Who here likes languages? I do! A lot!
December 1, 2014 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Minna Sundberg, creator of Stand Still, Stay Silent (previously, twice) and A Redtail's Dream (previously), drew up some Nordic language cats to compare Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish as a way to describe how some characters in SS,SS can communicate even though they don't share a common language. Then she went beyond, and created some gorgeous language trees, based on the extensive Ethnologue (previously: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
posted by filthy light thief (49 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is fascinating and the art is gorgeous! But oh my god that poor Finnish cat, all alone. I want to give him a hug.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:59 AM on December 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


This is neat, thanks FLT!

Also, yes: the Finnish cat probably needs a hug and maybe another little fish to eat.
posted by clockzero at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Holy shit this is the best I can't even begin to describe how much I love this. I've always had a deep appreciation of scandinavian folk art (also Polish!). I'm gonna read the shit out of this and hopefully buy lots of prints.

((For more beautiful scandinavian motifs-Brittney Lee is the artist who created most of the rosemaling for Frozen. She talks about it on her blog))
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:13 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Damn.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 9:19 AM on December 1, 2014


Can I say how delighted I was by the phrase "Nordic Language Cats?" Now I want to hire one to be my personal assistant. Sadly, FinnishCat speaks only gibberish.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:20 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I want this desperately as a print.
posted by Kitteh at 9:22 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I'm puzzled at the inclusion of the Scots language as part of the Germanic branch on the language tree, rather than over by the Celtic. Is the Scots language she's talking about different from Scottish Gaelic?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:27 AM on December 1, 2014


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language
posted by Slothrup at 9:30 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those too lazy/busy to read the wikipedia link the answer to EmpressCallipygos is yes. Scots (sometimes called Lowland Scots) is apparently different from Scottish Gaelic.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:32 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is the Scots language she's talking about different from Scottish Gaelic?

Aye.
posted by eykal at 9:33 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


(If anyone is on the fence about spending mumble-mumble-a-LOT for a copy of A Redtail's Dream, it is really fantastic to have a paper copy and it's beautifully made. She has them some of the time in her web store; it took about a month to ship from Finland. I keep thinking that surely she will get a real book contract so that her work can be more widely and easily distributed....)
posted by Frowner at 9:36 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


“Scots” can refer to several languages, each of them descended from “English”. (I believe the original, now extinct, Scots came from Middle English.)

Of course, whether English is a Germanic language (rather than a Latino-Germanic hybrid), or whether its membership in the Germanic club is a political fiction (a statement of continuity between pre- and post-Norman England, and thus an assertion of the Norman order as rightful successors, rather than foreign usurpers) is another kettle of fish.
posted by acb at 9:37 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]



I want this desperately as a print.
posted by Kitteh at 2:22 PM on December 1 [1 favorite −] [!]


It's for sale here, tabloid size, with a note that poster size is becoming available in late december.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:39 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


It looks to me that, just like in Scandinavia and The World, the Swedish one is more contained and reserved than the Danish or Norwegian ones. I wonder if this is the common Scandinavian caricature — it sure would explain the Swedish side of my family.

Looking again, the Icelandic characters in both cartoons might be tripping.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:50 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Finnish cat can curl up with the Estonian cat and the Hungarian cat who are just outside the picture playing with a bit of feather tied to a string.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:06 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Speaking of common Nordic stereotypes, I recently read the memoir of Jón Gnarr, the Icelandic comedian who became mayor of Reykjavík. In the introduction, one of the things he says is that, in his opinion, the Icelanders have more in common with the Finns (also on the fringes of the Nordic world) than the Scandinavians. From what I understand, this has to do with both of them being seen as a bit out-there.
posted by acb at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Finnish cat can curl up with the Estonian cat and the Hungarian cat who are just outside the picture playing with a bit of feather tied to a string.

