A Look at the Tariana Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Tariana language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Upper Amazon
Eastern Nawiki

Tariana is a very difficult language mostly because of the unbelievable amount of information it crams into its morphology and syntax. This is mostly because it is an Arawakan language that has been heavily influenced by neighboring Tucanoan languages, with the result that it has many of the grammatical categories and particles present in both families.

This stems from the widespread bilingualism in the Vaupes Basin of Colombia, where many people grow up bilingual from childhood and often become multilingual by adulthood. Learning up to five different languages is common. Code-switching was frowned upon and anyone using a word from Language Y while speaking Language X would get laughed at. Hence the various languages tended to borrow features from each other quite easily.

For instance, Tariana has both a noun classifier system and a gender system. Noun classifiers and gender are sometimes subsumed under the single category of “noun classifiers.” Yet Tariana has both, presumably from its relationship to two completely different language families. So in Tariana is not unusual to get both demonstratives and verbs marked for both gender and noun classifier. Tariana borrowed such things as serialized perception verbs and the dubitative marker from Tucano.

In addition, Tariana has some very odd sounds, including aspirated nasals mh (), nh (n̺ʰ) and ñh (ɲʰ) and an aspirated w () of all things. They seem to be actually aspirated, not just partially devoiced as many voiceless nasals and liquids are.

Tariana gets 6, hardest of all.

Does Language Learning Carry Over to New Languages?

Not nearly as much as one might think.

For instance, I am relatively well versed in the Romance languages. I can read Spanish quite well, but not fluently. I can read a bit of French. And I have studied reading Italian and Portuguese for a bit.

So one would think that with all that Romance under my belt, I could just jump right into some new Romance languages and read them just like that, right?

Not so fast now.

Lately I have been going through lots and lots of Occitan texts on the Net. Occitan is approximately between Spanish and French. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of Occitan. Sometimes I can pick out a bit of information that I am looking very hard for, but mostly I just throw up my hands. My online translator calls Occitan “Catalan” and tries to translate it into English. Some say that Catalan and Occitan are one language. According to my translator, that is not so. Running the Catalan translator through Occitan fixes it up a bit, but it still leaves a gigantic steaming mess on the page. It’s nearly useless.

With Portuguese, Spanish and French, one would think Catalan would be a breeze, right? Think again. My translator is almost always able to grab it, but sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, I am stuck with Catalan and I am well and truly lost. Once again, I just throw up my hands. Obviously, it looks like some kind of Iberian language, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just don’t want to bother with it.

It’s said that Aragonese is nearly a Spanish dialect. Intelligibility is on the order of 80%. But try reading an Aragonese text sometime. It’s clearly derived from something like Spanish, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just want to run away from it. Try to read it and you are quickly lost and angry. My online translator thinks that Aragonese is Spanish. Run Aragonese through the Spanish translator and it fixes it up a bit, but it still a crazy mess and you can’t make a lot of sense of it.

Galician is a sort of Portuguese-Spanish hybrid that is often intelligible to many Spanish speakers. But don’t bother with trying to read Galician texts. They’re a frustrating mess. I dipped into it a bit, but it’s so screwed up and confusing that I quickly gave up.

One would think that with a bit of French under the belt, one could pick up on the various French patois of the langues d’oil. Forget it. It looks like a chaotic disaster on the page. The translator calls the various patois French. Running them through a French translator in general doesn’t really improve matters all that much. It’s still a messy disaster.

The moral to the story is don’t think that semi-getting a few languages under your belt is going to help you even with reading closely related languages. Things are not so simple.

Does Multilingualism Equal Separatism?

Repost from the old site.

Sorry for the long post, readers, but I have been working on this piece off and on for months now. It’s not something I just banged out. For one thing, this is the only list that I know of on the Net that lists all of the countries of the world and shows how many languages are spoken there in an easy to access format. Not even Wikipedia has that (yet).

Whether or not states have the right to secede is an interesting question. The libertarian Volokh Conspiracy takes that on in this nice set of posts. We will not deal with that here; instead, we will take on the idea that linguistic diversity automatically leads to secession.

There is a notion floating around among fetishists of the state that there can be no linguistic diversity within the nation, as it will lead to inevitable separatism. In this post, I shall disprove that with empirical data. First, we will list the states in the world, along with how many languages are spoken in that state.

States with a significant separatist movement are noted with an asterisk. As you can see if you look down the list, there does not seem to be much of a link between multilingualism and separatism. There does seem to be a trend in that direction in Europe, though.

Afterward, I will discuss the nature of the separatist conflicts in many of these states to try to see if there is any language connection. In most cases, there is little or nothing there.

I fully expect the myth of multilingualism = separatism to persist after the publication of this post, unfortunately.

St Helena                        1
British Indian Ocean Territories 1
Pitcairn Island                  1
Estonia                          1
Maldives                         1
North Korea                      1
South Korea                      1
Cayman Islands                   1
Bermuda                          1
Belarus                          1
Martinique                       2
St Lucia                         2
St Vincent & the Grenadines      2
Barbados                         2
Virgin Islands                   2
British Virgin Islands           2
Gibraltar                        2
Antigua and Barbuda              2
Saint Kitts and Nevis            2
Montserrat                       2
Anguilla                         2
Marshall Islands                 2
Cuba                             2
Turks and Caicos                 2
Guam                             2
Tokelau                          2
Samoa                            2
American Samoa                   2
Niue                             2
Jamaica                          2
Cape Verde Islands               2
Icelandic                        2
Maltese                          2
Maltese                          2
Vatican State                    2
Haiti                            2
Kiribati                         2
Tuvalu                           2
Bahamas                          2
Puerto Rico                      2
Kyrgyzstan                       3
Rwanda                           3
Nauru                            3
Turkmenistan                     3
Luxembourg                       3
Monaco                           3
Burundi                          3
Seychelles                       3
Grenada                          3
Bahrain                          3
Tonga                            3
Qatar                            3
Kuwait                           3
Dominica                         3
Liechtenstein                    3
Andorra                          3
Reunion                          3
Dominican Republic               3
Netherlands Antilles             4
Northern Mariana Islands         4
Palestinian West Bank & Gaza     4
Palau                            4
Mayotte                          4
Cyprus*                          4
Bosnia and Herzegovina*          4
Slovenia and Herzegovina*        4
Swaziland                        4
Sao Tome and Principe            4
Guadalupe                        4
Saudi Arabia                     5
Cook Islands                     5
Latvia                           5
Lesotho                          5
Djibouti                         5
Ireland                          5
Moldova                          5
Armenia                          6
Mauritius                        6
Lebanon                          6
Mauritania                       6
Croatia                          6
Kazakhstan                       7
Kazakhstan                       7
Albania                          7
Portugal                         7
Uzbekistan                       7
Sri Lanka*                       7
United Arab Emirates             7
Comoros                          7
Belize                           8
Tunisia                          8
Denmark                          8
Yemen                            8
Morocco*                         9
Austria                          9
Jordan                           9
Macedonia                        9
Tajikistan                       9
French Polynesia                 9
Gambia                           9
Belgium                          9
Libya                            9
Fiji                             10
Slovakia                         10
Ukraine                          10
Egypt                            11
Bulgaria                         11
Norway                           11
Poland                           11
Serbia and Montenegro            11
Eritrea                          12
Georgia*                         12
Finland*                         12
Switzerland*                     12
Hungary*                         12
United Kingdom*                  12
Mongolia                         13
Spain                            13
Somalia*                         13
Oman                             13
Madagascar                       13
Malawi                           14
Equatorial Guinea                14
Mali                             14
Azerbaijan                       14
Japan                            15
Syria*                           15
Romania*                         15
Sweden*                          15
Netherlands*                     15
Greece                           16
Brunei                           17
Algeria                          18
Micronesia                       18
East Timor                       19
Zimbabwe                         19
Niger                            21
Singapore                        21
Cambodia                         21
Iraq*                            21
Guinea-Bissau                    21
Taiwan                           22
Bhutan                           24
Sierra Leone                     24
South Africa                     24
Germany                          28
Namibia                          28
Botswana                         28
France                           29
Liberia                          30
Israel                           33
Italy                            33
Guinea                           34
Turkey*                          34
Senegal                          36
Bangladesh                       39
New Caledonia                    39
Togo                             39
Angola*                          41
Gabon                            41
Zambia                           41
Mozambique                       43
Uganda                           43
Afghanistan                      47
Guatemala                        54
Benin                            54
Kenya                            61
Congo                            62
Burkina Faso                     68
Central African Republic         69
Solomon Islands                  70
Thailand*                        74
Iran*                            77
Cote D'Ivoire                    78
Ghana                            79
Laos                             82
Ethiopia*                        84
Canada*                          85
Russia*                          101
Vietnam                          102
Myanmar*                         108
Vanuatu                          109
Nepal                            126
Tanzania                         128
Chad                             132
Sudan*                           134
Malaysia                         140
United States*                   162
Philippines*                     171
Pakistan*                        171
Democratic Republic of Congo     214
Australia                        227
China*                           235
Cameroon*                        279
Mexico                           291
India*                           415
Nigeria                          510
Indonesia*                       737
Papua New Guinea*                820

*Starred states have a separatist problem, but most are not about language. Most date back to the very formation of an often-illegitimate state.

