Arabic, French and English Versions of ISIS’ Claim of Responsibility for the Paris Terror Attacks

The initial statement was released in French and Arabic:

Here is the Arabic version first:

Original Arabic version.
Original Arabic version.

The following is the French version:

French version.
French version.

It’s not perfect, but this is the best English translation I could come up with.

In the name of Allah the merciful, the very merciful Allah:

Allah the transcendent has said: And they thought their fortresses would truly shelter them against Allah, but Allah came to them from where they didn’t expect and put terror in their hearts. He demolished their houses by their own hands as well as those of the believers. Learn this lesson, ye who is blessed with foresight. Surat fifty nine second verse

In a holy attack made possible through Allah, a group of believers and soldiers of the Caliphate, from the Caliphate – blessed with power and triumph be it through Allah – targeted the capital of abominations and perversion, the one which bears the banner of the cross in Europe: Paris.

A group which tore asunder its earthly ties chased the foe, searching for death on the path of Allah for the sake of His faith, His prophets and His allies, and the willing humiliation His enemies. They have been true to Allah, and true we consider them. Allah has conquered by their hand, and instigated fears in the hearts of the Crusaders in their own land.

Eight brothers wearing explosive belts and bearing assault rifles attacked precisely chosen determined places in the heart of the French capital.

The targets were the Stade de France during a match between opposing Crusader countries, France and Germany, which was attended by the fool of France, François Hollande; the Bataclan, where hundreds of heathens were gathered for a most perverse party; and many in the 10th, 11th and 12th arondissements simultaneously. Paris has trembled under their feet, and the streets tightened in their wakes. The death toll is at least two hundred Crusaders with many more wounded, glory and praise be to Allah.

Allah made it easy for our brothers by allowing them martyrdom, so their explosive belts went off on the heathens when the ammunition ran out. May Allah accept them among the martyrs and allow us to join them.

France and those who tread its path must know that they remain the main targets of the Islamic State and that they will continue to smell the stench of death for having led the Crusade, insulted our Prophet (PBUH), and boasted about fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes which were of no help in the reeking streets of Paris. This attack is only the beginning of the storm and a warning to those who heed the lesson to be learned.

Allah is the greatest. And power be to Allah and to his messenger as well as believers. But the hypocrites may never know. Surat 63 verse 8.

A Look at the French Language

From here.
A look at the French language from the viewpoint of an English speaker trying to learn the language. French is one of the hardest Romance languages to learn.
French is pretty easy to learn at a simple level, but it’s not easy to get to an advanced level. For instance, the language is full of idioms, many more than your average language, and it’s often hard to figure them out.
One problem is pronunciation. There are many nasal vowels, similar to Portuguese. The eu, u and all of the nasal vowels can be Hell for the learner. There is also a strange uvular r. The dictionary does not necessarily help you, as the pronunciation stated in the dictionary is often at odds with what you will find on the street.
There is a phenomenon called liaisons, or enchantainment in French, which is similar to sandhi in which vowels elide between words in fast speech. There are actually rules for this sort of thing, but the rules are complicated, and at any rate, the liaisons themselves are either obligatory, permitted or forbidden depending on the nature of the words being run together, and it is hard to remember which category various word combinations fall under.
The orthography is also difficult since there are many sounds that are written but no longer pronounced, as in English. Also similar to English, orthography does not line up with pronunciation. For instance, there are 13 different ways to spell the o sound: o, ot, ots, os, ocs, au, aux, aud, auds, eau, eaux, ho and ö.
In addition, spoken French and written French can be quite different. Spoken French uses words and phrases such as c’est foututhe job will not be done, and on which you might never see in written French.
The English language, having no Language Committee, at least has an excuse for the frequently irrational nature of its spelling.
The French have no excuse, since they have a committee that is set up in part to keep the language as orthographically irrational as possible. One of their passions is refusing to change the spelling of words even as pronunciation changes, which is the opposite of what occurs in any sane spelling reform. So French is, like English, frozen in time, and each one has probably gone as long as the other with no spelling reform.
Furthermore, to make matters worse, the French are almost as prickly about writing properly as they are about speaking properly, and you know how they are about foreigners mangling their language.
Despite the many problems of French orthography, there are actually some rules running under the whole mess, and it is quite a bit more sensible than English orthography, which is much more chaotic.
French has a language committee that is always inventing new native French words to keep out the flood of English loans. They have a website up with an official French dictionary showing the proper native coinages to use. Another one for computer technology only is here.
On the plus side, French has a grammar that is neither simple nor difficult; that, combined with a syntax is pretty straightforward and a Latin alphabet make it relatively easy to learn for most Westerners. In addition, the English speaker will probably find more instantly recognizable cognates in French than in any other language.
A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than English. Verbs change much more, and it has grammatical gender. There are 15 tenses in the verb, 18 if you include the pluperfect and the Conditional Perfect 2 (now used only in Literary French) and the past imperative (now rarely used). That is quite a few tenses to learn, but Spanish and Portuguese have similar situations.
French is one of the toughest languages to learn in the Romance family. In many Internet threads about the hardest language to learn, many language learners list French as their most problematic language.
A good case can be made that French is harder to learn than Italian in that French children do not learn to write French properly until age 12-13, six years after Italian children.
This is due to the illogical nature of French spelling discussed above such that the spelling of many French words must be memorized as opposed to applying a general sound-symbol correspondence rule. In addition, French uses both acute and grave accents – `´.
French gets a 3 rating for average difficulty.

