I’m still reading Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms (see this post), and I’ve gotten to the chapter on the Kingdom of Aragon, where my attention was grabbed by this statement: “The people of the Vall d’Aran speak a unique language that mixes Basque and neo-Latin elements (aran means ‘valley’ in Basque).” Of course I hustled to Wikipedia, where the article can’t make up its mind whether Aranese is a dialect of Occitan (as the title suggests) or a separate language (“In 2010, it was named the third official language of the whole of Catalonia”); it doesn’t mention Basque at all, and I’m wondering whether Davies got it wrong or whether that element simply didn’t make it into the Wikipedia article. (The language/dialect is so obscure it isn’t in the An Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, which has an article on the Basque-Icelandic pidgin discussed in this LH post.)


  1. Aran in Welsh means ridge. Not sure if it helps here.

  2. It seems the information given by Davies is wrong.

  3. It would seem more likely that it is an Occitan dialect with heavy borrowing of Basque vocabulary.

  4. Aranese ia a form of Gascon French. It has nothing to do with Basque except maybe a few loan words, though I doubt it that far east.
    The Vall d’Aran is the only part of Spain that is north of the Pyrenean watershed.

  5. Of course, being the third official language of the whole of Catalonia doesn’t mean that it has any more effective official status outside the Vall d’Aran than the most widely spoken language in Catalonia — Spanish — has in the whole of Catalonia.

  6. From what I know, Aranese is a dialect of Gascon Occitan, the only Occitan language with any kind of official status. There are Basque influences in the language (Basque was spoken on wider area then now) but it’s in no way a mix of Basque and Latin

  7. Trond Engen says

    I’m curious as to how Aranese is defined and to what degree its orthograpy reflects standardized Occitan rather than local dialect. Since Catalonian and Occitan forms a dialect continuum, the exact drawing of the linguistic border would be a matter of taste and self-identification. No doubt Aranese is different from the dialects south of the Pyrenees, but if Central Occitan )Languedocien) is linguistically closer to Catalonian than to Gascon, I’d think that the main defining features of Aranese would be western rather than northern, and those would stand out even in Occitan. Now, dialectological proximity based on shared phonological and morphological innovations isn’t everything. Lexical (or semantic) convergence from belonging to the same cultural sphere may be more important to self-identification, but, surely, that would place Aranese in the southern camp? I have a feeling that even as part of a hypothetical Occitan kingdom, the Val d’Aran would have been a linguistic outlier, proud of its southernness — and maybe even identifying as Catalan, similar to how the western valleys of Piemonte identify as Occitan.

  8. Trond Engen says

    Reading what I wrote there, I have a couple of things to add:
    1. It’s all worthless speculation.
    2. “I’m curious as to how…” is stilted, if not outright urn idiomatic, isn’t it? Please pretend that I wrote “I’m curious (about) how…” or “I wonder how…”

  9. Trond,
    this book might help.

  10. marie-lucie says

    Judging by the examples in the Wikipedia article, Aranés is an Occitan dialect, closest to Gascon rather than to Languedocien or Catalan. The Aranese people might identify ethnically as Catalans, but their language is not Catalan.
    “Gascon French” would have to mean the French spoken by Gascons, not the Gascon Occitan dialect, which is very distinctive within Occitan. French and the various Occitan dialects are not mutually intelligible, although those dialects have a high degree of mutual intelligibility, especially the ones adjacent to each other. Whether “franco-provençal” (spoken in the Val d’Aoste in Italy and in France on the other side of the border) qualifies as Occitan depends on the criteria for defining it. The French spoken throughout Southern France has distinctive characteristics due to its Occitan substrate, but it is not Occitan.
    bulbul, I had a *very brief* look at the book you recommended. One problem with Occitan is that the “standard” spelling (invented in the 20th century) is very archaizing (trying to approximate the troubadours’ spelling after several hundred years) and this distorts the representation of actual pronunciations and the relationships between the different dialects. As a salient example, practically all the dialects have changed the Old Occitan (and general Romance) feminine ending -a to [o], but the standard spelling uses [a] which has been preserved in a small part of the Occitan area. Of course, French spelling also preserves a centuries-old pronunciation, but it does not claim to represent all French dialects (it ignores them!).

  11. This is very much my field, so: apologies if I sound like a pompous and arrogant know-it-all. Well, more than I usually do, I mean 🙂 :
    1-Trond: Gascon is a VERY distinctive Romance variety (its mountain dialects especially), so that I doubt there exists or indeed recently existed any kind of dialect continuum with neighboring Catalan varieties.
    I once saw some clips of a fine Catalan TV show on language matters, CAÇADORS DE PARAULES, where the host went to the Vall d’Aran and sat in a classroom (where Aranese was the language of instruction) with some children, and what was very clear was that, despite the host’s experience involving language variation within the Catalan-speaking area, he found Aranese largely incomprehensible.
    As for Piemontese-speaking valleys identifying as Occitan, that is very much a recent phenomenon, due to the school system having debased and stigmatized Piemontese to such a degreee that local activists prefer to anchor their identity to a prestigious non-Italian one. Occitan is geographically close, but others will do.
    For instance, an Italian dialectologist wrote an amusing article titled “We are all Occitans –including the Flemish!”, where he described a Piemontese-speaking village where the dominant folk belief was that the local dialect was Flemish in origin (unlike in neighboring villages, where an Occitan linguistic origin is claimed).
    The fact that the Occitan/Piemontese isogloss really does run in Piemont means that language statistics for that part of Europe are to be taken with more than the usual grain of salt.
    2-Marie-Lucie: if anything you understate the distinctiveness of Gascon. Historically it seems Gascon emerged as a separate Romance variety before French and (the remainder of) Occitan did: Gascon subsequently underwent heavy Occitan influence, leading to its being called a variety of Occitan. This is historically untrue: originally it appears Gascon and Occitan were two separate varieties.
    3-This early distinctiveness has been explained through recourse to a Basque substratum (of course, a Basque substratum has been invoked everywhere in Europe. Basques were ubiquitous in the past –hmm, kind of like the Flemish, come to think of it!) This may be the source of Davies’ claim.
    There is also a Catalan dialectologist who claimed that the Vall d’Aran had originally been Basque-speaking, without as I recall succeeding in convincing his peers. This too may be the source of Davies’ claims.
    4-As for Franco-provencal: I have never heard of anyone grouping Franco-provencal and Occitan together. All scholars agree that Franco-provencal is closer to French than to Occitan.
    And they are indeed quite correct: Franco-provencal and French do share a number of common innovations, whereas I do not believe there is a single common innovation shared by Franco-provencal and Occitan to the exclusion of French.
    5-If anyone requests it I will of course supply references on any or all of the points above.