Canada definitely has a conflict that is rooted in language, but it is also rooted in differential histories as English and French colonies. The Quebec nightmare is always brought up by state fetishists, ethnic nationalists and other racists and nationalists who hate minorities as the inevitable result of any situation whereby a state has more than one language within its borders.

This post is designed to give the lie to this view.

Cyprus’ problem has to do with two nations, Greeks and Turks, who hate each other. The history for this lies in centuries of conflict between Christianity and Islam, culminating in the genocide of 350,000 Greeks in Turkey from 1916-1923.

Morocco’s conflict has nothing to do with language. Spanish Sahara was a Spanish colony in Africa. After the Spanish left in the early 1950’s, Morocco invaded the country and colonized it, claiming in some irredentist way that the land had always been a part of Morocco. The residents beg to differ and say that they are a separate state.

An idiotic conflict ensued in which Morocco the colonizer has been elevated to one of the most sanctioned nations of all by the UN. Yes, Israel is not the only one; there are other international scofflaws out there. In this conflict, as might be expected, US imperialism has supported Moroccan colonialism.

This Moroccan colonialism has now become settler-colonialism, as colonialism often does. You average Moroccan goes livid if you mention their colony. He hates Israel, but Morocco is nothing but an Arab Muslim Israel. If men had a dollar for every drop of hypocrisy, we would be a world of millionaires.

There are numerous separatist conflicts in Somalia. As Somalians have refused to perform their adult responsibilities and form a state, numerous parts of this exercise in anarchism in praxis (Why are the anarchists not cheering this on?) are walking away from the burning house. Who could blame them?

These splits seem to have little to do with language. One, Somaliland, was a former British colony and has a different culture than the rest of Somalia. Somaliland is now de facto independent, as Somalia, being a glorious exercise in anarchism, of course lacks an army to enforce its borders, or to do anything.

Jubaland has also split, but this has nothing to do with language. Instead, this may be rooted in a 36-year period in which it was a British colony. Soon after this period, they had their own postage stamps as an Italian colony.

There is at least one serious separatist conflict in Ethiopia in the Ogaden region, which is mostly populated by ethnic Somalis. Apparently this region used to be part of Somaliland, and Ethiopia probably has little claim to the region. This conflict has little do with language and more to do with conflicts rooted in colonialism and the illegitimate borders of states.

There is also a conflict in the Oromo region of Ethiopia that is not going very far lately. These people have been fighting colonialism since Ethiopia was a colony and since then have been fighting against independent Ethiopia, something they never went along with. Language has a role here, but the colonization of a people by various imperial states plays a larger one.

There was a war in Southern Sudan that has now ended with the possibility that the area may secede.

There is a genocidal conflict in Darfur that the world is ignoring because it involves Arabs killing Blacks as they have always done in this part of the world, and the world only gets upset when Jews kill Muslims, not when Muslims kill Muslims.

This conflict has to do with the Sudanese Arabs treating the Darfurians with utter contempt – they regard them as slaves, as they have always been to these racist Arabs.

The conflict in Southern Sudan involved a region in rebellion in which many languages were spoken. The South Sudanese are also niggers to the racist Arabs, plus they are Christian and animist infidels to be converted by the sword by Sudanese Arab Muslims. Every time a non-Muslim area has tried to split off from or acted uppity with a Muslim state they were part of, the Muslims have responded with a jihad against and genocide of the infidels.

This conflict has nothing to do with language; instead it is a war of Arab Muslim religious fanatics against Christian and animist infidels.

There is a separatist movement in the South Cameroons in the nation of Cameroon in Africa. This conflict is rooted in colonialism. During the colonial era, South Cameroons was a de facto separate state. Many different languages are spoken here, as is the case in Cameroon itself. They may have a separate culture too, but this is just another case of separatism rooted in colonialism. The movement seems to be unarmed.

There is a separatist conflict in Angola in a region called Cabinda, which was always a separate Portuguese colony from Angola.

As this area holds 60% of Angola’s oil, it’s doubtful that Angola will let it go, although almost all of Angola’s oil wealth is being stolen anyway by US transnationals and a tiny elite while 90% of the country starves, has no medicine and lives unemployed amid shacks along former roads now barely passable.

The Cabindans do claim to have a separate culture, but language does not seem to be playing much role here – instead, oil and colonialism are.

Syria does have a Kurdish separatist movement, as does Iran, Iraq, and Turkey – every state that has a significant number of Kurds. This conflict goes back to the post-World War 1 breakup of the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds, with thousands of years of history as a people, nominally independent for much of that time, were denied a state and sold out.

The new fake state called Turkey carved up part of Kurdistan, another part was donated to the British colony in Iraq and another to the French colony in Syria, as the Allies carved up the remains of the Empire like hungry guests at a feast.

This conflict is more about colonialism and extreme discrimination than language, though the Kurds do speak their own tongue. There is also a Kurdish separatist conflict in Iran, but I don’t know much about the history of the Iranian Kurds.

There is also an Assyrian separatist movement in Iraq and possibly in Syria. The movement is unarmed. The Assyrians have been horribly persecuted by Arab nationalist racists in the region, in part because they are Christians. They have been targeted by Islamo-Nazis in Iraq during this Iraq War with a ferocity that can only be described as genocidal.

The Kurds have long persecuted the Assyrians in Iraqi Kurdistan. There have been regular homicides of Assyrians in the north, up around the Mosul region. This is just related to the general way that Muslims treat Christian minorities in many Muslim states – they persecute them and even kill them. There is also a lot of land theft going on.

While the Kurdish struggle is worthwhile, it is becoming infected with the usual nationalist evil that afflicts all ethnic nationalism. This results in everyone who is not a Kurdish Sunni Muslim being subjected to varying degrees of persecution, disenfranchisement and discrimination. It’s a nasty part of the world.

In Syria, the Assyrians live up near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Arab nationalist racists have been stealing their land for decades now and relocating the Assyrians to model villages, where they languish in poverty. Assad’s regime is not so secular and progressive as one might suspect.

There is a separatist conflict in Bougainville in New Guinea. I am sure that many different tongues are spoken on that island, as there are 800 different tongues spoken in Papua New Guinea. The conflict is rooted in the fact that Bougainville is rich in copper, but almost all of this wealth is stolen by Papua New Guinea and US multinationals, so the Bougainville people see little of it. Language has little or nothing to do with it.

There are separatist movements in the Ahwaz and Balochistan regions of Iran, along with the aforementioned Kurdish movement. It is true that different languages are spoken in these regions, but that has little to do with the conflict.

Arabic is spoken in Khuzestan, the land of the Iranian Arabs. This land has been part of Persia for around 2,000 years as the former land of Elam. The Arabs complain that they are treated poorly by the Persians, and that they get little revenue to their region even though they are sitting on a vast puddle of oil and natural gas.

Iran should not be expected to part with this land, as it is the source of much of their oil and gas wealth. Many or most Iranians speak Arabic anyway, so there is not much of a language issue. Further, Arab culture is promoted by the Islamist regime even at the expense of Iranian culture, much to the chagrin of Iranian nationalists.

The Ahwaz have been and are being exploited by viciously racist Arab nationalists in Iraq, and also by US imperialism, and most particularly lately, British imperialism, as the British never seem to have given up the colonial habit. This conflict is not about language at all. Most Ahwaz don’t even want to separate anyway; they just want to be treated like humans by the Iranians.

Many of Iran’s 8% Sunni population lives in Balochistan. The region has maybe 2% of Iran’s population and is utterly neglected by Iran. Sunnis are treated with extreme racist contempt by the Shia Supremacists who run Iran. This conflict has to do with the fight between the Shia and Sunni wings of Islam and little or nothing to do with language.

