A recent What Language Is Thispost featured Uzbek. A commenter just got the correct answer today. Hence it is time for a post on Uzbek and two neighboring Turkic languages, Kazakh and Kirghiz.
Uzbek. Uzbek is a well-developed language. I see scholarly papers written in Uzbek. In addition, Uzbek is two separate languages. The well known language to the north, Northern Uzbek, that is the official language of a nation and another language to south, Southern Uzbek, spoken by 2.5 million people in Afghanistan, which has no official status. The two Uzbeks are not mutually intelligible.
Kazakh has a lot of problems. A lot of people don’t speak it, and there are many ethnic Russians who speak Russian there. They live in the north. There was a lot of talk of them leaving with the independence of Kazakhstan, but most of them stayed. Insane Russian ultranationalists claim the northern part of Kazakhstan for the Russians and wish to incorporate it into Russia (just to show you how insane those lunatics are). A lot of people would rather speak Russian than Kazakh, even a lot of ethnic Kazakhs.
They have had a hard time developing Kazakh into a full modern language, and there are a lot of issues with Kazakh in the schools. Furthermore, there has been profound Russian influence on the language in terms of vocabulary, phonology, and possibly morphology.
There are many Kazakh speakers in China, over 2 million of them. They have gotten caught up in the Uyghur political mess.
New information shows that they speak a separate language from Kazakh in Kazakhstan. So many Russian words have gone into Kazakh since World War 2 that Kazakh speakers in China can no longer understand the Kazakh TV and radio broadcasts which can be heard in China. Therefore, Chinese Kazakh is a separate language, and within Macro-Kazakh, there are two languages, Kazakh and Chinese Kazakh. I didn’t get this new information in time to incorporate it into my book chapter published in a recent book (Lindsay 2016) when I redid the Turkic language family, creating a number of new languages.
First of all, it is not entirely certain that Kazakh and Kirghiz are separate languages. In my book chapter (Lindsay 2016), I decided that this was one language called Kirghiz-Kazakh, with two separate languages, Kirghiz and Kazakh. This is because they are largely mutually intelligible. However the communication is more one way than two ways. I believe that the Kazakhs can understand the Kirghiz well, but the Kirghiz have some problems understanding Kazakh. However the difficulties were not great enough for me to split it into a separate language.
However via communication with a Kazakh speaker, he insisted that Kazakh and Kirghiz were definitely separate languages. I forget the reasoning but he had an intuitive sense of whether a pair of languages consisted of one being a dialect of the other or whether they were two separate languages.
That is, native speakers have excellent intuition on the language/dialect question, which shows how preposterous the Linguistics profession is that the language/dialect split is not a scientific question. If it’s not a scientific question, how is it that native speakers the world over have an intuition over whether a lect is a separate language or a dialect of another language? Apparently humans have excellent intuitions about things that simply do not exist in a scientific sense. Who knew?
Kirghiz has a lot of problems. I think just about everyone speaks it, but the problem is the language is not well developed into a modern language yet, so all sorts of technical and modern terms have had to be invented. Even whole new dictionaries have been created. Bottom line is Kirghiz is not really ready to serve the functions of a national language even for the state. I believe they might use Russian, instead but I am not certain.
Lindsay, Robert. 2016. “Mutual Intelligibility among the Turkic Languages,” in Süer Eker and Ülkü Şavk. Çelik. Endangered Turkic Languages, Volume I: Theoretical and General Approaches: Before the Last Voices Are Gone (Tehlİkedekİ Türk Dİllerİ Cİlt I: Kuramsal Ve Genel Yaklaşimlar Son Sesler Duyulmadan), Ankara, Turkey/Astana, Kazakhstan: International Turkish-Kazakh University and International Turkic Academy.
Mithridates: What’s for damn sure is that ethnic nationalists (Oh, the myriad varieties of them!!) are the #1 threat to any sane and sensible discussion on topics like… and language classifications…
I am not sure if you have read any of my linguistic work, but some of it has already been published. I had to deal with ethnic nationalists a lot (Turkish ethnic nationalists – some of the worst of them all), and it was definitely not pleasant. For instance, they insist that the (IMHO – 53) Turkic languages are all just dialects of Turkish! And good luck trying to disabuse them of that notion. They’re very aggressive and they’re even violent (check out recent videos), and that makes them even more scary.
Right now I am dealing with a Macedonian ethnic nationalist (all Balkan varieties are very unpleasant to say the least) and he was extremely unpleasant. He is trying to get me fired from my professor job LOL. I’m flattered that he thinks I’m obviously a university professor, but nope, I’m not. So I wish him luck getting me fired from a job I don’t have.
Beyond that, ethnic nationalists are the bane of language classification. There are so many “dialects” that are so obviously separate languages but we can’t split them because ethnic nationalists run the discourse in those countries. Idiotically, my field utterly unscientifically states that there is no way to tell a language from a dialect.
Oh yeah? We can put a man on the moon but we can’t develop a successful definitions of language and dialect? How absurd is that?
So we stupidly throw up our hands and say this is not a linguistic question (though obviously it is) and say the distinction between the two is a political matter (!), so we throw it over to the most dishonest reprobates people on Earth next to out and out criminals, namely, politicians! Of course politicians never lie or anything like that!
So really we should take all of our scientific questions over to politics and let politics answer these questions! Hell, politics won’t even give you a straight answer if you ask it what time or day it is. If a politician’s mouth is moving, he’s lying. It’s practically a requirement to score high on the psychopathy scale to be a politician. So let’s let these pathological lying sociopaths called politicians answer our scientific questions in Linguistics!
Ethnic nationalists have infiltrated language classification by petitioning to get languages removed from their countries, as they wish to believe that the only language in say Ruritania is Ruritanian, and all of the other languages, no matter how different, are dialects of Ruritanian!
So Basque is just a dialect of Spanish, right? And Suomi or Lappish is a dialect of Swedish. And Sorbian is a dialect of German. And Breton and Basque are dialects of French. As you can see, we could go on and on here.
There are probably 2,000 languages within the scope of “Chinese,” yet the Chinese government lies and says there is only one Chinese language. We linguists have to go along with this insanity because…why?
Ethnic nationalists dishonestly removed several Occitan languages and several North Germanic languages in Sweden, among other places. I can’t believe that SIL (the publishers of Ethnologue who are now in charge of handing out ISO codes for new languages) fell for this.
Spanish hit the other languages hard but after the dictatorship things got a lot better. Catalan is the official language of the region. I recently met several mostly Castilian speakers from Catalonia and they told me that they all understood Catalan. Whether they spoke it or not was another man. A young man there was a native speaker.
Basque is actually doing quite well. I think ~20% of the population are native speakers and there are quite a few second language speakers. There are Basque schools, Basque media, Basque signage, on and on. I recently met a young college aged man who was a Basque native speaker. Quite a few children are still being brought up in Basque. I am not sure if there are any Basque monolinguals left.
Native Catalan speakers might be ~35% of the population, and many children are still being brought up in Catalan. There are Catalan schools, Catalan media, Catalan as an official language in the government, etc. There is a huge pool of Catalan second-language speakers. There are probably not any Catalan monolinguals left, but if there are, it is an old lady in a tiny village in the mountains.
There is a form of Catalan spoken in La Franga and the Strip in Aragon that speakers say is a separate language. There are regular calls to have it recognized. However, in spite of the fact that speakers say that they speak a separate language, Catalan speakers say they can understand it just fine.
I think it is called Chapurillo a variation on the term churro, etc. which means more or less broken Spanish or bad Spanish. Many of the languages above are called churros or chapurros, and many Spaniards think they are just forms of broken Spanish spoken by poorly educated people.
Even speakers of these languages often think that they simply speak broken Spanish or bad Spanish, are often ashamed of their speech, and refuse to speak it. Speaking churro also implies ignorance, rural residence, poverty, lack of intelligence, etc.
There is dialect called Churro spoken in this same region around La Franja. It is probably the most diverse Castilian dialect in Spain. It seems to be a form of Aragonese Spanish with a lot of Catalan or Valencian mixed in.
Valencian is spoken in Valencia and the Valencian speakers insist that they speak a different language from Catalan although there is 94% intelligibility between the two. Catalan speakers do not want to break up the language and refuse to recognize Valencian as a separate language.
There is an Institute of the Valencian Language, an official orthography, etc. In particular, Valencians reject the Catalan orthography as they say it does not suit the language that the speak. ~20% of Valencians speak Valencian. It is in much worse shape than Catalan.
There is a form of Catalan that is spoken on the Mallorca Islands in three different dialects. Some have difficult intelligibility with Catalan, and they are probably closer to Valencian. Whether these qualify as separate languages is not known. Mallorcan is one of these dialects of Catalan.
There are forms of speech spoken on the border of Catalonia and Aragon in the very high mountains that are definitely not Catalan and probably not Aragonese. However, the official language institutes of Catalan and Aragon both claim these speech forms. One is called Benasquesque. This is a very remote mountain region. Whether this is a form of Catalan, a form of Aragonese or a separate language altogether it not known. It’s obviously Catalan-Aragonese transitional.
Murcian, spoken in Murcia, is mostly a Spanish dialect called Murcian Spanish, albeit quite a strange one. There are regular calls to have it recognized as an official language, but they go nowhere. However there is a hard form of it called Panocho spoken in the remote mountains in Eastern Murcia that cannot be understood outside the region. Andalusians cannot understand it either. It is probably a separate language. It has 6,000 speakers.
Mantegno spoken in La Mancha is part of a “Southern Castilian” that ranges to Andalucian. When Mantegno speakers go to Madrid, they say they are not understood. This is probably also a separate language. When spoken in rapid speech, intelligibility even with Andalucian Spanish/Extremaduran Spanish is 50%.
Andalusian is mostly a Spanish dialect albeit an extremely divergent one. However, there are a few villages in the mountains where a hard Andalucian is spoken that is not intelligible even to other Andalusian.
Aragonese is still spoken in Aragon. It is not fully intelligible with Castilian, and it is a separate language. This region was under the crown of Aragon, hence a different speech evolved here. It sounds a lot like Spanish. There are 30,000 Aragonese speakers.
It is an official language in the state of Aragon but Spain refuses to recognize it. It was formerly spoken in three forms like Extremaduran, and like that language, only the remote northern form survives. Otherwise Southern and Central Aragonese turned into dialects of Spanish, Aragonese Spanish.
Aragonese is spoken in the very high mountains of the Pyrenees in villages that are often almost totally depopulated. There are still children being brought up in Aragonese though, especially around the Benasquesque-speaking region. The children show up at school as Aragonese monolinguals.
Extremaduran is still spoken in Extremadura by 100,000 speakers. It is a highly Castillianized form of Eastern Leonese that got cut off from the rest of Leonese 400-500 years ago. Otherwise Eastern Leonese is nearly extinct. It is spoken in the mountains in tiny depopulating villages which is where it originated.
I know a Spanish speaker who actually grew up in the region, has been hearing Extremaduran all his life, and he can only understand 17% of it. The accent is wild. There is much confusion as Extremaduran is also called Castuo, and Extremaduran is the northern form of Castuo from the mountains that survived while Southern and Central Castuo turned into dialects of Spanish.
However there may be some “Extremaduran” spoken in the south too, as my friend has a word list from a tiny village in Bajadoz, and he said he could only understand 50% of the lexicon. This may be some far southern form of Extremaduran. Southern and Central Castuo is just a Spanish dialect, albeit an odd one, but it is heavily spoken and often confused with Extremaduran because people refer to both by the same term. Extremaduran is an official language in Extremadura, but Spain refuses to recognize it.
strong>Oliveno is spoken on the border of Portugal, but it’s not Portuguese. It still has ~3,000 speakers. It is spoken in a single village. Officials refuse to recognize this language, and Portugal says it is just Portuguese. It is a sort of heavily Castillianized Portuguese. Portuguese speakers say they can’t understand a word of Oliveno.
Asturian is still very much alive although it is not an official language of Spain. It is an official language of the state of Asturias. ~20% of Asturians speak Asturian and I believe there are children still being brought up in Asturian.
Leonese is the same language as Asturian spoken to the south and is in much worse shape. It is also not an official language of Spain but it is an official language of Castille and Leon where it is spoken. Amazingly, there are still Leonese monolinguals in the high mountains in Northwestern Castille and Leon.
Leonese was their first language and they learned Spanish in school but subsequently forgot Spanish and now speak only Leonese. There are still children being brought up in Leonese in the tiny depopulated villages in the mountains of Southeastern Castille and Leon near the Portuguese border. This form of Leonese is often called Porteno, and it is quite close to the Mirandese language spoken in Portugal.
There is actually a language called Eonavian/Ibino spoken between Asturian/Leonese and Galician. It is a completely separate language but no one will recognize it as such. It is closer to Galician but it is not Galician. There are still native speakers of Ibino, not sure about Eonavian.
Galician is still doing quite well. ~35% of the population of Galicia speak Galician. Almost all also speak Castilian. It is an official language of Galicia and Spain. There are Galician schools. There is some Galician media but not nearly enough. You hear Galician a lot more in the rural areas than in the big cities.
A very Castillianized Official Galician is used in the media, and it has high intelligibility with Spanish of 78%. A much harder Galician is spoken in the villages in the mountains where intelligibility with Spanish is as low as 40%. The form of Galician spoken in the far south on the border with Portugal is not intelligible with Portuguese or the rest of Galician and is not spoken outside the region. It is actually a separate language though no one will recognize it.
Rio de Onoro is a village on the Portuguese border. Rio de Onorese is still spoken, though everyone thinks it is extinct. It is a form of Mirandese spoken in Spain and should be recognized.
Cantabrian is said to be a form of Spanish, but actually it is part of Extremaduran. Extremaduran is nothing less than Eastern Leonese and Far Eastern Asturian that started going over to a form of Old Spanish ~500 years ago. Asturian-Leonese survived in the coastal mountains and in the mountains of Extremadura to the far south, but the rest of it mostly went extinct. Today Eastern Leonese is just about dead.
But Extremaduran speakers say if they go to Cantabria, everyone understands them, and it sounds like they are speaking the same language. These same speakers say that if they go to Oviedo in Central Asturias where people speak Asturian and speak Extremaduran, they are not understood. Therefore Extremaduran and Asturian-Leonese are two different languages, and Cantabrian, instead of being a Spanish dialect, is part of Extremaduran.
Some Cantabrian speakers held out for a long time in the rugged mountainous province where some areas are still reachable only on foot or maybe by donkey. One speaker said his recently deceased grandmother was a Cantabrian monolingual who died in the last 20 years. She had stubbornly refused to learn Spanish as she considered it to be “an imposed language.”
Formerly there was a separate language called Montanes spoken in the mountains, while Cantabrian was spoken on the coast. Half a century ago, they could not understand each other. But now with leveling, the people in the mountains understand the people on the coast just fine.
There are reports that Cantabrian may be going out in Cantabria. But Cantabrian is still spoken and it is children are still being brought up as Cantabrian monolinguals. In the mountains, the children all show up at school speaking only Cantabrian, and the teachers can’t understand the students.
Steve: This is amazing. Well done. But how can you possibly know the degree of mutual intelligibility between two languages you don’t speak or know if something is a language or dialect when you don’t speak it? That seems strange. How is it worked out?
Linguists don’t speak all these languages we study. We just study languages, we don’t necessarily speak them. This is confused with the archaic use of the word linguist to mean polyglot. Honestly, many linguists do in fact speak more than one language, and quite a few of them have a pretty good knowledge of at least some of the languages that they study. But my mentor speaks only Turkish and English though he studies all Turkic languages. I don’t believe he has ever learned to speak any Turkic lect other than Turkish.
In reference to my paper here.
We are not looking for raw numbers. We just want to know if they can understand each other or not.
A lot of it is from talking to native speakers and also there was a lot of reading papers by other linguists. I also talked to other linguists a lot. Linguists typically simply state if two lects are intelligible or not. Also there is a basic idea among linguists of what the boundary is between a language and a dialect, and I used this knowledge a lot.
Can they understand each other? Yes or no. That’s pretty much about it. Also at some degree of structural difference, we can see the difference between a language and a dialect. It’s a judgement call, but linguists are pretty good at this.
There is a subsection of very loud linguists, mostly on the Internet, who like to screech a lot about this question cannot be answered by answered because of this or that red herring or some odd conundrums that work their way in. The thing is if you ask around enough, you will be able to get around all of the conundrums and you should be able to eventually reconcile all of the divergent responses to get some sort of a holistic or “big picture.” You finally “figure it out.” The answer to the question comes to you in a sort of a “seeing the answer as part of a larger picture” sort of thing.
The worst red herring is this notion that speakers from Group A will lie and say they do not understand speakers of Group B simply because they hate them so much. If this was such a concern, you would have think I would have run into it at some point. A much worse problem were ethnic nationalists who lie and say that they can understand neighboring tongues when they can’t.
The toxin called Pan-Turkism or Turkish ultranationalism comes into play here. It is almost normal for Turks to believe that there is only one Turkic languages, and it is called Turkish. All of the rest of the languages simply do not exist and are dialects of Turkish. I had to deal with regular attacks by extremely aggressive Ataturkists who insisted that any Turk could easily understand any other Turkic language. Actually my adviser told me that my piece would not be popular with the Pan-Turkics at all. I don’t really care as I consider them to be pond scum.
Granted, some of it was quite controversial and I got variable reports on intelligibility for some lects like Siberian Tatar vs. Tatar, the Altai languages, Kazakh vs. Kirghiz, Crimean Tatar vs. Turkish.
Where native speakers differ on such questions, often vociferously, you simply ask enough of them, talk to some experts and try to get a feel for that what best answer to the question is.
Some cases like Gagauz vs. Turkish probably need raw intelligibility testing. That’s the only one that is up in the air right now, but it is up in the air because the lects are so close. Intelligibility between Gagauz and Turkish is somewhere between 70-100%. In other words, they have marginal intelligibility at worst. My Gagauz expert who knows this language better than anyone though feels that Turkish intelligibility of Gagauz is less than 90%, which is where I drew the line at language and dialect.
It is also starting to look like Nogay is a simply a dialect of Kazakh instead of a separate language, but that might be a hard sell.
Some of these are seen as separate languages simply because they are spoken by different ethnies who do not want to be seen as part of the same group. Also they have different literary norms. Karapalkak is just a Kazakh dialect, but the speakers want to say they speak a separate language. Same with Bashkir, which is simply a dialect of Tatar. The case of Kazakh and Kirghiz is more controversial, but even here, we seem to be dealing with one language, yet the two dialects are spoken by different ethnies that have actually differentiated into two separate states, each with their own literary norm. Kazakhs wish to say they speak a language c called Kazakh and Kirghiz wish to say they speak a language called Kirghiz although they are probably really just one language.
We see a similar thing with Czech and Slovak. My recent research has proven that Czech and Slovak are actually a single language. But the dialects are spoken by different ethnic groups who claim different cultures and histories and they have actually divided into two different states, and each has its own literary norm.
It is here, where dialects become languages not via science by via politics, culture, history and sociology, that Weinrich’s famous dictum that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy” comes into play.
Scientifically, these are all simply dialects of a single tongue but we call them languages for sociological, cultural and political reasons.
Carlos Lam: Congrats! However, isn’t language death a rather standard occurrence among societies?
It is, but we linguists don’t really like it. It is quite a debate going on, but the bottom line seems to be that ethnic groups and speaker groups have the right to ownership of their languages. We worry that a lot of speaker groups are being pressured into blowing up their languages prematurely. We like to study these languages and we are not real happy about seeing them vanish into the horizon. On the other hand, is cultural death a natural thing too? Both cultural death and language death are occurring at rates far beyond the normal background rates. English and some of the other major languages are like weapons of mass destruction in taking out languages. You really want a world with one language and one culture? I don’t.
The best position seems to be that speakers have the right to decide the fate of their languages. If speakers wish to continue speaking their languages, then governments and linguists should help them to preserve and continue to develop their languages. Quite a few groups do not seem to care that their languages are going are extinct or they are even driving or drove their languages extinct, and they have the full right to do so. In these cases, we will simply do salvage linguistics. There are many salvage linguistics projects going on in the world today.
You won’t get very far with linguists arguing that language death is a good thing. Most people don’t think so.
Occurring at the same time as language death is a lot of language revitalization. Even fully dead languages are being resurrected from the grave. Also in addition to language death, we are creating new languages all the time. In this piece, I created a total of net 13 new languages. And new languages are occurring on their own.
To give you an example. A group of Crimean Tatars moved from Crimea to Turkey about 200 years ago in the course of the Crimean War. They have been speaking Crimean Tatar in Turkey ever since, for 200 years now. But in that time, Crimean Tatar in Turkey and Crimean Tatar in Ukraine has diverged so much that Turkish Crimean Tatar is now, in my opinion, a fully separate tongue from the Ukrainian language. This is because in Turkey, a lot of Turkish has gone into Turkish Crimean Tatar which is not well understand in the Ukraine. And in the Ukraine, a lot of Russian has gone in which is not well understood in Turkey. Hence, Crimean Tatar speakers in Turkey and Ukraine can no longer understand each other well.
To give you another example, there are many Kazakh speakers in China. However, Kazakh speakers in China can no longer understand Standard Kazakh broadcasts from Kazakhstan because so many Russian loans have gone into Standard Kazakh that it is no longer intelligible with Chinese Kazakh speakers. I learned this too late for my paper, otherwise I would have split Chinese Kazakh off as a separate language.
There are many cases like this.
Further, many languages are being discovered. Sonqori, Western Khalaj, Todzhin, Duha, Dukha and Siberian Tatar are just a few of the new languages that I created. Khorosani Turkic was split into three different languages. Dayi was subsumed into one of the Khorosani Turkic languages. Altai was split from one into five separate languages, but the truth is that it is six languages, not five. Salar was split into Western Salara and Eastern Salar. Ili Turki was eliminated becuase it does not even exist. It is simply a form of Uighur. Kabardian and Balkar, Tatar and Bashkir, Kazakh and Kirghiz were some languages that were eliminated and subsumed into single tongues such as Tatar-Bashkir, Kazakh-Kirghiz, and Kabardian-Balkar. And on and on.
Languages and of course dialects are dying all the time, but new languages are being created by humans and by linguists as we continue our splitting projects. Many lects referred to as dialects are more properly seen as separate languages. Chinese is at least 450 separate languages, only 14 of which are recognized. German may be up to 130 separate languages, only 20 of which are recognized.
There are quite a few more languages to be created out there, but there is a lot of resistance to splitters like me from more conservative linguists and especially from linguistic nationalists. For while Chinese may well be over 1,000 languages, the Chinese government is anti-scientifically insistent that there is but one Chinese language and maybe 2,000 “dialects,” most of which are probably separate languages. The German government is quite resistant to the idea that there is more than one form of German, though I believe Bavarian and Swiss German have official status in Austria and Switzerland.
‘Alt Hoch Deutsch’ (Old High German) sounds a bit like the Plattdeutsch my older Mennonite relatives spoke. But they left West Prussia for the Ukraine in 1802.
