Monday November 21, 2005

English and...um....

In one of the first meetings of the aforementioned typology class, the professor had us do a little exercise: sit down with a piece of paper and name as many languages as you can.  She mentioned that someone has done a survey of linguistics graduate students and found that they can name something like 70-80 languages off the top of their heads.  (A No-Prize to whoever comes up with a reference for that survey, BTW.)  I was sure I could do better, but given that class time was limited, she couldn't just let us keep writing until we ran out.  So, later that day, I sat down and wrote down as many as I could come up with.  It's surprisingly hard—in particular, I didn't want to write down anything unless I was sure it was a language and not a language family or ethnonym, and that narrowed it down quite a bit.  (Pop quiz: is Paiute the name of a language as well as the name of a people?  I couldn't remember.)  I also left out dead languages in order to avoid double counting (how many versions of Latin do I get credit for?)  In the end, I was able to come up with 138, including several errors, which are listed after the jump in case you want to try it yourself...

The list that follows is in the order I wrote them down, along with some annotations written afterwards while looking at the Ethnologue.   Note my biases: my knowledge is clearly organized geographically, and European and national languages are heavily overrepresented.  My knowledge of the languages of Africa and South America is particularly thin.  Sigh.

English
Welsh
Irish
Manx
Cornish
Breton
Icelandic
Norwegian
Swedish
Danish
Dutch
German
Swiss-German
French
Catalan
Spanish
Portuguese
Sardinian
Italian
Romansch
Serbo-Croatian
Albanian
Greek
Bulgarian
Rumanian
Hungarian
Czech
Sorbian
        [Ethnologue actually lists two varieties]
Polish
Ukrainian
Russian
Lithuanian
Estonian
Latvian
Finnish
Mari
        [I meant the Uralic one, not the Sepik-Ramu one]
Ket
Georgian
Ossetian
Kabardian
Lezgian
Chechen
Circassian
        [Nope, that's either a term for Northwest Caucasian or a synonym for Kabardian]
Armenian
Turkish
Azeri
        [more properly Azerbaijani]
Uzbek
Khirgiz
Tajik
        [should be Tajiki]
Kurdish
Farsi
Dal
        [BZZZT!  No such language.]
Pashto
Arabic
Hebrew
Yiddish
Ladino
Aramaic
Coptic
Berber
Amharic
Somali
Swahili
Fur
Kanuri
Kikuyu
Hausa
Mende
Bambara
Xulu
!Xóõ
        [OK, I had to look up the accents on this one]
Chichewa
Malagasy
Afrikaans
Urdu
Hindi
Punjabi
Bengali
Telugu
Tamil
Nepali
Tibetan
Burmese
Lao
Lahu
Thai
Javanese
Malay
Abelam
Ono
Dyirbal
Warlpiri
Western Desert
Khmer
Vietnamese
Mandarin
Wu
Uighur
Hakka
Cantonese
Taiwanese
Mongolian
Korean
Japanese
Ainu
Chukchi
        [more properly Chukot]
Ingush
Ket
        [oops, this is a duplicate]
Chamorro
Tagalog
Maori
Marshallese
Tahitian
Hawaiian
Aleut
Inuit
Slave
Beaver
Wet'suet'en
        [Had to look up the spelling, and it's not in Ethnologue?]
Sekani
Sahaptin
        [actually a group of five languages]
Lushootseed
Navajo
Quiche
        [nope, another language group]
Cherokee
Hopi
Lakota
Ojibwa
        [quite a few dialects of this one, actually]
Cree
        [as opposed to Kree]
Mohawk
Nahuatl
Mam
Haitian Creole
Arapesh
Hixkaryana
Piraha
Guarani
Quechua

Of course, for the next couple of weeks after I did this exercise, every time I heard a language mentioned that I should have been able to come up with (Makah, Tok Pisin, ASL), I went "Doh!" inside.  Live and learn, I suppose.  At least I beat the average.  I've only got about 5900 more languages to go...

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» LISTING LANGUAGES. from languagehat.com
This is fun for those of us who spend our time poring over books like Compendium of the World's Languages: list all the living languages you can without looking them up. I've come up with 242 (I had provisionally put... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 26, 2005 8:40:14 AM

» LISTING LANGUAGES. from languagehat.com
This is fun for those of us who spend our time poring over books like Compendium of the World's Languages: list all the living languages you can without looking them up. I've come up with 242 (I had provisionally put... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 28, 2006 4:29:01 AM

Comments

I enjoy your website. You've got Ket on your language list twice; are there two languages with that same name? If so, are the names etymologically related?

Posted by: Jonathan Gladstone at Nov 22, 2005 6:24:10 AM

Whoops! That was an oversight. I added a comment about it.

Posted by: The Tensor at Nov 22, 2005 9:35:09 AM

As a quickie version of this test you could only ask for palindromic language names in the usual English spelling. Of these, you are missing one quite big one...

(spoiler: 0x6d 0x61 0x6c 0x61 0x79 0x61 0x6c 0x61 0x6d)

Posted by: Pekka at Nov 22, 2005 10:57:20 AM

Oh, I just spotted Xulu. I guess it is a typo for Zulu, as I couldn't find anything beginning with Xu- at Ethnologue, perhaps under influence from Xhosa. Sorry to nitpick, but since this was kind of a test...

Posted by: Pekka at Nov 22, 2005 10:59:51 AM

That was fun. I've just listed 228; it's very frustrating when you know there's a language in a particular spot but you can't remember the name. (For instance, I could only remember three of the four main Dravidian languages, and there's two Siberian languages with very similar names that are staying stubbornly on the tip of my tongue...)

Woops, I suddenly realized I'd totally omitted Balto-Slavic! It's now up to 242. I wonder if I've forgotten any other major groups? The perils of letting your mind wander over the map, going southeast and then forgetting to go back and pick up the stuff to the northeast.

On looking over your list: oy vey, I forgot Yiddish! But are you sure Coptic is still spoken? I thought it had been purely a liturgical language for centuries.

Posted by: language hat at Nov 26, 2005 8:32:12 AM

With a regular like me on TSTT, how could you omit Sesotho? We'll up your total to 139, or a nice round 140, if we consider that Setswana is a cousin of Sesotho.
;)

Posted by: Rethabile Masilo at Nov 26, 2005 3:15:37 PM