenshire, not so long ago important strongholds. And even if people are uncomfortable admitting it, that has a whole lot to do with how Welsh-language scrabble fares in the heart of Carmarthen.

  4. “Scrabblegate” was new to me. I found this about that:

    In an interview with Barbara Walters days before the Sandy Hook event, Obama talked about his favorite game Scrabble. Scrabble uses the 26 letters of the alphabet. 26 people died at Sandy Hook. Scrabble was also developed by a Mr. Brunot in Dodgingtown Connecticut in an abandoned SCHOOLHOUSE factory. Dodgington, a Newtown community, falls on highway 302 and is an adjacent to Sandy Hook. In fact, highway 302 points DIRECTLY to Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown Middle School and Saint Rose of Lima!

  5. Hilarious. That shows again how people are able to find patterns and connections everywhere.

  6. See Unsong, a novel in progress whose motto is “That is not a coincidence, because nothing is a coincidence.” It is technically an alternate history, but its point of divergence is what happened after Apollo 11, aiming for the moon, hit the sky and made a huge crack in it, thus confirming the truth of the geocentric theory. There’s a lot of Kabalah in it (the title refers to an international organization that controls the intellectual-property rights to Divine Names), and every conceivable kind of pattern and connection. It’s a riot.

    Oddly, the most moving part of the book for me so far is one of the Interludes set in 1978, in which Mayor Koch, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the Liberty Golem (using the spire of the Empire State Building as a weapon) beat back the forces of Hell, who are invading through Canada. I guess I’m just a New York City patriot after all.

  7. See Unsong, a novel in progress

    Oh, that’s really good. And before I’ve finished reading the Basque paper.

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    I assume that a Welsh-language scrabble set omits the letters of the English/Latin alphabet not standardly used in Welsh orthography and likely has a different frequency mix (and perhaps some differences in assigned point values) for the remaining letters. But it’s certainly not impossible to play in a non-English-but-Latin-scripted (esp w/o any important diacriticals) language with an English-language set, so I’m not sure to what extent Brythonophones would view the special set as a sine qua non as opposed to a novelty. (I believe we have a Russian scrabble set somewhere in our house, although I haven’t used it myself — I don’t know how difficult it would or wouldn’t be to use it to play in e.g. Macedonian or some other non-Russian but Cyrillic-scripted language.)

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrabble_letter_distributions has some details about scrabble point values and tile distributions in various languages, with many of the details (including how digraphs are handled) varying a bit arbitrarily. Note that the Welsh version seems to be “official” (made by Mattel), whereas Scottish Gaelic is a bootleg amateur “unofficial” thing, as is the Anglo-Saxon.

    But there was a story a few years ago about how the world scrabble champion for French (?) couldn’t even speak the language but was a fellow from Thailand (?) who for some reason had simply memorized a French scrabble dictionary as a bunch of arbitrary strings of letters. So that sort of thing suggests that Scrabble may have differing degrees of market penetration and cultural salience in the various language communities for which an official edition does exist. The complaint in the original article about the supposedly insulting implication that Welsh-speakers might be “thick” due to lack of interest in scrabble may have embedded within it an Anglocentric prejudice that scrabble is an inherently important/worthwhile activity rather than a primarily Anglophone eccentricity.

  10. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    That Scrabble player was a New Zealander, Nigel Richards, but he lives in Malaysia.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    There pretty much has to be a German version of Scrabble, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one. I’ve never played Scrabble in any language.

    I don’t know how difficult it would or wouldn’t be to use it to play in e.g. Macedonian or some other non-Russian but Cyrillic-scripted language

    Bulgarian could work; as it happens, it uses a subset of the Russian letter inventory. One letter comes to mind, though, that is very common in Bulgarian but extremely rare in Russian (ъ).

    Macedonian has a different inventory. Generally, the Latin approach to dealing with a new sound system is to come up with digraphs and diacritics; the Cyrillic one is to invent whole new letters (or, sometimes, take them from elsewhere) – this is after all how Cyrillic itself came to be.

  12. Indeed, per WP there are four German Scrabbles: the current version, the pre-1990 version with 119 tiles instead of 102, the North American version, and the “super” version with 200 tiles.

