THE COOLEST LANGUAGES.

bradshaw of the future has a post called “The ten coolest languages”; obviously any such top-ten list is to some extent subjective and arbitrary, and this one tails off at the end (“Sanskrit has a cool compounding system,” “Telugu: Because it has such a beautiful script”), but the ones chosen for their phonetics are truly astonishing. Number one is Austronesian languages of Vanuatu: “The languages of Vanuatu, like Vao, Tangoa, and V’enen Taut (Big Nambas), are I think the only languages in the world to use linguo-labial consonants. These consonants are made by touching the tip of the tongue to the upper lip.” Number two is Salishan languages:

Here are some words in Klallam. (ƛ̕ is a lateral ejective /tɬʼ/, c is /ts/)
sƛ̕íƛ̕aʔƛ̕qɬ “child”
ɬq̕čšɬnát “Friday”
sk̕ʷc̕ŋíyɬč “cherry tree”
The orthography is an accurate representation of the pronunciation. There are no epenthetic vowels; the word for “Friday” really does begin with 6 consonants.

Mazatec “contrasts creaky and breathy voice vowels”; ǃXóõ “has five basic click consonants, each of which can be modified in various ways, for a total of over 80 click sounds.” And there are audio files for many of these amazing phenomena!

Comments

  1. He seems to be using ‘cool’ as a synonym for ‘way out’, ‘outlandish’, or ‘totally different from anything you’re familiar with’. Nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s wonderful, but ‘coolness’ is very much in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Bill Walderman says:

    Speaking about cool languages, I hope you didn’t miss this on Language Log:
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4600#more-4600

  3. Sharat B. says:

    I’d say your criticism of it is as subjective as the list-making, although you are more clearly biased against the Indian languages :P
    Having read the post (and Telugu being my mother tongue), I think his examples for Telugu are considerably more exciting than the excerpts you chose. Then again, to each his own.

  4. Oh, I dunno, I’ve always thought English was pretty cool…

  5. Isidora says:

    I was struck by the examples of usage of the passive voice in Hndi. There were only three examples, but it seemed a very reasonable and natural use for the passive – something that would probably be relatively easy to learn to use comfortably, especially with sufficient exposure to native speakers.
    Of course, I had to learn, surrounded by native speakers, to use Danish modals – or whatever Danes call the verbs like ‘at kunne’, ‘at skulle’, osv., and the nuances got to feel pretty natural to me. So maybe I’m a strange case. On the other hand, it took me many months to figure out how to say ‘I wonder’ in Danish, and I still have absolutely no comprehension whatsoever of the grammar of that construction, so I don’t feel very comfortable wondering in Danish and consequently tend to avoid it. The other word that sticks out to me as one that I failed to learn to fully understand or be able to use is ‘jo.’

  6. Isidora says:

    Personally, I put in a vote for Danish (perhaps not in a top ten, but definitely as worthy of note.) But everyone here knows how biased I am toward my second language :)
    In all seriousness, though, I think a case can be made for the “coolness” of Danish when you have a modern Germanic language (which is not a family that most people are going to put in the exotic category) where the phonetics and phonology of the language have conspired to create a situation where pure IPA transcription is pretty well impractical to use. Someone commented here earlier this year that he had seen it done and “it wasn’t pretty.” I very much believe him.
    Danish also has contrastive creaky voice, and some really amazing allophones of /d/ and of other consonants. (Those are fun to pronounce. No sarcasm. I love Danish allophones. I swear that postvocalic, word-final /d/ and /t/ sound like they have lateral qualities to them, but I learned to speak this by imitation before I had been taught the linguistic vocabulary to describe any of it. Maybe someone here knows if they are actually lateralized in that environment or if I was just hearing it wrong.) Danish also has that really lovely back /r/.
    Also I have always found the grammar and semantics of the verbs ‘at ville’, ‘at skulle’, ‘at kunde’, and ‘at måtte’ (will, shall, can, and may) to be quite interesting.
    I haven’t even listed all the cool features, but I don’t need to bore you, and I do need to get some sleep.

  7. dearieme says:

    Och, away to Elsinore wi’ ye.

  8. @Isidora – you mean ‘jeg gad vidst’ for ‘I wonder’? As a native speaker, it’s always been opaque to me (

  9. I got the impression she wasn’t just concerned with the internal grammar of jeg gad vidst, but also how it’s used in sentences. I mean, the expression itself looks awfully easy to pick up. But then, I don’t know a word of Danish so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.

  10. I’d say your criticism of it is as subjective as the list-making, although you are more clearly biased against the Indian languages
    I know you’re kidding about the latter (as for the former, we all agree these things are totally subjective!), but just to be clear, I think Indian languages are great—I studied Sanskrit for a couple of years in grad school and enjoyed the language (if not the teacher). No, it’s just that I find script a pretty superficial criterion, and one that really has nothing to do with language as such. If Telugu is a cool language, it would be just as cool if written in Latin or Cyrillic characters, or none at all.

