English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage

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[This is a guest post by Stephan Stiller.]

This post complements Robert Bauer and Victor Mair's previous LL post titled "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" and addresses, among other things, J. Marshall Unger's comment in the corresponding thread. Please have a look.

The most important parts (of J. Marshall Unger) I quote here:

May I suggest that "dialect" and "language" be defined operationally with respect to the comparative method, i.e. diachronically rather than synchronically? If most linguists who know speech varieties A and B well accept that they are diachronically related without an explicit demonstration (regular sound laws and explanations for semantic divergences, etc.), then A and B ought to be called dialects of their common language. Otherwise, A and B should be called languages, which are assumed to be unrelated until proven "to have sprung from a common source."

[...] No honest linguist thinks that describing the relationship of Cantonese to Mandarin is a trivial task. There are still "gray area" cases (e.g. Okinawan, which I tend to think of as a highly aberrant dialect of Japanese, but others consider a distinct languages), but at least we know what we're arguing about in terms of data.

I would say it's evident to most people that German is related to English; it doesn't take a linguist to make that realization. Not only that – we are 100% certain that they have "sprung from a common source".

To describe the precise relationship between Cantonese and Mandarin is of course not a trivial task, but I have – on more than one occasion – heard Chinese linguists state that it is merely for political reasons that many call 粵 Yue a dialect. Cantonese linguist Anne Oi-Kan Yue(-Hashimoto) 余靄芹 writes:

We shall follow the tradition of designating the major Sinitic languages as "Chinese dialects", although linguistically speaking the latter is a misnomer.

(Materials for the Diachronic Study of the Yue Dialects, footnote 1 (p. 270); on pp. 246-271 of: 乐在其中:王士元教授七十华诞庆祝文集 / The Joy of Research: A Festschrift in Honor of Professor William S-Y. Wang on His Seventieth Birthday; 石锋 Shí Fēng、沈钟伟 Shěn Zhōngwěi (eds.); 天津 (Tiānjīn): 南开大学出版社 (Nankai University Press))

I don't think the linguistic facts are controversial, despite some people still saying so.

In order to get a better understanding of the language situation for Cantonese, imagine this:

Scenario A: You require that everyone in Germany writes English. A German might thus write something like this (the grammatical error with the first word is intentional and illustrates the realities of L2 usage):

Mine parents have acquired a pet.

He'd still say

Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier erworben.

in German because this is correct German. But he is taught to pronounce every English sentence (when reading aloud) in a cognate-by-cognate fashion, like this:

Meine Färser¹ haben z-heischt ein *Biech.

Of course, some words here don't really exist in German, but this mirrors the situation of a speaker of Cantonese in Hong Kong. To match up German with Cantonese and English with Mandarin works on so many levels (I won't explain now), but to better illustrate the situation to a native speaker of English, let's flip things around and proceed to …

Scenario B: Imagine a situation where all speakers of English are required to employ German for written communication. The sentence "my parents have acquired a pet" is, in correct German, the following:

Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier erworben.

Now when native speakers of English talk amongst each other, they still say:

My parents (have)² acquired a pet.

but they're not allowed to write such a vulgar thing! Instead they only ever encounter German in prestigious newspapers. They are also taught, in school, to read aloud the German sentence as

My elders have a house deer ur-wharven.

linearly matching the German text with English cognates. (Okay. "ur-" is more like a recent borrowing, with a distinct foreign sound to it. And I haven't heard anyone use the verb "to wharve" lately. But these seemingly irrelevant details, too, mirror the situation for Cantonese.) The two sentences even sound similar if you say them out loud.

German is a language, and English is only a dialect. You must not write English, because it is a bastardized, corrupt, "highly aberrant" form of German, extant only among crazy islanders!

Still not convinced that German and English are but phonetic variants of one and the same common language? Let's write the sentences down in a writing system that abstracts away from inessential details such as pronunciation. What about we pick something universal – Chinese characters! After all, if you can use them for Japanese, you might as well use them for written Pan-Germanic (aka Modern Standard Germanic), to which Sinographs seem almost equally suited.

Glosses, from the German version of the sentence, which the writing is appropriately based on:

I+⟨possessive suffix⟩ old+⟨comparative suffix⟩+⟨plural suffix⟩ have one house+beast ⟨prefix indicating successful achievement⟩+revolve+⟨participial suffix⟩

The homophonous plural and participial suffixes were spelled out with Runes to emphasize the common millenia-old Teutonic heritage. (Don't the Japanese have a mixed script employing kana in similar fashion?)

Now for the finale. As constructed, the sentence is written like this in German:


("Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier erworben.")

And now in High English³:


("My elders have a house deer ur-wharven.")

We can see that the two are exactly the same! In passing we've even proven Germanic to be part of the Sino-Tibetan language family.⁴

That Cantonese barely lost to Mandarin as China's national language might be a myth⁵ akin to the Muehlenberg legend (it's the one according to which German allegedly lost to English as the official language of the United States by just one vote). But since they're dialects of the same language, why would it even matter?

I am in fundamental agreement with much of J. Marshall Unger's academic work on Japanese and its script, to the extent that I am familiar with it. But I am not sure in what way his proposal for a comparative method of dialect determination is workable. Also, in what way is it, as he states, "diachronic" as opposed to "synchronic"? For linguists to determine diachronic relatedness – the existence of a common ancestor – "without an explicit demonstration" is for sure something that would rely on present-day similarities, which would make it a synchronic procedure.

Notes:

¹ "Färse" means "heifer", so I'm forming an ambigendered plural "Färser" from a constructed male singular form, which would also be "Färser". I encourage the reader to explore the Indo-European Lexicon at UT Austin.

http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/ielex/index.html

² The German present perfect corresponds to the English simple past as well. The way I have constructed my examples, details about grammatical aspect shouldn't matter.

³ What you hear on the streets is Low English, not worthy of ink. For example, "pet" sounds slangy. (HKers frequently use the word "slangy" to describe their perception of Cantonese lexis as being less refined than that of Mandarin.) There's regional variation anyways. Better to have a standard, no?

⁴ I know someone who insists that Japanese is Sino-Tibetan. Guess where his confusion is coming from.

⁵ Discussions of the Conference on Unification of Pronunciation (讀音統一會) are in The Languages of China by S. Robert Ramsey and Nationalism and Language Reform in China by John DeFrancis. It seems like Mandarin clearly won in the end. Who knows whether the oft-encountered "by one vote" can be accurately applied to an intermediate negotiation that took place there in 1913.

