Norwegian or Swedish?

An amusing passage from Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist (he has escaped from a Petersburg prison in mid-1876):

When I landed at Hull and went to Edinburgh, I informed but a few friends in Russia and in the Jura Federation of my safe arrival in England. A socialist must always rely upon his own work for his living, and consequently, as soon as I was settled in the Scotch capital, in a small room in the suburbs, I tried to find some work.

Among the passengers on board our steamer there was a Norwegian professor, with whom I talked, trying to remember the little that I formerly had known of the Swedish language. He spoke German. “But as you speak some Norwegian,” he said to me, “and arc trying to learn it, let us both speak it.”

“You mean Swedish?” I ventured to ask. “I speak Swedish, don’t I?”

“Well, I should say it is rather Norwegian; surely not Swedish,” was his reply.

Thus happened to me what happened to one of Jules Verne’s heroes, who had learned by mistake Portuguese instead of Spanish. At any rate, I talked a good deal with the professor, — let it be in Norwegian, — and he gave me a Christiania paper, which contained the reports of the Norwegian North Atlantic deep-sea expedition, just returned home.

On the fictitious nature of the Swedish language, see this post.


  1. David Marjanović says

    Norwegian is essentially Swedish with b, d, g turned into plosives.

  2. John Cowan says

    Added to the Essentialist Explanations queue.

  3. But a Russian wouldn’t’ve changed any sounds into plosives. Unless, said Russian leaned English first and then generalized English sound system to “foreign sound system” (it’s been known to happen).

  4. Stu Clayton says

    Did Kropotkin invent the word “revolutionist” ? The German, French and Spanish titles don’t bother to make a distinction in translation – they just use the standard word for “revolutionary”.

    <*checks, having nothing better to do at 5:40 in the morning*> No, it seems that revolutionist is an older term (1710 is claimed in one place) for “revolutionary”. Fowler treats of them.

  5. Lars (the original one) says

    I’m confused, in what sense are Swedish b, d, g not plosives that Norwegian may turn them into such?

  6. This is the weird Swedish one. The ‘notoriously difficult to describe dark sounds in southern Swedish’ with nothing like them as far as I know in Norwegian, thank goodness. (I just played it, now my wife wants to know why I’m learning “to shoot” in Swedish.) ɧ.

    The Swedish phoneme /ɧ/ (the “sje-sound” or voiceless postalveolar-velar fricative) and its alleged coarticulation is a difficult and complex issue debated amongst phoneticians.[48] Though the acoustic properties of its [ɧ] allophones are fairly similar, the realizations can vary considerably according to geography, social status, age, gender as well as social context and are notoriously difficult to describe and transcribe accurately. Most common are various [ɧ]-like sounds, with [ʂ] occurring mainly in northern Sweden and [ɕ] in Finland. A voiceless uvular fricative, [χ], can sometimes be used in the varieties influenced by major immigrant languages like Arabic and Kurdish. The different realizations can be divided roughly into the following categories:[49]

    “Dark sounds” – [ɧ] and [x], commonly used in the Southern Standard Swedish. Some of the varieties specific, but not exclusive, to areas with a larger immigrant population commonly realize the phoneme as a voiceless uvular fricative [χ].
    “Light sounds” – [ʂ], used in the northern varieties and [ʃ], and [ɕ] (or something in between) in Finland Swedish.

  7. Lars (the original one) says

    Yes, but that one has nothing to do with the old /g/ phoneme which got lenited to /j/ in much the same places where Norwegian does it. (It can be spelled with a g in French loan words, for instance, but those entered the language already palatalized and developed from there. Danish has /ʃ/ in those words — or arguably /sj/, there are no minimal pairs).

    WP does claim morpheme-crossing /stj/ > /ɧ/ in östgöte /ˈœɧœtə/ for another orthographic g — I’m pretty sure it was not in the Standard I was exposed to, Östgötaland did get mentioned on occasion. But they did /r-s/ > /ʂ/ across word boundaries and /krɪˈɧansta/ for Kristianstad ([ʁɪˈʁansta] in Scania), so I’m not ruling it out!