  11. Isidora says:

    And if a script makes a language cool, then Church Slavonic rates high on the coolness scale. Most modern Slavic laypeople, so far as I know, use prayer books written in (modern) Church Slavonic as the language and using either modern or old orthography Cyrillic as the script. However, all of the service books my husband has seen and some of the prayer books are written in Church Slavonic script, which is very beautiful.
    Church Slavonic has the additional coolness factor of “titlo words.” The titlo looks kind of like what would happen if you tried to write a tilde using a reed pen. I think some elements of the titlo system were inherited from the Greeks and the Slavs probably expanded it. The original idea was to take 80+ of the most common words in liturgical texts and abbreviate them in order to save parchment/vellum while preserving readability. But these titlo words later became honorifics in the written language only. Unlike many of the other abbreviations, you don’t save much space by leaving out the o in bog (god) and replacing it by a titlo over the top of the remaining two letters, but it is always done due to the honorific function of the titlo. Titlo words are titloed in such a way that inflectional and derivational endings can be simply added to the end of them.
    Another nice feature of Slavonic liturgical books is that, at the bottom of each page, or at minimum the right hand page of each set, is that the first word of the text on the following page is written, right-justified, on an otherwise empty line directly beneath the last line of the text of the current page. This is to facilitate oral public reading of the prayers with minimal risk of unfortunate things happening when it is time to turn the page.

  12. the first word of the text on the following page is written, right-justified, on an otherwise empty line directly beneath the last line of the text of the current page
    That was common in printed books in English up to around the end of the 18th century: whether for the same reason or not, I don’t know.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    I have wondered about that too. Perhaps this was to make sure the pages were assembled in the right order, since they were not numbered? And also that none were missing?

  14. Cool or uncool, the Salishan langauiges are striaght up fun. Kalispel doesn’t allow loanwords, even though everyone knows English, or maybe because of that. Anyway, the word of automobile translates to “It has wrinkled feet”. I imagine a lot of thier other coinages are as humorous.
    And as tooth-shatteringly dense with consonants as the languages appear at first, it turns out you can strew epenthetic vowels around as much as you need.
    But the grammars are the real fun. In Lushootseed at least, all roots are inherently stative and intransitive, so if you want them to do anything else, you have to modify them overtly. You don’t often get that kind of clear labeling. (The nominal roots are obviously stative just by the nature of what a noun is. I suppose intransitivity is also the semantic default setting for nouns.)
    Coolness again – no language beats Classical Chinese for grandeur and concision.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve always thought it was a way to make loud reading smoother, since the first word of the next page could be pronounced while the page was turned.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    The purpose of printing the first word of the next page alone at the bottom, I mean. Well, the purpose of Classical Chinese may be the same, for all I know, but if so, it was pure luck on my part,

  17. Etienne says:

    Jim: Actually, I believe Kalispel has a few French loanwords, which it acquired through contact with French Canadian fur traders.
    Okay, my own (one hundred per cent subjective!) list of the top ten coolest languages:
    1-Portuguese. A truly wonderful mix of the archaic and the innovative among Western Romance languages. Add to that its role as the first true world language (by the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century it was spoken along the coasts of Brazil, West Africa, India and Japan) and you have a language whose external and internal histories are equally extraordinary.
    2-Georgian. Wonderfully exotic grammar, even more exotic phonotactics, its own script (and a lovely script it is, too!), and as if that was not enough, you’ve a written tradition going back fifteen centuries, something unique for a non-semitic, non-Indo-European living language West of the Indian subcontinent.
    3-Mitchif. For obvious reasons: no self-respecting list of “cool” languages can omit as utterly extraordinary a language as Mitchif. Current consensus places its birth in the Red River area (Manitoba) in the 1820′s. I wish I knew why this particular Euro-American Indian contact setting, of which there were so many, yielded something so fascinating linguistically.
    4-Any Hmong-Mien language. Within the East Asian SPRACHBUND Hmong-Mien languages have the most elaborate tone system and the largest number of classifiers: almost like a pure distillation of the essence of East Asian languages, with Chinese or Thai just being diluted versions thereof. And as if this was not justification enough, there even exists the Palaung script, to give these languages an extra bit of esthetic appeal!
    5-Basque. Not only is its grammar as exotic to Western Europe you can imagine, but with its many Latin loanwords with their Classical-like phonology (BAKE “peace” is closer to the way Julius Cesar pronounced that word than anything found in any major Romance language today) it stands like a witness to the days of the Roman Empire, even spreading some of these words to the New World (Micmac has /elege/ “king” from Basque ERREGE, iself from Latin REGEM).
    6-Sanskrit. What in other Ancient Indo-European languages is residual is fully alive in Sanskrit: you can understand why some early scholars believed Sanskrit to be basically the ancestral language of Greek or Latin. Indic script is estheticallt pleasing, obviously, and the phonology is exotic of its own right (retroflection and aspiration of voiced and voiceless consonants alike). Finally, not only did the European discovery of Sanskrit lead to comparative and historical linguistics: Sanskrit is also the first language which was described scientifically by Panini, and an extraordinary piece of work it is too.
    7-Komi. It once had its own script (Old Permian) and was indeed the first Arctic language to be written down; combine this with its membership to an inherently “far out” language family, Uralic (some of which may hold the record for number of case endings) and you simply cannot exclude it from any list.
    8-Korean: a language with a deliciously exotic phonology, its own feature-based writing system (plus Chinese characters, we wouldn’t want to get bored!), and one of the most elaborate systems of honorifics on the planet. It’s almost as though someone decided to combine the most blatantly un-european features of several languages (honorifics, glottalized and aspirated stops, rigid SOV syntax) plus a special writing system in one language.
    9-Amharic. I mean, really, what isn’t there to love? Its own (gorgeous) writing system, check: inherited Semitic features combined with Cushitic ones, check (A Semitic language with glottalized stops? Yummy!) and the national language of the only African country which was neither colonized nor founded by Europeans. Check.
    10-Classical Tupi. Exotic grammar, simple yet exotic phonology (nasal harmony, anyone?), and for a time a lingua franca over a greater area than Europe.
    Comments?