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83 Comments »

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    Just to further complicate things (and at least half-justify the Unger position), there is a perfectly-respectable older usage of "dialect" described by the OED as "Also in a wider sense applied to a particular language in its relation to the family of languages to which it belongs." The OED's first instance of this usage is from 1635: "The Slavon tongue is of great extent: of it there be many Dialects, as the Russe, the Polish, the Bohemick, the Illyrian..and others." But I also think this was the sense in which J.R.R. Tolkien (who had formal academic training, if not in new-fangled "linguistics," at least in good old "comparative philology") was using the word within the last century when he took offense to a request from a German publisher (important piece of context: the year was 1938) that he confirm his "Aryan" status and drafted a response including the sentence "I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects."

    I am not sure how the parade of horribles outlined above differs all that much from the actual situation in contemporary Germany, where pretty much everyone regardless of native topolect is required to master and function in standard Hochdeutsch in the school system and, indeed, above a certain level in the school system is generally also required to master and function in English. I don't think Dutch is that much more distant from school-standard Hochdeutsch than certain topolects found within the present borders of Germany are — we think of Dutch as a separate "language" at least in part because of the modern political sovereignty of the Netherlands, and the accompanying infrastructure (not just army and navy, but standardized orthography, school system, newspapers, publishing houses, etc.).

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    Google translate turns the "Meine Eltern" example sentence into Dutch as "Mijn ouders hebben een huisdier aangeschaft." Identical word order and syntactic structure, with five out of six words being transparent cognates (a/k/a pronunciation variants of the "same thing"). "Erworben" is hardly the only German verb one could idiomatically use to describe the event* (even in English how common is it to say someone "acquires" a pet rather than buys one, gets one etc etc?) and I suspect it would be possible to swap in another close-to-synonymous-in-context German verb where google translate would pop out a Dutch cognate. (Actually, Dutch does have "verwerfen" meaning something like "acquire" which might be cognate to "erworben"?) So have we proven that English is not a mere regional dialect of German but Dutch is?

  3. Maria Thomas-Franssens said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    Just a few comments: in Dutch the word is not verwerfen but verwerven. Obviously there are similarities between Dutch and German since it has the same base. It has developed somewhat differen though. Hoch Deutsch is now very different from Dutch – Dutch is, like English, riddled with foreign words: English, German, French, Jiddish, Indonesian and words ' left' by everyone that's been here, whether because of a war or other. Especially English sailor terms are very common in Dutch even though they're ' dutchisized'. I would also like to add that to Dutch and Flemish speaking people – and mayby German speakers as well – some of the Scandinavian languages sound like a mixture of English and German with a little bit of Dutch added. Whether ' all' languages were ' dialects' at first I don't know but surely if you lived in a harbour town things were all mixed up. Perhaps the language the upper class spoke was considered ' language' and all the rest ' dialect'?

  4. Lars Martin Fosse said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    May I point to the Scandinavian languages Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish, all descended from a language frightfully similar to Icelandic (Old Norse). N. S. and D. are really only dialects of one Nordic language, mostly mutually understandable (with some goodwill and patience). They are classified as languages for political and cultural reasons, but we could easily imagine a Nordic State (it almost happened 600 years ago) where e.g. Swedish had the role of Hochdeutsch and N. and D. were regarded as dialects of "Nordic".

    A hard look at "Hindi" might produce a similar impression, albeit the other way around: "dialects" are regarded as part of Hindi for political reasons, although they as different or even more different among themselves than the Nordic languages mentioned above.

    The use of the term "language" would seem to be entirely arbitrary, depending upon political factors, unless the the speech forms are so different that all communication breaks down. But even in that case, politics may be stronger than linguistics.

  5. naddy said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    @J.W. Brewer
    Here's your exact cognate:

    "Mijn ouders hebben een huisdier aangeschaft."

    "Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier angeschafft."

  6. Raempftl said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

    @J.W. Brewer

    "Meine Eltern haben sich ein Haustier angeschafft." is perfectly idiomatic German.

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    We are of course all overlooking the fact that the long-term consequences of the Norman invasion of southern China in 1066 had a massive lexical and syntactic effect on the local topolect that other Sinitic varieties were not exposed to, such that it is unsurprising that modern Cantonese would end up more distant from modern Mandarin than Dutch is from Hochdeutsch.

  8. Irina said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

    @J.W. Brewer – it's "verwerven" in fact, the stem is -werv- and the -v is devoiced when it's word-final (or followed by a voiceless consonant, like the third person singular ending -t).

  9. Steve said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    The effects of the Norman invasion on Chinese have been greatly overstated. Commerce between France and China was of such density, and French ambassadors were so omnipresent at Sinitic Courts (pre-invasion) that there is no reason to think that the invasion alone independently altered the Sinitic tongue. Also, the changes to Sinitic that are popularly attributed to the invasion had already begun before the invasion occurred: at most, the invasion simply accelerated transitions that were already inevitable.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    To shift the analogy slightly, if Kwangtung had followed the Netherlands' example and made sure its de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire was confirmed de jure in the Peace of Westphalia, Cantonese might currently be in a stronger position, with its own army/navy/etc.

  11. Rubrick said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    A fascinating and entertaining post. But surely every sane person realizes that trying to define the difference between a language and a dialect is like trying to define the difference betwen blues and rock? A someone (Pinker? Dawkins?) said, let us not try to elevate words above their station.

  12. J. Marshall Unger said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

    I relied on the word "operationally" too heavily, it seems. I failed to emphasize that It is not just a matter of the history of languages but also of the history of diachronic linguistic research.

    Today, we take for granted that German and English are related, but it was not always so. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that the Romantic idea that human beings willfully control language change, the associated prescriptivist notion that languages decay, and skepticism about genetic relatio and nships such as the one between EnglishGerman were finally put to rest by the demonstration of exceptionless sound changes (Verner's Law etc.). Of course, the hypothesis was out there all along, but the default working assumption was and is that two varieties are unrelated languages. From this perspective, English and German are different languages though we now say they are related with virtually complete certainty. Note also that the larger picture of how Germanic diversified over time requires careful study and comparison of all the witness languages.

    Likewise, Cantonese is truly a language, as Hashimoto said. I do not think that the operational definitions of language and dialect I suggested imply that English is a dialect of German or that Cantonese is a dialect of Chinese. Although there are "gray area" cases, in many instances, it is not just a matter of subjective judgment: there are accepted methods that help us assign "language" and "dialect" in a way that reflects the current state of scientific knowledge.

  13. Ellen K. said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    It seems to me that in common usages, whether two related language forms are considered languages or dialects comes down to whether or not they have two separate writing systems. (Allowing for a certain degree of differences within a single language.) This I suppose interrelates with the primacy of written language perspective that all too many people have, and which linguists don't share.

  14. Chris C. said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

    I am reminded of Mme. DeFarge's complaint from Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=sN6fp2gUS68#t=133

    (At 2:13 if it doesn't start at the right time.)

  15. Gianni said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

    If Chinese character is, as you expected, universal. Why Cretan or Egyptian Hieroglyphs not? These apparent "universals" are actually not universals.