  12. Trond Engen says

    3: “urn idiomatic” is what my iPad wanted me to say.
    Etienne: Thanks. I knew Gascon stood out but not to what degree. Does that mean that a sharp line might be drawn even against Occitan varieties as Languedocien and Limousin? And the northernmost Castillian dialects like, uh, Navarrese?

  13. The very interesting episode of “Caçadors de Paraules” on Aranès can be seen (for the moment) on YouTube here:

  14. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The Vall d’Aran is the only part of Spain that is north of the Pyrenean watershed.
    … and that’s why it survived decades of suppression of non-Castilian languages during the Franco period, despite its small numbers of speakers: for several months of each year it was accessible only from France, and the French didn’t care what they spoke, and anyway didn’t have the power to impose their own linguistic policies.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Not only is Aragon a lost kingdom, but Aragonese is a lost language, the bridge between Castillian and Catalan. I’ve been told (here or elsewhere) that it still can (or until recently could) be heard in the northern valleys. I don’t know if or to what degree its westernness seen from Catalan would imply shared Gascon features with Aranese seen from Languedocien.

  16. marie-lucie says

    Etienne, merci. I almost wrote that Gascon was so distinctive that it might deserve to be called a separate language, but I did not want to stick my neck out too far as my knowledge of Occitan varieties is impressionistic rather than scholarly. Of all “Occitan” varieties, that one, spoken by the descendants of the “Vasconi”, should have the most likely Basque substratum. This would also be valid for Aranese which seems to be a Gascon variety.

  17. This is very much my field
    Excellent! By god, I love having this blog and attracting answers from people who know what they’re talking about (as opposed to me, who have a dilettante’s interest in everything). Thanks for your comprehensive response.
    There is also a Catalan dialectologist who claimed that the Vall d’Aran had originally been Basque-speaking, without as I recall succeeding in convincing his peers. This too may be the source of Davies’ claims.
    I bet you’re right.
    Aragonese is a lost language
    Not according to Wikipedia, which says it’s “spoken by between 10,000 and 30,000 people throughout the valleys of the Pyrenees in Aragon” and adds that “In 2009 the Languages Act of Aragon gives recognition of ‘native language, original and historic’ of Aragon, therefore there are a number of linguistic rights, as the utilisation of Aragonese language in the public administrations of Aragon.”

  18. marie-lucie says

    Etienne, merci. I almost wrote that Gascon was so distinctive that it might deserve to be called a separate language, but I did not want to stick my neck out too far as my knowledge of Occitan varieties is impressionistic rather than scholarly. Of all “Occitan” varieties, that one, spoken by the descendants of the “Vasconi”, should have the most likely Basque substratum. This would also be valid for Aranese which seems to be a Gascon variety. Nobody could possibly confuse Gascon and Catalan although some of the vocabulary would be similar.

  19. marie-lucie says

    Basque substratum: I know that some linguists think that Basque was spoken in a much larger part of Western Europe, but in most of that area the original language or languages were replaced by Celtic thousands of years ago, before Germanic and later Latin supplanted Celtic. But (if I understand correctly) the area South of the Garonne, the former Vasconia, was not Celticized before it became Latinized, and its Southwestern fringe remained Basque-speaking throughout (the imposition of French being very recent).

  20. marie-lucie says

    I looked up LH’s previous post (2007), linked at the end of this one, and well worth rereading.
    I was intrigued by Etienne’s comment there, about his candidate for the title “Most esoteric European language ever”: Errumantxela, the mixed Basque-Romani (basically Romani lexicon and Basque morphosyntax) language.
    This reminded me of something in Carmen (the short story). The narrator Don José is a Basque soldier in the Spanish army, pining for home. He falls in love with the gypsy Carmen when she speaks Basque to him, although he later says she was making mistakes (elle écorchait le basque). I wonder if Carmen was speaking a form of Errumantxela rather than actual Basque? Among other things, she says the equivalent of “you are my rom, I am your romi” where rom and romi are “gypsy” words for ‘man’ and ‘woman’, while the other words must be in Basque, translated by Don José as he tells the story. This sentence fits the description of Errumantxela: Romani lexicon, Basque morphosyntax, and Carmen would be most likely to make mistakes in morphosyntax. Unfortunately there are no other sentence examples in the text (at least none that I can remember).

  21. Trond Engen says

    Hat:: Not according to Wikipedia, which says it’s “spoken by between 10,000 and 30,000 people throughout the valleys of the Pyrenees in Aragon”
    That’s “…can be heard in the northern valleys”. I’m glad it’s still spoken, and officially recognized, but compared to its history as a national language on par with Castillian or to the establishment of Catalan as a regional language complete with a poetic register, scientific terminology and sociolinguistic stratification, it’s lost . Not a lost cause, I hope, but still a minor presence on the linguistic map of Iberia.