  18. Bill W says:

    “A Semitic language with glottalized stops?”
    Are the glottalized stops at least partially inherited from proto-Semitic? Isn’t that how the Hebrew letters teth, qoph, maybe samech, were likely articulated, in contrast to taw, aph, sin?

  19. Etienne,
    “Jim: Actually, I believe Kalispel has a few French loanwords, which it acquired through contact with French Canadian fur traders. ”
    No surprise, Even Icelandic has some loanwards.
    That might help date when this preference for native coinages over laons took hold. it may be that people brought in loanwords while the langauge was vigorous but changed their attitude when they started to feel the language was threatened. It’s a small community and maybe it took only a few influential perosnalities to come to this decision that others fell in wiht.

  20. Etienne,
    “Jim: Actually, I believe Kalispel has a few French loanwords, which it acquired through contact with French Canadian fur traders. ”
    No surprise, Even Icelandic has some loanwards.
    That might help date when this preference for native coinages over laons took hold. it may be that people brought in loanwords while the langauge was vigorous but changed their attitude when they started to feel the language was threatened. It’s a small community and maybe it took only a few influential perosnalities to come to this decision that others fell in wiht.

  21. Jeffry House says:

    It is well-established that NeoNorwegian, Nynorsk, is the coolest language.
    The L sound in the common phrase “A half cow floated out in the river” far surpasses any Danish oddities. (Ein halv kalv flaut uti aelva.)
    Since we have no audio, some here will not be convinced, but Norwegian speakers can attest that what I say is true.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    The retroflex l, you mean? I have that: &ltEn hal kaLv fLøyt uti æLva&gt (my ‘halv’ is the danified &lthal&gt, and I have the recently remodeled strong preterite with &lt-øy-&gt), Since retroflexion is an Eastern feature, shared with most of Swedish, it’s really far more common among Bokmål than Nynorsk users.
    But I do agree with you that Nynorsk is cool. For being there, just in spite, in a large specter of varieties after 150 years of uneasy interaction with Bokmål, in equally varied forms. So maybe it’s Norwegian as a whole that’s cool, for its unique variation.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Very nice list, Etienne!
    Kalispel has a few French loanwords, which it acquired through contact with French Canadian fur traders.
    Not just with fur traders: also with French-speaking Catholic missionaries (French, Belgian, French Canadian). In languages with very few French loanwords, those often include religious terms, or terms used in a religious context, which were not easy to replace with descriptives such as “wrinkled feet”. Also, many French words were not always borrowed directly from French speakers, but through other people familiar with the Chinook Jargon, which arose around the Lower Columbia as a simplification of the Chinook language with additions from other local languages, but spread throughout the area along with the European trade. French words were added through borrowings by Interior tribes (because of the earlier fur trade and the missionaries), English words through the trading ships along the Pacific Coast.
    Mitchif: I wish I knew why this particular Euro-American Indian contact setting, of which there were so many, yielded something so fascinating linguistically
    Yes, French nouns and adjectives, Cree verbs. I think this even distribution derives from the peaceful circumstances of the origin of the Métis people, who learned nouns from their French-speaking fathers (in the context of the region and the period, things of European origin such as tools and clothes were adopted with their French names) and verbs from their Cree mothers (who continued to speak their own language, no doubt adding some French nouns) and their maternal relatives. Nouns are usually easy to add to one’s vocabulary, while adapting verbs between French and Cree (either way) would have been much more difficult since both languages had elaborate verbal morphology (French verb forms are not only varied in themselves, but as spoken they often seem to include pronouns and other elements such as negatives within what seem to be long words).

  24. Etienne: I enjoyed your list a lot!
    zytho: You’re being paged in this thread for a beer etymology.

  25. Treesong says:

    I would like to applaud the coolness of the nom de blog. For decades ‘Bradshaw of the Future’ has been my favorite of the solvers’ pseudonyms in Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale.