  16. Gianni said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

    Is the differenciation between languages and dialects too convoluted? Actually, I think the only primer dialect is idiolect that switches according to different addressees. So from an individualistic perspective, all languages are idiolects, and then dialects.

  17. Gianni said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

    Therefore, the thing is to understand each other. Such research is future-oriented. The question is if there is a simple idiolect that can remove all the convoluted mind-blowing registers. After all, what we really care is meaning, not form.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    @Ellen K.

    "…whether two related language forms are considered languages or dialects comes down to whether or not they have two separate writing systems."

    But bear in mind, as was pointed out in the comments to the previous post on this topic, that most languages have never been written down, and yet they are still considered to be languages.

  19. Jason said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 8:01 pm

    English calqued as German written with Hanzi characters supplemented with… Runes!

    Mr. Stiller, dude, apart from making a theoretical point, that is some serious language porn right there. This is the "Finnegan's Wake" of language log posts.

    @Steve

    The effects of the Norman invasion on Chinese have been greatly overstated. Commerce between France and China was of such density, and French ambassadors were so omnipresent at Sinitic Courts (pre-invasion) that there is no reason to think that the invasion alone independently altered the Sinitic tongue.

    While you're just being funhy, that's pretty much what I think of that argument. I am no expert, but all I can say is that pre-invasion English syntax is quite obviously Germanic, and in just a few generations, its syntax basically models a Romance language. And yet we're supposed to believe no significant influence took place. English looks to me like French calqued with Germanic roots.

  20. Matt said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

    Okinawan, which I tend to think of as a highly aberrant dialect of Japanese

    I find it genuinely baffling that a real, knowledgeable linguist would voluntarily align themselves with the objectively bad side of a debate on terminology like this. The idea of Okinawan as "aberrant dialect" has done real harm to real people who are still alive! Children punished in schools for speaking their native language, adults denied their rights due to insufficiently standard "standard Japanese"… Sometimes terminology matters.

    A suggestion: wouldn't it be just as thrillingly contrarian and Humpty-Dumptyish to start calling Japanese an aberrant dialect of Okinawan? That would also have the benefit of actually challenging people to reexamine their understanding of the situation, rather than just afflicting the afflicted, comforting the comfortable, and granting a seal of scientific approval to straight-up bigotry.

  21. Ellen K. said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

    @Victor Mair. I did say both "in common usage" and "two related language forms". So nothing I said precludes people using the term langauge for languages that have never been written down.

  22. julie lee said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 1:19 am

    This discussion has been too much for my poor head.
    A few questions. English has been called a bastard language. A bastard has a father AND a mother. Why is English a dialect of German and not of French? English, to me, is a dialect of German AND a dialect of French. I find French much closer in vocabulary and grammar to English than German. So I see English as both a Germanic language and a Romance language. (Doubly Romance in that English got a lot of its vocabulary from the Roman occupation of Britain.)
    Also, when does a dialect stop being a dialect and become a language, aside from the politics (language, we're told, is a political term, and so is dialect–army and navy and so forth)? As I say, it's too much for my poor head. One thing I understand is that in linguistics we need consistency. If we are to call Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish (all dialects of Old Icelandic) languages, then oughtn't we to call Cantonese, Shangainese, Taiwanese and some other Chinese topolects languages too?

  23. PeterL said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 1:59 am

    My father is from Schleswig-Holstein (Sleswig-Holsteen) and his first language was Plattdeutsch ("Low" German). He can more-or-less understand Dutch, Flemish, Frisian; but he had to learn Hochdeutsch ("High" German) as a foreign language at school. I asked him how he learned the various preposition forms and he told me he had to memorize them "aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu". If he had to learn something so basic by rote memorization, it seems that "Low" German is not a dialect but a separate language.
    Compare http://www.gsgoehl.de/maer_fischer.htm and http://www.maerchen.net/classic/g-fischer-frau.htm
    And by those standards, Cantonese and Mandarin are definitely separate languages. (Ditto Okinawan and standard Japanese.)

  24. Tim L. said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 2:37 am

    One thing that bothers me in all this is that it's apparently "obvious" that English and German are related, and thus someone can (jokingly, one hopes) claim they are merely two dialects of the same language. Yes, we know that historically they were indeed closely related (Althochdeutsch and Old English seem to be mutually intelligible to a surprising degree), but what about Modern German and Modern English?
    Modern English has almost none of the inflections of German, and thus expresses syntactic relations quite differently. Not to mention that the lexis of English is a hodge-podge of French, Latin and random loanwords from all over the world, although one naturally shouldn't consider loanwords as a criterion for anything.
    It seems to me that a relationship between those two is only a given if we consider Modern English and Old English to be the same language. If one were to encounter two new languages that were this different from each other – and whose history was unknown – I doubt it would be "obvious" that they are related.
    Of course, some people in the comments have made the even more extraordinary claim that English has French syntax, so perhaps I should just accept that for most people "related languages" just mean languages that have undergone some contact throughout their history.

  25. Gianni said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 3:24 am

    @Julie Lee

    This is very interesting. It is concerning with the Father Tongue Hypothesis championed by George van Driem and others.

    To me the FTH has its limits with regard to the social economic conditions, which I adopt the cliche of matriarchal and patriarchal societies in a recent study published online at http://www.academia.edu/4391409/_The_Axe_and_the_Yue_ethnic_group_

    Basically it discusses a mother tongue substratum under the father tongue superstratum in Classed societies (very Marxist indeed). I substantiated it using archaeological data at lower Yangtze valley. I hope you will be interested in it. Thanks.

  26. Jason said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 3:27 am

    @julie lee

    Why is English a dialect of German and not of French? English, to me, is a dialect of German AND a dialect of French. I find French much closer in vocabulary and grammar to English than German

    Because one dominant metric of language descent in language cladistics simply counts cognates (weighted, perhaps, by frequency of use) to measure language descent. I understand by this metric English is found, despite all the French, Greek and Latin loanwords, to be closer to German than anything else. The other method is simply to track historical lines of descent; by that measure, English is considered to be continuous with Anglo-Saxon and not French.

    As I read him this is precisely the synchronic account that J. Marshall Unger is arguing against. There are problems like Bislama, a pidgin which is 85% composed of english roots, but often with quite different semantics, eg the lexical items for body parts have been adapted to the Melanesian body map ("han" means the whole arm — there is no word for the hand by itself, at least in basolectal Bislama, and actually the forelimbs of any animal, including quadropedal animals, are "han"s. It has serial verbs, common in Oceanic languages but of course completely alien to English. It distinguishes between single, dual, trial and plural pronouns. It is neither a dialect of English nor of any Vanuatuan or Papuan language, but a bizarre intermediate hybrid of them.

    Or there's the vexed relationship between Korean and Japanese, which have few lexemes in common (other than mutually borrowed Chinese lexemes) but have extraordinarily similar grammatical structures.