Check Out Siculo Gallo-Italic

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-K9tkpCUdo]
These are fascinating Romance dialects spoken in Sicily. The are called the Gallo-Italic dialects of Sicily. Some of them are also found in other parts of Italy, mostly in the far south in Basilicata.
Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in far north of Italy and are so called because there is heavy French influence on these Italian varieties. They include Venetian, East and West Lombard, Piedmontese, Ligurian, Emilian and Romagnolo.
In the 1100’s and 1200’s, Sicily was ruled by Norman rulers from the north of France. They had conquered much of Italy, and were in control of parts of the north also. In order perhaps to consolidate their rule in Sicily, which they had just conquered, they sent some Norman soldiers to Sicily to help populate the region and set up Norman outposts there.
These were mostly soldiers from the southern Piedmont (Monferrate)  and Ligurian (Oltregiogo) regions of Italy and from the Provencal area in the south of France. There were also a few from the Lombard region and other parts of northern Italy. They went down there with their families and formed a number of settlements in Sicily and a few other places in Italy.
Over the next 800 years, their Gallo-Italic language came under heavy influence of varieties of Sicilian in Sicily, Basilicatan in Basilicata and other languages in other parts of Italy. Yet the heavy Gallo-Italic nature of their lects remains to this day and Sicilian speakers of surrounding villages find Gallo-Italic speakers impossible to understand.
The dialects have tended to die out somewhat in the past 100 years. Villagers were tired of speaking a language that could not be understood outside the village and increasingly shifted to the Sicilian language. A situation of bilingualism in Gallo-Italic and Sicilian developed. Over time, this became trilingualism as children learned Standard Italian in school. Gallo-Italic was used inside the village itself, and Sicilian was used for communication with outsiders.
Whether or not Gallo-Italic lects in different parts of Sicily can understand each other is not known, but they have all undergone independent paths of development over 800 years or so. The same is also an up in the air question about Basilicatan Gallo-Italic and Gallo-Italic settlements in other parts of the country. This is an interesting question in need of linguistic research.
In this 1 1/2 minute video, I am not sure if I understood a single word he said. The language he is speaking sounds like a mixture of Provencal Piedmontese with a heavy dose of Sicilian. Sicilian itself is so odd that a Sicilian speaker can barely be understood at all outside of Sicily. It has at least 250,000 words, 25% of which have no equivalent in Standard Italian. It underwent heavy French, Spanish and especially Greek and Arabic influences.

Mutual Intelligiblility in the Romance Family (Reading)

Just a personal anecdote. I have been reading a lot of Italian lately (with the help of Google Translate). I already read Spanish fairly well. I have studied French, Portuguese and Italian, and I can read Portuguese and French to some extent, Portuguese better than French.
But I confess that I am quite lost with Italian. This is worse than French and worse than Portuguese. A couple weeks of wading through this stuff hasn’t made me understand it any better.
Portuguese and Galician are said to be so close that they are a single language. I don’t agree with that at all, but they are very close, much closer to Spanish and Portuguese. Intelligibility may be on the order of 80-90%.
Nevertheless, the other day I tried to read a journal article on Galician. It looked like it was written in Portuguese, and who would write in Galician anyway? I copied the whole thing into Google Translate and let it ride. I waded through the whole article, and I must say it was a disaster. I had a very hard time understanding many of the main points of the article.
Then I remembered that Translate works on Galician now, so I decided on an off chance that the guy may have written the piece in Galician for some nutty reason. I ran it through Translate using Galician as target. The article went through perfectly. You could understand the whole thing. It was then that I realized how far apart Portuguese and Galician really are.
You can try some other experiments.
Occitan is said to be nearly intelligible with Spanish or maybe even French, better if you know both. There’s no Google Translate for Occitan yet, but I had to deal with a lot of Occitan texts recently. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them despite by Romance reading background. So I tried using Translate to turn them into Spanish or French. French was a total wreck, and there was no point even bothering with that. Spanish was much better, but even that was a serious mess.
Now we come to the crux. Catalan and Occitan are said to be so close that they are nearly one language. Translate now works in Catalan. So I ran the Occitan texts through Translate using Catalan. The result was a serious mess, but you could at least understand some of what the Occitan texts were about. But no way on Earth were those the same languages.
People keep saying that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese. It’s not true, but you can see why people say it. Try this. Take a Spanish text and run it through Translate using the Portuguese filter. Now take a Portuguese text and run it through Translate using the Spanish filter. See what a mess you end up with!
Despite the fact that I can read Spanish pretty well, I have tried to read texts in Aragonese, Asturian, Extremaduran, Leonese and Mirandese. These are so close that some even say that they are dialects of Spanish. But even if you read Spanish, you can’t really read any of those languages, and they are all separate languages, I assure you. Sure, you get some of it, but not enough, and it’s a very frustrating experience.
There are texts on the Net in something called Churro or Xurro. It’s a Valencian-Aragonese transitional dialect spoken around Teruel in Aragon in Spain. It also has a lot of Old Castillian and a ton of regular Castillian in it. Wikipedia will tell you it’s a Spanish dialect. Running it through both the Spanish and Catalan filters didn’t work and ended up with train wrecks. I doubt if Xurro is a dialect of either Catalan or Spanish. It’s probably a separate language.
There is another odd lect spoken in the same region called Chappurriau. It is spoken in Aguaviva in Teruel in the Franca Strip. The Catalans say these people speak Catalan, but the speakers say that their language is not Catalan. Intelligibility with Catalan is said to be good. So effectively this is a Catalan dialect.
I found some Chappurriau texts on the Net and ran them through Translate using Catalan as the output. The result was an unreadable disaster, and I couldn’t really figure out what they were saying. Then I tried the Spanish filter, and that was even worse. I am starting to think that maybe Chappurriau is a separate language as its speakers say and not a Catalan dialect after all.
I conclude that the ability to cross read across the Romance languages is much exaggerated.
Not only that, but many Romance microlanguages, transitional dialects and lects that are supposedly dialects of larger languages may actually be separate languages.