There is a separatist movement in Iran to split off Iranian Azerbaijan and merge it with Azerbaijan proper. This movement probably has little to do with language and more to do with just irredentism. The movement is not going to go very far because most Iranian Azeris do not support it.

Iranian Azeris actually form a ruling class in Iran and occupy most of the positions of power in the government. They also control a lot of the business sector and seem to have a higher income than other Iranians. This movement has been co-opted by pan-Turkish fascists for opportunistic reasons, but it’s not really going anywhere. The CIA is now cynically trying to stir it up with little success. The movement is peaceful.

There is a Baloch insurgency in Pakistan, but language has little to do with it. These fiercely independent people sit on top of a very rich land which is ruthlessly exploited by Punjabis from the north. They get little or no return from this natural gas wealth. Further, this region never really consented to being included in the Pakistani state that was carved willy-nilly out of India in 1947.

It is true that there are regions in the Caucasus that are rebelling against Russia. Given the brutal and bloody history of Russian imperial colonization of this region and the near-continuous rebellious state of the Muslims resident there, one wants to say they are rebelling against Imperial Russia.

Chechnya is the worst case, but Ingushetia is not much better, and things are bad in Dagestan too. There is also fighting in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. These non-Chechen regions are getting increasingly radicalized as consequence of the Chechen War. There has also been a deliberate strategy on the part of the Chechens to expand the conflict over to the other parts of the Caucasus.

Past rebellions were often pan-Caucasian also. Although very different languages are spoken in these areas, different languages are still spoken all across Russia. Language has little to do with these conflicts, as they have more to do with Russian imperialism and colonization of these lands and the near 200-year violent resistance of these fierce Muslim mountain tribes to being colonized by Slavic infidels.

There is not much separatism in the rest of Russia.

Tuva reserves the right to split away, but this is rooted in their prior history as an independent state within the USSR (Tell me how that works?) for two decades until 1944, when Stalin reconquered it as a result of the conflict with the Nazis. The Tuvans accepted peacefully.

Yes, the Tuvans speak a different tongue, but so do all of the Siberian nations, and most of those are still with Russia. Language has little to do with the Tuvan matter.

There is also separatism in the Bashkir Republic and Adygea in Russia. These have not really gone anywhere. Only 21% of the residents of
Adygea speak Circassian, and they see themselves as overrun by Russian-speaking immigrants. This conflict may have something to do with language. The Adygean conflict is also peripherally related the pan-Caucasian struggle above.

In the Bashkir Republic, the problem is more one of a different religion – Islam, as most Bashkirs are Muslim. It is not known to what degree language has played in the struggle, but it may be a factor. The Bashkirs also see themselves as overrun by Russian-speaking immigrants. It is dubious that the Bashkirs will be able to split off, as the result will be a separate nation surrounded on all sides by Russia.

The Adygean, Tuvan and Bashkir struggles are all peaceful.

The conflict in Georgia is complex. A province called Abkhazia has split off and formed their own de facto state, which has been supported with extreme cynicism by up and coming imperialist Russia, the same clown state that just threatened to go to war to defend the territorial integrity of their genocidal Serbian buddies. South Ossetia has also split off and wants to join Russia.

Both of these reasonable acts prompted horrible and insane wars as Georgia sought to preserve its territorial integrity, though it has scarcely been a state since 1990, and neither territory ever consented to being part of Georgia.

The Ossetians and Abkhazians do speak separate languages, and I am not certain why they want to break away, but I do not think that language has much to do with it. All parties to these conflicts are majority Orthodox Christians.

Myanmar is a hotbed of nations in rebellion against the state. Burma was carved out of British East India in 1947. Part of Burma had actually been part of British India itself, while the rest was a separate colony called Burma. No sooner was the ink dry on the declaration of independence than most of these nations in rebellion announced that they were not part of the deal.

Bloody rebellions have gone on ever since, and language has little or nothing to do with any of them. They are situated instead on the illegitimacy of not only the borders of the Burmese state, but of the state itself.

Thailand does have a separatist movement, but it is Islamic. They had a separate state down there until the early 1800’s when they were apparently conquered by Thais. I believe they do speak a different language down there, but it is not much different from Thai, and I don’t think language has anything to do with this conflict.

There is a conflict in the Philippines that is much like the one in Thailand. Muslims in Mindanao have never accepted Christian rule from Manila and are in open arms against the state. Yes, they speak different languages down in Mindanao, but they also speak Tagalog, the language of the land.

This just a war of Muslims seceding because they refuse to be ruled by infidels. Besides, this region has a long history of independence, de facto and otherwise, from the state. The Moro insurgency has little to nothing to do with language.

There are separatist conflicts in Indonesia. The one in Aceh seems to have petered out. Aceh never agreed to join the fake state of Indonesia that was carved out of the Dutch East Indies when the Dutch left in 1949.

West Papua is a colony of Indonesia. It was invaded by Indonesia with the full support of US imperialism in 1965. The Indonesians then commenced to murder 100,000 Papuans over the next 40 years. There are many languages spoken in West Papua, but that has nothing to do with the conflict. West Papuans are a racially distinct people divided into vast numbers of tribes, each with a separate culture.

They have no connection racially or culturally with the rest of Indonesia and do not wish to be part of the state. They were not a part of the state when it was declared in 1949 and were only incorporated after an Indonesian invasion of their land in 1965. Subsequently, Indonesia has planted lots of settler-colonists in West Papua.

There is also a conflict in the South Moluccas , but it has more to do with religion than anything else, since there is a large number of Christians in this area. The South Moluccans were always reluctant to become a part of the new fake Indonesian state that emerged after independence anyway, and I believe there was some fighting for a while there. The South Moluccan struggle has generally been peaceful ever since.

Indonesia is the Israel of Southeast Asia, a settler-colonial state. The only difference is that the Indonesians are vastly more murderous and cruel than the Israelis.

There are conflicts in Tibet and East Turkestan in China. In the case of Tibet, this is a colony of China that China has no jurisdiction over. The East Turkestan fight is another case of Muslims rebelling against infidel rule. Yes, different languages are spoken here, but this is the case all over China.

Language is involved in the East Turkestan conflict in that Chinese have seriously repressed the Uighur language, but I don’t think it plays much role in Tibet.

There is also a separatist movement in Inner Mongolia in China. I do not think that language has much to do with this, and I believe that China’s claim to Inner Mongolia may be somewhat dubious. This movement is unarmed and not very organized.

There are conflicts all over India, but they don’t have much to do with language.

The Kashmir conflict is not about language but instead is rooted in the nature of the partition of India after the British left in 1947. 90% of Kashmiris wanted to go to Pakistan, but the ruler of Kashmir was a Hindu, and he demanded to stay in India.

The UN quickly ruled that Kashmir had to be granted a vote in its future, but this vote was never allowed by India. As such, India is another world-leading rogue and scofflaw state on a par with Israel and Indonesia. Now the Kashmir mess has been complicated by the larger conflict between India and Pakistan, and until that is all sorted out, there will be no resolution to this mess.

Obviously India has no right whatsoever to rule this area, and the Kashmir cause ought to be taken up by all progressives the same way that the Palestinian one is.

There are many conflicts in the northeast, where most of the people are Asians who are racially, often religiously and certainly culturally distinct from the rest of Indians.

None of these regions agreed to join India when India, the biggest fake state that has ever existed, was carved out of 5,000 separate princely states in 1947. Each of these states had the right to decide its own future to be a part of India or not. As it turned out, India just annexed the vast majority of them and quickly invaded the few that said no.

“Bharat India”, as Indian nationalist fools call it, as a state, is one of the silliest concepts around. India has no jurisdiction over any of those parts of India in separatist rebellion, if you ask me. Language has little to do with these conflicts.

Over 800 languages are spoken in India anyway, each state has its own language, and most regions are not in rebellion over this. Multilingualism with English and Hindi to cement it together has worked just fine in most of India.

Sri Lanka’s conflict does involve language, but more importantly it involves centuries of extreme discrimination by ruling Buddhist Sinhalese against minority Hindu Tamils. Don’t treat your minorities like crap, and maybe they will not take up arms against you.

The rebellion in the Basque country of Spain and France is about language, as is Catalonian nationalism.

IRA Irish nationalism and the Scottish and Welsh independence movements have nothing to do with language, as most of these languages are not in good shape anyway.

The Corsicans are in rebellion against France, and language may play a role. There is an independence movement in Brittany in France also, and language seems to play a role here, or at least the desire to revive the language, which seems to be dying.