    Or English itself — like I said, Germanic roots, Romance syntax, and a complete loss of grammatical gender usually only observed in creolised versions of European languages (in another thread, the only other European language without grammatical gender that someone could come up with is Afrikaans.)

    If we are to call Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish (all dialects of Old Icelandic) languages, then oughtn't we to call Cantonese, Shangainese, Taiwanese and some other Chinese topolects languages too?

    Indeed. Scientific consistency would require us to say "yes." Political exigency drives us to say "no."

  27. Gianni said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 3:27 am

    @Julie Lee

    So again, English is perhaps a multi-layered mixed language that has different fathers and mothers, with the deep matrilinear root beyond our imagination!

  28. Gianni said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 3:29 am

    @Jason

    I believe there is a better approach to unfold the seemingly enigmatic stuff. But that is not linguistics.

  29. John said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 5:21 am

    I'm sure I should be taking something more academic or political away from this post, but as it is all it's done is make me want to start referring to my Labrador as a "house-beast". So perfectly fitting.

  30. antin said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 6:27 am

    As for Dutch vs Hochdeutsch: J.W. Brewer commented that some dialects within Germany as as distant to Hochdeutsch as Dutch is. The converse of this statement makes it stronger: In the border region D/NL dialects are very closely related, but the western part dialect is arbitrarily considered as dialect of Durch and the dialect in the eastern part 'Platt' are considered as dialects of German. BTW, that Dutch was a dialect of German ist obvious by the fact that the English language uses the word "Dutch" for the language of the Netherlands which is obviously the Germanic word for German.

  31. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    @antin

    And we call the German-speaking Amish of America "Pennsylvania Dutch".

  32. Joe Joeson said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    @Maria Thomas-Franssens

    It are the English sailor terms that were loaned from Dutch, not vice-versa (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Dutch_origin: words like yacht, freight, deck, cruiser are all of Dutch origin).

    I would also deny that the number of loan words in Dutch is a defining factor in the difference between Dutch and German. Words from Indonesian (culinary) and Yiddish (slang/Dutch thieves cant) and the other languages have no significant influence that is anywhere comparable to French on English. There are also plenty of words were the German version is a more direct loan.

    The most important difference between Dutch and High German has been (and still is) pronunciation differences (such as the High German consonant shift), later joined by lexical and grammatical divergence (e.g. faster disappearance of cases in Dutch vs faster removal of the simple past in German).

  33. naddy said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    @Tim L.
    I think to a linguist it would be obvious that Modern English and Modern German are indeed related. It would be hard to miss the amount of shared core vocabulary and grammar. I think the near-identical verb morphology would be a cincher. And I think a bit of study would derive a scenario where English and German split and English subsequently lost its inflection and borrowed a lot of vocabulary. Some details would not be recoverable, like the fact that German has also reduced its inflection a lot, and I suspect there would be the mistaken conclusion that Proto-English-German already had the system of definite/indefinite articles in place that is almost identical in the modern languages.

    I'm also baffled that some people here think English has Romance/French syntax and grammar.

  34. Joseph F Foster said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:24 am

    Wrote Julie Lee above:

    So I see English as both a Germanic language and a Romance language. (Doubly Romance in that English got a lot of its vocabulary from the Roman occupation of Britain.)

    What vocabulary aside from some place names did English get from the Roman occupation of Britain? The Romans pulled out quite some time before the Germanic peoples, particularly the Angles and Saxons, got to Great Britain. Welsh has a number of ordinary loanwords from Roman occupation Latin – pysg 'fish' for instance. (Native Welsh would be ysg, as in the Ysg River), but not English.

  35. RP said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:25 am

    @naddy,
    Agreed. The key characteristics of shared Germanic syntax are clearly found in English. E.g. lack of a morphological future tense and two ways of forming the morphological past (weak past tense with a dental suffix and strong past tense with internal vowel mutation).

  36. Rod Johnson said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:50 am

    This is the most amusingly weird post I've seen here in a while. Between it and the Turkish ersatz-Chomsky post it has been a head-spinning day to read LL. Thank you!

  37. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    Perhaps Julie Lee was referring to the second and more metaphorical Roman "occupation" that began at the end of the 6th century when missionaries were sent from Rome at the direction of Pope Gregory to convert the heathen Anglo-Saxons, with both some near-term lexical impact on Old English especially in terms of ecclesiastical vocabulary but also more long-lasting effects by way of bringing England into the cultural sphere where Latin would be treated as a prestige language (with for certain centuries comparatively few members of the minority who were literate in English not also literate in Latin) and thus a frequent source of loanwords for the following millenium-and-change.

  38. norman said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    @VictorMair,

    Your example of grafting Chinese characters onto German/English made me think of the book we read in your class by John DeFrancis…think it was called Chinese Characters: Fact or Fantasy, where the introduction used characters for all the world's languages.

    This discussion made me think about when I was learning how to write Chinese as a kid. Although I grew up speaking Cantonese at home, I never understood why a lot of the basic words I learned to write had a completely different pronunciation when it came to reading aloud, e.g. 他們/tamoon instead of 佢哋/keuihdeih. Nor was it explained in a way that made sense to a 6-year old that some spoken words couldn't be written.

  39. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    Re Matt's point, I remain deeply skeptical that "terminology matters" in the sense I think he is implying. I.e., I doubt that the practical language policy decisions of foreign governments are typically driven even a teensy-weensy bit by how Anglophone scholars and/or blog commenters choose to describe the differences among language varieties spoken by residents of the territory subject to a given government's policies. I doubt that Ainu was ever viewed by Japanese policymakers as merely a substandard regional dialect of Japanese, yet Ainu has nonetheless not flourished under Japanese domination. I suppose Prof. Unger's use of the word "aberrant" might be questioned on the grounds that he may well have meant it in a technical sense with no moral judgment involved but it may lend itself to being misunderstood by a lay audience and implying a negative evaluation of Okinawan.

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    Just to use Okinawan as another historical example, it seems rather easier to argue for its status as a "language" precisely because it did once "have an army and navy" – it was once upon a time the court language of an independent Ryukyuan polity, had a standard written form and literary tradition, etc. The problem seems to have been not only the demise of that polity (which had been in some sort of complicated feudal-vassalage relationship with Japan for some time before it lost all autonomy and was fully incorporated) but the decision in the late 19th century by the Meiji-era reformers to impose universal public education, which was quite unsurprisingly carried out in the standardized prestige variety of the dominant national language. Governments uninterested in modernity and modernization that accordingly stay out of the universal-education business and are perfectly content to let the children of illiterate peasants grow up to be illiterate peasants themselves (speaking the same perhaps low-prestige topolect as their parents) probably present fairly low risks to the preexisting linguistic diversity of their domains compared to the typical busybody modern nation-state. Draw whatever moral you wish from that.

