English and Its Closest Relatives

In the last post, we looked at Scots, the closest language actually related to English outside of English creoles. That’s according to Ethnologue anyway. There are only three languages in the Macro-English section, English, Scots and Yinglish, which is Yiddish English.
From Ethnologue (note Fishman is Jewish):

Professor Joshua A. Fishman says, “‘Yinglish’ is a variety of English influenced by Yiddish (lexically, particularly, but also grammatically and phonetically). Any good English dictionary will now include 50–100 (or more) ‘borrowings from Yiddish’ (Yinglish)….
These forms are now used not only by Jews but by others, inversely proportionally to their distance from NYC. In the case of non-Jews the original Yiddish meaning may no longer be known and a related metaphoric or contextual meaning is intended….
Since the variety is only used… (by speakers who can always speak ‘proper English’) Yinglish is never a first language acquired by the usual process of intergenerational transmission. French, Spanish, and Russian counterparts (also a Hebrew counterpart) also exist, but are more restricted in nature, both in size as well as in availability to non-Jews”. Jewish. Second language only.

At first I thought this was a preposterous, but a commenter notes that “it is English with a heavy Brooklyn accent spoken by older Jews and peppered with Yiddish words and phrases.”  Ok, maybe that makes sense then.
Still, I don’t see how that gets in and Geordie (an extremely diverse English dialect) or Scouse (Liverpudlian, likewise), Scottish English or even AAVE (Ebonics) doesn’t make it. Hell, I’ll take Queens New York English before Yinglish.
We looked at Scots earlier. Listening to some Scots tracks, you can pick up a bit of it here and there. It’s hard to say how much you can get. 25%? Less? Who knows. Those of you who listened to the Scots audios in the previous posts, how much were you able to understand? At any rate, for all intents and purposes, Scots is utterly unintelligible to US English speakers.
There’s a lot of silly talk around about mutual intelligibility.
German and English are said to be slightly intelligible, and if German is, you know Dutch must be. It’s frequently said that the language Frisian, spoken in the northern part of Holland, is somewhat intelligible to English speakers.
Frisian is doing ok; it’s relatively secure at the moment. According to commenters at the end of the post, it even has some monolingual speakers. Wow, I never would have expected that.
Frisian been separated from English for possibly up to 1000 years, and if you listen to Frisian, this is what languages sound like after they drift apart for 1000 years. That massive dose of Latinate that went into English did not help matters.
Nevertheless, English and German share 60% lexical similarity, and it’s 80% for the most commonly used vocabulary. In a Swadesh list of 200 words, I think there are only 6 or 7 that lack German cognates. Frisian is even higher. Besides Scots, Frisian is the closest related language to English on Earth, with 61% cognates. So it ought to be interesting to listen to some Dutch and some Frisian to see how much of it we can pick up.
Here is an interview with a top Dutch model, Doutzen Kroes, for a promotional campaign promoting the use of the Frisian language. I believe it is all in Dutch. I could barely make out of a single word out of this 5 minute Dutch language tape. I got a few words, but that is only because I happen to know some Dutch words here and there. Obviously, that doesn’t count. I got about 2%, but that’s only because I know a bit of Dutch.
I will say that Dutch has a bit of a familiar rhythm to it, does it not? It’s not Spanish, French or Italian. The prosody has that English feel to it somehow.
The next video is an interview with the same top model in which she responds in Frisian to questions directed at her in Dutch and English. Don’t look at the Dutch subtitles, because you’ll pick up a lot more words that way. I got the word for “no” in Frisian and that’s pretty much it. But there was a lot of background noise. Comprehension was around 2%.
Let’s try another one. In this one two Frisian poets, Tsead Bruinja and Albertina Soepboer, are interviewed about their upcoming books of poetry. All dialect is in Frisian, clear of background noise, crisp and clear diction. Later Bruinja reads some of his poems in a playground. It was shot in Groningen by Omrop Fryslân, a group that produces Frisian shows on Frisian TV. They have Frisian TV! Cool!
In the comments there are some English speakers claiming that they could pick out enough of it to get the basic understanding. As for me, I could not make out a single damned word. Comprehension was 0%. However, I will allow that Frisian, in prosody, sounds a lot more like English than Dutch does. In fact, it sounds somewhat close to those Scots tapes.
If Frisian and Dutch are this bad, I’m not even going to bother listening to a tape of German. This bit about English and German having some intelligibility seems ridiculous.
A lot of language is about prosody and rhythm. Even if you can’t get a word of that Frisian or Dutch, the rhythm is there. If you have ever heard Old English or try to make it through Beowolf, you will hear that sound in Frisian also. This goes to show you what 61% lexical similarity in two languages gives you comprehension wise – often not a damned thing.
Keep in mind that Japanese and Korean supposedly have 65% or so of their vocabulary derived from Chinese via borrowings. Do you think speakers of Japanese or Korean can make out a word of Chinese, or the other way around? Forget it.
I got a weird and creepy sensation in my body as I watched that Frisian tape. Frisian is a look into our past as English speakers, back to the days before the Angles, Saxons and Jutes got on boats and took off for England long, long ago.
There was a fascinating show on the Discovery Channel a while ago in which the journalist takes a crash course in Old English and then tries to use Old English to buy a cow from a Frisian farmer. The Frisian farmer can actually sort of understand the Old English! Weird…

