So THAT'S what it's like for two languages to be mutually comprehensible
June 20, 2017 11:03 PM   Subscribe

 
My(Catholic) cousins from Greenock had to write down what they were saying for me. I'm from NY. Never had this issue with anyone else from anywhere else.
My Prod cousins, also from Greenock, were easily understood.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 11:13 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]


A like tae gang on Scots Wikipedia nou an again an chack on siclicke articles as moose (plural mice) , wouf (that is sib tae a dug), an houlet (that is a bird that maistly hunts in the nicht).
posted by little onion at 11:36 PM on June 20 [18 favorites]


One time I was attending a tourist from Galicia, and it was incredibly weird how two people speaking different languages could communicate so well.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:57 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]


I am Scot in descent, and I could make it maybe 30 seconds into that video before getting so frustrated I wanted to whack something hard with the claymore I don't even own.
posted by Samizdata at 12:18 AM on June 21 [7 favorites]


Wiki: "A 2010 Scottish Government study of "public attitudes towards the Scots language" found that 64% of respondents (around 1,000 individuals being a representative sample of Scotland's adult population) "don't really think of Scots as a language", but it also found that "the most frequent speakers are least likely to agree that it is not a language (58%) and those never speaking Scots most likely to do so (72%)".[14]"
posted by Bwithh at 12:39 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


It's too late at night for me to be watching this, but I feel like the guy's just code switching between English and German.
posted by pwnguin at 12:49 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]


I had an English teacher in 11th grade, the year we did English Literature, and she would read Beowulf and Chaucer to us in more original language forms than our books contained. They were remarkably easy to understand once you got into the flow. Sort of like Shakespeare, really.

I've never really thought of Scots as a language. But then, I LITERALLY grew up watching PBS in the 70s (born in 68) and my parents were hardcore Anglophiles (my father did post-doc work in Oxford in the mid-60s for a couple of years) so all my life I've kind of been feed a diet of all kinds of UK accents that a lot of Americans find incomprehensible.

I mean, isn't part of the fun of UK accents, even for people who live in the UK, having to use context clues for a certain percentage of what the other person is saying?

In summary, Boomhauer is just speaking the US version of Scots.
posted by hippybear at 2:20 AM on June 21 [7 favorites]


There were sentences alternating between comprehensible and absolute gibberish. Is this wha we Australians sound like to everyone else?
posted by Merus at 2:44 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


No, you Australians sound to me like someone from the US state of Georgia attempting to do a Cockney accent.

And New Zealanders sound like someone making fun of that.
posted by hippybear at 3:05 AM on June 21 [57 favorites]


I don't know anything about this guy, but I knew people who spoke Scots and they didn't sound much like that, forbye.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:23 AM on June 21


Doric is fit I spik fan I'm biding with my ma. Or at least, I use a lot more doric words when I visit her.

I've got a weeks camping holiday coming up in Ballater and am very excited to be once again visiting this shop.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 3:25 AM on June 21


I'm Scottish (Glasgow, southside: yes, I have a pan-loaf accent …) and I have to listen really carefully to make out the meaning. I think the shibboleth of being a serious Scots Language person is consistent use of the word leid for language.

Bwithh's “Scots not a language” citation is common. Scots, amongst the bourgeoisie, was not seen as compatible with social and economic progress. Emma May Smith's comment a while back about “British [being] the elite identity” rings very true. One could choose to remain a sharn-bespeckled yokel and continue to speak Lallans, or be British! and speak English. All aspects of the Scottish Cringe (cf. “bucket of crabs” sometimes claimed by those of Irish ancestry). Hey, ask me about my family: my gran, born in Dennistoun and daughter of an Ayrshire barrow-boy made good, took elocution lessons and would forever decry any Scots words we accidentally used in her presence as “Common!