There is a possibility that Belgium may split into Flanders and Wallonia, and language does play a huge role in this conflict. One group speaks French and the other Dutch.

There is a movement in Scania, a part of Sweden, to split away from Sweden. Language seems to have nothing to do with it.

There is a Hungarian separatist movement, or actually, a national reunification or pan-Hungarian movement, in Romania. It isn’t going anywhere, and it unlikely to succeed. Hungarians in Romania have not been treated well and are a large segment of the population. This fact probably drives the separatism more than language.

There are many other small conflicts in Europe that I chose not to go into due to limitations on time and the fact that I am getting tired of writing this post! Perhaps I can deal with them at a later time. Language definitely plays a role in almost all of these conflicts. None of them are violent though.

To say that there are separatists in French Polynesia is not correct. This is an anti-colonial movement that deserves the support of anti-colonial activists the world over. The entire world, evidenced by the UN itself, has rejected colonialism. Only France, the UK and the US retain colonies. That right there is notable, as all three are clearly imperialist countries. In this modern age, the value of retaining colonies is dubious.

These days, colonizers pour more money into colonies than they get out of them. France probably keeps Polynesia due to colonial pride and also as a place to test nuclear weapons and maintain military bases. As the era of French imperialism on a grand scale has clearly passed, France needs to renounce its fantasies of being a glorious imperial power along with its anachronistic colonies.

Yes, there is a Mapuche separatist movement in Chile, but it is not going anywhere soon, or ever.

It has little to do with language. The Mapudungan language is not even in very good shape, and the leaders of this movement are a bunch of morons. Microsoft recently unveiled a Mapudungan language version of Microsoft Windows. You would think that the Mapuche would be ecstatic. Not so! They were furious. Why? Oh, I forget. Some Identity Politics madness.

This movement has everything to do with the history of Chile. Like Argentina and Uruguay, Chile was one of the Spanish colonies that was settled en masse late. For centuries, a small colonial bastion battled the brave Mapuche warriors, but were held at bay by this skilled and militaristic tribe.

Finally, in the late 1800’s, a fanatical and genocidal war was waged on the Mapuche in one of those wonderful “national reunification” missions so popular in the 1800’s (recall Italy’s wars of national reunification around this same time). By the 1870’s, the Mapuche were defeated and suffered a devastating loss of life.

Yet all those centuries of only a few Spanish colonists and lots of Indians had made their mark, and at least 70% of Chileans are mestizos, though they are mostly White (about 80% White on average). The Mapuche subsequently made a comeback and today number about 9% of the population.

Because they held out so long and so many of them survived, they are one of the most militant Amerindian groups in the Americas. They are an interesting people, light-skinned and attractive, though a left-wing Chilean I knew used to chortle about how hideously ugly they were.

Hawaiian separatism is another movement that has a lot to do with colonialism and imperialism and little to do with language. The Hawaiian language, despite some notable recent successes, is not in very good shape. The Hawaiian independence movement offers nothing to non-Hawaiians (I guess only native Hawaiians get to be citizens!) and is doomed to fail.

Hawaiians are about 22% of the population, and they are the only ones that support the independence movement. No one else supports it. It’s not going anywhere. The movers and shakers on the island (Non-Hawaiians for the most part!) all think it’s ridiculous.

There are separatists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, but I doubt that language has much to do with it. Like the myriad other separatist struggles in the NE of India, these people are ethnically Asians and as such are not the same ethnicity as the Caucasians who make up the vast majority of the population of this wreck of a state.

This is another conflict that is rooted in a newly independent fake state. The Chittagong Hill Tracts were incorporated into Bangladesh after its independence from Pakistan in 1971. As a fake new state, the peoples of Bangladesh had a right to be consulted on whether or not they wished to be a part of it. The CHT peoples immediately said that they wanted no part of this new state.

At partition, the population was 98.5% Asian. They were Buddhists, Hindus and animists. Since then, the fascist Bangladesh state has sent Bengali Muslim settler-colonists to the region. The conflict is shot through with racism and religious bigotry, as Muslim Bengalis have rampaged through the region, killing people randomly and destroying stuff as they see fit. Language does not seem to have much to do with this conflict.

I don’t know much about the separatist struggle of the Moi in Vietnam, but I think it is more a movement for autonomy than anything else. The Moi are Montagnards and have probably suffered discrimination at the hands of the state along with the rest of the Montagnards.

Zanzibar separatism in Tanzania seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with language, but has a lot more to do with geography. Zanzibar is a nice island off the coast of Tanzania which probably wants nothing to do with the mess of a Tanzanian state.

The conflict also has a lot to do with race. Most residents of Zanzibar are either Arabs or descendants of unions between Arabs and Africans. In particular, they deny that they are Black Africans. I bet that is the root of the conflict right there.

There were some Talysh separatists in Azerbaijan a while back, but the movement seems to be over. I am not sure what was driving them, but language doesn’t seem to have been a big part of it. Just another case of new members of a fake new state refusing to go along for the ride.

There were some Gagauz separatists in Moldova a while back, but the movement appears to have died down. Language does seem to have played a role here, as the Gagauz speak a Turkic tongue totally unrelated to the Romance-speaking Moldovans.

Realistically, it’s just another case of a fake new state emerging and some members of the new state saying they don’t want to be a part of it, and the leaders of the fake new state suddenly invoking inviolability of borders in a state with no history!

In summary, as we saw above, once we get into Europe, language does play a greater role in separatist conflict, but most of these European conflicts are not violent. In the rest of the world, language plays little to no role in the vast majority of separatist conflicts.

The paranoid and frankly fascist notion voiced by rightwing nationalists the world over that any linguistic diversity in the world within states must be crushed as it will inevitably lead to separatism at best or armed separatism at worst is not supported by the facts.

Endangered Languages of Northeast Asia

Repost from the old site.
Cool site. Very pessimistic, possibly overly so, but the situation is not one to be optimistic about. In contrast to the sister site about endangered languages in Europe, it seems that the languages of NE Asia are so much worse off! I am wondering why that is.
The Soviets did a great job at first of trying to preserve national languages, but then after Stalin’s lunatic purges in the 1930’s, everything pretty much reverted back to Russification, and I guess that just continued on even after Stalin died. Under Putin, Russia is actually overtly hostile to all non-Russian tongues spoken on its territory, as fascists always are.
Most of these languages have been completely taken out by Russian. Russian is nuking languages over there the same way English is nuking languages over here. It’s the great destroyer. I really do not think that Ainu is in as terrible a shape as this website says it is, though. One is really stricken by how many of these languages are no longer being learned by children.
Also Europe seems so much more friendly to having kids learn these languages in school or even study with the language as a general medium. And in Europe, literary standards for the endangered tongues are much more developed and more widely used.
In Russia, everyone is carted off to school, where all instruction is in Russian. Few of these languages have usable literary standards either. Oh well, the Russians always were barbaric and backwards.
For 15 years or so starting in 1917, they actually tried to go in a different direction and set a beautiful standard for all humanity, especially in the language area. That bit the dust in Stalin’s anti-Nazi paranoia of the 1930’s. Of course there was a very real threat, but so many died. This world can be a pitiless place.