Plattdeutsch is a Low German language, and yes, it is an East Low German language with roots in far northeastern Germany and Prussia across the border into what is now Poland. It is close to Pomeranian, a dying East Low German language formerly spoken in that area that died out with the ethnic cleansing of the Germans there after WW2.
It is not intelligible with Standard German or really with any other German language, including other Low German languages. Low German is a completely different language from Standard German. German speakers cannot understand it at all.
Dutch speakers can actually understand Low German languages better than Germans can. That is because in some ways they are quite close to Dutch even though one is Old Franconian and the other is Old German. But there are also German “dialects” that are straight up from Franconian also, especially those spoken in northwest Germany near the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. There are dialects (or really languages in that area that are quite difficult to characterize as either:
I am thinking specially of the languages spoken where German, the Netherlands and Belgium all come together around Kerkrade, Aachen and Stolberg.
Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
Sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun,
garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun.
Modern German Language
Ich hörte (glaubwürdig) berichten,
dass zwei Krieger, Hildebrand und Hadubrand, (allein)
zwischen ihren beiden Heeren, aufeinanderstießen.
Zwei Leute von gleichem Blut, Vater und Sohn, rückten da ihre Rüstung zurecht,
sie strafften ihre Panzerhemden und gürteten ihre
Schwerter über die Eisenringe, die Männer,
als sie zu diesem Kampf ritten.
Alothochdeutsch was the first form of the |German language and it can be called Old German. It existed from 500-1000 CE. It is probably somewhat analogous to Old English, but I doubt if the two languages would have been intelligible. The passage above is from 900, written about the same time as Beowulf was written.
It is truly amazing how much German has changed. Old German for all intents and purposes is a completely different language. The two languages look nothing alike at all and there is no way that modern Germans would understand a passage spoken in Old German. In that sense they are analogous to the relationship between English and Old English.
The modern German language called Hochdeutsch or High German is based on the language that Martin Luther used in his Bible translation. Luther was from Saxonia and the language he used was an Upper Saxon dialect modified to make it intelligible to as many Germans as possible.
Presently Standard German is a mix of Upper Saxon and Thuringian spoken with a Northern German accent. No one ever spoke this way naturally as part of their dialect from their home region. For hundreds of years, Hochdeutsch was only a written language. Various German writers used variations of it to try to make their written German as intelligible to as many Germans as possible.
Only around 1800 did Hochdeutsch begin to be used as a spoken language. At this time it began to be taught in schools and for a long time, German students learned it as a what amounted to a foreign language, their first language being whatever German dialect was spoken in their region.
In the 20th Century, Hochdeutsch began to be a common first language for many Germans who grew up speaking it either alongside their regional dialect or instead of the dialect. It was also during the past century that Hochdeutsch began t supplant many German dialects. The truth is that many German dialects are not dialects at all but instead they are full blown language in terms of both intelligibility and structure. Ethnologue lists 20 different German dialects as separate languages and the truth is that there are many more than that.
Warren Port writes about Somerset English. See the link for a baffling sample of this strange form of English.
Admittedly it is a very bad English, and he is exaggerating for effect but I understand most of it except for the odd word. When I was twelve we moved from London to a tiny village called Cattcott ten miles from the Mendips where this recording is from. In the eighties there were some people who spoke that way, probably more diluted now.
I am a linguist. We don’t really call anything “bad English.” All dialects are as good as any other. I just figure if you can’t understand it, it’s a foreign language. I would like to split English into some separate languages because some of them pretty much are.
Really Wurzel is just as much of a valid way to speak English as any others. This man speaks Wurzel, and he is able to communicate just fine with other folks who also speak it, so it is a valid lect. The only problem is that rest of us English speakers speak another English language that is very far removed from this English language, so we can’t understand him. Someone ought to write this language down. It’s cool because it seems like it has a lot of new words that I don’t have in the English language that I speak.
At a minimum, as separate languages, I would probably split off: Scots. There appears to be more more than one language inside Scots. Scots itself is already split off as a separate language. There appear to be 4 separate languages inside of Scots. Doric Scots. Doric is spoken in the northeast of Scotland in Aberdeen, Banff and Buchan, Moray and the Nairn. It has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots. Lallans Scots. This form of Scots is spoken in the south and central part of Scotland. This is the most common form of spoken Scots. Difficult intelligibility with the other lects. Ulster Scots. This is the form of the Scots language spoken in North Ireland, mostly by Protestants. It has many dialects and has difficult intelligibility with the rest of Scots. Insular Scots. Includes the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects. Spoken on some Scottish islands and is reportedly even hard for other Scots speakers to understand. Of all of the Scots lects, this one is the farthest from the others. Scottish English. We can probably split this off as well because it is probable that there are Scottish English speakers who can’t understand pure Scots very well. While some British English speakers can understand this lect well, others have problems with it. In particular, the dialect of Glascow is said to be hard to understand for many Londoners. Hibernian English. English spoken in Ireland. There seem to be some forms of Irish English such as the hard lect spoken by the spokespeople for the IRA and its political wing like Gerry Adams, that are very hard for Americans to understand. Some English people also have a hard time with Ulster English. Geordie and related lects from the far north of England up around Scotland. These lects are spoken around Newcastle in the far north of England on the east coast. Even the rest of the English often have a hard time with Geordie, and when people talk about multiple languages inside English, Geordie is often the first one they bring up. Scouse. Really hard Scouse is barely even intelligible outside of Liverpool, not even in the suburbs. There is a report of an American who lived in Liverpool for a long period of time, and after 8 years, she still could not understand the very hard Scouse spoken by young working class Liverpool women. While some speakers of British English can understand Scouse, this is mostly due to bilingual learning. Other speakers of British English have a hard time with Scouse. Potteries. Spoken almost exclusively in and around the city of Stoke on Trent in northern West Midlands. The hard form is not readily understood outside the city itself. The dialect is dying out. Welsh English. The hard forms of Welsh English are not readily understood outside the region. There are at least 4 separate languages inside Welsh English. South Welsh English.Welsh English is not a single language but actually appears to be four separate languages. The varieties of South Welsh English spoken in Cardiff and West Glamorgan (Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot) cannot be understood outside the region. It is not known if West Glamorgan English and Cardiff English can understand each other well. North Welsh English, South Welsh English and West Welsh English are as far apart as Newcastle, Cornwall and Birmingham; therefore, all three of them are separate languages. North Welsh English. This language is spoken in areas such as Anglesy and Llanberis. It often has a soft lilt to it that people find pleasant and soothing. Probably poor intelligibility with West and South Welsh English. West Welsh English. This is spoken in places such as Aberystwyth and Cardiganshire. Those two dialects are said to be particularly pleasant sounding. Probably poor intelligibility with North and South Welsh English. Monmouth English. This form of Welsh English reportedly cannot be understood outside of Monmouth itself. Monmouth is a city on the eastern edge of Wales towards the south. Wurzel. In particular the hard Wurzel form of West Country English spoken in Somerset at least until very recently is not well understood outside of Somerset. In addition, many younger residents of Somerset do not understand it completely. It sounds similar to Irish and has a lot of new words for things. Hard Wurzel is dying out, and its speakers are mostly elderly. The language of Bristol may be possibly be included here. Weald Sussex English. A variety of Sussex English spoken in the Weald region of Sussex was traditionally very hard for outsiders to understand. It is dying out now, but it still has a few speakers. Newfoundland English. There are reportedly some hard forms of Newfie English spoken by older fishermen on the coast of the island that are very hard for other North Americans to understand. Appalachian English. Some forms of Appalachian English from the deep hollows of West Virginia are hard for other Americans to understand. Mulungeon English. Some of the English lects spoken by Mulungeon groups in central Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, particularly the lect spoken by the Monacan Indians living near Lynchburg, are very hard for other Americans to understand. They seem to have an archaic character and use a lot of new words for things that I could not identify when I heard it. This may be a type of English often said to be archaic from centuries ago that is still spoken in the mountains. The degree to which this is intelligible with the rest of Appalachian English is uncertain. Tangier English. Spoken on an island off the coast of Virginia by fishermen, this is a relatively pure West Country English lect from 1680 or so that has survived more or less intact. When they speak among themselves, they are hard for other Americans to understand. The degree to which this can be understood by West Country English speakers in England is not known. Unknown intelligibility with Harkers Island English. Harkers Island English. Spoken on Harkers Island off the coast of North Carolina on the Outer Banks. Has a similar origin to Tangier English. It is hard for outsiders to understand. The degree of intelligibility between Tangier English and Harkers Island English is not known. New York English. There is a hard form of New York English, not much spoken anymore, that cannot be well understood at least here on the West Coast. Tends to be spoken by working class Whites especially in the Bronx. In general, this lect is dying out. In my region of California, we recently had a man who moved here from the Bronx, a young working class White man. Even after 2-3 months here, people still had a hard time understanding him. He did not seem to be able to modify his speech so he could be understood better, which usually means someone is speaking another language, not a dialect. Finally he learned California English dialect well enough so that he could make himself understood. Nonatum English or Lake Talk. Spoken only in Nonatum, Massachusetts, one of 13 villages of the city of Newton, mostly by Italian-Americans. Many residents came from a certain village in the Lazio region of Italy. It appears to be a mixture of Italian and Romani, the language of the Gypsies. Not intelligible to those outside the village. Yooper. Spoken mostly in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, this lect is also spoken in the northern parts of the Lower Peninsula and in parts of northeast Wisconsin. Heavily influenced by Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Flemish and French, this lect is hard for outsiders to understand largely due to the influence of these other European languages. African American Vernacular English or Ebonics. This lect is spoken by many Black people in the US, often lower class people in ghettos or in the country. The hard forms of it cannot be understood at all by other Americans. I once had two Black women in my car for an hour or so. They were speaking AAVE. Over that hour, I do not believe that I understood a single word they said. They may as well have been speaking Greek. Forms spoken in the ghettos of Memphis and in the Mississippi Delta by rural Blacks may be particularly hard to understand. South African English. While some Americans can understand this hard dialect well, though with difficulty, others cannot understand it. It is not known how well speakers of other Englishes such as British and Australian English can understand this lect. Jamaican Creole English. Jamaican English Creole is already split off as a separate language. At any rate, in its hard form, it is nearly unintelligible to Americans. Gullah English Creole is a creole spoken on the Gullah Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Already split off into a separate language. Not intelligible to American English speakers. Nigerian Pidgin English. The harder forms of this may be rather hard to Americans to understand, but this needs further investigation. The hard forms are definitely quite divergent and seem odd to many Americans. Already split off as a separate language. Australian English. Some forms of Australian English can be hard to understand for people outside the continent. I found that a form spoken in rural Tasmania was particularly hard to understand. I even have a hard time understanding Helen Caldicott, the famous physician. Other forms spoken more in the rural areas of the main island can also be rather hard to understand. Nevertheless, I can understand “TV Australian” well. However, speakers of British English are able to understand Australian English well, so it is not a language but rather a dialect of British English. New Zealand English. This is similar but different from Australian English. While most New Zealand English is readily understandable to Americans, some of it can be a bit hard to hear. In the video below, the announcer speaks in TV New Zealand English, which I actually found a bit hard to understand, but I could make out most of it. The comedians spoke in a strong rural New Zealand accent. I could make out a lot of it, but not all of it for sure. However, British English speakers can understand all of the dialogue in this video. New Zealand English is not a language but is instead a dialect of British English. Indian English. Some of the Indian English spoken by speakers in India can be quite hard to Americans to understand. What we need to know is whether this is a first or second language for them. If they were brought up speaking this Indian English, then it is a separate language. If it is simply English spoken as a second language by a native speaker of Hindi or another Indian language then it is not a separate language. Requires further investigation.
In conclusion, it seems that there are at least 25 separate languages and 3 creoles/pidgins inside of macro-English. 1 other case is uncertain.
The Somerset English dialect.
I am sorry, but this is some of the most messed up English I have ever heard in my life. I could barely make out a single word this fellow is saying. Speaker is an elderly man, about 80 years old, from Somerset County in southwest England. This area is south of Wales and east of Cornwall in a region called Exmoor. It is heavily forested with rolling hills. This is a rural area where homes are spaced far apart. Sheep grazing is a common industry.
This man’s speech was probably typical of the region 80 years ago, in the 1920’s. Nowadays few young people speak like this anymore, as most have adopted the more popular London dialect.
It is said that this accent is similar to that spoken by early immigrants to America from the Mayflower era to 50 years later, who came disproportionately from southwestern England for some reason. Why? Easy access to the coast from which to sail ships? There is a town in Virgina called Tangier that retains a Restoration Era English accent to this very day. It was settled in 1670 by English form the southwest of England near where this Somerset dialect is spoken.
The entire accent in this region is known globally by the term “West Country dialect.” It encompasses most of southwest England over to Cornwall, east to Bristol or so and then southeast at least to Bournemouth on the coast. It is quite a strong accent, and it is rather unique.
I am not sure what this even sounds like. It might sound a bit like Scottish or possibly like Scouse from Liverpool. It is possible that Middle or even Old English sounded something like this. A commenter from Ireland said that it sounds something like Irish Gaelic for some odd reason. Why would an English accent sound like Gaelic? Because of the nearby influence of Welsh perhaps?
But honestly I felt that it sounded more like German, or better yet, Frisian, than anything else. There is a dialect of Danish, actually a separate language, called Jutish spoken in the far south of Denmark that sounds something like Scots and possibly like this dialect. Danes report that Jutish, at least the hard form spoken by people middle aged and older, is not intelligible with Standard Danish. However, Jutish or Synnejysk is further from Standard Danish than Danish is Swedish. If this is true, then Jutish is surely a separate language.
As Old English came from the Frisian (especially North Frisian) region of far northern Germany and far southern Denmark, it makes sense that these lects would resemble each other. Recall that three tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, were the ones who invaded England, conquering it from decaying Roman rule. Old Saxon pretty much went to Frisian, especially West Frisian. The language of the Jutes is maintained today by the Jutish speakers.
It’s often said that the dialects of Italy will be dead in 30 years. There is no way on Earth that that is true. On the other hand, the hard or pure dialects are dying, as they are all over Europe, in Sweden, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The hard dialects are often spoken only by the old now, and many old words have fallen out of use. The hard dialects often had a limited vocabulary restricted to whatever economic activity was typical of the area. A lot of the old dialects are now being written down in local dictionaries to preserve their heritage.
The dialects were of course killed by universal education, and this was a positive thing. All Italians should learn to speak some form of Standard Italian. In the old days when everyone spoke dialect, people had a hard time communicating with each other unless there was some form of regional koine that they could speak and all understand. It doesn’t make sense if you can only talk to people in a 20 mile or less radius.
A diglossia where hard dialects would exist alongside Standard Italian was never going to work. People are pretty much going to speak one or the other. As people learn Standard Italian, their local dialect will tend to become more Italianized. In other cases, the hard local dialect will tend to resemble more the local regional dialect.
For instance, in southern Campania, the region of Naples, in a part called Southern Cilento, there are still some Sicilianized dialects spoken, remnants from Sicilian immigrants who came in the 1500’s. These dialects are now dying, and the speech of the young tends to resemble more the Neapolitan Cilento speech of the surrounding area more.
In other cases, koines have developed.
There is a regional koine in Piedmont that everyone understands. There is a similar koine in West and East Lombard, the Western one based on the speech of Ticino. There is a Standard Sicilian, spoken by everyone and understood by all, and then there are regional dialects, which, if spoken in hard form, may not be intelligible with surrounding regions. A koine has also developed in Abruzze around Pesaro. There is “TV Venetian,” the Venetian used in regional TV, a homogenized form that has speakers of local dialects worried it is going to take them out.
Even where hard dialects still exist, the younger people continue to speak the local dialect, except that it is now a lot more Italianized and regionalized. A lot of the old words are gone, but quite a few are still left. So the dialects are not necessarily dead or dying, instead they are just changing.
In the places where the dialects are the farthest gone such as Lazio and Tuscany, the regional dialects are turning into “accents” which can be understood by any Standard Italian speaker.
The situation in Tuscany is complicated. Although the hard dialects are definitely going out, even the hard dialects may be intelligible to Standard Italian speakers since Standard Italian itself was based on the dialect of Florence, a city in Tuscany.
Florence was chosen as the national dialect around 1800 when Italian leaders decided on a language for all of Italy. But the truth is that the language of Dante had always been an Italian koine extending far beyond its borders, just as the language of Paris had long been the de facto Standard French (and it still is as Parisien).
This is not to say that there are not dialects in Tuscany. Neapolitan speakers say they hear old men from the Florence region on TV and the dialect is so hard that they want subtitles. And there is the issue of which Florentine was chosen as Standard Italian. A commenter said that the language that was chosen was the language of Dante, sort of a dialect frozen in time in the 1400’s. In that case, regional Tuscan could well have moved far beyond that.
Even in areas where dialects are said to be badly gone such as Liguria, local accents still exist. It is said that everyone in Genoa speaks with a pretty hard Ligurian accent. That is, it is Standard Italian spoken with a Genoese accent.
Many younger Italians are capable of speaking in what is called “close,” “strict” or “tight” dialect. This means the hard form of the dialect. Speaking in this hard dialect, they often say that outsiders have a hard time understanding them. They can also speak in a looser form that is more readily intelligible. People adjust their speech to interlocutors.
We seem to be seeing a resurgence of interest in dialects among young people. Even if they can’t speak them, many understand them. Most young people grew up with mothers, fathers or certainly grandparents who spoke in this or that dialect, and they learned at least to understand it from them. In addition, in many parts of Italy, dialects are still going strong, and many young people at least understand the local dialect even if they do not speak it.
This is a news broadcast in the dialect of Massa, part of the dual city of Carrara Massa in the far north of Tuscany. This is actually an Emilian dialect related to Modenese in the province of Modena in Emilia. Carrara Massa was part of a political and religious unit with Modena for a very long time, and it influenced their dialects.
All of the dialects in this part of the far north of Tuscany near the border of Liguria have undergone such influence. As such, the dialects of Carrara Massa have seen little influence from the Tuscan dialects in the region although Massa has undergone a lot more influence from Versiliese, spoken in the historical area of Versilia along the coast just to the south.The dialect of Carrara is much more pure and has almost zero Tuscan influence, but the dialects of Massa and Carrara are similar.
There are about four different dialects spoken in each Massa and Carrara. It is said in Carrara that the dialects change every 100 yards! This may be an exaggeration, but you get the picture. The old dialect of Carrara is now spoken only by the elderly and the new dialect spoken by younger people is heavily Italiainized.
There are beautiful beaches in both Massa and Carrara and the women are said to be very beautiful.
The region to the north of the border with Emilia and just into Liguria around Sarzana just across the border in Liguria are similar. The dialects to the north are referred to as Lunigiana and Gargafuna in the mountains. The Lunigiana dialect is probably understandable throughout this region and is spoken by about 300,000 people. Outside the region in the rest of Tuscany and Liguria and in Emilia, intelligibility is probably marginal, although intelligibility tests with Modenese have not yet been done.
This is a Gallo-Italic dialect spoken in Tuscany.
This broadcast in the pure dialect of Massese is probably hard to understand for speakers of Standard Italian who do not speak a Gallo-Italic language. To me, it’s sounds very strange and sounds nothing like Standard Italian. It almost sounds French to my ears.
Torrese is the Neapolitan dialect spoken on the Italian coast 10 miles southeast of Naples. This is a port city with a very unique dialect. The hardcore Torrese does not even appear to be completely intelligible in Torre del Greco 5 miles to the north or in Castellamare di Stabia 5 miles to the south.
The video above, apparently from Naples TV, is making the rounds with Italians on Youtube, mostly because no one seems to be able to understand what these women are saying. For sure, this is one wild, over the top dialect all right.
There are also a lot of comments about people who can’t even speak proper Italian, about low-class, slummy, scummy, uneducated people, and about the slums of Naples. It’s true that the Naples region has a lot of run-down housing, especially in suburbs. There is also a tremendous amount of corruption, and the Camorra, or the local Mafia, is simply everywhere. They have even heavily infiltrated the police. For a while there, trash was piling up all over Naples because no one wanted to collect the garbage.There is not a lot of random violent crime, but there is a lot of property crime. Be careful even parking your car on the streets.
The women in the video are apparently complaining about cockroaches in their building. They appear to be saying that they are as big as rats, which is dubious.
The “Southern Question” has long been a problem of Italian politics. It’s a question that is heavily tinged with the racism that Northern Italians feel towards Southern Italians. A frequent comment, along the lines of “Africa begins at the Pyrenees,” is, “Africa begins in Naples.” Northern Italians often say that Naples is part of Africa. Southerners are said to be criminal, rude, belligerent, hot-tempered, violent, corrupt, stupid, uneducated and poor. In addition, they can’t even speak proper Italian.
Drawing a line at where the South begins is difficult, but an argument can even be made that Abruzze is southern in culture. Where Rome fits is anyone’s guess. Perhaps a more proper division is North, Center and South Italy.
The Southern Question shows no sign of resolution in my lifetime.
Romanesco is the Italian dialect or language of Rome and the surrounding area. This Youtube video took Italy by storm. It is called “Girls of Ostia Beach – Interview in Dialect.” The announcer interviews two teenage girls on the beach in Rome for about 1 1/2 minutes.
Their dialect was so strong that those who made the video had to put subtitles on it because many Italians couldn’t understand any of the dialogue otherwise. So you see, even the dialect of Rome is unintelligible in much of Italy.
This is interesting because Rome and its province of Latium and Tuscany are the two parts of Italy where the old dialects are the most far gone. Here they are heavily diluted and Italianized, reduced in many cases from full languages to mere dialects of Italian. But as you can see in this video, the hard dialect of Rome is still alive and well.
The video caused a storm all over Italy but especially in Rome. Many people, especially Romans, were outraged at the girls’ dialect, which they felt was coarse, rude, vulgar and low class. They compared it to the speech of the ghetto or to uneducated idiots. The truth is that this is just hardcore Romanesco dialect from the center of Rome, not from the suburbs or surrounding villages.
Many older Romans were outraged at what the video said about their beautiful Roman dialect. They longed for the “pure and elegant” Romanesco of 50 years ago, now kept alive by the elderly.
Many said that this was not Romanesco at all but instead was Romanaccio, a so-called rude street form of the “true and glorious” Romanesco. The truth is that what you hear in the video is the language of quite a few Roman youth today. And indeed it is quite a bit different from the hardcore Romanesco now spoken by the older folks.
Even if you can’t understand Italian, if you listen to the dialect and try to compare it to the subtitles, you can see that the speech bears little resemblance to the subtitled words.
I don’t speak Italian, but I kind of liked the sound of this dialect. Has kind of a wild sound to it. And the girls are pretty nice to look at.
Check out the absolutely wild and over the top Sicilian speech of the young boy in this short clip from an Italian movie called Respiro – Vieni a Casa. He is speaking in the dialect of Agrigento on the southwest coast of Italy. Even other Sicilians, especially those on the other side of the island by Messina, can’t make heads or tails out of this speech.