  26. m-l: I think you can put it more strongly. Michif is a maximally deviant variety of Plains Cree in which the sentence-level morphosyntax is that of Cree, but any noun phrases present have been replaced by their French equivalents. Because Cree is very polysynthetic and object-incorporating (as opposed to Spoken French which is somewhat less polysynthetic and does not incorporate objects), a sentence with neither incorporated nouns nor non-incorporated remains pure Cree, whereas there are no pure French sentences in Michif.
    I suspect that Michif began as a language game among the first generation (“Hey, let’s use French nouns exclusively in our mother tongue!”) that became as popular as Boontling did in the Anderson Valley of California around 1880. The grammar of Boontling is Standard English with a handful of deviations (for plus present participle instead of to plus infinitive, e.g.), but with many Standard words replaced by the imaginative constructions characteristic of the jargon. Here’s a tale that differs from authentic Boont primarily by being over-explicit by local standards; 19th-century Boonville was obviously a rather high-context culture by modern American standards.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    I’ll admit that I don’t think the variability of written Norwegian is enough to put it on par with any of the above, though.
    Jeffry House: I forgot to add this last night. Here‘s a collection of dialect samples from the University of Trondheim. The retroflex area is roughly regions 05 through 11 and 21 through 23. The remaining Nynorsk area is roughly regions 12 through 18 (except urban areas) and the more mountainous parts of 19 through 21.

  28. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, for a retroflex sample from the traditional Nynorsk region, try this one from Lesja. Listeners might also note the palatalisation of dentals and apocope characteristic of the middle regions, even more prominent in Verdal north of Trondheim.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I like your idea of Mitchif starting as a language game. But perhaps it is more likely to have been a semi-secret language, a way for the children of mixed marriages (who might have been in an awkward social situation originally) to assert and develop a shared identity.

  30. Bill Walderman says:

    This seems to answer my question about the Amharic glottalized consonants:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emphatic_consonant

  31. Etienne says:

    Bill W: yes, you are right, it is possible that the glottalized stops of Amharic are a conservative and not an innovative feature.
    Jim: I suspect you are right, in a small language community changes in attitude relating to borrowing could spread very quickly, and indeed a sense of being overwhelmed by outside linguistic influence may well have been the trigger for purism.
    Marie-Lucie, Hat: Glad you liked my list. Some runner-up languages: Old Irish (freakishly irregular and exotic grammar, Irish script is one of the more original forms taken by the Latin alphabet, and Old Irish literature includes an ancient and original tradition of grammatical description), Cherokee (polysynthetic tone languages are impressive enough: take one and have its native speakers invent their own script and you’ve something that is cool to the tenth power) and Saramaccan (an English-based creole which has acquired co-articulated stops and phonemic tone and tonal sandhi rules through contact with African languages and nearly half its vocabulary from Portuguese, spoken by one of the first groups of African slaves in the New World who obtained freedom for themselves. If language contact does not move you, perhaps the history of its speakers will).
    Marie-Lucie: yes, fur traders weren’t the source of ALL French loanwords in the Pacific Northwest, but inasmuch as their trade activities greatly contributed to the spread of Chinook Jargon, whose own French element is certainly French-Canadian, I think it is fair to assume that a French loanword in the Pacific Northwest can be assumed to be French-Canadian by default, so to speak. The most widespread French loanword in the Pacific Northwest, (LE) PRÊTRE, certainly entered these languages from Chinook Jargon, which in turn certainly acquired it from Canadian French.
    Incidentally, my own research makes it clear that the oldest layer of English loanwords in Pacific Northwestern languages must also have been (mostly) transmitted via Chinook Jargon.
    Marie-Lucie, John Cowan: I’m not sure Mitchif was as deliberate or conscious a creation as you both seem to believe. It is noticeable that the most Mitchif-like language in existence today is a dialect of the Innu (AKA Montagnais) language (a close relative of Plains Cree), spoken by the younger generation of Innus in Betsiamites (Quebec), which like Mitchif uses mostly French noun phrases with Innu syntax and verbs.
    Tellingly, this variety of Innu seems to have arisen quite UNconsciously as a result of heavy code-switiching and borrowing. The scholar who first investigated this language (Lynn Drapeau) reports that the older generation of speakers were floored to realize that their children did not know the Innu nouns for such basic notions as “river” or “beaver”. Note that this is not a symptom of language obsolescence, as these children know Innu verbs and conjugate them just as correctly as their parents and grandparents. They simply use French noun phrases with these Innu verbs, and unlike their parents who alternated between French and Innu noun phrase, they simply do not know the corresponding Innu noun phrases.
    Drapeau speculated that part of the reason why this mixed Franco-Innu language arose was because of linguistic folk belief (i.e. that language consists of words only): apparently parents raising their children often spoke to them in such gallicized Innu, since they thought that their children would find Innu with a lot of French words easier to understand. Because the parents thought that Innu nouns, as opposed to verb morphology, would be a problem, they replaced the former by French nouns and left the latter unscathed…and this gallicized Innu is what their children acquired.

  32. Trond Engen says:

    I like the mitchifous idea too, and I don’t think one thing necessarily excludes the other. Such a language game is a semi-secret language once it’s being used for actual communication, so John accounts for the start and marie-lucie for the initial phase.
    Of course, a semi-secret language wouldn’t need to be invented by playing children. It could also arise as a sub-cultural jargon among adults, maybe especially if there was some sort of obstacle against learning French among the majority of Cree speakers. That might make it similar to some Para-Romani varieties.

  33. Trond Engen says:

    Refresh before posting! Etienne: That makes sense too. Is there a way to tweak out different origin stories from relexified languages?