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20 thoughts on “English and Its Closest Relatives”

  1. My last gf was a very secular, very assimilated US Jew, and she really, really hated those ultra Orthodox. She hated them way worse than anti-Semites. She hardly cared about anti-Semites at all. She reserved her true contempt for her fellow Jews.

  2. Hello all, I copy and past another full text online book: When Victims Rule.
    This is a B-I-G book, close to 6 MB, no picturs – text only, I belive that this is one of the biggest books ever written about the jews. Countless excerpts from books, articles, paper and so on written by jews.
    I tried to post the whole book in one post to get a clean and easy to read page, but that was to big chunk for WordPress to swallow. So what I did was to post a New Page and then post a comment to the headpost, and then a another comment, chapter by chapter.
    When a chapter fits in a comment post its really easy, copy and past and post the comment, next chapterand so on, the problem starts when the chapter is to big to fit in one comment post, that gets messy. First of all you have to make sure that the next post starts where the last post ended. To make sure that the whole chapter is posted correct and no part is missing I started the next post with the last sentence in the last post.
    Except this few sentences x2 its a clean nice, easy to read the whole book in full text in one page. It took me six hour to copy and post the whole book to ONE page. The reason I took the time is because I know how messy it can be to copy a whole book when copy chapter by chapter (Did I Ctrl + V that chapter or not?).
    Whoever wrote the book When Victim Rule have used thousand upon thousand of hour to write the book, in that perspective six hour copy and past is nothing. When you click the link it will take you less than five minutes to copy and past the whole book to your PC. You can do that because I took the trouble to copy the whole book to one page.
    If you have an old PC or bad connection you find the whole book chapter by chapter here
    http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/open.htm
    If you find any error, please let me know and I will correct that.
    When Victims Rule – the whole book in one page
    http://jewise.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/jewish-tribal-review-2/

  3. Now heg, When Victims Rule is actually a superb and fantastic book. It is the familiar limitations of all such work, but I’m not sure if it is really anti-Semitic, or if it is, if it is all that bad. There is a lot of really great reading in that work, and they’ve done an unbelievable job on it.

  4. Hey Bob,
    My gf is Frysian. It’s almost the same as English, much more similar than Dutch and English. Frysian people are very similar to Danes and Saxons, they’re much Scandinavian in looks and manners, than the rest of the Netherlands, which is very much mainstream continental European. Hell, they’re even as leftist in their economic outlook as the Swedes. Very ethnocentric too, they even have a national party. LOL. It’s the Frysk National Party. My gf’s mother voted for it. Gotta love ’em.
    Also, Frysia is very small and non-urbanised. So, within Frysia there are many different dialects. Some Frysian elderly people never leave Frysia either. They can’t even speak Dutch. My gf’s grandfather always talks Frysian to me, no matter if I understand him or not. He just goes on and on with his stories. Cool stories too. I don’t mind. It’s a pretty nice language.
    Cool that you mention Doutzen Kroes, she’s from the small village of Eastermar (Oostermeer: East Lake). Her younger sister kissed with one my gf’s classmates. To sum up: Frysia is a small world.

  5. AAVE is actually what’s known as Ebonics.
    I think there is a language called Gullah too, and it does look like a separate language. I don’t know much about Gullah, but once I dated a Black woman from South Central LA. She went to get a hair style in a barber shop and one of the Black barbers had a funny accent and I asked if he was from the Caribbean. He said no, but he was from South Carolina, and said he spoke something related to Gullah. It sure sounded funny.

  6. I love the Frisians for some reason, and I don’t even know any. Are all of those Frisian dialects intelligible? I noticed that the woman and the guy in the video looked pretty Scandinavian. The language sounds sort of Scandinavian too.
    Your grammar is just fine.

