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Major Languages

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654348.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 6:21 am Reply with quote

Are Sorbian and Wendish the same language? I understand that Sorbian is a relict slav language in Eastern Germany.

Can anyone provide any further insight?

654404.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:18 am Reply with quote

Sorbian is usually considered to be two languages - Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. Both are spoken by small numbers of people in the eastern part of Germany, close to the Polish border.

A speaker of Polish is said to be able to understand spoken Lower Sorbian without too much difficulty; Upper Sorbian is a bit trickier and in some ways more similar to Czech.

Czech and Polish aren't vastly different, but they're not mutually intelligible. As an example of a faux ami, the Polish verb szukać means "to seek"; the Czech verb šukat is a rather impolite way of saying "to have sexual intercourse".

Yes, Wendish is the same thing as Sorbian. It's considered a slightly non-PC label these days, because the word Wendish is German rather than Slavic.

654573.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:16 pm Reply with quote

Sorry Zebra, having answered your second post I've only just noticed the first!

Zebra57 wrote:
As far as language spoken in the UK until recent time Norn was spoken in the Shetlands.

Yes indeed. The last speaker of Norn is supposed to have been a man who died on the island of Unst in around 1850, and that man's parents were probably of the last generation to use it regularly.

There's very little written material in Norn, and there's altogether not a great deal known about the language. Since no one who is alive now knows how to pronounce such written Norn as there is, it's impossible to prove, but some believe that it was the same language as Faroese (which is still spoken).

Zebra57 wrote:
I read a list of UK languages from a UN source which lists Romany, Traveller Scots and Traveller Irish. It also lists Polari - a language spoken in theatrical circles.

Those are all languages which some people in the UK speak, certainly. But then so is (for instance) Gujarati - and that doesn't really make it a "UK language". So can Romani really be said to be?

As for the others, it would have be to be debatable whether they really are languages.

Traveller Scottish (aka Beurla Reagaird, which means "talking backwards") and Traveller Irish (aka Shelta, which probably means "walking") are cants. They were devised by taking an existing language (Scottish Gaelic in the one case, Irish in the other), adding in some bits from other languages (mainly English and Romani), and then playing around with it a bit. By that last, I mean devices such as saying words backwards, swapping vowels around (saying "Scotland" as "Scatlond", that sort of thing), or just randomly inserting bonus letters. This was done simply so that outsiders (the person with whom one was trying to do business, for instance) wouldn't understand.

Polari is comparable. It was spoken mainly by fairground people, fish traders, theatrical types, and homosexuals - in all cases, people who wouldn't necessarily want the wider world to know what they were talking about. Polari is based primarily on English, with quite a lot of vocabulary borrowed from Italian and Romani, and again the words are then played around with a bit.

654578.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:29 pm Reply with quote

Zebra57 wrote:
When the King of the Scots visited the King of the Picts he needed a translator according to Bede.

I'd heard that one as St Columba needing an interpreter to speak to the Picts, but yes. No one really knows what the Pictish language was; I mention a couple of theories at post 253012.

Zebra57 wrote:
When William the Conqueror invaded England the dialect of Yorkshire had a strong Danish influence. Some academics claim that a person from London would find it difficult to understand someone from York.

Absolutely. As late as about 1700, people from London could not readily understand people from the Isle of Sheppey, scarcely fifty miles away. Quite what the Sheppey people spoke in those days isn't known, but my theory is that it was something very like Frisian.

Zebra57 wrote:
Henry viii refused to allow Cornwall to have its own cathedral as he feared Cornish nationalism.

That may well be so. The English monarchs certainly had plenty of trouble with Cornwall in that area - read for instance about the Prayer Book Rebellion, although that was a couple of years after Henry died.

Cornwall didn't ultimately get a cathedral until the one at Truro was opened in 1887.

654746.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:31 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Suze I too have been fascinated by Sheppey. Sheerness was an important fort captured by the Dutch in 1667.

I understand that at that time there were some Dutch settlers on Sheppey who may well have been Frisian speakers.

With the development of Queenborough and Sheerness as Naval Ports meant that the once isolated islands became more accessible.

In Cumberland a dialect of Welsh was spoken until recent times. Some shepherds may still count their sheep in Cumberland Welsh.

Polari I understood had origins in the 17thC and was adopted by the gay community in the 20thC. It has given many words to the English language. Examples:

Naff - not up to standard
Mince - strange gait
Ogle - stare at
Slap - make up
Manky - unpleasant etc

Barry Took and Marty Feldman widely used Polari for their two camp creations Julian and Sandy. Their scrips in "Round the Horne" offered a vehicle for Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams to make outrageous utterings which probably few of the BBC. hierarchy understood.