  22. Hat: considering how much I have learned from your blog, I am glad to be of some small service.
    Athel Cornish-Bowden: the fact that the Vall d’Aran was only accesible through France for several months a year doesn’t just explain why the language survived to the present day, it also explains why Aranese today is not part of a continuum with any of the Romance languages spoken South of the Pyrenees.
    Trond: a sharp line separates Gascon from varieties South of the Pyrenees, but to the West the situation is more fluid: but this seems to be due to more recent Gascon-Occitan contact, not to an ancient dialect continuum.
    Marie-Lucie: yes, the area South of the Garonne seems to have been the heartland of Basque, and as I have pointed out on other threads here there is some evidence that it expanded South of the Pyrenees after the fall of the Roman Empire.
    The Garonne valley itself seems to have been a Basque-Gaulish contact zones: there are mixed place names (combining Basque and Gaulish words) and Gaulish place names with a Basque phonology (which seems to indicate that Gaulish was expanding at the expense of Basque at the time of the Roman conquest).
    This is the kind of indirect evidence that makes us realize how little we really know about the linguistic history of Europe…if a Time Machine is ever invented, I am writing up a grant proposal to go study the L2 Gaulish of native Proto-Basque speakers in the Garonne valley!
    Hat, Trond: is Aragonese a lost language or not? Well, as a former Premier of Quebec renowned for his political longevity and ability to give ambiguous answers (the latter doubtless explaining the former) is once said to have answered: “Ni oui, ni non, bien au contraire!”
    That is to say, there indeed are today a few tens of thousands of speakers of “Aragonese” in a string of communities in the Pyrenees in the far North of what is today Aragon. These constitute a set of transition dialects between Castillian and Catalan, with a number of local innovations and archaic features shared with neither language. Let’s call this “Modern Mountain Aragonese”.
    This linguistic situation in the Pyrenees stands in sharp contrast to the plains of Aragon, which today are mostly Castillian-speaking, with Catalan spoken in Westernmost Aragon (in a zone called “La franja”).
    However, originally (in the Middle Ages) the Plains of Aragon were dominated by a non-Castillian, non-Catalan Romance language which we may call Medieval Plains Aragonese. This language indeed was a bridge between Castillian and Catalan, doubtless becoming more Catalan-like in the West and Castillian-like to the East. Much like the situation of Modern Mountain Aragonese.
    Over the course of the Middle Ages this is a language which speakers shifted away from, to Castillian or (in la Franja) to Catalan.
    Language shift (from Medieval Plains Aragonese to Castillian or Catalan) also took place South of Aragon (in Valencia, Murcia…), and that is why there is today a sharp linguistic border separating Catalan from Castillian everywhere in the Iberian peninsula outside of the Pyrenees.
    Now, the crucial aspect here is that Medieval Plains Aragonese is indeed a lost language. This is because Modern Mountain Aragonese varieties definitely are NOT direct linguistic descendants of Medieval Plains Aragonese: many of the archaic features of Modern Pyrenees Aragonese were wholly alien to Medieval Plains Aragonese, for example.
    So: Aragonese indeed is a lost language, if by “Aragonese” we mean the language spoken in the Plains of Aragon in the Middle Ages. If we broaden the definition of Aragonese to mean “the Romance varieties once natively spoken in Aragon”, then Aragonese is not a lost language.
    So: Trond, Hat: you’re both right.

  23. Rodger C says

    @Trond: According to Entwistle, there’s a dialect continuum between Aragonese and Catalan but not between Catalan and Occitan. The Spanish Language, esp. p. 95.

  24. marie-lucie says

    RC: I don’t know about Catalan, but “Occitan” is made up of several major dialects, and within each dialect there is (or was, since there are fewer native speakers nowadays) variety – each village having its own little peculiarities. If you rely on standardized Occitan or Catalan you see a fairly sharp distinction, but on the ground there is probably less difference alongside the border between the two (there is a small Catalan-speaking zone in Southern France where it joins Catalunya next to the Mediterranean).

  25. Roger Depledge says

    Alas, the poor Val d’Aran is not accessible from France at the moment, since the Garonne burst its banks twelve days ago.
    I’m hoping to eat at the Er Occitan restaurant in Bossòst in just a few weeks.

  26. Etienne: Thanks again! But I think you mean “with Catalan spoken in Easternmost Aragon (in a zone called ‘La franja’).”
    I looked up LH’s previous post (2007), linked at the end of this one, and well worth rereading.
    And at the end there’s a comment by David Marjanović, which makes me ask once again: Where is David? Come back! We miss you!

  27. Excellent! By god, I love having this blog and attracting answers from people who know what they’re talking about (as opposed to me . . .)
    Kudos to the milliner for making this resource available – to the learned and the not-so-learned alike!

  28. Hat: yes, I meant “Easternmost Aragon”. Ask me sometime why I never became a geographer…
    And I second your request: David, come back!
    Rodger C, Marie-Lucie: You’re both right (I seem to be a real diplomat these days). Entwistle is correct, there is no real continuum between (Northern) Catalan and (Southern) Languedocien Occitan. However, the linguistic border between Catalan and Languedocien is not very ancient and not very profound either (my guess is that mutual intelligibility between adjacent Catalan- and Occitan-speaking villages is very high).
    Basic vocabulary and morphosyntax are very much the same, and the divide between the two languages chiefly involves some phonological innovations of both sides of the language border not reaching across said border.
    Indeed I believe there was once some scholarly disagreement as to whether an early vernacular text was Catalan or Occitan: I think the problem was that the text was so old that the absence of a given Catalan or Languedocien phonological innovation (even taking into account some of the ambiguities in the spelling) could be interpreted as meaning that whatever diagnostic phonological innovation was sought had simply not arisen at the time.

  29. I think cam a cam is a spam.

  30. yes, I meant “Easternmost Aragon”. Ask me sometime why I never became a geographer…
    I’ve noticed over the years that it’s extremely common for people to confuse east and west, even in scholarly works; I just had occasion to change “southeast” to “southwest” in something I was reading. Nobody ever confuses north and south. Interesting.

  31. Etienne: Thanks. Furthermore, early literary Catalan deliberately introduces Occitanisms, including the two-case system.
    Hat: I’ve just been rereading Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism, in which she repeatedly refers to the German genocide in “Southeast Africa,” by which she plainly means German Southwest Africa, now Namibia.

  32. marie-lucie says

    I often have to think consciously about East and West. I try to visualize a map. I think we “map” our bodies on the visual map: we don’t confuse North and South because we would never confuse the location of our head with that of our feet, but East and West are symmetrical like our arms, hence the potential confusion.