Sicilian, at least in this clip, doesn’t even sound like Italian to me. I don’t know what it sounds like! It sounds like a Romance language, but Italian? No. The intonation sounds almost French.
Sicilian is indeed a completely separate language from Italian. Although you might be a bit better understood south of Naples, if you go to the city of Naples and speak Sicilian, you simply will not be understood. That’s all there is to it. North of Naples to the north of Italy, things only get worse.
To some extent, there is a north-south split in Italian dialects (the major ones of which are to be honest full languages). People from the north, especially the Gallo-Italic region, can understand northern dialects better than southern dialects. With people from the south, it’s vice versa.
I have a friend who lives in Trieste. I told him that I had read an online entry from an Italian language professor who related that even in Tuscany, there are unintelligible dialects. The professor related how he was watching a segment of old men from Tuscany speaking hard Tuscan dialect, and he wished it had subtitles.
My friend said that he had been to Tuscany, and he could even understand the old men well. But he said that that was because he was from the north, and Tuscan is northern. He asked me where the professor was from, and I said Naples. My friend told me that Naples is southern, and this is why the professor had a hard time with the old Tuscan men. He then related the basic north-south divide in Italian dialects, which I think is accurate.
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.
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.
There are many ways of dividing languages from dialects. The three general methods are:
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.
I have been studying some of the minority languages of Europe lately. One thing that they have in common is that in a number of cases, there have been proposals made for centralization and standardization of the language. Dying languages very much need standardization. This is because in many cases, these languages are split up in a number of dialects. These dialects are typically quite different, and in many cases, they are flat out separate languages with poor intelligibility with other dialects.
If everyone just goes on speaking their dialects, they won’t be able to talk to other speakers much, and the language will soon die, because most dialect speakers are 35-60+. It’s not a useful solution. Sure, the dialects are very interesting and it might be nice to preserve them, but it seems to be a lost cause. Further, most dialects are not being passed on to children anymore. For the languages to survive, the dialects must all die.
For instance, Occitan has a multitude of dialects, 23 of which are actually separate languages. A unitary Occitan has been created based on Languedocien, one of the largest Occitan macrolanguages. The problem is that this new neo-Occitan is nothing like the Occitan spoken by Auvergnat, Croissant, Limousin and Gascon speakers.
Further, the unitary spelling and writing style does not represent the way that these languages speak. For instance, a particular word may be written in a unitary way in neo-Occitan, but the graph for that word would look nothing like the way the word is pronounced in the speaker’s language. The word “bricklayer” might be written something like “frondyard.” Ridiculous or what?
Children are being taught neo-Occitan in special language schools. The neo-Occitan is regarded as an abomination by speakers of traditional dialects, and neo-Occitan speakers can’t understand traditional dialect speakers.
A similar thing is going on with the Breton language in Brittany in northwest France. This is actually a Celtic tongue similar to Welsh that is strangely enough spoken in France. Breton is actually made up 4 major dialects that are frankly all separate languages. Intelligibility is poor between the four Breton lects, but the lects are not being passed on to children and most speakers are over 50 anyway.
In schools called Diwans the children are being taught a neo-Breton, an invented “language that no one speaks.” The neo-Breton speakers come out of the schools, and they can’t understand speakers of the traditional Breton lects. And speakers of traditional dialectal Breton can’t understand neo-Breton. Kids and their elders are speaking the same language, but they can’t understand each other. Sad situation.
In the Basque country, a similar situation is going on. The schools are teaching a neo-Basque, a fake language made up of the amalgamation of all of the major Basque dialects plus a lot of made-up neologisms. Speakers of traditional dialects have a hard time with neo-Basque, and neo-Basque speakers have a hard time with traditional speakers.
Nevertheless, there is no way around standardization. Teaching every group of children the separate small dialect of their region is useless. It will create new generations of speakers that can’t even communicate with most of the speakers of the language. If they are taught the unified language, at least they will be able to communicate with all other speakers of the language, at least when the older dialect speakers die off.
Languages must be standardized. It’s essential. Not only so everyone can talk to everyone, but so that everyone can read everyone. Can you imagine what chaos it would be if every writer of English wrote English phonetically in exactly the way that they speak it. You might have millions of different Englishes out there. Yet this is the way that nonstandardized languages are typically written, phonetically.
Further, spelling must be standardized. There must be a correct way and an incorrect way to spell most any given word of English. This makes reading faster and communication transparent. If you don’t like English spelling rules, then don’t write in English!
It’s easy to understand why typical dialect speakers regard the neo-languages are some sort of abomination. Let us use an example from English.
Suppose there was an attempt to unify all of the Englishes on Earth into some sort of World English.
This language would include speech and writing based on the phonetics of various types of British English, Scottish English, African English, Indian English, Singlish, Australian English, Canadian English and New Zealand English.
As if that were not bad enough, the speech and writing would also be based partly on various US Englishes: Southern English, Ebonics, New York English, Boston English and Appalachian English.
If you turned on the TV, the announcers would be speaking in some insane English based on all of the English dialects listed above. Any English writing would also be phonetically based on a mixture of all of the above dialects. The new language would also have a ton of new terms derived from slangs of the various Englishes.
Could you imagine how furious we speakers of US English would be? This is the way traditional dialect speakers feel about the unified neo-languages slated to replace their dialects.
This is Occitan, strange language that borders Spanish and French. In different regions, it sounds like different languages. In the Aran Valley of Spain, Occitan is so heavily influenced by Catalan, Spanish and Aragonese that it seems I can almost understand it. But here, North Auvergne is under heavy French influence. Honestly, this just sounds like French to me, but every now and then it sounds so odd that you think that could not possibly be French. Might be interesting to see if any French speakers can understand more of this than I can.
Despite the fact that my Spanish is pretty good, I could not understand one single word of this.
One thing that is interesting once you learn to speak Spanish fairly well is that you can start to pick up the differences in various Spanish dialects. I am told that people who don’t know Spanish well can’t pick up the differences at all. Hearing a divergent Spanish dialect is a very strange experience. You hear Spanish words, but the accent is so off and weird that you think that they can’t possibly be speaking Spanish. A frequent mistake it to think that they are thinking some closely related Romance language like Catalan, French, Portuguese or Italian.
I’ve written about this before, but now that we have more Hispanics and even Mexican nationals reading the blog, maybe we can get some good feedback.
Mexican Spanish is fairly uniform at least around these parts. However, there are some differences.
Oaxacan Spanish: I have heard older Oaxacan Indians speaking a very strange and harsh form of Spanish. I assume it was some Oaxacan Indian Spanish.
Morelos Spanish: Spoken in the state of Morelos near just south of Mexico City. I heard a woman speaking this to her kid. She looked very White, and for some reason I thought she was Iranian. I listened to her for several minutes and I was sure she must have been speaking Farsi. However, she told me she was speaking Morelos Spanish. I looked it up on the Net and it is a distinctive dialect.
Jalisco Spanish: Spoken in the coastal state of Jalisco. This does seem different from the other varieties of Mexican Spanish. I heard a White looking guy speaking it in the store and I asked him what language he was speaking. He was speaking Jalisco Spanish. It had a very European sound to it – like Castillian or Catalan.
Veracruz Spanish: I was in a store and there was a guy on the phone speaking some strange language. There were Spanish words but the accent was insane. After a bit, I said, “No way are you speaking Spanish.” The guy practically fell over himself laughing and he said he was indeed. He looked sort of South Indian, so I thought he was speaking some Indian language like Hindi.
He said he spoke regular Spanish, but he came from the Caribbean coast of Mexico, and he was talking to someone from there, and he was speaking Mexican Caribbean Spanish. This is the most whacked version of Mexican Spanish I have ever heard.
Guatemalan Spanish: A neighbor speaks this. It’s Spanish all right, but it’s not Mexican Spanish at all. Has an odd but recognizable accent. And she speaks incredibly fast and slurs her words together in the worst way.
Salvadoran Spanish: Different from Mexican Spanish, but not dramatically so. It’s immediately identifiable as Spanish.
Puerto Rican Spanish: Caribbean Spanish in general is just nuts. I heard a group of mixed race folks speaking it at a store. I listened for a while, very confused. Then I walked over to them and asked if they were speaking Portuguese, because that was what it sounded like. They said they were speaking Puerto Rican Spanish. The mixed race group had not a trace of racism, and among them were some of the most dignified looking Blacks or mulattoes I have ever seen. A quiet dignity you rarely see in US Blacks.
Colombian Spanish: One of the strangest Spanishes of them all. I knew an upper class Colombian woman from the Zona Rosa in the north of Bogota. She spent about half her time in Spain. She had the sexiest, most breathiest Spanish I have ever heard, almost like a super sexy French accent. It was also very European sounding. It had a very Castillian and almost French flavor to it. I heard her sister talk too, and she talked exactly the same way.
She used to write me emails, and I couldn’t make heads or toes of the Spanish because it was so full of figures of speech, slangs and colloquialisms. Running it through a translator was useless. For all intents and purposes, she wasn’t even writing in Spanish.
I was at a store and a group of Colombians was in line, all young adults. I heard Spanish words, but the accent was so whacked that I thought it had to be something else. I approached them and asked if they were speaking Italian, because that is what it sounded like. They laughed and said they were speaking Colombian Spanish.
Once again, this was a very sensual language. The 30-something beauty talking to me seemed like she was openly flirting with me, but finally I thought that was just how she talked. They were all talking like they were either heading to an orgy or just got back from one, but once again, I think that was the way they talked all the time. These people live in their bodies, fully sensual, and the language pumps right out of their emotional heart. The words seem to sway and move with their bodies. One sexy language!
I recently heard another woman speaking Colombian Spanish, this time from the Caribbean coast. A fruity, delightful language with words that sway in the sun on the golden sands. A sound as juicy as papayas, mangoes and bananas. You want to reach out and grab the words as they fly through the air and take a bite of them.
Peruvian Spanish: I knew some Peruvian women and used to talk to them a lot. The Spanish is not too crazy accentwise, but it has a ton of slangs in it. They didn’t really speak English, so they couldn’t explain what the slangs meant. One thing was that they spoke very, very fast! I kept telling them to slow down, but they could not seem to slow it down no matter how many times you asked. Peruvian has only one speed – very fast.
Chilean Spanish: Sounds very Castillian, but it’s immediately recognizable as Spanish. One problem is the mountain of slang in this dialect. I don’t think there is any Spanish that has as much slang as Chilean. It’s literally chock full of all kinds of weird slangs. They are also the pickiest Spanish speakers I have ever met. Almost like the French, almost correcting your Spanish. Most Spanish speakers are very gracious, but Chileans want you to speak it right!
Argentine Spanish: This is one weird Spanish. You hear it spoken and you hear Spanish words, but the people speaking it look like Europeans and the accent sounds Italian! Or sometimes it sounds like some other European language – Catalan, French or Castillian. This is one insanely whacked out Spanish!
Catalonian Spanish: I heard a group speaking this, and I thought no way is that Spanish. I asked them what they were speaking, and they said Spanish. They said they were from Catalonia. Their Spanish sounded like Catalan! It didn’t sound like Spanish at all. This was one of the bizarrest Spanishes I have ever heard.
A more updated version of this paper with working hyperlinks can be found on Academia.eduhere.
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. Conclusion: 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.
Do any of you have the foggiest idea of what this guy’s saying? I swear to God, he’s speaking a foreign language. There’s no way he’s speaking the same language I am.
AAVE = African American Vernacular English
The guy seems like a real asshole. Practically a caricature of your typical Black ghetto scumbag.
Two years after the video was shot, Corey Lamar Beecher (the man in the video) was arrested and charged with Trespassing and Resisting Arrest. One month previous, he was arrested and charged with Grand Theft Auto. You gotta figure that anyone who talks like that is essentially unemployable at any legal occupation. He seems to have a promising future in store for him.
I have suggested previously that intelligibility testing is the best, and really the only, way to scientifically attempt to divide languages from dialects.
Dividing based on intelligibility is a more scientific concept to the dialect/language concept than the sociolinguistic or political concepts currently used that have resulted in chaos surrounding the language/dialect question.
The resulting chaos has caused linguists to throw up their hands. Many now take the weird and soft science position that there is no way to tell a language from a dialect. This means that English and Mandarin may well be dialects of one language or California English and Massachusetts English are possibly separate languages. Make sense?
Focusing merely on intelligibility and nothing else turns the language/dialect question from its current senselessness towards a more solidly scientific basis.
There are other ways to distinguish language from dialect, but these just make things messier.
One way is structural divergence. Structural divergence is fairly well correlated with intelligibility, but not completely. Some divergent lects are quite intelligible, for instance, Turkish and Gaguaz. If you split structurally divergent yet intelligible languages, you run into the strange situation where speakers of two completely different languages can understand each other perfectly.
Dividing languages on sociological or, worse, political grounds is almost thoroughly anti-scientific. You run into odd cases, such as with Galician and Mirandese, where people of two intelligible lects wish to insist that they speak different languages in order to cynically acquire state funds and recognition, or because they dislike the other group, or maybe live in a different country than the other group.
You also run into odd cases like various unintelligible Mayan languages of Guatemala who insist that they all speak dialects of one language because this is the way they have always referred to these lects, or in order to preserve the unity of the language. In this case, you run into the bizarre case of speakers of two different dialects of a single language who can’t understand each other at all. If they can’t understand each other, who says they are speaking the same language?
Political reasons are much worse. States typically deny that minority languages spoken within their borders are languages in order to preserve the unity of the state and ward off fears of separatism and ethnic conflict. That linguists acquiesce to such blatantly fascist demands with a shrug of the shoulders is disturbing. States such as Sweden have recently engaged in gross manipulation of the ISO code process in order to deny language rights to minority tongues. It is disturbing that SIL caved in to the demands of the Swedish state so easily.
All in all, intelligibility is really the only way to go, and avoids all of these other anti-scientific minefields. A recent paper in Computational Linguistics by Harold Hammarström points out that intelligibility testing works, is valid and reliable and can consistently separate languages from dialects. The unscientific notion, now dogma in Linguistics, that there is no scientific way to determine mutual intelligibility of different lects, belongs in the trash can.
The typical position of Linguistics nowadays is to bash Ethnologue and SIL for excessive splitting of dialects into languages. In general, this perception is incorrect. As a recent review by the same man, Harold Hammarström, shows, Ethnologue generally splits dialects from languages in an accurate fashion, and it excessively lumps as often as it excessively splits. In fact, Ethnologue’s dialect/language distinction lines up very well with the specialist linguistic literature.
So if Ethnologue are mad splitters, so are the specialist authors themselves. The attacks on SIL and Ethnologue are poorly informed and typical of excessive emotionalism and fanaticism that has overtaken Linguistics recently and threatens to make it into yet another joke soft science social science. It is interesting that the same wild-eyed screamers who oppose lumping in genetic classification (opposition to say, Penutian and Altaic) are the same snarks who sneer that Ethnologue excessively splits.
The one thing that they have in common is the typical soft science dodge that we can’t prove much of anything about anything. We can’t prove what’s a language and what’s a dialect, so leave it alone. We can’t prove any more language families due to time depth or the weather or whatever, so let’s stop making any more families until we sit down, relax for 20-30 years over cups of coffee and get this stuff all sorted out.
The other main attack on Ethnologue is bizarre. It’s based on the fact that Ethnologue is run by Christian missionaries who translate the Bible into many languages. There are many atheists, usually very leftwing atheists, in the academic field of Linguistics, and it’s clear that their sneering contempt for SIL is based on the fact that they are unapologetically religious.
The bizarre insinuation is also made that since they Bible-translating missionaires, they could not possibly be competent linguists. How strange. Why can’t one be a Bible-translating missionary and a linguist at the same time? And other than that this is an obvious ad hominem attack, what’s so bad about being religious anyway? This sort of condemnation reminds one of the former USSR. Surely being a religious believer should not disqualify one from being a competent linguist!
Another strange and ultra-leftwing attack on SIL is that they somehow are CIA spies of some sort. I’m not competent to respond to that attack.
However, some Indian organizations in Latin America have protested the organization and tried, sometimes successfully, to get them banned from their nations, usually on grounds of trying to convert Indians to Christianity. Somehow the fact that SIL was banned from various backwards, dysfunctional banana republics for “trying to convert the Indians” is evidence that they can’t possibly do competent Linguistics.
How bizarre. Competent scholars are regularly banned from silly nations for sorts of strange political reasons that have nothing to do with scholarship. Once again, linguists appear to be siding with fascist-like states and opposing scholars.
Harold Hammarström, a man working in computational linguistics, which I would hope is about as scientific as our field gets, offers some hope to steer our field back to a more scientific path and reclaim some territory from the soft science mush-heads.
We’ve reviewed several of these studies before, and this subject seems to send a lot of Scandinavians up the wall for some reason. Especially Swedes are quite insistent that Swedish and Norwegian are a single language. They get pretty furious when people say that they can’t completely understand each other. A new study I found adds some weight to that notion. Here are the results of a study of Scandinavian students on an intelligibility test of other Scandinavian languages:
Swedish Norwegian Danish
Norwegians 89 75
Swedes 83 24
Finnish Swedes 75 14
Danes 53 57
As you can see, Norwegian and Swedish are almost dialects of a single language. In this test, Swedish-Norwegian intelligibility was 86%. That’s not quite dialects of a single language, but it’s very close. It’s better to say that they are extremely closely related languages. If we include Finnish Swedes, the results go down somewhat, but most Swedes don’t live in Finland.
Norwegian-Danish intelligibility was lower, but still high, at 66%. That’s higher than Spanish and Portuguese. Norwegians can understand a lot more Danish than the other way around, but the Danes can’t seem to understand their neighbors very well.
Swedish-Danish intelligibility was lowest of all at 39%. It’s safe to say that these two don’t understand each other well at all. The Swedes and especially the Finnish Swedes can hardly understand Danish people at all.
Here are the results of a study of “Dutch” students on an intelligibility test of other “Dutch” languages:
The intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is much exaggerated. Swedish and Norwegian are much closer. Combined intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is only 53%. That’s about the same as Spanish and Portuguese, not so good. In particular, Afrikaans speakers seem to have a hard time understanding the Dutch.
The intelligibility of Frisian and Dutch is also much exaggerated. Here, Dutch understood 55% of Frisian, about the same as Spanish and Portuguese. Frisians were not tested on Dutch since they all understand Dutch.
Warning! This post is quite long – it runs to 126 pages. Frequently updated – last updated May 24, 2015.
Where the Dutch language begins and where it ends is an important question. Ethnologue splits Low Franconian-Low Saxon (whatever that is) into 15 languages – Flemish, Dutch, Zeelandic, Afrikaans, Achterhoeks, Drents, Gronings, Plautdietsch, Sallands, Low Saxon, Stellingwerfs, Twents, Veluws, Westphalian and East Frisian Low Saxon. Instead of the confusing Low Franconian-Low Saxon, we will henceforth refer to the same as “Macro-Dutch.”
This treatment will lump together many of the Dutch Low Saxon lects as Dutch, put East Frisian Low Saxon into Dutch, put Westphalian and German Low Saxon into German, move Limburgish out of German to Dutch where it belongs, and create a dozen new Macro-Dutch languages.
An important question is the position of Frisian languages in all of this. Currently Ethnologue has them in Anglo-Frisian. Gooskens 2004 makes a good case that Frisian is better analyzed as Macro-Dutch than Anglo-Frisian based on Levenshtein distance. She is probably correct, but I am going to leave Frisian outside of Dutch until I can analyze it better.
Anyway, genetically, Frisian is a part of an Anglo-Frisian family (Gooskens 2004). However, Frisian has drifted far away from English due to massive influence from Dutch such that it now is closer to Dutch than the Scandinavian languages are to each other (Gooskens 2004). It depends on if you wish to analyze Frisian based on its genetic history or on which language it is closest to.
Neither is German intelligible to Dutch speakers, even after 3-4 years of studying German. This even holds for Low German, which is often held to be intelligible with Dutch. It’s not, even after 3-4 years of study and even to speakers of Dutch-German border lects in the Netherlands that are presumably closer to Low German than the rest of Dutch. After 3-4 years of German, Dutch speakers have only 55% intelligibility of Low German, and the ones on the border have only 59% intelligibility of Low German (Gooskens in publication).
Nor are Frisian and Dutch mutually intelligible, another common claim. They have combined intelligibility of 61% (Gooskens 2005). Neither are Afrikaans and Dutch mutually intelligible. Combined intelligibility of the two languages is 55%, the same as Spanish and Portuguese (Gooskens 2005).
The Dutch either have a nationalist complex or are possible simply ignorant or indifferent on the question of what constitutes “Dutch.” They take a very conservative, nationalist view of the language question. To the Dutch, every language spoken in the Netherlands and some spoken outside of it is Dutch. Brabantian, Flemish, Veluws, Afrikaans, Limburgish, Bergish, Guelderish, Kleverlandish and Dutch Low Saxon are often all considered to be dialects of Dutch.
To be fair to the Dutch, I’m making a similar claim here, but instead of calling all of the above dialects of Dutch, I will call them separate languages under an umbrella called Macro-Dutch which subsumes them all.
The Dutch do recognize Limburgs and Low Saxon as minority languages.
Spain, Germany, Italy, France and Sweden do not recognize the languages under the umbrellas of Macro-Spanish, Macro-German, Macro-Italian, Macro-French and Macro-Swedish umbrella.
Spain does not recognize Asturian, Aragonese or Extremaduran. France does not recognize the many langues d’oil. Italian does not recognize Piedmontese, Ligurian, Lombard, Venetian, Emigliano, Romano, Neapolitan or Sicilian. Sweden does not recognize Scanian, Gutnish, Jamska or Dalecarlian. Germany does not recognize Bavarian, Swabian, High Franconian, Low German, Westphalian, Upper Saxon, Ripuarian or Pfaelzisch.
Probably the reasons that these languages are not recognized is due to the national consolidationist efforts behind a standard language and the fears of splintering the standard into substandard forms and the separatism that may ensue. So the Dutch are simply following in standard European modernist tradition.
This has resulted in problems and violations of language rights for speakers of other Low Franconian lects. For instance, Zeelandic is definitely a separate language, not a dialect of Dutch. Zeelandic speakers petitioned to have their language recognized as a minority language nine years ago, but the Dutch government has refused to grant this request.
The truth may disturb many Dutch speakers. For Dutch is not just the 15 languages confusingly listed in Ethnologue; it is actually 30 separate languages, which I will attempt to demonstrate below.
Method: Various “Dutch” and “Low Franconian” lects were analyzed on the basis of mutual intelligibility with Standard Dutch to see if they warranted treatment as separate languages. A rough guide was >90% intelligibility = Dutch dialect and <90% intelligibility = separate “Macro-Dutch” language. There are reasons for choosing 90% as a metric. Below 90%, and it gets difficult to discuss complex or technical subjects. Also, 90% seems to be where Ethnologue splits dialects from languages these days, and they are in charge of giving out ISO codes.