    Oh, and to the original point — /b/ and /d/ don’t get lenited at all, though /d/ can become retroflex with a preceding /r/. I think /d/ did weaken, sometimes to the point of disappearance, in Early Modern Swedish, but spelling came to its rescue.

  8. I agree with your point, Lars. I shoulda said earlier.

    How about this in today’s paper (even if it’s true, I don’t like or believe the conclusion that Finnish is inadequate):
    The psycholinguist John Lucy has given language as one explanation for the starkly different rates of workplace accidents in Sweden and Finland. In Swedish, prepositions allow for the nuanced account of actions over time; in Finnish, case endings stress static relationships. This may make Finns less alert to the temporal arrangement of a process, leading to more interruptions and accidents at work.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    Most of the programmers I have worked with over the years were less alert than I to the temporal arrangement of programming activities. They did not plan, but just started programming They did not coordinate their work with that of the others, leading to code conflicts. None of these people spoke Finnish.

    There was no one to tell them what to do, in what sequence. Language can’t be blamed for that. Unbridled self-centeredness, more likely.

  10. Lars (the original one) says

    @Kruunu päähänsä: That reminds me of a an article I found and linked here years ago — and my brain freezes trying to come up with a search term for — where they looked at how stage directions are interpreted when Finnish TV records a (Swedish language) play, ostensibly much more statically than when Swedish TV does it. (Finskt TV-teater seems to be commonly understood in Sweden as the worst that could be on back in the monopoly days).

    I can imagine things like ‘don’t walk under the ladder’ having different ‘natural’ interpretations in Swedish and Finnish. (‘I’m not walking under the ladder, I’m walking from one side of it to the other!’) I think one of the TV play production examples was that for Finns, “Alice walks around the table to Bob” could only mean that Alice is standing opposite to Bob at the table, but for Swedes they can both be farther away and the table is just an obstacle.

    The interesting thing would be if Finns with Swedish as their first language carry over the static interpretation of spatial relations from the Finnish they learn in school.

  11. Trond Engen says

    Lars: I think /d/ did weaken, sometimes to the point of disappearance, in Early Modern Swedish, but spelling came to its rescue.

    Yes, medially and word-finally in both languages. g was lenited to j in the same positions, except word-finally behind vowels, where it disappeared in (most of?) Swedish and Easternish Norwegian, even if it was kept in writing. The written word-final g was reinstated in Swedish in strong preterites like låg “lay” and såg “saw” — and for good measure in stog “stood” < stod.

    Nowadays I think there’s a stronger tendency to reading pronunciation of g in Norwegian. Not sure about silent d. The orthographies are different enough to prevent clear conclusions.

    morpheme-crossing /stj/ > /ɧ/ in östgöte /ˈœɧœtə/

    Swedish does this even more than Norwegian, but in this case I’ll argue that the etymology didn’t mean anything anymore to many speakers, so for them the word may have been a single morpheme.

    But they did /r-s/ > /ʂ/ across word boundaries and /krɪˈɧansta/ for Kristianstad ([ʁɪˈʁansta] in Scania)

    [ʁɪˈʁansta]? That’s wierd. The nurses I spoke to when my son was born 20 years ago said something like [kɜˈɧansta], which I parsed as /kerˈɧansta/ with the [ʁ] assimilated to the /ɧ/, when they went full colloquial. My perception may be skewed towards the young male nurse from Blekinge, who was more outspokenly colloquial than the older female nurse from Helsingör.

  12. Here’s a quick NRK analysis of the causes of “finsk fjernsynsteater” in which “the problem”* is also attributed to movement, in this case the camera’s.

