Sorbs in the Spreewald.

I last posted about the Sorbs in 2002 (less than half a year into the blog’s existence), so it’s time for an update; Thomas Sparrow writes for BBC Culture, opening with a passage on Andrea Bunar, “the local postwoman in Lehde, a quiet 150-person village of marshy islands connected by footbridges, nestled in the lush Unesco biosphere reserve of the Spreewald,” who delivers the mail in a gondola-like boat. He continues:

But although Bunar, who has lived near the Spreewald for most of her life, often chats in German with locals and tourists alike, she regrets that she doesn’t speak the region’s second language, which forms an important part of its unique identity. That’s because, in addition to sheltering 6,000 species of animals and plants, the Spreewald is also home to the Sorbs: the world’s smallest Slavic ethnic group and one of Germany’s four nationally recognised minorities, alongside Danes, Frisians and the German Sinti and Roma.

The Sorbs are descendants of Slavic tribes who lived north of the Carpathian Mountains in Central and Eastern Europe. Around 1,500 years ago, some of these tribes migrated to Lusatia, a historical region sometimes called Sorbia that straddled eastern Germany, western Poland and the northern tip of the Czech Republic. Over time, European empires and nations have come and gone, but the Sorbs have remained – a Slavic-speaking ethnic minority existing inside modern-day Germany.

Today there are an estimated 60,000 Sorbs in Germany. A third live in the state of Brandenburg, where the Spreewald is located, and the rest live further south, in Saxony. In addition to German, Sorbs speak their own West Slavic languages: about 20,000 people in Saxony speak Upper Sorbian (which has similarities to Czech); while Brandenburg has around 5,000 speakers of Lower Sorbian (which has more in common with Polish). Both languages are endangered, and are protected and promoted locally.

This means that as visitors slowly paddle through the Spreewald’s tranquil canals in their hired punts or kayaks, they’re likely to notice that public signs are bilingual. Lehde, for instance, is Lědy in Lower Sorbian. And if you ask locals, many will write their names and titles in both German and Sorbian.

“For many people, the language is incredibly important, it’s the main way of identifying with the Sorbs in general,” said Fabian Kaulfürst, a language expert at the Sorbian Institute, a research facility that specialises in Sorbian history and culture, located in the town of Bautzen, or Budyšin in Upper Sorbian – which is commonly known as the Sorbs’ spiritual and political heart today.

There’s more information (and gorgeous photos) at the link; it sounds like the Sorbs are doing pretty well for speakers of endangered languages. (I note, by the way, that Spreewald in Lower Sorbian is Błota, ‘the Swamps.’) Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. the Sorbs are doing pretty well for speakers of endangered languages

    As I understand it, Catholics (all of whom speak Upper Sorbian) have maintained their language wel; Lutheran Protestants have not. As a result Lower Sorbian is no longer transmitted to children, and is doing poorly. I was explained once the role of religion in language maintenance in this case, but I don’t remember the details.

  2. Ah, thanks for the clarification.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    Finally a language that is not being absorbed by the dominant one !

  4. Stu Clayton says

    gorgeous photos

    I would say the color Sättigung has been cranked up by artificial means, but my eyesight is not what it used to be.

  5. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Keep on Sorbing in the Spreewald?

    It turns out their colours are indeed red, white and blue!

  6. John Emerson says

    Sorbian-Americans are also one of the smallest American minorities, and I have personally known two of them (or one, in the sense of two half-Sorbian-Americans).

    I have been given to understand that the Sorbs are also called Wends.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    the role of religion in language maintenance

    On the face of it, it seems a bit counterintuitive that Catholics are doing better than Protestants in this respect, and my immediate thought would have been that religion is a proxy here for some other important demographic difference(s).

    On the other hand, your comment itself suggests otherwise; and, on reflection, I’m probably thinking in terms of an obsolete model.

    It seems to be generally accepted that the existence of a (Protestant) Welsh Bible translation played an important role in preserving the language by bolstering its prestige, but that was some centuries back, and both the secular world and the Catholic church have changed rather a lot since then …

    I was reading some startlingly negative reviews on Amazon of the quite recently completed translation of the whole Bible into Cornish; in among some moaning about Incorrect Orthography (really! pull yourselves together, Cornish revivalists!) there was one laying into the irrelevance of nasty Iron Age nonsense for present-day language preservation. While I suspect that the writer’s views on the value of the Bible may not be altogether congruent with my own, he has a point: if you are interested above all in language preservation, you’d be better off translating the Harry Potter books. Or something.

  8. David L. Gold says

    “I was reading some startlingly negative reviews on Amazon of the quite recently completed translation of the whole Bible into Cornish; in among some moaning about Incorrect Orthography.”

    If those reviewers in fact talk about “right” and “wrong” spelling, they have misdescribed the situation. Several spelling systems have been proposed for Revived Cornish, each based on different principles, each having different goals, and each consistent in itself. The controversy lies in the fact that none of them is acceptable to everyone.

    See Merryn Sophie Davies-Deacon’s “Orthographies and ideologies in revived Cornish” accessible in full here: https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/16731/1/final%20submission.pdf

  9. Per Comrie and Corbett, The Slavonic Languuages:

    Mass in Sorbian is said regularly in the Catholic parishes. Lutheran services are also held in Sorbian, but less regularly. The Churches publish the Upper Sorbian newspapers Katolski Posoł (twice monthly) and Pomhaj Bóh (monthly). The latter occasionally has a Lower Sorbian supplement.