Scots is often not taken seriously. An attempt to make an official Scots language pack for Mozilla a few years back was shut down with a “we do not include joke languages” comment. That kind of othering hurts.
posted by scruss at 5:54 AM on June 21 [36 favorites]


I'm of English origin (well, if you go back no more than one generation) but have lived in Edinburgh for 22 years. I could mostly understand that, what what was doin' ma heid in was trying to square the circle between Scots spoken with a cut-glass accent and the English-with-Scots-characteristics you hear down the local boozer. (It really underlines scruss's point about Elite identity and language. And, oh, probably echoes the status differential between those who spoke Middle English and Norman French in England prior to the 16th century.)
posted by cstross at 6:06 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]


Indeed, language is a dialect with an army, scots and Geordie probably being the closest examples in English.
posted by midmarch snowman at 6:39 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


> all my life I've kind of been feed a diet of all kinds of UK accents that a lot of Americans find incomprehensible.

This is not an accent, it's a separate language, just like AAVE. It's got its own grammar and vocabulary (cf. leid 'language'). It's close enough to English that it's easy enough to understand with a little effort, but you couldn't speak it without language study any more than you could speak AAVE by imitating the "I speak jive" segment of Airplane.

Thanks for the post, I'm enjoying the lecture immensely!
posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on June 21 [22 favorites]


Indeed, language is a dialect with an army, scots and Geordie probably being the closest examples in English.

That's a bit much. You punch one horse.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


This is quite a good example of how Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all mutually intelligible to a certain degree and yet are separate languages. I've always struggled to explain this to English speakers but this is quite similar. Also, my Scottish partner had a laughing fit over the phrase "mucklefash" which essentially means 'meh' (according to my partner) and he's vowed to use that term forevermore.

If you think this is Broad Scots, you should hear my partner's Auntie Margaret. We've known each other for 12 years and I still struggle to make out what she is saying. Bless her. She makes lovely tablet.
posted by kariebookish at 7:09 AM on June 21 [8 favorites]


Oh, and if we are talking about the whole elite vs vernacular language thing, try Alasdair Gray's "Something Leather" on for size. He employs the rather lovely orthographic trick of rendering vernacular Scots English in standard English orthography and the Queen's English in a sort-of phonetic way. It is a simple, neat trick of making you think hard about how we imply power.
posted by kariebookish at 7:14 AM on June 21 [12 favorites]


This okay here? Golf- Robin Williams NSFW
posted by Splunge at 7:31 AM on June 21


This post led me down a (worthwhile) Robert Burns rabbit hole.
posted by serena15221 at 7:39 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


My wife and I enjoy a Scottish sitcom about a group of pensioners, Still Game, on Netflix. We often need tae watch it with subtitles. On a few episodes, though, the subtitles are Scots and not English. We find we get the gist with context clues.

In any case, watching Still Game with occasional Scots is nothing like watching Scandi-noir Hinterland/Y Gwyll in full-on Welsh.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:57 AM on June 21


This accent is so appealing to me that I have trouble hearing the content. I feel like Jamie Lee Curtis in a Fish Called Wanda.
posted by theredpen at 8:26 AM on June 21 [3 favorites]



'Nivair!' he xDaid, 'Nivair shall the dae'l lay is ro'n 'and on the bonny brae. . . '

Aend the wemd xDaid 'Mary'. Thenkyew.

Sorry, sorry, really couldn't help myself.
posted by Herodios at 8:34 AM on June 21


I spent three weeks in Sweden once. I speak fluent German. I could hear the Scottish, in the Swedish language, or the Swedish in the Scottish use of pause and breath. Then I thought that Swedish sounded like those Beatles records played backwards, because some words are spoken with in intake of breath. One Swedish cousin said, "See many Swedish words are just like English, for instance, Potahtes-Potatoes!" And I said yes, and "Cheese slicer, oost hoevel!" It is kind of like Google Maps, you slide over to one point, the languages are toned thusly, slide a little west and it takes on more definition, like the language marches. Then as Robin Williams seemed to point out some languages are meant to be spoken drunk. No wait, that is all of them. However I fell in love with Shetland, and it is the green landscape, largely empty, and that language. I just adore the soond uv et.
posted by Oyéah at 8:37 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I've read, don't know if this is true, that if you walk across the Iberian Peninsula, say Granada to Lisbon, the language will morph more or less continuously from Spanish to Portuguese without a clear dividing line between the two.