    *”Finnish TV theatre: something endlessly grey, stiff and slow… therefore …only two percent of Norwegians would choose Finland if forced to relocate to another Nordic country. (I might choose it. I like the Finns, esp. Alvar Aalto, and because they value it more, they’re the best designers in the world.)

  13. David Marjanović says

    I was sure I had once seen, somewhere on Wikipedia, a phoneme inventory table claiming plosive and approximant allophones for Swedish /b d g/. If it existed, it’s no longer there, and the text makes no such claims either. Maybe it existed and was an overanalysis of e.g. the disappearance in -stad illustrated above.

    I’ve seen a horror story about /ɧ/, though. I need to find it again.

    In Swedish, prepositions allow for the nuanced account of actions over time; in Finnish, case endings stress static relationships.

    I can’t see what sense that makes.

  14. Trond Engen says

    It’s interesting that the preface is by the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes, a huge intellectual presence in his day and a younger contemporary and major influence on the emerging Norwegian literature such as Ibsen and Bjørnson.

    Krapotkin made a scientific journey to Finland and Sweden in 1871, also spending time with the young Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, from a bourgeouis Helsinki Swedish familiy. It seems clear to me that the Swedish Krapotkin acquired was Finland Swedish, and maybe mostly from L2 speakers with Finnish as L1. My guess is that the Norwegian professor on the ship from Christiania to Hull in 1876 (I’d like to know who), not being familiar with Finland Swedish, recognized some conservative traits shared with Norwegian dialects and not found in Standard Swedish. Any difference in tone would have been camouflaged by the Russian accent. Another possibility could be that he had been reading scientific articles in (Dano-)Norwegian by e.g. the geologist Sjur Sexe, a pioneer in glaciology and the study of Ice Age phenomena. or the zoologist G.O. Sars, who pioneered the study of North Atlantic marine biology.

    Edit: I just noticed that the Norwegian North Atlantic expediton, led by G.O. Sars, was finished in 1978, two years later than Krapotkin claims to have read the reports in a Christiania paper on a British ship crossing the North Sea. I guess it may have been a preliminary report from the first season.

  15. January First-of-May says

    Thus happened to me what happened to one of Jules Verne’s heroes, who had learned by mistake Portuguese instead of Spanish.

    Spanish and Portuguese are about as far from each other as Norwegian and Swedish (arguably even closer); the hero in question (Paganel, from Captain Grant’s Children) could surely have made himself understood even in Portuguese.

    My headcanon is that, having learned the whole thing from writing only, he had an incomprehensible French accent (in which case it would not have changed things much if the underlying language was actually Spanish) – though it might have partly also been because the Andean farmers (…not sure if farmers or not, but definitely Andean) that he was trying to talk with spoke a dialect of “Spanish” too divergent from Standard Average Iberian.

    Then again, mutual (non-)comprehensibility depends on a lot of variables. The two languages in the infamous Kannitverstan story (Dutch and, presumably, Swabian) wouldn’t have been that far apart either.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes, a huge intellectual presence in his day and a younger contemporary and major influence on the emerging Norwegian literature such as Ibsen and Bjørnson.

    As it says there, he “discovered” Nietzsche for the world. I read the book (Nietzsche. Eine Abhandlung über aristokratischen Radicalismus) many years ago. As in books on Nietzsche by other writers at the end of the 19C into the 20C, Brandes discusses his works calmly, as if weighing what to choose from a restaurant menu. What I learned from this is that not all “people” then were the pearl-clutching bourgeois I had until then imagined them to be. Nietzsche did not rise up suddenly as Godzilla in a duck pond.

  17. Lars (the original one) says

    I think I started from the piece Crown linked and found the actual (English language) article it was based on, which had a bit more detail.