  33. Marie-Lucie: interesting explanation.
    Incidentally, I mixed up East and West upthread when referring to Medieval Plains Aragonese. I meant that its *Eastern* varieties must have been more Catalan-like and its *Western* varieties more Castillian-like.
    Rodger C: Yes, Old Provencal was widely used in Medieval Catalonia, but considering how similar the two languages were to begin with, it is VERY difficult to distinguish borrowed Provencal from native Catalan words/structures. The two-case noun declension of Old Provencal was, however, definitely something alien to Old Catalan.
    Indeed one of the first grammars of Old Provencal (Or of any Romance language, for that matter), Ramon Vidal de Besalu’s RASOS DE TROBAR, put quite a lot of emphasis on noun declension. It has been argued that this is because the author, himself a native Catalan speaker, saw declension as the main grammatical difference (and thus the main grammatical difficulty too) between (Old) Catalan and Old Provencal.

  34. marie-lucie says

    I think that “Old Provençal” was widely used outside its natural borders as a literary language, not as a daily means of communication. The work titled RASOS DE TROBAR was evidently meant for people wishing to write poetry in the language.

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    Looking for something else I came across this description from a 1498 description by the Spanish ambassador to Scotland of the polyglot capabilities of James IV, using Iberian analogies: “He speaks the following foreign languages ; Latin, very well ; French, German, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish ; Spanish as well as the Marquis, but he pronounces it more distinctly. He likes, very much, to receive Spanish letters. His own Scots language is as different from English as Aragonese from Castilian. The King speaks, besides, the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and on the islands [i.e., Gaelic]. It is as different from Scots as Biscayan [i.e., Basque] is from Castilian. His knowledge of languages is wonderful.”

  36. I have had occasion to cite the Aragonese Biquipedia before, notably their article on semicultismos; semi-learned words, learned words in Romance languages that have been partially modified phonologically to resemble native words without actually being so. It’s much better than either the English or the Spanish Wikipedias on the subject, and links to both Aragonese and Spanish examples.
    Dante doing Limousin, translated by Dorothy Sayers to Border Scots.

  37. Thanks, J.W.; I’d never thought to link Biscay with Basque.

  38. marie-lucie says

    AJP, I am not sure about Basque and Biscay. In Spanish, Basque is Vasco/vasca (masc/fem) but Biscay is Vizcaya. Although the current pronunciation of initial “v” in Spanish is [b] (as in Basque Bizkaya), “s” and “z” represent different sounds (“z” being close to English “th” as in “thing” or “bath”), so that the resemblance is likely to be a coincidence (unless someone better acquainted with Basque can demonstrate that there is a link). But “Biscayan” must indeeed refer to the Basque language, spoken along the Bay.

  39. >Marie-lucie
    As far as I know, “Biscayan” (“vizcaíno”) is a dialect of Basque. Vizcaya is a province of Euzkadi. Incidentally, this “z” is pretty much a /s/.

  40. Okay, second try:
    You may be the first person in quite a long time to receive birthday wishes in Proto-Romance.
    (Note: vowel qualities intact, no syncope or apocope, /h/, final /m/ and /k/ lost, /ps/ shifted to /ss/, intervocalic /b/ lenited to /v/, front vowel + non-front vowel becomes /j/ + non-front vowel, intervocalic /g/ in EGO irregularly dropped, accusative singular and plural forms of nouns generalized in all contexts. I believe that covers it).
    Marie-Lucie: actually, the Troubadours were just one of many mobile groups (artisans, veterinarians, mercenaries were others) who must have played a role in the spread of various Romance KOINAI, which in the case of the Troubadours, because their brand of Old Provençal was prestigious in royal courts, was occasionally written down. How widely it was used orally as a tool of ordinary communication is a difficult question: my guess (it’s no more than that!) is that there was a degree of mutual linguistic accomodation and adaptation, with individuals gravitating around courts making more of an effort to “Old Provençal”-ize their speech than commoners. In which case some form of Old Provençal may indeed have played a role as a spoken language of wider communication.
    John Cowan: the Aragonese article on semicultismos does not surprise me. Linguists and philologists have spearheaded all too many movements promoting minority languages, so for these linguists to wrote on “their” language IN their language is unsurprising.

  41. marie-lucie says

    JesúsL Gracias por la explicacion de “Vizcaya”. The “vizc” in it could be a form of “vasc” after all, with “a” if the root is stressed (vàsco) and “i” if the root is unstressed because another vowel is stressed (vizcàya). Vowel change depending on stress is a very common process in the history of languages.
    Etienne: The idea of an Occitan “koine” spread through itinerant craftspeople (including poets in a more expansive definition of this term than the current one) is interesting. The words “proensal” and “lemosi” seem to have been largely interchangeable at one point although the provinces of Provence and Limousin are peripheral to the old centres of Occitan culture, namely Toulouse and Montpellier in the province of “Languedoc”.

  42. Well, I’ll accept the Proto-Romance wishes too, since today is my birthday.

  43. So where does the Vasco in Vasco da Gama come from?

  44. Happy Birthday, John!

  45. marie-lucie says

    Vasco da Gama: Vasco was his baptismal name, so there must have been a Saint Vasco, either a Basque or one born to Basque parents, known on the Iberian peninsula by reference to his ethnic origin. The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa had the same baptismal name.
    Sainthood is currently regulated by the Catholic Church, but in older times many people were considered saints by their contemporaries but their local reputation was never validated by the Church. In fact, many traditional saints were struck off the Vatican’s official list of saints in the recent past, as their sainthood or even their existence could not be corroborated (Saint Christopher was one of those purely legendary saints). So there may well have been a Vasco known as a saint in Iberia, whether or not he was validated by the Church.

  46. Indeed, nothing is known of St. Vasco, but that is true of most saints, which is why the Church recognizes the Festival of All Saints on November 1 (or All Hallows, in older English, the day before All Hallows being of course Hallow Even or Halloween). It is also not clear whether the name means ‘the Basque’ or ‘the bosk(y)’, that is, the one from the forest.