How To Divide Languages from Dialects – Structure or Intelligibility?

There are many ways of dividing languages from dialects. The three general methods are:

1. Historical

2. Structural

3. Intelligibility

The traditional method has tended to utilize structural and sometimes historical, but intelligibility is also often used. For an example of historical, let us look at some lects in France and Spain.

The various “patois” of French, incorrectly called dialects of French, are more properly called the langues d’oil. It is often said that they are not dialtects of French for historical reasons. Each of the major langues d’oil, instead of breaking off from French Proper (really the Parisien langue d’oil) had a separate genesis.

This is what happened. France was originally Celtic speaking. Around 700-800, the Celtic languages began being replaced by vulgar Latin. People didn’t travel around in those days, so a separate form of vulgar Latin + Celtic evolved in each region of France: Gallo and Angevin in the northwest, Poitevin and Saintongeais in the west, Norman and Picard in the north, Champenois, Franche-Compte and Lorrain in the east, Berrichon, Tourangeau and Orleanais in the center. None of these split off from French (Parisien)!

Each one of them evolved independently straight up from vulgar Latin on top of  a Celtic base in their region from 700-1200 or so. The distance between the langues d’oil and French is almost as deep as between English and Frisian.

After French was made the official language of France in 1539, the langues d’oil came under French influence, but that was just borrowing, not genetics.

In addition, in Spain, there are various languages that are not historically related to Spanish. Aragonese is straight up from vulgar Latin on a Basque base, later influenced by Mozarabic. Catalan started evolving around 700 or so. Murcian evolved from vulgar Latin later influenced by Mozarabic, Catalan and Aragonese. Extremaduran, Leonese and Asturian also broke off very early. None of these are historically Spanish dialects because none of them broke away from Spanish!

Of course it follows that langues d’oil, Catalan and Aragonese, evolving independently of French and Spanish from 700-1200 to present, will have deep structural differences between themselves and French and Spanish.

So you can see that the historical way of splitting languages ties in well with the structural method. Where languages have a deep historical split and a millenia or so of independent development, it follows logically that some deep structural differences would have evolved in a thousand years or so. So these two methods are really wrapping around each other.

Now we get to intelligibility. Intelligibility actually ties in well to structural analyses. Linguists who say we divide on structure and not on intelligibility are being silly. Where you have deep structural differences between Lect A and Lect B, it logically follows that you have intelligibility problems. Profound structural differences between two lects makes it hard for one to understand the other. The differential structure really gets in the way of understanding. So once again, one method is wrapping around the other.

As we can see, historical, structural and intelligibility analyses of splitting languages all tend to be part of the same process, that is, they are all talking about the same thing. And they will tend to reach similar conclusions when it comes to splitting languages.

What Languages Are You Studying?

Please feel free to update us on your current language learning endeavors, if they exist.

As for me:

English: Native speaker, no need to study anything. In fact, it’s unusual that I run across a word that I don’t know. The most recent one was analphabetism. I bet you don’t know what that means.

Spanish: I have been studying Spanish on and off since I was 6 years old. Studying Spanish is more or less of an ongoing thing with me. We have a lot of bilingual signs and prinouts in our area. I often read them with the English translations to bone up on my Spanish.

I could do better. There is a bilingual newspaper that is issued around here for free, but I never bother to pick it up.