Other lects in Ethnologue’s treatment were analyzed to determine whether they belonged in “Macro-German” or “Macro-Dutch.” Westphalian and German Low Saxon were moved to Macro-German; the rest were moved to Macro-Dutch.
Anecdotal reports and scientific studies were reviewed, and native speaker informants were interviewed. Where intelligibility estimates are controversial, scientific intelligibility studies could always settle the matter. The creole was not counted.
Results:Ethnologue’s Low Franconian-Low Saxon was expanded from 15 into 32 languages based on mutual intelligibility. Below, separate languages are in bold, while dialects are in italics. Dutch, like Arabic, Italian, German, Chinese and so many others, is a macrolanguage.
Discussion: This work is merely a working hypothesis intended to be discussed and criticized by scholars and interested parties. I would be interested in criticism on a peer review basis. Criticism must be both constructive and friendly, otherwise it will be summarily rejected. This is very much a work in progress.
In recent years, there were five Dutch creoles spoken in Indonesia, Guyana and the US Virgin Islands. It appears that four of the five are extinct, and one is barely alive.
Berbice Creole Dutch is barely alive, spoken in Guyana by only four speakers. There are another 15 with limited competence. It is spoken in the Berbice River region of the country. About 1/3 of the words and most of the morphology is from the Nigerian Bantu language Izon, a language with 1 million speakers. The rest of the lexicon is mostly from Dutch. 10% of the words are borrowings from Guyanese Creole English and Arawak, an Indian language still spoken in Guyana.
Low Franconian Languages and Dialects
Standard Dutch, Algemeen Nederlands or AN (henceforth, AN) is a major world language spoken by all 15 million residents of the Netherlands and an additional 7 million speakers elsewhere. Although one might suspect that Dutch goes all the way back to the oldest Old Franconian, actually, the lects closest to Old Franconian are French Flemish, West Flemish and Zeeland Flemish. Dutch proper seems to have broken off sooner.
Dutch has many dialects, but they are all more or less intelligible. There are two forms of Dutch in general – Hollandic and Brabantian. Both are part of AN. Modern Belgian Dutch is much more Brabantian than Hollandic.
There is also Brabantian Netherlands Dutch, a dialect of Netherlands Dutch, and Brabantian Belgian Dutch, a dialect of Belgian Dutch or Vlaams (Grondelaers 2009).
Surinamese Dutch is a Dutch dialect, easily intelligible with AN, that is spoken in Suriname. It has 280,000 speakers, or 60% of the population. It is the official language of Suriname.
Netherlands Dutch is the Dutch dialect spoken in the Netherlands, differentiating with Belgian Dutch. It is widely understood throughout the country, especially the Standard Dutch variety of this dialect that has been popularized in the Netherlands since the 1960’s.
Netherlands Brabantian Dutch is a Dutch dialect spoken in North Brabant Province in the Netherlands (Grondelaers 2009). It is easily intelligible with AN. This dialect has about 2.45 million speakers.
Belgian Brabantian Dutch is the same thing as the Verkavelingsvlaams described below. It is spoken in North Brabant Province and in Antwerp Province by about 3.4 million speakers. It is being replaced by French in Brussels, but it is still widely spoken elsewhere.
Stadsfries is a mixed dialect spoken in certain urban areas of Friesland such as the towns of Leeuwarden, Dokkum, Bolsward, Sneek, Stavoren, Harlingen and Franeker. Originally Frisian speakers, they gave up Frisian for Dutch about 500 years ago. The vocabulary is mostly Dutch with Frisian pronunciation. AN speakers can understand this dialect pretty easily. Lately it is seriously declining and has low prestige, hence it is becoming a sociolect spoken mostly by low-income people in the cities.
Snekers is a Stadsfries dialect spoken in the Friesland city of Sneker. It traces back to 1600 or so when locals abandoned West Frisian for Hollandic speech as an elite gesture, since Hollandic was not spoken much outside of the Holland Provinces. By 1800, the rest of the city had modeled their elitist behavior after the rich and the whole city spoke Snekers. It continued to be a highly valued speech until 1900. People kept speaking it a lot until WW2.
The disdain towards Frisian, seen as peasant speech, continues in many Snekers speakers to this day. In the 20th Century, many rural people moved to the city, and many foreigners moved there too. Snekers became a speech used only by Sneker natives among themselves. They spoke Dutch or sometimes Frisian to newcomers. Nowadays, Snekers is dying. The youth have taken it up, but they speak a watered down version that is probably intelligible to AN speakers.
Hollandic Dutch is the other large dialect of Dutch besides Brabantian. Hollandic is spoken in the provinces of North Holland and South Holland by about 6 million speakers. This dialect is intelligible with AN. Hollandic Dutch is the variety that is closest to AN. It is divided into two lects, North Hollandic Dutch and South Hollandic Dutch.
IJmuidens is a dialect spoken in by the lower classes in IJmuiden, the third largest port in the Netherlands, in North Holland. The dialect is probably readily intelligible with AN.
Haarlems is the dialect spoken in Haarlem in North Holland, especially by the lower classes. It does not differ much from Amsterdams or AN. This area has long had the reputation for being the place where the purest Dutch is spoken, although this is no longer true anymore. Nowadays, the purest Dutch is spoken in places like Dronten on the Dutch polders in the IJsselmeer.
Nijmeegs is a very interesting dialect spoken in the city of Nijmegen in eastern Gelderland. Although strictly speaking it should be a South Gulderish dialect, it has heavy Hollandic features such that it may well be intelligible to AN speakers. Until the late 1800’s, residents of the city were speaking a typical South Gulderish dialect. However, in the late 1800’s, the upper class of the city began speaking a Randstad dialect similar to Amsterdams and Haags.
The lower classes quickly began speaking the same dialect, and the traditional dialect of the city disappeared, as it was poorly valued anyway. Nijmeegs still has some East Brabantian, Limburgish and Achterhoeks features, but it also lacks many characteristic Limburgish and Brabantian features of surrounding dialects.
Amsterdams is the dialect of the city of Amsterdam, spoken by the lower classes in the city. It is still spoken in the city, especially in certain neighborhoods. Although it is located in North Hollands, Amsterdams is more of a South Hollands dialect. A book published in 1874 found an astounding 19 different dialects spoken in the city.
Although it is still spoken, Amsterdams is associated with lower-classes, street toughs, etc, such that many Amsterdammers try to unlearn the dialect in order to improve their career chances. Amsterdams has many Yiddish words due to the fact that a large Jewish community has traditionally lived there. Amsterdams is intelligible with AN.
Haags is a South Hollandic dialect spoken by the lower classes in The Hague. It is easily intelligible with AN. The dialect is dying out and undergoing serious leveling, but since the 1980’s there has been a movement to bring back the dialect, and more residents of the city are speaking it, often with intentionally exaggerated features. Its syntax is similar to AN and is quite different from the nearby Rotterdams and Leids dialects.
Gouds is a South Hollandic dialect spoken in the city of Gouda, 20 miles northeast of Rotterdam. In many ways it is similar to AN. With mass immigration and compulsory education in AN, the real Gouds is hardly heard anymore.
Rotterdams is the South Hollandic dialect spoken in the city of Rotterdam. It differs little from AN. This is because the standard for Hollandic dialects, dating back to 1600, was the Rotterdams dialect. Its influence spread throughout the region, first to the upper classes and then to the lower classes as they imitated the speech of the rich.
The Rotterdams dialect does have many unique features, mostly due the waves of immigrants who have come to the city, each bringing their own language which added to the Rotterdams dialect. In the 1800’s, there was a large influence from Brabantian and Zeelandic speakers. In the 1900’s, the influences have become more varied, as speakers of Arabic and the Papiamento or Surinamese creoles added their words to the mix. It is still heard throughout the Rotterdam region and in the cities of Spijkenisse, Hellevoetsluis and Capelle aan den IJssel to the east and southwest.
Bildts is a mixed Frisian-Dutch lect spoken in the Het Bildt, a polder region in Friesland northwest of Leeuwarden that dates back to the 1500’s. Many immigrants came from the South Holland area to this part of Friesland to help create the polders. Their South Hollandic lects mixed with the Frisian spoken by the local farm workers to create this interesting mixed dialect.
Intelligibility between Bildts and AN is not known, but in a dialect map published in 1974 showed Bildts the furthest of all from AN (Berns 1991). On the basis of that study, Bildts may indeed be a separate language, but better intelligibility data would be nice.
Midslands is a North Hollandic dialect, similar to Stadsfries, that is still spoken in on Terschelling Island off the coast of Friesland in the village of Midsland. It has Hollandic and Frisian influences. Intelligibility data is lacking.
Amelands is a another dialect like Midslands and Stadsfries. It has mostly Hollandic vocabulary with Frisian grammar. There are four villages on the island, each with their own dialect. Nevertheless, all dialects are intelligible with each other.
The dialect developed in the 1700’s when Hollandic migrants moved to the island, probably for trade, and the locals gave up their Frisian speech for Hollandic. The process was not complete, and Amelands was the result. It is still very widely used. 85% of youth continue to speak Amelands. Intelligibility with AN is not known.
Westfries is a highly divergent dialect of Dutch spoken in West Friesland that is not to be confused with the West Frisian language. It is dying out and is only spoken by about 8% of the population. There are many subdialects, often one for every village or town they often differ considerably.
There is some confusion about the difference between this Dutch dialect and the West Frisian language proper. It has heavy Frisian influence. A better way to describe it might be to say that it is a mixed language of Dutch and West Frisian, almost a “creole.” It could also be described as Dutch with a heavy Frisian substrate.
Westfries was apparently a Frisian language for centuries until it died out about 200 years ago. It appears to have transformed from a full Frisian language to a form of Dutch. The strong variety is still used in cabaret performances.
Another way to look at it is that Westfries is one of the last of the more pure Hollandic dialects. Most of the rest of Hollandic has undergone serious leveling such that most of the peculiar features, such as the Frisian substrate that characterized all Hollandic, have washed out. AN speakers reportedly have a hard time understanding Westfries, and it is about as distant from AN as Zeelandic. There appears to be more than one language inside Westfries, since it’s not uncommon for speakers of varying Westfries lects to not understand each other.
Westfries consists of two parts. One, the Westfries language, which consists of Island Westfries. And two, Land Westfries, which is part of the North Hollandic language.
Island Westfries or Eland Westfries is a major split in Westfries. This is spoken on the islands and former islands of Texel, Vlieland and Wieringen and on land in the city of Enkhuizen. Island Westfries has poor intelligibility with the more common Land Westfries due to its archaic character, hence it may be a separate language.
Wierings is an Island Westfries dialect spoken on the former island of Wieringen. It is very close to Tess, the dialect of Texel Island. Wierings is rapidly disappearing and is only spoken by the older generation. Younger people speak a weak Wierings which looks more like Land Westfries. There is a navy base on Wieringen, so many non-islanders have come to live there.
Tessels is an Island Westfries dialect spoken on the island of Texel in North Holland that is so different from the rest of Island Westfries that it must be a separate language. It is still widely spoken, especially in the rural areas, but it is not much spoken in the larger cities. There are different varieties of Tessels spoken in the towns of Oudeschild, De Cocksdorp, Den Hoorn and Oosterend. The dialects differ greatly, and speakers from different towns do not necessarily understand each other fully, hence intelligibility is somewhat marginal among the dialects.
North Hollandic is a language spoken in North Holland Province. It consists of the Land Westfries, Zaans and Waterlands dialects. The situation is confusing, as there is also North Hollandic Dutch, a dialect of AN.
Land Westfries is a dialect of North Hollandic Dutch, a major split in the Westfries language. This variety is less conservative and has been influenced more by Dutch. The more archaic varieties of Island Westfries have poor intelligibility with Land Westfries, hence it may be a separate language.
Kennemerlands is a North Hollandic Dutch lect spoken in Kennermerland around the cities of Haarlem and Beverwijk. It arose in the Middle Ages due to contact between Frisian speaking fishermen and speakers of North Hollandic Dutch. Towards the north, it looks more like Westfries and the Zaans dialect. It is best analyzed as a transitional dialect between North Hollandic and Westfries. It is unintelligible to AN speakers, and is apparently a separate language.
Durkers or Egmonds is a strange dialect, often analyzed as either Westfries or Kennemerlands, spoken on Egmond aan Zee in the north of North Hollands Province. In this treatment, we will analyze it as Kennemerlands. It is not intelligible with AN (Anonymous January 2010)
Zaans-Waterlands is a North Hollandic lect spoken in North Holland Province. It is composed of two dialects, Zaans and Waterlands.
Zaans is an archaic North Hollandic dialect spoken in the Zaan, an old settled and industrial area between Amsterdam and Haarlem. It is spoken in the city of Zandam and in the towns of Wormerveer, Krommenie and Zaandijk. It apparently arose out of Westfries. Zaans has difficult intelligibility with AN.
Waterlands is a Zaans-Waterlands dialect that is spoken between the Zaan and the IJsselmeer, the inland sea in the Netherlands. This dialect is very archaic, though it is similar to Zaan and Westfries. It has difficult intelligibility with AN.
Volendams is a Waterlands dialect that is extremely divergent. It is unintelligible with AN, and even other Waterlands speakers have a hard time understanding it, so it is probably a separate language.
The city of Volendam was isolated for centuries, and this gave rise to its strange language. This isolation, combined with immigration of speakers of other odd dialects from fishing villages around the Zuiderzee, helped shape Volendams. Volendams received huge immigration in 1859 following the evacuation of the former Zuiderzee island of Schokland due to fierce storms. The Schokland residents spoke a strange dialect called Schokkers which was basically a Low Saxon dialect similar to Urkers.
Markens is a very unusual Waterlands dialect that is spoken on the former island of Marken. It also received large input from the fleeing residents of Schokland. Markens is one of the most unusual dialects in the Netherlands and has been the object of many studies. It has difficult intelligibility with AN, but intelligibility with the rest of Waterlands is not known.
Markens appears to have a heavy base of Frisian or even Old Frisian. It appears to be undergoing dialect leveling under the pressure of the mass media and immigration, and young people typically do not speak pure Markens.
Goois is a North Hollandic dialect spoken in Het Gooi, a region in the far southeast of North Hollands. Cities in this region include Naarden, Bussum, Huizon, Blaricum, Laren and Hilversum. Opinions on this dialect are varied. One view is it is a Dutch-Low Saxon transition dialect, mostly in the far east of Blaricum, Laren and Hilversum. That would be transitional to West Veluws. This view sees the rest of the area as Hollandic. There is also influence from the Utrechts dialects. The dialect is still alive, especially in the three eastern cities discussed above.
South Hollandic is a lect spoken in South Hollandic Province. A similar situation is going on here as with Brabantian and North Hollandic. As there is Brabantian Dutch and North Hollandic Dutch and Brabantian and North Hollandic languages, so there is South Hollandic Dutch and the South Hollandic language. The South Hollandic language is mostly gone now, as dialect leveling has moved most of the dialects to South Hollandic Dutch. However, it remains alive in the form of the Strandhollands and East IJsselmonds dialects.
Aalsmeers is a dialect spoken in the city of Aalsmeer in southern North Holland near the border with South Holland. Traditionally, it was a Strandhollands dialect, but it has lost most of its Strandhollands features and is probably not a part of that group anymore. It has a similar genesis with the Strandhollands language, in that it was formed by immigrants from the Frisian-speaking north moving down to the area long ago.
However, due to geographical isolation (they were cut off on three sides by marshes or lakes and only accessible via a sliver of land) they were cut off from the rest of Strandhollands and the convergent evolution with it ended. There was also a group of Mennonites who came down from Friesland and settled in the area.
Immigrants probably kept speaking Frisian here longer than in other places. In general, this dialect is best seen as transitional between North and South Hollandic. The original Aalsmeers dialect is nearly extinct. Intelligibility data with AN is not known.
Strandhollands is a very conservative dialect of the Hollandic language spoken in the fishing villages in the area of Sheveningen and Katwijik aan Zee in the Holland Provinces. Intelligibility in general is marginal at best and hardly possible at worst between this lect and AN (Anonymous January 2010), hence it is a separate language.
This is a very archaic South Hollandic language that has preserved many old features, while the rest of South Hollandic behind the dunes has trended towards Hollandic Dutch. Strandhollands retains many features of Medieval Dutch. It is interesting that the standard dialect of The Hague is close nearby.
It emerged about 400 years ago and its provenance is obscure. Probably fishermen from elsewhere on the coast, such as Friesland and and the Zuiderzee moved into the area to take up fishing. The language has a strong Frisian substrate. Probably the isolation of the villages helped to keep the lect different from surrounding evolving lects.
The Strandhollands dialects become more intelligible with AN, in general, as one moves to the south. The least comprehensible ones are generally in North Holland Province. Intelligibility data between this and the rest of South Hollandic, especially East IJsselmonds, is needed.
Wijk aan Zee is a Strandhollands dialect spoken in the fishing village of Wijk aan Zee that has poor intelligibility with AN (Anonymous January 2010). The town is located west of Beverwijk.
Zandvoort is a Strandhollands dialect that is hardly comprehensible to AN speakers (Anonymous January 2010). It is spoken in Zandvoort on the coast west of Haarlem.
Noordwijks is a Strandhollands dialect spoken in the fishing village of Noordwijks an Zee in South Holland Province. Intelligibility with AN is somewhat marginal (Anonymous January 2010). Noordwijks is probably the easiest Strandhollands lect for AN speakers to understand.
Katwijks is a Strandhollands lect spoken in the fishing village of Katwijks an Zee in South Holland Province. It is based on an archaic version of Leids, the dialect of the city of Leiden. Katwijks, like Zandvoort and Wijk aan Zee to the north, is barely comprehensible to AN speakers (Anonymous January 2010).
Schevenings is a Strandhollands dialect spoken in the fishing village of Scheveningen in South Holland Province. It has marginal intelligibility with AN (Anonymous January 2010). This dialect is said to be based an archaic version of Haags, the dialect of The Hague.
Zoetermeersis a very divergent South Hollandic dialect spoken in the city of Zoetermeer 10 miles east of the Hague. This was always an isolated farming village, so it was not effected much by the trends effecting the Haags dialect a short while away. In the 1960’s, the population grew from 10,000 to 120,000 as immigrants flooded into the Hague region. Hence, only a few locals speak the dialect anymore.
Westhoeks is spoken in the Westhoek in northwest North Brabant. It’s a Hollandic dialect spoken in Brabant. No one is sure why. They are Protestants, and this may have something to do with it, but it’s more likely a case similar to Bildts, where many Hollandic speaking immigrants moved to the area after the polders were created in the 1600’s and afterward. Intelligibility with the rest of South Hollandic is not known.
Westhoeks is divergent enough from the rest of South Hollandic to be given its own category in many analyses. It has some influence from Dordts, the old dialect of Dordrect not far to the north.
Fijnaarts is a Westhoeks dialect spoken in the village of Fijnaart in North Brabant.
Dordts is a South Hollandic dialect spoken in the city of Dordrect that is intelligible with the rest of South Hollandic. It has heavy Zeelandic and Brabantian influences. In the 20th Century, it underwent dialect leveling under the influence of the much less divergent Rotterdams dialect in Rotterdam. The strongest Dordts is now heard in the center of the city.
IJsselmonds is a South Hollandic lect spoken south of Rotterdam on the old island of IJsselmond, now reclaimed from the sea. The former island can now be seen via satellite as #9 on this map. In general, it is south of Rotterdam between the Niewe Maas and the Spijkenisse Rivers. The region is now heavily industrial, particularly gone over to shipbuilding. The lect is quite a bit different from both AN and Rotterdams. It has two main variants, West and East IJsselmonds.
West IJsselmonds has come under severe Rotterdams influence and can hardly be heard in its pure form anymore. It is only barely alive in the town of Pernis.
East IJsselmonds is extremely divergent from AN and Rotterdams and cannot be understood outside the region. It has mostly undergone dialect leveling and in general is rarely heard. The youth speak a watered down version that is intelligible with AN. Only in the city of Hedrik-Ido-Ambrecht can the true lect be heard on an everyday basis. Given that it’s unintelligible outside the region, it may be a separate language. Intelligibility data between this and the rest of South Hollandic, especially Strandhollands, is needed.
Ambachts is the last remaining holdout of the East IJsselmonds language. This is a deeply conservative dialect, the most conservative of the language, such that the lect of one village may differ greatly from the next. It has striking influences from the Umbrechts-Alblasserwards dialect group to the east.
Baorendrechts is a deeply conservative East IJsselmonds dialect that is spoken in the city of Barendrecht. It has been mostly superseded by AN these days.
Bulessers is another deeply conservative East IJsselmonds dialect spoken in the city of Bolnes. It is almost extinct, under heavy pressure from AN.
Zwindrechts is an East IJsselmonds dialect spoken in Zwijndrecht. It has undergone serious dialect leveling due to the effects of industrialization but can still be heard, mostly in farmers. It has some Dordts influence.
Rekkarkeks is a South Hollandic lect spoken in the city of Ridderkerk, halfway between Rotterdam and Dordrect. This is a very unusual lect that is very different from AN. Hence is has poor to marginal intelligibility with AN, and thus, it may well be a separate language.
It is located just to the east of the East IJsselmonds language, hence its unusualness is probably due to its East IJsselmonds features. It is barely alive and has only a few speakers left. A diluted version is still quite alive. Intelligibility data with the East IJsselmonds language is urgently needed.
Hoekschewaards is a South Hollandic dialect spoken on a former island southwest of Dordrecht, between the Spijkenisse River and the Haringvliet Channel. The city of Numansdorp is located in this region. This dialect has strong IJsselmonds and Albasserwards tendencies. These are much stronger than the Dordts influences. It has three divisions, West Hoekschewaards, East Hoekschewaards and Gravendeel. It is still very much alive, though it is coming under heavy influence from Rotterdams and AN.
West Albasserwards is spoken in the Western part of the Albasserwards, east of Rotterdam about halfway to the Utrecht border. The dialect is dying out in many areas, and there is little interest in preserving it. However, in many of the rural areas, a strong dialect is still alive.
In the eastern part of the Albasserwards, the dialect is like that of Utrecht, but in the west it is quite Hollandic, although it has some Utrecht influences. The dialect differs even from village to village. It is spoken in cities such as Sliedrecht and Papendrecht. The Papendrecht dialect is almost gone due to heavy immigration.
Slierechsis the very divergent West Albasserwards dialect spoken in the city of Sliedrecht. People here have taken more interest in their dialect than elsewhere in the region, and there are regular CD’s and books issued on it.
Utrechts-Alblasserwaards is a dialect group of Hollandic dialects spoken in Utrecht Province, far southeast South Hollands and a small part of Gelderland. To the south there are dialects heading into Brabantian and to the east, there are more dialects heading into South Gulderish. The dialect has low prestige, and there is little interest in it, even among speakers. Nevertheless, it is still learned by children, and there are 330,000 speakers of this dialect.
