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Inter-linguistic comprehension

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Spud McLaren
744344.  Fri Sep 17, 2010 6:28 pm Reply with quote

Aaaaargh, typo - please read 1000.

Hans Mof
744347.  Fri Sep 17, 2010 6:34 pm Reply with quote

That's better ;)

Well, Low-German and English aren't that far apart either however, you wouldn't understand me if I started to speak it.

Plattdüütsch un ingelsch sünd liekes neech. Ik denk nich, dat du mi verstaast as ik anfang un schnacken platt.

Regarding your original question:

Spud McLaren
744356.  Fri Sep 17, 2010 7:15 pm Reply with quote

Hans Mof wrote:
Plattdüütsch un ingelsch sünd liekes neech. Ik denk nich, dat du mi verstaast as ik anfang un schnacken platt.
Well, I've never seen an example of written Low German until now. But last time I was in Germany (about 30 yrs ago), our host's father was able to remember some and I could understand quite a lot of what he said, although I couldn't understand his modern German (Hochdeutsch?).

Hans Mof wrote:
Regarding your original question:
Thanks - I'll peruse that in detail tomorrow.

744357.  Fri Sep 17, 2010 7:34 pm Reply with quote

No, Finnish and Hungarian are not at all mutually intelligible.

While the Finno-Ugric languages actually received serious attention from students of language before the Indo-European languages did, until about two hundred years ago some sought to deny that Finnish and Hungarian were in any way related. (Hungarian scholars didn't want to believe it; in the face of the evidence, they wanted to believe their language related to Turkish rather.)

There is some degree of asymmetric intelligibility as between Finnish and Estonian though (an Estonian can understand fairly simple Finnish, but not vice versa). It's often overstated though - Finnish and Estonian are perhaps as similar as Norwegian and Dutch, not as similar as Norwegian and Danish.

As with many pairs of languages, there are a couple of amusing faux amis available. The traditional Estonian word for an eagle was kull, which was also a fairly common surname in Estonia. But to a Finn, kulli is a rather vulgar term for the penis. And accordingly, Estonian ornithologists now tend to use the Finnish borrowing kotkad instead, as do owners of the surname.

744364.  Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:55 pm Reply with quote

suze, I'd be interested to know how mutual intelligibility occurs in spoken vs. written language.

744416.  Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:01 am Reply with quote

Good question, zomg.

Discussions of mutual intelligibility generally focus on spoken language - and certainly, the examples I've mentioned on this thread thus far all do. In many cases, this carries over into writing - a Dane finds it no more of a challenge to read Norwegian than she does to understand it spoken.

But then in general, reading a language that one hasn't studied is usually rather easier than understanding it when spoken. I can read pretty much all of the Germanic and Romance languages if I don't think about it too hard. I can also just about read Czech, but Russian and Ukrainian only painfully slowly.

And of course, a large part of the reason for that is that Russian and Ukrainian use the Cyrillic alphabet. In the modern world, I don't suppose there are very many Serbs who don't understand the Roman alphabet - but such a Serb wouldn't be able to read Croatian, even though it's very similar indeed to his own language. There are rather more Hindi speakers who don't know the Arabic script and hence can't read Urdu.

But being able to more or less read a language by analogy isn't the same thing as mutual intelligibility. Yes, I can more or less read Catalan by pretending that it's French - but then I've studied languages and I know what I'm looking for; most people can't do this.

All the same, there is one pair of languages which are generally reckoned to be mutually intelligible when written but not when spoken, and that pair is Icelandic and Faroese. Neither language is very close to phonemic - there are silent letters aplenty, and some of the pronunciation rules are really a bit odd. But the written form of both languages is based largely on Old Norse, and so those who can read and write in one can read the other without much difficulty.

744584.  Sat Sep 18, 2010 10:26 pm Reply with quote

Thanks for answering, suze. Quite Interesting indeed.

744601.  Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:11 am Reply with quote

This link and quote may answer your question Spud


Gyula Weöres (1935)

When a Finn and a Hungarian meet usually either one asks: Is it true that the Finnish and the Hungarian languages are related? This kind of question is hardly asked when lingustically closer speakers like Finns and Estonians meet, because they understand each other to some extent even though they both speak their own languages. But the relationship between Finnish and Hungarian is completely different. It only means that they belong to the same linguistical family, it is at the closest something like how the English language is related to the German language. To recognize a linguistical relationship of this kind requires linguistical expertise and is beyond the competence of a layman. "

744608.  Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:18 am Reply with quote

In the 11-12th century it was said that the scandic languages came from asia. Troja to be exact. Odin and his sons moved to Saxen, Germany and later to Sigtuna in Sweeden..

744936.  Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:45 am Reply with quote

I thought Friesian and English were closely related enough to be mutually intelligible, at least if the conversation sticks to simple sentences about everyday subjects.

A quick google seems to imply that the two languages aren't mutually intelligible, or that they might have been a few centuries ago but not any more. But most of the examples are fairly complex.

745021.  Mon Sep 20, 2010 11:54 am Reply with quote

That's right. English and Frisian were at one time mutually intelligible, but aren't any more.

It's mostly English that has changed - languages spoken by small numbers in remote areas tend not to change a great deal, and Frisian hasn't.

Incidentally, Frisian was probably spoken in the UK until about three hundred years ago. A touring theatre company went to perform Shakespeare on the Isle of Sheppey sometime in the 1690s, and found that most of the locals did not speak English.

Sheppey was not then bridged, and its inhabitants rarely came to the mainland. And although we don't know what it was they spoke, it seems likely to me that it was Frisian.

Spud McLaren
745046.  Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:50 pm Reply with quote

I was told by an amateur historian from King's Lynn that (for completely different reasons from those above) at one time there were more Dutch speakers in Lynn than there were English speakers.
I will try to find a more official source.

745056.  Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:00 pm Reply with quote

I am sure that there are now as many Polish speakers in Ireland as there are Irish speakers; and that they mutually comprehend through English.

745133.  Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:58 pm Reply with quote

That would depend how you count.

The number of people in Ireland who use Irish as their first language is estimated as around 72,000. Dingle / An Daingean in Co Kerry was reckoned to be the only town in the country where Irish is used more than English. (source: Irish Census 2006.)

The same census reckoned the number of Polish born people in the country as 63,090 (third largest behind Ireland born and UK born (271,781); USA was fourth and Lithuania fifth). But it was immediately acknowledged that this was a significant undercount, and the government estimated (without showing its workings) that there were 200,000 Poles living in Ireland.

It's fair to assume that pretty much all the Poles can speak Polish. The number in Ireland who can speak Irish was reckoned by that census to be 1,738,384 - about 40% of the population - but most of those rarely or never use the language.

Quickly while I'm at it, monoglot Irish speakers - i.e. speakers of Irish who do not know English. Apart from pre-school children in Irish speaking homes, it's reckoned that by now the number of such people is probably less than fifty; some claim that the last has died in the last ten years. Apparently there was a court case in Galway as recently as 1998 which was held in Irish because neither party to it spoke much English, but they spoke enough English to agree with the judge that the case would be handled in Irish.

745202.  Tue Sep 21, 2010 3:52 am Reply with quote

A quick and dirty survey of shop signs in Limerick City reveals just two in Irish; Bean a Tí (a bakery) and an tSiopa Róthar (a bicycle shop); whereas there are about twenty with Polish/English signage; & one Russian (with 'english' letters).
Also noted that the main banks have 'Polish' counters, but no 'Irish' counters, although the ATMs offer a language choice of Gaeilge/English.


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