Last edited by Zebra57 on Fri Jan 08, 2010 12:15 pm; edited 2 times in total

654779.  Thu Jan 07, 2010 11:17 pm Reply with quote

the Polish verb szukać means "to seek"; the Czech verb šukat is a rather impolite way of saying "to have sexual intercourse".

And the English term "suck it" is considered somewhat coarse.

654945.  Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:21 am Reply with quote

Zebra57 wrote:
In Cumberland a dialect of Welsh was spoken until recent times. Some shepherds may still count their sheep in Cumberland Welsh.

Not really all that recently - there's no real evidence for it later than about 1300, and some suggest that the last few speakers died during the Black Death. It has occasionally been claimed that there was a small Cumbric speaking community in West Cumbria as late as the 18th century, but it seems more likely that if there was a non-English speaking community at all at that time, it actually spoke either Irish or Manx.

To be sure, a writer named Joseph Lucas claimed in 1882 that it had been regularly spoken in Swaledale within his lifetime, but he presented no evidence for this and few really believe him.

As you note, one thing that did survive rather longer was the counting system used for livestock (yan, tan, tethera, and so on). Probably more people now know that system than ever did, largely because Roger McGough and Terry Pratchett have both used it in their works. (And OK, it gets a mention in Finnegan's Wake as well - but we must note here, as Dara Ó Briain did on my television only the other day, that hardly anyone has actually read that work.)

One F W Garnett, writing in 1910, noted that "the method is almost obsolete" and "few of the farmers remember them (the numbers)". That said, I've read suggestions that it was used at Keswick Mart until the 1960s, and that to this day it's occasionally used at Longtown Mart (but really only if there happens to be a reporter there who wants to hear the "quaint old system" ...).

And then there's the mildly controversial bit. Was the Cumbric language Brythonic (like Breton, Cornish, and Welsh) or was it Goidelic (like Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic)? The received wisdom is that it was Brythonic, but there are a few who present arguments the other way. Just as we'll probably never know for sure what Pictish was and what Norn was, there's a lot we'll never know about Cumbric.

655067.  Fri Jan 08, 2010 12:10 pm Reply with quote

As always thanks for the QI information. As Cumberland was for a time part of the Kingdom of Scotland it is possible that both types of language at some times may have been in use. Some researchers even claim that there is evidence of Brythonic Welsh being spoken in parts of Strathclyde.

655280.  Fri Jan 08, 2010 5:59 pm Reply with quote

Yes, that is generally accepted. Before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in this country in the fifth century and brought with them the language which developed into English, the main language of these islands was Old Brythonic (called "British" in some literature); note that it was never Latin. The language brought by the Anglo-Saxons became the dominant language of most of Great Britain within about two hundred years.

That didn't happen in the Scottish Highlands, where the main language was Pictish until it was supplanted by Scottish Gaelic which came over from Ireland; not until the eighteenth century did English start to become the main language of that region. There are still a few people who use Scottish Gaelic as their first language, especially on the island of Lewis. And Campbell (2000) reckons that at the time he was writing, the last few people who spoke only Gaelic were still alive. (They were probably women over 80 in remote settlements; it's plausible that the last one has died in the last year or two.)

But in the rest of the country, Old Brythonic steadily retreated into the corners in the face of the Anglo-Saxon onslaught - and only in Cornwall, Cumbria, southern Scotland, and Wales did it survive.

By about 800 AD, the Welsh language existed in a form that is more or less recognizable today. The oldest surviving Welsh poetry is of about that age, and a Welsh speaker can read it with nothing like so much difficulty as an English speaker has in reading Beowulf. Whether that poetry comes actually from Wales, or from the Hen Ogledd (the parts of northern England and southern Scotland where a Brythonic language was still spoken) is uncertain.

Old Brythonic / Primitive Welsh didn't last for very much longer in Scotland, or indeed in Cumbria as we discussed earlier. It's reckoned that Cornish reached its peak in around 1300, and it began to decline rather quickly after its use in church was forbidden in 1549. By 1700, the last monoglot Cornish speaker was probably dead, although the language never died completely - the last "native speaker" died in either 1891 or 1906, and by then revivalists had begun to take a hobby interest.

Not until the early nineteenth century did English become the predominant language in Wales. There were several reasons why English began to take over; perhaps the key one was the Industrial Revolution which brought a large number of immigrants into Wales from England.