Part of the problem is that when you are as good at Spanish as I am, learning more Spanish (such as reading Spanish papers) is really a serious drag. Spanish as written down especially in papers does not translate literally. Not only are there a ton of not commonly used words, but there are also a lot of figures of speech. In addition, there are lots of phrases, that, when looking at the Spanish and then at the English, one wonders how they managed to go from one to the other. The Spanish-English translation is not transparent at all.

As you learn Portuguese, French and Italian, it only helps you with your Spanish, though the assistance is not obvious. After a while, all Romance just starts running together. You might as well just study Latin and get it over with.

I speak Spanish to Spanish speakers around here on a regular basis. It’s a lot of fun, and they really appreciate if you can speak three words of their language, unlike the French.

The Spanish-speakers who are actually born in Mexico appreciate it a lot more than the ones who are born in the US. I am not sure why that is, but in so many ways, Hispanics who were born in Latin America are much better people than Hispanics who were born on the US. It’s popular to dog on Latin America, but Latin American Hispanic culture is much superior to US Hispanic culture.

There are deep elements of respect, pride, kindness, brotherhood, politeness and dignity present in Latin American Hispanic culture that are almost neutered in US Hispanic culture. US Hispanics are pretty much just typical asshole Americans, except that they happen to be Hispanics. And in many ways, such as the lumpenization of their culture, US Hispanics are actually worse than the rest of Americans.

I’m not sure what it is with US Hispanics, but something has gone terribly wrong. They’ve lost most of what’s grand about Latin American culture, and they’ve replaced it with what’s worst about US culture, in addition to concocting up various cultural poisons of their own. It’s cultural mongrelization of the worst sort, all of the bad, none of the good and a bunch of new innovations, almost all bad.

Portuguese: Past. I studied it a bit in the past when I was hanging around with this Brazilian woman. Now I’ve given it up. I am already studying Spanish and French, and after a while, you are just studying too many Romance languages. The words are so similar that you start getting them all tangled up in your head. You go to say a Spanish word and you say the Portuguese, Italian or French word instead. If you have some Spanish (especially), French and Italian, you get lots of help with Portuguese.

Italian: I study this language a little bit, but not too much. I am not very good at it, but it’s interesting. If you know some French, Spanish and Portuguese, you can go a long way with Italian.

French: My latest fetish is French. I am not very good at it, so I am at the point where learning the language is fun because you’re always learning new stuff. I have blown off verbs and just concentrate on vocabulary. Verbal conjugations in Romance languages suck anyway. Even in Spanish, they can be quite complex.

German: Past. Mostly I just picked up some basic vocabulary. Attempts to run beyond that, I am afraid, run into Hell. I understand that they still have case, and that the nouns are pretty crazy. There are supposedly other difficult aspects of this language, but I am not sure what they are. Learning basic vocabulary is pretty fun though.

That’s about it. For the most part, as a language learner, I concentrate on the Romance languages. They are difficult enough, believe me! Going beyond Romance seems like a gigantic PITA to me. You’re pretty much traveling to whole new planets. Why bother when Romance is hard enough as it is?

Check Out Arpitan

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChH5xBq1VTg&feature=related]

This is the first I have ever heard of the Arpitan language. This segment is the Evolénard dialect spoken in the Valais region of Switzerland. This language sounds completely strange to me. Every now and then, it sounds something like French, but mostly it’s just sui generis. I could not pick up one word of this.

Arpitan split from proto-langue d’oil around 800-900. This is really the intermediate langue between North Gallo-Romance and South Gallo-Romance.

What is Gallo-Romance? Gallo-Romance is that branch of Romance that is derived from the Vulgar Latin that arose from Gaullic speaking regions. The north went to the langues d’oil and French. Langues d’oil started to split around 900 or so. The south went to Rhaetian in the Alps -Romansch and Ladin and the Gallo-Romance languages of northern Italy. It is true – the Italian languages of northern Italy are closer to French than they are to Italian.

Arpitan is said to retain a strong resemblance to Latin itself – it is very archaic.

Threatened Languages of France

The French Constitution declares that French is the only language of France. Although France has declared some regional languages to be language of France, France is prevented from ratifying the EU Treaty on Minority Languages due to its Constitution.

A UNESCO report on endangered languages ​​shows that French is seriously threatening 26 languages ​​or dialects in France, including: Basque, Burgundian, Breton, Champenois, Corsican, Flemish, Franche-Comté, Moselle Franconian, Rhine Franconian, Francoprovençal (Arpitan), Gallo, Ligurian, Lorrain, Norman, Occitan (Auvergne, Gascony, Languedoc, Limousin, Provençal), Picard and Poitevin-Saintonge.

Of these, the following are langues d’oil, related to French: Picard, Gallo, Burgundian, Champenois, Franche-Comté, Lorrain, Norman,and Poitevin-Saintonge. These are actually separate languages or patois. They are not dialects of French. Many of them split from langue d’oil long ago. In general, they are quite incomprehensible to French speakers. Let’s look at them:

Burgundian is spoken in Burgundy around Dijon. It is not in good shape, but it still has a lot of speakers. Not intelligible with Standard French. It has about 2,000 native speakers.