Mutual Intelligibility of Languages in the Slavic Family

A more updated version of this paper with working hyperlinks can be found on Academia.edu here.
There is much nonsense said about the mutual intelligibility of the various languages in the Slavic family. It’s often said that all Slavic languages are mutually intelligible with each other. This is simply not the case.
Method: It is important to note that the percentages are in general only for oral intelligibility and only in the case of a situation of a pure inherent intelligibility test. An inherent pure inherent intelligibility test would involve a a speaker of Slavic lect A listening to a tape or video of a speaker of Slavic Lect A.
Written intelligibility is often very different from oral intelligibility in that in a number of cases, it tends to be higher, often much higher, than oral intelligibility. Written intelligibility was only calculated for a number of language pairs. Most pairs have no figure for written intelligibility.
A number of native speakers of various Slavic lects were interviewed about mutual intelligibility, language/dialect confusion, the state of their language, its history and so on. In addition, a Net search was done of forums where speakers of Slavic languages were discussing how much of other Slavic languages they understand. These figures were tallied up for each pair of languages to be tabulated and were then all averaged together. Hence the figures are averages taken from statements by native speakers of the languages in question.
Complaints have been made that many of these percentages were simply wild guesses with no science behind them. This is not the case, as all figures were derived from estimates by native speakers themselves, often a number of estimates averaged together.
True science would involve scientific intelligibility testing of Slavic language pairs. The problem is that most linguists are not interested in scientific intelligibility testing of language pairs.
Serbo-Croatian (Shtokavian) has 55% intelligibility of Macedonian (varies from 25-90%), 27% of Slovenian, 25% of Slovak, 20% of Ukrainian, 13% of oral Bulgarian and 25% of written Bulgarian, 10% of oral Russian and 22% of written Russian, 10% of Czech, and 5% of Polish.
Chakavian has 82% intelligibility of Kajkavian.
Kajkavian has 82% intelligibility of Chakavian.
Bulgarian has 80% intelligibility of Macedonian, 41% of Russian, and 5% of Polish and Czech.
Macedonian has 65% oral and written intelligibility of Bulgarian.
Czech has 94% intelligibility of Slovak, 12% of Polish, and 5% of Russian and Bulgarian.
Polish has 22% intelligibility of Silesian, 12% of Czech, 6% of Russian, and 5% of Bulgarian.
Russian has 85% intelligibility of Rusyn, 74% of oral Belorussian and 85% of written Belorussian, 60% of Balachka, 50% of oral Ukrainian and 85% of written Ukrainian, 36% of oral Bulgarian and 80% of written Bulgarian, 38% of Polish, 30% of Slovak and oral Montenegrin and 50% of written Montenegrin, 12% of oral Serbo-Croatian, 25% of written Serbo-Croatian, and 10% of Czech.
Belarussian has 80% intelligibility of Ukrainian and 55% of Polish.
Ukrainian has 82% intelligibility of Belarusian and Rusyn and 55% of Polish.
Slovak has 91% intelligibility of Czech.
Eastern Slovak has 82% intelligibility of Rusyn and 72% of Ukrainian.
Saris Slovak has 85% intelligibility of Polish.
Reactions: So far there have been few reactions to the paper. However, a Croatian linguist has helped me write part of the Croatian section, and he felt that at least that part of the paper was accurate. A Serbian native speaker felt that the percentages for South Slavic seemed to be accurate.
A professor of Slavic Linguistics at a university in Bulgaria reviewed the paper and felt that the percentages were accurate. He was a member of a group of linguists who met periodically to discuss the field. He printed out the paper and showed it to his colleagues at the next meeting, and they spent some time discussing it.
Now onto the discussion.
There is much nonsense floating around about Serbo-Croatian or Shtokavian. The main Shtokavian dialects of Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian are mutually intelligible.
However, the Croatian macrolanguage has strange lects that Standard Croatian (Štokavian) cannot understand.
For instance, Čakavian Croatian is not intelligible with Standard Croatian. It consists of at least four major dialects, Ekavian Chakavian, spoken on the Istrian Peninsula, Ikavian Chakavian, spoken in southwestern Istria, the islands of Brač, Hvar, Vis, Korčula, and Šolta, the Pelješac Peninsula, the Dalmatian coast at Zadar, the outskirts of Split and inland at Gacka, Middle Chakavian, which is Ikavian-Ekavian transitional, and Ijekavian Chakavian, spoken at the far southern end of the Chakavian language area on Lastovo Island, Janjina on the Pelješac Peninsula, and Bigova in the far south near the border with Montenegro.
Ekavian Chakavian has two branches – Buzet and Northern Chakavian. Buzet is actually transitional between Slovenian and Kajkavian. It was formerly thought to be a Slovenian dialect, but some now think it is more properly a Kajkavian dialect. There are some dialects around Buzet that seem to be the remains of old Kajkavian-Chakavian transitional dialects (Jembrigh 2014).
Ikavian Chakavian has two branches – Southwestern Istrian and Southern Chakavian. The latter is heavily mixed with Shtokavian.
Some reports say there is difficult intelligibility between Ekavian Chakavian in the north and Ikavian Chakavian in the far south, but speakers of Labin Ekavian in the far north say they can understand the Southeastern Istrian speech of the southern islands very well (Jembrigh 2014).
Čakavian differs from the other nearby Slavic lects spoken in the country due to the presence of many Italian words.
Chakavian actually has a written heritage, but it was mostly written down long ago. Writing in Chakavian started very early in the Middle Ages and began to slow down in the 1500’s when writing in Kajkavian began to rise. However, Chakavian magazines are published even today (Jembrigh 2014).
Although Chakavian is clearly a separate language from Shtokavian Croatian, in Croatia it is said that there is only one Croatian language, and that is Shtokavian Croatian. The idea is that the Kajkavian and Chakavian languages simply do not exist, though obviously they are both separate languages. Recently a Croatian linguist forwarded a proposal to formally recognize Chakavian as a separate language, but the famous Croatian Slavicist Radoslav Katičić argued with him about this and rejected the proposal on political, not linguistic grounds. This debate occurred only in Croatian linguistic circles, and the public knows nothing about it (Jembrigh 2014).
Kajkavian Croatian, spoken in northwest Croatia and similar to Slovenian, is not intelligible with Standard Croatian.
Kajkavian is fairly uniform across its speech area, whereas Chakavian is more diverse (Jembrigh 2014).
In the 1500’s, Kajkavian began to be developed in a standard literary form. From the 1500’s to 1900, a large corpus of Kajkavian literature was written. Kajkavian was removed from public use after 1900, hence writing in the standard Kajkavian literary language was curtailed. Nevertheless, writing continues in various Kajkavian dialects which still retain some connection to the old literary language, although some of the  lexicon and grammar are going out (Jembrigh 2014).
Most Croatian linguists recognized Kajkavian as a separate language. However, any suggestions that Kajkavian is a separate language are censored on Croatian TV (Jembrigh 2014).
Nevertheless, the ISO has recently accepted a proposal from the Kajkavian Renaissance Association to list the Kajkavian literary language written from the 1500’s-1900 as a recognized language with an ISO code of kjv. The literary language itself is no longer written, but works written in it are still used in public for instance in dramas and church masses (Jembrigh 2014). This is heartening, although Kajkavian as an existing spoken lect also needs to be recognized as a living language instead of a dialect of “Croatian,” whatever that word means.
Furthermore, there is a dialect continuum between Kajkavian and Chakavian as there is between Kajkavian and Slovenian, and lects with a dialect continuum between them are always separate languages. There is an old Kajkavian-Chakavian dialect continuum of which little remains, although some of the old Kajkavian-Chakavian transitional dialects are still spoken (Jembrigh 2014).
Kajkavian differs from the other Slavic lects spoken in Croatia in that is has many Hungarian and German loans (Jembrigh 2014). Kajkavian is probably closer to Slovenian than it is to Chakavian.
Nevertheless, although intelligibility with Slovenian is high, Kajkavian lacks full intelligibility with Slovenian. Yet there is a dialect continuum between Slovenian and Kajkavian. Kajkavian, especially the Zagorje Kajkavian dialect around Zagreb, is close to the Stajerska dialect of Slovene. However, leaving aside Kajkavian speakers, Croatians have poor intelligibility of Slovenian.
Chakavian and Kajkavian have high, but not full mutual intelligibility. Intelligibility between the two is estimated at 82%.