  13. Jim (another one) says:

    “There pretty much has to be a German version of Scrabble, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one. I’ve never played Scrabble in any language.”

    Does it come in a larger than normal box to get all the tiles in it or does the game just end really soon?

  14. “Does it come in a larger than normal box to get all the tiles in it or does the game just end really soon?”

    The 119-tile version used the standard 15×15 board; therefore you could hit two triple-word-score tiles in one go with no help from your opponents.

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    Given the disproportionate influence and weight of Russian within the Cyrillic-scripted part of the world, I would strongly suspect (although I do not know for certain) that there must be ways to deal with the need to write in e.g. Macedonian despite having a typeface to hand that only has the Russian letters. You would perhaps use digraphs (the way you write German when operating without umlauts) or some other variant-orthography workaround, and I would think it would have been a frequent enough issue historically there there would be somewhat standardized workarounds rather than a totally ad hoc one each time? This doesn’t necessarily mean that playing scrabble using such a workaround would be much of a good time, I suppose …

  16. David Marjanović says:

    I would strongly suspect (although I do not know for certain) that there must be ways to deal with the need to write in e.g. Macedonian despite having a typeface to hand that only has the Russian letters

    I really don’t think this ever happened in Yugoslavia. I do wonder if Macedonian was sometimes written in a typeface that only had the (almost identical) Serbian letter set, though.

    It does happen with Mongolian, where Өө is often substituted by the Ukrainian Єє, and Үү by Latin Vv. It also happens with Abkhaz, where people resort to the orthography of the closely related Abaza language on the Russian side of the border – Russian inventory with lots and lots of di- and trigraphs (far surpassing Polish).

    BTW, in German crosswords, ä, ö, ü, ß are always resolved as ae, oe, ue, ss unless specified otherwise (which is very rare). This allows for more potential matches, I suppose.

  17. It’s a common minority-language problem. If you go to shops in Brittany everything is labelled in French. The governments of France and Britain have little interest in supporting minority languages.

    The EU has the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The British have at least ratified it. It doesn’t look like the French have ratified it.

  18. The French Constitution specifies that French is the only recognized language of France, so they can’t sign the minority treaties.

  19. Alexander Mitcheson says:

    In the original newspaper report there was a thoughtful comment expressing the view that Scrabble basically is a less interesting game in a language such as Welsh. For example, in the English version you can add a word with an internal ‘S’ which will also make a plural from an existing word on the board but in Welsh adding a letter to an existing word can often result in mutation which makes a nonsense of the usual Scrabble rules. So to make Scrabble work in other languages the rules of the game might have to be altered to reflect the ways in which other languages work.

    I’ve never played non-English Scrabble so I’d be interested to hear if other games have different rules to accommodate different languages.

  20. Offhand, I would have assumed that a mutated form of a word would be acceptable, just as plurals and past tenses are in English, but I too would like to hear from someone who actually knows.

  21. We had a (German-language) scrabble set at home when I was a Boy in the 70s, but we didn’t play often and I hardly remember anything. The rule book and the writings on the board (x-multiple) were in German, but I don’t even remember whether there were tiles for the umlaut vowels and ß or whether the crossword rules David mentioned applied. But I think the values of the letters corresponded to their frequency in German (e not counting for much, XYQ being very valuable). Whether this was due to checking letter frequencies in German or due to letter frequencies being not too different from English, I don’t know.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    That wikipedia piece I linked to earlier says in its description of the Welsh version: “The digraph PH exists in Welsh, but is omitted because it is used almost exclusively in mutated words, which the rules disallow.” Make of that what you will.

    I wonder if spelling-based competitions are systematically less of a thing in general in languages with more boringly transparent/regular orthography than English has, where kids need to be drilled less in spelling in school, teachers have less incentive to come up with strategies for making spelling-mastery seem fun, there is less cultural capital associated with having successfully mastered spelling (because it’s not that much of an accomplishment for any minimally literate native speaker), etc. Obviously scrabble and crossword puzzles in English involve cultural-capital knowledge of obscure lexemes as well as odd spellings, but still …

  23. per incuriam says:

    The French Constitution specifies that French is the only recognized language of France, so they can’t sign the minority treaties

    The Chirac government (IIRC) attempted to ratify the charter (France signed it decades ago) but the legislation fell foul of the constitutional courts. The constitution can be changed of course, which is what the current government has been trying to do, so far without success.