  34. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know if anybody actually listens, but I’ll say that I gave you Trøndersk as a competitor to Danish for weirdest form of Germanic.
    As a contrast I wanted to add a link to a clip from Hat’s ancestral Sauda or somewhere thereabouts, but no such sample is given. I think the closest we’ll get is this one from Jæren, although that’s south of the lenition line.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: I think it is fair to assume that a French loanword in the Pacific Northwest can be assumed to be French-Canadian by default, so to speak
    Oh, I agree! Note that I did not say “Standard French”. I had a hand in reviewing all the French or potentially French loanwords in a recent CJ dictionary, and only a small handful appeared to be more or less Standard French, perhaps from European missionaries, the rest were most probably French Canadian. I had not always heard the words as recorded but they reminded me very much of rural Western French dialectal pronunciations, which often coincide with rural French Canadian ones.
    Mitchif-like Innu: Because the parents thought that Innu nouns, as opposed to verb morphology, would be a problem, they replaced the former by French nouns
    I am not sure that this was a conscious motivation. In general, when untrained people are asked to think of “a word” they think of a noun, not a verb, especially of concrete nouns which refer to things that can be seen, used, eaten, etc, or at least perceived. People are much less conscious of the importance of verbs. I once attended a workshop for elementary teachers in which an experienced teacher demonstrated her self-designed method for increasing children’s vocabularies: she used complex pictures such as landscapes and household scenes and asked the children to identify all the things they could see, afterwards adding words for things the children did not know how to identify. If there were verbs, they were used in questions, not in expected answers: for instance, “What is the girl holding?” not “What is the girl doing?”. No doubt the parents, who had learned French in school, remembered a similar emphasis on nouns.
    Nouns also have the advantage of being much easier to teach than verbs: they can usually be said in isolation or near-isolation, and their referents can be pointed to, touched or even held, while verbs are usually found within sentences, accompanied by other words and frequently under different forms. They are therefore more difficult for a learner or teacher to isolate in the speech-chain and to recognize in different speech-chains. A very common, simple verb may be in the background, so to speak, compared to a noun in the same sentence: for instance in Give me the …, “givemethe” is not analyzed consciously but understood globally as part of a common social situation, while knowing the noun which names the object requested is crucial to the accurate execution of the request.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I swear that postvocalic, word-final /d/ and /t/ sound like they have lateral qualities to them, but I learned to speak this by imitation before I had been taught the linguistic vocabulary to describe any of it. Maybe someone here knows if they are actually lateralized in that environment or if I was just hearing it wrong.

    No, you’re right, at least /d/ is lateralized. (Said in the tone of Dr. Evil stating that he is in fact trying to have his son killed and it’s not working.) Took me a while to hear the difference between /l/ and /d/.

    5-Basque. Not only is its grammar as exotic to Western Europe you can imagine,

    “As”? Only “as”? I actually laughed when I read that. :-D
    Wikipedia has a long article on Basque grammar. Lasciate qui ogni speranza, voi che intrate.

    but with its many Latin loanwords with their Classical-like phonology

    Albanian has much the same; off the top of my head, qiqer [ˈkʲikʲɛɹ] from cicer. There’s a list on Wikipedia, unfortunately in the very long “Albanian language” article.

    Sanskrit is also the first language which was described scientifically by Panini, and an extraordinary piece of work it is too.

    It’s as concise as Classical Chinese: a a.

    maybe samech

    No, tsade. Samech may have been aspirated at some point.

    I don’t know if anybody actually listens,

    I’ll try tomorrow.

    but I’ll say that I gave you Trøndersk as a competitor to Danish for weirdest form of Germanic.

    There are North Frisian dialects with enormous vowel systems and others with enormous consonant systems (for measures of anything this side of the Caucasus).
    Nothing that counts as German has a large consonant system, but you get such features as phonemic /pf/ in the south (there are maybe 5 languages in the world that have such a phonemic bilabial-to-labiodental affricate, and just a few more with a purely labiodental one), a phonemic length contrast for word-initial consonants in the southwest, obligatory articles with uncountable nouns (“a water”, “a sand”, “a money”) and proper names (but never place names below country size) in southeastern dialects, the whole adjective/adverb confusion (while maintaining both adjective declensions) everywhere except the extreme southwest, lack of grammatical (as opposed to traces of fully lexical) aspect except in the center-west, large vowel systems in western dialects, pretty large ones with a contrast between /œ/ and /ɶ/ in the extreme southeast (like Vienna), L umlaut in Central Bavarian…

    while verbs are usually found within sentences, accompanied by other words and frequently under different forms. They are therefore more difficult for a learner or teacher to isolate in the speech-chain and to recognize in different speech-chains.

    All this holds even more so for a language as polysynthetic as Cree, where the stem of a verb simply doesn’t occur in isolation, while the stem of a noun… actually, I don’t know if they occur without possessive prefixes, but at least there’s just that one prefix and not a whole chain.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, German weirdness: in Switzerland, the stressed syllable by default gets a lower pitch than the rest of the word, then the next syllable gets a much higher one, and the pitch of the following one can be falling.
    That’s probably more common than people think, but I only know that it’s claimed to exist in one other language.