    There’s more here. Lower Sorbia had the additional diadvantage of repressive language policies under the Prussians and then under the Nazis.

  10. David L. Gold says

    “On the face of it, it seems a bit counterintuitive that Catholics are doing better than Protestants in this respect, and my immediate thought would have been that religion is a proxy here for some other important demographic difference(s).”

    Could it be that the Protestant speakers of Sorbian practice birth control and the Roman Catholic ones do not, so that the latter group has a larger number of younger speakers than does the former?

  11. David Marjanović says

    Everybody practices birth control.

    The Sorbian Bible translations came long after Luther, who thought Sorbian was about to go extinct (even though half of Wittenberg reportedly spoke Lower Sorbian in his lifetime).

  12. Upper Sorbian speakers are not the only linguistic minority whose religious distinctiveness allowed for language preservation: Another such language in Northern Germany is the only surviving form of East Frisian, Saterlandic Frisian, which is likewise spoken by a Catholic minority. In the early twentieth century French-Canadian nationalism had Catholicism as its core value, leading one early nationalist to speak of language as the guardian of religion (“La langue, gardienne de la foi”). I suspect contemporary Saterlandic Frisian- and Upper Sorbian-speaking intellectuals would have enthusiastically agreed.

    One thing which makes Sorbian varieties interesting is the fact that on the one hand one is dealing with a variety of Slavic which has been in close contact with German (broadly defined) for centuries (If I recall correctly colloquial registers of Sorbian make use of a definite and indefinite article, using inherited morphemes but obviously calqued on German, for instance), and on the other it preserves some archaic features which are extinct in most other Slavic languages/dialects today (Many Sorbian varieties still make productive use of the dual, and of the old aorist and imperfect tenses, for instance).

    The former fact (German influence) is unremarkable, but the latter (extreme conservatism) is: I did some research involving the history and dialectology of the Frisian language recently for a contribution to a Festschrift, and Saterlandic Frisian, while obviously German-influenced, like Upper Sorbian, is unlike Upper Sorbian in not having any set of remarkably archaic/conservative features when compared to other Frisian varieties.

  13. Yes, there was an MP here who argued against birth control in 90s. He has relatively large family, but not too large. Others were asking quesions and he was hiding eyes (hiding eyes, because it was before our parliament became a collection of idiots).

  14. Would it be right to say that Northern European Catholic culture encourages cultural conformism as presented by the Church, more so than in most Protestant Churches?

  15. If I recall correctly colloquial registers of Sorbian make use of a definite and indefinite article, using inherited morphemes but obviously calqued on German, for instance

    Must be a recent feature… intuitively. Well, On the grammaticalization of the definite article in Colloquial Upper Sorbian by Lenka Scholze: ‘In principle, older speakers represent a stage of transition between “no article” and the modern CUS system’.

  16. I have been given to understand that the Sorbs are also called Wends.

    And Lusatians.

  17. the role of religion in language maintenance

    I believe the (nominally) Muslim nations of Russia are doing better in this respect than the Orthodox Christian ones.

    Both my grandmothers, born in 1894 and 1900, spoke very little Russian. But they were active in writing letters in Tatar in Arabicized script and kept it up for most of their lives.

    The maternal grandmother worked for some time as household help for the married couple of Russian physicians Kompantsev and Pavlova—and was eligible for an old-age pension amounting to 46 roubles—but still was by no means proficient in Russian.

    Still, it’s hard to imagine something like that nowadays.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    There is a synergy between feelings of ethnic distinctiveness (whatever they may be really based on) and distinctiveness of language: in the direction of language distinctiveness being supposedly necessary to ethnic distinctiveness, this is practically proverbial (Den heb taves a gollas y dir), but it certainly works the other way round too (as FYLOSC demonstrates, among many another case.)

    I imagine this can lead to a positive feedback loop …

  19. The Great Blinsk Swamp.

    Let’s do not forget what their name (верхнелужицкий, нижнелужицкий) means in Russian;

    the Upper Little Puddle and Lower Little Puddle.

    luža

    P.S. I say “Russian” only because I do not know in what other Slavic langauges it has this specific meaning: “puddle”. To quote WIki: The name derives from the Sorbian word łužicy meaning “swamps” or “water-hole”. I do not know if it also means “puddles”. верхнелужицкий and нижнелужицкий (“upper little puddlian” and “lower little puddlian”) is Upper/Lower Sorbian, (cербская) Лужица is (Sorbian) Lusatia.

  20. Must be a recent feature… intuitively. – what I meant by this: the mode of contact between German and Sorbian has changed drastically very recently. “Contact” as in “in our valley we speak X and in the neighbouring valley they speak Y” can be very intimate in some levels, but it is not the same as “we all speak Y”.

    I expect pragmatics and the functional structure to be succeptible in the case of bilingualism. Syntax and morphology are related subsystems, but I expect more rigidity here. When a change [in a ‘fluid’ system] is unaccompanied by a change in [‘related, not so fluid’] morphology, it indicates strong ongoing (recent) influence. In the chapter (De Gruyter, sci-hub) old people use no articles, while young speakers express pragmatical definiteness. For dual, wait one more generation.