The Estonian cat, yes; the Hungarian cat, not so much. From what I gather from discussion with various Finns, Finnish is related to Hungarian, in the way that English is related to, say, Portuguese; i.e., they're in the same language family, but in their modern forms, not even close to being mutually intelligible.
posted by acb at 10:08 AM on December 1, 2014


I've recently been trying some Danish lessons on Duolingo in between my regular Spanish lessons, and I am continually surprised by the pronunciations that are given for any particular group of letters. I'll be like "okay, so d sounds like this— wait no, now it sounds like that." Over and over again. It's a delightful puzzle.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:19 AM on December 1, 2014


On a tangent, some here may be interested to know that there are now Danish and Swedish courses on Duolingo.
posted by acb at 10:20 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


On a tangent, some here may be interested to know that there are now Danish and Swedish courses on Duolingo.

But NOT Norwegian! It's the easiest language for English speakers! And Anna and Elsa are from there!

Det er veldig frustrerende.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:23 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


leotrotsky, I disagree with both you and Ms Sundberg. I speak fairly fluent Dutch and am a native English speaker, and I read Danish, Norwegian and Swedish documents for work all the time. I find Danish FAR easier than Norwegian!

Also obligatory comic series.
posted by digitalprimate at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's for sale here, tabloid size, with a note that poster size is becoming available in late december.

MERRY CATSMAS TO ME INDEED

(thanks, FirstMateKate!)
posted by Kitteh at 10:47 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


See, I wish there were more of a reason to learn Swedish. It's a nice language and I'd love to watch Swedish movies without subtitles. But so many Swedes already know English and speak and write it better than native English speakers, it's hard to justify. Whereas Spanish I just can't get over a certain hump with, because every time I try getting into practice it starts going over material I've covered before and I get bored with it – I know too much for most learning material to be of use, but not enough that I can get through short stories without looking up too many words, and I feel awkward in conversation with native speakers. But there are so many more reasons to learn Spanish than Swedish. Sigh.
posted by graymouser at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2014


But NOT Norwegian! It's the easiest language for English speakers! And Anna and Elsa are from there!

“Danish and Norwegian are the same language, only the Norwegians can't spell it and the Danes can't pronounce it”
posted by acb at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Of course, whether English is a Germanic language (rather than a Latino-Germanic hybrid), or whether its membership in the Germanic club is a political fiction (a statement of continuity between pre- and post-Norman England, and thus an assertion of the Norman order as rightful successors, rather than foreign usurpers) is another kettle of fish.

But, of course, any claim that English is not Germanic is extremely fringe within linguistics.

(These trees are gorgeous and have been floating around linguistics forums for a while. Minor errors aside, they're great.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:18 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


But, of course, any claim that English is not Germanic is extremely fringe within linguistics.
The definition and classification of languages is, by definition, a political matter, as it ties into the identities of peoples and nations, and the politics often trump the technical aspects. For example, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are recognised as distinct languages, despite being closer to each other than some dialects of German. And then there are cases like Serbian/Croatian (actually lumped in as Serbo-Croatian when Yugoslavia existed), Hindi/Urdu, and so on. Which all brings to mind Theodor Herzl's quote about the difference between a language and a dialect being an army and a navy.
posted by acb at 11:36 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


See, I wish there were more of a reason to learn Swedish. It's a nice language and I'd love to watch Swedish movies without subtitles. But so many Swedes already know English and speak and write it better than native English speakers, it's hard to justify.

One use case for knowing Swedish is if you're ever likely to end up at a party/festival/similar in Sweden where most people speak Swedish, and being the only non-Swede in a group.
posted by acb at 11:47 AM on December 1, 2014


Thanks for this. I wonder what my Danish teacher would say if I bring these cats in next week.

As I've learned a bit more Danish, I've noticed that I can understand a little bit of what my Norwegian friends post on facebook, and I've got a Swedish-speaking friend who writes me emails sometimes; although I get into trouble because sometimes the difference between lunch (frukost in Swedish) and breakfast (frokost in Danish) is actually important!
posted by nat at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2014


Whereas Spanish I just can't get over a certain hump with, because every time I try getting into practice it starts going over material I've covered before and I get bored with it – I know too much for most learning material to be of use, but not enough that I can get through short stories without looking up too many words, and I feel awkward in conversation with native speakers.