    [ʁɪˈʁansta] — I admit that this form was elicited from a Scanian in response to my attempt at a Central Swedish pronunciation of the city name, back when I was struggling with those phonemes, so maybe it was exaggerated but the initial sound was definitely not a stop. Also I think I meant [χɪˈχansta], no voicing. You can get away with [χ] or even [ʀ] for the sje-ljud in Anlaut (I tested sometimes), but not [ʁ] — intervocalically I am not sure what goes, but the Scanian version is definitely more back than the Svealand one. (Anecdotal evidence from numerous train journeys STO-CPH where new crew would take over in Avesta — the difference in production between Växjö and Nässjö was enormous. Pity the foreigner who has to make sense of [nɛəχœ] = /nɛːɧɶ/ — Standard has /nɛɧːɶ/ according to WP, and that’s how I’d read it too, but the Scanian diphthong was unmistakeable).

  18. Trond Engen says

    [χɪˈχansta], no voicing.

    Oh, now I can hear it for my inner ear. In this case the first [χ] is the assimilation product of /kr/ and the second is the realization of /ɧ/. Still pretty sure it’s not how my informant pronounced it, but he was from Blekinge and not a Scanian proper.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Nietzsche did not rise up suddenly as Godzilla in a duck pond.

    He tried to make people believe he had, though, didn’t he?

    (Also, day saved.)

  20. David Marjanović says

    a horror story about /ɧ/

    Found it.

    “Official IPA charts do attempt to define [ɧ] as a specific sound, the coarticulated fricative [ʃ͡x]. And yes, that is one possible realization of /ɧ/. Which would be wild enough on its own already, but nope: that is just the beginning.”

    …and the clocks were striking thirteen.

  21. As usual, I decided to check how many degrees of separation are there between me and former prince Kropotkin, founder of anarchism.

    Me -> my grandfather -> Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Budenny -> Vladimir Ilyich Lenin -> prince Kropotkin.


    History is a small place

  22. Stu Clayton says

    Much like a tin packed with red herrings.

  23. Goodness, SF. I knew the son of a Detroit dentist who claimed he was descended from Pushkin. I don’t think even he believed it. Cheer up, Stu. You didn’t know this morning when you woke up that you were only 5 degrees of separation from Kropotkin. Or we could cut out the middleman and go and visit Lenin; so to speak, in the flesh.

  24. OK, going for the record.

    Kropotkin’s memoirs linked above mention that he met emperor Nicholas I when he was 8 year old boy.

    Now, emperor Nicholas I was the last grandson of Catherine the Great born when she was still alive.

    So, I am 6 degrees of separation from Catherine the Great.

  25. Trond Engen says

    My daughter found out that president Obama and the pope were separated by five degrees when going through her.

    Packed like a tin of red herrings ought to picked up and used.

  26. January First-of-May says

    how many degrees of separation are there between me and former prince Kropotkin

    I think I can, somewhat shakily and after some googling, claim three: me -> Alexey Sosinsky (he taught at my university) -> his grandfather Viktor Chernov -> Kropotkin (they did apparently meet several times, too late to show up in the linked memoirs).

    It’s weird to think that I’m only five degrees of separation from Catherine II (and consequently six from, among others, Leonhard Euler).

  27. OK, I am 2 degrees of separation from Queen Elizabeth II, 3 from king George V, 4 from Queen Victoria, 5 from mad king George III and 6 from King George II of Great Britain who was born in 1683.

    If anyone of you ever met someone who met Queen Elizabeth, you can claim the same.

  28. 5 from George III and 6 from George II

    Or 5 from George III and 6 from Mozart. Me too. Muddy Waters is only 5 degrees from Mozart using this route.

  29. Lars (the original one) says

    I’ve been sat on an uninhabited island drinking beer with the (then) Master of Ceremony of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe the Second of Denmark. That probably gets me to 3 with most heads of state and prime ministers (where that differs) of the last fifty years. Even Trump come September 2.

    Actually two ways, my mother received the Cross of Dannebrog before she retired, and that comes with a handshake from the monarch.

    (Margrethe probably met king George VI who died when she was 11, and he in turn must have met his great grandmother Victoria who died when he was 5, so absent proof to the contrary I will claim 4 for Victoria as well).