Molise Croatian is a Croatian language spoken in a few towns in Italy, such as Acquaviva Collecroce and two other towns. A different dialect is spoken in each town. Despite a lot of commonality between the dialects, the differences between them are significant. A koine is currently under development. The Croatians left Croatia and came to Italy from 1400-1500. The base of Molise Croatian was Shtokavian with an Ikavian accent and a heavy Chakavian base similar to what is now spoken as Southern Kajkavian Ikavian on the islands of Croatia. Molise Croatian is not intelligible with Standard Croatian.
Burgenland Croatian, spoken in Austria, is intelligible to Croatian speakers in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, but it has poor intelligibility with the Croatian spoken in Croatia.
Therefore, for the moment, there are five separate Croatian languages: Shtokavian Croatian, Kajkavian Croatian, Chakavian Croatian, Molise Croatian, and Burgenland Croatian.
Serbian is a macrolanguage made up to two languages: Shtokavian Serbian and Torlak or Gorlak Serbian.
Shtokavian is simply the same Serbo-Croatian language that is also spoken in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia. It forms a single tongue and is not several separate languages as many insist. The claim for separate languages is based more on politics than on linguistic science.
Torlak Serbian is spoken in the south and southwest of Serbia and is transitional to Macedonian. It is not intelligible with Shtokavian, although this is controversial.
Torlakians are often said to speak Bulgarian, but this is not exactly the case. More properly, their speech is best seen as closer to Macedonian than to Bulgarian or Serbo-Croatian. The Serbo-Croatian vocabulary in both Macedonian and Torlakian is very similar, stemming from the political changes of 1912; whereas these words have changed more in Bulgarian.
The Torlakian spoken in the southeast is different. It is not really either Bulgarian or Serbo-Croatian, but instead it is best said that they are speaking a mixed Bulgarian-Serbo-Croatian language. In the towns of Pirot and Vranje, it cannot be said that they speak Serbo-Croatian; instead they speak this Bulgarian-Serbo-Croatian mixed speech.
It’s also said that Serbo-Croatian can understand Bulgarian and Macedonian, but this is not true. However, the Torlak Serbians can understand Macedonian well, as this is a Serbo-Croatian dialect transitional to both languages.
Intelligibility in the Slavic languages of the Balkans is much exaggerated.
Slovenian speakers find it hard to understand most of the other Yugoslav lects except for Kajkavian Croatian. Serbo-Croatian intelligibility of Slovenian is 25-30%.
A lect called Čičarija Slovenian is spoken on the Istrian Peninsula in Slovenia just north of Croatia. This is a Chakavian-Slovenian transitional lect that is hard to categorize, but it is usually considered to be a Slovenian dialect.
Bulgarian and Macedonian can understand each other to a great degree (65-80%) but not completely. However, the Ser-Drama-Lagadin-Nevrokop dialect in northeastern Greece and southern Bulgaria and the Maleševo-Pirin dialect in eastern Macedonia and western Bulgaria are transitional between Bulgarian and Macedonian. The Aegean Macedonian dialects mostly spoken in Greece, such as the Lerinsko-Kostursko and Solunsko-Vodenska dialects, sound more Bulgarian than Macedonian.
Russian has a decent intelligibility with Bulgarian, possibly on the order of 50%, but Bulgarian intelligibility of Russian seems lower. Nevertheless, Bulgarian-Russian intelligibility seems much exaggerated. Some Russians and Bulgarians say they understand almost nothing of the other language. Nevertheless, most Bulgarians over the age of 30-35 understand Russian well since studying Russian was mandatory under Communism.
However, Bulgarian-Russian written intelligibility is much higher. Bulgarian and Russian are close because the Ottoman rulers of Bulgaria would not allow printing in Bulgaria. Hence, many religious books were imported from Russia, and these books influenced Bulgarian. Russian influence only ended in 1878.
Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian have 10-15% oral intelligibility, however, there are Bulgarian dialects that are transitional with Torlak Serbian. Written intelligibility is higher at 25%. Macedonian and Bulgarian would be much closer together except that in recent years, Macedonian has been heavily influenced by Serbo-Croatian, and Bulgarian has been heavily influenced by Russian.
This difference is because Bulgarian is not spoken the same way it is written like Serbo-Croatian is. However, Bulgarians claim to be able to understand Serbo-Croatian better than the other way around. There is a group of Bulgarians living in Serbia in the areas of Bosilegrad and Dimitrovgrad who speak a Bulgarian-Serbian transitional dialect, and Serbs are able to understand these Bulgarians well.
Serbo-Croatian has variable intelligibility of Macedonian, averaging ~55%, while Nis Serbians have ~90% intelligibility with Macedonian. Part of the problem between Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian is that so many of the basic words – be, do, this, that, where – are different, however, much of the rest of the vocabulary is the same. Serbo-Croatian speakers can often learn to understand Macedonian well after some exposure.
Most Macedonians already are able to speak Serbo-Croatian well. This gives rise to claims of Macedonians being able to understand Serbo-Croatian very well, however, much of this may be due to bilingual learning. In fact, many Macedonians are switching away from the Macedonian language towards Serbo-Croatian.
The Macedonian spoken near the Serbian border is heavily influenced by Serbo-Croatian and is quite a bit different from the Macedonian spoken towards the center of Macedonia. One way to look at Macedonian is that it is a Serbo-Croatian-Bulgarian transitional lect. The intelligibility of Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian is highly controversial, and intelligibility studies are in order. Croats say Macedonian is a complete mystery to them.
Czech and Polish are incomprehensible to Serbo-Croatian speakers (Czech 10%, Polish 5%), but Serbo-Croatian has some limited comprehension of Slovak, on the order of 25%.
Serbo-Croatian and Russian have 10-15% intelligibility, if that, yet written intelligibility is higher at 25%.
Serbo-Croatian has only 20% intelligibility of Ukrainian.
Slovenians have a very hard time understanding Poles and Czechs and vice versa.
It’s often said that Czechs and Poles can understand each other, but this is not so. Much of the claimed intelligibility is simply bilingual learning. Czechs claim only 10-15% intelligibility of Polish.
The intelligibility of Polish and Russian is very low, on the order of 5-10%. Polish is not intelligible with Kashubian, a language related to Polish spoken in the north of Poland. Kashubian itself is a macrolanguage made up of two different languages, South Kashubian and North Kashubian, as the two have difficult intelligibility.
Silesian or Upper Silesian is also a separate language spoken in Poland, often thought to be halfway between Polish and Czech. It may have been split from Polish for up to 800 years, where it underwent heavy German influence. Polish lacks full intelligibility of Silesian, although this is controversial (see below). Some Poles say they find Silesian harder to understand than Belorussian or Slovak, which implies intelligibility of 20-25%.
The more German the Silesian dialect is, the harder it is for Poles to understand. In recent years, many of the German words are falling out of use and being replaced by Polish words, especially by young people. Poles who know German and Old Polish can understand Silesian quite well due to the Germanisms and the presence of many older Polish words, but Poles who speak only Polish have a hard time with Silesian.
Many Poles insist that Silesian is a Polish dialect, but this is based more on politics than reality. In fact, people in the north of Poland regard Silesian as incomprehensible. 40% of Silesian vocabulary is different from Polish, mostly Germanisms. The German influence is more prominent in the west; Polish influence is greater in the east. Many Silesian speakers now speak a watered down version of Silesian which is more properly seen as a Polish dialect with some Silesian words. Pure Silesian appears to be a dying language.
Silesian itself appears to be a macrolanguage as it is more than one language since as Opole Silesian speakers cannot understand Katowice Silesian, so Opole Silesian and Katowice Silesian are two different languages.
Cieszyn Silesian or Ponaszymu is a language closely related to Silesian spoken in Czechoslovakia in the far northeast of the country near the Polish and Slovak borders. It differs from the rest of Silesian in that it has undergone heavy Czech influence. Some say it is a part of Czech, but more likely it is a part of Polish like Silesian.
People observing conversation between Cieszyn Silesian and Upper Silesian report that they have a hard time understanding each other. Cieszyn Silesian speakers strongly reject the notion that they speak the same language as Upper Silesians. Ponaszymu also has many Germanisms which have been falling out of use lately, replaced by their Czech equivalents. Ponaszymu appears to lack full intelligibility with Czech. In fact, some say the intelligibility between the two is near zero.