Champenois is spoken in Champagne around Reims and in neighboring Belgium, where it is a regionally protected language. I don’t have much information on it, but it’s probably not in good shape. Not intelligible with Standard French.

Franche-Comté is still spoken in Franche-Comte around Besancon. It still has some elderly speakers, but it’s probably not in good shape. Not intelligible with Standard French. It has 3,700 speakers in Switzerland. Figures for France are not known.

Gallo is spoken in eastern Brittany around Rennes. It is still in reasonably good shape. Not intelligible with Standard French. 28,000 speakers. 200-400,000 with at least passive knowledge.

Lorrain is spoken in the northwest of France in the Lorrain region around the city of Nancy, the Vosges Mountains and even into Belgium. Not intelligible with Standard French.

Norman is spoken on the coat of Normandy around Le Havre and on the Channel Islands. This is actually several separate languages. It is not doing well, and is doing especially poorly on the Islands where the influence of English is very strong. Not intelligible with Standard French. Up to 243,000 speakers.

Picard has about 700,000 speakers in far northwest France around Calais, Lille and Dunkirk and in Belgium. It is probably actually two separate languages. Not intelligible with Standard French.

Poitevin-Saintongeais is spoken on the west-central coast of France and around Poitiers. Eleanor of Acquitaine was actually a Poitevin speaker. This is actually two separate languages. Saintongeais is still widely spoken. Poitevin is doing well and has 150-500,000 speakers.

There are actually other langues d’oil, but I won’t list them.

Basque is spoken by only about 10% of the population of the French Basque country. This area is a huge tourist destination, and that has really hurt the Basque language badly in France. Basque is in much better shape in Spain. French Basques are rather quiet and not particularly militant, but there was an armed group at one point. Mostly the French Basque country is used by ETA radicals from Spain as a hideout from the law.

Breton is the Gaelic language related to Welsh that is spoken in Brittany on the northwest edge of France. This language does have 200,000 speakers, but most of them are over age 50. There are also 500 schools or diwans teaching the language. Although this sounds promising and Breton is in better shape than the other languages listed here, there are a lot of worries about this language. For one thing, the French won’t allow it to be taught in French schools.

Corse is spoken on the island of Corsica by about 40% of the population. It is not in good shape. There is a large independence movement in Corsica with huge support. Corse is really just an ancient Tuscan Italian dialect from about ~1500. Speakers of Standard Italian, based on Florentine Tuscan, can understand Corse easily. 100,000 speakers, 1/3 of the island, but many of them are older. Some young people are learning it, but it starts too late – by high school. Instruction needs to start earlier.

Flemish is still spoken by about 20,000 speakers in the far northwest of France around Dunkirk. It is not in good shape at all.

Francoprovençal or Arpitan is an old language with 112,000 speakers that split away from the langue d’oil at about the time it was first becoming consolidated around 800-900. Arpitan split from Catalan-Occitan around 600. This language is also spoken in Italy and Switzerland. It is probably actually 10 or more languages, since there is poor communication among the dialects. It is spoken in the part of France near Switzerland, in the Savoy and around Lyon, Grenoble and St. Etienne to the west of Switzerland.

This language is doing very poorly in France but was still very widely spoken until the 1970’s and 1980’s. It probably resembles French more than any other language.

Ligurian is a Gallo-Romance language similar to a cross between French and Italian. It is mostly spoken around Genoa in Italy, but it is spoken in several dialects along the coast of southeastern France near the border with Italy in the Maritime Alps. Up to 2 million speakers total, but the language is still thought to be in poor shape because few young people are learning it.

Moselle Franconian is spoken in an area of the Alsace-Lorraine on the border with Germany. The variety spoken in France is called Lorraine Franconian and is not in good shape. This German language is not intelligible with Standard German. 78,000 speakers.

Occitan (Auvergnat, Gascon, Nissart, Mentonasque, Monegasque, Languedoc, Limousin, Cisalpine, Provençal dialects) is spoken in the south of France by up to 7 million people understand the language, and 1 million speak it as a first language. It is probably doing better than most of the languages listed in here, but it does not have a secure position.

This is the ancient language of the Troubadours and it is closely related to Catalan, having split from Catalan around 1000. Catalan-Occitan started to split away as a separate language around 800. Occitan itself split from langue d’oil in the 800’s. From 1000-1600, Catalan and Occitan evolved along similar lines.

It is quite unintelligible to French speakers. Sort of a cross between French and Spanish. The question of whether or not the dialects can understand each other and to what degree is a thorny one that does not have good answers. Nissart, Gascon, Limousin, Cisalpine and Languedocien are definitely separate languages.

Rhine Franconian is spoken in France in the same general region as Moselle Franconian, except a bit to the west. It is intelligible with Standard German or with Moselle Franconian. It is not doing very well.