  30. I’ve met several people who’ve been to space. Both in the American and Soviet space program.

    I think I reasonably can claim 2 degrees (3 max) to every human who has been to space.

    Including all the Moonwalkers.

  31. Lars (the original one) says

    @David, I have to take exception to one thing in your horrendous link — in my experience, most Standard speakers don’t merge /ɧ/ and /rs/ = [ʂ], so ‘prefers’ is too strong. Reportedly some circles regard [ʂ] as more genteel than the usual realizations and it may be preferred in Danderyd. (In wider circles it may also occur in loans like chans and chock, even in speakers with a full-throated velar fricative in tjock).

    I once had a paper by a Swedish linguist describing the variations in excruciating detail, but that was on another laptop… Fun things happen after /r/ as well, and /rɧ/ may well come out as [ʂ]. She even had examples of regressive spread of retroflexivity in speakers that did have the merger! (Normally it spreads forward from post-vocalic /r/, so you need /ʂ/ in your system for something like /miːn ʂɑns/ [miːɳʂɑns] to happen).

  32. Stu Clayton says

    Isn’t it odd that I don’t need to know any such excruciating detail in order to understand the way this person, that person speaks German of whatever kind. I may have to accomodate, and not always succeed, but no rocket science is involved. Is German a let-down for rocket scientists ? Where are all the rockets headed, what will you do when you get there ?

  33. There is a theory that listening comprehension of human speech is largely just our brain guessing (sometimes wrong) words and sentences on the basis of acoustic waves captured by our ears.

    In other words, actual sounds uttered by people in oral conversation might not (and often do not) contain relevant information intended to convey. Our brain just makes up words and sentences we allegedly hear by modeling and guessing on the basis of our vast experience of social interaction.

    This is the reason why people who already can read a foreign language, can’t understand spoken speech in that language for years (some never master this skill).

    Considerable training of our brain in convincingly making up sensible words and sentences from acoustic garbage and random noises (which is what 99% of human speech is) will be needed first and it takes some time.

    So how do we actually communicate?

    By situational telepathy – we have built in computer in our brains which analyzes social interaction and predicts what can be said to us in a given situation. These predictions and expectations are matched with actual sounds our ears capture and some calibration occurs removing words which can be ruled out and leaving those which are likely.

  34. Lars (the original one) says

    [χ] is the assimilation product of /kr/ — and of course /r/ is [ʁ] already in Scania, so voicing assimilation and simplification of [kχ] gets you there. (Actually I won’t warrant that I could tell the difference between [kχ] and [χ] if I heard it, the unvoiced fricative is so noisy that it drowns out the stop).

    My sociolect of Danish, at least, avoids the voicing assimilation, as far as I can tell I have [‘kʁɛʃan/’kʁɛstjan/’kʁɛ] for the Christian name. But it’s a bit hard to get all the way from (velar) stop to uvular fricative so shades of [ʀ] easily creep in, and basilectally you might get a pure [ʀ] after all unvoiced stops. (I don’t know if the IPA symbol actually specifies voicing, even though it’s in the voiced column, but it would easily be lost in that context).

  35. Trond Engen says

    Stu: Isn’t it odd that I don’t need to know any such excruciating detail in order to understand the way this person, that person speaks German of whatever kind. I may have to accomodate, and not always succeed, but no rocket science is involved.

    You don’t need that to understand Swedish either. It’s always perfectly clear which phoneme the elusive [ɧ] is representing. The difficulty is not in understanding but in describing, and in the challenge it makes to various theoretical models of phonology.

    SFR: By situational telepathy – we have built in computer in our brains which analyzes social interaction and predicts what can be said to us in a given situation. These predictions and expectations are matched with actual sounds our ears capture and some calibration occurs removing words which can be ruled out and leaving those which are likely.

