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Scandinavians don’t notice similarities..

 Language Learning Forum : Skandinavisk & Nordisk Post Reply
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Doitsujin
Diglot
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Germany
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 Message 9 of 20
12 July 2014 at 4:20pm | IP Logged 
1e4e6 wrote:
How is this stark contrast:
dentist [EN] --> tandarts [NL], tannlege [NO], tandläkare [SV], tandlæge [DK]

If I were Dutch or Scandinavian, I would wonder how "dentist" possibly could be a word
in English, a supposedly Germanic language, after being surrounded by the above four.

I'm neither Dutch nor Scandinavian, but I was not at all surprised that dentist is the English equivalent of Zahnarzt, because I knew that English has adopted many Latin and French words and that dentist is related to the Latin-based German loan word "dental."
When I learned Dutch, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that Dutch Tandarts follows the same pattern as German Zahnarzt (tooth + doctor).*

Henkkles wrote:
Words that are actually useful for establishing linguistical relations:
hand [EN] - hand [SV]
house [EN] - hus [SV]
deer [EN] - djur [SV] (lit. 'animal')
fish [EN] - fisk [SV]
tree [EN] - trä [SV] (lit. 'wood')

The German version is:

hand [EN] - Hand [DE]
house [EN] - Haus [DE]
deer [EN] - Tier [DE] (lit. 'animal')
fish [EN] - Fisch [DE]
tree [EN] ≠ Baum [DE] (Baum is a cognate of engl. beam)

And I did notice these similarities when I learned English in school.

* If you're wondering why tand and Zahn are cognates, watch these entertaining sound shift videos:

Verner's Law, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
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tarvos
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 Message 10 of 20
12 July 2014 at 5:32pm | IP Logged 
And I am Dutch, and I am not at all confused either. ;)
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vonPeterhof
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 Message 11 of 20
12 July 2014 at 10:41pm | IP Logged 
As someone who is very interested in historical and comparative linguistics I often find that most people I interact with, even if they speak one or two foreign languages very proficiently, don't share my interest. Most Russian speakers are aware of the existence of the Slavic group, but anything beyond that is murky territory, more often than not. I remember telling a university classmate of mine about the Indo-European family, and he looked at me as if I was telling him that the Pyramids were built by reptilian aliens who still secretly rule the world.

Even people with language-related degrees don't necessarily have that kind of knowledge. A former boss of my father's graduated, IIRC, from Leningrad State University's Oriental Studies Faculty's Afghan division, in order to serve as a military interpreter of Pashto and Dari during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He mainly specialized in Pashto, but also had a good command of Dari and still remembers enough of it to converse with migrant workers from Tajikistan on the construction sites he manages. My father, who shares my interest in comparative linguistics, asked him about what similarities Pashto and Dari have as fellow Iranian languages, and he seemed genuinely perplexed by the question. All he could say in response was this: "Persian, Dari and Tajik are all essentially the same language, while Pashto is a completely different one. That's all I ever needed to know about their similarities and differences."

So, it doesn't really surprise me when people don't think much about the similarities between their own language and their target language. Heck, back when I only studied languages that were taught to me at school I never questioned why the Russian "сестра" (sestra), the English "sister" and the German "Schwester" were sort of similar to each other in sound and meaning, while Kazakh had everything completely different: "апа" (apa) for "older sister" (can also mean "aunt", or just "older woman"), "қарындас" (qarındas) for "younger sister of a male" and "сіңлі" (siñli) for "younger sister of a female".
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Chung
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 Message 12 of 20
13 July 2014 at 12:09am | IP Logged 
I add my voice to those who are not surprised by Scandinavians who seemingly don't notice (or more accurately: don't care about) the similarities between North Germanic languages and English.

I can also relate to vonPeterhof's experience. I know a few Finns who can speak at least one of Estonian, Northern Saami and Hungarian in addition to Finnish, but only in one case was there any genuine interest in comparative linguistics. Then again this person is also a graduate student of Finno-Ugric linguistics so there's no surprise here. Similarly the Finns whom I know who can speak Swedish and English almost as well as they speak Finnish don't make much about the relationship between Swedish and English.

I can report similarly about my Polish friend who also speaks Russian or my Croatian friend who also speaks Czech. Their knowledge of a second Slavonic language as a foreign one is useful for their work but when it comes to comparative linguistics, their interest here seems limited to knowing false friends and perhaps being conversation piece when they talk about these languages to someone like me.

Conversely as a language geek, I unsurprisingly became somewhat fascinated by the links between English and German once I started studying the latter. None of my classmates could be bothered with such trivia since we were ultimately being graded on how well we could use German or apply the rules rather than rediscovering what Grimm, Verner, Bopp and other scholars had already figured out.
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Retinend
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 Message 13 of 20
13 July 2014 at 12:28am | IP Logged 
When people learn a language from the cradle they tend to be less curious about its
workings, for whatever reason. Also the subject of comparative linguistics is so nerdy and
additional to the already nerdy hobby of learning of languages that it's no surprise that
this would be a poor choice of dinner party conversation even with people from bi/tri-
lingual cultures. No offense to the OP - I also wish that most people shared my interests,
but that's not the way it works.
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montmorency
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 Message 14 of 20
13 July 2014 at 8:46pm | IP Logged 
I think the OP should be careful about making wide generalisations, and we should all
be careful before accepting his premise.