  47. marie-lucie says

    JC, where is the alternative theory about the name stated? The interpretation ‘(of the) wood’ does not seem to me to be credible. There is a St John Bosco but he was a 19C Italian priest, and Bosco ‘wood (forest)’ was his family name. If this name is now sometimes found as a first name, it has to be a very recent development as the priest was only canonized in the 20th century.
    In Spanish the letter “v” was formerly pronounced [v] not [b], and Portuguese still keeps [v] and [b] distinct. Cognate with Italian bosco ‘wood, forest’ are Spanish and Portuguese bosque, Occitan bosc, and French bois, all of which have always had the letter “b”. These words are found in other family names such as French Dubois , Occitan (hence French) Delbosc, both ‘of the wood’, referring to the place where the ancestral family lived. To my knowledge a simple word meaning ‘wood, forest’ has never been used as a personal or baptismal name in the languages under consideration. In addition, vasco ‘Basque’ has always had the vowel [a], while the words for ‘wood’ have always had [o] (except French in which this vowel evolved further), but never [a].

  48. marie-lucie says

    All Saints/All Hallows
    I think that the reason the Church has a festival of “All Saints” on November 1 is that, as with other religious festivals, it needed something to celebrate on the days that the pagans it hoped to convert were celebrating. That way the new Christian converts would not be tempted to observe the pagan rites they were used to, and their attention would instead be focused on the rites of their new religion. So on the night where pagans believed the souls of those in the beyond were briefly coming back to earth, a potential danger to the living, the Church prayed for its own dead, and on the next day when all danger was past, it celebrated the departed saints presumed to be in heaven, making the festival a joyous rather than a fearful occasion.

  49. J.W. Brewer says

    If you do a little googling you can find an image of a 17th-century painting of the otherwise-enigmatic St. Vasco, currently in a museum in Dresden.

  50. J.W. Brewer says

    Mildly contra m-l, I’m not sure the historical record is all that clear as to why the Western Church eventually settled down on Nov. 1 (starting in the 8th century locally in Rome at first, and then subsequently throughout the West), but one possibility is that the relevant Pope wanted to switch away from an earlier May observance of All Saints which unhappily coincided with . . . an old pagan festival of the dead (the Lemuria). Afaik, Nov. 1 was not a big pagan festival down around Latium. Viewing British/Celtic practices as representative of “paganism” more broadly is perhaps a hazard of relying on provincially-minded English-language sources.
    Over in Ireland, where Nov 1 was a big deal, the Church was (according to some sources) initially reluctant to mix up the Pope’s new date for All Saints with the pagan calendar and thus stuck to a springtime celebration for a few centuries until the papal drive for uniformity squelched that local variation.
    The Eastern Church still celebrates All Saints in the late spring; just last Sunday this year (being the first Sunday after Pentecost if you ignore the new-fangled Gregorian reckoning). Next Sunday is the somewhat less venerable and more localized feast of All Saints of North America.

  51. marie-lucie says

    JWB, pagan-to-Christian festivals were not limited to those in Latium. Some early Christians outside of Italy spoke Celtic languages, for instance in Gaul (Lugdunum, now Lyon, was a centre of Gaulish religion before it became a Christian one), before the whole country adopted a form of Latin. In France, the Jour des Morts is one day after la Toussaint ‘All Saints’, which is a legal holiday. On that day it is traditional for people to travel to their family graves and place flowers, etc on them as they will probalby not not be able to do so the next day, usually a working day. (I got the order of those days mixed up in my earlier comment, because the mournful aspect of the Jour des Morts overpowers the supposedly joyful aspect of la Toussaint).

  52. J.W. Brewer says

    But the specific question is why Pope Gregory III in the 730’s picked November 1. Now, maybe the Gauls at Lugdunum had kept Nov. 1 as a pagan feast (no real evidence of that afaik), and maybe that had survived many centuries of Romanization/Frankification/Christianization such that the local bishops as of the early 8th century wished there were something else to distract the populace with at around that date, and maybe Pope Gregory (who was at the time desperately trying to curry favor with Charles Martel) picked Nov. 1 for that purpose. But maybe not. The Nov. 1 date is said not to have become uniform throughout the Frankish domains until the time of Louis the Pious a century later, but for all I know it was celebrated in some places outside the immediate vicinity of Rome well before that, possibly including Lyons.
    I do love the French use of Toussaint as a proper name. The Roman Catholic authorities here in NYC have been campaigning for several decades to get Pierre Toussaint (born in slavery in Haiti, but lived out the latter part of his life in NYC) recognized as a saint by the Vatican, but I suppose he probably wouldn’t be called “Saint Toussaint” for short.

  53. In France, the Jour des Morts is one day after la Toussaint ‘All Saints’
    And everywhere else in Western Christianity too, of course; in English it is All Souls’ Day, or Soulmas for short, or in full, the Feast of All the Faithful Departed. It is a very big deal in Mexico, where it picked up a lot of energy from the rites of Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec Persephone; it has spread not only to the U.S., the Philippines (once governed from Mexico), and Guatemala, but to Brazil, Haiti, Ecuador (mixing with Quechua rituals), Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and even Muslim Indonesia.

  54. marie-lucie says

    JC, apart from Hallowe’en, are there popular rites connected with All Souls’ Day such as the French custom of visiting and tending to the graves of one’s relatives? In Protestant traditions I don’t think there is much enthusiasm for All Saints’ Day. I knew about the importance of the Día de los Muertos in Mexico, with skeletons and skulls all over the place, but I did not realize it had spread to Australia and New Zealand. Did it spread to Indonesia from Australia, where there are so many Indonesian immigrants?

