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Major Languages

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Kingbarney
140217.  Tue Jan 30, 2007 3:53 am Reply with quote

legspin wrote:
Font size seems to be all over the place at the mo' for me


Sizable as in a large community, city or region.

 
suze
140304.  Tue Jan 30, 2007 7:22 am Reply with quote

Gaazy wrote:
Professor David Crystal, an authority on linguistics, says that - in terms of numbers of speakers - Welsh is in the top 8% of the world's languages.

Which surprised even me.


Not me, actually.

It is impossible to state categorically how many languages are spoken in the world. The main reason for this is that there is no universal agreement on what precisely constitutes a language (eg is Scots a different language from English, are the Arabic of the Gulf and that of Morocco different languages, and so on). Also, do we count languages which are spoken by groups of "revivalists" but by no-one as their everyday tongue (eg Cornish, and what about Latin and Sanskrit, both of which are official languages of independent countries).

But Ethnologue reckons that there are 6,912 living languages in the world. To place in the top 8%, Welsh would therefore need to be among the 552 most spoken languages - and I'd give it a fair chance of being there, since it has around 800,000 speakers*.

Counting the number of speakers of any given language is actually surprisingly difficult, since some countries' censuses make assumptions based on ethnicity and some other surveys only count first language speakers. So I'd be interested to know precisely what data Professor Crystal was using, but his statement seems entirely plausible.



* The 2004 Welsh Language Use survey found 611,000 speakers in Wales, while an admittedly dated (1993) survey carried out for S4C found 133,000 in England. Add the Welsh speaking community in Argentina and expatriate Welsh all over the world, and we get to around 800,000.

http://www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk/cynnwys.php?pID=109&nID=2122&langID=2
http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/archives/welsh-l/welsh-l/1993/Mar/More-Welsh-Speakers

 
Spinoza
147088.  Wed Feb 14, 2007 3:57 pm Reply with quote

I heard, on the World Service I think, that there are 105 languages spoken in India, but that one legacy of British rule there is that the official language of the Indian parliament is English.

Talking of official languages, I lived in Greece for a couple of years and learned Greek there. Everybody in Greece is more or less fed up that, as a small country (10 million), they all have to learn at least one foreign language, because hardly anybody learns modern Greek. In fact it's quite common to find people with several foreign languages, because it's a good qualification for becoming a waiter or a hotel receptionist. One professor I was working with used to claim that in 1841 in the USA, people were getting concerned about the huge variety of languages spoken by all the immigrants and the Congress decided to vote on which language should be the official language of the United States. Because in those days, educated people all spoke ancient Greek, by just one vote the Congress decided on English, rather than ancient Greek, as the official language. Ah, mused my colleague, what would have happened if the vote had gone the other way?

 
Jenny
147196.  Wed Feb 14, 2007 8:16 pm Reply with quote

I was surprised to read in suze's post that there were so many languages in Russia.

 
suze
147202.  Wed Feb 14, 2007 8:41 pm Reply with quote

You know that you want to know ...

Abaza, Adyghe, Agul, Altay, Avar, Bashkir, Buryat, Chechen, Chukchi, Chuvash, Dargin, Dolgan, Erzya, Evenk, Ingush, Kabardian, Kalmyk, Karachay-Balkar, Khakas, Khanty, Komi-Permyak, Komi-Zyrian, Koryak, Kumyk, Lak, Lezgi, Mansi, Mari, Moksha, Nenets, Nogai, Ossetic, Russian, Tabasaran, Tatar, Tuvin, Udmurt, Yakut and Yiddish.

It will rise to forty at such time as the Russians give recognition to Karelian (ie Finnish, though you'd never hear them admit it).

 
samivel
147225.  Wed Feb 14, 2007 11:05 pm Reply with quote

Spinoza wrote:
One professor I was working with used to claim that in 1841 in the USA, people were getting concerned about the huge variety of languages spoken by all the immigrants and the Congress decided to vote on which language should be the official language of the United States. Because in those days, educated people all spoke ancient Greek, by just one vote the Congress decided on English, rather than ancient Greek, as the official language.


Well, the version I heard was that German was the closely-defeated language. Anyone hear different?

 
Spinoza
147243.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 2:34 am Reply with quote

This doesn't surprise me, Greek people do have a way of telling tall tales to show themselves in a good light, and German seems a more likely candidate. Shouldn't be too dificult to resolve this if anybody can stir themselves to research the question. I'd do it myself, but right now I have to go to work.

 
Hans Mof
147254.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 4:01 am Reply with quote

There is indeed a percistent myth about German almost becoming the official language of the US. Allegedly there has been a vote on whether German was to become the second official languagein Pennsylvania in 1828. This proposal is supposed to have been dismissed by one vote (to make things worse, this vote was cast by a representative of German descent).

However, there has never been a vote on which language should become official; to this day the USA does not have an official language (English is just the most commonly used).