This might not be true in our current communications era, but I like to think it was true not so long ago.
posted by signal at 8:43 AM on June 21


I love languages that are a lot like English but not quite, so I can sort of understand and then sections just go entirely incomprehensible for me. See also Gullah and Jamaican Patois.
posted by Nelson at 8:57 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Like poetry, this, right around 11:00:
Atween the forteenth a' sivinteenth santuries, a handful of ambassadors, envoys, and visitors cam to Scotland an' left accoonts a' their opinion a' the lied.

The [Deel kemp*] scriever, Don Pedro de Ayala, Castille a' Aragon, fe' forteen ninety eixt, sid King James the Fourth spack Scots as his [himmel**] tongue, an' its a different frae Soothernin as muckle as Catalan frae Spanish.
-----------------------------------
* "Welcome"?
** "Home", "native"?
posted by Herodios at 9:10 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


The excellent Langfocus Youtube channel just did a (very well-researched) episode on Scots, which is a good companion-piece to this video.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:18 AM on June 21 [6 favorites]


I don't know anything about this guy, but I knew people who spoke Scots and they didn't sound much like that, forbye.

Just a note on this - this fella is a Scots language (leid) specialist, so he's speaking a pretty formalised form of Scots with deliberate substitution of words, including some that are pretty much archaic/extinct in everyday speech. There's an attempt to document and make consistent some of the spellings etc and I believe this is the form of Scots the Scottish Parliament uses when producing documents in Scots.

However, a lot of people slide between broad Scots (and its sub-dialects like Doric) and Scottish English, sometimes in the space of sentence, all day every day. And there are not, so far as I know, any Scots speakers (even those who speak to to the exclusion of all else) who do not speak Scottish English. If you speak Scots, you also are capable of speaking Scottish English, although the reverse is not always true.

The people you knew may have have been speaking a different regional sub dialect of Scots, or a less formalised version with less archaisms, or Scottish English with a smattering of Scots words.

The Langfocus video I posted above has some good examples of all of these and is worth a watch.

Source: I'm Scottish, speak Scottish English day-to-day, occasionally dot my sentences with Scots words and have academic connections to the Scots leid folks through my wife.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:29 AM on June 21 [14 favorites]


A thread about Scots with no link to a Rab C. Nesbitt clip? Shame on you Metafilter.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:43 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


Ok, summoning @dialmformara so an actual linguist to correct me, but I thought the diffrence between dialect and language was mostly political, but in technical terms mostly based on mutual comprehensibility? So, if you can understand it speaking English, then Scots and English are dialects of one another by definition? (Likewise, apparently English and West Frisian). However, due to political factors people often get...upset at this definition? (For example, don't mention this around Spanish and Portuguese speakers...)
posted by Canageek at 10:04 AM on June 21


Ok, summoning @dialmformara so an actual linguist to correct me, but I thought the diffrence between dialect and language was mostly political, but in technical terms mostly based on mutual comprehensibility?

This is basically correct--as someone once said, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. And there's definitely a spectrum of intelligibility--for example, a speaker of Iranian Arabic can understand a speaker of Iraqi Arabic decently, but they're both going to have a hard time communicating with a speaker of Moroccan Arabic if they don't all agree to switch to literary Arabic (or some other shared language like English).

However, I'm pretty sure Scots and English are considered different languages by both linguists and politicians, as are English and Frisian, and Spanish and Portuguese. My favorite examples of the political-ness of the distinction are:
  1. Danish and Swedish, which are the official languages of different countries but are close enough that a Dane and a Swede, each speaking their own language, can carry on a conversation perfectly comprehensible to both
  2. Chinese, which is treated as one language with many "regional dialects" by the Chinese government for the purpose of maintaining its power base, but is in fact between five and nine distinct language families, with as much difference between, say, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka as between English, Russian, and Hindi.
posted by dialMforMara at 10:16 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


Err, can you explain why if they are so easily understood they are considered separate by linguists? The politics angle makes total sense. Is it due to ancestry or something else?