Right there with ya. I have enough of a footprint in several other Romance languages that I can read a Spanish newspaper or short story almost at sight, but I am prone to terrible gaffes* when I try to speak it

I have studied five different languages in classroom settings and undertaken courses (online, on cassette, or what have you) in about eight more, and can muddle my way through several beyond those where I have learned the basics piecemeal, but Spanish still evades me. One of the last times I set out to grapple with it, I reasoned** that if I translated a whole mess of poetry I would eventually wind up with a lovely, colorful vocabulary. I had numerous dictionaries from several of my previous aborted attempts and I had always loved Neruda, so with a notebook and a fistful of pens I set forth to render Cien sonetos de amor in English.

This came to a halt when I was at work and typing on my laptop when the low-battery alarm on my Toshiba went off. My Mexican coworker, who had been gently encouraging me with my studies, saw a teachable moment and asked me, ¿Qué es ese ruido? ("What is that noise?") Struggling to rise to the challenge, I declared La máquina no tiene más la respiración y por lo tanto llora. ("The machine has no more breath and so he weeps.")


* Protip: Tengo calor -- (literally "I have heat") is what you say to communicate that you are warm. Estoy caliente is not.

**Poorly, as it turns out

posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:54 AM on December 1, 2014 [29 favorites]


I wish there were more of a reason to learn Swedish

For me there are excellent reasons to learn Swedish:

1) My maternal ancestors are Swedish. In fact, my grandparents spoke Swedish fluently; my mother's generation was the first that did not learn Swedish at all. (The story I was told is that my grandparents chose not to teach their kids Swedish so that they could preserve the option to speak to each other without the kids understanding them.) I'm planning a trip to Sweden with my mother in a couple of years to do some genealogical research, and I want to be able to read and fully understand the Swedish records.

2) I have dear friends who live in Sweden whom I plan to visit. I will soon be chatting with one of my Swedish friends on Skype. He speaks and writes English better than most native speakers indeed. But he's more comfortable in Swedish, and I want to be able to communicate with him better in his native language. I think it will enrich the friendship, and when I go to Sweden I'll be able to socialize with Swedes more readily.

3) Svenska är ett vackert språk! I just love the way the language sounds when I hear native Swedes speak it. It doesn't sound quite so lovely when I speak Swedish with my American English accent, and sometimes it sounds so ridiculous that I crack up at my own pronunciation mistakes. I'm working on it, though.

4) As a Pagan who loves Norse mythology, I have a spiritual connection to Sweden and Scandinavian culture as well as an ancestral one.

I recently completed all 30 lessons of the Pimsleur Swedish series, and was happy to discover that Duolingo has just released their Swedish course in beta. So I'm studying Swedish through Duolingo now, and supplementing it with podcasts and other resources. I'm enjoying it greatly.

Thanks so much for this wonderful post, filthy light thief! I'm digging into those links and loving it.
posted by velvet winter at 12:01 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm Norwegian. Can confirm that Icelanders be tripping. (Source: Have known a couple, and spent last summer doodling about the Icelandic highlands in a Land Rover.)

(We Norwegians are generally very fond of Icelanders, though.)
posted by Harald74 at 12:04 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


> Of course, whether English is a Germanic language (rather than a Latino-Germanic hybrid), or whether its membership in the Germanic club is a political fiction (a statement of continuity between pre- and post-Norman England, and thus an assertion of the Norman order as rightful successors, rather than foreign usurpers) is another kettle of fish.

No, it's total nonsense. English is a Germanic language, end of story. Yeah, it has a fair number of French loan words, but so what? French has a fair number of Germanic loan words. Spanish has a fair number of Arabic loan words. Russian has a fair number of Turkic loan words. Albanian has so many loan words it wasn't even recognized as Indo-European for a long time. Loan words do not affect the genetic affiliation of a language, and anyone who tells you they do doesn't know enough about historical linguistics.

Also, that is indeed a very nice tree.
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


The definition and classification of languages is, by definition, a political matter, as it ties into the identities of peoples and nations, and the politics often trump the technical aspects. For example, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are recognised as distinct languages, despite being closer to each other than some dialects of German. And then there are cases like Serbian/Croatian (actually lumped in as Serbo-Croatian when Yugoslavia existed), Hindi/Urdu, and so on. Which all brings to mind Theodor Herzl's quote about the difference between a language and a dialect being an army and a navy.

