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Inter-linguistic comprehension

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Hans Mof
745836.  Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:00 pm Reply with quote

When I say in olden days I mean before the spelling reform of 1996. You still have a good chance to find it written Schloß in proper nouns (Schloßstraße) or just out of spite, erm,... resistence against the reform.

edit: trying to get my numbers right

Last edited by Hans Mof on Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:01 pm; edited 1 time in total

745837.  Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:00 pm Reply with quote

Jenny wrote:
So how come I saw Schloß on the sign then?

The rules for when one should use <ß> and when one should use <ss> changed in 1996.

Before then, at the end of a word it was always <ß> - as Hans suggests, a word was never to end with <ss>. Since then, it depends on whether the preceding vowel is long or short.

745840.  Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:16 pm Reply with quote

Was that the same spelling reform in which there was deemed no longer a need to capitalize Du/Dich/Dein, etc.?

I took German from 1999-2003 (and then 2007-2008), and second person pronouns were never capitalized, but none of my teachers ever seemed keen on phasing out the ß.

745843.  Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:22 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Again, is little used in some parts, and the present tense endings are slowly falling out of use.

The plural vosotros is virtually unknown in Latin America. Tu is still used so far as I've seen in my travels. I have noticed a movement away from the simple present tense (saying, roughly, "I am understanding," or "I understood" instead of "I understand").

Hans Mof
745851.  Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:37 pm Reply with quote

Was that the same spelling reform in which there was deemed no longer a need to capitalize Du/Dich/Dein, etc.?

Yes. Though, before that those were only capitalized in letters (as well as Ihr, Euch, Euer).

and second person pronouns were never capitalized

Apart from formal address to distinguish it from third person plural.

746008.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 6:03 am Reply with quote

Am I the only one who had to learn row upon row of groups of German nouns that would change in a similar way when pluralised?

das Amt - Ämter (-er + Umlaut)



Der Ahn (-er + Umlaut)

Die Anfang (-e + Umlaut)
(I think - am a bit rusty after 42 years :)

And then the pronouns with dritter oder vierter Falle....

746093.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:43 am Reply with quote

My German's even rustier than yours, 'yorz - I learned it from 1961-66 for O level, and I certainly can't remember the details of noun lists. However, I can still read German if it's not too complicated, and I can get by as a tourist, which is not too bad, though my conversational skills are very limited.

746097.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:20 am Reply with quote

I learnt it between 1962 and 1968. And I vividly remember trying to impress one particularly hunky German lad whilst camping in Luxembourg, by reciting all these rows of words, and he looked like he saw water burn (Dutch expression). I'd never realised that Germans wouldn't learn their mothertongue that way, and for him I was just rattling off words at random.

746118.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:38 pm Reply with quote

When I took German in high school (1980 to 1984, since I didn't take it after Grade 10), we weren't asked to memorize long lists of nouns with their plurals. Much as German plurals are often said to be unpredictable, I found that after a while I could guess them reasonably accurately.

On the other hand, we absolutely were asked to learn long lists of strong verbs, and might be required to recite on demand "fahren - fährt - fuhr - gefahren - to drive", and such like.

Like Jenny, I can get by in German, but my German is nothing like as good as my French or my Polish. French grammar to GCSE or equivalent level isn't really very complicated, so it's not necessary to do much drill of this kind - but it's absolutely unavoidable when teaching or learning Polish. Polish doesn't have all that many non-regular verbs (English, German, and Spanish pretty much lead the world there), but even so the verb is fiendish. The noun, the adjective, and the preposition have their moments too ...

746129.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 1:46 pm Reply with quote

thedrew wrote:
suze wrote:
Again, is little used in some parts, and the present tense endings are slowly falling out of use.

The plural vosotros is virtually unknown in Latin America. Tu is still used so far as I've seen in my travels. I have noticed a movement away from the simple present tense (saying, roughly, "I am understanding," or "I understood" instead of "I understand").

I fear this may be FMTEYEWTK about cross-Atlantic variations in Iberian languages, but what's been so far written in this thread is well, a bit incomplete, so here goes anyway. Apologies for the length.

Although some liken the differences in Spanish and Portuguese between the two sides of the Atlantic to differences seen in English of North America compared with English in the British Isles, this seriously understates matters. Yes, one finds in all cross-Atlantic pairings differences of spelling, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and even intonation. But in English the differences in grammar are really rather minor, whereas in Spanish and even moreso in Portuguese, they are not.

The two main ones I can think of for English is that North American English is more likely to use and distinguish a distinct subjunctive form than is British English, and British English is more likely to use a plural verb with nouns of multitude that in North America more often take a singular verb. Even these two features are anything but cut and dried. Minor differences like "at [the] hospital" or "[on] Tuesday" barely qualify.

English has nothing corresponding to the multiplicity and variance in forms of direct address that exists in the Iberian Romance languages, by which I mean Castilian (=Spanish), Portuguese, Catalan, and Galician. The situation is much more complicated than the one that exists between modern English you which today serves as both singular and plural, versus thou, the archaic second personal singular.