(I'd say lingustics definitions seem messy, but I've gotten into augments over the definition of both organic and organometallic with other chemists, so....)
posted by Canageek at 10:19 AM on June 21


languagehat, African-American Vernacular English/Ebonics is not a language—this is a perfect example of a lect (probably a sociolect): all of the most salient features of it are virtually identical to standard American English plus there are some almost trivial differences in grammar and spelling along with a substantial vocabulary. If this is not a lect but rather a separate language, then what in your mind would be a lect?
posted by koavf at 10:20 AM on June 21


Err, can you explain why if they are so easily understood they are considered separate by linguists? The politics angle makes total sense. Is it due to ancestry or something else?

The Langfocus video I posted above goes into this somewhat.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:22 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


I spent three weeks in Sweden once. I speak fluent German. I could hear the Scottish, in the Swedish language, or the Swedish in the Scottish use of pause and breath.

To quote the father of my favorite bartender "SCOTS, JUST A BUNCH OF SHIPWRECKED SWEDES"
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 AM on June 21 [4 favorites]


Ok, summoning @dialmformara so an actual linguist to correct me, but I thought the diffrence between dialect and language was mostly political, but in technical terms mostly based on mutual comprehensibility? So, if you can understand it speaking English, then Scots and English are dialects of one another by definition? (Likewise, apparently English and West Frisian). However, due to political factors people often get...upset at this definition? (For example, don't mention this around Spanish and Portuguese speakers...)

Also not an actual linguist, but I think (a) problem with this is that some languages exist on a continuum, where a speaker at one extreme is incomprehensible to a speaker at the other extreme, but there is no one point at which the language becomes one or the other. The German dialect continuum being the best known example, probably, with English being maybe a more complicated and discontinuous continuum (if that's not a contradiction in terms). Another problem is the question of when in time a language becomes separate from its parent language or sibling languages: when did French stop being Latin? When was Italian no longer the same language as Spanish or Romanian?
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:54 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


Interesting. I've an acquaintance with the North (and a much stronger acquaintance with the North East) and I must say the video sounded to me like a reconstructed language with archaisims, spoken by an academic. I doubt you'd find anyone speaking like that who hadn't been educated into it. It reminded me of when scholars reconstruct Shakespeare with an exaggerated regional accent so you can understand all the really dirty puns.

Frisian - half remembering some story about British sailors off the coast of Holland during WWll, I thought it was one of the North Eastern dialects that's close, rather than English? Not Geordie, one of the country dialects. I say dialect, I've heard speakers that didn't seem to be talking English at all. Long time ago though.

I can see competing claims to authenticity here depending on whether the language variation has to be knocked into you in school as opposed to being knocked out of you. My mother's generation had their dialect extracted in grammar school; I'm suspecting the Scots in the video takes some effort to acquire, and not in a casual way. Thinking about this stuff as another non-linguist certainly brings home how contested and arguable and political, ideas about language, dialect, class and nation are. Thanks for the post.
posted by glasseyes at 2:14 PM on June 21


This sounds like Dutch-Canadian to me.
posted by antinomia at 2:20 PM on June 21


As a non-linguist, I'd always thought of Scots as a variant form of English. I mean they've got the same grammar and structure and everything, and there's the example of Geordie, also hard to understand but with the same structure. Whereas with Gaelic or Welsh or Cornish there's not any clues to an English speaker as to what's being said at all. So what constitutes a separate language, with the example of Danish and Swedish above, is probably a definition that is very inclined to shift since there's so many aspects to it.
posted by glasseyes at 2:24 PM on June 21


This poem by Liz Lockheed seem relevant.

When my kids were littler they had some board books in Scots and they found me sound of me[1] reading them hilarious. But I understand Scots pretty well nowadays, it just sounds silly in my accent.

The parliamentary record in Holyrood has a tricky line to walk for this - 2 MSPs who sound the same may well have a very different view of the language they speak - one considers themselves to be speaking Scots and wants the record to reflect this and another thinks it is an accent and wants the record to show standard English.

[1] Irish, living in pretty Anglicised parts of Edinburgh since 2001.
posted by hfnuala at 2:28 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]


close enough that a Dane and a Swede, each speaking their own language, can carry on a conversation perfectly comprehensible to both

Interestingly, I've heard from Swedes several times that they really struggle with Danish (more so than with Norwegian) but Danes find Swedish easier than Norwegian.

the video sounded to me like a reconstructed language with archaisims, spoken by an academic.