  38. for instance in Give me the …, “givemethe” is not analyzed consciously but understood globally as part of a common social situation.
    Hence the poem by Shel Silverstein beginning “There once was a boy named Gimmesome Roy” (roy means ‘drug of some sort’, but even Urban Dictionary doesn’t say what). Ironically, one of the strongest supporters of harsh anti-drug laws in the U.S. Senate rejoices in the name of Roy Blunt!

  39. marie-lucie says:

    David: Cree, where the stem of a verb simply doesn’t occur in isolation, while the stem of a noun… actually, I don’t know if they occur without possessive prefixes
    I don’t know much about Cree, but in languages which have obligatory possessive prefixes, those prefixes are obligatory on nouns denoting things, etc which are related to a human possessor, such as those for body parts and family members at least. Ordinary concrete nouns and many others which either cannot be possessed (such as tree, sky) or do not need to be considered in relation to a possessor, can occur both with and without a possessive prefix, depending on circumstances.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    David: Low tone is characteristic also of Central Scandinavian, Trøndersk included. Here’s a collection of maps of dialect features (for secondary school, I think). High/low tone is map no. 7, retroflexion no. 11 and 13, apocope no. 17, and palatalisation no. 18. Some of the maps show the whole of Scandinavia, but not the high/low distinction, unfortunately. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that mapped for Sweden.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Hat: please add slash a before the parenthesis or wherever you want.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, I forgot. Add the name article, traditionally obligatory everywhere except in the southernmost parts, and jamvekt(“vowel balance”, included in map no. 8), a sort of vowel harmony affecting bisyllabic words with an inherited short initial syllable.

  43. Hat: please add slash a before the parenthesis or wherever you want.
    Oh, it wasn’t that simple. I first changed your </a£> to </a>, but it still wasn’t working, so then I went back and discovered you’d forgotten a quote mark before the first >. Such creativity!

  44. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks, I try not to make it boring. Forgetting an ” is pure me, I suppose, but &lt/aE&gt is weird. I shouldn’t blame the equipment, but I’m still trying to figure out how this IPad is working.

  45. Etienne says:

    David:
    1-Albanian indeed has as many Latin loanwords as Basque, if not more, but alas, Albanian phonological change has all too often made these words even less faithful to Classical Latin than their present-day Romance reflexes: the same problem is found in Latin loanwords in Brythonic languages. In particular Basque, unlike Albanian or Brythonic, has preserved Latin final syllables.
    2-Cree, like most if not all Algonquian languages, divides its nouns into an alienable and inalienable class: one of the morphological differences between the two being that the latter set of nouns always requires a possessive-marking prefix.
    3-Marie-Lucie: I agree with you: the folk linguistic belief needn’t be a conscious one. Apparently, however, Innu-speaking parents have been observed spontaneously replacing Innu noun phrases with French ones, taking it for granted that their children would find this gallicized Innu easier to understand.
    4-Trond: alas, there exist so few Mitchif-like relexified languages that reconstructing their respective histories is difficult. Which leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions: to me, the fact that in North America neither English nor Spanish became a component in a Mitchif-type language is a mystery crying out for an explanation.

  46. Trond Engen says:

    That folk belief may be the same that I noticed when I had children in kindergarten. Many mothers speak the standard language and even pronounce silent letters when they talk to their small children, as if the children were foreigners struggling to bridge the diffference from the written form. I’ve wondered how important this type of folk linguistics is for regularization and hypercorrection.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: so few Mitchif-like relexified languages
    I know very little about mixed languages, but what about “Mednyj Aleut”, a mix of Russian and Aleut, reminiscent of Mitchif? It seems to me that the social situation in the Aleutians before Alaska became part of the US was somewhat similar to that which gave rise to Mitchif, but the noun-verb linguistic discrepancy worked in the opposite direction (Aleut nouns, Russian verbs), perhaps because of the specific characteristics of the two languages. (A little more info in Wiki under Mednyj Aleut).
    I don’t think that this type of situation occurred anywhere in the continental US, where English dominance was so overwhelming. If there was ever the beginning of such a language, it has left no trace.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    David: Low tone is characteristic also of Central Scandinavian, Trøndersk included.

    …but that’s complicated by the pitch accent system, which means stressed syllables come in two different pitches to start with; the map shows where tone 1 is higher than tone 2 and where it’s the other way around, right?

  49. Trond Engen says:

    Not exactly. Look here. You see that the difference between tone 1 and 2 is more about contour than relative height. But you are correct in that the difference is only marked with primary stress.
    (At the end the article also touches on the little known third tone, the circumflex, a tone/length distinction between original monosyllabic words and apocopized bisyllabics in some apocope dialects. The examples are from low tone Trøndersk but it’s also found in high tone dialects further north.)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Look here.

    Whoa. Far out, man.

  51. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve been all around the web, and I’m close to concluding that no Swedish dialectologist ever has mapped the distribution of Swedish tonality. There are hints that Northern Swedish has the circumflex (which is to be expected) and that this or that dialect “switches acute and grave” (which would be utterly weird), but no overview to see. I ended up sending a request to the University of Stockholm’s Lingvistbloggen ().