  55. marie-lucie says

    JWB: googling Saint Vasco:
    After much googling earlier today, I was unable to find an image of the enigmatic saint.
    Looking up “Saint Vasco” I found a reference to a painting of the saint by “Valdés Leal”, an actual painter, but the picture (also reproduced elsewhere) was one of Saint Peter in papal vestments (including the papal tiara) by the well-known Portuguese painter Vasco Fernandes, whose life straddles the 15th and 16th centuries. He is also known as “Grão Vasco” ‘Great Vasco’, a title bestowed on him by an 18th century Italian critic, which is also the name of a museum honouring the painter in his native town in Portugal.
    On Google, “St. Vasco” is a very common sequence, but each item belongs to a different sentence, thus “(…) St[reet]. Vasco (…)”, Vasco being the first name of the person mentioned in the entry (and a relatively common name judging by its frequency on Google). One exception refers to Vasco Pereira or Pereyra, another, later, less famous Portuguese painter. He is the author of a painting listed in the catalogue of an art museum in Dresden which has a large Renaissance collection. There the sequence “St. Vasco” appears after several sequences of letter + period (eg “L.”), so that “St.” here must be another abbreviation used by the cataloguers. Confirming this, the same letter sequences occur before “St. Francisco Zurbaran”, not another saint but the well-known Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, who belongs to a slightly later period. The names of the Portuguese painters Vasco Fernandes and Vasco Pereira occur a number of times on Google, usually without the enigmatic “St.”, and there is never a reference to a saint named Vasco except in the erroneous attribution to Valdés Leal mentioned above. Finally, I looked up Wikipaintings which reproduces more than 900 works with the word Saint in their titles, and Saint Vasco was not there, nor was any name remotely compatible with “Vasco”. If I missed anything, I would like to know!
    In the absence of convincing counter-evidence, I therefore persist in my earlier opinion that this “saint” must have been an early one in the history of Christianization, a man of Basque origin, renowned locally but whose fame probably did not spread outside of the Iberian peninsula, perhaps even not outside of Portugal.

  56. marie-lucie says

    the French use of Toussaint as a proper name
    Calendars in Catholic countries (even where the church’s influence is not very great) list for each day the name of a saint. Except for Sundays and church holidays (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc), ordinary days have several saints assigned to them (or vice-versa: saints are assigned to days). Older naming practice was to give a newborn the name of the saint (or one of the saints) assigned to the birth date. La Toussaint by definition includes many, many saints that a name could be chosen from. The only Toussaint X i have heard of is Toussaint Louverture, one of the heroes of Haitian independence, who must have been born on the relevant day. If Pierre Toussaint is made a saint, his name will be “Saint Pierre Toussaint”, not “Saint Toussaint” (as in Saint Jean Bosco and Saint Jean Vianney, the official names of those fairly recent saints).

  57. >Marie-lucie
    According to “Real Academia de la lengua vasca” neither the name “Vasco” nor other apparent variants (Velasco, Blasco) exist. However in that list of old and new Basque names there is a “Berasko” translated to Spanish as “Belasco”. Some web pages say Vasco is a contraction of “Belazco” that means “who belongs to the grassland” or “to the hillside” but they aren’t reliable sources.
    As for the supposed saint here cited, I’ve found this picture: where we can see a man wearing the habit of the Order of St. Jerome. Someone says he collaborated to found that Order in Portugal but it seems he isn’t a saint.
    As a curiosity.- The first-born of our Infanta Elena is called Felipe Juan Froilán de Todos los Santos. Nevertheless everybody calls him Froilán because it’s less used and funny.
    I agree with you about the “future” St. Pierre Toussaint. An odd name of saint is Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the Opus Dei’s founder, curiously designated Marquis of Peralta by Franco and canonized by Jean Paul II in record time. His real name is José María.

  58. marie-lucie says

    Jesús: Gracias por la referencia del cuadro! I should have tried Spanish and Portuguese sources first. So there is indeed a picture of Saint Vasco by Juan de Valdés Leal, a 17C painter, but Google shows the picture of St Peter by Vasco Fernandes instead.
    In any case, I have to withdraw my earlier hypothesis.
    I eventually read about the 14C “Fray Vasco de Portugal”, the same person as the “Santo Vasco” of the picture, here: A remarkable person indeed, although he was not made a saint.
    My earlier point about the name was not that Vasco is a Basque name, but that it probably meant ‘Basque’ in Portuguese as in Spanish. The current Portuguese word for ‘Basque’ is “Basco”, probably a borrowing from Spanish. But several sources point “Vasco” to a Gallego-Portuguese adaptation of the originally Basque name Velasco (hence the family name “Velásquez”) or Belasco (the Basque original probably did have “r” rather than “l”, but was borrowed with “l”)(the meaning of the word is irrelevant at this point, whether from a location or from “raven”). The change from “Velasco” to “Vasco” seems strange at first but it makes sense since intervocalic “l” was lost in those languages (eg Spanish cola ‘tail’, Ptg coa. So the name Vasco was not derived from the nickname of an early saint as I thought, instead the not so old “saint”, like many other men, had an already common first name.
    Thank you again JWB and Jesús for putting me on the track of this interesting mystery!

  59. >Marie-lucie
    It was in the first remark of “hispanismo…quién es san Vasco” where I found the picture.

  60. are there popular rites connected with All Souls’ Day
    As you know, the Church of England originally split off from Rome for political rather than theological reasons, and some parts of it remain quite attached to saints and ritual and Purgatory and other Catholic (though definitely not Roman) things, while other parts are quite Evangelical in flavor. (Even in the entirely Evangelical Scandinavian and Baltic countries, the midsummer feast of St. John is still very important.)
    So yes, right up to the end of the 19th century or even later, children in England went “souling” on Soulmas, a ritual begging for small round cakes called soul-cakes; this may be one of the ancestors of North American trick-or-treating. There was a sort of carol that went with it, re-popularized in our time by Peter, Paul, and Mary (from whose records I learned it). Each soul-cake eaten was popularly thought to free a soul from Purgatory. Here are the lyrics:
         A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
         Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
         An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
         Any good thing to make us all merry.
         One for Peter, two for Paul
         Three for Him who made us all.
    I think the spread of Mexican Soulmas customs is probably Mexico > Philippines > Australia > Indonesia. As I mentioned, the Philippines were governed by Spain from Mexico City, and even kept Mexico City time officially until 1845 despite being in East Longitude, hence the riddle “What happened on December 31st, 1844, in the Philippines?”, to which the answer is “Nothing: the day was skipped as a result of the change of time zone from UTC-6 to UTC+8”.