    I’ve used “telepathic phonemes” for the vaguely articulated approximants and whateverized vowels of Danish. I think the point is that the phoneme exists as an ideal in the brain of the listener, and it’s often enough to make a vague hint in that direction when passing by. E.g. when I heard [kɜˈɧansta] as /ker’ɧansta/ 20 years ago, there was a hint of velarization that I chose not to write, since velarization is already within the scope of [ɧ], but still marked to me that there was an r between the vowel and the sibillant. Maybe [kɜˈɧʶansta] with [kɜʶˈɧansta] in more carefully articulated speech. It’s quite possible that what conveyed the /r/ to me was that the /ɧ/ was velarized from the onset.

    One feature of /ɧ/ is that it’s coloured by its surroundings. It’s rounded next to a /u/, palatalized next to an /i/ and I think velarized next to an /a/. This is not strange. You move the point of articulation from one vowel to the next during the fricative. The closest parallel I can think of is Japanese /h/f/.

  36. John Cowan says

    The general human ability to understand even thick foreign accents is really pretty remarkable. It’s no wonder that speech-to-text systems don’t deal in phonemes.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    Trond: The difficulty is not in understanding but in describing, and in the challenge it makes to various theoretical models of phonology.

    So that’s where the rockets are headed ! Thanks, that didn’t occur to me. Now that we have another subject I know nothing about – do these models of phonology take hearers into account ? I would find it strange if such models did not have corresponding … what to call them, “aural” models ? “Interpre(ta)tive” models ? “Less-tnan-perfect pitch” models ? What boots the velarized sibilant if most people can’t hear it, or have learned to ignore it ?

  38. Trond Engen says

    I don’t really know much phonological theory, but I can say what I believe is going on.

    Everything human is fuzzy, and if it doesn’t work that way it doesn’t work at all. We interpret speech by several processes and one of them is mentally reproducing how it’s said and recognizing contrastive features*. We can notice a hint of tongue retraction or rounding of the lips, and more so in environments where it’s unexpected**. That means that a uvular r can be produced with just a hint of uvularity in the preceding vowel, which wouldn’t otherwise be there, or a j by slight retraction of the preceding sibillant. This system isn’t hard-wired, so each new speaker has to reinvent it from scratch, and it’s constantly recalibrated by each listener and renegotiated by the community at large. The backness meaning r for one speaker (or one generation of speakers) is a new set of vowels for the next. That’s how systems change.

    *) This is my own postulate. Motoric memory. We interpret other people’s movements through our own. It’s the same effect that makes us mimick the movements when we get really into sports on TV. Evidence to the contrary: Babies understand speech before they start producing it well. People often understand languages they can’t speak. Children born with speech impairment learn to understand language. So mental reproduction is not the only process. It would be interesting to know if e.g. the speech impaired have the same abiity to understand fast and weakly articulated speech as those with fully functional speech, but I suppose it’s hard to isolate the effect of the speech impairment from the effect of the cause of it without a pool of people who had their tongue and vocal chords removed as infants.

    **) This process is much easier in languages we know and in phonological systems similar to those we know. In a foreign language we need much clearer articulation of each phoneme (or contrastive feature). In completely unknown languages we can misinterprete the sounds in the strangest ways.

  39. Lars (the original one) says

    Have you ever had the experience that one utterance in a conversation makes no sense, like ‘were those even words’ no sense? And when you are halfway in asking them to repeat, suddenly it all sorts out into meaningful words and you go ‘Oh!’ instead? Well, I have, and I think it shows that speech processing is a combination of several processes, some fast and limited in scope, others grinding more slowly but getting more matches. The details of this would be beyond introspection, I’m sure, but maybe brain activity patterns could how something.

  40. David Marjanović says

    In short, yes to both preceding comments.

    one of them is mentally reproducing how it’s said and recognizing contrastive features

    In extreme cases, like if you throw mille neuf cent quatre-vingt dix-neuf at me at full speed in the middle of a conversation with background noise and all, I remember the, like, raw unprocessed phonetic data, stow them away, and parse them up to a second or two later from memory.