  52. Trond Engen says:
  53. David,
    “Sanskrit is also the first language which was described scientifically by Panini, and an extraordinary piece of work it is too.
    It’s as concise as Classical Chinese: a a.”
    No. Sanskrit has all that syntactic plumbing glued onto everything. Everything is labeled and catalogued, at great expense to concison. CC doesn’t. Word order or specific lexical kinks do all the marking.

  54. Lingvistbloggen
    Trond, you’ve got a translation assignment coming up. marie-lucie absolutely must know what is being said about Occitan on this thread.

  55. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: apart from Mitchif and Mednyj Aleut, the only known mixed euro-native american language is Media Lengua (Spanish vocabulary, Quechua phonology and morphosyntax), spoken in Ecuador.
    What those three settings have in common remains a puzzle to me. And even in the continental U.S. such a mixed language could easily have emerged, involving English and some Native American language, and persisted on some reservation(s) anytime before the second half of the twentieth century: a large number of indigenous languages and a number of colonial-era transplanted european languages (Pennsylvania German, Cajun French) did survive as community languages up to that point.
    Jim: my understanding is that David was comparing Classical Chinese conciseness to the conciseness of Panini’s description of Sanskrit (which is indeed as concise as a computer program), and not to Sanskrit as language.

  56. I think it has to do with there being no analogue of metis/mestizo culture among anglophones: you are either Yengees or Indian, period. But that may be to confuse cause and effect.

  57. Trond Engen says:

    Etienne: Media Lengua (Spanish vocabulary, Quechua phonology and morphosyntax), spoken in Ecuador.
    What those three settings have in common remains a puzzle to me.
    I’ll repeat that there may be parallels in the Para-Romanis of the old world. The description of Media Lengua is very similar to Rodi or “Traveller’s Norwegian”, a language spoken by travellers of Norwegian descent: Romani vocabulary, Norwegian grammar. But it could also describe later stages of Scandoromani, the language of the descendants of the first wave of Roma travellers. Similar mixed languages are found all over the place. This suggests that they can occur both by relexifying of the grammatical base and by, uh, regrammatizing the lexical base. The different outcomes, and the sociolinguistics producing them, could be worth exploring.
    And outside of Para-Romani, the Greek-Turkic continuum in Anatolia is interesting too.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    Media Lengua (Spanish vocabulary, Quechua phonology and morphosyntax)

    But that’s a different case. Michif has two vocabularies and two phonologies, and every noun has two genders (a French one for article/adjective/etc. agreement, and a Cree one – animate/inanimate – for verb agreement).
    Languages that take their vocabulary from one language but everything else from another aren’t quite as extremely rare as that. An impressive case is Erromintxela, which is Romani words in Basque grammar, guaranteed not to be understood by any outsider at all.

    my understanding is that David was comparing Classical Chinese conciseness to the conciseness of Panini’s description of Sanskrit

    Yes; sorry for the confusion.

    I think it has to do with there being no analogue of metis/mestizo culture among anglophones: you are either Yengees or Indian, period.

    See also: “one drop makes you black”.

  59. One drop makes you black, right enough, but one drop is very far from making you Indian. Indian is as Indian does, right back to the beginning of English settlement in the New World: if you ran away (or were captured) and lived with the Indians, you were an Indian. Per contra, lots of whites are and always have been quite proud of their membership in the (pseudo-Algonquian) Wanabe tribe, even in times and places when it was downright dangerous to be (part) black. It’s a rigid divide, but a cultural rather than a racial one. The “blood quantum” laws, both white and Native, came much later and were pretty much imposed on Native culture by whites who wanted rules about who got the privileged/unprivileged status of “Indian”.

  60. Etienne says:

    Trond, David: Oh, I agree, Erromintxela (A language whose existence I trust you remember, David, I first pointed out to you on a thread right here at Casa Hat a number of years ago) and Para-Romani varieties are reminescent of Mitchif and Mednyj Aleut. But do please re-read what I wrote: there exist only three known instances of a mixed language involving a *European* and a *Native American* language.
    John Cowan: it is indeed tempting to see the non-existence of an intertwiner involving English in the Americas as being related to the absence of a “Métis/Mestizo” group: but this temptation should be resisted. First of all, I do not believe Mitchif arose as a result of a (conscious or unconscious) desire to expres a separate Métis identity: both the French and the Cree spoken by the Métis are themselves quite distinctive and thus either would be adequate as a linguistic marker of a separate identity. Second of all, this would leave unexplained the presence in Latin America of just a single euro-American intertwiner (Media Lengua): if Mitchif-like languages arose as a result of new groups arising as a result of euro-native American racial mixing we would expect there to exist scores of such languages South of the Rio Grande. Such is not the case.
    David: while Bakker did claim that Mitchif has two phonologies, one for the French and one for the Cree component, more recent work by Nicole Rosen has cast real doubt upon this: in her thesis she has argued that a unified phonological analysis of Mitchif is possible. So there may not be quite as much of a divide between Mitchif and other mixed languages as might seem to be the case. Another complicating factor is that Mitchif is, to my knowledge, the only documented mixed language which was not only acquired by speakers as an L1, but many of whom also did not acquire either donor language (French and /or Cree) as an L1 or an L2.
    John Cowan: your remark on “Indian” being partly cultural, partly racial reminds me of a scene in the John Wayne movie “The searchers”, where John Wayne plays a civil war veteran who, with his brother, is tracking a group of Indians who kidnapped his nieces. At one point, at a military fort, they hear of two white girls who were found living among (I think Apache) Indians by the U.S. cavalry: they turn out not to be the heroe’s nieces: his brother observes that the girls are white. Our hero, observing the two girls talking to one another in Apache, simply concludes “Not anymore they ain’t”.