    Bilingual street signs are quite common in French cities these days. In Brittany and Alsace, as might be expected, but also in places like Nice and Avignon.

  24. mutated words, which the rules disallow.

    Well, there’s my answer. I don’t understand why it’s disallowed, but I’m never going to play Welsh-language Scrabble, so [insert obscene Russian phrase indicating complete indifference here].

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps it follows from well-established principles previously developed (whether they are ideal or not) for Welsh-language crossword puzzles? It does seem that in languages whose morphology is such that they have significantly more distinct inflected forms per lemma than English does, making any and all inflected forms acceptable might change the dynamics of the competition in a way that might be problematic.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if spelling-based competitions are systematically less of a thing in general in languages with more boringly transparent/regular orthography than English has

    Spelling bees are indeed pretty much an English-only phenomenon. There’s no such thing even in German – and the German spelling system differs from the English one in degree, not really in kind.

    Some languages, Polish notably (as I’ve learned here), have superficially similar competitions, but they’re actually dictations that test other things besides the mere spelling of isolated words.

    Crosswords seem to be popular everywhere in Europe; the problem there isn’t so much how to spell a word as how to figure out which word is meant!

  27. “Polish notably” And French.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    Perhaps not anymore: “Ils existèrent de 1985 à 2005.”

  29. Yes, but that’s just one French national competition: the dictée is alive and well in many countries. At least anglophones have a language which you don’t have to parse in order to spell, modulo cases like read.

    That said, I don’t think the deviations from the phonemic principle of German or Polish are merely quantitatively distinct from English’s insanely complicated rules (up there with French) and its long list of utterly random exceptions (French’s list is very short). Or if so, quantity has a quality all its own. This is of course from the perspective of an L1 speaker, who has to match known sounds with spellings.

  30. I believe we have a Russian scrabble set somewhere in our house
    I used to play Russian Scrabble a lot with friends who brought it from the States. We spent long evenings chatting and drinking over the board. But we had stricter rules than in English. For example no proper names, no plurals, no declensions etc., no verbs or adjectives, only common nouns in the nominative. We had long arguments over whether the name of a letter (эф, ха or эс) should be allowed as a word.
    Later I stumbled upon and bought a Russian Scrabble set, dust-covered, in a Tokyo book-shop, for something like 6000 yen.
    BTW, there is a Russian version of Scrabble, a board game called Эрудит (the Erudite).

  31. Wales is a bilingual country but English is the default language in supermarkets, shops and public spaces
    This is a common complaint among the Welsh speakers, but not completely true. I lived in Mid-Wales, sort of on the border between the English-speaking part of Powys and the mostly Welsh-speaking Gwynedd. In Machynlleth down the valley people would be surprised to learn you spoke Welsh at home, but 10 miles up the valley in the primary school in our village there wasn’t a single sign in English and teachers didn’t speak a word of English at school, but yes they all spoke English. Over the pass, in Dolgellau, some parents complained that the local authorities pushed Welsh so much that it harmed the young people’s chances of finding a good job in England, their Saesneg wasn’t good enough!

  32. gwenllian says:

    This is a common complaint among the Welsh speakers, but not completely true. I lived in Mid-Wales, sort of on the border between the English-speaking part of Powys and the mostly Welsh-speaking Gwynedd.

    Well, there are still some places where it isn’t true, and most of them are in Gwynedd. But even in Gwynedd, with its de facto Bill 101 in education, Welsh is losing ground as a community language.

    In Machynlleth down the valley people would be surprised to learn you spoke Welsh at home, but 10 miles up the valley in the primary school in our village there wasn’t a single sign in English and teachers didn’t speak a word of English at school, but yes they all spoke English. Over the pass, in Dolgellau, some parents complained that the local authorities pushed Welsh so much that it harmed the young people’s chances of finding a good job in England, their Saesneg wasn’t good enough!

    That’s a very common worry in these situations, regardless of what things are actually like on the ground. There aren’t any Welsh-speaking teenagers with shaky English, and there haven’t been any in quite a long time.

  33. As I kid, my grandmother had a German Scrabble set and we tried to play Swedish scrabble with it. It was impossible! There were a lot of useless letters like “W” and not enough of the letters you wanted the most.