In 1880 in France…

It was said among Army recruits that only 20% could speak the actual French language. The French language itself was codified around 1800 based on the Parisien dialect, spoken around Paris. So modern French is just Parisien the same way that modern German is just Upper Saxon and modern Italian is simply Florentine Tuscan.

What were the rest of the soldiers speaking? Many of them may have been speaking patois. Patois are generally other langues d’oil, related to Parisien. There are many of them, but they are dying out. In general, patois are not intelligible with Standard French.

Many also spoke Occitan, a language between Spanish and French spoken in the south of France. Further, some Occitan dialects are hardly even understandable to other Occitan speakers. French speakers are quite lost when listening to an Occitan speaker.

130 years ago, there were probably many speakers of Breton in Brittany. Breton is related to Welsh, and a French speaker can’t understand a word of it.

Surely, there were many speakers of Basque in the southwest of France. Basque is incomprehensible to a French speaker.

In far northeast France, Flemish is still spoken, and it was much more spoken 130 years ago.

In the part of France near Luxembourg, varieties of German are spoken, Moselle Franconian, Lorraine Franconian and Luxembourgian. These are actually three separate languages. They were much more commonly spoken 130 years ago.

To the south, Alsatian was spoken in the Alsace Lorraine. A traveler to this region wrote that in some areas people speak German, in others they speak French, and in others they speak some language that is neither German nor French. Alsatian is a German dialect that is declining. But it was very widely spoken 130 years ago.

In the far southeast of France, Nissart, Monegasque, Montenasque, and Intermelian are spoken. The last two are dialects of Ligurian, a language spoken in Italy. The first two are Occitan dialects with a heavy Ligurian mixture. All of these were spoken much more 130 years ago.

In Corsica, Corse is spoken. Corse is related to Standard Italian. It is declining, but was widely spoken 130 years ago.

In the area near Switzerland, a language called Arpitan or Franco-Provencal is still spoken. It was much more widely spoken 130 years ago.

In the far southwest of France in Rousillon, Catalan is spoken. It is dying out, but was probably widely spoken 130 years ago.

As you can see, the notion that only Standard French is spoken in France is quite mistaken. It was even less true 130 years ago, when only 20% of the population spoke the standard language.

My Language Has More Words Than Yours!

In the comments section, James Schipper comments on the notion that English has more words than, say, Swedish:

Measuring the number of words in a language isn’t very scientific. What is a word? Is it anything that is separated by empty space? If so, then the more words are written as one, the more words there are in a language. Bookkeeper and steamship would be separate words but book publisher and passenger ship would not be.
I’m currently reading a book by your Swedish colleague Mikael Parkvall about language myths. One myth that he discusses is Engelska har fler ord än svenska = English has more words than Swedish.
He says that no evidence is ever provided for the claim, except to say that English has borrowed a lot. He mocks an English chauvinist who states that English has over 1 million words and French about 100,000 and who then says that English borrowed a lot from other languages, especially from French. In other words, English is rich and French poor because English borrowed a lot from French. As Parkvall sarcastically notes, the English must have borrowed a lot of words from the French without ever paying them back.
He says that if all the works of Shakespeare are run through a computer program designed to count words, the result is 29,066. However, if all the works of August Strindberg are run through the same program, the result is 119,288 words! I can easily see why the Swedish count is so high. In Swedish, all nominal compounds are written as one word and the definite article is a suffix. On top of that, the genitive is used more than in English.
We have for instance bil = car, bilen = the car, bilar = cars, bilarna, the cars, bils = of a car, bilens = of the car, bilars = of cars, bilarnas = of the cars, bilolycka = car accident, bilägare = car owner, bilmekaniker = car mechanic, bilparkering = car parking, bilbälte = seat belt, etc. How can a computer or anybody else decide how many of these are separate words or not?
When the French language had a lot of prestige, people were saying that it was exceptionally clear. Now that English is very prestigious, we keep hearing that it is exceptionally rich.
In any case, languages that have borrowed a lot are not uncommon. Moreover, the more a language borrows, the greater the probability that the borrowed words simply displace native words, in which case no enrichment takes place.