  61. >Marie-lucie
    I’ve remembered an arrogant ancient inscription about the surname “Velasco”: “Antes que Dios fuera Dios y los peñascos peñascos, los Quirós ya eran Quirós y los Velasco, Velasco”

  62. marie-lucie says

    Jesús, ¿Quienes son los “peñascos”?
    This arrogant saying could mean that the Quirós and Velasco families were already prominent before the arrival of Christianity.

  63. m-l: Peñascos are boulders. So it is as much as to say that those families are as old as the hills, as we say in English, or even older.

  64. >Marie-lucie
    Yes, but not before Christianity; they were here before the Creation!
    “Los peñascos” are only the crags. Notice you there isn’t any capital letter. I think it means those families were “here” even before the Earth (and before God, of course).
    About not exactly crag but pebble and surnames, that word has reminded me a famous cardinal, who was born in my district but in 1477, whose surname was “Guijarro” (pebble). He changed it to “Silíceo” (siliceous), a good case of metonomasy, similar to one well-known of “Dubois” to “Silvius”, for example.

  65. Or to put it in verse:
    Quirós and Velasco, their age inconceivable:
    The pride of those clans is quite unbelievable.
    “Since before God was God, or a boulder, a boulder,
    We were as old as the hills, if not older.”

  66. >John Cowan
    You have done a good exegesis as well.

  67. >John Cowan
    Very good! When I wrote my last comment I hadn’t read your successful poem yet.

  68. marie-lucie says

    Yes, JC, congratulations!
    Although those families or clans claimed to have been there before Creation, before God even, the truth might still have been that they were there before the Roman empire or before Christianity, both of which would have affected the local social structures and allowed “upstarts” to rise in them. Families and ethnic groups who have “always” lived in one place can preserve traces of very long traditions, even if the memories might have been distorted or exaggerated with time.

  69. When he awoke, Velasco was still there. (I hope Monterroso forgives me.)

  70. I’m curious to hear what you think when you get to the Prussia chapter, hat. I found it so irritating that I quit reading the book at that point.

  71. Oh dear! I was (and am) expecting to have that reaction to the USSR chapter (the very fact of wasting a chapter in a book like this on an excessively familiar country suggests it’s going to be an exercise in axe-grinding), but fortunately that’s the last one. “Borussia” is chapter 7; maybe I should skip it until I’ve read the others…

  72. He starts chopping that very axe in the Borussia chapter. It’s from the point of view of East Prussia, which of course meets its final end at the hands of the Soviet Union.

  73. Just got to my first WTF moment, in the section on “Litva” (oddly positioned as a history of Belarus): “By general scholarly consent, the Lithuanian language represents the oldest European branch of the Indo-European linguistic family.” Uh, no. By general scholarly consent, that statement is not only wrong but meaningless. He cites Marija Gimbutas (The Balts, 1963) and Alfred Senn (The Lithuanian Language, 1942); I’m not even interested enough to try to find out what they actually said.

  74. …And his discussion of the history of Rus/Russia is ridiculous:

    The derivation of the term is obscure, although it is often related to a word for ‘ruddy’ or ‘red-haired’, as the Varangian overlords could well have been. Rus’, at all events, became the name of the country. Ruski was the country’s Slavonic language, and Rusin (m.) and Rusinka (f.) were names for the inhabitants. Byzantine Greeks translated Rus’ as Rossiya; Rusin was the derivative for the Latin terms of Ruthenus and Ruthenia.

    Some of that is inadequate, some is wrong, and some is just plain gibberish (“Rusin was the derivative for the Latin terms of Ruthenus and Ruthenia“??). If he’s this bad on stuff I happen to know about, I have to wonder how far I can trust what he has to say on other stuff.

  75. J.W. Brewer says

    It’s not uncommon to see claims that Lithuanian (or Lithuanian/Latvian jointly) are the most conservative non-dead IE languages when it comes to preserving certain sorts of inflectional morphology. I think it might be fairly easy for someone who didn’t know much about linguistics to paraphrase that as “oldest.”

  76. I read an autobiography of a Lithuanian immigrant to Canada who subsequently became a TV host. In it he states that in elementary school (in the thirties) the children (himself included) were taught that “Lithuanian is Europe’s oldest language”. I suspect that this is (directly or indirectly) the source of Davies’ claim.

  77. Oh, I’m very familiar with the “oldest language” trope, and I would just have winced a bit to see it passed on as common wisdom. It was the “general scholarly consent” that really chapped my ass.

  78. Now he calls Bayard “the knight without fear of reproach” (an attempt to render le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). The level of ignorance, for someone who considers himself a scholar, is astounding.

  79. “A Polish-Lithuanian tabor besieged by twenty or thirty thousand Tartars must have closely resembled the overland wagon trains of American pioneers attacked by the Sioux or the Cherokee”: I can only presume that by “Cherokee” he means Comanche. And of course by “Tartars” he means Tatars. Jesus.

  80. By Tartars everyone means Tatars, Hat, c’mon. The words are synonymous and the chance of confusion nil, and if Tartar has a derogatory etymology, so do lots of standard exonyms.

  81. Everyone? Are you living in the past, or confining yourself to popular authors? I don’t think I’ve seen “Tartars” used by a soi-disant academic in years. I don’t give a damn about the derogatory etymology (as I’m sure you know), but using “Tartars” is one notch above using “Mahometans”—it reeks of amateurism.

  82. J.W. Brewer says

    If one spends a little time on google books, one can still find the now-minority spelling “Tartars” in new works published by reasonably prestigious academic presses within the last five years. And not solely in direct quotes from older sources.

  83. Really? OK, I withdraw the snark, but not the objection—whether it’s still in use by some scholars or not, I’m agin it, and I don’t care how many of them I have to chastise for it.

  84. J.W. Brewer says

    This is just evidence that some once-reputable budget-cutting university presses have lowered their standards and are not using copy-editors as demandingly prescriptivist as hat. Some of them may even let their authors make their own choices among variant spellings. For shame!