  41. julie lee said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    @Gianni:

    Thank you for your comments and link. I will be reading the pager you suggested.

  42. julie lee said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

    @Jason
    Thank you for the explanation of cladistics as a method to determine descent of a language. Also for your other comments.
    I haven't used metrics, but have spent much more time studying German than studying French. (I had some French in high school, and some German in college.) Yet I find French much easier to read than German, hence my impression that French is much closer to English.

  43. Ken Brown said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    The real point is that no-one much cares that English is a rather weird and highly derived "dialect" of some ancient German(ic) predecessor language. I mean we care intellectually, its an interesting thing to know. But no English speaker feels diminished or threatened by it. And German speakers don't seem to feel upset that we went our own way and made our own new (but connected) speech community. That doesn't seem to be the case for Chinese or Arabic speakers – or at any rate for the official groups that represent and attempt to define those languages. Its a political argument, not a linguistic one.

  44. julie lee said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    @Joseph F Foster, @J.W. Brewer:

    Thank you. Actually I did mean the 400 Roman occupation of Britain, not the later Latin roots (in English words) derived from Latin as a lingua franca used by the Christian monks.
    "English originated in those dialects of North Sea Germanic that were carried to Britain by Germanic settlers from various parts of what are now the Netherlands, northwest Germany, and Denmark.[29] Up to that point, in Roman Britain the native population is assumed to have spoken the Celtic language Brythonic alongside the acrolectal influence of Latin, from the 400-year Roman occupation." (from "English Language", Wikipedia)

    My remarks about the Roman influence on English was intuitive. The only word I can think of off-hand is the word "fish" (Latin piscis) which Webster's says is from Latin through German. I wonder if it didn't already enter English through the Roman occupation. After all some Celtic words have survived. A 400-year Roman occupation is a very long time and I wonder if place-names are the only Roman words left behind and surviving.

  45. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    Arguably the most culturally significant mode of interaction between English-speakers and German-speakers over the last century was fighting world wars against each other. That seems to have been more than sufficient to dispel any potential romantic-nineteenth-century-nationalist tendency toward using historical linguistics to organize pan-national cultural/political allegiances, as each side was obligated for propaganda purposes to come up with a coherent story about the Otherness of the other side. (Start with "Huns" as a wartime pejorative for Germans – the affiliations of the Hunnic language are apparently something of a mystery from a historical linguistics perspective, but presumably most Anglophones did not think of the historic Huns as having much in common with the historic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.)

  46. naddy said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

    @julie lee

    The only word I can think of off-hand is the word "fish" (Latin piscis) which Webster's says is from Latin through German.

    WHAT?!? No, Webster's (merriam-webster.com) says no such thing:

    Middle English, from Old English fisc; akin to Old High German fisc fish, Latin piscis

    The respective Old English, Old High German, and Latin words are all related ("akin"), but do not derive from each other.

  47. Patrick said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    Although "Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier erworben" is perfectly acceptable German, it sounds a bit stilted and is probably rare at least in spoken language. "Meine Eltern haben (sich) ein Haustier angeschafft" or "Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier gekauft" would be more idiomatic, I think.

  48. julie lee said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

    @naddy
    Thanks.

  49. Joseph F Foster said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

    Julie Lee wrote about 5 comments above the following:

    The only word I can think of off-hand is the word "fish" (Latin piscis) which Webster's says is from Latin through German.

    I don't have a Webster here (use American Heritage) but that's flat out wrong and I would have been surprised if Webster actually said that, which naddy says Webster does not. But I'm not so sure you understand why it's wrong, so let me add a little.

    Indoeuropean /p, t, k/ in Germanic languages show up first as /f, "th", and h/ So English and German fish are native Germanic reflexes of *ProtoIndoeuropean *pisk- or something on that order. English fish is cognate with Latin piscis, not borrowed from it. Had it been borrowed, the English word would be either *pish' or *pisk. Other Examples are English father, for, , German Vater [fater], . für , but Latin pater, pro . English three, -Thorpe, thin but Latin tres, turba 'crowd, tenuis, and finally English heart, hound, German Herz, Hund, and Latin cordis, canem where orthographic "c" = [k].

    This is part of what is known as Grimm's Law. You were confusing loanwords and cognates. father is not borrowed from Latin pater but paternal, and patrilineal are.

    This kind of pattern of regular sound changes is what tells us that Welsh pysg 'fish, (generic or plural) is a loanword into Brythonic and not native Celtic. Celtic languages lose entirely Protoindoeuropean word initial */p.

  50. Joseph F Foster said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    to Julie Lee,
    One additional note: the notion akin to means just what it says. If two words in two different languages are "akin to" each other, they are descended from a common earlier word in an earlier language. They are co-gnate 'with-born', i.e. born with each other.
    The German phrase may help — urverwandt mit 'originally related to'. English "akin to" may in fact be a kind of Lehnübertragung 'loan carry over' from German. Perhaps another reader knows for sure.

  51. The suffocated said,

    September 5, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

    @norman

    As a remark (and you probably know), 佢哋 and 他們 refer to completely different words (but with the same meaning), so it's not surprising that they pronounce differently. The correct characters for 佢哋 are 渠等. The use of 渠 as pronoun is really not limited to Cantonese. It was mentioned in the dictionary 集韻 (circa 1037): 吳人呼彼稱,通作渠. The character was still used as a pronoun in the literature around 1950s. And 等 of course is still used in written Chinese, as in 我等, 彼等, 汝等, 一干人等 etc.. People should have known these well if Cantonese was taught formally. Yet educators often view spoken Cantonese as a dialect of the mythical "spoken Chinese", so that non-Mandarin terms are usually mistakenly regarded as slangs and are not taught in schools.

  52. julie lee said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:08 am

    @Joseph F. Foster
    Thanks for the explanation. Yes I made a mistake. Should have known better. I did learn about Grimm's Law in linguistics class years ago, and in fact Latin "piscis" and English "fish" were used as examples.

  53. JS said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:29 am

    The suffocated–
    The question of benzi 本字 'original characters' for Cantonese and other regional language words is a murky (and a politically/emotionally charged) one — and setting aside the question of whether 渠等 for the Cant. 3rd person plural pronoun is "correct" even in that limited (pseudo-)scholarly sense, it is at least not correct in the more meaningful sense of reflecting typical usage.
    What if we were to say that 之 is the "correct character" for the Mandarin genitive particle written 的, for instance?

  54. Stephan Stiller said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:38 am

    There are a lot of excellent comments in this thread, and I appreciate everyone's contributions! I will reply to a selection:

    @ J.W. Brewer
    To give more information about modern Germany: Dialect leveling has progressed quite far with the young, but: (1) 50 years ago the situation was different, (2) Alemannic is known to be still strong, and (3) I can't speak about all border regions. I would say most Germans will agree if you tell them that the older regional varieties would be called "separate languages" by a linguist, and thankfully there won't be tempers flaring up.