You're confusing the debate over "language" and "dialect" with the classification of languages as a whole. It is politically sensitive to call any tongue a language or a dialect because it feeds into ideas of identity and nationhood. But to call English Germanic is as uncontroversial as calling a spade a spade. There's absolutely no serious debate about it within linguistics, and the "creole" theory is as bonkers as believing that aliens built the pyramids or that the Mona Lisa is a portrait of Ragnar Lodbrok.

Controversy has existed in the past over the classification of a language (such as Maltese being related to Italian or Punic rather than Arabic), but such debates are rare because they're starkly wrong.

Also, it was Max Weinreich not Theordore Herzl who uttered that famous phrase.
posted by Thing at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


richochet biscuit - i am DYING omg. that is hilarious. what did your coworker think of your reply?
i'm getting tears in my eyes from trying so hard to not LOL at my desk. because i'm, um, working and stuff....
posted by sio42 at 12:29 PM on December 1, 2014


My pal married a Swede and bought a farm in Sweden. This is, one finds, enough reason to learn Swedish. Another pal just did the marriage bit and also learned the language: the farm is optional. Becoming passionate to the point of mania about fishing, however, is not. Based on the evidence.

There are lots of Nordic loan words in Scots English, while Scots Gaelic has a distinct Scandiwegian inflection. If you spend any time shuttling around the various parts of Scotland and its islands, and the various lumps of Scandinavia, I can guarantee a splendid time if you have an ear for language. There's a lot going on. (Be careful, though, you may end up marrying that sleeping dictionary. Hope you like fish.)
posted by Devonian at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2014


richochet biscuit - i am DYING omg. that is hilarious. what did your coworker think of your reply?

Well, that was fifteen years ago and neither of us works there any more. He still chuckles when I remind him of it, though.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Definitely related, Cartoon/Infographic/Mashup Artist James Chapman has been getting a lot of attention (most of it good) for his comic renderings of linguistic differences, mostly how different languages express the same sounds differently: Dogs barking, Bird calls, Frogs croaking, Roosters crowing, Ducks, Pigs, Bees, Mice, Horses, Cows, Christmas bells, Sneezes, Kisses, Crying, Eating, Car horns, Heartbeats, Snoring, Sirens, Gunshots, Explosions, 'The sound of thinking', Farts (yes, he went there), Screams, Applause, Ghosts, Bears, Pigeons, and, of course, Cats (which he found as more consistent among languages than most).
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


but not enough that I can get through short stories without looking up too many words, and I feel awkward in conversation with native speakers.

The solution I recommend to literally everyone who feels this way is to watch the simpsons in spanish. You already know all the episodes, all the jokes, all the catchphrases, all the wording/phrasing/slangy expressions. And now you are hearing it in spanish with the force of all that context behind you.

also try reading daily papers in the vein of El Diario (the nyc paper) or similar

oh and if you watch sports, watch them on univision or telemundo instead of an english language broadcaster

also when you are watching dvd movies, especially your favourites which you have seen many times before, watch in spoken spanish with english subtitles turned on (does netflix offer multilingual subs and dubs? if so do it there too)
posted by poffin boffin at 12:45 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


sorry that was kind of a derail im just super pumped about easy ways to learn all the languages possible
posted by poffin boffin at 12:45 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


But, of course, any claim that English is not Germanic is extremely fringe within linguistics.

Eh...not precisely "fringe". I would rephrase this as "claims that English is not Germanic are primarily used rhetorically as part of a broader conversation and debate about what linguistic relatedness 'means' in a setting with extensive contact and about the privileging of lexical vs. other linguistic material in making those connections".

You also occasionally see trees with a sort of embarrassed dotted line/connector between English and the Romance language, like so.
posted by damayanti at 2:15 PM on December 1, 2014


The definition and classification of languages is, by definition, a political matter, as it ties into the identities of peoples and nations, and the politics often trump the technical aspects.

You've confused linguistic classification of languages into families with the distinction between languages and dialects, which has led to a statement that is sadly quite wrong.