For one thing, Romance verbs remain strongly inflected compared with contemporary English verbs. But for another, the Romance languages sought to distinguish familiar and intimate forms of address from forms used in more polite, courteous, or respectful situations.

In the second person, Latin had tu in the singular and vos in the plural. Modern French settled on vous in the second person for both the formal singular and for the plural whether formal or familiar. But in Iberia, vos as a formal singular came to be replaced by third person forms decended from an expression meaning "your grace". The Castilian sequence historically ran vuestra merced > vuesa merced > vuesarced > vuesanced > voacé > vucé > vusted > usted. That's why you still sometimes see usted abbreviated Vd instead of Ud.

However, this evolution took several centuries, and Spanish and Portuguese colonies on the Western side of the Atlantic did not absorb these changes at an equal rate. They were further isolated for lack of rapid communications and in some cases, general illiteracy.

Today in Iberia, the archaic vos as a formal singular is virtually unused apart from in Galician and in those areas where Spanish and Portuguese come into contact with it. In Galician, vós alternates with vosoutros/as, sometimes with slightly different meaning. Otherwise vos exist only as a rare elevated or reverential form used for addressing kings or popes, where it takes a plural verb form as vous does in French. About the only place left in Iberia where vos still has any currency in Spanish is around Lugo, which being in Galicia is almost certainly influenced by Galician.

Instead of the archaic vos, modern Spanish uses usted and ustedes, Portuguese uses vocé and vocés, and Catalan uses vostè and vostès. All three pairs take verb forms in the third person, respectively singular and plural. Because these are all pro-drop languages, confusion can result with the real third person, so one tends to use the formal pronouns more often to disamiguate. For familiar singular and plural, Spanish uses and vosotros/as, and Catalan uses tu and vosaltres, but except in the far north where it interacts with Galician, Portuguese today uses tu for familiar singular but resorts to vocés for familiar plural.

The situation in the Americas is more complex; I'll address Spanish first.

First off, the second person familiar plural forms of Iberian Spanish (vosotros/as as a subject, os as a clitic, and vuestro/os/a/as as a possessive) are in the Americas universally substituted with ustedes, which in Spain is formal only. In many places, including all but southern Mexico and much of the northern part of South America, is still used just as it is in Spain. In others, however, a different siutation prevails.

The short story is that the old vos was in certain regions replaced by usted either not at all or only incompletely. Given that the use of vos is called voseo with corresponding adjective voseante, contrasting with tuteo and tuteante for , this excellent article explains:
    In certain areas voseo is extensive; for example, in the Southern Cone and in Central America. At the same time, it is in retreat in countries to the north of South America. In others it survives as an isolated relic, which we imagine will be disappearing because of the pressure of the educated norm from the rest of the country and because of the influence of the media.
This Wikipedia entry on voseo explains that we can find three general situations prevailing in the Americas:
  • tuteante America proper, where we find for the second person singular of trust and usted for the second person of respect;
  • (only-)voseante America, where the trusted form, vos, coexists with the respected form, ;
  • tuteante-voseante America, where vos is restricted to a very intimate level, for medium trust, and usted as form of respect.
Complicated as it sounds, the real situation is more fractured still, because which verb forms a particular pronoun takes, and which oblique forms, both vary greatly by region and register.

The Diccionario Real de la Lengua Española does now show in its verb conjugations not just the Iberian forms but also vos for second person singular and ustedes for second person plural. The vos forms, though, are the rioplatense forms only, as that is the only region where it's the educated norm. Look at model verbs hablar, comer, and vivir for regulars and ser and ir for irregulars; the slashed forms are the alternates.

Like American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese also shows quite a bit of variation in forms of address. Vocé has replaced tu in many regions, including São Paulo, while tu persists around Rio de Janeiro and in the south of the country. These is considerable variation, however, in the clitics and possessives that correspond to vocé, as those of tu are often used here in ways never seen in Portugal.

The grammar of Brazilian Portuguese differs from that of European Portuguese in other aspects as well, including the use of clitics. BP doesn't use enclitic forms for finite verbs, preferring proclitics there like Spanish. BP also doesn't use the curious mesoclitics that EP uses in the future and conditional tenses.

BP only has two degrees of demonstatives (like this and that), while EP retains three forms, as do all three of the other main Iberian languages, Spanish, Catalan, and Galician. Where a threefold paradigm prevails, these correspond to the first, second, and third grammatical persons: one each for near the speaker, near to addressee, and near someone else. This happens for demonstratives and also for the words corresponding to our here and there.

Some argue that a diglossic situation exists in Brazil, that standard Portuguese is a different language than/from/to the spoken form there. In this very long Wikipedia article on the differences between EP and BP, Brazilian linguist Marcos Bagno is cited as saying:
    Brazilians speak Standard Portuguese poorly because they speak a language that is sufficiently different from Stardard Portuguese so that the latter sounds almost "foreign" to them. In terms of comparison, it is easier for many Brazilians to understand someone from a Spanish-speaking South American country than someone from Portugal because the spoken varieties of Portuguese on either side of the Atlantic have diverged to the point of nearly being mutually unintelligible.
That statement is somewhat controversial, but my perception is that it's more true than false. It cannot be said for Spanish, which is still mutually intelligible across the Atlantic, nor for English, as otherwise you wouldn't be able to read this. But it does seem to be so for Portuguese. I cannot comment on cisatlantic forms of French, as I have little enough experience with them.