  21. Dmitry Pruss says

    Passed through Blota on a through hike from far the pine woods far NE this January and marveled at the folk etymology in conversions of Slavic to German toponyms. Nice highbush cranberries on the dikes too 🙂

  22. One thing to keep in mind is that most of Eastern Germany is traditionally Protestant (mostly Lutheran), so being both a linguistic and a religious minority must have strengthened each other in preserving the specific identity of Catholic Upper Sorbians (as pointed out above). And, of course, living in the Spreewald marshes also helped.
    Another factor that helped was maybe that in the GDR, Sorbian also had protected minority status, and the variety that was used in official communications was Upper Sorbian*). I assume that was mostly for practical reasons, as it had the far bigger number of speakers, but that still may have tilted the scales somewhat.
    *) I used to have a Reichsbahn railway (timetable) guide where the glossary of abbreviations and the usage instructions were both in German and in Upper Sorbian.

  23. John Cowan says

    really! pull yourselves together, Cornish revivalists!

    The majority has pulled itself together, and now want to impose their Single Written Form (that’s what it is called) on the rest of us, who know their orthography is both Boring and Wrong. I suppose, come to think about it, that this is how UK chauvinists feel about American orthography.

    Besides, where would Celts be without feuds over trivialities? Then again, they do eventually get papered over: even the Hatfields and the McCoys held a joint family reunion in 2000.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Another such language in Northern Germany is the only surviving form of East Frisian, Saterlandic Frisian, which is likewise spoken by a Catholic minority.

    Saterland Frisian is spoken on what used to be an island in a huge peat bog. Neither the (Low) German language nor the Reformation reached it apparently!

  25. Bogs apparently preserve languages as well as remains.

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    where would Celts be without feuds over trivialities

    True, true. We’d probably have (re)conquered the world by now …

    Having just got The Poems of Taliesin, I was reminded that T’s patron Urien* Rheged, who was singularly successful in the defence against the English, was assassinated at the behest of a fellow-Briton who has jealous of his renown. Way to go, Britons!

    * Or Urbgen. Which looks way more badass and less like a stray Tolkien elf.

  27. John Emerson says

    Bogs probably also preserved Lithuanian and prolonged the life of Lithuanian paganism.

  28. Another factor that helped was maybe that in the GDR, Sorbian also had protected minority status, and the variety that was used in official communications was Upper Sorbian*).

    Is there any evidence that the during the years of GDR – USSR friendship a Slavic speaking minority also enjoyed more prestige than would have been true in that region in the prior 5 centuries?

  29. In principle, older speakers represent a stage of transition between “no article” and the modern CUS system

    Lenka Scholze / Leńka Šołćic, On the grammaticalization of the definite article in Colloquial Upper Sorbian, 2012 (already mentioned above).

    The older generation of Sorbian speakers uses the article with considerably higher frequency than the younger generation, a fact that has been attributed to the decreasing influence of the Sorbian church language among the latter (Michalk and Protze 1967: 39; Michalk and Protze 1974: 83-88).

    Gunter Schaarschmidt, Markedness Theory and the Syntax of Definiteness in Sorbian and German , 1983 (jstor, sci-hub)

  30. Bogs apparently preserve languages as well as remains.

    Bogs probably also preserved Lithuanian and prolonged the life of Lithuanian paganism.

    i’ve often wondered about the role of the pripyat marshes in the history of yiddish, both in itself and as part of the geography* that made the multi-imperial** borderlands of eastern europe functionally a non-state space for so long.

    “Błota”, presumably, is cognate with yiddish בלאָטע / blote***, which just means “mud”, and was the name of a jewish neighborhood in minsk (which izi kharik’s poema “minsker blotes” took its name from****).


    * from the ‘wild field’ of the black sea littoral to the carpathians to the pripyat to the białowieża forest…

    ** russian, ottoman, polish-lithuanian (yes, not technically an empire, but definitely quacking a lot like a duck), austro-hungarian…

    *** i hasten to add: this should not be construed as lending any shred of credence to paul wexler’s “sorbian theory” about the origins of yiddish, which would’ve been pretty damn dubious even without the whole “slobodjans’kyj affair” making wexler’s basic level of integrity clear.

    **** can’t vouch for this translation, but it’s one that exists (and that’s not nothing)!

  31. Proto-Slavic *bolto ‘swamp; mud’; list of descendants includes all varieties of Slavic and (as a borrowing) Yiddish בלאָטע‎ (blote).

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    From DWDS entry for bloß “naked”:

    “Die westgerm. Formen ahd. blōʒ …betrachtet man als verwandt mit den unter ↗blöd (s. d.) genannten. Verschiedener Beurteilung unterliegt dabei allerdings das schwierige semantische Verhältnis der einzelnen Wortgruppen zueinander. Das Problem erwächst aus der Bedeutung der skandinav. Formen anord. blautr ‘weich, zart, schwach, furchtsam, geistesschwach’, meist aber ‘feucht, naß, sumpfig.”