Classification is done based on linguistic data. The definition of a language family is a group of languages that are descended from a common ancestor. Germanic languages share a common ancestor that we call Proto-Germanic; when we say English is a Germanic language, that means that English is descended from Proto-Germanic. This is an empirical question that has nothing to do with politics. And it is simply uncontroversial within linguistics that English is Germanic.

Whether something should be called a "dialect" or a "language" is a completely different question and has nothing to do with common descent. (In fact, it usually only arises when two languages are closely related.) The answer is not by definition political, but often is. The closest we have to objective linguistic criteria is mutual intelligibility, but since this fails on several fronts, many linguists believe that there is no objective line between "dialect" and "language."

tl;dr English is uncontroversially a Germanic language, and Scots is uncontroversially a Germanic language, but whether you consider them dialects of the same language or different languages is largely political.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:17 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thing: he "creole" theory is as bonkers as believing that aliens built the pyramids or that the Mona Lisa is a portrait of Ragnar Lodbrok.

Wait, that's a theory? Tell me more of this crackpot history!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:26 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


season 3 vikings spoiler alert!
posted by poffin boffin at 2:41 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


On a tangent, some here may be interested to know that there are now Danish and Swedish courses on Duolingo.
posted by acb at 2:20 AM on December 2


Duolingo may teach you the basics, but Slay Radio has you covered when it comes to mastering Swedish.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:46 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've always thought "Nordic" is a pretty arbitrary designation; it's Scandinavia plus Finland but excluding Estonia. Finland and Estonia have a lot in common, probably more so with each other than Finland with Scandinavia: both speak Finnic languages; both have similar cultures (sauna, Kalevala/Kalevipoeg national epic, etc.); both used to be part of the Swedish empire; both were ceded to the Russian empire; both enjoyed brief independence before being occupied by the Soviet Union. It's only their post-WW2 history that causes people to bundle Finland together with the Scandinavian countries while Estonia is bundled with the other post-Soviet Baltic states.

To greatly simplify things, Sweden/Norway/Denmark/Iceland = were Vikings in ancient times, Finland/Estonia = not Vikings in ancient times. Or to make an analogy, Scandiniavia:Finland:Estonia, Arab countries:Turkey:Azerbaijan (or Arab countries:Iran:Tajikistan).

One use case for knowing Swedish is if you're ever likely to end up at a party/festival/similar in Sweden where most people speak Swedish, and being the only non-Swede in a group.

Yes, in my case mainly to alleviate guilt. I always feel bad when I'm in Sweden and entire groups of Swedish people will speak English amongst themselves to accommodate me (the lone non-Swedish speaker).
posted by pravit at 4:07 PM on December 1, 2014


both enjoyed brief independence before being occupied by the Soviet Union

Finland was never formally part of the Soviet Union (with the exception of parts of Karelia, which were annexed into Russia, where they remain to this day). It was on the fringes of the USSR's sphere of influence, being militarily and diplomatically neutral, having a multi-party democracy and market-based economy, participating in both Eurovision and the Warsaw Pact's equivalent song contest. The USSR apparently had a covert veto on political appointments and major policy decisions in Finland, though to a lesser extent than in Warsaw Pact satellite states. (The arrangement during the post-WW2 era has been described by some as “bowing to the East without mooning the West”.)
posted by acb at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2014


That Slay Radio video is hilarious, DoctorFedora, and I think it'll get even funnier as I continue to learn Swedish. My sides ache from laughter! Thank you. I'm sharing that one with my Swedish friends immediately.
posted by velvet winter at 5:10 PM on December 1, 2014


You silly people. Everyone knows there's no such thing as the Danish language.
posted by um at 8:51 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing about Finland is that we really like to have them at our joint Nordic events. They are fun, smart and also weird, in a good way. Now that it is possible, I see a lot of suggestions to make those events "Nordic and Baltic" because the Baltic peoples are also fun, smart and weird in a good way.

And: Danish exists, no doubt about it. Whereas it is hard to know what Norwegian really is. The five million Norwegians can't even agree how to spell, let alone speak. I suppose this is the reason there is no Norwegian on duolingo - what sort of Norwegian do you want to speak, and why?
posted by mumimor at 10:33 AM on December 2, 2014


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