  61. That’s a great, great movie.

  62. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had occasion in an LL thread the other day to mention the somewhat creole-like nature of Afrikaans, and I suppose that is because it arose in part among the “Cape Coloured” who were a metis/mestizo-like group (with the non-European ancestry and linguistic heritage being variously Khoisan, Malay, and other things). That it also became the L1 of the rather self-consciously non-racially-mixed-ancestry Afrikaaners in preference to their ancestral Dutch (and/or French etc., but I would assume that as in the Hudson Valley the Huguenots assimilated to Dutch first before the resultant mixed group changed languages to something else) is just an interesting little irony.

  63. Etienne:
    Google doesn’t find any mention of Erromintxela on languagehat.com. Note that this searches the comments as well as the posts.
    It looks to me like mestizo Guaraní, or Jopará, might be an incipient (or stalled) mixed language rather than just “Guaraní with lots of Spanish loans”. In any event, it is becoming the dominant version of Guaraní in Paraguay.

  64. Oh, and
    both the French and the Cree spoken by the Métis are themselves quite distinctive and thus either would be adequate as a linguistic marker of a separate identity
    Surely that would be up to them rather than us to judge? Linguistically distinctive might not be distinctive enough. The English of Wales is distinctive, but those Welsh who speak Welsh evidently think they need Welsh, meaning that Welsh English is not “adequate” to their purposes, even though every one of them over age five can speak it. As Tolkien put it, “[T]he Welsh of Wales [...] have also [like the Icelanders] loved and cultivated their language for its own sake (not as an aspirant for the ruinous honour of becoming the lingua franca of the world), and [...] by it and with it maintain their identity.”

  65. every one of them over age five
    Except the sheep dogs.

  66. Trond Engen says:

    Etienne: Sorry if it sounded like I didn’t appreciate your point. It is significant, especially because similar languages seem to be common elsewhere. I just meant to point out that something about the sociolinguistic situation around emerging Michif may have been common for European Travellers but rare on the American continent. OTOH, similar is not identical. The regularity of Michif makes it stand out in any company.

  67. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: Hmph. Whom will you trust, a soulless computer or me? See the comments on the thread titled “Basque-Icelandic”, September 4, 2007: the name of the Basque-Romani intertwiner is spelled a little differently, explaining why a Google search did not turn it up.
    As a character in a Stanislaw Lem short story put it, “We trust our lives with computers. But sometimes…we pay a high price for that trust” (Approximate quote, I am quoting from memory).
    As for Welsh and English and marking identity: my point is that in language contact situations such as that one and hundreds of others no mixed language appears to have ever arisen despite the birth of hybrid/mixed identities, so that saying that Mitchif arose as a marker of a distinct Metis identity, when specific Metis dialects of French and Cree both exist today, is at best quite insufficient as an explanation. And inasmuch as, as I pointed out above, a Mitchif-like language has more recently emerged seemingly by accident, I wonder whether there is any convincing reason to assume that conscious marking of ethnic identity had anything to do with the birth of Mitchif.
    J.W. Brewer: actually, there seems to have once existed a mixed Afrikaans-Nama language, of which we’ve only some fragmentary attestations, so the parallel with the social setting which caused the birth of Mitchif is even better.
    Trond: actually, such languages are not that common, and what I find frustrating is that little to no scholarly research has sought to explain why such languages failed to arise in contexts similar to the ones where they arose. Mednyj Aleut was born as a consequence of contact between Russian fur traders and native women on an Aleutian island: why didn’t any similar such language arise elsewhere in Alaska, or indeed anywhere in Siberia? Or in Northern Scandinavia, through contact between speakers of the national languages and Saami speakers? Conversely, why are such languages so common among the Romani?

  68. Here‘s a link to the thread in question; Etienne’s comment about Errumantxela (aka Erromintxela) is third from the end.

  69. Etienne:
    Note that I didn’t actually say you were wrong, merely that Dr. Google hadn’t found it.
    I think it’s futile to ask why Mitchif survived and became a sole L1; other intertwined languages may have been snuffed out in their cradles because they did not become carriers of an identity, but remained secret languages, or language games, or whatever. Still more futile is to ask why such a thing did not arise elsewhere: it’s like asking why English has not split into separate languages (although there was Yola).

  70. Trond Engen says:

    Etienne: Yes, “common elsewhere” is too strong. Maybe the real question is why European Para-Romanis are so common. But I think that’s harder to answer, since Romani communities stand out in so many ways. Identifying sociolinguistic circumstances shared by the Para-Romanis and relexified languages elsewhere might help define what’s important.
    John: I don’t think it’s futile to ask. It may not be possible to find a definitive answer, but the discussion could be illuminating.

  71. Mnyeh, futile to expect an explanation. If you find one, that is lagniappe.

  72. English as a mixed language in the comments at Jabal al-Lughat.

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