I was one of the many people in the UK who tuned in to the series of so-called
"Scandinoir" dramas that BBC4 have shown over the last few years, starting with
Wallander, but especially "The Killing" and "The Bridge", which especially seemed to
catch people's imaginations. "The Guardian" was a big supporter of these series, with
some of their writers, notably Vicky Frost, writing episode blogs each week, to which
readers were encouraged to comment, and comment they (we) did.

Some of the commenters were people, like HTLAL members, interested in languages
generally, while others were more into the story, or the culture, and the language was
only a sideline, but anyway, sooner or later someone would notice a similarity between
English and (say) Danish, and then usually a Danish commenter would kindly respond. One
in particular stands out, who called himself HenrikD, who patiently and with humour
used to describe and explain the many similarities between Danish and English. (And if
you happen to read this Henrik, tak skal du have).

So I don't accept the OP's opening premise, especially as HenrikD (and others) used to
say how easy English was for them to learn, because of the many similarities.
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eyðimörk
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 Message 15 of 20
14 July 2014 at 12:27am | IP Logged 
montmorency wrote:
I was one of the many people in the UK who tuned in to the series of so-called
"Scandinoir" dramas that BBC4 have shown over the last few years, starting with
Wallander, but especially "The Killing" and "The Bridge", which especially seemed to
catch people's imaginations. "The Guardian" was a big supporter of these series, with
some of their writers, notably Vicky Frost, writing episode blogs each week, to which
readers were encouraged to comment, and comment they (we) did.

Some of the commenters were people, like HTLAL members, interested in languages
generally, while others were more into the story, or the culture, and the language was
only a sideline, but anyway, sooner or later someone would notice a similarity between
English and (say) Danish, and then usually a Danish commenter would kindly respond. One
in particular stands out, who called himself HenrikD, who patiently and with humour
used to describe and explain the many similarities between Danish and English. (And if
you happen to read this Henrik, tak skal du have).

So I don't accept the OP's opening premise, especially as HenrikD (and others) used to
say how easy English was for them to learn, because of the many similarities.

Yep! But unlike those Brits, the Scandinavian is unlikely to be hugely impressed by the similarities since English at best might be struggling to get on his list of top-5 languages most like his own.

(I remember spending the summer I turned 10 in the Netherlands. I'd never seen Dutch before, but I could still buy Disney magazines and follow along with the action and pick out cognates, and I could read basic signs. Spoken Dutch sounded a lot like Swedish, even though I couldn't pick out words well. My Danish and Norwegian, of course, were significantly better. I spoke fluent, yet not perfect, English, but by comparison English was incredibly different. But I still had lots of help from the similarities in learning English.)
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Iversen
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 Message 16 of 20
14 July 2014 at 11:28am | IP Logged 
I wouldn't expect people in general to be particularly interested in comparative linguistics, but I do think that Scandinavians are aware that their languages are fairly close, German is a step further away, French almost at the of the world and Russian is far beyond the horizon. We also know that Finnish is totally incomprehensible even though those who speak it look almost like ordinary human beings until they start speaking. But apart from this one 'Nordic' language (a stepchild in the family, sitting in a corner muttering alien gibberish), strangeness is closely correlated to the actual distance from the centre of the world, which of course is somewhere in Scandinavia (although opinions differ on the precise location).. OK, USA is also far away, but there is nothing except water between the Brits and the Americans so the general pattern isn't broken.

English is a special case because we have borrowed so many words from it and most Danes can speak it. They know from experience that it is quite different from their own language, and they are also relative well orientated about the differences from the other Nordic languages, both at the lexical and the grammatical level. So in a sense English feels like an old friend, but also a fairly strange creature which somehow has settled down in their brains. That makes it difficult to put it on a scale with other languages - it is weird, but wellknown.

We once - in full earnest and based on scholarly claims - had a thread discussing whether Middle English actually was based on Old Norse or Anglosaxon or a mix, so the development of English since 1066 away from the other Germanic languages is quite startling.

If you look at the words it is of course clear that much of the vocabulary is Latin, in many cases obtained through Ancient French, and it is easy to overlook that fact that the Germanic heritage words comprises most of the more basic wordstock. So for most non-linguists here it isn't evident at all why English should be seen as a relative of Danish when most of the words they notice are French or Latin. They may have been told it is so, but don't really feel that it is 'one of us'.

And English hasn't made it easier with all those idiosyncratic grammatical features. For Danes it is not strange at all that the morphology has been kicked out of the window, but the widespread use of continuous verbal forms and constructions with "do" feels like utterly unlike our own ways of expression. However German is at least as unDanishlike with all those cases and 'Konjunktiv' and verbs relegated to the absolutely last possible location in a sentence. But for most people, and given that this is the situation, these pedagogical 'bumps on the road' are just something to be learned, not something that you are supposed to understand or think about.

Edited by Iversen on 14 July 2014 at 11:46am



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