To this day there are people who consider Welsh to be their first language, although by now there are probably no monoglot Welsh speakers (other than pre-school children from Welsh speaking homes). There's no generally accepted last monoglot Welsh speaker, but the consensus seems to be that that person probably died in the 1980s.

655381.  Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:54 pm Reply with quote

Adding to the linguistic patchwork of Scotland is the influence of Anglo Saxon/English. Although slightly simplified mainland Scotland could be considered as comprising of four parts:

Strathclyde (Brythonic Welsh),
Dalraida (Scots) with its Irish/Viking influence,
Kingdom of the Picts (Pictish?) and
Lothian Area (Anglo-Saxon) with a strong Viking influence.

This could explain why Glascow and Edinburgh although close in distance are very different in many ways.

It would be QI to consider that if William the Conqueror had not sold off the County of Bernicia (then part of Northumbria) during his reign to raise money, the border of England may have been further North along the east coast.

658069.  Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:15 pm Reply with quote

It is QI to read in the press recently that Cornish is undergoing a revival.

QI is Warlinen which promotes the Cornish language.

QI is this quote from a BBC post 20th February 2009

"The Cornish language has been branded "extinct" by linguistic experts, sparking protests from speakers.

Thirty linguists worked on Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, compiled by United Nations group Unesco. They also said Manx Gaelic was extinct.

Cornish is believed to have died out as a first language in 1777.

But the Cornish Language Partnership says the number of speakers has risen in the past 20 years and there should be a section for revitalised languages.

The Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, published by Unesco, the cultural section of the United Nations, features about 2,500 dialects.

There are thought to be about 300 fluent speakers of Cornish".

When is a language extinct?

post http://

727074.  Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:04 am Reply with quote

About the Dutch language, I liked to say that this language is also one of the official languages of Belgium, together with French ( 39 % ), and German ( about 100.000 people).

In addition, some linguistics pretend that Flemish were also a language; Flemish, in linguistic viewpoint, is composed by two dialects : West Flemish and East Flemish; these are no languages at all.

Yes, the northren part of Belgium is called Flanders with its capital Brussel, yet Flemish is not spoken there : it is Dutch or « Nederlands ».

The best you can do is to consider the notion « Flemish », as a geographic one.

727075.  Sun Jul 11, 2010 2:44 am Reply with quote

In the 19th century, languages were classified - in the first place by German linguists. By that moment, there were many dialects spoken in northren Belgium, so as West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantian and Limburgish.

The German linguistics took it as one, and called it Flemish.

This classification continues to by copied by mistake.
Indeed the language spoken in Flanders is Dutch : « Nederlands ».

By lack of prescission, even Flemish people, pretend to speak Flemish...And French speaking people persevere to commit the neglet and also by disdain for the language of Flanders.

Indeed, there are differences between Dutch spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders : in the North evoluated the prononciation quicklier, so that Dutch in the Flemish media sounds like Dutch, about 50 years ago.

I can assure this, since, by this moment, I live in Indonesia, and old people - still able to speak Dutch - pronounce Dutch as me.

Some where, some how, with the guttural sounds used by the Dutch - also present here - Dutch sounds weird, and the Indonesians say : « Itu gelek » : « Dit is lelijk », « This sounds weird ».

727188.  Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:14 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Walter - that's interesting. Welcome to the forums :-)

Frederico Rogeiro
730803.  Sun Aug 01, 2010 4:17 am Reply with quote

Not being at all a specialist, I would like to speak a little about my language: portuguese.
I believe it is oficial in Portugal, Brasil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, S. Tomé e Príncipe and East Timor, all ancient portuguese colonies.

There is an international organization with 8 members, the community of countries with portuguese as official language (in portuguese called CPLP), that only integrates democratic countries, as a rule.
But the Guinea Equatorial (dictatorial and spanish speaker), now wants to get in.

In Portugal there are no other languages. Portuguese has some similarity with spanish, specialy with the way it is spoken in Galicia.

Like Cervantes in spanish, Luther in german, probably Chaucer or Shakespeare in english, perhaps Rabelais in french or Dante in italian, Luís de Camões is the main reference of the early portuguese language.

(Of course I also have the caricature of Camões, I just don´t know where it is!)

Some curiosities about the portuguese language (from my experience):
- people generally love to speak it with their mouths, but rarely let it get into their ears;
- it can be read, but we don´t like it very much;
- it can be written too (including by left-handed people), but to whom to read?
- it can be used also to think, specially how to live doing nothing, sprecially thinking.

I hope I'm not saying too much rubish.
Feel free to ask anything about portuguese language.


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