Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The poll on the right on which Germanic language(s) you like best has been finished for a few days now, so it's time to recap the results and take it down. This time the results were more interesting than the one on Romance languages, which reflected demographics almost exactly. The results for Germanic languages readers like are as follows (ordered by popularity):
German 49 (40%)
Norwegian 34 (28%)
Dutch 35 (29%)
Afrikaans 29 (24%)
Icelandic 29 (24%)
Swedish 23 (19%)
Yiddish 11 (9%)
Faroese 10 (8%)
Danish 9 (7%)
Low German 5 (4%)
Luxembourgish 4 (3%)
Frisian 3 (2%)
German at the top is no surprise. Norwegian in second place may have something to do with all the posts I've written about Norwegian and Norway, and I myself voted for it too. Danish is surprisingly low, while Icelandic is extremely popular for a language of just 300,000. It's also interesting to see Yiddish higher up than all the other minor Germanic languages (those not the official language of a country) - Frisian, Low German, and Faroese.
I actually voted for four - German, Norwegian, Afrikaans, Icelandic, and those are four languages in the Germanic language family (besides English) I find to be particularly complementary to each other.
German is obvious as the most spoken language in Europe and a fairly conservative grammar.
Afrikaans uses much of the same word stock but has evolved much differently, simplifying in a great many areas (no cases, no grammatical gender, almost no verb conjugation, etc.). English is similar to this in a number of areas but has retained more verb conjugation while Afrikaans has retained declination of adjectives.
Dutch I actually find to be distracting in this way, since it is somewhat simpler than German to learn but doesn't quite go as far as Afrikaans does, and thus the student is still forced to deal with strong verbs, and grammatical gender in particular. In other words, Dutch seems to interfere with one's knowledge of German while Afrikaans feels distant enough that it enforces it without getting in the way.
Icelandic is interesting as a demonstration of what English could have looked like if it had never been conquered by the Normans, or if its speakers had simply been very conservative or puristic about their language. I think the idea of Icelandic as the most difficult Germanic language is a myth: it does have cases and the script is fairly unique, but being able to determine the gender of a noun most of the time by the ending is a big plus, and an advantage you don't have with German. The word order is also much more familiar to English speakers.
Finally Norwegian, which is the language Scandinavians understand the easiest, and fairly easy to learn. Norwegian does tend to vary a lot throughout the country, but then again so does German, and so does English in the countries where it is spoken, so nothing special about Norwegian there. In fact, regional variation in languages is so common that it's only notable when you find one that lacks it, such as Icelandic (pretty much the same everywhere) and Romanian (not a great deal of variation). Even small languages like Frisian have a lot of dialects so it doesn't have anything to do with the size of the speaker community either.
Now time to come up with another poll...