    So in Scandinavian cognates the meaning “damp, wet, swampy’ is the most common one.
    Wiktionary has OHG blōʒ derived from P-G *blautaz “soft” from a similar meaning PIE root *bhlaw.
    In the etymology Hat links to, the Proto-Slavic word is related to a Proto-Germanic *polas from PIE *bolos, which is connected to words meaning “white”. Semantically “soft ” would seem to be better than white for a swamp, so for me it would seem to be simpler if the Slavic word was a borrowing from the Germanic *blautaz or a descendant with the o vowel in place of the au (like the OHG and modern forms).

  33. Jen in Edinburgh says

    And Lusatians.

    Presumably no relation of the Lusitanians. Do you ever feel like there’s not quite enough names to go round?

  34. Trond Engen says

    I was going to suggest a connection to PGmc *blautaz, but Paddy got there first. I think a borrowing from Gothic might do. The Slavic metathesis is expected.

    It never occured to me that blott “only, clear(ly), open(ly)” < Da. < LG might be the same word as blaut.

  35. Bogs apparently preserve languages as well as remains.

    Vasjugan Khantys nodding in agreement.

  36. One side of my family came from Zabłotów (now Заболотів).

    The word Lusatian, per WP, “derives from the Sorbian word łužicy meaning ‘swamps’ or ‘water-hole’.”

    Derksen lists *lùža f. jā (a) ‘puddle, pool’ with reflexes in all branches of Slavic (though he doesn’t list Sorbian), in Baltic, and maybe Illyrian Λούγεον (a name of a swamp mentioned by Strabo). He then refers you to *lǫ̑gъ m. o (c) ‘depression’, under which he says, “I have grouped together a number of etyma where the vacillation between *k and *g as well as between roots with and without a nasal could be interpreted within the context of a substratum origin.” Of *lùža he says, “Most of the Baltic forms do not match the acute of the Slavic etymon.”

  37. A connection to Lusitania is entirely possible.

    Łužica is near the place whose people were once called “Lugii”.

  38. I’d like to pour some water on the swamp = isolation idea. Swampy areas are harder to chase locals around, but they are not impenetrable, especially when the people living there are sedentary farmers. People who live in swampy areas still like to go out and meet other folks. You just have to keep to the road more.

  39. John Emerson says

    Another oddball Latinate name for a people is Ruthenians, the name for a Slavic but non-Polish people living in Australia-Hungarian Galicia.

    The A-H Holy Romans were fond of Latinate names.

  40. John Emerson says

    Ruthenians were often described as Ukrainians.

  41. @Y:
    Swampy areas are harder to chase locals around, but they are not impenetrable

    yes, absolutely! (with james scott in mind) the “harder [for outsiders] to chase locals” is part of why they’re so culturally fecund, since they can serve as places of refuge for successive waves of people opting out of state spaces – if they were impenetrable, they’d be no use. i can’t remember if it’s scott who uses “friction of travel” to think about mountainous areas, but it’s that, which gets worse if you’re coming from outside carrying weapons and/or using supply wagons, but doesn’t really affect you if you’re local.

  42. John Emerson says

    The Seminole in Florida also survived in a swamp. And to a degree, the Chippewa in N. Minnesota.

  43. John Emerson says

    In Louisiana the swamps sheltered various subgroups, the most interesting of which was a colony of Filipinos sometime in the mid 19th c. Written about by Lafcadio Hearn.

  44. In California’s Central Valley the swamps helped shelter the Yokuts from Spanish soldiers who came to kidnap them back to the Missions, but only some of the time and not for very long.

  45. friction of travel will only get you so far. (and the “so” is smaller and smaller over time, as states expand their repertoires for capturing space)

    a more recent example being the iraqi state’s draining of much of the tigris/euphrates estuary – arguably one of the longest-lasting examples of a wetland-as-non-state-space-of-refuge (though partly on a technicality, since as a population center it long predates the ~8,000 years of states in the region).

    mountains and deserts, being harder to ‘smooth out’ by technical means, may do better, but they too have their limits (see, for example, much of the balkan peninsula, as well as the sonora and mojave deserts). and state forms can arrive by propaganda as well as conquest (the various islamist projects in the sahara being a possible current example, and khmelnitski’s hetmanate an older one).

  46. David Marjanović says

    bloß “naked”

    No, “bare”, usually “merely, only”. Lacking in Austria (but apparently not Bavaria), where instead bar- (barfuß “barefoot”) and nur “only” are used.

    In the etymology Hat links to, the Proto-Slavic word is related to a Proto-Germanic *polas from PIE *bolos, which is connected to words meaning “white”.

    Outdated by over half a century. There was no short *o in Proto-Germanic; setting up a PIE *b is highly suspicious; and how a Proto-Germanic *b- would be related to a Proto-Germanic *p- is beyond me.

    Do you ever feel like there’s not quite enough names to go round?

    Both Leptorophus and Leptoropha are in my phylogenetic analysis.

    Also, Ichthyosaura is the alpine newt.

    I think a borrowing from Gothic might do. The Slavic metathesis is expected.

    A borrowing from Gothic would have ended up with u in Slavic, not with o ~ a. The metathesis is backwards.

    Rather, the Slavic word looks cognate with Balt-.

    for me it would seem to be simpler if the Slavic word was a borrowing from the Germanic *blautaz or a descendant with the o vowel in place of the au (like the OHG and modern forms).

    But this o was long, so it would have ended up as u. Slavic a & o come from long and short *a, respectively – and the length distinction did not immediately disappear after the quality distinctions throughout the vowel system had made it redundant.