Utrechts is spoken by the lower classes of the city of Utrecht, capital of Utrecht Province. Nowadays it is spoken more in the rural areas around the city than in the city itself, but even in the city, it is still spoken in certain districts. There is a lot of immigration into the city and emigration out of it, so the dialect is dying.
Vijfheerenlands is an Utrechts-Alblasserwaards dialect spoken in the Vijfheerenland region in the southeast of South Holland. This area includes the cities of Vianen, Meerkerk, Leerdam and Lexmond.
Eemlands is a confusing set of dialects spoken in the eastern part of Utrecht and has strong Veluws influence. Some say that they are Utrechts-Alblasserwaards dialects, and others say that they are West Veluws. The best analysis is that they are transitional between the two varieties, in other words, that they are Low Franconian-Low Saxon transitional dialects. They are spoken in Soest, Amersfoort and Bunschoten. Amersfoort and Bunschoten tend to be considered more West Veluws, and Soest tends to be seen as more Utrechts. With the exception of Bunschoten, these dialects are highly endangered.
Geldersevalleis is a set of dialects spoken in the Gelders Valley, 2/3 of which is in Gelderland and 1/3 of which is in Utrechts. The towns of Ede, Wageningen and Veenendaal are located in this region. These dialects are very hard to characterize, as they have West Veluws, Utrechts and South Guelderish tendencies. They are seriously declining and becoming more Hollandized.
West Veluws is a strange dialect usually collated with Dutch Low Saxon, but which is in fact a Low Franconian dialect. Practically speaking it is best seen as transitional between Low Franconian and Low Saxon. For the most part it is intelligible with AN, but as one moves to the north and east of the West Veluws area, West Veluws gets harder for AN speakers to understand. This dialect has heavy Dutch influence. In most places, this is a dying dialect, and it is not spoken much by young people anymore.
Even the forms of West Veluws still spoken in the home are coming under increasing AN influence. It is spoken in Amersfoort, Spackenburg, Bunschoten, Nijkerk, Barneveld, Putten, Voorthuizen, Ermelo, Elspeet, Uddel, Leuvenum, Harderwijk, Hierden, Nunspeet, Lunteren, Otterlo and Huenderlo. In Nijkerk, Amersfoort, Spackenburg and Bunschoten in the west of the West Veluws region, the dialect is nearly dead.
Brabantian is actually a separate language. It is distinct from Netherlands Brabantian Dutch, which is merely a dialect of Dutch (Grondelaers 2009). The real hardcore Brabantian is dying out, but it is highly divergent, and Dutch speakers say it is incomprehensible. Intelligibility is far lower than for Zeelandic. However, Verkavelingsvlaams speakers can understand Brabantian pretty well, since Verkavelingsvlaams is very Brabantian.
Brabantian is dying out in the Netherlands, but it is still spoken in Tilburg and in the rural areas of Nord Brabant. There is quite a bit of confusion about what is the pure Brabantian and what is Brabantian Dutch, but the key is intelligibility. Brabantian Dutch is easily comprehensible to an AN speaker, and the real Brabantian is not at all. Other than South Brabantian, which is a separate language, all of the Brabantian dialects are mutually intelligible.
North Central Brabantian is a dialect of Brabantian that is spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium in a strip that runs along the border around the towns of Ravels, Tilburg, Loon op Zant, Waalwijik, Vlifjmen, Huesderf and Drunen.
Tilburgs is a hard North Central Brabantian dialect that is still widely spoken in the city of Tilburg in the southern part of the Netherlands. It is intelligible with the rest of Brabantian (Anonymous January 2010).
East Brabantian is spoken in the eastern part of North Brabant. It is one of the main Brabantian divisions. The various divisions of East Brabantian include Kempenlands, North Meierjis, Peellands, Geldrops and Heeze en Lendes.
It includes the towns of Eindhoven, Veldhoven, Vught, Boxtel, Oirshchot, Best, Acht, Middelbeers, Eersel, Waalre, Mierlo, Luijksgestel, Bergelijk, Aalst, Heeze, Leende, Son, Helmond, Berjeijk, Schijndel, Lieshout, Beek, Gemert, Aarle-Rixtel, Aasten, Someren, Liessel, Duerne, Bakel, Mill, Veghel, Volkel, Uden, Nistelrode, Heesch, Zeeland, Boekel, Sint Michielsgestel in the Netherlands and Arendonk and Lommel in Belgium. East Brabantian is intelligible with the rest of Brabantian (Anonymous January 2010).
Northern Kempens is a hard East Brabantian dialect spoken in an area on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands in eastern Antwerp and western Limburg Provinces in Belgium and north into the Netherlands. Major cities and towns in the region include Turnhout, Arendonk, Eersel, Oirshchot, Hilvarenbeek, Retie, Oisterwijk, Boxtel, and Eindhoven. It is an area of poor soil with many marshes, bogs and forests. Lately, it is primarily a tourist region. Northern Kempens is intelligible with the rest of Brabantian (Anonymous January 2010).
Arendonk is a very specific, apparently highly diverse and possibly archaic Northern Kempens Brabantian dialect spoken near Turnhout close to the Dutch border. It is said to be unintelligible outside of the nearby area. Hence, it may well be a separate language.
Northwest Brabantian is a Brabantian dialect spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is spoken in Breda and the surrounding region to south into Belgium.
Cities in which it is spoken include Breda, Baarle-Hertog, Oosterhout, Steenbergben, Made, Raamsdonksveer, Roosendaal, Putte, Geertruidenberg Hoogstraten, Brecht, Moerdjik, Oudenbosch, Bergen Op Zoom, Huijbergen, Rijsbergen and Woesndrecht in the Netherlands and Woostwezel, Meer, Ekeren, Merksom, Kapellen, Lillo, Stabroek, Meerle and Rijkevorsel in Belgium.
This dialect was created from the Eighty Years War. After the war, this Brabantian-speaking region was essentially depopulated, and afterward, a large movement of immigration from the Antwerp region occurred, spreading the tendencies of the Antwerps dialect. Northwest Brabantian consists of three major dialects, Antwerps, Baronies and Markiezaats. Antwerps is spoken in Antwerp and north to the Netherlands border. Baronies is spoken in the area around Breda and Markiezaats is spoken in the west over by Zeeland.
Bredaas is a Northwest Brabantian dialect spoken in the city of Breda that is dying out. It is mostly spoken in certain areas and with the older generation. It tends to re-emerge around Carnival time though.
Markiezaats is spoken in the west of North Brabant around the cities of Bergen op Zoom and Steenbergen. It extends over to the Drimmelen region to the northeast and generally includes everything west of Breda.
Antwerps is a hard Brabantian dialect spoken in Antwerp, Belgium. It is intelligible with all the rest of Brabantian (Anonymous January 2010). This dialect is widely disliked in Belgium because it is neither Flemish nor a Dutch dialect, and hence is poorly understood.
It is often heard in the Belgian media, but it is rarely subtitled, and this is the cause of the frustration with non-Antwerps speakers. East Flemish speakers say that they cannot understand it. This language is spoken in Antwerp. In a study, 51% of East Flemish speakers said that they wanted subtitles when listening to Antwerps speakers on TV (De Houwer 2008). Antwerps was regularly heard on TV until recently.
This dialect is one of the most influential in terms of inputs towards the creation of Verkavelingsvlaams. Verkavelingsvlaams at the moment is heavily based on the Antwerps dialect. There is some uncertainty regarding the intelligibility of Antwerps with surrounding lects. Students who recently went to school in Antwerps say that they could not understand students who came from villages in the Antwerps area. It is not known what lects the villagers were speaking.
Wase is the name for a group of Brabantian dialects spoken in the Waseland in the far northeast of East Flanders. The capital of this region is the city of St. Niklaas. The area was originally wide fields bounded by willow trees. It flooded and was drained a few times. Many turnips are grown here.
Maaslands is a dialect of Brabantian that is spoken in a narrow strip in North Brabant south of the Maas River. It is spoken in the towns of Empel, Maren, Lith, Herpen, Oijen, Megen, Ravenstein, Oss and Grave, all of them along the Maas River.
Bosch is a Maaslands dialect spoken in Hertogenbosch, a large city a bit south of the Maas River in North Brabant. The dialect is still pretty well alive, but its use varies throughout the city, with some areas speaking a lot of Bosch and other areas in which it is rarely heard. Due to immigration and the fact that it has become a commuter town, the dialect has been declining for some time now.
Nederbetuws is a confusing dialect, usually included in South Guelderish, spoken in the Lower Betuws in Gelderland. It actually has heavy Brabantian features. The dialects of the river cities of Tiel and Culemborg are quite different. It is spoken in the towns of Tiel, Culemborg, Buren, Geldermalsen, Wadenoijen, Ophemert, Waardenburg, Herwijnen and Gorinchem. This is mostly a rural area, with a lot of livestock, fruit orchards, vegetables and greenhouses.
South Brabantian is a very divergent lect within Brabantian that is very hard for other Brabantian speakers, even those from nearby Antwerp Province, to understand (Anonymous January 2010). Therefore, it may well be a separate language. It is spoken in Brabant Province in Belgium and around the capital of Brussels. This area has retained the most extreme and archaic Brabantian features. It is under heavy pressure from Verkavelingsvlaams, especially in the cities and less so in the countryside.
The least intelligible variety seems to be spoken from Brussels west to the East Flanders border, especially in the rural areas and near the southern and western borders.
Brussels in the name for a group of South Brabantian lects that were traditionally spoken in Brussels, and still are by a small number of old people. In the past 200 years though, the language of the capital shifted to French. The remaining Brabantian speakers shifted to some form of Dutch, and many today speak some Dutch standard, usually VRT. At any rate, the original Brussels South Brabantian lects are now almost extinct, spoken only by the older generation, most of whom are also bilingual in French.
Traditionally, Brussels lects were very diverse and were not intelligible with Antwerps Brabantian or Leuvens South Brabantian from about 1650 on. Increasing French influence after the Eighty Years War which ended in 1648 resulted in a closing off of Brussels to most outside influence and increasing French influence on the Brussels lects. It was still the most widely used language in Brussels until the French occupation around 1800.
It then began to decline as more residents started speaking French. In part this was an urban elitist effect, as the local rural areas all spoke Brabantian dialects, and the city became increasingly French speaking, especially the upper class. To sum up, to speak French meant you sounded like an aristocrat and to speak Brabantian meant you were talking like a farmer.
During the 1800’s there was a big debate in Brussels about which form of Dutch to make the official language – some common Flemish form or something more like Netherlands Dutch? People could not make up their minds, and this gave people one more reason to just speak French instead.
Brussels is almost extinct, and only some older Brusseliers speak it. Apparently no one else, including almost everyone in Brussels, can understand them. As Brussels is barely understood even in the city, clearly it must not be understood outside the city either. Hence, Brussels may be a separate language. But intelligibility data with the rest of South Brabantian would be nice to have.
Marols is a divergent Brussels dialect traditionally spoken in the colorful Marollen district, traditionally a poorer, rundown working class area, that was recently full of drug dealers and bums, but is now undergoing gentrification. Marols is a strange mixture of Spanish, Yiddish, Walloon and Brabantian. The Yiddish and Spanish is from many Spanish Republicans and Polish Jews moving to this district just before WW2. Marols is rarely heard these days, and intelligibility with the rest of Brussels is not known.
Liekert is a South Brabantian dialect spoken in Liedekerke, Belgium in Brabant Province on the border with East Flanders. It is unintelligible with the rest of even Flemish Brabantian, including Antwerps.
Leuvens or Leives is a South Brabantian dialect spoken in the city of Leuven in Belgian Brabant. Many immigrants moved to the city after WW2, and use of the dialect reduced dramatically. Intelligibility between Leuvens and the rest of South Brabantian is not known.
Ninove is apparently a South Brabantian dialect spoken in the city of Ninove in the east of East Flanders. It is probably close to Liekert, and hence is very hard for even Flemish to understand.
Elingen is a South Brabantian dialect spoken in the town of Elingen on the border with Hainaut Province. It is not intelligible at all with Brabantian proper (Anonymous January 2010).
Aalsters is a South Brabantian dialect that is very hard for even the Flemish to understand. It is spoken in the city of Aalst in East Flanders, Belgium, on the border of Brabant Province. It is also spoken in Opwijks, Asses and Tenants over the border in Brabant Province.
Tiens is a South Brabantian dialect spoken in Tienen in Eastern Brabant, Belgium. It has Limburgish tendencies. It is dying out and tends to be spoken more by the working classes, but is still pretty widely spoken. Intelligibility with the rest of South Brabantian is not known.
Afrikaans is a separate language, recognized by Ethnologue. It is spoken in South Africa by 13.2 million people, including 6.45 million native speakers and 6.75 million second language speakers. 12-16 million people have basic knowledge of the language.
A study noted that Dutch speakers have 59% intelligibility of Afrikaans (Gooskens 2005), while Afrikaans speakers have 51% intelligibility of Dutch. The combined intelligibility estimate is 55%, close to distance between Spanish and Portuguese. Afrikaans split off from Dutch in about 1675 when Dutch settlers began settling in South Africa. The first written Afrikaans is dated to 1795.
Zeelandic or Zeêuws is a separate language, recognized by Ethnologue as a different Low Franconian language from Dutch. Zeelandic is not easily understood by AN speakers. It is spoken in Zeeland Province and in South Holland Province on the island of Goeree-Overflakee. This area is south of Rotterdam. It is best thought of as transitional between Dutch and West Flemish.
There are a variety of dialects, Walcheren, Zuid-Beveland and Goeree-Overflakee among others. Toward the north, Zeelandic looks more Hollandic or Dutch, and towards the south, it looks more Flemish. The dialects of Zeelandic Flanders are really outside of the definition of Zeelandic and are best described as East and West Flemish instead.
Although it is clearly a separate language from Dutch, Dutch nationalism mandates that it be seen as a dialect and not a separate language, hence the Dutch government refuses to recognize it as a separate language. The language is still in pretty good shape, though it is declining.
It still has 220,000 speakers. In some rural villages, up to 90% of the children still speak Zeelandic. The dialects of the larger cities are going extinct, yet Zeelandic is still in good shape in the rural areas. Surveys conducted in the 1990’s showed that 60% of residents of the area still spoke Zeelandic on an everyday basis. All Zeelandic dialects are intelligible with each other except South Beveland, which is possibly a separate language. Intelligibility between Zeelandic and West Flemish is not known, but may be high.
Along with French Flemish and West Flemish, Zeelandic is part of Southwest Low Franconian. These languages are said to be the remains of the oldest of Old Franconian.
Burgerzeeuws is a Dutch dialect spoken in Zeeland. Though it ought to be part of the Zeelandic language, it is not. It is originally Zeelandic, spoken in the cities of Zeeland, which was then replaced with Hollandic by status conscious upwardly mobile people. Like Stadsfries, this language developed in the 1600’s. It is especially spoken in Middelburg and Vissingen.
In the 1990’s, only 1/3 of urban Zeelanders spoke Zeelandic, compared to 2/3 in the province as a whole. This dialect is still alive though, even among the youth, especially in conservative Christian circles. In some areas this dialect is scorned, while in others it is valued. Burgerzeeuws has unknown intelligibility with AN, but it is probably easier to understand than Zeelandic proper.
Oostvoorns is a Zeelandic dialect spoken in the far north of the region that is actually spoken outside of Zeeland proper in the area called Oostverne just to the north. Some say that this dialect is actually Hollandic and not Zeelandic. It’s probably best seen as a transitional Zeelandic-Hollandic dialect. Intelligibility with AN is not known, but it’s probably better understood to AN speakers than the rest of Zeelandic.
Goerees is a Zeelandic dialect spoken in the Goeree region of Zeeland. The dialect of the fishing village of Ouddorp is quite different, with many unique words. It is quite a bit different from the rest of Zeelandic. This dialect is still widely spoken.
Flakkees is a Zeelandic dialect spoken in the region of Overflakee, east of Goeree. It is spoken in Ooltgensplaat, Middelharnis and Sommelsdijk. Flakkees is divided into three subdialects – West Flakkees, East Flakkees and Brabants Flakkees. Flakkees is still very widely spoken.
Schouwen-Duivelands is a Zeelandic dialect spoken in the Zeelandic region of Schouwen-Duivelands. In some places such as Bruinisse the dialect is in great shape, with 90% of youth even speaking it. In other places such as Burgh, Haamstede and Zierikzee it is undergoing decline due to tourism.
Thools is a Zeelandic dialect spoken on the former island of Tholen is Zeeland. It is undergoing some decline due to widespread immigration but is still widely spoken. There is a sharp barrier between Thools and the North Brabant area just to the east. The city of Oud Vesssemer speaks a mixed North Brabantian-Zeelandic dialect.
Walchers is a Zeelandic dialect spoken on the former island of Walcheren in Zeeland. It is spoken in the towns of Domburg, Westkapelle, Koudekerke, Arnemuiden and Oost Souburg. The dialect of the fishing village of Westkapelle is very different, with many unique words. In Westkapelle and Arnemuiden, the dialect is still doing very well. In other places it is under heavy pressure from tourism and immigration.
South Bevelands is a Zeelandic lect spoken in the Zuid Bevelands area of Zeeland. This area is still very rural, so the lect is in great shape. South Bevelands was scarcely touched by Hollandization during the Golden Age of Holland, hence its archaic character.
South Bevelands is extremely diverse, varying wildly from one village and town to the next to the point that communication is so seriously impaired that residents from different towns typically use AN to communicate rather than their town lects. On the face of it, it’s tempting to split off every town as a separate language, but that seems wild and threatens chaos, and until we get more data, it’s thankfully premature.
However, since South Bevelands is not even intelligible within itself, it can’t possibly be intelligible with the rest of Zeelandic, hence it may well be a separate language.
Land of Cadzands is a Zeelandic dialect spoken in the far south of the Netherlands in Zeelandic Flanders. It is properly seen as a Zeelandic dialect transitioning to West Flemish.
Dutch Low Saxon is a group of lects related to Dutch and German that are very hard to classify, especially in terms of their relationship with Low German in Germany and with Low Franconian (Macro-Dutch) in the Netherlands.
I originally put Dutch Low Saxon in with Low German and added it to my German reclassification. However, after thinking this over for a year now, I now believe that Dutch Low Saxon belongs much more in Macro-Dutch than in Macro-German. Nerbonne 1996 makes a convincing case that Dutch Low Saxon is more properly seen as Macro-Dutch than as Macro-German in a scientific paper analyzing Levenshtein distances between Dutch lects.
There is an argument floating around that all of Dutch Low Saxon is intelligible with all of German Low Saxon. This is certainly not true. Looking at Veluws to Schleswigsch, those two languages are not intelligible with each other at all. In fact, even Groningen and Veluws are not intelligible within the Netherlands alone.
Arguing against the notion of Dutch Low Saxon as being a Dutch dialect, many Dutch say that Dutch Low Saxon is not intelligible with Dutch. There is marginal intelligibility of around 90% between Dutch and Dutch Low Saxon (Zweers 2009). And some Dutch Low Saxon lects, for instance Veluws and Groningen, are not fully intelligible with each other either (Smith 2008).
Dutch Low Saxon includes four groups: Friso-Saxon, Westphalian, Gelders-Oaveriessels and Plautdietsch.
Friso-Saxon is a group of Low Saxon lects spoken in Groningen that have all been heavily influenced by the East Frisian language. These lects are Gronings-East Frisian Low Saxon, Stellingwerfs, Westerkwartiers, Kollumerpompsters, Kollumerlands, Middaglands, Middle Westerkwartiers, South Westerkwartiers, Hogelandsters, Stadsgronings, Westerwolds, Veenkoloniaals and Oldambtsters.
It is often stated that Friso-Saxon is intelligible with general Low Saxon across the board across the border in Germany. This is not true; it is only intelligible with East Frisian Low Saxon, which is not part of the greater German Low Saxon language. For instance, Gronings, Westerwolds and Veenkoloniaals have only 57% intelligibility of Bremen Low Saxon in Germany (Gooskens 2009). Friso-Saxon is broken into four principal groups: Groningen, East Frisian Low Saxon, Westerkwartiers and Stellingwerfs.
What is difficult is dividing up Dutch Low Saxon into different languages. Ethnologue has gone too far, with proper Dutch Low Saxon divided into eight separate languages – Gronings, Veluws, Sallands, Drents, Stellingwerfs, Twents, Achterhoeks and Plautdietsch. We have reduced this complexity quite a bit here, by reducing Dutch Low Saxon to Friso-Saxon, Stellingwerfs, Urkers and Plautdietsch – four languages, and a reduction of Ethnologue’s classification by 5 languages.
Gronings-East Frisian Low Saxon is a Friso-Saxon language, consisting of two parts, Gronings in the Netherlands and East Frisian Low Saxon across the border in Germany.
East Frisian Low Saxon is a Friso-Saxon dialect spoken in the East Frisian peninsula of northwestern Lower Saxony, Germany. It is intelligible with Gronings in the Netherlands. However, it has only 57% intelligibility with Bremen Low Saxon (Gooskens 2009). It has 230,000 speakers. There are still rural areas around here where the majority of people under age 40 speak the language. 50% of the population still speaks the dialect on a daily basis.
This dialect has an East Frisian substratum. There is dialectal diversity between the western and eastern branches. There are also speakers of this dialect in Iowa, about 500 of them, mostly over age 50. The classic variety of East Frisian Low Saxon probably looks something like this. Dialects include Hinte, Ems (Emsfriesisches), Weser (Weserfriesisches), Jeverländer, Harlingerländer, Ommelands and Mooringer.
Hinte East Frisian Low Saxon (Hintener) is a divergent dialect of East Frisian Low Saxon, but intelligibility data with the rest of East Frisian Low Saxon is not known. It is spoken in the town of Hinte in Germany on the Dutch-German border. Hinte is spoken in Eastern Friesland (Ostfriesland) in Lower Saxony in Germany and Groningen is on the Dutch side. It is somewhat similar to Twents.
Westerkwartiers is a group of Friso-Saxon dialects spoken in the far southwest of Groningen Province. This is the group of Friso-Saxon dialects that most resembles West Frisian. A good characterization of this group would be to say it is transitional from Gronings to West Frisian. The cities of Leek, Zuidhorn and Marum speak this dialect. The group includes Kollumerpompsters, Kollumerlands, Middle Westerkwartiers, South Westerkwartiers and Middaglands.
Kollumerpompsters is a Friso-Saxon Westerkwartiers dialect spoken in the city of Kollumerpomp and the surrounding area in the far east of Friesland. The municipality of Kollum speaks this dialect.
The Gronings group of dialects that are spoken in all of Groningen Province, some of Drenthe Province, and a bit of Friesland Province in far northeastern Netherlands. They have 320,000 speakers. They have a heavy Old Frisian (East Frisian) substrate.