    I’m used to a Swedish version of Scrabble called “Alfapet”, the differences are mainly as follows: No inflected words, no proper names, you can place your tiles if they make a word either vertically or horizontally (no need for the word to fit in both directions).

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    Are there languages currently “healthier” than Welsh, in terms of total number of L1 speakers and/or trendlines, that have essentially zero monolingual speakers left? Or at least zero monolingual speakers between the ages, of, I don’t know, 5 and 50? I expect that in much of Scandivania plus the Netherlands, it’s hard to find a teenager without some degree of functional English, but many/most of them would still be “shaky” compared to bilingual teenagers in Gwynedd. Maybe some of the regional languages in the former USSR? Or some indigenous languages in Latin America that have plenty of speakers left but few-to-none who aren’t also reasonably functional in Spanish?

    I guess there are parts of the world where bilingualism is the norm, but I’m more focused on the Welsh-like situation where there are no monolingual A speakers left and the bilingual-in-A-and-B community exists at the periphery of a much larger community of monolingual B-speakers. No inherent reason why that can’t be a stable situation for many generations, but I guess also no inherent reason why stability should be assumed.

  35. I wonder how many monolingual Yiddish speakers there are.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    That said, I don’t think the deviations from the phonemic principle of German or Polish are merely quantitatively distinct from English’s insanely complicated rules (up there with French) and its long list of utterly random exceptions (French’s list is very short). Or if so, quantity has a quality all its own.

    Perhaps it does. And Polish is much easier than German in these respects: a few sounds can be spelled in two ways, but that’s pretty much it. What I have in mind when I mention the difficulties in German is first of all the wholly inconsistent ( = mostly etymological) treatment of vowel length: often it’s marked with a silent h; sometimes it’s marked by doubling a vowel letter; long /i/ is usually ie, but not always; occasionally it’s marked by ß (which is reliable since the reform of 1998–2005); often you have to infer it from the absence of marking of vowel shortness (by a double consonant letter), applying the rules that stressed open syllables and many monosyllabic words have long vowels, but of course it’s not the case that vowel length is only marked where these rules wouldn’t apply anyway (that would be what Dutch does*); and there are even a few random exceptions like Mond, where the consonant cluster indicates vowel shortness, which is a lie. On top of this, silent h is happy to occur behind open syllables, even behind ie, ei and au; at least some of these correspond to a dialectal short /x/, but if you don’t happen to know one of those dialects, this phenomenon is mostly random. (Some cases are morphological – sieht from sehen. Some – Ehe, sehen – break up what would otherwise be ee clusters, which is good because we refuse to adopt the Dutch solution . But cases like Vieh make only etymological sense.) And then there are regional phenomena: in Austria, Mega- is pronounced with /ɛ/, apparently because people know that Greek doesn’t follow German vowel-length rules; in Germany, it gets /eː/ as the spelling implies.

    Personally, I never had a problem with any of this, but I already was a voracious reader before I entered kindergarten (which was late, admittedly).

    * Dutch, and Low German, lack the rule that lengthens vowels in monosyllabic words. That’s a sound change that started in Switzerland and never got that far. Conversely, the lengthening of open syllables started somewhere up, uh, down north and hasn’t reached the dialects in Switzerland. Funnily enough, it’s actually dead in northern Germany, because consonant length is lost there…

  37. gwenllian says:

    I guess there are parts of the world where bilingualism is the norm, but I’m more focused on the Welsh-like situation where there are no monolingual A speakers left and the bilingual-in-A-and-B community exists at the periphery of a much larger community of monolingual B-speakers. No inherent reason why that can’t be a stable situation for many generations, but I guess also no inherent reason why stability should be assumed.

    In cases like the Welsh one, with the populations being very similar and not occupying significantly different positions in society, I’d assume stability if enough territory exists where those for whom and between whom A is more natural form a large majority, and assume stability is impossible if it doesn’t. Economic conditions and migration trends in Wales are such that attrition is the only thing that can be expected, even in a place like Gwynedd, which (unlike most of Welsh-speaking Wales) has some pretty concrete measures aimed at stopping it.