  47. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm
    Thanks for the explanation.
    Balt is also connected with white, for me less satisfactory than soft (compare bog from Ir. bog “soft”). But I suppose white > foaming > foaming water > pool > swamp is possible.
    Re naked/bare, I am less sure about the distinction. Even in German you have mit nackten Füßen / barfuß. Of course no one would say nakedheaded / mit nacktem Haupt (Kopf) ????. I just learn phrases with bare/naked/bloß/bar-/nackt and avoid using the words in phrases I have not learned.

  48. So why are Sorbs (Upper Sorbian: Serbja, Lower Sorbian: Serby) called Sorbs and not Serbs?

  49. John Cowan says

    Well, at one level because the Germans heard the endonym of the smaller group (whom they knew well) as Sorb, whereas when they came to hear of the other Serbs they heard them more correctly, or at least cared about it more. As to why the Germans were so hard of hearing, historical linguistics is the only thing that could possibly offer an explanation: are there other /e/ > /o/ changes in Slavic borrowings into German? If not, it is probably a founder effect possibly reinforced by too much beer.

  50. A connection to Lusitania is entirely possible.

    Łužica is near the place whose people were once called “Lugii”.

    That is, enough to assume Welsh substrate for both:) What is good about it:

    – Łužica has *lug- and a suffix. Phonetically perfect.
    – see Wikipedia for Lugii, but the area ascribed to them seems to (vaguely) include Lusatia.
    – Cf. Rugii from Tacitus, then Slavic Rujane on the isalnd of Rügen. Some (serious and fringe) people proposed a list of such correspondences. As I remember, nothing as impressive, but preservation of old names is not implausible.

    Not good:
    – Łužica is small.
    – I do not know anything about the earliest attested forms of “Łužica”. Is there something that excludes the connection with Lugii? I just do not know

    Now it is enough to connect Lugii, Lusitanians and Scottish Lugi to the same Celtic root (for example the one from Lyon and Leiden).

  51. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Because the other Serbs are bigger than them?

  52. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I misread that as ‘Scottish Luigi’ – Macari, presumably.

    I feel like the fact that ‘bog’ means ‘soft’ in Gaelic must be important somehow.

    David, would you like to learn Gaelic in Welsh?
    http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/en/cursaichean/cursaichean-goirid/gaidhlig-tro-mheadhan-na-cumris-10-08-2021/

    Edited to put all my randomness in one comment:
    The Other Serbs spell themselves without any vowel, Srbi, so maybe it’s a free choice for people who spell more sensibly.

  53. too much beer.

    This factor is undertimated by so many linguists and historians. Except McKenna, of course.

  54. David L. Gold says

    Information on Filipinos in Louisiana here, with links to more: https://asiamattersforamerica.org/articles/louisiana-honors-first-filipino-settlement

  55. John Emerson says

    Thanks David.

    Sorbs are absorbent, serbs are observant. That’s why.

  56. John Emerson says

    The people sheltered by the Mesopotamian were the Mandaeans, supposedly the lasy Gnostics, who especially honor John the Baptist.

  57. And Srbs are?

  58. Maybe it was /ɵ/-ish sound that everyone is allowed to interpret as they wish? (In swampland beer is not enough. Hard liquor is needed for survival)

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    would you like to learn Gaelic in Welsh?

    Who wouldn’t?

    Melville Richards’ Llawlyfr Hen Wyddeleg (“Manual of Old Irish”), which is the closest I have come to such an experience hitherto, gets an honorable mention in Thurneysen. It’s quite nice, in fact, but very concise, and suffers from the near-total neglect of syntax usual in that period (1935.)

    I can’t say that I’m too convinced by their claim that Welsh speakers are likely to benefit all that much from similarities between Welsh and Gaelic in practice. It’s about on a level with saying that English learners will benefit from the similarities between English and German; though admittedly, it’s easier to learn German if you start from English than from Russian … at least I would imagine so. There will be Hatters better placed to answer this question than most people …

    I was just looking through the Irish/Welsh glossary in Richards’ grammar, and it’s striking how few of the glosses are actually cognate. There often are cognates, but they aren’t the usual words in modern Welsh (for example, maith “good” is quite rightly glossed “da”, though the actual cognate “mad” not only exists but even turns up in the national anthem.) The general MO of the languages is similar, of course, what with VSO word order, conjugated prepositions, initial mutations … but you can explain all that to a new learner in five minutes anyway, and it doesn’t seem likely to help much with learning the actual details.

  60. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I’ve just noticed that they’re also doing the reverse – http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/en/cursaichean/cursaichean-goirid/cumris-tro-mheadhan-na-gaidhlig-03-08-2021/ – although I think the description in Welsh is an accident, since it’s for people who know Gaelic and not Welsh.

    Also German, but that’s different reasoning – http://www.smo.uhi.ac.uk/en/cursaichean/cursaichean-goirid/gaidhlig-do-ghearmailtich-luchd-toiseachaidh-27-07-2021/

    They’ve done the Gaidhlig do luchd na Gaeilge thing fairly regularly, sometimes under different names, but that is much more about learning the differences.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    The Welsh-through-Gaelic one looks almost entirely copied-and-pasted from the Gaelic-through-Welsh one …

    I approve of the concept, naturally … though not so much that I’d shell out £110 on it …

    The only thing I can actually say in Gaelic is Tha mi sgìth; however, I find this covers most situations in practice.