Lach is a Czech-Polish transitional lect with a close relationship with Cieszyn Silesian. However, it appears to be a separate language, as Lach is not even intelligible within itself. Instead Eastern Lach and Western Lach have difficult intelligibility and are separate languages, so Lach itself is a macrolanguage. Lach is not fully intelligible with Czech; indeed, the differences between Lach and Czech are greater than the differences between Silesian and Polish, despite the fact that Lach has been heavily leveling into Moravian Czech for the last 100 years.
Czechs say Lach is a part of Czech, and Poles say Lach is a part of Polish. The standard view among linguists seems to be that Lach is a part of Czech. However, another view is that Lach is indeed Lechitic, albeit with strong Czech influence.
It is often said that Ukrainian and Russian are intelligible with each other or even that they are the same language (a view perpetuated by Russian nationalists). It is not true at all that Ukrainian and Russian are mutually intelligible, as Russian only has 50% intelligibility of Ukrainian. For example, all Russian shows get subtitles on Ukrainian TV. Yet some say that the subtitles are simply put on as a political move due to Ukraine’s puristic language policy. Ukrainian and Russian only have 60% lexical similarity. Polish and Ukrainian have higher lexical similarity at 72%, and Ukrainian intelligibility of Polish is ~50%+.
However, there are dialects in between Ukrainian and Russian such as the Eastern Polissian and Slobozhan dialects of Ukrainian that are intelligible with both languages. Complicating the picture is the fact that many Ukrainians are bilingual and speak Russian also. Ukrainians can understand Russian much better than the other way around. Nevertheless Ukrainian intelligibility of Russian is hard to calculate because presently there are few Ukrainians in Ukraine who do not speak Russian. Most of the Ukrainian speakers who do not speak Russian are in Canada at the moment.
In addition, the Slobozhan dialects of Ukrainian and Russian such as (Slobozhan Ukrainian and Slobozhan Russian) spoken in Kantemirov (Voronezhskaya Oblast, Russia), and Kuban Russian or Balachka spoken in the Kuban area right over the eastern border of Ukraine are very close to each other. Slobozhan Russian can also be called Kuban Russian or Balachka.
It is best seen as a Ukrainian dialect spoken in Russia – specifically, it is markedly similar to the Poltavian dialect of Ukrainian spoken in Poltava in Central Ukraine. Although the standard view is that Balachka is a Ukrainian dialect, some linguists say that it is actually a separate language closely related to Ukrainian. An academic paper has been published making the case for a separate Balachka language. In addition, Balachka language associations believe it is a separate language. Intelligibility between Balachka and Ukrainian is not known. Russian only has 60% intelligibility of Balachka.
However, Balachka is dying out and is now spoken only by a few old people. Most people in the region speak Russian with a few Ukrainian words.
Slobozhan Russian is very close to Ukrainian, closer to Ukrainian than it is to Russian, and Slobozhan Ukrainian is very close to Russian, closer to Russian than to Ukrainian. Slobozhan Ukrainian speakers in this region find it easier to understand their Russian neighbors than the Upper Dnistrian Ukrainian spoken in the far west in the countryside around Lviv. Upper Dnistrian is influenced by German and Polish.
The Russian language in the Ukraine has been declining recently mostly because since independence, the authorities have striven to make the new Ukrainian as far away from Russian as possible by adopting the Kharkiv Standard adopted in 1927 and jettisoning the 1932 Standard which brought Ukrainian more in line with Russian. For instance, in 1932, Ukrainian g was eliminated from the alphabet in order to make Ukrainian h correspond perfectly with Russian g. After 1991, the g returned to Ukrainian. Hence, Russians understand the colloquial Ukrainian spoken in the countryside pretty well, but they understand the modern standard heard on TV much less. This is because colloquial Ukrainian is closer to the Ukrainian spoken in the Soviet era which had huge Russian influence.
The intelligibility of Belarussian with both Ukrainian and Russian is a source of controversy. On the one hand, Belarussian has some dialects that are intelligible with some dialects of both Russian and Ukrainian. For instance, West Palesian is a transitional Belarussian dialect to Ukrainian. Some say that West Palesian is actually a separate language, but the majority of Belarussian linguists say it is a dialect of Belarussian (Mezentseva 2014). Belarussian and Ukrainian have 85% similar vocabulary.
Russian has high intelligibility of Belarussian, on the order of 75%. Belarussian is nonetheless a separate language from both Ukrainian and Russian.
From some reason, the Hutsul, Lemko, and Boiko dialects of the Rusyn language are much more comprehensible to Russians than Standard Ukrainian is. Intelligibility may be 85%.
The Lemko dialect of Rusyn has only marginal intelligibility with Ukrainian. Lemko is spoken heavily in Poland, and it differs from Standard Rusyn in that it has a lot of Polish vocabulary, whereas Standard Rusyn has more influences from Hungarian and Romanian.
The Rusyn language is composed of 50% Slovak roots and 50% Ukrainian roots, so some difficult intelligibility with Ukrainian might be expected. It has also been described as a transitional dialect between Polish and Slovak. Eastern Slovak has ~80% intelligibility of Rusyn.
Pannonian Rusyn is spoken by a group of Rusyns who migrated to northwestern Serbia (the Bachka region in Vojvodina province) and Eastern Croatia from Eastern Slovakia and Western Ukraine 250 years ago. Pannonian Rusyn is actually a part of Slovak, and Rusyn proper is really a part of Ukrainian. Pannonian Rusyn lacks full intelligibility of Rusyn proper. Not only that, but it is not even fully intelligible with the Eastern Slovak that it resembles most.
The intelligibility of Czech and Slovak is much exaggerated. It is true that Western Slovak dialects can understand Czech well, but Central Slovak, Eastern Slovak and Extraslovakian Slovak dialects cannot.
It is also said that West Slovak (Bratislava) cannot understand East Slovak, so Slovak may actually two different languages, but this is controversial. Western Slovak speakers say Eastern Slovak sounds idiotic and ridiculous, and some words are different, but other than that, they can basically understand it. Other Western Slovak speakers (Bratislava) say that Eastern Slovak (Kosice) is hard to understand. Bratislava speakers say that Kosice speech sounds half Slovak and half Ukrainian and uses many odd and unfamiliar words. Intelligibility testing between East and West Slovak would seem to be in order.
Much of the claimed intelligibility between Czech and Slovak was simply bilingual learning. Since the breakup, young Czechs and Slovaks understand each other worse since they have less contact with each other. In the former Czechoslovakia, everything was 50-50 bilingual – media, literature, etc. Since then, Slovak has been disappearing from the Czech Republic, so the younger people don’t understand Slovak so well.
Intelligibility problems are mostly on the Czech end because they don’t bother to learn Slovak while many Slovaks learn Czech. There is as much Czech literature and media as Slovak literature and media in Slovakia, and many Slovaks study at Czech universities. When there, they have to pass a language test. Czechs hardly ever study at Slovak universities.
Czechs see Slovaks as country bumpkins – backwards and folksy but optimistic, outgoing and friendly. Czechs are more urbane. The written languages differ much more than the spoken ones.
The languages really split about 1,000 years ago, but written Slovak was based on written Czech, and there was a lot of interlingual communication. A Moravian Czech speaker (Eastern Czech) and a Bratislavan Slovak (Western Slovak) speaker understand each other very well. They are essentially speaking the same language.
However, in recent years, there has also been quite a bit of bilingual learning. Young Czechs and Slovaks talk to each other a lot via the Internet. There are also some TV shows that show Czech and Slovak contestants untranslated (like in Sweden where Norwegian comics perform untranslated), and most people seem to understand these shows.
All foreign movies in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are translated into Czech, not Slovak.
Far Northeastern Slovak (Saris Slovak) near the Polish border is close to Polish and Ukrainian. Intelligibility data for Saris Slovak and Ukrainian is not known. Saris Slovak has high but not complete intelligibility of Polish, possibly 85%. Eastern Slovak may have 72% intelligibility of Ukrainian.
Southern Slovak on the Hungarian border has a harder time understanding Polish because they do not hear it much. This implies that some of the high intelligibility between Slovak and Polish may be due to bilingual learning on the part of Slovaks.
Russian has low intelligibility with Czech and Slovak, maybe 30%.