    @ Ellen K.
    You might be interested in a very good comment by Vanya (in the thread to the predecessor post) similar to what you wrote.

    @ Chris C.
    This is really funny. In written words: "We do not even have a language! – [But] just a stupid accent."

    @ Gianni
    Of course I was caricaturing an older misconception when I called Chinese characters "universal" :-) The appropriateness of a writing system for any particular language is indeed a deep and complicated issue, sure to spark "lively" debate … another time.

    @ Jason
    @ julie lee
    I disagree with English syntax/grammar modeling or being like that of Romance/French. I suspect that this misunderstanding comes from the fact that Indo-European grammars are similar in many regards and that both modern Germanic (certainly English) and Romance have simplified considerably. For example, the inflectional morphology of French nouns (no cases, many plurals written-only) is simpler than that of German.

    @ julie lee
    Maybe you know this: Cantonese, Shanghainese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, … are much more different from each other than Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. In any case, we do need standard metrics for determining the closeness of topolects, say metrics measuring intelligibility; about that see Mark Liberman's edit to a comment on a much older LL post.

    @ Jason
    I agree that the historical development of Japanese and its relationship and interaction with other languages can teach us a lot about language genealogy and about common misconceptions in that area. An adequate exploration of this topic will fill a book.

    @ John
    I am so glad I made a difference in the world!

    @ J.W. Brewer
    @ Patrick
    I agree with you that "to acquire" is not the most frequent English verb and "zu erwerben" is not the most frequent German verb one might pick in this context. (Actually I anticipated someone pointing this out – your comments are appropriate.) I went with these because they sound fine and the obvious alternatives wouldn't have produced better sentence examples. If there is one thing that was random, it's "Biech": dictionaries are unsure about the etymology of "pet", so a constructed German cognate might as well be "Pfess". But this too fits into the whole: Cantonese pronunciations of some characters used essentially only in Mandarin are little-known and artificial.

    Let me conclude with the sentence in textual form. We represented it with a picture file after determining that many systems won't have adequate fonts for the runes: 我之 老於ᛖᚾ 有 一 屋獸 到轉ᛖᚾ。

  55. The suffocated said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 2:25 am

    @JS

    I don't see how your example is relevant. It's like I say "'auto' (as 'car') was originally 'automobile'", and you doubt "are you claiming that 'automobile' is the correct term for 'car'?"

    I did not say that 渠等 is correct and 他們 is incorrect. What I said is that 佢哋 in spoken Cantonese originated from 渠等. 之 and 的 are two different characters having similar meanings; so are 渠等 and 他們 (and both are correct), but they are different words.

    And I am not sure what you mean by 'typical usage'. 渠等/佢哋 is a very common and heavily used word in Cantonese. The word is also still alive in some non Cantonese speaking regions like Taiwan, albeit in written but not spoken form. Just search the word in Google Books. I agree that the question of 本字 is murky in many cases, but in this specific case, it is as easy as the question of what are the original characters for 雲吞 (wonton).

  56. Daniel said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 2:30 am

    Stiller's proposal for "Modern Standard Germanic" (MSG) seems remarkably similar to the Norwegian-American linguist Elias Molee's Tutonish (1902), which was somewhat unfairly ridiculed by Umberto Eco as "an international language comprehensible only to German speakers."

    As for writing it in Chinese characters, it would surely be more natural to make use of 等 as a plural suffix, to be read by English speakers as "-s" and by German speakers as "-en" (or whatever the appropriate plural form might be for any given noun). We could also adopt the phonetic value of a different Chinese character (e.g. 恩) to indicate the plural ending of "haben" (although English speakers might be inclined to omit the latter). As for 到轉, we could write this as 轉到 to make it more closely resemble normal Chinese syntax. (If the text is printed vertically, we could use the kaeriten レ to indicate that the characters are read in a different order in Chinese and MSG.)

    This would give us 我之老於等有(恩)一屋獸轉到恩, which to me doesn't seem at all outrageous — it looks just like what we might expect to see in a MSG version of the Manyōshū, if the Manyōshū happened to include poems about the acquisition of pets by parents.

  57. Vanya said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    @ Stephan Stiller I went with these because they sound fine and the obvious alternatives wouldn't have produced better sentence examples

    What about simply "bekommen"? So in order to express "my parents got a pet" English speakers would have to write "My elders became a house deer."

  58. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    One problem in responding to the felt "need [for] standard metrics for determining the closeness of topolects, say, metrics measuring intelligibility" is that they seem to be difficult-to-impossible to devise, because "intelligibility" is not a single uniform quality, as elaborated on by myl in the prior thread Stephan Stiller linked to (separate and apart from the fact that one would still need methodological agreement on the essentially arbitrary point on the continuum between 100% intelligibility and 0% intelligibility where the language/dialect boundary should be drawn).

    One reason I find the Dutch/Hochdeutsch contrast interesting is that I can (via now-quite-rusty reading knowledge of Hochdeutsch) sometimes make reasonable sense of bits of written Dutch – because the syntactic and lexical similarities make it look a lot like comically misspelled German, but with enough of a patterning to the comical misspellings that I can decode them. The reason for the spelling variation, of course, is largely to track pronunciation variation, which is sufficiently great that spoken Dutch is close to 100% unintelligible for me (although my ability to comprehend spoken Hochdeutsch is even rustier than my ability to read its written form, which may distort the data a little bit – I don't know how easy or hard it is for fluent Hochdeutsch speakers to learn to decode the patterns in pronunciation variation such that the connections between cognate Dutch and Hochdeutsch lexical items that are reasonably transparent on the page become transparent to the ear).

    So if "intelligibility" doesn't give us a clean distinction between "language" and "dialect," and we don't like the "army and navy" test, what alternative methodologies for drawing the distinction are out there?

  59. Matt said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 10:42 am

    Re Matt's point, I remain deeply skeptical that "terminology matters" in the sense I think he is implying. I.e., I doubt that the practical language policy decisions of foreign governments are typically driven even a teensy-weensy bit by how Anglophone scholars and/or blog commenters choose to describe the differences among language varieties spoken by residents of the territory subject to a given government's policies.

    Just on the off-chance that you actually care about this, here's one example of what I mean. Japan's Meiji-and-after language policy, in particular the idea of promoting a single standard language and discouraging the use of dialects, was strongly influenced by similar efforts in Europe (see Ueda Kazutoshi, etc.). If France had not come up with the symbole, then there probably wouldn't have been any "dialect cards" in Okinawa. Make no mistake, the concept of a "dialect" ("hōgen") was highly politicized, and very useful when dealing with groups whose behavior policy makers found inconvenient.