  62. approve of the concept, naturally – you can’t imagine how much I approve it: I used a French textbook for Breton, and as you can imagine, I was not able to read in French before and I read in it now.

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    You use to know where you stood with linguistic works. Either it was in German, or it was at least trying to be in German. But nowadays …

    I blame Chomsky.

  64. *makes obligatory invocation of Kuhns Zeitschrift*

  65. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The only thing I can say in Welsh is Dwi’n hoffi coffi, which may be a solution to your problem…

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    It may indeed. (Someone was just recently pointing out the centrality of the concept for existence as a postdoc, too.)

  67. Jen in Edinburgh says

    In all these lists that people make, has one ever turned up of the Only Thing People Can Say in x language? Does it says something deep and meaningful about the language itself? Do all (fairly well known) languages have one?

    French has the oddly useless Parlez-vous Francais?, but my one German sentence is the idiosyncratic Ich war noch nicht in Österreich, which isn’t even true any more.

  68. For German, there’s “Ach du lieber!” and “Hände hoch!” depending on what kind of movies you’ve been watching.

  69. Trond Engen says

    David M.: A borrowing from Gothic would have ended up with u in Slavic, not with o ~ a.

    Yes. I didn’t remember Slavic *ō: > *u. But this is a chance to ask: What stage in the development of the vowel system is defined as Proto-Slavic? If all Slavic has u, shouldn’t ō rightly be Pre-Proto-?

    The metathesis is backwards.

    Very much so. I don’t know what I was thinking.

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    French has the oddly useless Parlez-vous Francais?

    There’s always Où est la plume de ma tante?
    That often comes in handy.

  71. Trond, maybe contents of this page will answer some questions.

  72. Russians, of course, start their French learning with Je ne mange pas six jours. I am sure this is a useful phrase, but not sure what for.

  73. comes in handy.

    Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

  74. The OED suggests that the /o/ in German Sorbe might come from the Medieval Latin Sorabi, which might have some connection to the Sorbs. But then, where did that name come from?…

  75. It is the only phrase that anyone reported to me to be the only line in French she knows. Was a… a langauge exam ( I was examined)

  76. What stage in the development of the vowel system is defined as Proto-Slavic? If all Slavic has u, shouldn’t ō rightly be Pre-Proto-?
    Proto-Slavic is indeed normally the designation for the stage immediately before the break-up, which has /u/. The other fixed point is Balto-Slavic, i.e. the common ancestor for Baltic and Slavic, where the predecessor of /u/ still was a diphthong /au/. The intermediate steps don’t have fixed names; some scholars define and name stages (often just numbering them) when describing developments, but none of these individual designations are generally accepted. But you’ll often find the entire period between Balto-Slavic and the emergence of the individual languages referred to as Proto-Slavic, as there was no branching off of languages (at least that we know of) during that period.
    On the vowel in Serbs / Sorbians: historically that was the combination written back yer + r in Old Church Slavic; there seems to be some discussion whether that actually was a back yer plus r or a syllabic r. In any case, the neighbours inserted whatever vowel fit their own phonological systems.

  77. David Marjanović says

    Re naked/bare, I am less sure about the distinction.

    Bloß can’t apparently be used of the whole body (except maybe metaphorically: bloßgestellt “embarrassed”, “revealed to be an emperor without clothes”?). Its most common meaning is “only”, “just”.

    As to why the Germans were so hard of hearing, historical linguistics is the only thing that could possibly offer an explanation: are there other /e/ > /o/ changes in Slavic borrowings into German?

    No, but if it happened early enough, the mishearing may have been of ь as ъ…

    (In the western Balkans they merged early and then disappeared.)

    But this is a chance to ask: What stage in the development of the vowel system is defined as Proto-Slavic? If all Slavic has u, shouldn’t ō rightly be Pre-Proto-?

    That’s how it used to be sold, but a few differences between the Slavic branches, in particular the divergent treatments of what is fake-reconstructed as *ol *or, must predate most of the Great Slavic Vowel Shift which was nevertheless completed in every attested Slavic variety.

    …for some value of “attested”. In some OHG source someone’s name is recorded as Tagazino. That’s a version of *taga sūnu > togo synъ, “that one’s son” (the son of the preceding name in the list), after not much progression of the shift. Also, place names at the fringes of the Slavic settlement area were borrowed before the vowel shift, before the treatments of *ol *or, and before the Second Palatalization: Pola > Pula, Arba > Rab, Cherso > Cres (with [tsr-]), Saloniki > Solun (with -ik- evidently interpreted as the diminutive suffix and dropped).

    Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

    Yep, that’s what we learn in elementary school.

  78. 1-Romanian “baltă” and Albanian “baltë” are considered (an) early borrowing(s) from Slavic on account of the absence of liquid metathesis, and the discussion here on swamps/bogs as places which favored language isolation makes me wonder: could Early Slavic have been perceived as a language of swamp- + bog-dwellers, thereby leading to the word designating their “typical” habitat being borrowed so early? The history of an Early Slavic loan in German, “Grenze”, may offer an interesting parallel.