  38. “If I go to Germany, and shop in a German supermarket, . . . all the the conversations I have with the checkout person or shopkeepers will be in German.”

    Depends on what you call German. There are many places in Germany, Austria and especially German Switzerland where a regional or local language that is quite distinct from standard German is thriving in the streets and at home.

  39. There aren’t any Welsh-speaking teenagers with shaky English, and there haven’t been any in quite a long time.
    I’ve met some; when you struggle to find a right word in English, or slip a Welsh word into an English phrase, that’s shaky to me.
    I assume you are in Wales, Gwenllian? which part?

  40. Are there languages currently “healthier” than Welsh, in terms of total number of L1 speakers and/or trendlines, that have essentially zero monolingual speakers left?

    Javanese. In the 2010 Indonesian census, 68.2 million people gave their language used at home as Javanese (because of mixed-ethnicity households, that number would be slightly different from the number of people with Javanese as first language; but the census did not ask first language). The vast majority of those 68.2 million would be fully fluent in Indonesian, with fluency levels falling off for the rural elderly.

    The figure of 68.2 million Javanese speakers is certainly an undercount. The census allowed only one option as the home language, and 42.7 million opted for Indonesian – an unknown portion of those would be bilingual ethnic Javanese. The figures of 90 or even 100 million Javanese speakers bandied about on the net must be too high, though.

    Is the total of >70 million speakers an all-time record for a language with essentially zero monolingual speakers? And for a language with essentially no use as an official medium?

  41. Depends on what you call German. There are many places in Germany, Austria and especially German Switzerland where a regional or local language that is quite distinct from standard German is thriving in the streets and at home.
    I don’t know about rural German-Speaking Switzerland and non-touristy areas of Austria (if there are any such areas in Austria), but in my experience, if you speak Standard German in shops or other public settings in Germany, big cities and tourist areas in Austria, and non-rural areas of German-speaking Switzerland, people will communicate with you in Standard German, even if with a regional accent and some regional words and expressions thrown in. You’ll really have to try hard to make people speak with you in dialect when they see that you’re not from the area – dialect is for the in-group. (In Switzerland, there is some kind of cross-regional Swiss German that people speak e.g. on TV and which is used in advertising etc., but I don’t know how much that is used when Swiss German speakers with different dialects meet in everyday settings, or what the attitude is to foreigners trying to use that for communication.)

  42. Javanese is a language of social registers, like Japanese only more so (practically every word in Javanese has at least three forms, often completely unrelated), and Indonesian essentially serves as an extra register suitable for communication with many people (as in a speech) and with non-Javanese-speakers.

    Indonesia and China are the Big Two when it comes to large but unofficial languages, Indonesia because its sole official language is an L1 for only a minority (estimates vary, but 25% at most) in a populous country, and China because it is so honking big. The largest language without official status not spoken in either of the Big Two is apparently Sierra Leone Krio, with only 6 million speakers.

    (Of course, most anglophones live in countries where English is not an official language, but that’s a technicality. English may not be an official language in the U.S. or the UK, but it is very much the language of officialdom.)

  43. I’m pretty sure that Krio figure includes L2 speakers. As far as I know, it’s only natively spoken by a few hundred thousand people living in and around Freetown.

  44. non-touristy areas of Austria (if there are any such areas in Austria)

    Most of Vienna is actually non-touristy. The tourists tend to concentrate in the obvious places.

  45. Sure, but I’m talking about total speakers here, not L1 speakers. The point about L1 speakers of Indonesian is that with the exception of them, the whole of Indonesia is a giant diglossia, with Indonesian in the H role and a person’s L1 language, whatever it is, in the L role (most Indonesians are illiterate in their L1 languages, even when those have a long written tradition, but 92% are literate in Indonesian). In China matters are less extreme, with a massive number of L1 Mandarin speakers, but the total size of China means that it can still fit many large unofficial languages into it.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    Has the PRC education system succeeded to the point where there are virtually no teenagers left regardless of L1 who are not (if their L1 is not Mandarin) as fluent in Mandarin as the typical Gwynedd teenager is in English? Because if so, those regional languages/topolects will predictably be in a Welsh-like situation in the not-too-distant future, but if not, perhaps not.