This posting is far too long, but I hope it gives some idea of the high degree of variation in Iberian languages from side of the Atlantic to the other.


746135.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 2:05 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Polish doesn't have all that many non-regular verbs (English, German, and Spanish pretty much lead the world there),

Maybe it's just meaningless quibbling (and if so I apologize), but I must disagree about Spanish.

The overwhelming majority of Spanish verbs that English speakers classify as irregular merely follow another model than the model 1st, 2nd, and 3rd conjugation verbs hablar, comer, and vivir.

For example, for the present subjunctive, one simply switches the dominant vowel between 1st and 2nd+3rd conjugations. Because this leads to collisions with an e or i following a hard c or g, one needs to respell those as qu or gu instead. Similarly verbs whose infinitives already have a -guar need respelling to -güe for subjunctive forms to preserve the sound.

Mere spelling rewrites to preserve the original sound because of orthographic conventions are not what I call irregular. There are other classes of regular irregulars, like:
  • The verbs like conducir and traducir that form first-person singular forms with -zco in them also follow a predictable model.
  • Do you consider stem-changing verbs (like venir in Spanish and French) to be irregular? I don't. They just follow a different model.
I think you'll find that once you rule out verbs whose forms can be grouped together like that, you're left with very few true irregulars. These are inevitably the most frequently used of verbs. One really does have to learn the forms for ser and estar, ir and haber, each all on their own by rote.

But almost all the rest fall into just a few clusters, clusters which are not irregular at all, just differently regular.

Is that a reasonable take on it?


746157.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:11 pm Reply with quote

I'd agree that those verbs where some inflected forms are spelled differently than might be expected, so as to obey the orthographic rules, aren't really irregular. French too has plenty of these.

But I think that the stem-changing verbs (things like pensar - yo pienso) would have to count as non-regular, since not all verbs with an <e> in the stem suddenly insert <i>.

As you note, there are a handful of French verbs which do this kind of thing (venir - je viens, for instance), and they are considered irregular. (OK, so venir has other irregularities as well - for instance, its past participle is venu and not *veni, but I reckon it would be seen as irregular even if that <i> were its only oddity.)

But for sure, the point is a somewhat moot one.

746160.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:38 pm Reply with quote

Now, on the matter of cisatlantic French. The only forms of French on which I can really comment are that of France and that of Québec.

In a formal register and in writing, differences are few except in the matter of vocabulary. There is a handful of words which are spelled differently in Canada, but nothing like as many as there are English words which are spelled differently in the USA.

There are no significant differences in grammar. Scholars have sought evidence that the use of tenses in Québec differs from that of France, perhaps hoping to find an analogy between France: Québec and Britain: USA - but have found little evidence of such.

There are however many differences in vocabulary. Until the 1960s, Québec French borrowed extensively from English where French French tried not to. For instance, a French girl has un copain; a Québec girl has - rather horrendously - un chum. And that chum refers to Québec girl as sa blonde (even if she is a brunette).

But since the 1960s, it's swung the other way. A friend in Québec would send me un courriel en mode san fil while at PFK, while a friend in France would be perfectly happy to send me un e-mail sur le wifi while at KFC.

Colloquial speech in Québec would be much harder for a person from France to follow. Quite apart from the Anglicisms that the Québécois use but deny using, and the uniquely Québécois curse words that punctuate everything they say, there are quite a few syntactical forms that French people consider ill-bred. For instance, where France would require Est-ce que tu as ... ? (Have you ... ?), in Québec it's T'as tu ... ?.

746170.  Fri Sep 24, 2010 5:00 pm Reply with quote

I well remember a slightly surreal conversation I had with an elderly German lady in Jersey. She had no English or French,
I had very little German; enough to recognise that she was speaking German. I normally speak English, but am fairly competent in Norman French (which does not suit Paris).
She was showing me pictures of her house and garden, and of grandchildren, while I made admiring comments.
I had a similar experience in Rome, sitting on a bench in a small park, next to an Italian granny of my own generation. My Italian couldn't even order a pizza, and she had no English; but we nodded and smiled to each other, and spoke of the weather, and bemoaned the noise of the motor scooters.
Incidentally, I tried speaking Latin to various Romans, including a set of Roman soldiers outside the Colosseum; but only found one Roman who understood me and responded - a priest.

746220.  Sat Sep 25, 2010 12:25 am Reply with quote

mckeonj wrote:
Incidentally, I tried speaking Latin to various Romans, including a set of Roman soldiers outside the Colosseum; but only found one Roman who understood me and responded - a priest.

That's the funniest thing I've read in a long time.




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