Along with Limburgish, it is the group spoken in the Netherlands farthest from Dutch. Yet Gronings is intelligible with East Frisian Low Saxon across the border in Germany. Gronings is very close to Drents, but it is far from Achterhoeks, Twents and Stellingwerfs, and is not fully intelligible with Stellingwerfs or Veluws. Gronings appears to have good intelligibility of Drents (Felder 2015). Dutch speakers have 89-92% intelligibility of Gronings. But other Dutch speakers say that Gronings is often very hard to understand and sometimes they cannot understand anything at all of it (Felder 2015).
The original language of Groningen was Frisian, but there was a mass movement of Saxons from Drenthe to the area. They mostly settled in the city of Groningen, but then they radiated out from there. In addition, many East Frisian speakers came from across the border in Germany. This had to do with the reclamation of peat land in Groningen. The East Frisian language was supplanted by Low Saxon long ago, before the 1500’s. Traces of East Frisian still exist, but only in morphology and syntax and not in phonology (Heeringa 2004).
Gronings consists of North Drents, Hogelandsters, Stadsgronings, Westerwolds, Veenkoloniaals and Oldambtsters.
Hogelandsters is a Friso-Saxon dialect spoken in the far north of Groningen in a region called Hogeland. This is said to be the “purest” Gronings of all, and it is the hardest for AN speakers to understand. The cities of Leens, Ulrum, Baflo, Uithuizen, Bedum, Winsum, Loppersum and Uithuizermeeden are located in this region.
Stadsgronings is the Friso-Saxon dialect spoken in the city of Groningen itself. It is close to North Drents. The dialect is dying out in the city itself due to immigration of large numbers of students from outside the region who do not speak Gronings.
However, many people still speak Gronings in the city and some are more or less Gronings monolinguals who do not speak ABN well. These tend to be people age 40+ (Felder 2015).
Noordenvelds or North Drents is hard to analyze, but it is best analyzed as Friso-Saxon and not Drents proper. This dialect is close to Stadsgronings. It is spoken in the north of Drenthe Province in the towns of Roden, Norg, Eelde and Vries by 38,000 people. This is nearly the same speech as Stadsgronings (Felder 2015).
Oldambtsters-Reiderlands is a Friso-Saxon dialect spoken in a part of Groningen called Oldambt. It is related to Veenkoloniaals and Hogelandsters and has heavy Westphalian influence. Oldambtsters has a close relationship with the Rheiderlander dialect of East Frisian Low Saxon across the border in Germany; in fact, it is basically the same dialect. East Frisian was spoken here until 1400.
This dialect is steadily declining, but holds out best in the rural areas. German is still widely spoken in this part of the Netherlands, especially in the city of Winschoten. It is spoken in Winschoten, Scheemda, Noordbroek, Heiligerlee, Beerta and Nieuwe Schans.
Veenkoloniaals is a Friso-Saxon dialect spoken in eastern Groningen on the border between Groningen and Drenthe Provinces and over the border into Drenthe. This dialect came into being due to peat mining in the area. In recent years it has been expanding a lot, probably because it is closer to AN than neighboring lects.
Veenkoloniaals is close to Drents but even closer to Stellingwerfs. Veenkoloniaals lacks full intelligibility with Dutch. Veenkoloniaals is quite close to Stadsgronings and almost sounds like the same lect. There are a few differences between the two. This is a harder Gronings that is even harder for ABN speakers to understand than Stadsgronings (Felder 2015).
Westerwolds is another Friso-Saxon dialect. that, like Veenkoloniaals, is spoken in eastern Groningen. Westerwolds is not fully intelligible with Dutch and has heavy influence from East Frisian Low Saxon spoken in Germany. Although it is Friso-Saxon, it is closer to Westphalian than to Frisian. It has a particularly close relationship to Ems Low Saxon spoken in Germany.
Lately it has been losing ground to Veenkoloniaals. It is spoken in a small corner of far southeast Groningen on the German border in the towns of Stadskanaal, Musselkanaal, Ter Appelkanaal, Ter Appel and Vledderveen. ABN speakers say that this is an extremely hard form of Gronings that is very hard to understand, even harder to understand than Veenkoloniaals (Felder 2015).
Stellingwerfs is a Friso-Saxon language spoken in the municipalities of Weststellingwerfs and Oststellingwerfs in southeastern Friesland Province on the border with Drenthe and Overijssel Provinces and over the border into Drenthe and Overijssel.
It is spoken in towns such as Appelscha, Noordwolde, Tjalleberd, Luinjeberd, Donkerbroek, St. Johannesga, Rotsterhaule, Rotstergaast, Delfstrahuizen, Uffelte, Diever, Vledder, Echten, Steenwijk, Giethoorn, Tuk, Willemsoord, Oldemarkt, Kuinre, Smilde, Wolvega, Oldeberkoop, Oldeholtpa, Nijeholtpa, Dwingeloo and Oosterzee.
Frisian speakers moved into the formerly Drents-speaking area when peat-digging began. This began the process of Frisianization. Stellingwerfs is not usually put into Friso-Saxon, but Heeringa 2004 makes a good case for putting it into Friso-Saxon (Fig. 4, p. 97).
One way to look at Stellingwerfs is to see it as a Drents variety intermixed strongly with a Frisian layer (Heeringa 2004). The process of Frisianization began as early as the 1200’s. Stellingwerfs probably has over 300,000 speakers in two dialects, East Stellingwerfs and West Stellingwerfs. Stellingwerfs is not close to Gronings, Drents, Twents or Achterhoeks, and it is not fully intelligible with Dutch, nor with Gronings and Veluws.
Gelders-Oaveriessels is a dialect group within Dutch Low Saxon. It includes Urkers, Sallands, Drents and East Veluws. This group is also sometimes called West Dutch Low Saxon. This group has heavier Dutch (Low Franconian) influence than the rest of Dutch Low Saxon. The two other groups have heavy Frisian and Westphalian Low German influence respectively. The Dutch influence is primarily an archaic version of Hollandic from the 1600’s.
East Veluws is a Gelders-Overijssels Dutch Low Saxon dialect spoken in the Veluwe, a formerly heavily forested and swampy region along a ridge in northern Gelderland Province. This region has a lot of wildlife and used to be very popular with hunters. There are proposals to turn much of this region into a national park.
Although it is a part of Dutch Low Saxon, Veluws is marginal within this family (Smith 2009), with West Veluws looking a lot like Low Franconian (“Dutch”) proper, and East Veluws looking more like a typical Dutch Low Saxon. West Veluws and East Veluws can understand each other, and East Veluws and Twents are mutually intelligible. East Veluws is more intelligible with Dutch than any other type of Low Saxon, probably due to its close connection to West Veluws, a Low Franconian lect; however, East Veluws tends to have marginal intelligibility with AN.
Veluws is one of the lects where Low Saxon and Low Franconian are very close, similar to Gronings and East Frisian Low Saxon, except that Veluws in closer to Low Franconian, and Gronings is closer to Low Saxon. Nevertheless, Veluws is not fully intelligible with Stellingwerfs or Gronings. There are probably 300,000 speakers of all varieties of Veluws, but there are fewer Veluws speakers than speakers of Gronings, Stellingwerfs and Twents.
East Veluws is spoken in the towns of Apeldoorn, Doernspijk, Oldebroek, Elberg, Hattem, Heerde, Epe, Ernst, Vaasen, Het Loo, Twello, Gorssel, Brummen, Doesburg, Eerbeek and Dieren.
Sallands is a Gelders-Overijssels Dutch Low Saxon dialect spoken in the Salland region in the western part of Overijssel Province. Sallands has fewer than 300,000 speakers. Sallands lacks full intelligibility with Dutch, but is intelligible with Twents. Based on linguistic distance (Fig. 3) it may not be intelligible with Groningen. There is a transitional Sallands-Twents dialect spoken on the border with the northwest of the Twents-speaking area (ter Denge 2009). There is a lot of variability in Sallands.
Sallands is spoken in Zwolle, Zutphen, Nijverdal, Vroomshoop, Kloosterhaar, Marienberg, Hardenberg, Gramsbelgen, Lutten, Heemse, Witharen, Ommen, Oudleusen, Den Ham, Vilsteren, Dalfsen, Kampen, Heino, Lemereveld, Ittersum, Wijhe, Windesheim, Heeten, Olst, Espelo, Holten, Wesepe, Diepenveen, Lettele, Deventer, Bathmen, Genemuiden, Zwartsluis and Blokzijl.
Zwols is a Sallands dialect spoken in Zwolle, the capital of Overijssel Province. It has some similarities to Urkers nearby. 61% of the population still speaks Zwols. Nowadays, it is mostly spoken in the older districts. It contains many colorful slang expressions.
Dêmpters is the name of the Sallands dialect spoken in Deventer.
Zutphens is a transitional Achterhoeks-Sallands dialect that is spoken in Zutphen, a city in Gelderland. It is interesting because it has many Hollands features. Zutphens is still very heavily spoken by the population of the city.
Drents is a Dutch Low Saxon dialect that is in a group of its own. It has over 240,000 speakers in in Drenthe Province, where it is spoken by about 1/2 the population, and it also has some speakers in Overijssel. In towns like Zuidwolde, the majority of people even aged 30-40 continue to speak Drents as the main everyday language.
Every town and village has its own dialect. Drents is quite far from Twents, Achterhoeks and Stellingwerfs, but it is very close to Gronings and intelligible with Twents. Drents is not intelligible with Dutch.
It is spoken in Assen, Rolde, Geiten, Annen, Anlo, Eext, Klooverstervee, Gasselte, Borger, Grollo, Buinem, Elp, Amen, Beilen, Odoorn, Schoonloo, Hijken, Emmen, Valthermond, Zoordsleen, Sleen, Hoogeveen, Noordbarge, Dalen, Coevorden, Schoonebeek, Eursinge, Zuidwolde, Nieuw Amsterdam, Klazienaveen, Nieuw Schoonebeek, Zwartemeer, De Krim, Linde, Staphorst, Ruinen, Balkbrug, Meppel, Dedemsvaart, Rouveen, Den Hulst and Havelte.
Urkers is a very divergent Gelders-Overijssels Dutch Low Saxon lect spoken in the small city of Urks, formerly an island in the Zeelandic Sea. It is a very conservative Protestant town with no less than 17 churches, where 97% of the population goes to church every week for about three hours a day. Women marry young, and cohabitation is unheard of.
Urkers is utterly incomprehensible to AN speakers, and on structural and intelligibility grounds, there is justification for making it a separate language. Further, a linguistic analysis based on Levenshtein distance suggests that Urkers is best analyzed as a separate language in its own right, apart from all other Dutch lects (Heeringa 2004).
Westphalian Dutch Low Saxon is a branch of Dutch Low Saxon. It contains two dialects, Twents and Achterhoeks, is heavily Germanized and collates with the Westphalian Low German spoken across the border in Germany. Twents is one of the most divergent of all of the Dutch Low Saxon lects from AN, especially the dialects spoken in Vriezenzeen, Rijssen and Wierden.
Twents is a Westphalian Dutch Low Saxon dialect with 328,000 speakers, or 62% of the population of Twents, a region in Overijssel.
Every town has its own dialect, but all dialects are mutually intelligible. Twents is not close to Stellingwerfs or Gronings, but it is intelligible with Drents, Sallands, Achterhoeks (ter Denge 2009) and East Veluws. Based on linguistic distance (Fig. 3) it may not be intelligible with Groningen.
In the northwest of the Twents region, there is a transitional Sallands-Twents dialect that has a largely Twents vocabulary with a Sallands inflection. In the towns of Rijssen and Enter, there is a variety of Twents spoken that uses diphthongs where other varieties have monophthongs. This may be a remnant of an earlier Westphalian variety that may have been generalized throughout the Twents region. On the border with the Achterhoeks region, there is no clear dialect border, as Twents and Achterhoeks slide into each other (ter Denge 2009).
Twents is spoken in the towns of Vriezenveen, Almelo, Rijssen, Hengelo, Borne, Enschede, Oldenzaal, Tubbergen, Ootmarsum, Weerselo, Reutum, Denekamp, Deurningen, Losser, Lonneker, Glanerbrug, Usselo, Boekelo, Haaksenbergen, Diepenheim, Goor, Delden, Markelo and Wierden.
Achterhoeks is a Westphalian Dutch Low Saxon dialect. Achterhoeks is far from Drents, Gronings and Stellingwerfs but is intelligible with Twents (ter Denge 2009). Based on linguistic distance (Fig. 3) it may not be intelligible with Groningen. Achterhoeks is not intelligible with Dutch. Achterhoeks is in very good shape, and is widely used as an everyday language.
Achterhoeks is spoken Northern Gelderland east of East Veluws in towns such as Doetinchem, Terborg, Silvolde, Ulft, Dinxperlo, Alten, Winterswijk, Meddo, Groenle, Lichtenvoorde, Eibergen, Neede, Borculo, Ruunlo, Zelhem, Hengelo, Lochem, Laren, Almen and Vorden. Interestingly, Achterhoeks speakers in Dinxperlo can communicate with speakers of Westphalian German Low Saxon in Suderwick, Germany, across the border.
Plautdietsch is a Dutch Low Saxon language that originated in the Netherlands, but then spread to other parts of the world. It forms a subgroup of its own and is quite divergent from the rest of Dutch Low Saxon. It is not intelligible with many other Low German languages, Standard German, or Pennsylvania German. Plautdietsch has 50% intelligibility with Hutterite German.
This language was originally a Friesland Dutch Low Saxon lect, but they moved to Prussia after they were persecuted for their religion, and later they moved to the US. This is the language of the Mennonites worldwide.
Flemish or Vlaams is a separate language, recognized as such by Ethnologue. Flemish has anywhere from 30% (Zweers 2009) to 66% (Van Bezooijen 1999) intelligibility with AN. However, it is more complicated than that, for in truth, Flemish is more than one language. The primary split is between West Flemish and East Flemish. It’s now widely acknowledged by most that West Flemish and East Flemish are not completely mutually intelligible.
Hinrichs undated makes a strong case for the inclusion of Flemish as a recognized regional language in section III of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages based on linguistic distance to AN. The distance between Flemish and AN is as great as between Low Saxon and Dutch, and Low Saxon is recognized.
VRT-Nederlands, BRT-Nederlands, VT-Nederlands or BT-Nederlands are abbreviations for the form of AN spoken in Belgium. It may be thought as “Dutch with a Fleming accent.” It is easily intelligible with AN, and is increasingly heard on Belgian TV. Further, many Flemings can also speak this language, which is pretty much what they are taught in school under the rubric of “Dutch” classes. There is tremendous confusion between this dialect and “Flemish.”
This dialect is simply a dialect of Dutch or AN. The varieties subsumed under Flemish are completely different languages altogether. This dialect is making increasing inroads in Belgian life and some Flemish speakers are becoming alarmed about this.
Standard Flemish, Verkavelingsvlaams, Vlaamse Tussentaal, VT or Soap Vlaams (henceforth VT) is a koine developed recently in Belgium that is understood by all Flemish speakers and is used often on TV. It is a mixture both of an artificially created Standard Flemish and the local dialects, and AN speakers find it quite incomprehensible. It is nearly the same as Belgian Brabantian. It probably has around 3.4 million speakers in Belgium. VT is fully intelligible with the Brabantian language.
West Flemish or West Vlaams is a highly divergent Low Franconian language that, along with French Flemish and Zeelandic, is part of Southwest Low Franconian and is the closest to the original Old Franconian. This group of languages is interesting because they have retained features of Ingvaeonic or North Sea Germanic features. Ingvaeonic is the postulated language that gave birth to Old English, Old Saxon and Old Frisian, possibly 2,000 YBP. It was spoken what is now the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark. There are also influences from langues d’oil, not so much French proper as Picard, which is spoken adjacent to the West Flemish region.
West Flemish is spoken in Zeelandic Flanders in the Netherlands, West Flanders Province in Belgium and French Flanders in Nord Province in France (see map Fig. 1). East Flemish speakers have a hard time understanding West Flemish, especially the variety spoken in France. For example, West Flemish speakers regularly get subtitles on Belgian TV. Studies have shown that speakers of Antwerp East Flemish cannot understand the West Flemish of Oostende, Diksmuide, or Kortrijk, cities in West Flanders Province (De Houwer 2008).
West Flemish has 1 million regular speakers in West Flanders in Belgium and 70,000 in Zeelandic Flanders for a total of 1.07 million speakers. It also has a few speakers in Flemish Zeeland in the Netherlands.
Brugs is a West Flemish dialect spoken in and around the city of Bruges. It is quite divergent from other West Flemish dialects and even other Flemish find it hard to understand. However, precise intelligibility with West Flemish per se and not Flemish per se (whatever that means) is needed before we can determine whether or not it is a separate language. Brugs is declining in recent days and is being replaced with a more widely spoken Flemish, possibly VT.
Kortrijks is a West Flemish dialect spoken in the city of Kortrijk in the southeast of West Flanders. It is also spoken in the towns of Kuurne, Wevelgem, Ledegem, Moorslede, Muelebeke, Tiens and Izegem. Past Tiens, it starts turning into the Brugs dialect. Past Moorslede, it starts turning into the Ypres dialect.
Ypres is a South Flanders dialect spoken in and around the city of Ypres in the south of West Flanders. It is different from Kortrijks.
Waregems is a dialect spoken in the West Flanders city of Waregem. It is different from Kortrijks and is unique in some ways. It is best seen as a West Flanders dialect heading out towards the East Flanders language. There is an entire area on the border between West Flanders and East Flanders where the dialects may be hard to characters as belonging to either the West Flanders or East Flanders languages. There is a suggestion that only those from the immediate area can understand Waregems well, but until we get better data, it is premature to split it.
Vlaemsch or French West Flemish is a highly divergent West Flemish lect spoken in France that has been diverging from the rest of West Flemish for over 300 years since Louis XIV annexed it to France around 1680. Vlaemsch is full of French loan words, and other West Flemish speakers (such as Oostende West Flemish speakers) have a hard time understanding it, so it is probably a separate language.
Though it is recognized by the French government as a minority language (as “Dutch”), it gets no support from them and has been declining for centuries. It has 60,000 speakers, 20,000 of whom use it every day. The vast majority of Vlaemsch speakers are over age 60. Vlaemsch will probably go extinct in a matter of decades.
East Flemish or East Vlaams is a separate language spoken mostly in East Flanders in Belgium but also in Zeelandic Flanders in the Netherlands. It is not intelligible with AN. For example, the East Flemish speakers in Zeelandic Flanders have a hard time understanding the Brabantian Dutch speakers across the Schelde River. Also, East Flemish speakers have a hard time understanding West Flemish.
Not only is East Flemish a separate language, but there is tremendous dialect diversity inside of East Flanders. In fact, it appears that East Flanders is more than one language. East Flemish probably has about 1.1 million speakers, almost all in Belgium, but that figure may be inflated. The true number of speakers is hard to determine. There are 1.4 million residents in the area, but they cannot all speak East Flemish.
Gents is a highly divergent East Flemish lect spoken in Ghent, Belgium that appears to be a separate language. It is considered very hard to understand even by other East Flemish speakers, so it may be a separate language. To South Brabantian speakers, it may as well be Greek.
In fact, there are two different dialects of Gents, one on the west side of the city and another on the east side. In addition, the dialects of the villages around Ghent are also said to be different from Gents itself. Intelligibility data for the various dialects in and around Ghent is not known. This language has many features of a “language island,” in that it differs markedly from surrounding East Flemish lects. Gents has a strong French influence and many French loans.
Dendermondsis another highly divergent East Flemish lect spoken in the city of Dendermode. Studies indicate that other East Flemish speakers have a hard time understanding it (De Houwer 2008), so it may well be a separate language. Dendermode is about 1/2 way between Antwerp and Ghent. This language has heavy Brabantian influence, and that is why it is so different from the rest of East Flemish.
Lokers is an East Flemish dialect spoken in the city of Lokeren in the northeast of East Flanders on the border with Brabantian. Here East Flemish is transitioning to a group of Brabantian dialects called Wase, spoken in the Waseland. This dialect may be close to Dendermonds.
Limburgish is an East Low Franconian language that is spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is a separate language and is not intelligible with other forms of Low Franconian nor with any Low German. As a part of Meuse-Rhenish, it is transitional between Low Franconian (Dutch) and Low German (German).
Limburgish and Dutch had very different geneses – Limburgish came from Old East Low Franconian, and Dutch came from Old West Low Franconian. It has 1.6 million speakers. Each village and city has its own dialect, but they are all mutually intelligible. There are as many as 580 different Limburgish dialects.
Although Limburgish is said to be intelligible with Ripuarian, the truth is that it is not inherently intelligible with it. There are however some Limburgish and Ripuarian dialects on the borders of the two that are transitional between Ripuarian and Limburgish. See the South Guelderish and the Low Dietsch entries here for more on those transitional languages.
Limburgish is one of the Meuse-Rhenish languages. It is often claimed that Limburgish is intelligible with German, but this is not so. The intelligibility situation with regard to Limburgish and AN is confusing. Some say that Limburgish has marginal intelligibility with AN (Zweers 2009), but other Dutch speakers say that they can barely understand a word of Limburgish. A study concluded that Dutch speakers have about 89% intelligibility of Limburgish.
The real pure Limburgish is not intelligible with Standard Dutch at all, but what is most often spoken nowadays is a sort of a Dutch-Limburgish mixed language that is intelligible to most AN speakers. However, there are still some speakers of the real pure Limburgish around.
This Wikipedia article on Limburgish is wrong. It groups all of Bergish, South Guelderish, Southeast Limburgish and Dutch Limburgish into one “variety” or dialect, and then refuses to call that variety a language.
However, “Limburgish” is composed of at least four languages. Bergish is a separate language, not intelligible with Southeast Limburgish (60% intelligibility), South Guelderish, or Dutch Limburgish. Neither is Southeast Limburgish intelligible with Limburgish. And Venlo may well be a separate language all of its own.
Geleens is an East Limburgish dialect that is spoken in the city of Geleen in Limburg Province in the Netherlands. It differs quite a bit from the dialect of Sittard, even though the two cities have recently merged.
Sittards or Zittesj is an East Limburgish dialect that is spoken in Sittard in Limburg Province, the Netherlands. It’s quite different from Geleens. It is closest to dialects right across the German border, but otherwise it is a transitional Middle Limburgish-South Limburgish dialect, similar to Roermond.
Heerlen Dutch is a Limburgish-Dutch creole or dialect of Dutch spoken in the city of Heerlen in Limburg Province, the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, there were many coal miners in this area and everyone spoken Heerlen Limburgish. As the mines expanded, people came to work from all over the Netherlands and even the Kerkrade region of Germany.
None of them spoke Heerlen, and many didn’t even speak Limburgish. Later a sort of creole based on AN and Heerlen arose. What we have now is a Dutch dialect with a Heerlen base and a strong Limburgish flavor, not really a Limburgish dialect per se. Heerlen Dutch is apparently intelligible with AN.