I'm a Dane in Glasgow, Scotland and the video sounds to me like a cleaned-up version of what my partner's Aberdeenshire Auntie sounds like. "Archaic" terms included.
posted by kariebookish at 2:32 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


he's speaking a pretty formalised form of Scots with deliberate substitution of words, including some that are pretty much archaic/extinct in everyday speech.

That was the impression I had, too. Sometimes it sounded as if his narrative had been shaped to allow him to present a particular word, rather than use a more natural form. That may have been the point, of course. The other thing I thought was interesting was his apparent recourse to English forms when when (I suppose) there's a lacuna in received Scots. It's better than making something up, I suppose, but it was occasionally jarring.

All in all I enjoyed it, and I was astonished how many words I knew without knowing them - I couldn't have told you that "leid" was Scots for "language" (tongue?) but I must have known it at some level. A few bits were utterly opaque, but I think that was partially my hearing. Does anyone know if there's a transcript available?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:53 PM on June 21


TIL that Scots is addressed with the same incredulity as the Southern U.S. twang I grew up with.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:11 PM on June 21


As a non-linguist, I'd always thought of Scots as a variant form of English.

I think one reason that this isn't necessarily the best way to think about it is that Scots and English, as currently spoken, evolved from earlier forms simultaneously. It's not accurate, as far as I can tell, to characterise Scots as having derived from English, so there's a difficulty with describing Scots as a "variant of English". Either it's a continuation of English hegemony, which seems reprehensible, or it has to imply that "English" does not actually describe a language that is actually spoken by anyone, but rather a group of variant forms with distinctive and sometimes incompatible features, which seems unsatisfactory, especially because I don't think that is what people typically mean by the word "English".

Of course, to some extent, most single descriptors of a language have this difficulty, as the majority of languages have considerable diversity, English being no exception, so "English" is always going to stand in for a range of forms, even if we do distinguish Scots from it. However, given the politics of the situation, it seems to me like a pretty reasonable option to call the forms that developed in England "English" and those that developed in Scotland as "Scots". The distinction is, in some ways, linguistically arbitrary, but the term "English" is already so arbitrary that I don't find arbitrariness a very compelling objection to it.
posted by howfar at 4:05 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]


I'd like my US neighbours to note the opening lines of this video... it's the Scots who say "aboot".
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:00 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's actually one really interesting thing that I only just pieced together fairly recently: that the Canadian accent is influenced by Scots in the shibboleths of "soary" and "aboat," and it's particularly interesting that the exaggerated "aboot," while not present in Canadian English, is very much present in Scots. I wonder if it was more extreme in the past and closer to Scots, and has simply changed over time.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:30 PM on June 21


Interestingly, I've heard from Swedes several times that they really struggle with Danish (more so than with Norwegian) but Danes find Swedish easier than Norwegian.

In my experience, with English as my first language, Swedish is by far the easiest of the three to (learn to) understand, followed by Norwegian, with Danish a very distant third. Danish is simple enough in written form, but spoken, it's just... Well, let's just say it's interesting and leave it at that. Unrelatedly, totally apropos of nothing, here's a complete nonsequitur: I can't help but notice that this Wikipedia article on the Heimlich manoeuvre is not available in Danish. Huh. How about that. What a crazy random observation that explains absolutely nothing at all about the way Danish sounds.

Frustratingly, it seems every North American university that teaches Scandinavian languages, if it teaches Swedish at all, makes students work through Danish and Norwegian first, in that order, as a prerequisite to the Swedish course. It makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, if, as you say, it's easier for a fluent Danish speaker to understand Swedish than vice-versa, but, like... *sigh*
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on June 21


> Ok, summoning @dialmformara so an actual linguist to correct me, but I thought the diffrence between dialect and language was mostly political, but in technical terms mostly based on mutual comprehensibility?

This is basically correct--as someone once said, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.