  85. J.W. Brewer says

    Note by the way that if you compare “Tatars” to “Tartars” on google n gram, the preference for “Tatars” both begins earlier and is more pronounced in magnitude in the AmEng subcorpus than in the BrEng subcorpus (admittedly in neither case sorting out academic from popular works). Davies is British. (He also may be old enough to have had his own notions of usage fixed back before “Tartar” became a minority usage even in US academic circles.)

  86. “A Polish-Lithuanian tabor besieged by twenty or thirty thousand Tartars must have closely resembled the overland wagon trains of American pioneers attacked by the Sioux or the Cherokee”
    That statement also smacks of old fashioned Orientalism – the Tatars were technologically and organizationally more advanced than their European opponents. On the other hand, cases of American Indians actually mounting direct attacks on pioneer wagon trains appear to have been very rare and small scale, and the American Indians were probably more merciful to their enemies than the Tatars. Davies seems to want us to picture ululating painted savages shooting arrows at a steely-eyed John Wayne protecting Claire Trevor, which isn’t very helpful.

  87. Everyone? Are you living in the past, or confining yourself to popular authors? I don’t think I’ve seen “Tartars” used by a soi-disant academic in years.
    But that doesn’t contradict what I said. Sure, most professionals now use Tatars. But everyone who does use Tartars means the Tatars and nobody else by it: there is no possibility of confusion, unlike the use of Cherokee to mean the Comanches. That’s what I objected to — your mentioning both usages in the same breath as if they were parallel.

  88. J.W. Brewer says

    Just to give an example, if a sentence like “Wroth manipulates ekphrastic, geographic, and humanist conventions in her teatrum mundi to make lovers, Persians, and Tartars all subject to a ‘tottering’ romance globe” doesn’t scream “soi-disant academic,” I don’t know what would.

  89. That statement also smacks of old fashioned Orientalism … Davies seems to want us to picture ululating painted savages shooting arrows at a steely-eyed John Wayne protecting Claire Trevor, which isn’t very helpful.
    I am in hearty agreement.
    But that doesn’t contradict what I said. Sure, most professionals now use Tatars. But everyone who does use Tartars means the Tatars and nobody else by it: there is no possibility of confusion, unlike the use of Cherokee to mean the Comanches. That’s what I objected to — your mentioning both usages in the same breath as if they were parallel.
    Oh, OK, in that case I agree, I was lumping distinct complaints into the same complaint box.

  90. I may not wind up finishing this book; it’s making me too mad. In the brief and pointless chapter on Byzantium (he starts off slagging Orhan Pamuk for only writing about Turkish Istanbul, complains that people dismiss the Byzantine Empire unfairly, then says that other people have been correcting that misapprehension for the last 200 years) he writes “In 2008-9, the Royal Academy in London staged an epoch-making exhibition in collaboration with the Benaki Museum in Athens, and entitled simply Byzantium. It contained 350 objects, many of stunning beauty…. The biggest wonder was that nothing like it had been staged before.” Oh really? I must have been fantasizing when I wrote about visiting a huge exhibit on Byzantium at the Met in New York in 2004 and remembered having gone to another one in 1997. I’m tempted to call this guy a lying liar, but I’ll just say he doesn’t know enough to make the sweeping statements he does.
    And he ends the brief and pointless chapter with another attack on Pamuk and a long quote from Yeats, borrowing a better man’s better writing to pad his biased book. Grr.

  91. He has numerous footnotes citing Wikipedia. Seriously, dude? Wikipedia?

  92. Rusin was the derivative for the Latin terms of Ruthenus and Ruthenia.

    It finally dawned on me what this means: our malapropistic author is using derivative to mean ‘source’. Rusin is the word from which Ruthenus/ia were derived.

  93. And in this thread I found a spam comment that wasn’t even disguised: it might as well have been by Spammer and said “Hi, I spam very much, here’s my spam!” So once again I thank you for bringing old threads back to life.

  94. elle écorchait le basque

    Actually, he says estropiait: she cripples Basque rather than flays it. Is this use of estropier archaic?

  95. marie-lucie says

    JC, I don’t know, I think that écorcher is more common in this context but estropier only sounds stronger. Ecorcher does not necessarily mean ‘to flay’, for instance if you hurt your hand on a nail or thorn and the skin is broken, you could say je me suis écorché la main, and the result is une écorchure.

  96. My excellent Collins-Robert dictionary (I have the 1987 second edition) has the following senses for écorcher:

    (a) animal to skin; criminel to flay.
    (b) peau, visage to scratch, graze; genoux to graze.
    (c) (par frottement) to chafe, rub; cheval to gall.
    (d) mot, nom to mispronounce. il écorche l’allemand he speaks broken German.
    (e) (fig : ruiner) ~ le client to fleece one’s customers; vous m’écorchez! you’re bleeding me white!
    (f) ~ les oreilles de qn [bruit] to grate on one’s ears; [personne] to hurt sb’s ears.

  97. In American, I think, that should read “genoux to skin.”

  98. Don’t get me started on the preference for UK definitions and equivalents in supposedly global dictionaries of English.

  99. marie-lucie says

    To me, the meaning ‘to flay’ as punishment for a criminal is as obsolete as the act, but in one of my science classes many years ago we were shown un écorché, a model of a human torso without the skin, showing the muscles, etc. Also, I would not use the verb to mean ‘to chafe, rub’, as it implies a broken skin and a small amount of blood (not enough to flow).

  100. Historically it seems Gascon emerged as a separate Romance variety before French and (the remainder of) Occitan did

    Etienne: I would like the reference for this if you can still find it, not because I doubt it but to assist an enquirer on Quora. I link his post because it contains further links to some nice recordings of Occitan-speakers (which Marie-Lucie may also be interested in).

  101. Hank Williams says

    Thanks for this post. I was given a calendar by my ex-wife who went to Catalunya on a cruise earlier this year. It is in Catalan, Basque, French, Spanish and a language I had never seen although I recognized it as a Romance language. Had I not seen this post plus a list of the months of the year on I would never have known it was Aranese.

Speak Your Mind