  7. Robert,
    Yeah, I think the Dutch of the North-Netherlands (Groningen, Frysia & Drenthe) are part of the Nordic/Scandinavian tree. They’re extremely tall — even taller than the average Dutch giant — and blondeness is dominant.
    I can’t say these dialects are intelligible, it often seems cultivated. You know the show “The Wire”? Most of the inner city characters, f.e. Marlo, speak sentences like “Do’n need no nuthin’ like that, never.” Same holds up for Frysians.
    Frysia is a nice province. Some of these villages are so civilised and quiet, that it’s almost a different time/place-continuum, if you compare it to the inner cities of the Randstad (urban area of A’dam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht combined.) I like both, I need my inner city kicks too.
    I think Doutzen Kroes looks pretty mainstream Frysian. Most Frysian girls aren’t that beautiful, of course, but her haircolor, eyes, length and overall appearance are pretty mainstream.
    http://www.treemter.nl/new/photos.aspx?action=visitors&galleryId=156
    These are some pictures from a hick club/disco in Frysia. The pictures give a pretty good impression of what Frysian people look like.

  8. The other day I spoke to an older man from the north west cost of Sweden, close to Norway. He said that he lived all his life in this small village.
    I know jutis and can understand most scandinvian dialectes, as I did when speking to him, but I doubt that most sweds can understand I word of what he is saying. The locals speak swedish, understandeable to any scandinavians, but this older guy most scands can not undestand.
    The difference is that juts, this north swed west cost’s and some from north sweden and scottish people speak in the throath, its guttural.
    Its the same thing with the island Gotland
    http://www.selectgotland.com/
    Carl von Linne wrot that he could tast the devil when he tried to speak the dialect. I have been to Gotland and I can affirm that when you try to speak the dialect you get a very sour tast in the mouth.
    There is a female comedian that is well known
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babben_Larsson
    She is on tv and radio all the time and you cant do that if none can understand what you say. But she speaks gotish light. Gotish heavy is like jutish, scot or the swed west cost guy, none can understand what they say.

  9. Thx for the pics of the Frisians, Maciano. They do look very Scandinavian.
    The Goths came from that one island? Weird.
    Thx for your info, heg. It appears that the effort to make Scanian and Jamtlandic into separate languages has infuriated Swedish nationalists. Whether they are or not, I am not sure. I suspect Scanian is a separate language, but I do not know about Jamtlandic. Actually, it looks like Jamtlandic is also a separate language.

  10. There’s a lot of silly talk around about mutual intelligibility.
    German and English are said to be slightly intelligible, and if German is, you know Dutch must be. It’s frequently said that the language Frisian, spoken in the northern part of Holland, is somewhat intelligible to English speakers.

    Hmm, I doubt a native speaker of English will be able to understand much of any other spoken language unless he’s studied it. I have known Dutch/English bilinguals who say they can’t understand a word of Frisian. I do wonder if Frisians could understand Beowulf in the original?
    Reading is a different matter – I find it fairly easy to read something in French, which I have never studied, and generally get the gist of what’s going on. I have studied some Spanish, which definitely helps with reading French, but mostly I’m going off of English cognates. You can usually figure out a bit of something written in a Germanic language too – helps if it’s some basic in this case, whereas with French it helps if you’re reading something more advanced, due to the way in which French has influenced English.

  11. Reader, we can understand a bit of Scots (see the links in the post) and that is said to be another language. But I think you are right, unless we study, we can’t understand anyone else’s speech. German words in English tend to be shorter and more common and less complex, while many of the more complex terms are derived from French and Latin.
    As far as Frisian understanding Beowolf, well, note the TV show where the guy takes a crash course in Old English and then goes to buy a cow from a farmer in Friesland. The Frisian farmer can pretty much understand him. If you listen to the Frisian poetry in that link, it really does sound like Beowolf or Old English.

  12. Dear writer. I am a born an raised Frysian. I’d therefore like to mention that Frysian is not a dialect but an official Language. And that it is only spoken in Frysia and not in Groningen or Drente. Though these people have the same Frysian origin.
    And for the Beowulf part: In junior high we were supposed to read the part(in original writing), witch was considerably easier for the Frysian speaking, as was reading the schottisch version of trainspotting. Also there are several reverences in history books of the traiding between the Frysians and the Englisch, witch supposedly were able to understand each other language.
    For the similarity between German and English: I think that the similarity is obvious, but only for those who know both languages. The words are only seldom alike.

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