  47. I don’t think that’s enough: diglossia can be extraordinarily stable. Swiss German is not threatened by Standard German, for example, nor Catalan by Castilian. I think the criterion “languages need cities” is more important at this point as people move from rural to urban situations.

  48. Javanese is a language of social registers, like Japanese only more so (practically every word in Javanese has at least three forms, often completely unrelated), and Indonesian essentially serves as an extra register suitable for communication with many people (as in a speech) and with non-Javanese-speakers.

    That’s a description of the Javanese-Indonesian relationship from a generation and more ago. Many Javanese now only have a passive knowledge of the higher registers (and the complicated intermediate stages) of Javanese, or can actively use the higher registers only in formulaic traditional settings. Indonesian isn’t so much an extra register as a replacement for the higher, more formal registers. Mutatis mutandis, there’s a similar situation in the parts of Indonesia where the local languages have very weak or no registers of rank.

    This evolution is so rapid that it seems (evidence all anecdotal, I suspect) that many speakers of local languages are now gaining diglossia within their Indonesian: both formal Indonesian and some version of colloquial Jakartan. Predictably urban youth and twenty-somethings are the vanguard.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    Scrabble is a common household boardgame* in Norway. The letter points have always struck me as somewhat off, as if the rules were only half-adjusted from English.

    *) One of the first things my wife and I did as a couple was winning a game of Scrabble against friends by insisting to the point of not being challenged that ‘hostell’ is a Norwegian word.

  50. Well, don’t keep us in suspense: is it?

  51. gwenllian says:

    I’ve met some; when you struggle to find a right word in English, or slip a Welsh word into an English phrase, that’s shaky to me.

    There are definitely Welsh-dominant teenagers, I just wouldn’t call their English shaky. It’s certainly strong enough that it shouldn’t in any way negatively impact their employment prospects.

    I assume you are in Wales, Gwenllian? which part?

    Not in Wales, I just like the language and have an interest in sociolinguistics.

    Because if so, those regional languages/topolects will predictably be in a Welsh-like situation in the not-too-distant future, but if not, perhaps not.

    Well, Welsh is currently retreating the way it is largely due to Welsh-speaking regions’ economic situation, not just its speakers’ perfect ( or close to perfect) bilingualism. I don’t really know enough about regional economic and social circumstances in China to predict the fate of its languages.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    It’s not, as our friends found out by checking the dictionary the second the game was over. And to this day they keep reminding us that our relationship is built on a lie.

    Even if it wasn’t in the standard dictionaries then, more than twenty years ago, it could have made it by now, so I checked the authoritative source, and it’s not there yet.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    In China matters are less extreme, with a massive number of L1 Mandarin speakers

    Mandarin itself is very diverse; many dialects are quite far from the standard, reportedly not even mutually intelligible. But then, no matter how finely subdivide it, the number remains massive…!

    Diglossia in Austria: outside of Vienna, everyone who grew up there natively speaks a dialect and is also fluent in Standard German (minus perhaps some rarer past-tense or subjunctive forms) because that’s the language of TV, radio and (for practical purposes and well beyond them) all writing. The concept of learning a dialect as a foreign language is pretty much considered unthinkable (native speakers of Slovene or Burgenland-Croatian are often also native speakers of a German dialect); Standard German is spoken with strangers who don’t speak a… well, a Bavarian dialect in the Bavarian-speaking part of Austria. Alemannic is less homogeneous, so when the Swiss visit Vorarlberg, what happens might depend on where exactly in Switzerland they’re from and where exactly in the very diverse Vorarlberg they find themselves.

    In Vienna (and its immediate surroundings – somewhat comparable to suburbs that once were villages), people my age or younger don’t speak a dialect: there’s an upperclass, which their parents or grandparents tried to imitate by speaking Standard German to their children. The result has the phonology of Viennese dialect(s), the grammar, and some of the vocabulary; I propose borrowing* the term mesolect from creole linguistics. Native speakers have passive fluency in Bavarian dialects, which is important because you can’t communicate with the bureaucracy if you don’t understand Viennese dialect, and easy because most of the differences are regular sound correspondences. The Viennese think of it as the colloquial register of Standard German; visiting Germans, on the other hand, tend to believe this is the Viennese dialect. – It shows no sign of spreading farther than the Viennese population does.