I read somewhere that someone said that Dutch has 4 million words!
On my other site, we do a lot of translations of posts to other languages. So far, we have done Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Serbo-Croatian, German, French, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish and Korean.
So far, I have had few complaints from translators along the lines of “we don’t have a word or  phrase in our language for that English word or phrase.” Cases of having to use an English word or phrase because no translation was available are few. However, Korean did some to stick out. I am told by Korean speakers that Korean has few to no synonyms. I knew a young Korean-American woman who was stunned by the number of synonyms in English. The Koreans think the plethora of US synonyms is somewhere  between ridiculous and idiotic. Why do you need more than one word with the same meaning?
Norwegian, a very small language in terms of speakers, struck me as being particularly word-rich for some reason.
An interesting question is how many words a typical primitive language had or has. A study was recently done on one of the Araucanian languages of South America, Yaghan. A recent dictionary of Yaghan listed around 30,000 words! The author made the supposition that your typical primitive language pre-contact had around 30,000 words. No one knows for sure.
I worked for 1½ years on a California Indian language called Chukchansi. It’s true that they lacked words for a lot of modern concepts, many more obscure body parts, and many fine gradations of meaning. The speakers were all elderly and spoke English well. The last near-monolingual speaker died around 1965. She spoke English, but it was broken English. These speakers are helpful for a language. I heard from people who knew this woman that she had coined many Chukchansi borrowings and calques for many words having to do with modern living.
When the last of the monolingual or near monolingual speakers die, your small language may get in bad shape. Calques and proper borrowings wedded to the phonology of the receptive language will simply disappear.
We have many speakers of a SE Asian language called Hmong around here. It has millions of native speakers, but I understand that it lacks many words for modern concepts, even though there large number of monolinguals to near monolinguals around here – older people, especially women. I don’t understand why they don’t borrow English words or engage is calques or word-formations.
The Hmong have an interesting cultural concept – if you are over 40, they say that you are too old to learn a foreign language. Hence, a lot of the older Hmong, especially the women, simply do not even try to learn English here in the US.

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!

Linguistic Map of Latin America

Map of the major languages of Latin America

This is an interesting map, though on first thought it seems unnecessary.

First of all, it makes quite clear how Brazil stands out as the Portuguese speaking state in Latin America. One could argue that this makes them odd man out, but if we look in terms of population, Latin America has a population of 570 million. 192 million of those are Brazilians. So 34%, or fully 1/3, of Latin Americans speak Portuguese. So what at first looks like Brazil’s linguistic isolation may not be so isolating as it appears.

All the Spanish-speaking countries can communicate well with each other, and there is a “neutral Spanish” that any educated person can use when conversing with any other educated person from Hispanophone Latin America. As long as you are doing this, you will both be understood.

Getting down to regional dialects, things do get complicated. I understand that Chilean soap operas, spoken in the rich dialect of the Chilean street, are dubbed in the rest of South America because other South Americans can’t understand Chilean street Spanish. But they are  probably well understood in Argentina. There does seem to be a “Southern Cone Street Spanish” that is harder to pick up as the latitudes move northward.

Bolivian Spanish sounds strange, but it’s probably intelligible in South America. It heavily inflected with Indian languages.

There is a general Caribbean Spanish that can be hard to understand.

The language of the Colombian Caribbean coast can be hard for even other Colombians to understand.

Dominican Spanish is notorious for being hard to understand. First of all, it seems to be based on Canarian Spanish of the Canary Islands, which is a very strange form of Spanish. Into this base went a ton of African words, much more than in the rest of Latin America. Further, it is spoken very fast. Dominican Spanish is pretty baffling to other Spanish speakers, at least for a while. Nevertheless, there is a more neutral form of Dominican Spanish that is widely intelligible to other Hispanophones.

On the streets of Mexico City, a very hardcore slang has emerged, sort of a Mexico City Street Spanish, that is pretty hard to figure out outside of Mexico.

Latin America is interesting in that the rest of the world seems to be learning “English as the universal language,” while Latin America is lagging behind.

I know quite a few educated Latin Americans who barely speak a lick of English. Latin Americans live not so much  in the society of the Western Hemisphere, but more particularly in the society of Latin America. And Latin America is extremely Hispanophone. Everywhere you go, most everyone speaks Spanish. Spanish is a very highly developed modern language with words for everything. Why bother to learn English? What for? To talk to gringos?

However, at advanced university levels, such as Master’s Degree and particularly doctorate level, increasingly there are requirements to learn English.

One would think that Mexicans at least would be required to take some English in school, right? Forget it. First of all, Mexican schools are crap, and they are broke. The elite and upper middle class steal all the money in the country, and the Libertarian/Republican dream minimal state/free market economy hosts horribly defunded and decrepit schools. It’s not uncommon to meet 20 year old Mexicans who dropped out in the 2nd grade.

English is typically not offered in Mexican public schools. It’s only offered in private schools, which is of course where the moneyed class above sends their kids, which is why they won’t pay for public schools (They don’t use ’em), which is why the public schools are crap. I’m sure many more non-Hispanic Americans in the US are taking Spanish than Latin Americans are studying English.

Hispanophones also often do not bother to learn Portuguese. Some of the educated ones claim they can understand it without studying it, but I doubt it.

A lot of Brazilians say they can understand Spanish pretty well (I think they study Spanish more than Hispanophone Latins study Portuguese), but when you start talking to them in Spanish (which I do on a regular basis) it doesn’t seem to work very well. Want to talk to a Brazilian? Learn Portuguese!

As we can see on the map, both French Guyana and Haiti speak French.

I was talking about Haiti with my liberal Democrat Mom once. The general conversation was along the lines that Haiti was all screwed up. She said, “Well, they’re all Black, they’re dirt poor, and worst of all, they’re in the Western Hemisphere, but they all speak French!” Indeed. What do these funny Frencophones think they’re doing in our Anglophone, Hispanophone and Lusophone Hemisphere anyway?