Hasselts or Hessels is a Limburgish dialect spoken in Hasselt in Belgian Limburg. Dialect leveling has been occurring in the past 50 years as rural residents of the surrounding villages moved to Hasselt. It is best analyzed as a Belgian Limburgish dialect transitional with Brabantian.
Maastrichts is a Limburgish dialect spoken in the city of Maastricht in Dutch Limburgish. It has 60,000 speakers and hence is the largest Limburgish dialect. It is still widely spoken in the city. Maastrichts differs significantly from the dialects of the neighboring villages.
Horsters is the Limburgish dialect spoken in the city of Horst in Dutch Limburg. Some say that everything north of Venlo is outside of Limburgish proper and into South Guelderish. That’s an interesting argument, but we will leave it in Limburgish for now, especially since Limburgish isoglosses extend to just north of Horst. Some see it as transitional between Limburgish and South Guelderish, Kleverlandish and North Limburgish.
Tegels is is a Limburgish dialect spoken in the city of Tegelen in Dutch Limburg. Although it is very close to Venlo, Tegels speaks a typical Limburgish dialect, while Venlo is North Limburgish and is probably a separate language altogether.
They are so different because Tegelen was ruled by the Duchy of Gulik for 750 years, while Venlo was under the Duchy of Gelders for 400 years. The Duchys did not end their rule of both cities until around 1800 or so. Tegelen did not go to the Netherlands until 1817, when it was traded to Netherlands from Germany in exchange for the Dutch city of Henzogenrath, which was traded to Germany.
Weerts or Wieërts is a Limburgish dialect spoken in the city of Weert in Dutch Limburg. It is a Middle Limburgish dialect. Weerts, together with another Limburgish dialect spoken in Hamont in Belgian Limburg and a dialect of Bavarian, has more vowels than any other lect on Earth – 28 of them. The area around Weerts has many forests, sand dunes, bogs and marshes. This part of the Netherlands is also very Catholic. In the far north, it tends to be a lot more Protestant.
Hamont is a Limburgish dialect spoken in Hamont, on the border with the Netherlands in Belgian Limburg.
The map below (Fig. 3) is quite interesting. As we can see below, Limburgish is further removed from Dutch than Veluws, Afrikaans, and Dutch Low Saxon. Much of Dutch Low Saxon is also further from Dutch than Afrikaans.
South Low Franconian is the name for a lect spoken in Germany just east of the Limburgs Province in the Netherlands. Dialects include Jlabbacher Platt of central Mönchengladbach, Föschelner Platt of Fischeln in Krefeld, and Dremmener Platt of Dremmen near Heinsberg. The intelligibility of these German lects with the rest of Meuse-Rhenish is unclear, and it may be a separate language altogether. The closest in intelligibility would be to Bergish, Venloos and Southeast Limburgish in that order.
Southeast Limburgish (SE Limburgish) is a East Low Franconian language made up of a number of dialects that are transitional between Limburgish and Ripuarian. It has a close relationship with Limburgish. Some call SE Limburgish/Low Dietsch/Aachen German by an alternate name – Limburgish-Ripuarian of the Three Countries Area.
Some classifications put this language into Ripaurian, but it is possibly better analyzed as Limburgish or better yet Ripuarian-Limburgish transitional. The classification is important since if it is Ripaurian, this language is “German,” and if it is Limburgish, it is “Dutch.” But if we see it as Ripuarian-Limburgish transitional, this language may most properly be characterized as a Dutch-German transitional lect.
It is spoken in Belgium around Eupen, including Welkenraedt, Lontzen, Raeren, La Calamine, Eynatten, Gemmenich, and Moresnet; in the Netherlands between Ubach and Brunssum in the towns of Kerkrade, Bocholtz and Vaals, where it is known as Waals; and in a large area in North Rhine-Westphalia between the cities of Aachen and Eschweiler in the towns of Stolberg, Wurselen, Eilendorf and Kohlscheid. To the east over by Duren (Dürener Platt), we start moving into Ripuarian proper. It is also spoken in the far upper Eifel region around the Hurtgen Forest (Tulipan 2013).
It is a separate language, unintelligible to those outside the region. Most if not all Southeast Limburgish lects appear to be intelligible with each other (Tulipan 2013).
Bocholtzeris a SE Limburgish dialect spoken in the towns of Bocholtz, Bocholtzerheide and Baneheide in Limburg Province. It is still very widely spoken in the area. Intelligibility is about 90% with Stolberg German (Tulipan 2013).
Aachen German or Aachener Plattis a SE Limburgish dialect spoken in this same general region in Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia on the border with Belgium. Aachen German has 60% intelligibility with Bergish, the form of Limburgish spoken across the border (Harms 2009). The common notion is that Aachen German and Bergish are the same language. Since they are not intelligible, this is not the case.
Intelligibility with Stolberg German is excellent (Tulipan 2013). Aachen German intelligibility with Ripaurian is variable, but averages 40% (Köhler 2015). Aachen German has 50% with Dürener Platt, 30% intelligibility with Kolsch, and 25% with Eupener Platt.
Stolberg German is a SE Limburgish dialect spoken in Stolberg, Germany, near Aachen. It is intelligible with Aachen German, though it has more Ripuarian influences. and 90% intelligibility with Kirchröadsj, Vaals, etc. Other than with Kirchröadsj and Vaals, etc. intelligibility is not good with the rest of the lects spoken in the Netherlands, including Limburgish proper. Stolberg German is still widely spoken (Tulipan 2013).
Kirchröadsj is a SE Limburgish dialect spoken in Kerkrade in the Netherlands. It is often put into Ripuarian, but we will put it in SE Limburgish instead. Kirchröadsj is not fully intelligible with Kölsch. But it along with Vaals and related lects is about 90% intelligible with Stolberg German (Tulipan 2013).
Low Dietschis a lect, often thought to be a SE Limburgish dialect, that is made up of a number of subdialects that are transitional between Limburgish and Ripuarian. However, Low Dietsch is better seen as a separate language because intelligibility with Southeast Limburgs is poor (Köhler 2015). When people say that Limburgish and Ripuarian are mutually intelligible, what they mean is that there are languages like Low Dietsch and Southeast Limburgish that are transitional between Limburgish and Ripuarian.
Around Eupen a Low Dietsch dialect called Eupener Platt (Eupen German) is spoken. Eupener Platt has only 25% intelligibility with Aachen German. Aachen Platt speakers say that Eupener sounds funny, like a mixture of Platt, French and English (Köhler 2015). Intelligibility is difficult with Stolberg German (Tulipan 2013).
Low Dietsch has been slowly dying out for a long time, since World War 1, almost a century, and it is not spoken much anymore. However, in recent years it is undergoing a Renaissance, and it is now being spoken more, even by young people, who seem to be spearheading the resurgence (Tulipan 2013). Eupener Platt has high but not full intelligibility with Kolsch (~70%) and the Middle Limburgish spoken in Heeren.
The following is an example of Eupener Platt.
By Siegfried Theissen
Wi de Ammerekaaner no Öëpe koëmte – iich gelöüf, et woër veerenvärrtech off voëvenvärrtech – wonnde ver ä gene Wéërt. Wi ver no hoërte dat-te Ammerekaaner ä gene Hollefter, a ge Schokkelaates, en gruëte Käüche oppgemaakt hoë, léïpe véër Kaïnder dahään, waïl aïnder es fertaut hoë, dadd-et ta Panneköük ömmesöss güëf. Änn taatsächlech, jédderéïne kräch esuvoël Panneköük, wi-e draage koss!
Änn véër Kaïnder krächte ouch noch en Taafel Schokkelaat, gätt watt fer allt lang neet mië geséë hoë. Dé Schokkelaat woër esu schwarrt wi di ammerekaanesche Köch.
Di Schwarrte doschde suwisuë märr Dénnsmättje schpéële! Obb-ene gouwe Daach gäng derr Vadder métt, änn éïne van di Schwarrte, dé gätt Döttsch koss, waïl-e e gannts Joër bi de Döttsche gevange gewässt woër, vrodde ann derr Vadder, off-e neet föël Gaïlt ferdeene wöül. Derr Vadder woër natüürlech mésstrouwesch änn saat: „ Watt möss-ech da davöër doë?“. – „Véër Schwarrte, saat-é Schwarrte, wäärde van de wétte Offtséëre esuë schléët behaïndelt, ver wäärde ouch esuë schléët betallt, dadd-iich nou oug ens gätt ferdéïne wéll!
Iich hann ene ganntse Kammjong voll Tsigerätte geklaut, änn dé wéll ech nou vöër voëvduusent Frang verkoupe. Et möss waal hü noch séë, waïl möëre wäärde ver versatt!“ Derr Vadder ho jo di voëvduusent Frang geschpaart, mä e saat, e möss terösch métt sinn Vro drövver kalle.
De Modder saat: „ Dat-tönnt fer! Esunne Kammjong Tsigerätte éss en Milljuën wäärt! Di Tsigerätte verkloppe ver ä Oëke, änn dé Kammjong wäärt fer béï ene Buër kwiit.“ Mä derr Vadder woër te bang. E woss neet, wu e dé Kammjong aunderschtélle köss, änn-e saat ouch: „Wänn de Ammerekaaner es schnappe, da schéëte di es, of-fer koëme joërelang ä gene Topp.“ Do saat-e Modder: „No hä ver ens Milljonäär wäärde könne, änn no hass-tou géïn Kuraasch!“ Mä derr Vadder saat märr: „Dou haas-tech förrege Wéëk allt genoch gelaïst!“
Iich woss néït, watt-e damétt maïnt, änn do vertaut de Modder: „ Ä gen Gosspertschtroët sönnd ouch Ammerekaaner änne su Huus, änn jéddesch Kiër wi ech da verbéïkoëmt, vrodde esunne Schwarrte: ‚ No Cognac? I give Cigarettes and Chocolate for Cognac!’ Iich ho allt lang géïne Konnjakk mië, mä ech ho waal noch en léëch Konnjakkflaïsch, médd-et Étikätt änn dréï Schtääre dropp.
Iich di Bubbel voll Tië gedoë, derr Schtopp dropp, alles fië togepläkkt änn no di Ammerekaaner. Wi di di Flaïsch soëge, paggde di mech en Schtang Tsigerätte änn dréï Taafele Schokkelaat änn en Tüüt, änn ië di di Flaïsch oppmaake kosste, léïp iich ewäkk, datt mech de Vokke vloëge. Wänn di mech kréëge häë, di häë miich kaut gemakkt! Mä saïtämm bänn ech neet mië dörrech gen Gosspertschtroët gegange!“
Hôessëlts is a Low Dietsch dialect spoken in Belgian Limburg in the small city of Hoeselt. It’s dying out, but a dictionary of it was recently published.
Aeres, Æres or Ourish is a West Central German Central Franconian language spoken around the German-Dutch border area that is closely related to, but very different from, Limburgish. It is spoken in several villages in the Dutch provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel and in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
It has 600 speakers, but there were formerly many more. Most speakers are elderly. Some say it is part of Dutch Low Saxon, others that is close to Limburgish, and others that it is close to Frisian, so its classification is quite confused. Some people say that the whole idea of this language is a fraud since good sources are hard to find, but this seems questionable. On the other hand, the existence of this language has not been well proven.
South Guelderish/Kleverlandish is a Low Franconian language consisting of South Guelderish spoken in Netherlands and and Kleverlandish spoken in Germany. It is part of Meuse-Rhenish, and hence is transitional between Low Franconian (Dutch) and Low German (German).
Dialects include Rheden, Cleves (Kleve, Kleef), Oberhausen, Essen-Werder, Venlo, Venray, Liemers, Cuijk, Groesbeek and Zevenaar, and also the dialects of Northern Limburgish. The Cuijk dialect is typical. South Guelderish has a very heavy Frisian substratum. Based on its distance to AN alone (see Fig. 3) it must have difficult intelligibility with AN, probably along the lines of Zeelandic.
Overbetuws is a South Guelderish dialect spoken in the Upper Betuws region of Gelderland. Cities in this area include Valberg, Elst and Zetten. It was widely spoken until recently, when it began to decline. It is similar to Liemers.
Liemers is a South Guelderish dialect transitional to Achterhoeks that is spoken in the Liemers region in the far east of Gelderland east of Arnhem to the German border. It is spoken in the towns of Didam, Zevenaar, Lobith and Wehl. This dialect is basically South Guelderish transitional to Achterhoeks Low Saxon.
Kleverlandish is South Guelderish spoken in Germany along the border with the Netherlands. Kleverlandish lects are quite a bit different from South Gulderish, but intelligibility data is lacking.
This dialect is often referred to as Kleverländisch. It is spoken southeast of Munster along the border with the Netherlands and north of Cologne in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Kleverlandish is not intelligible with Bergish (Harms 2009), as one is an analogue of North Limburgish and the other an analogue of South Limburgish. Venlo Kleverlandish is incomprehensible to most Dutch speakers. Kleverlandish is still widely spoken in Wesels, Germany, at least by the older generation (Anonymous 2009).
Venloos is an extremely divergent Dutch lect spoken in the city of Venlo in the center of Limburg Province. In the north of Limburg, Limburgish is no longer spoken, and the lect changes to more of a Gulderish/Brabantian type.
Venloos is interesting because it is so different. It seems to be transitional between Limburgish, Ripuarian German, and Gulderish/Brabantian. On purely structural grounds, there are suggestions that it is a separate language, but since we are dividing only on intelligibility and not structural grounds here, that won’t cut it. In the linguistic literature, statements are made to the effect, “If Limburgish is a separate language, then Venloos must surely be also.”
Venloos is regarded as particularly incomprehensible by many AN speakers, much more so than Limburgish. Venloos may well be a separate language, as it appears to be poorly understood outside of the Venlo region. Venloos is still very widely spoken in Venlo, even by young people. The Heinisch dialects next to the Dutch border in Viersen (Viersener Platt), Breyellsch Platt of Breyell in Nettetal and Jriefrother Platt of Grefrath are intelligible with Venloos.
Bergish or Neiderrbergisch is a form of Low Rhenish that is analogous to Limburgish. This is Limburgish spoken on the other side of the border in Germany, but the variety in Germany is a separate language.
There are two high level splits in Neiderrbergisch, Südniederfränkisch or Bergisch and Ostbergisch. However, both appear to be intelligible, so they are dialects of a single language (Harms 2009). The following nonbolded entries are all dialects of Neiderrbergisch Low Rhenish.
Ostbergisch or East Bergisch is spoken around Mülheim an der Ruhr, Saarn and Gummersbach. Gummersbach is a dialect of this language. All dialects are intelligible with Düsseldorver Platt Bergish (Harms 2009). Ostbergisch has a close relationship with the Sallands Gelders-Overijssels Dutch Low Saxon dialect spoken in Zutphen, however, the two are not completely intelligible. Dialects include Duisburg and Wuppertal.
Mülheim an der Ruhr is the classic form of Ostbergisch spoken in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Germany. It is quite different, but it is still intelligible with the other dialects.
Saarn Mülheim an der Ruhr is spoken in the Saarn District of Mülheim an der Ruhr, Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Germany, but it differs considerably from the standard version of Ostbergisch. Nevertheless, it is fully intelligible with the other dialects.
Bergish is one of two high level splits in Neiderrbergisch. It is definitely not intelligible with Cleves Kleverlandish (Harms 2009). This language is based on Low Rhenish but has acquired a heavy Ripuarian layer such that speakers feel that their speech somewhat resembles the Ripuarian language Kölsch, which is nearby (Harms 2009).
There are various dialects of this language, including Krieewelsch, spoken in central Kresweld, Ödingsch of Uerdingen in Krefeld, Metmannsch Platt of Mettmann, Düsseldorver Platt of northern and central Düsseldorf, Vogteier, spoken in Nieukerk, Solinger Platt of Solingen, Remscheder Platt of Remscheid, Rotinger Platt of Ratingen, and Wülfrother Platt of Wülfrath which is located between Düsseldorf and Wuppertal. Solingen, Krieewelsch and Wülfrath are all mutually intelligible (Harms 2009). It is also spoke in Neuss, Remscheid, Mochengladbach and Heinsberg.
Düsseldorver Platt is intelligible with Ostbergisch but not with South Guelderish, Limburgish or Aachen German. Düsseldorver Platt has 60% intelligibility with Aachen German. Düsseldorver Platt is not fully intelligible with any of the various lects spoken in the Netherlands (Harms 2009).
Düsseldorver Platt is mostly only spoken by older people these days, who nevertheless keep it very well alive. Middle-aged people have passive competence, but often not active, and young people may lack either, though some can hear the language.
Solinger Platt is a form of Bergish spoken in Solingen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The link leads to a description of it and a transcription of a short story in the dialect. It is fully intelligible with Düsseldorver Platt (Harms 2009).
Anonymous. Wesels Kleverlandish native speaker, Wesels, Germany. Personal communication. July 2009.
Anonymous. Antwerps, AN and Verkavelingsvlaams speaker, Antwerp, Belgium. Personal communication. January 2010.
Berns, J.B. 1991. “De Kaart van de Nederlandse Dialecten”, in Herman Crompvoets and Ad Dams, eds., Kroesels op de Bozzem. Het Dialectenboek, Waalre:24-27
DeEllis, Jonathon. Dutch-English translator and former Venlo resident for 10 years. January 2010. Personal communication.
Felder, Lianne. May 2015. Resident of Groningen City, Netherlands, ABN speaker. Personal communication.
Gooskens, Charlotte & Heeringa, Wilbert. 2004. The Position of Frisian in the Germanic Language Area. In: Gilbert, D. & Schreuder, M. & Knevel, N. (eds.), On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics, 61-87. Klankleergroep, Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen, Groningen. Dedicated to Tjeerd de Graaf.
Gooskens, Charlotte and Kürschner, Sebastian. 2009. On the Low Saxon Dialect Continuum – Terminology and Research. In Lenz, Alexandra N.; Gooskens, Charlotte and Reker, Siemon (Eds.). Low Saxon Dialects Across Borders – Niedersächsische Dialecte Über Grenzen Hinweg, Zeitschrift fur Dialektologie und Linguistik. Beihefte 138:9-27.
Köhler, Pascal. Eschweiler German and German native speaker. Personal communication. January 20, 2015
Nerbonne, J. W.; Heeringa, E.; van den Hout, P.; van der Kooi, S. Otten, and van de Vis, W. 1996. Phonetic Distance Between Dutch Dialects. In: G. Durieux, W. Daelemans, and S. Gillis (eds.). CLIN VI, Papers from the Sixth CLIN Meeting. Antwerpen. University of Antwerp, Center for Dutch Language and Speech, 185-202.
Smith, Norval. Linguistics professor, the Netherlands. Personal communication. March 2009.
ter Denge, Martin. Twents native speaker, Rijssen, the Netherlands. Personal communication. November 2009.
Tulipan, Laszlo. Stolberg German native speaker, Stolberg, Germany. Personal communication. April 2013.
About the title, I received a Masters Degree in Linguistics (ESL option) from a California state university in 1994. I actually publish in the field even though I do not have a PhD. A paper of mine just made it through two separate peer reviews, including one that had some of the top people in the field (they have Wikipedia pages). A version translated to a foreign language will appear soon in a quality academic Linguistics journal, and then a very long (80 pages) version with maps that I and an artist also created will be published in a volume of a 4-5 part Linguistics book series. Both will be published in the Near East. I also sit on the review board of a refereed academic Linguistics journal, also out of the Near East.
I am friends with some fairly big names in the field (or at least in some subfields), and I talk to them occasionally.
The more time you spend talking to linguists, the more you start thinking that the whole field is stark raving bonkers. Many questions that you could ask ordinary Joe Blow on the street about linguistics, he could give you a straightforward, commonsensical answer that “most everyone knows,” that is, in all probability, correct.
But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the nerdy eggheads in the ivory tower are going to disagree with you and tell you that you are wrong. So the eggheads know what the Average Joe does not? Nope. Average Joe knows what he’s talking about. The eggheads have their heads up their overdegreed hinds, as is so often the case.
This is so much the case in the soft sciences, and Linguistics is one of the softest of the soft sciences.
If you going to degree in Humanities, you may as well degree in Literature or English or something like that. Those fields don’t pretend to be scientific. You get a degree, and then you write papers on Keats or Byron or whoever, and none of it’s very controversial. No one is pretending to be a scientist. It’s all just a bunch of opinion. Was DH Lawrence a great writer? Who knows? Some say he was, some say he wasn’t. The reputations of these guys go back and forth, but no one analyzing this stuff ever pretends to be a scientist.
The soft sciences are so much worse. In the hard sciences we can actually prove things, and generally there isn’t a lot of debate going on one way or the other at least once something gets proven. You either proved it or you don’t, and that’s that. If you prove it, fine, most folks agree. If you don’t, fine, most folks agree there too. Sure, there is a lot of debate about things that are not proven yet, but no one ever says that something is not provable or can never be proven!
The soft sciences are a bunch of the silliest, most PC eggheads you can imagine running about screaming, “We can’t prove it! We can’t prove it! We can’t prove it!” Hardly anything can ever be proven in the soft sciences (except their politicized PC theories of the day, which, truth be told, can’t be proven either), and the soft sciences are ecstatic about this.
Whenever we can more or less prove something real and not PC-nothingness, the soft science field usually degenerates into an insane argument about whether or not it was really proven.
Truth is that most of these fields are jokes. Sociology, Psychology, African-American Studies, Feminist Studies, Anthropology, Linguistics, Pedagogy, Queer Studies – it all gets more and more useless. Even Political Science has some serious weaknesses.
Economics has long been a black hole of theory. They don’t call it the dismal science for nothing.
Just to give you an example from Economics, the idiocy and madness that just blew up the whole US economy and screwed the whole rest of the world happened because people in the US were following the latest and greatest economic theories of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School.
If you go to Economics School, you get taught that Chicago School is now the proven way that Economics works, and following Chicago School theory will make everything all groovy. No it won’t. It will blow up the whole economy.
But even after the blowup, the Chicago School crowd went on like nothing had happened, fitting the facts to the theory instead of otherwise. Turns out that Friedmanite Economics had worked just fine, and the reason for the blowup was that the economy had not been not allowed to go full bore Friedmanite enough.
Actually, it was evil government that blew up the economy. Or the niggers*. Or the spics*. Or the spics and the niggers. Or something. Or whatever. Even when their theories blow up in their faces, they still go on blissfully asserting how great they work.
Let’s look at Sociology. According to Marxist political science, now transplanted to liberalism and Cultural Marxism/Cultural Left/Political Correctness (pick your term) at large, the reason that, say, Blacks and Hispanics lag behind in many areas, or – have excessive pathologies in others, is due to racism. The entire society accepts this as fact. Yet never is it even examined.
Who says that the problems of these groups are due to racism? Prove it. They have never proven that all of these problems are due to racism. But they don’t have to. That’s soft science.
For Blacks in particular, they have a number of problematic issues specific to their group. What’s the cause of these problems? Slavery! They was enslaved! How long ago? Long ago. 150 years ago. And all of the problems of Blacks today are caused by this nebulous “legacy of slavery.” Everyone accepts this. Huge government programs are set up to combat this mysterious legacy. Can we prove it? Of course not.