    Standard German is itself pluricentric**, so Austrian Standard German e.g. shares several phonological features with Bavarian dialects. The greatest number of shared features is with Not-Too-Far-East Central Bavarian dialects like mine. Native speakers of other varieties, including Viennese mesolect, will try to adopt these features when speaking Standard German (to varying extents): Viennese try to import the fortis/lenis distinction and (increasingly less) restore the diphthongs; Carinthians try to devoice their lenis plosives; Tyroleans try to deaffricate their /k/. Hardly anyone tries to import features from outside Austria that aren’t made explicit by the spelling, like [z] or the loss of consonant length (Carinthians excepted, they lack it natively) or final fortition (Carinthians excepted again, I think).

    * Schnorren, rather: borrowing without any intention of ever giving back.
    ** After a century of radio, it would be an exaggeration to claim that every pronunciation of Standard German is a spelling-pronunciation, as was once the case. Even so, the spelling is still primary, and the distinctive features of the regional phonologies of Standard German correlate well to the phonologies of the dialects of the same region (extant or extinct); to a lesser degree, so does the vocabulary that is regionally accepted as standard. Even which grammatical features are considered stilted varies regionally.

  54. Thank goodness somebody finally mentioned Catalan.
    Catalan Scrabble drives me crazy. Yes, like some mentioned here it disallows any form of verb but the infinitive. As Y can only occur after N, it ignores all the QU excitement of English Scrabble and puts them both on the same tile.
    No fun at all.
    I prefer Anthony Burgess’s definition of a word: if it occurs between two spaces on my typewriter, it’s a word.
    There is, of course, not enough space ever to go into even the small amount I know about the possible Spanish “threat” to Catalan.
    I often wonder whether I am the only person over the age of about nine who can speak Catalan and really can’t speak Castilian.

  55. Of the various languages in which Scrabble is available, I wonder which are most prone to constructing very long words. I would guess a very synthetic language without root changes, like Finnish, would be one. Not sure about Basque or Malagasy. There are no Greenlandic or Huichol versions, as far as I know.

  56. I have met many native speakers of Alemannic dialects who struggle to speak standard German, even if they understand it. I suspect there are many Swiss Germans who find it easier to speak English, especially in professional settings.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    In Switzerland, sure. Perhaps not in Vorarlberg, though I don’t actually know.

  58. Chris McG says:

    I taught English in Carinthia for some time in the early 2000s, with a reasonable knowledge of “Standard” German beforehand (about C1 level, I communicated easily with people when I’d been on trips to Germany). I had no problems understanding people or being understood in the bigger cities like Villach or Klagenfurt, and in more touristy areas like St Veit there were no problems either, in those places everyone adopted an Austrian accented Standard German which was perfectly intelligible to me when they realised I was foreign. But in smaller places like Feldkirchen I met plenty of people who could not express themselves in anything approaching Standard German and it was trouble trying to communicate – they weren’t being impolite, I could tell they were trying, they would frequently apologise for the difficulties, and gradually I got my ear around the dialect to the extent that it was much less of a hassle. A smaller but not insignificant number seemed not to understand me when I spoke Standard German to them.

    It seemed to be mostly older people with this problem, but then those under about 40 always preferred to speak English with me so it was harder to tell. The teachers at the schools I worked at did at times tell me that the kids spoken better English than Hochdeutsch (one was a Gymnasium, one was a HAK, the comments were regarding the 18/19 year olds who were doing their Matura that year).

    Obviously a lot could have changed in ten years, but I find the claim that every Austrian is bilingual in dialect and Standard German to be out of line with my own experience. Also saying Standard German is “the language of TV, radio and (for practical purposes and well beyond them) all writing” isn’t fully accurate. TV, sure, but when I was there a lot of people (age 40+) either didn’t have or didn’t watch their TVs, much preferring radio. And if you only listen to local radio, a lot of that is in dialect. As for writing, when I lived there my 50 year old neighbour would leave me notes and such which were written entirely in dialect (zB “i waas net op Ardbern gkaft host, wen net don hob i wos fia di”), and of the former students I’m still in contact with on Facebook, many of them post exclusively in dialect.

  59. Fascinating! It’s always good to hear reports from the front line by people with personal experience of the details. Generalizations are usually too sweeping.