No, it's not correct. It's a statement of political truth, not linguistic (scientific) truth. Politically, all the forms of Arabic spoken from Morocco to Iraq are the same language, because that's what all the governments and institutions of control (like teachers) say. Linguistically, it's absurd; the various forms of Arabic are as distinct as the Romance languages, and a Moroccan speaking their "dialect" can no more understand an Iraqi speaking theirs than a Portuguese can understand a Romanian. Sure, they can understand each other if they both speak Standard Arabic, just as a Portuguese and a Romanian could understand each other if they both spoke Latin; because of the political situation of the modern world, the former pair are very likely to speak Standard Arabic and the latter very unlikely to speak Latin, but the linguistic situation is exactly parallel. Conversely, Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian are "separate languages" because Yugoslavia broke up and the successor governments want to differentiate themselves, but they are exactly as mutually intelligible (very) as when they were (rightly) considered dialects of Serbo-Croatian. If you want to agree with the decisions of governments on these matters, you will also want to agree that pi = 3 if a legislature decrees it so.

> languagehat, African-American Vernacular English/Ebonics is not a language

No, that's not true either. You are going up against the entire profession of linguistics. But if it makes you happy to think AAVE is just a deviant form of English, I can't stop you.
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on June 21 [11 favorites]


Also, it kind of bothers me that the name of the lecturer has not been mentioned once, either in the post or the comment thread. It's Dauvit Horsbroch.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]


  The [Deel kemp*] scriever

that would most likely be “weel-kent”: well known. Your other word would be “hamelt”: mother (literally, “domestic”) tongue, spoken at home; mamaloshen.

  he's speaking a pretty formalised form of Scots with deliberate substitution of words

Yes, you're right there. Dr David Horsburgh is speaking what might be considered a “synthetic Scots”, along the path of Hugh MacDiarmid. It is an attempt to create a formal, literary Scots language from aspects of the local dialects. Few, if any, folks speak it.
posted by scruss at 6:26 PM on June 21 [3 favorites]


Knowing other Germanic languages can help a lot with understanding Scots. For example Scots weel-kent ("well-known") is velkjent in Norwegian, välkänd in Swedish, and wohl bekannt in German.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:00 PM on June 21


I thought this was funny: Doric Call Centre
Spoilers below:



The caller's name is Ruaridh Duguid ("Rory Do-good"). He moved from 32 Dalziel ("D.L.") Gardens to 12 Garioch ("Geery") Road, Finzean ("Fingan"). His mother's maiden name was Farquhar, and its pronunciation is not convenient to set down at this time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I lived in Glasgow for a year during grad school, remain friendly with a number of Scots, and listen to Scottish folk music (Tannahill Weavers!), so I mostly followed along. I got pretty good at Scottish accents in that year, but we had one particular classmate from Coatbridge who was as incomprehensible to us Americans at the end of the year as he was at the beginning. I mean, throw a consonant in there every now and then, eh Jimmy?
posted by Preserver at 7:38 PM on June 21


Scots and English are mutually intelligble.

English and automatically generated closed captions are (sometimes) mutually intelligible.

So, let's see about Scots and automatically generated closed captions:

"My name is dr. Dava horse Brock...Scots as a name for the buy leads gather together and as Kent with the other names a Dalek Mullins...Glasgow or Shetland Tunis McQueen...I've mentioned to this lead to be fun for instance and the runic carvings on the rebel cross and them free Shire baguette in the air century AD."

....We're maybe not there quite yet.
posted by eponym at 7:41 PM on June 21 [2 favorites]


It makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, if, as you say, it's easier for a fluent Danish speaker to understand Swedish than vice-versa, but, like... *sigh*

I suspect this is the case.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:55 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


