Some Links.

1) The late, great Leonard Nimoy talks about his Jewish background (growing up in a neighborhood of Boston much like my late friend Allan Herman’s Bensonhurst, a mix of Italian and Jewish), occasionally breaking into Yiddish; funny and moving. Thanks, Paul!

2- Also via Paul, the Historical Dictionary of the Hebrew Language: a new website, and now free!

3) Xaq Rzetelny’s “Lots of users mean languages gain more words“: “The results don’t explain why smaller populations lose words more quickly while large populations are faster gainers. But the researchers point out that their results are consistent with random drift leading to word loss in the smaller populations and with more word innovations in the larger populations leading to faster word gain.”

4) K. David Harrison’s “Manx’s Surprising Revival“:

In the 1980s, activists who had learned Manx as adults launched a bold social experiment. They raised their children bilingually, speaking exclusively Manx to them in the home, and letting them speak English elsewhere. These children, now grown, are the “new native speakers.”

Today, seventy Manx children, mostly from English-speaking homes, attend Bunscoill Ghaelgagh immersion school. Led by educator Julie Matthews, eager pupils sing Manx songs, skip rope to Manx rhymes, and study science and mathematics in their heritage tongue.

As early adopters of technology, the Manx have created iPhone apps, learning videos and social media sites. They text, podcast, and even translate movies into Manx using the subtitling platform Technology extends Manx’s reach far beyond the island. As Rob Teare notes : “Now there’s no physical restraint on the language. It’s global.”

Thanks to Stephen Johnson for the link!


  1. Trond Engen says

    To 3): If this is generally true (and I don’t say it is), it would add another reason why small languages (seemingly) tend to evolve elaborate morphologies.

    To 4): Isn’t it strange how languages just have to lose their last native speakers before something like this can take off?

  2. Trond Engen says

    To 3): Better: … why elaborate morphologies (seemingly) tend to evolve in small languages.

  3. 4) Well, not quite. There are still native speakers of Irish in Ireland, though the bulk of those who use Irish are English-L1 speakers. In addition, 70 kids in a Manx-medium school out of a total population of 86,000, or 0.08%, is small compared to 41,800 English-L1 kids in Irish-medium schools out of a total population of 4.6 million, or 0.91%. (There are an additional 13,000, or 0.12%, supposedly L1-Irish kids in Irish-medium schools in the Gaeltacht, which has no Manx equivalent.)

  4. Trond, some of it may have to do with the socio-dynamics of small communities. For one thing, in-group/out-group distinctions are often marked by language. I remember hearing of a group of languages in Papua that were actually a lot more closely related than they appeared because for generations the speakers had purposely invented alternate features of the languages to make them seem more different. Then the other thing is that change is easier in small language communities because there is less inertia – speakers of a small language necessarily interact with a larger proportion of the whole community than is the case in a large community, so changes get picked up and become normative more easily. An example of this is the way biochemists have evolved a whole system of lexical affixes (something SAE languages supposedly don’t have) to mark carbohydrates, enzymes, proteins, hormones etc.

  5. In retrospect, Nimoy grows in stature as a man who lived a life engaged in art and in values.

    To give a whole life to that is something.

  6. Jim: As another example of what you are saying, I give the example of Boontling. If Boonville had been as isolated as a Papuan village for a few centuries, who knows what it might have become?

  7. Rodger C says

    If Boonville had been as isolated as a Papuan village for a few centuries, who knows what it might have become?

    Something like Yola?

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