  41. Trond Engen says

    Me: a pool of people who had their tongue and vocal chords removed as infants

    And even that wouldn’t be a clearcut case since I believe we interpret by analysing the impulse from our mimicking reflex, and those reprived of speech organs since birth will certainly have a mimicking reflex as if they had them, even if crude and uncalibrated by experience. This calibration from experience is motoric memory, or part of it.

  42. Analogy with lip-reading might be in order.

    I am willing to bet that lip-reading is largely a guessing effort, there is no way one can actually “read” what is said just from mouth and lip movements.

    There just isn’t enough information there.

    What we actually hear, what “lip readers” actually see is more like:

    nlgy wth lp-rdng mght b n rdr.

    m wllng t bt tht lp-rdng s lrgly gssng ffrt, thr s n wy n cn ctlly “rd” wht s sd jst frm mth nd lp mvmnts.

    Thr jst sn’t ngh nfrmtn thr.

  43. In mille neuf cent quatre-vingt dix-neuf, I would never have predicted that people would prefer writing messages to talking on the telephone. I assume the advantages include having slightly more time to think & respond during a typed conversation and that the message sender can hide vocal giveaways.

  44. David Marjanović says

    “Why are you calling me on my texting device?”

  45. It is really remarkable how little I use my phone as a phone. Maybe once a week my brother calls me; otherwise it’s for internet searches, weather checks, and playing Threes.

  46. January First-of-May says

    and playing Threes

    …wait, Threes is still a thing? I thought it was completely overshadowed by its simpler cousin 2048.

    (I was never much good even at 2048 – don’t think I ever managed to win it. Threes, from what little I know of it, is far harder.)

  47. No one’s interested in speaking nowadays. The Guardian never mentions the phone in a cell-phone review; it’s about the screen size, camera & battery i.e. the transfer of visual info. Although that may only be because sound technology rarely advances (yet another subject about which I know next to nothing).

  48. Isn’t calling a breach of etiquette among teenagers? (you are supposed to text normally)

  49. January First-of-May says

    My own barely-teenager brother is quite often talking on his phone to his mostly-not-quite-teenager friends; turns out that discussing video games (and your ongoing current progress in them) is much more convenient over sound than over texting.

    I distinctly remember doing the same thing back in my own late-preteen years – I would call (or be called by) my teenager friend, and he would ramble on about what he was playing for the next two hours, while I intently listened and occasionally commented.
    I didn’t have a mobile phone back then, admittedly (I got one on my 15th birthday), but texting wouldn’t have worked very well in that context anyway.

  50. Well, playing and texting at the same time would be difficult

  51. Lars (the original one) says

    Actually I’ve seen sound mentioned in cell-phone reviews, but in the context of music playback (built-in speakers, headphone drivers, or BlueTooth signal quality). Also there was a scandal some years back when holding a specific iPhone model the way you do during a voice call would block the mobile signal — so clearly some people cared.

    That aside, technical advances are happening. Newer phones are starting to support higher quality voice call connections over 4G data out of the box and operators are starting to be able to interconnect that with the plain old 2/3G and landline voice service. (Look for a tiny VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) label on your status bar). If your operator is woke enough and your phone even newer you can also use a similar service over WiFi when there is no mobile signal, but you still need the SIM card for authentication towards your provider.

    Of course apps like Viber have offered this for a decade, for free, but only when you wanted to talk to other Viber users. (You could ‘call out’ for a charge, though, which could be good value if you made many international calls).

  52. I honestly can’t wrap my head around how could end up being mistaken about which language you had learned –
    whether you learned it from books or directly from native speakers. (Though I suppose I can imagine a foreigner who learned BCS long ago being mistaken about whether he speaks Serbian or Croatian.)