languagehat, that is entirely wrong in two senses: 1.) it is not true that “the entire profession of linguistics” considered AAVE to be a language and 2.) I in no way said that it’s “just a deviant”. Is it too much to ask for a minimal amount of good faith when I say that AAVE is just a non-standard form of American English? Here are plenty of citations, since you offered none:
  1. Wardhaugh, Ronald (2009), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (6th edition), Riley-Blackwell, p. 357, ISBN 1405186682: “variety of English found in the United States that is now usually referred to as either African American English (AAE), our term, or African American Vernacular English (AAVE)”.
  2. Poplack, Shana (2000), The English History of African American English, Wiley-Blackwell, p. 1, ISBN 0631212620: “differences between AAVE and other dialects of English”. (Poplack reiterates this in her work with Sali Tagliamonte African American English in the Diaspora [2001], Blackwell ISBN 0631212663)
  3. A classic work on AAVE, which you would certainly be familiar with if you’ve studied it at all is Geoffrey K. Pullum’s “African American Vernacular English Is Not Standard English with Mistakes” from Rebecca Wheeler’s (ed.) The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives (1999), p. 44, ISBN 0275962466: “[I]t is important that in classifying AAVE there is no dispute. For example, I keep near my desk two reference books on the languages of the world: Grimes’s Ethnologue and the Voegelins’ Classification and Index of the World’s Languages... [B]oth list AAVE as a dialect of English. This is undoubtedly the right classification.”
  4. McWhorter, John H. Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a “Pure” Standard English, Basic Books, ISBN 0738204463. He devotes chapter six to the topic, explicitly saying that it is a dialect on pages 162 and 185.
Even a cursory Internet search will bring up Encyclopædia Britannica (“The consensus among linguists is that Ebonics is an American English dialect”). Yes, there certainly are persons who claim it is a language rather than a dialect but they are the minority and it is in no way true that the field of linguistics is united on considering it a language. You are not justified in being so rude and dismissive, especially since you’re just not factually correct anyway.
posted by koavf at 12:28 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


It's hard for us to understand this as Americans. Television seriously normalized English from coast to coast, remarkably isolating our regional differences to silly things like "soda vs pop". Civil War aside, we've also never been composed of warring tribes that have been killing eachother for hundreds of years. Tribes have tribal markers, which they refuse to believe they share with their enemies. Language is one. Even when the out-group is not an outright enemy, there is comfort in similarity.

It's almost astonishing, the rejection of Ebonics as any sort of language at all. Rather than celebrate that Black people speak anything else, (some) people insisted -- no, they speak our language, they just do it badly. We must teach them to speak it properly. That's an interesting conclusion to reach, unambiguously dripping in historical and political context.

Ultimately, there are few bright lines here. Languages descend to dialects descend to accents descend to registers, mostly (I would say) by measure of mutual intelligibility.

Note that written forms -- orthographies, spellings, punctuation -- are somewhat independent from what's spoken. It's actually children that generate the structure of any particular spoken word, listening to others try to talk and rejecting their lessons if, well, it's a sloppy pidgin language hacked together so people can buy things from eachother. Widespread literacy is an extremely new phenomenon however, and even now it's a learned adult class that determines the rules of the written form. That's how you get things like French verb conjugation applying many different spellings to identically pronounced words. Different devs.
posted by effugas at 2:24 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


>>The [Deel kemp*] scriever …

>that would most likely be “weel-kent”: well known. Your other word would be “hamelt”: mother (literally, “domestic”)

That seems likely, thanks, Scruss.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:50 AM on June 22


I've heard from Swedes several times that they really struggle with Danish (more so than with Norwegian) but Danes find Swedish easier than Norwegian.

It's all relative. As a native Swedish speaker, I can understand Norwegian just by listening passively. I can understand Danish if I make an effort (but I'm sure a couple of days of intense exposure would take care of those difficulties). In writing, Danish and Norwegian bokmål are incredibly easy to understand ( >99%).

One use case: Norwegian and Danish folks don't need to demonstrate any knowledge of Swedish to be admitted to a Swedish university: high school Danish/Norwegian is deemed sufficient.
posted by yonglin at 4:54 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


koavf: Sorry, I assumed you were one of the ignorant "AAVE isn't a language, it's just bad English" crew, who you have to admit are far more common than people who can cite Wardhaugh. You're right, I was too broad in my statement, and I don't really care whether someone classifies it as a language or a dialect of English as long as they make it clear that it's a separate, internally consistent, and perfectly acceptable form of the language. My apologies for the unwarranted assumption.
posted by languagehat at 6:45 AM on June 22 [10 favorites]


Thanks for saying that. Now, back to Scots.
posted by koavf at 8:07 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


I remember standing in line behind a gaggle of boys speaking Scots and tried to figure out what they were speaking and the suddenly a switch flipped an I could understand every word. It was not at all the same as listening to someone with a thick accent. It was a very interesting experience.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:38 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I know the analogy between linguistic taxonomy and biological taxonomy is imperfect, but I do think there's a similarity between the problems of defining whether two speech communities are speaking the same language and whether two populations of organisms are the same species. Since the identification of species is (usually) less politically charged than that of languages, I think it's a helpful comparison for non-linguists (like me).