Further, the language of Haiti is not really intelligible to French speakers. It makes about as much sense as hardcore Jamaican English does to us. However, the Haitian elite often speaks good French. They also say they understand Spanish, but I’ve tried to talk to them in Spanish, and it didn’t go anywhere. Often they don’t understand much English either. Want to talk a member of the Haitian upper class? Learn French!

So the Haitians are rather isolated in this Hemisphere, but I’m not sure if your average dirt poor Haitian cares. I suppose they could always talk to the Quebecois, but no one understands Quebecois either.

French Guyana is also a French speaking country. It’s still a colony, and it has a very nice standard of living. Nowadays, colonies don’t even want to go free anymore, as it means a standard of living crash.

As you can see, British Honduras speaks English. There are some other English speaking islands in the Caribbean and some French speaking islands too, but none are marked on the map.

Dutch has pretty much died out in the Western Hemisphere, but it used to be spoken widely in Suriname and the Dutch Caribbean.

The main language of Guyana is probably some English creole, but it’s not shown on the map.

Indian languages are still very widely spoken in Peru (Quechua), Bolivia (Aymara) and Paraguay (Guarani).

Map of the Romance Speaking World

Here is a very nice map of the parts of the world that speak a Romance language, in whole or in part. The main languages covered here are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian.

Nice map of the Romance languages of the world. Click to enlarge.

The heavy Spanish speaking zone is Spain, Rio Muni, New Mexico and Latin America except for Brazil, the Guyanas, Haiti and some Caribbean islands that speak French. To a lesser extent, it is spoken Spanish Sahara and Belize. To a much lesser extent, it is spoken in  parts of the US and in the Philippines where it is a dying colonial language.

The heavy Portuguese speaking zone is Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique, other parts of Africa and East Timor. In the latter countries, it is a lingua franca.

French is heavily spoken in France, Quebec, French Guyana, French Polynesia, Belgium and Switzerland, less heavily in much of Africa, especially Congo, the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Togo, Cote d’Ivorie, Burkino Faso, Senegal, West Africa, Central Africa, Djibouti and Madagascar, less in the rest of Canada, and even less in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Louisiana, where it is a dying colonial language overtaken by national languages in Southeast Asia, Arabic in Northwest Africa and English in Louisiana

Italian is spoken heavily in Italy and less so in Libya and Albania.

Romanian is spoken heavily in Romania, Moldova and Serbia.

Yet More Romance Intelligibility Figures

From here.

I happen to agree with these figures. The figures involve the intelligibility of various Romance languages, spoken and written, for speakers of Spanish.

Intelligibility for Spanish speakers, oral: 77% of Galician, 55% of Catalan, 54% of Portuguese, 25% of Italian, 1-5% of French and many Italian dialects.

Written: 93% of Galician, 90% of Catalan, 85% of Portuguese, 50% of Italian, 16% of French.

As you can see, the figures are much higher for written than spoken language. This makes a lot of sense. With my fluent Spanish and some knowledge of Portuguese, French and Italian, I can pick up a fair amount of the written text of any Romance language.

Orally though, I’m typically pretty lost. The best ones are those that are closest to Spanish, such as Andalucian dialect, Aragonese, Asturian and Galician. Leonese is a lot different, heading towards Portuguese. You get to Catalan and Occitan and I start having lots of problems. Portuguese is way harder than you might think, even with my rudimentary Portuguese. Standard Italian as spoken slowly by say a documentary narrator is a bit better.  Street Italian is nearly useless to me, as is Spoken French, Romansch, Romanian, Italian dialects and hard Andalucian.

It’s very interesting that Spanish speakers can understand Galician better than they can Portuguese, but it makes sense. After all, Galicia split off from Portugal long ago and came under the influence of Castillian. I am not sure which Galician they are referring to here. There is a soft Galician that is used on Galician TV which has very heavy Castillian influence. Even I can pick it up pretty well. But there is a hard Galician of the street and the rural areas that is much harder to understand.

The figure for Catalan is much lower than for Galician because Catalan has so much French influence. Look at the dismal figure for spoken French and you can see why Spanish speakers have a hard time with it.

25% intelligibility of Italian sounds about right to me. Spanish speakers can understand Italian much worse than they can understand Portuguese. The figure for French is shockingly low, but it makes sense, as previous studies have shown that nobody can understand the French.

I would agree that Standard Italian, especially spoken slowly by a professional speaker, is much easier to understand than many Italian dialects, which are actually spoken languages. I’ve seen them on Youtube and I can’t make out a single word.

With my Spanish, my figures for written intelligibility of Romance are not as high as those above, but I’m not really fluent as far as reading Spanish goes. I’m a lot better at speaking it and hearing it. Others have given much lower figures than the one above for Spanish speakers reading Galician, but it probably improves very quickly in a short period of time.