    At any rate, I also learned Swedish during my college study abroad, and managed to converse at a decent level by the time I left. (Needless to say it’s atrophied since but it’s a neat parlor trick for when I encounter Swedes here in North America.) Norwegian DOES sound similar, but has a noticeably flatter prosody. Danish is of course on another planet. And of course written Swedish is very easy to distinguish by the umlauts. I’d say that mutual intelligibility between NOR and SWE is quite high, about 80%. Less than Serbian and Croatian, but more than Spanish and Portuguese. In other words, even someone with very little experience can instantly distinguish Norwegian and Swedish, let alone a person who supposedly studied one of them.

    Anyway all that to say that Kropotkin’s anecdote doesn’t pass the smell test. (Jules Verne’s – about confusing ES and PT – is even more preposterous but then again he was writing fiction).

  53. I don’t think Kropotkin was saying he actually didn’t know what language he learned; he’s just recounting in an amusing way how the Norwegian professor insisted he must have learned Norwegian rather than Swedish and how he went along with it rather than argue. He was no dummy.

  54. I recall reading reports by Russian military in late 19th century complaining about Mongolian phrasebooks published in St. Petersburg – neither Mongols nor Buryats could understand Mongolian phrases in that phrasebook (as pronounced by Cossacks reading Cyrillic transcription).

    A world-renowned Russian Orientalist, specialist in Mongolian language and literature, was asked to investigate the problem.

    He reported that the reason why natives couldn’t understand the phrasebook is because it was written in Classical Mongolian, but natives in Mongolia spoke Khalkha Mongolian and Buryats naturally spoke Buryat Mongolian.

    All three languages were divergent enough to present difficulties for spoken communication.

    Roughly, Classical Mongolian, Khalkha Mongolian and Buryat Mongolian in terms of divergence are equivalent to Church Slavonic, Russian and Polish.

    I suspect this is far from rare occurrence for many languages of Asia and Africa.

    And many linguists went to the field only to learn that they learned the wrong language…

  55. Trond Engen says

    Maybe I wasn’t clear on that, but I agree. I tried to imagine what might have fooled the Norwegian professor, not Kropotkin.

  56. Trond Engen says

    And I’m not sure the professor was fooled either. Maybe he just thought that Kropotkin’s accented Swedish could just as well pass for accented Norwegian.

  57. Reminds me of one of my classmates who was absolutely convinced that his difficulties in communicating were due to the fact we were in Skåne (ie, home of a pronounced regional dialect), and not his own shortcomings in grammar and pronunciation. 🙂

  58. Jules Verne’s heroes

    It’s funny, but afterwards, Petr Kropotkin himself became another Jules Verne’s hero.

    Jules Verne met Kropotkin in Paris and was very impressed with the anarchist prince and wrote novel The Survivors of the “Jonathan” where the main character Kaw-Djer, exiled anarchist and former prince from a powerful northern empire, establishes libertarian anarchist utopia in Tierra del Fuego.

  59. {making note} Jules Verne – 5 degrees of separation.

  60. Trond Engen says

    I didn’t think a word-final velar sje-sound was possible, but tonight I heard it! For the last couple of days my wife’s been binge-watching the Swedish antiques game show Bytt är bytt on Norwegian TV2, and the resident expert is a very Scanian lady by the name of Karin Laserow. I was in my chair reading, but suddenly I noticed something that made me stop and get my wife to rewind the … whatever you rewind on a recorded TV show nowadays. Ms. Laserow was talking about krasch på Wall Street, with a [χ] (I think) so dry that my wife heard it as /k/ when we replayed it. But it’s definitely a sje. Swedish has krasch for an economic crash, Norwegian has krakk,

    Sorry for not linking to a clip. For those who can be bothered to sign up with Swedish TV4, it’s season 3, episode 8, some 41 minutes in, in a segment about an original King Kong film poster.

    Also, the nurse in my comment way up there was from Helsingborg, obviously. Helsingør is on the Dansish side of the Sound.


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