Is the Third World messed up? Sure it is. And why is that? Say, because of the humans who live in the Third World? Logical answer, no? It turns out that it’s because they got colonized some time ago. Dey done got colonized! Can we prove that colonization did them in? Of course not. But we don’t need to. We’re social scientists!
Let’s look at some areas of Linguistics that Joe Blow accepts, but eggheads don’t.
Most of the linguists’ assertions below were taken from the newsgroup sci.lang, where some of the most annoying linguist jackasses on Earth hang out. Nevertheless a number of the linguists who infest that site are very well-known in the field, and some even have Wikipedia entries. Others have authored well-known books in the field. Others are highly regarded Linguistics professors. I will highlight all of the sci.lang assertions with a footnote.
Joe Blow will tell you that some languages are relatively harder to learn for say, an English-speaking L2 learner, and others are easier to learn. Some of the harder languages for an English L2 learner, many folks would agree on, might be Hungarian, Polish, Finnish and Mandarin.
Linguists don’t agree.12 To them, easy and difficult languages are not definable, and therefore any language is as easy to learn as any other. Polish, Finnish and Mandarin, instead of being the mind-bogglers everyone knows they are, are actually no more difficult to learn than say any other language. Or maybe they are the hardest of all. Or maybe they are in between. Or this or that. Or whatever.
It turns out Tsez is just as easy to learn as Malay! Who knew? Or wait, maybe it isn’t. Or maybe it is. Or maybe we can’t prove that. Or maybe we can’t prove anything.
Most people agree that kids learn languages much better than adults. In fact, we’ve proven that there’s a Critical Period for learning languages, with the window starting to close after age 7, then finally closing around age 14-18. The period is apparently neurological. That this period exists is patently obvious to anyone awake and thinking.
The whole time I was getting my degree, most of my professor-fools insisted that there was no Critical Period. Adults could get a language just as easy as any kid.2 Well, why don’t they then? The reasons were not neurological but psychological.2
They had a whole laundry list of ridiculous reasons why adults do more poorly at this. There’s some preposterous device called the “affective filter” that effects adults but not kids somehow. Adults have all this anxiety about learning languages, yet kids, for some bizarre reason, do not. The lame theories went on and on.2 I actually had to study very hard to learn all this nonsense and regurgitate it back at the idiots who were teaching it to me.
The reason Linguistics refused to accept a Critical Period is because linguists are often in the business of teaching adults languages or if not, they are busy teaching people how to be language teachers. EFL and ESL degrees are offered only by Linguistics Departments, or at least that’s where I got mine. All of my ESL teachers were professors in the Linguistics Department. All of the major ESL theorists are linguists. None are nonlinguists. Saying adults are never going to get as good as kids screws up the whole project, so they lie and say it’s not true.
Ask anyone – are some languages more complicated than others? Are some complex and some maybe simpler, less involved and less insanely convoluted and difficult? Joe Blow says sure.
A simple test case would be verbs. English has five verb forms – steal steals stole stealing stolen. Many Amerindian languages have over 1,000 forms for each and every verb. That right there implies some increased complexity and difficulty.
Turns out linguists say that all languages are equally complex or equally simple, and anyway, we can’t define simple or complex, so the whole argument is moot.12 Navajo’s as straightforward as Esperanto.
Most educated folks will tell you that some languages are more regular than others, the others being more irregular.
Turns out it’s not true, the linguists tell us. All languages are equally regular or irregular, and anyway, there’s no way to define “regular” or “irregular”.1
Well, don’t languages have rules, and the degree to which they follow the rules indicates their regularity, and the degree to which they don’t indicates their irregularity? Joe Blow says sure.
Nope! Not according to the linguists!
Turns out there is no way to define “rules.” Further, there is no way to define “exceptions” either. No such thing as rules, no such thing as exceptions. There are no languages that have many complex rules but are regular and others that have few rules but are irregular. There are no languages that are exception-ridden because we can’t define exception.1I guess all languages are equally rule-governed or exceptional!
Is it possible that, as languages become widely spoken, they start to simplify, as English has lost most of its case, almost all of its subjunctive, the dative pronoun “whom”, merged four 2nd person pronouns into two and has seen “It is I” constructions fall out, among many other things? I would argue that as speakers get more modern and civilized, there is a need to get your point across as quickly as possible, time being money in a fast-paced society and all.
Whereas, more primitive hunter-gatherers spend much of their time sitting around, and, being highly intelligent, are bored. So possibly they enjoy using their often frighteningly complex language as a way of exercising their minds and being creative. This was what one of my professors taught me anyway. At the very least, it’s an interesting theory, and it makes sense intuitively.
Nope, apparently not. It’s not possible for a language to simplify because I guess we can’t define the blasted word or something. Anyway, who says the above is a simplification process? (I do.) It could well be that the language is getting more and more complicated, no? 2 (No, I don’t think so.) Who says primitive languages are often insanely complex? (I do, for one.) Define complexity. Define simplicity.1 You can see where this is going.
Few Americans are versed on the subject, but there has been a lot of research in recent years setting out an excellent case that the Chinese and Japanese writing systems are unnecessarily complex, convoluted and difficult, that they are hard to learn and take much longer to learn than alphabetical forms, that it is hard to add new foreign loan words in a character based system, and that as society becomes more technical, they become more and more of a hindrance.
A number of these researchers suggest that these crazy writing systems are actually economically harming these countries.
Well! This theory is just not PC! You see, in Linguistics, you can’t be all evil and White and stuff and go around dissing other folks’ (non-Whites) precious ‘lil languages. In the case above, this is just evil White racism attacking those poor Asiatic rice eaters.3 Turns out my field says that there are no good or bad writing systems; they’re all just fine for whatever folks are using them.3 Isn’t that dumb?
Ask your average Joe, what’s a dialect and what’s a language?
“Well,” he says. “California English and Massachusetts English are dialects, and Mandarin and Spanish are languages.”
Nope! The linguist eggheads have decided that there is no such thing as a dialect and no such thing as a language.1 If you ask any linguist or consult any linguistic textbook on the language/dialect question, you will hear this retarded statement. There is no way to determine linguistically what is a language and what is a dialect. The difference is sociological and political, not linguistic.12Then you will get some silly examples like the Chinese “dialects” (really the Chinese “dialects” are more like 2,000 separate languages) and the stupid divisions of Shtokavian in the Balkans. Then you get the ridiculous Weinreich quote about armadas and lects.
So there are no linguistic definitions for the terms dialect and language. It’s all political.12 So, really, Spanish and Mandarin could really be dialects of one language, but California English and Massachusetts English could possibly be separate languages, as far apart as Ket and Warlpiri. Because, uh, you know, it’s all, like, political and stuff, dude.
Suppose we say that at a certain degree of structural differentiation, you have two separate languages. Nope, no can do. Define degree of difference. How will you measure it? Impossible.1
Suppose we say at X% mutual intelligibility and above, we have a dialect, and at Y% mutual intelligibility and below, we have a language? Nope, sorry, no go. We can’t define mutual intelligibility, and furthermore, we can’t measure it.1
But we have measurements that we’ve been testing and refining for 50 years now.
Sorry, do not pass go. Who says they really work? Prove that they really work. Who says they are reliable? Prove it, prove it, prove it.1
Further, there is no way to define mutual intelligibility, and since MI measures are measures of intelligibility of some lect, apparently we can’t measure intelligibility either! Because individual variation and lying and bilingual learning and other nonsense.1
The notion that we cannot measure listener intelligibility of lects leads to some interesting conclusions. So if I say I have 100% intelligibility of English, that’s not a meaningful statement. Hell, it could well be 0%. I’m just fantasizing that I’m understanding everyone around me; really I don’t understand a word anyone says. And if I say I have 0% intelligibility of Chinese, that’s not measurable either. I could very well have 100%, and I could easily go live in Shanghai tomorrow, and maybe I just don’t know it.
Are you starting to see some insipid patterns in this splendiferous array of over-educated, egghead, useless junk theory that digests down to an endless fog bank where nothing much at all can be discerned?
Why did I even waste my time getting a degree in this useless field full of mumbo-jumbo speaking propeller-head fools? Looking at the theoretical state of our field, I don’t think that your average citizen should listen to a single thing that linguists say about anything. We don’t seem to have anything intelligent to say to your average person about language or much of anything else for that matter.
At the end of the day, the blue collar rednecks are redeemed. They’ve always scorned domehead nerds in university offices who talk in riddles and seem to not know anything about anything when it comes down to it.
“Want to know the answer to a simple question?” the redneck rhetorically asks. “Ask Joe Blow on the street.”
Don’t ask some pointy-headed egghead who probably doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.
1From the well-regarded and famous linguists on sci.lang.
2A commonly held belief in the field.
3A major book came out 10-20 years ago suggesting that the Asian character based systems, Chinese in particular, were inefficient, unnecessarily complex and led to incomplete learning. The book also suggested that nations using these systems were being harmed economically. This book was completely destroyed by the PC Cultural Left types who overwhelming infest the field of Linguistics. Which is really too bad, as I think he had some good points.
Turkic is a large family of about 40 languages stretching from Turkey all the way to China. Most of the languages are pretty close, and it’s often been said that they are all mutually intelligible, and that you can go from Turkey all the way to the Yakut region of Siberia and be understood the whole way.
This is certainly not the case, although there is something to it. That is because the languages, while generally not above 90% mutually intelligible which is the requirement to be dialects, do have varying degrees of intelligibility. That is, there is some intelligibility between most of the Turkic languages but generally below 90%.
The truth is that mutual intelligibility in Turkic is much less than proclaimed.
Azeri is spoken in Azerbaijan. Turkish and Azeri are often said to be completely mutually intelligible, but this is not true, though the situation is interesting. The two are not mutually intelligible. The far eastern dialects of Turkish are closer to Azeri than to Turkish. Turkish has an average of 69% intelligibility with Azeri calculated via three separate studies. After a few weeks of close contact, they can often communicate pretty well. Written intelligibility is much higher and Turks may have up to 95% intelligiblity of written Azeri.
Intelligibility is increasing now now due to increased contact. Nowadays due to exposure to Turkish TV, most Azeri speakers can speak Turkish well, and due to exposure to Azeri TV, Turks understand a lot more Azeri than they used to.
Kazakh and Kirghiz are also close, enough to be one language, with intelligibility over 90%. In addition, they have been growing closer recently. Kazakh is spoken in Kazakhstan, and Kirghiz is spoken in Kyrgyzstan.
Tatar and Bashkir are even closer than Kazakh and Kirghiz and they are best seen as a single language, with intelligibility of over 90%.
Uzbek and Uyghur are fairly close, but they are still probably only 65-70% intelligible. Uzbek is spoken in Uzbekistan, and Uighur is spoken Xinjiang Province, China.
Uzbek and Kazakh are not mutually intelligible, but there is an intelligible dialect between them.
Tofa and Tuvan are not mutually intelligible, but there are intelligible dialects linking them. Both are spoken in Russia in the same region as Altai below.
The truth is that Altai and Uzbek are not even intelligible within themselves.
Altai is spoken in the Altai region of Russia where China, Russia and Mongolia all come together. Altai is split into North Altai and South Altai, separate languages.
Azeri is split into North Azeri and South Azeri, although the two are mutually intelligible, there are large differences in phonology, morphology, syntax and loan words. Nevertheless, they are very mutually intelligible, with intelligibility at 98%. The split was probably done for political reasons, as North Azeri is the official language of Azerbaijan and South Azeri is a language spoken in Northwest Iran.
The Oghuz languages are said to be fully mutually intelligible, but that’s not really the case. The question of the intelligibility of Turkmen with Azeri and Turkish is controversial, as some sources say that they are mostly mutually intelligible. Intelligibility testing is warranted.
Turkish has uncertain intelligibility with Crimean Tatar. Crimean Tatar speakers say that Turks cannot understand their language (Dokuzlar 2010). However, Turkish speakers say that Turks and Crimean Tatar speakers can converse without too many problems. However, while mutual intelligibility is high, it is probably under 70%. Intelligibility testing is warranted. One problem is that Southern Crimean Tatar is a simply a dialect of Turkish, while Central and Northern Crimean Tatar are part of a separate language from Turkish.
Turkish has high, but not full, intelligiblity of Karaim. Turkish intelligibility of Karaim may be 65-70%. Intelligibility testing is warranted.
The intelligibility of Turkish with South Azeri may be quite high, on the order of 90% (however, some South Azeri speakers say that while they can understand North Azeri just fine, they have a hard time understanding Turkish, which calls the 90% figure into question), higher than between Turkish and North Azeri, which itself is ~70%. Intelligiblity between Turkish and South Azeri is the highest between Turkish and any other language.
Practically speaking, Turkish has low intelligibility with Kazakh (Kipchak Branch), Uyghur and Uzbek (Uyghuric branch) and Khakas (Siberian branch). Turkish-Kazakh intelligibility is surely less than 40%. There is also low intelligibility between Turkish and Bashkir, Nogay, Kyrghyz and Tatar (Kipchak Branch). Turkish has very low written intelligibility of Tatar (~5%) and Kazakh (0%).
The intelligibility of Turkish with the Central Asian Turkic languages like Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrghyz and Turkmen is much exaggerated.
Speakers of these languages who went to study in Turkey said they had problems with the Turkish language. It’s true that Turkish TV is not much watched in the Central Asian Turkic nations, but the main reason for that is that Central Asian Turkic speakers can’t understand it. They can’t even understand the simplified Turkish used in these broadcasts. After the fall of the USSR, people from these new nations visited Turkey, but they had to bring interpreters with them to communicate.
In truth, the whole notion of the mutual intelligibility of all Turkish is a pan-Turkic conceit. Pan-Turkism is a noxious form of ultranationalism headquartered in Turkey. It says that all speakers of Turkic languages are part of a Greater Turkey and often uses ominous irredentist language implying that Turkey is going to conquer all the Turkic lands and take them back.
The Pan-Turkics have a snide attitude towards other Turkic speakers, insisting that they all speak dialects of Turkish and not separate languages. This snideness is resented by speakers of other Turkic tongues.
A number of Turkic languages are nothing more than dialects and not full languages.
Ukrainian Urum is a dialect of Crimean Tatar, and Georgian Urum is a dialect of Turkish. Ukrainian Urum is spoken in SE Ukraine, and Crimean Tatar is spoken on the Crimean Peninsula.
Salchuq is an Azeri dialect. It is spoken in Iran.
However, Qashqai, also spoken in Iran, often thought to be an Azeri dialect, is in fact a separate but closely related language with 75-80% intelligibility of South Azeri.
Gagauz has high intelligibility with Turkish. However, Bulgarians say that when Turks visit the Balkan Gaguaz communities in Bulgaria, the two groups have a hard time understanding each other. SIL says that not only Gagauz but also Balkan Gagauz Turkish are separate languages, but one wonders what criteria they are using to split them. The Gagauz are Christians living in Moldavia who strangely enough speak a Turkish language with many Christian Slavic loanwords. The Balkan Gagauz Turks live in Bulgaria, far west Turkey, Greece and Macedonia, but most of them live in Bulgaria.
Kumyk is said to be said to be intelligible with Azeri, which would make it a dialect of Azeri. However, this assertion is yet unproven, so for now, Kumyk should remain a separate language. Kalmyk is spoken in Dagestan.
Chulym and Shor are often thought to be dialects of a single language. Not only is this not true, but Shor itself is two separate languages – Mrass Shor and Kondoma Shor – and Chulym is also two separate languages – Lower Chulym and Chulym. Chulym and Shor are spoken north of the Altai Mountains in the Ob River Basin near the city of Novokuznetsk.
Further research regarding the intelligibility of these languages is indicated.
Uygar Dokuzlar, Crimean Tatar speaker. April 2010. Personal communication.
If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a contribution to support the continuation of the site.
I’ve been asked to provide this information from some folks who, incredibly, are insisting that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all one language. What makes it even more painful is that at least one of them is a Swedish-language speaker.
I suppose it makes sense that people are outraged by the splitting of these closely related languages. Many Swedes and Norwegians can understand the other language pretty well. I think a lot of this is because they have actually learned the other language, but at any rate, intelligibility between these languages varies. In order to communicate well, Swedes and Norwegians often have to speak slowly. There are all sorts of other variables, but I think that in cases of 90-100% intelligibility, we are looking at a lot of bilingual learning.
I only had one set of figures for the Scandinavian languages, but these were attacked because, while detailed, they lacked a reference for who or what study, if any, came up with those numbers. In looking around, I quickly discovered that there have been intelligibility studies with the Scandinavian languages. Unfortunately, they don’t look good for the case that this is all one language. The data is from a study conducted by the Nordic Cultural Fund from 2002-2005. Subjects were young people under the age of 25. The results can be seen here:
% Danish Swedish Norwegian Average
Århus 37.4 46.8 42.1
Copenhagen 36 41.3 38.7
Malmö 50.8 49.7 50.2
Stockholm 34.6 55.6 45.1
Bergen 65 61.5 63.2
Oslo 65.7 71.2 68.5
Faeroe Is. 82.8 57.5 70 70.1
Iceland 53.6 33.4 34 41.9
The highest score of all is Faroese-Danish. Faroese understand 82.8% of spoken Danish. However, this is contaminated by the fact that all Faroese must begin taking Danish classes at Grade 3, and they are tested at Grade 9 to see if they can go on to a higher level.
Faroese is the official language of the ‘fólkaskúli’, and it is the first language that students are taught. Students then begin to learn Danish in third grade and English in fourth grade. In eighth and ninth grade, the curriculum consists of a number of compulsory subjects which prepare the students for upper secondary school and a range of optional subjects from which the students can choose. At the end of ninth grade, students need to pass an exam that gives them entry to upper secondary schools.
The worst scores of all are for Iceland. Icelandics understand only 34% of Swedish and 33.4% of Norwegian.
Although not tested, the intelligibility of Faroese and Icelandic is one way. The Faroese understand the Icelandic, but not the other way around. This is due to dipthongization and other phonological things in Faroese.
Malmö is located in Scania in the south of Sweden where they speak a dialect called Scanian that is closer to Danish. That is why Malmö understands Danish better than Stockholm does.
Based on the notion that >90%+ intelligibility would be the minimum necessary to say that these lects are all one language, the notion that these five languages, much less that big three, are all one language is simply not supported by the available data. In fact, we are not even able to combine even two out of the five into a single language. Hence, all five Scandinavian languages are separate languages, not dialects of one or more macrolanguage.
Are they close? Sure. Are they all one language? Sure doesn’t look like it. Could a speaker of one quickly pick up another one. Quite possibly.
It’s dated, from 1974, but not a whole lot has changed ever since.
There is a lot of interesting information in this book.
For instance, when you get widely divergent results, it’s probably a result of bilingual learning. Say you speakers of Lect A on nearby Lect B. Suppose the males score 90% and the females score 50%. This is almost always due to bilingual learning. The males have been dealing with Lect B speakers because they leave the village to work and whatnot, whereas the women just stay home and have no exposure to Lect B. So the score is that Lect A has 70% intelligibility of Lect B.
It’s important to test speakers individually. Testing in groups results in cases where a strong personality, often male, may lie and say that he can understand all of the text. Everyone else just agrees with him. The strong personality says this because he thinks it’s insulting to admit that he can’t understand the lect. The others, especially women or weaker men, just go along because he’s a strong personality.
Ability to understand another lect is independent of age, sex, status, income and other variables. That right there is pretty interesting.
Anyway, here is the book for download on this site. It’s over 200 pages, so it’s a mouthful.
Casad, Eugene H. 1974. Dialect Intelligibility Testing. Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics and Related Fields, 38. Norman: Summer Institute of Linguistics of the University of Oklahoma. xiv, 201 p.
My linguistic projects, whereby I split languages like Chinese and German into over 100 different sublanguages, are starting to make some people mad. However, I also have some support from top Germanists and Sinologists.
For German, I am now at 173 languages, and it’s a little embarrassing to have come up with such a large number. But I wanted to split off many more, and only stopped because I lacked a good scientific basis for doing so.
For instance, Ripaurianists regularly speak of “the 150-400 Ripaurian languages.” 125 of the Ripaurian languages are so different that they actually have had dictionaries made for them. I only split off 5 Ripaurian languages. The way I see it is that I am being very conservative instead of very liberal in splitting.
For Chinese, I now have some Chinese informants. If I used them as deeply as I would like to, I would have way more than 343 Chinese languages.
Here is a Cantonese informant:
Me: Is it true that there are many dialects of Cantonese?
Cantonese speaker (CS): Yes, very, very many.
Me: How many?
CS (Shaking his head hopelessly): Thousands.
Me: Thousands? Are you sure? You sure it’s not hundreds?
CS (Shaking his head hopelessly): Nope. Thousands. It must be.
Me: Can they understand each other?
CS (Shaking his head hopelessly): Nope.
Me: Not really?
CS (shakes his head).
Me: How do they communicate?
CS: Mandarin, or Standard Cantonese.
I have only split off 15 Cantonese languages, but I wonder about what this guy said.
In many cases in Europe, you find that speakers of separate dialects find the differences so great that they will simply switch to a large common language such as French or Spanish to get their points across. At the same time, they often continue to insist that they are speaking dialects and not languages. They also say that they can understand each other, but it’s hard and a lot of work, and there are misunderstandings.
This usually means something like 85-90% intelligibility in the real world, right on the border of a language and a dialect.
Speakers of these lects often make comparisons to the US. The differences between Bavarian and German, or Sicilian and Italian, are no greater than between a Texas, Boston, California, Midwest, Southern and New York accents.
The problem is that the comparison is not valid. The differences between most US dialects are miniscule compared to even fairly close European dialects. In the US, dialects generally differ only on phonology. In Europe, they differ on phonology, morphology, syntax and especially vocabulary. The “dialects” of Swiss German almost completely replace the vocabulary of their fellow “dialect”, Standard German.
There is almost no parallel in the US. Can you think of a situation in the US where you tried to speak to another native US English speaker, but his dialect was so strange and incomprehensible that it would make more sense to switch another common language, say German, French, Italian or Spanish? It’s unthinkable.
The sociolinguists also insist that the language or dialect question is strictly political and outside of linguistic science, as there is no scientific way to determine what is a language and what is a dialect. I think this meme needs to be explicitly taken on. Do they really mean that we may as well say that Mandarin and English are dialects of one language and not separate languages? This seems to be what they are saying, and if so, we really need to take this irrationality head on.
Look at the “socio” in front of sociolinguistics. Look familiar? This subfield has long been the hang out of the Politically Correct Brigade afflicted with extreme physics envy and lack of scientific rigor. This is one place where we linguists have let the mushy headed soft science of the sociolinguists get the best of us.
Intelligibility testing, despite the obfuscations of the sociolinguists, at least is solid science. Check out this state of the art paper (download on this blog here) on intelligibility testing if you disagree. 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.