The most commonly-used definition of a species is the so-called "biological species concept," which is a criterion that if members of two populations can and do interbreed to produce fertile offspring in the wild, the two populations belong to the same species, and otherwise they are different species. This is analogous to the idea a few people have invoked here that if two varieties of speech are mutually comprehensible, they are the same language, and otherwise not.

The problem with the biological species concept is that edge cases which aren't easy to categorize with it are actually quite common. One example is what's called a "cline," which is often associated with some sort of smooth ecological gradient, like latitude or altitude. Organisms at one end of a cline can interbreed freely with those in the middle, but those at the two extremes can't interbreed with each other. Are the two populations at the ends of the cline the same species or not? For population geneticists, they are, because the population in the middle ensures that there is continuous gene flow between the two, but if the middle population goes extinct, that will constitute immediate speciation for the two extremes even though they have not themselves changed at all. This creates a somewhat strange situation where the species an organism belongs to, which we normally think of as being an intrinsic property of being an organism, actually depends on external factors having nothing to do with the individual organism itself.

The point of this is that even something like the biological notion of species, which most of us feel we have a pretty good common-sense idea about but don't tend to have strong political attachment to, is a lot thornier than it might first seem. Biological species is a valid, important scientific concept for organizing our understanding of the natural world, but because biology is complex, it is necessarily a somewhat fuzzy definition, and there are edge cases which cannot be clearly or uniquely classified.

As a non-linguist, it seems like the concept of "what identifies a distinct language" is similarly difficult as "what identifies a distinct species." As a speaker of Mid-Atlantic American English, both Scots and AAVE are clearly distinct from my own speech, but both are also comprehensible to me. However, while I have to "strain" a bit to follow the Scots spoken in this lecture, and a few words and sentences here and there escape me, understanding AAVE is mostly effortless for me, with the exception of some specialized vocabulary. For a speaker of Scottish English, would this situation be reversed, with Scots being easily understandable and AAVE being more difficult to follow?
posted by biogeo at 8:50 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


Eleven!
posted by howfar at 10:12 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


For a speaker of Scottish English, would this situation be reversed, with Scots being easily understandable and AAVE being more difficult to follow?

I can only speak for myself, but I don't have a problem following AAVE, or indeed most American dialects and accents. But the prevalence of American media in the UK is way higher (I suspect?) than Scottish media in the US, so I don't think that's surprising. I've been hearing American accents on a daily basis for my entire life. I'm also married to an American, but I think most Scots can pretty consistently understand most Americans, even if the reverse isn't true.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:16 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


howfar, if I can tell my other half is talking to a voice recognition system, I just start muttering 11! at him.
posted by hfnuala at 11:53 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


The apocryphal story I heard was about the Sicily to Oporto cab ride. If each driver only goes to the next town , he will say "yes, they speak my language," and you will get a gradual shift through Italian / Southrrn French / Spanish / Portuguese.

Don't doubt it maybe 100 years ago, but I guess regional dialects getting more consolidated and you'd feel a harder bump at the French and Spanish borders now.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:45 PM on June 23


Meatbomb, my linguistics professor "Chip" told my class an anecdote of hitching with an Italian trucker from Catalunya to Rome, and how he had spoken Spanish with an Italian-a ac-cent-a in an effort to communicate, and how the trucker asked him where he had learned his odd Italian. When Chip replied that he wasn't speaking Italian, the trucker retorted that Chip most certainly was.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:35 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


In Italy, I would talk slow Spanish in a mock-Italian accent (e.g.: 'treno' for 'tren' (train)), and it basically works.
posted by signal at 8:49 PM on June 23


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