1) The Scots Language Centre: “It’s yer ain tongue.”

The site contains lots of interesting information about Scots, the language spoken throughout Scotland from Shetland to Galloway and Aberdeen to Glasgow. You can read about the history of Scots and find out about the people that speak it today. Almost everything on the site is available in English too. Just move between the two languages if there are Scots words that you don’t understand.

Thanks, Mike!

2) Languages on Wikipedia presented as an array of circles. (I would have thought Russian would have a larger circle, but I guess that’s because I consult it so often.) This comes courtesy of John Emerson, who has a new post on The Consonantization of America, investigating the changes in American baby names since the 1880s from the point of view of initial consonants, discovering (among other things) a reversal of Grimm’s law: “Goodbye, Frank and Harold and Florence and Harriet; hello, Kevin and Peter and Karen and Pam!”

3) Lexicographer Grant Barrett (blog, word site) told me he’s become a cohost of the radio show A Way With Words, which you can listen to from the linked page. Fun stuff!


  1. Any thoughts on why the Poles are so much more prolific than the Russians?
    Also notable (or at least here noted) is what you find when combining language results – for example, that the North Germanic languages taken together approach third place. Granted, Scandanavians wouldn’t count them this way, but would your average Norwegian Wikipedia reader refuse to read an article in Swedish? How many would bother to write one in Norwegian if a Swedish article already exists? Maybe write a quick translation?

  2. michael farris says

    I have three Norwegian translations of novels by Jan Guillou originally written in Swedish (sample title: Ingen mans land became Ingenmannsland) so I think Norwegians probably would rather have a version in (one of) their own standard(s) if that’s feasible. If there isn’t a Norwegian articke available I’d imagine a Norwegian would try the Danish wiki before the Swedish one but that’s conjecture.
    I did check and see that actually there are two Norwegian wikis, one for Bokmaal/Riksmal and one for Nynorsk (the code for the latter is nn and has just under 20,000 articles), I have no idea how many of the latter are duplicated efforts though.

  3. If Scandinavia were in the Balkans, it would be the poster child for the ill effects of linguistic nationalism, with mutually-intelligible standard languages for three small-to-medium-sized nations. But since these are three prosperous, orderly, peaceful nations, they are just left out of the argument (the same way Switzerland is left out of arguments against multiculturalism.)
    I left Iceland out because I understand that it’s less mutually-intelligible, but maybe I’m all wrong. But then again, that tiny nation certainly puts a lot of effort into maintaining its language which could otherwise be spent better exploiting their vast stocks of glaciers, sagas, pop musicians, etc.

  4. “four mutually-intelligible standard languages for three small-to-medium-sized nations”.

  5. michael farris says

    Technically five mutually intelligible written standards as Norway has one private (riksmaal) and two official (bokmaal/nynorsk) written standards and no spoken standard as far as I can tell.

  6. I love Norway for that reason. A whole nation of language cranks.

  7. My God, I just went to the Norwegian language wiki. You also have standard Faroese and something called Hoegnorsk (don’t know about that vowel.)
    Prescriptivists would have it easy there, just choose you standard and be dogmatic, but what could a descriptivist do? Take polls?

  8. michael farris says

    Faroese is nothing to do with Norwegian AFAIK, it’s a non-continental conservative north germanic language along icelandic lines (thought not mutually intelligible with it or anything else) the Faroese islands are still associated with Denmark so I think they have Danish in school too (not sure how they feel about that).
    Høgnorsk seems to just be a new name for Landsmaal, the first version of Nynorsk so make that four written standards (two private, two official) and no official spoken standard.
    Foreigners seem to be taught a kind of idealised general eastern dialect whose speakers almost all use Bokmaal in writing though many would be hard pressed to (accurately) say they speak bokmaal.
    I do know of two polls (I don’t know how many people) in 1968 pollees were given written samples of the same text in riksmaal, bokmaal and nynorsk and asked “which of these would you prefer your children were educated in.
    riksmaal = 52
    bokmaal = 31
    nynorsk = 10
    no answer = 7
    in 1978 speakers were asked to identify what standard they most often use:
    local dialect = 48
    bokmaal = 34
    riksmaal = 15
    nynorsk = 3
    a nation of language cranks sounds about right

  9. The baby name site Emerson links to is fabulous, but his conclusions are based on the period 1900 to 1960, when in fact a lot has changed between 1960 and 2000. Some of the letters he mentions as declining are in fact hitting alltime peaks right now.

  10. I cooked my data that way to strengthen my thesis. I explained it that way in my methodology section. A better piece could be done by someone more scientific and harder working. Perhaps there’s a cycle.
    Some letters recovered and some didn’t. As I remember, “F” is still doing poorly.

  11. The survival of Landsmaal is the amazing part.
    Did George Bernard Shaw have a hand in this?

  12. I read somewhere that the Belgian and Norwegian navies use (or used) English to avoid linguistic conflicts, but haven’t been able to find out any more. Can anyone help?
    More recently in one of John Biggins’s works (‘A Sailor of Austria’ series) the hero brings peace to an Austro-Hungarian gunboat by getting everyone to abandon German and use English.

  13. More Googling around has told me that apparently the absence of a Norwegian spoken standard is not inadvertent but is a matter of policy. Even though the dialects tend to be weakening because of migration and mass media, official government policy encourages the use of the various spoken dialects.
    As I said above, if Norway actually had any serious problems they would inevitably be blamed on the peculiar language situation there (just as Switzerland’s terrible problems would be blamed on multilingualism, if Switzerland had terrible problems). Belgium and Canada have smallish problems, and they are frequently blamed on language policy.

  14. David Marjanović says

    German has regional variation in its standard, too, but that’s mostly a matter of accent.

  15. Northern Ireland produces most of the UK’s potpourri. For obvious reasons the ‘t’ is pronounced!

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