    So, yes, your carefully hedged statement is probably correct. The chances of Japanese language policy being influenced by some thoughtless nonsense spouted in the Language Log comments section are very slim. But there was a time when similar nonsense spouted in Europe did in fact have negative effects in Japan. It may not do much harm to keep spouting the same nonsense, but it can't possibly do any good, either. It's like coming out in favor of witch-burning or something.

  60. julie lee said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 11:40 am

    @Stephen Stiller
    Thank you. Yes, I should have read Old German and Old French for comparison instead of modern texts.
    @Joseph F. Foster, @Naddy
    Another thought which you may feel obliged to correct:
    I'm still bothered by the fact that we're told that 400-years of Roman occupation of England left only some Roman place-names in the language. Take the word "fish". I wonder if it entered the pre-Germanic language of England during the Roman occupation as *pisk or *pish, but when the Germanic settlers came along and became rulers, the native population switched to the more prestigious Germanic sound, and started to pronounce *pisk/pish "fish". And likewise, in this scenario, with some other Latin borrowings. This is like someone going from Cantonese to the more prestigious Mandarin. Let's take the Chinese words for "house 屋 ", ook in Cantonese, wu in Mandarin, or the word "wheeled vehicle 車", qie in Cantonese, che in Mandarin. In each case the speaker already knew the word but has gone to the more prestigious sound. I assume that not all the pre-Germanic speech of England was recorded in writing.

  61. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

    Matt: I think French language policy came up in a prior thread. To adapt the point I made there – if French schools used the "symbole" to discourage Breton just the same way as they used it to discourage Provencal, regardless of how they may have been characterizing Provencal, it seems highly improbable that they were misclassifying Breton as a substandard regional dialect of Standard French. Instead, they were trying to squelch regional language varieties in favor of a national standard without regard to the niceties of the dialect/language distinction. Maybe misclassification as a mere "dialect/hogen" was employed as an ad hoc justification for trying to squelch Okinawan, but when the Japanese government eventually decided it wanted to start squelching Korean in order to promote assimilation to Japanese by its colonial subjects over there, it presumably came up with some other ad hoc justification for that, didn't it?

  62. Joseph F Foster said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

    for Julie Lee, 2 above. You write: …
    I'm still bothered by the fact that we're told that 400-years of Roman occupation of England left only some Roman place-names in the language. Take the word "fish". I wonder if it entered the pre-Germanic language of England during the Roman occupation as *pisk or *pish, but when the Germanic settlers came along and became rulers, the native population switched to the more prestigious Germanic sound, and started to pronounce *pisk/pish "fish".

    Well, what you're saying is that the "pre-Germanic" speaking inhabitants of lower and middle Great Britain stopped speaking their Brythonic Celtic language and started speaking Saxon. So those who did that stopped saying pysg- (with suffixes) and started saying fish. As I've told you, Latin pisk- did "enter the preGermanic language of England" as what shows up in Modern Welsh as pysg, pysgod, pysgoden . The native Brythonic form would have had no initial #p and indeed it shows up in the name of a river in Wales, the Usg [ ısg ] (although there is or was a little controversy about this etymology) The loss of initial PIE *#p happened in Common Proto Celtic — the Gaelic doesn't have it either. Here's another example: English pork borrowed from Latin porcus. A native English and native German cognate would have to begin with #f. And in fact there is one — farrow in English and Ferkel 'piglet, shoat' . Welsh has a different word altogether (moch(-yn) but the Gaelic has orc, i.e. the direct Celtic descendent and cognate with but not borrowed from Latin porc-. But it ,I>pork came into English well after the Reman legions and administration had abandoned Great Britain and after the Angles and Saxons invaded, occupied, and settled it.

    To say what you said is simply to say that most of the native preGermanic Brythonic Celtic speakers stopped speaking ProtoWelsh after the Sasons came and started speaking Anglo-Saxon. They stopped saying pysg and started saying fish because that's what the English (and Dutch, and German) word was and is. Those who did not stop's descendants speak Modern Welsh and Breton to this day. But the Roman military-administrative occupation of Great Britain had, aside from a few place names, (and possibly a couple of words borrowed into English from Welsh and originally borrowed into Welsh from Latin,) no effect on the vocabulary of the English language. The ancestor language of English simply was not present in GB until after the Romans pulled out.

  63. naddy said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    @Vanya
    bekommen means something different:

    Meine Eltern haben ein Haustier bekommen.
    My parents have been given a pet.

  64. naddy said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    @julie lee

    I'm still bothered by the fact that we're told that 400-years of Roman occupation of England left only some Roman place-names in the language.

    They left an uncertain imprint on the local Celtic language(s). The Anglo-Saxons principally arrived after the Romans had gone and Anglo-Saxon displaced Celtic. The remarkable fact is really that there are virtually no loans from British Celtic in Old English.

    May I recommend Cable/Baugh, A History of the English Language.

  65. julie lee said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    @Joseph F. Foster, @ naddy:
    Thank you for your responses. Yes, I have read Baugh's book. It was the textbook for a course I took years ago. Yes, it is remarkable that British Celtic had virtually no loans in Old English, and the 400-year Roman occupation of Britain had almost no effect on the vocabulary of Old English.

  66. Ken Brown said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

    Are there *any* old words in English directly borrowed from Ancient British?

    (Apart from place-name elements)

  67. Vanya said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

    @nadday, the English word "got" also contains the meaning "received (from someone), which is why I used "got", not "acquired".

  68. naddy said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

    @Ken Brown
    Cable/Baugh list these in Old English:

    binn (basket, crib) > bin
    bratt (cloak) > brat
    brocc (brock or badger) > brock
    crag > crag
    luh (lake)
    cumb (valley) > coomb
    torr (outcropping or projecting rock, peak) > tor

    … the latter two "chiefly" as elements in place-names,

    and possibly:
    dun (dark colored)
    ass (ultimately from Latin asinus)

  69. Chris C. said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

    While we're on the subject, I wonder if I might ask what the broader linguistic community thinks of McWhorter's theory on the influence of ancient British on English grammar? One trouble when a layman like me reads a book on an author's personal theory is that I can't be confident I'm getting a balanced view with all reasonable counterarguments addressed.

  70. P.S. Davidson said,

    September 6, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

    I have nothing of intellectual value to add, just the following levity: My grandfather (from Dusseldorf) used to tease my grandmother (from a small town in Swabia) by saying she spoke "Hillbilly German."

  71. JS said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 12:56 am

    If The suffocated is still reading…

    I see 之/的 as relevant because the two write what is historically the same word. Mand. de represents a colloquial retention of Old Chinese tə 之 but has come to be written instead with the loan character 的 (zhi1 之 being a literary reading respecting the regular rules of sound change for the category; compare OC nejʔ 尔 > coll. ni3 你 but lit. er3 尔, etc.) To say Cant. dei6 哋 is "correctly" written 等 is thus in a sense parallel to saying that Mand. de 的 is "correctly" written 之: both suggestions may have some historical basis, but fly in the face of well-established orthographical convention (what I meant by "typical usage").