    2-About the early Filipino settlements in Louisiana Bayous: Okay, this was a piece of Louisiana history I had no idea of. Is there any information on the linguistic situation of some (any?) of these early settlements? Do we know what language(s) was/were spoken by the first generation of Filipinos in these isolated settlements of theirs?

    I know that in the case of various known isolated settlements (often surrounded by swamps) of escaped Slaves in the American South in colonial times, nothing certain is known about the spoken language of any of these communities (An English-based pidgin/creole? One based on another European language? An African language?), so my suspicion is that in the case of the early Filipino communities in Louisiana we likewise do not know.

    3-Hmmph! Learning Gaelic through Welsh! Two languages from the same branch of Indo-European…Here is something MUCH more relevant to this thread: learning Sorbian through a language which is neither Germanic nor Slavic:

    https://www.anticariat-unu.ro/curs-practic-de-limba-soraba-de-jinrich-vacek-buc-1986-p32017

    4-“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” is often the sole French sentence known to anglophone Canadians, and if there exsts a more widely-known sentence I have never encountered it.

  79. January First-of-May says

    Also, place names at the fringes of the Slavic settlement area were borrowed before the vowel shift

    As I pointed out in 2016, there’s kind of another example (not a place name, technically) in Avar > obr(e).

  80. Lafcadio Hearn on Saint Malo:

    In Manila there are several varieties of the Malay race, and these Louisiana settlers represent more than one type.

    They speak the Spanish language; and a Malay dialect is also used among them. There is only one white man in the settlement—the ship-carpenter, whom all the Malays address as “Maestro.” He has learned to speak their Oriental dialect, and has conferred upon several the sacrament of baptism according to the Caholic rite.

  81. Eye m ay gud akurat spellller.

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    “Sorbs in the Spreewald” has a pleasing “bats in the belfry” aura to it. I shall start using it in the latter sense and amaze my friends.

  83. And “Ich war noch nicht in Österreich” sounds like the beginning of a wistful song.

  84. PlasticPaddy says
  85. J.W. Brewer says

    The etymology of English “spree” in the sense “series of uninhibited and/or unlawful actions” (extended from an original Scottish-dialect sense of “drinking bout”) seems unknown or at least disputed, but I guess it’s too much to hope for a connection with the etymology (said to be maybe Slavic) of the “Spree” in “Spreewald.”

  86. PlasticPaddy says

    Spree, niedersorb. Sprjewja, auch Sprěwa, obersorb. Sprjewja neben Sprewja, Sprowja und Šprewja, 965 Sprewa, zu german. *spreu- ,sprühen, spritzen, stieben‘.

    from
    https://www.sorabicon.de/kulturlexikon/artikel/prov_urb_tjk_d3b/
    The site contains etymology and citations for the various hydronyms of the region.

  87. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The only Welsh sentence I can say is Y’r wyf yn dy garu dyn (something like that, anyway). I was struck by the way the Welsh need seven words to express an idea that Hungarians need only one for: Szeretlek. As for Hungarian, I can say three other things: Magyar (Hungarian), köszönöm (thank you) and három (three). The first two are useful things to know, but why three, rather than, say, one or two? Because when I went to Budapest in 1978 my host took me and his wife to various places, and at each place he said három to the person in the ticket booth.

  88. Sorabicon…
    What a find! And it’s quadrilingual (German, Upper Sorbian, Lower Sorbian, English). From the introduction:

    What was the Wendish regiment? When did Sorbian literature first appear in books and publishing houses? When did the myth about the Sorbian wizard Krabat emerge? What are the characteristics of Upper and Lower Lusatia, of the Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian language? Which consequences has brown coal mining?

  89. David Marjanović says

    Spreu “chaff” in German.

    The Spree does not spray, though. It flows, or not, through a very flat area.

    could Early Slavic have been perceived as a language of swamp- + bog-dwellers, thereby leading to the word designating their “typical” habitat being borrowed so early?

    I suppose that’s possible; the traditional ( ~ 19th-century Romantic) scholarly placement of the Slavic homeland is in the Pripyat swamps. But getting in contact with Albanian/Romanian required leaving that swampland…

    The history of an Early Slavic loan in German, “Grenze”, may offer an interesting parallel.

    That’s only attested from the 13th century onward, and refers to any kind of border or limit(ation).

  90. David Marjanović says

    Which consequences has brown coal mining?

    Lignite is mined in open pits, and new pits are still being made. That is destroying Sorbian-speaking villages in eastern and German-speaking villages in western Germany – yes, still, despite the federal Kohleausstieg (“coal exit”, the end of coal/lignite mining and burning) currently set to the year 2038.

  91. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I know five words of Polish, although I can’t spell them – good day, please, thank you, beer, and Scotland. That got me quite nicely through a visit as one of a Scottish dance group – ‘Scotland’ being necessary so that you know when they’re calling for or announcing you and not someone else.

    I learnt to more or less read Cyrillic letters on a different trip to Belgrade for sort of similar reasons – they never told us where we were going or what we were doing until the day, but they had put up various posters telling everyone *else* which countries were going to be performing in what place at what time for the week ahead…

    I can’t do it now, though.

  92. Andrej Bjelaković says

    Fun fact: Sorbs are called Lužički Srbi in FYLOSC

    https://sh.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lu%C5%BEi%C4%8Dki_Srbi

  93. J.W. Brewer says

    @JenInE: I am saddened you didn’t pick up the Polish for “whisk[e]y” although perhaps “beer” was the safer bet in terms of what you might reasonably expect to get served after you uttered the word.