  60. Also saying Standard German is “the language of TV, radio and (for practical purposes and well beyond them) all writing” isn’t fully accurate.

    And moreover, thanks to Netflix and torrents, and the generally mediocre quality of German language television, younger Austrians seem to be increasingly watching movies and TV shows in English.

  61. And moreover, thanks to Netflix and torrents, and the generally mediocre quality of German language television, younger Austrians seem to be increasingly watching movies and TV shows in English.
    As far as I can see, that’s also true for young Germans.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    That’s interesting about Carinthia. Maybe my family is just unusually well educated; we certainly read more than most people.

    As for writing, when I lived there my 50 year old neighbour would leave me notes and such which were written entirely in dialect (zB “i waas net op Ardbern gkaft host, wen net don hob i wos fia di”), and of the former students I’m still in contact with on Facebook, many of them post exclusively in dialect.

    *lightbulb moment* This would happen a lot outside of Carinthia if the sound systems were more easily representable by Standard German spelling conventions. Thanks to a whole bunch of mergers, the Carinthians happen to have it easy there, so I’m less surprised than I could be. 🙂

    And moreover, thanks to Netflix and torrents, and the generally mediocre quality of German language television, younger Austrians seem to be increasingly watching movies and TV shows in English.

    Absolutely. As knowledge is spreading about how dubious the translation in the dubbed versions often is, young people slowly but surely go for the original.

  63. Chris McG says:

    In general what I’ve noticed is, much in the same way that non-Austrians seems to assume all of Austria is Vienna, sometimes urban Austrians are a little detached from how really mega rural some of the country still is, or at least how insular some of the rural areas are. For example, when I was teaching I had to do a lesson on advertising and globalisation – I was in contact with some other English teachers in a few cities and we would share lesson plans, and I was recommended a lesson where the kids would have to bring in examples of their favourite adverts from magazines, and we’d discuss the global impact of Nike/McDonalds/T-Mobile/Hofer or whatever else they brought in. This lesson completely failed (or at least went in a very different direction) when all my pupils brought in adverts for things like tractors and other farm equipment rather than fashionable trainers or electronics. And when I told the city teachers this they barely believed me, it was so different from their own experience.

    You may well be correct about Carinthian being easier to write than other Austrian dialects, I never got familiar enough with the others to judge (I can tell Carinthians from non-Carinthians, but that’s about it). But these days I find it hard to believe that the other states don’t have memes floating around like this, this or this in their dialects too…

  64. David Marjanović says:

    non-Austrians seems to assume all of Austria is Vienna

    Up to a point, so do the Viennese. Beyond that point, they assume everything outside Vienna is “countryside”…

    This lesson completely failed (or at least went in a very different direction) when all my pupils brought in adverts for things like tractors and other farm equipment rather than fashionable trainers or electronics. And when I told the city teachers this they barely believed me, it was so different from their own experience.

    I can see that.

    memes floating around like this, this or this

    Personally I haven’t seen any in writing, but I’m too isolated to tell. However, the spelling is a lot more inconsistent than my explanation from the Carinthian sound system would predict: there’s eye dialect sprinkled in, and at the same time there are Standard forms that are pronounced quite differently in the dialects inside and outside of Carinthia.

    I should perhaps add that there are a few people who always write Viennese mesolect on the Internet. But that’s trivial to do.

  65. I should perhaps add that there are a few people who always write Viennese mesolect on the Internet. But that’s trivial to do.

    Judging from Facebook a fairly high proportion of young Austrians I know from various regions (Oberösterreich, Niederösterreich) often comment in what seems to me to be a generic “Austrian dialect” (“weil i hab ma gedacht”, “hab gestern wirkli a Foab griagt in da Sunn”,”des würd mi voi zahn!” “eh kloa”, just to pick some random recent examples), or is that what you mean by Viennese mesolect?

  66. David Marjanović says:

    No, that’s not Viennese mesolect. That’s indeed dialect, with a few Standard spellings thrown in like kanji: weil lacks /l/ in most of this area; gedacht lacks ge- except in Carinthia; würde never has a front rounded vowel – instead it lacks umlaut at least in my dialect: [ṽʊɐ̯t] (with a [t] that is a bit hard to explain).

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