Jembrigh, Mario. Croatian linguist. December 2014. Personal communication.
Mezentseva, Inna. English professor. Vitebsk State University. Vitebsk, Belarus. December 2014. Personal communication.
If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a contribution to support the continuation of the site. Donations are the only thing that keep the site operating.

How Learning One Language Well Helps You Learn Others

Repost from the old site.
In the comments, the ever-perceptive dano notes:

dano: The thing is, I’ve found that once you learn to speak a European language, and particularly a Latin-based one, you see similarities in many words across the board and a rough kind of pattern emerges, making it easier to learn more languages.

Dano is correct – once you learn one Romance language, you can learn others. Also, the better you know English, the more easily you can learn a Romance language because so many English words have Latin roots. I also have knowledge of Proto Indo-European, so I can see roots that go back even farther back than Latin.
It helps to learn Greek and Latin roots in English. That way you can pick up more English words that you don’t know just by figuring out roots. Also it helps a lot with Romance languages.
Let’s try a little experiment. I know English very well, including many obscure terms, and I am familiar with many Latin roots. I know Spanish pretty well. I know a tiny bit of French and know a few words in Indo-European. With that knowledge, let us see how far that will get me in Venetian, a language I had never heard of before, and Italian, a language I have never been able to make heads or tails of.
Comparison of Venetian and Italian with English, Spanish, French and Indo-European
Venetian grasa, Spanish “grasa”, English “gross” fat, corpulent
Venetian can, Indo-European “kuon”, French “chien”, English “canine”, “hound”, dog
Venetian çena, Spanish “cena”, dinner
Venetian scóła, Spanish “escuela”, English “school”
Venetian bała, Spanish “bala”, English “ball”
Venetian pena, English “pen”
Venetian bìsi, English “peas”
Venetian diałeto, Spanish “dialecto “, English “dialect”
Venetian sgnape, English “schnapps”
Venetian scóndar, Spanish “esconder”, English, “abscond”, to hide, to depart rapidly to avoid persecution
Venetian baxar, Spanish “besar”, English “buss”, to kiss, kiss
Venetian dormir, Spanish “dormir”, English “dormitory”, to sleep
Venetian pàre, Spanish “padre”, English “patrilineal”, father, in the father’s family line
Venetian parlar, French “parler”, English “parlance”, to speak, way of speaking
Venetian scusàr, Spanish “excusar”, English “to excuse”, to forgive
Venetian aver, Spanish “haber”, English “to have,” to possess
Venetian essar, Spanish “estar”, to be, English “essence,” essential quality of a thing
Venetian sentir, Spanish “sentir”, English, “sentiments”, to feel, feelings
Venetian venir, Spanish “venir”, to come
Venetian cantar, Spanish “cantar”, English “cantata”, to sing, song, “canto,” a type of lyric poetry,
Venetian vaca, Spanish “vaca”, cow
Venetian vardar, Spanish “guardar”, English “to guard”, to look, to guard
Venetian sghiràt, English “squirrel”
Venetian récia, Spanish “orecha,” English “ear”
Venetian plàstega, Spanish “plastica”, English “plastic”
Italian forchetta, English “fork”
Italian ratto, Spanish “raton”, English “rat”
Italian pipistrello, English “pipistrelle”, bat, a type of bat
Italian asino, English “ass”, donkey
Venetian mustaci, English “mustache”
Italian io, Spanish “yo”, English “I”
Venetian mare, Spanish “madre”, mother, English “matriarchal”, rule by women
Italian uscita, English, “exit”
Venetian fiól, English “filial”, son, relating to a son or daughter
Italian quando, Spanish “cuando”, when
Venetian cascàr, English “cascade”, to fall, waterfall
Venetian trón, English “throne,” chair, king’s chair
Venetian bèver, Spanish “beber”, English “to imbibe”, to drink
Venetian trincàr, English “to drink”
Venetian òcio, Spanish “ojo”, English “ocular”, eye, of the eye
Venetian morsegàr, English “morsel”, to bite, a bite
Venetian nome, Spanish “nombre”, English “name”
Venetian solo, Spanish “solo”, English “solo”, only, alone
Venetian grande, Spanish “grande”, English “grand” big, great
Italian piccante, Spanish “picante”, English “piquant”, spicy hot
Venetian cale, Spanish “calle,” street
Venetian łéngua, Spanish “lengua”, English “language”
Venetian senpre, Spanish “siempre”, always
Venetian mar, Spanish “mar”, English “maritime”, sea, of the sea
Venetian nostre, Spanish “nuestro”, our
Venetian vite, Spanish “vida”, English, “vital”, life, living
Venetian virtuosi, Spanish “virtuoso”, English “virtuous”
Venetian serae, Spanish “seria”, would be
Venetian spirito, Spanish “espiritu”, English “spirit”, ghost, spirit
Venetian segura, Spanish “seguro”, English “secure”, safety, safe
Venetian robar, Spanish “robar”, English “to rob”, to loot, to steal
Venetian mal, Spanish “mal”, English “malevolent”, bad, evil-minded
As we can see, there is a huge amount of similarity between Venetian, an obscure language I had never heard of, and Spanish and English. Even the frightening Italian has quite a few Spanish and English cognates. Learning one foreign language, or even learning your own language very well, really does help you to learn even more languages so much more easily. Go ahead and give it a shot!

English Attacking Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia

English is the global destroyer, taking out native languages here and there, right and left, over there and over here. I’ve never heard of it damaging actual national languages yet.

Looks like it’s going to town on Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) somewhat. Pretty weird when people in either speaking the national language poorly or not at all. Actually, it ridiculous. It’s like Ireland all over again, this time shamrocks in Bali.

Polyglots – Riccardo Bertani

Polyglots are very interesting people. A polyglot is one who can speak more than 10 languages well. A great list of polyglots is here. The ability to be a polyglot seems to have a lot to do with genetics. Some people simply have an ear for languages. On dissection of the brains of some polyglots after death, it was found that their language centers were unusually developed.
Many polyglots are also good at music. This is because a language is basically musical in a lot of ways. Rhythm and cadence have a lot more to do with language than we realize.
Famous polyglots often go to a new country and pick up the language in a few weeks.
This series will look at some polyglots.
Riccardo Bertani (bio translated from the Italian here) is 75 years old and despite being a great autodidact, does not yet wear glasses, even to read. He lived with his mother and two cats his whole life (typical unmarried Italian man in that sense) and he has almost never left his home area of Reggio in the Province of Emilio-Romagnolo in northern Italy.
A confirmed eccentric, he wakes up at 3 AM and studies until 9 AM every day. Then he goes about his chores, especially enjoying puttering about the garden.
The house is strange. Books and manuscripts are everywhere. An old heater has blackened the ceiling, but he has not bothered to replace it. He has raised goats his whole life, and he’s never held a professorship. In addition to his linguistic scholarship, he is also an expert on toponymy and the science of beekeeping.
Riccardo Bertani, incredibly enough, is able to read to and write to some extent over 100 different languages. He can’t speak them as well as he can read and write them, mostly because he has not been to the places where they are spoken to practice. In fact, he has seldom left Reggio. Well, once, he avers, he did go to Florence. That’s about 150 miles away. That’s about as far away as he has ever been from home.
In his 20’s, son of a Communist mayor, he taught himself Russian. In a few months, he learned it and was also translating Ukrainian. He speaks, among other languages, Italian, Reggiano Emilian (his native language), Russian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Etrurian, Lithuanian, Persian, Basque, Ainu, Etruscan, Mongolian, Mayan, Chechen, Yukaghir, Rutul (a Caucasian language), Karelian, Arabic, Gothic, Lombard, Oroch (a Tungus language of Siberia), Samoyedic and Saami.

Polyglots – Ken Hale

Polyglots are very interesting people. A polyglot is one who can speak more than 10 languages well. A great list of polyglots is here. The ability to be a polyglot seems to have a lot to do with genetics. Some people simply have an ear for languages. On dissection of the brains of some polyglots after death, it was found that their language centers were unusually developed.
Many polyglots are also good at music. This is because a language is basically musical in a lot of ways. Rhythm and cadence have a lot more to do with language than we realize.
Famous polyglots often go to a new country and pick up the language in a few weeks.
This series will look at some polyglots.
The first in the series will profile Ken Hale, a famous linguist who died in 2001.
One famous polyglot was Ken Hale, a linguist. He spoke more than 50 languages, including very strange ones like Warlpiri, Nggoth, Aranda, Kaitish, Warramunga, Loritja and Lardil, Aborigine languages, Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Jemez, Wampanoag, Navajo, Miskitu and Winnebago, American Indian languages, and Dagur, a Mongolian language. He also spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish, Basque, Mandarin, Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, Igbo, French, Hebrew and Polish, and at least 19 more.
He could pick up languages very quickly. A speaker of an American Indian language sat down in Ken’s room and started explaining his language to Hale. Within two hours, Hale was conversing in full sentences with the man.
Once Hale went to teach a course in Amsterdam. He got a book on Dutch and studied it on the plane trip over. When he landed, he met his Dutch guests and pointed out the errors in the book. He had already figured out enough Dutch to figure out how the book was wrong. Within a week, a Dutch professor at the university walked by a room to hear a professor teaching a course about American Indian languages in fluent Dutch. Wondering who he was, the professor looked in. It was Hale. His Dutch, said the professor, was flawless.
Hale’s Mandarin was also said to be immaculate, as was his Navajo and his Papago. He spoke Warlpiri so well that in Aboriginal villages where people spoke Warlpiri, Hale would walk up to Aboriginal women and start speaking to them in Warlpiri. It was so weird to hear a White man speaking Warlpiri perfectly that they dropped all of the stuff they had just bought at the store and took off running away, as if they had seen a ghost.
Hale landed on a plane in Norway once, and got off speaking flent Norwegian. His Norwegian hosts asked him how he spoke it so well, and he said he had spent some time in Denmark a while back. Incredibly, Hale was even able to master Basque. The Basque language is so hard that the joke goes that the Devil was given 7 years to learn Basque and at the end of the 7 years, he only knew how to say Yes, No, Hello and Goodbye.