  94. David:

    In answer to your comment (“But getting in contact with Albanian/Romanian required leaving that swampland…”): If Proto-Slavic was indeed originally spoken in a region with abundant swampland, it would be unsurprising if the first wave(s) of Proto-Slavic speakers settling new areas were originally drawn to territories which differed as little as possible from their original homeland, and thus tended to settle swampy areas, something which non-Slavic speaking neighbors (Early Albanian and Proto-Romanian speakers, for instance) could certainly have noticed.

    Y:

    Thanks for the quote! “Malay dialect” -that really does not narrow it much. I wonder if there are any loanwords from this “Malay dialect” in Isleno Spanish (or Louisiana English, or Cajun French?) which might help narrow the range of possibilities (Tagalog? Cebuano?) and allow us to know a little more about the linguistic identity of what may be the oldest Austronesian-speaking community anywhere in the Americas.

  95. David Eddyshaw says

    Y’r wyf yn dy garu dyn

    That would be yr wyf yn dy garu di, but the object of your affection will think you are talking like an (old) book if you say that (of course, there are those who find that arousing); the more-or-less standard written form nowadays is Dw i’n dy garu di, but the degenerate young may well actually say Fi caru di. I don’t know what the world is coming to.

    If you preferred to express your sentiments in high-flown verse, you might say Caraf di. That should impress her. Him. Them. Whatever. You could even say Fe’th garaf if the object was full incomprehensibility (as it might be; I’m not here to judge.)

    Something for St Dwynwen’s Day!

  96. I am saddened you didn’t pick up the Polish for “whisk[e]y” although perhaps “beer” was the safer bet in terms of what you might reasonably expect to get served after you uttered the word.
    In my experience, one can usually assume that the local word for whisk(e)y is that same word, maybe adapted a bit phonologically and orthographically*). But you’re right to be doubtful about the quality of the beverage you’ll get, depending on the location. But that’s also true about Polish beers – ordering an unknown brand can be rather hit and miss. I know Poles who’d rather order a Czech beer they never had before than a Polish beer they don’t know or know to be mediocre.

    *)The Polish, by the way, is whisky, without even orthographic adaptation.

  97. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I can’t remember what you got if you just asked for pivo, but it was perfectly drinkable, and we drank plenty of it. Named Beer was Zywiec.

  98. Etienne: the Louisiana Filipinos were at some point called “Tagalas”, which could mean that they were Tagalogs, or it could be an ignorant generalization like “Malays”.

    I wonder if their “Spanish” was in fact Spanish Philippine Crteole / Chavacano. More of that than a Philippine language would be likely to have leaked into Isleño.

  99. Stu Clayton says

    Bloß can’t apparently be used of the whole body (except maybe metaphorically: bloßgestellt “embarrassed”, “revealed to be an emperor without clothes”?). Its most common meaning is “only”, “just”.

    Entblößen is to expose a part of the body, so that it becomes bloß.

    Entblößt sein/werden can also mean “denuded of” (!), frinstance of fauna or flora. So puts it DWDS. Rather high-tone – what DM calls “literary”, as if he knew no one who talks fancy.

    Nekkidness as lack. It gives furiously to think.

  100. Can somebody please explain me verbs like “denude” and “defraud”?

    I have a feeling that de- in these words means something different, but not quite sure what.

  101. PlasticPaddy says

    @sfr

    de-
    …usually meaning “down, off, away, from among, down from,” but also “down to the bottom, totally” hence “completely” (intensive or completive), which is its sense in many English words.

    https://www.etymonline.com/word/de-
    I agree this seems inadequate for “default”, although you can imagine levels of failure to meet commitments, of which defaulting is the most extreme. I am trying not to picture levels of stripping of which denuding is the most extreme. Maybe you also have this problem ????

  102. @SFReader: that’s the de- that means ‘completely, thoroughly’, as in declaim, despoil, deliquesce, one of the many preserved etymological uses that are no longer productive in English

    (ninjaed by PlasticPaddy, but I hope the additional examples are useful)

  103. Re default, the OED, very oddly, ignores the prefix in its entries for both noun and verb (both updated December 2016).

  104. The TLFi relates défaillir to DÉ-1, préf.:

    Préf. issu du préf. lat. dis-, formateur de nombreux termes composés, notamment de verbes, servant à modifier le sens du terme primitif en exprimant l’éloignement, la privation, la cessation, la négation, la destruction de qqc., l’action ou l’état contraire, inverse.

    …but then they don’t include défaillir in that entry!

  105. David Marjanović says

    Rather high-tone – what DM calls “literary”, as if he knew no one who talks fancy.

    Yeah, I don’t. 😐

    Scientists speak in jargon, but the times when scientists spoke in fancy jargon have long been over.

  106. Lars Mathiesen says

    Blottet for mening — devoid of sense.
    Blotte sig — expose yourself. (Also in boxing or fencing).

    But as Stu says, the first sense was more concretely about a field vel sim. denuded of crops, thus revealed, and there may still be a nuance of ‘revealed as nonsense’ in the construction. The whole thing goes back to MLG blot which has been bleached to an adverbial ‘merely’ in Danish.

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