    And that is IF the relation you propose of dei6 to morphemes dang2 等 is even valid–what are the grounds for such an assertion? I don't know that such grounds don't exist, but superficially all I see is two syllables that both begin with d-…

  72. JS said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 1:00 am

    ^ Or compare the idea that Mand. men 们 is ultimately related to mei3 每 'each'. Clearly 们 is a 俗字 of the highest order; ought we amend it to 每?

  73. J. Marshall Unger said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 1:49 am

    Matt,

    I did not mean "aberrant" in a pejorative sense. I just meant that Okinawan word forms are often strikingly different from those of, say, NHK Japanese than are those of many main-island dialects.

  74. Peter Taylor said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 4:55 am

    J.W. Brewer wrote:

    Start with "Huns" as a wartime pejorative for Germans – the affiliations of the Hunnic language are apparently something of a mystery from a historical linguistics perspective, but presumably most Anglophones did not think of the historic Huns as having much in common with the historic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.

    There's no need to see any linguistic or ethnic assertion in the use of the term "Hun". It's a reference to a speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II which called on German troops to emulate Attila's ferocity. Further evidence that it was understood thus is provided by the reference to "Britannia's Huns" putting down the Easter rising in The Foggy Dew.

  75. Curt said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    I wonder just how much of the pre-Tang Cantonese phonology and grammar can be reconstructed, anyway? Is it conceivable to reconstruct a coherent Proto-Yue system by comparing evidence from Yue dialects (including southern Ping), loanwords in Tai, and Tai placenames recorded in Guangdong by Qin-Han era scholars? (presumably including 番禺 "big village")

  76. Joon said,

    September 8, 2013 @ 4:17 am

    > J.W. Brewer said,

    Matt: I think French language policy came up in a prior thread. To adapt the point I made there – if French schools used the "symbole" to discourage Breton just the same way as they used it to discourage Provencal, regardless of how they may have been characterizing Provencal, it seems highly improbable that they were misclassifying Breton as a substandard regional dialect of Standard French. Instead, they were trying to squelch regional language varieties in favor of a national standard without regard to the niceties of the dialect/language distinction. Maybe misclassification as a mere "dialect/hogen" was employed as an ad hoc justification for trying to squelch Okinawan, but when the Japanese government eventually decided it wanted to start squelching Korean in order to promote assimilation to Japanese by its colonial subjects over there, it presumably came up with some other ad hoc justification for that, didn't it?

    I think you'll find that the Japanese colonial linguists actually came up with the same justification. Korean was seriously argued to be a Japanese dialect.

  77. JS said,

    September 8, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    Curt — Anne Yue-Hashimoto has worked extensively on proto-Yue; see "Yueyin gouni zhi er: shengmu" 粵音構擬之二:聲母, in 山高水長:丁邦新先生七秩壽慶論文集 (2006) for a recent example.

  78. David Marjanović said,

    September 8, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    I don't think Dutch is that much more distant from school-standard Hochdeutsch than certain topolects found within the present borders of Germany are —

    Indeed. The border between the countries (which runs north-south) does not correspond to a dialect boundary, instead several isoglosses are orthogonal to it (east-west); Dutch is Low Franconian in origin, while the endangered non-Frisian dialects of northermost Germany (and the northwestern Netherlands) are Low Saxon, sharing innovations with Frisian and English that both Standard Dutch and Standard German lacks. Finally, in terms of simple phenetic distance, Dutch and average Swiss German are about equally far from Standard German; I understand about half when each is spoken – in the case of Dutch I cheat by knowing English and French, but in the case of Swiss German I cheat by natively speaking an Upper German dialect that shares both a few innovations and a few retentions with Swiss dialects but not the standard language…

    faster disappearance of cases in Dutch vs faster removal of the simple past in German

    The simple past is alive and well not only in written German, but also in the spoken varieties of northern and central Germany. Having moved from Austria to Berlin, I'm constantly amazed at how naturally people here use it.

    I suspect there would be the mistaken conclusion that Proto-English-German already had the system of definite/indefinite articles in place that is almost identical in the modern languages

    It's actually not that similar. Articles are much more often used in German than in English. No matter how abstract the intended meaning, you can't go "to school" in German, only "(in)to the school"… French still surpasses that, but not by much.

    Thank you for the explanation of cladistics as a method to determine descent of a language.

    …What cladistics actually does – trust me on this: I'm a phylogeneticist in biology – is to count shared innovations and find the most parsimonious tree that accounts for them all.

    Is it conceivable to reconstruct a coherent Proto-Yue system by comparing evidence from [...]

    Sure; I have no idea if it's been done.

  79. julie lee said,

    September 8, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    @Joon
    "I think you'll find that the Japanese colonial linguists actually came up with the same justification. Korean was seriously argued to be a Japanese dialect."

    That is most interesting. I know an elderly Chinese woman from Chaozhou 潮州 (or Teochew), Guangdong province, who has lived in Singapore for many decades. She was shocked to find on her return to Chaozhou recently that most of the young people don't speak Teochew anymore, Teochew having been largely squelched by Mandarin. Teochew is the majority Chinese speech spoken by the native Chinese of Singapore.

  80. David Marjanović said,

    September 8, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    Oops. I started writing the above comment so long ago that the comment directly above it wasn't there yet. Should have refreshed before submitting.

  81. Waiming said,

    September 10, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    That's a truly great exposition of something I've struggled to explain for years; thanks!

    One additional dimension in the Cantonese/Mandarin case is the existence of Classical Chinese, the written standard for 2000 years until about the 1920's. Those Cantonese expressions which are *not* part of Mandarin, but *are* part of Classical Chinese, are often used in formal Cantonese speech, and are sometimes even in formal writing. Conversely, Mandarin expressions which are *not* part of Cantonese or Classical Chinese are essentially never used in speech (except with reference to written text).

  82. The suffocated said,

    September 11, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

    @JS

    I am no linguist, so I don't know any references. The story I heard is that from《廣韻》, we have "等:齊也。多改切,又多肯切". So, 等 could be pronounced as daai2 or dang2, and what became 哋 (dei6) in modern Cantonese is daai2, not dang2.

    On second thought, I may be wrong in believing that this is an established truth among linguists (and you surely know more than I do), but as far as I know, the hypothesis is widely accepted among the general public.

    As for 之/的, I am surprised to read that they were historically the same word. The story I heard is different: during Ming and early Qing dynasties, the genitive particles for the same meaning were 地/底/得, but in Qing dynasty, people used 的 as a loan character for them.

  83. Victor Mair said,

    September 15, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

    Cantonese vs. Mandarin

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e73btaVo868

    The contents of this video are not entirely correct, but they're much better than most of what passes for popular lore about Chinese languages.

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