Even though there has been a big German community in Pennsylvania, they never made up for more than 30% of the population. In 1830 a mere 9% of US-inhabitants were of German descent.


What really happened:

On January 9, 1794 a group of German immigrants from Virginia petitioned for passed laws to be publicated in German to help new settlers to adjust to their new homeland. The House of Representatives dismissed this petition with 42 to 41 votes. Frederik August Conrad Muehlenberg, spokesman of the House of Represantatives, later announced:
" The faster German settlers become Americans the better."

 
grizzly
147287.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 5:32 am Reply with quote

Does the UK have any "official languages"? I'm speculating that maybe constituent parts of the UK have official languages but that Parliament might not have bothered with the exercise for the UK (goes to hunt down some stuff on this).

 
grizzly
147290.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 5:37 am Reply with quote

Didn't take long, wiki says:

Quote:
A few states, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have no official language, although in most such cases there is a single de facto main language, as well as a range of government regulations and practices on which languages are expected to be used in various circumstances.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_languages

The again, wiki says that an official language is often that spoken in the Parliament or Legislature. On that basis you could say that Norman French is the official UK language since it is still used in Parliament.

Wiki discusses languages in the UK at length here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_in_the_United_Kingdom

(although I think this is moving into territory where Suze will have more knowledge)

goes to hunt off of wiki...

 
suze
147339.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 6:46 am Reply with quote

On Jan's point first, he correctly debunks this tale which has been doing the rounds for many years.

While the USA has no official language at a national level, individual states are at liberty to have one. 25 states choose English as their official language, while in Hawaii both English and Hawaiian have official status. Neither Louisiana nor New Mexico has ever had an official language, but all official documents in those two documents are made available in both English and in French and Spanish respectively. (This is somewhat pointless in Louisiana since the documents are written in Parisian French, and are not necessarily easily read by those who use Cajun French which is primarily a spoken language.)

Pennsylvania has no official language - as Jan correctly notes, a motion to declare both English and German so to be failed narrowly in 1828 - but many official documents were made available in both languages until 1954. This is not unique to PA though - there is for instance evidence to show that some 19th century state laws in Texas were published simultaneously in English, German and Spanish.

I'll come back on grizzly's point shortly.

 
grizzly
147351.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 7:00 am Reply with quote

Quote:
Neither Louisiana nor New Mexico has ever had an official language, but all official documents in those two documents are made available in both English and in French and Spanish respectively


I'm 99% sure that Suze meant 'all official documents in those two states', just to clarify.

 
suze
147368.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 7:24 am Reply with quote

As grizzly notes, the United Kingdom has no nationwide official language.

Welsh has official status in Wales, jointly with English. Irish and Ulster Scots both have official status in Northern Ireland, again jointly with English. Scottish Gaelic is now an official language of Scotland - it had earlier had official status in Na h-Eileanan an Iar only; Scots does not have official status in the same way but the British government has accepted it as a regional or minority language for EU purposes. (I don't really accept it as a language at all, I reckon it's a dialect of English - it's possible to argue the matter either way. A full exposition of that would also have to mention things like Doric and Shetlandic, and is for another time.)

Perhaps unwisely, Cornish has been granted the same recognition even though there exists not one person who uses the language as his default tongue. Some might say (and I might be among them) that granting such status to a language spoken only by hobby revivalists devalues the whole concept of regional or minority language recognition.

Almost exactly the same comments apply to Manx on the Isle of Man, although there is one Manx language school (Bunscoill Ghaelgagh) and its 56 students are officially regarded as first language Manx.

Both English and French have official status in both Guernsey and Jersey, as do local French dialects. As grizzly notes, the Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament is given in extremely archaic French rather than in English - and so I suppose one could argue that this gives French official status. All I would argue though is that it's high time this antiquated practice was ended.


EDIT: Yup, of course I actually meant "all official documents in those two states" - I clearly need to learn either to think more slowly or to type faster ...

 
samivel
147481.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 10:07 am Reply with quote

On a related note, what is the legal status of British Sign Language?

 
suze
147508.  Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:06 am Reply with quote

None whatsoever, I'm afraid.

It took the British government until as recently as 2003 to acknowledge that it exists, and any kind of official status seems still to be some way off.

As far as I know, the only country so far enlightened enough to have given official status to a sign language is New Zealand (last year, with only one of the eight parties represented in Parliament opposing the move).

It may not have occurred to readers that not all English speaking countries use the same sign language. British Sign Language is quite similar to Australian Sign Language and to New Zealand Sign Language - a British signer can sign to an Antipodean without too much difficulty.

But American Sign Language (which is also used in Canada) is rather different - a British signer cannot sign directly to an North American signer, even though both read and write in English.

Irish Sign Language is actually a dialect of French, and bears no relation to the English or Irish languages.

 

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