Episode 157: Highlands, Lowlands and Netherlands

During the first decade of the reign of Elizabeth I, Protestants in Scotland and the Netherlands rebelled against the Catholic authorities who controlled those countries. Those rebellions were supported by England, and eventually Scotland and the Netherlands joined England as Protestant countries. In this episode, we’ll explore how those developments shaped the languages in all three regions, including the decline of Scots and the continued borrowing of Dutch loanwords into English.

TRANSCRIPT: EPISODE 157

16 thoughts on “Episode 157: Highlands, Lowlands and Netherlands

  1. An excellent episode as usual but Danish and Swedish people cannot understand each other. Danish is closer to Norwegian. Indeed, in the popular TV series the bridge, the Danish and Swedish speak almost the same language but in real life they can only read each other’s languages.

    • Thanks. I don’t speak any Scandinavian language, so I was just going by my sources, but it is interesting that so many of my sources suggest that Danish and Swedish are mutually intelligible. I wonder what’s up with that?

      • It’s history: Denmark and Sweden parted their ways already in 1537, at the end of the Kalmar Union, while Denmark and Sweden continued to form a commonwealth until 1814. So, as you said in this episode, they did not perceive their languages as distinct – or rather: it was not important to them to build their identities on speaking separate languages. But I don’t mean that living in one political community leads to language unification, rather that it would somewhat slow the process of differentiation: within the Danish-Norwegian state people spoke other languages that were clearly different from both Danish and Norwegian, namely Icelandic, Greenlandic, Faroese, and German.

      • I’m Danish and understand both spoken and written Swedish and Norwegian – unless it’s a strong regional dialect. (And so can other Scandinavians – if they try!). There are quite a few “false friends” between Danish and Swedish – e.g. “rolig” means calm in Danish and fun in Swedish. Danish gets increasingly difficult for the other Scandinavians, though, because our pronunciation is getting less articulated.

        Back in history Denmark and Norway were a joint kingdom and the court spoke Danish. Since few people could write outside the court the written language was Danish, while spoken Norwegian was many different regional dialects. This has resulted in two kinds of Norwegian: Bokmål (= “book language”, which is very similar to Danish and which is used in Oslo, the government, the media etc) and Nynorsk (= New Norwegian, which is based on the regional dialects and resembles old Norse – and Icelandic – more). Bokmål is easy for me as a Dane to understand, Nynorsk difficult.

      • What’s up with that is that Laura isn’t correct.

        There are any number of Scandinavian television shows, not just the Bridge, that are built upon the fact that there is a fair amount of mutual intelligibility.

        It also depends on where you are, as Swedes in the Malmo area will understand Danish than Swedes that are not close to Denmark.

      • One of the murder mysteries by the Swedish couple Sjowall and Wahloo, the national heads of the police forces of Denmark and Sweden have to serious meeting at one point. This is only fiction, of course, but the authors have them give up the pretense that each understands the other’s language and speak English.

  2. I think that mutually intelligibility is hard for English speakers to grasp. I suppose only Scots would qualify but many English speakers have never heard it. Frisian has some word similarities to English, but but they certainly are not mutually intelligible. The Internet naturally offers some examples of Scots and Frisian to listen to.

  3. I found it quite interesting that people used the verb “drink” instead of “smoke” in the early days of tobacco use. In Hindi we say “cigarette peena”, lit. “to drink a cigarette.”

  4. I’m from Ireland and I have come across the pronunciation of tea as “tae” in at least 2 places. It is not at all uncommon to hear it pronounced that way in Ireland, especially in the countryside. The Irish are very fond of their tea, so they are.

    Another place is 18th century English. In the poem, “The Rape of the Lock”, Alexander Pope rhymes “tea” with “obey”.

    BTW, in Japanese, green tea is “ocha” (with the initial o being an honorific).

  5. The difference between a dialect and a language is political.
    Consider the Iberian peninsula: with the exception of Galician & Basque.
    There are several languages spoken there that derive from a mix of Latin and the native (presumably Celtic) languages spoken there before the Romans came. Add to that the spices of Gothic & Arabic and you have the various languages spoken in Iberia.
    However, Portuguese is considered a language because Portugal has been a state for a long time while Catalan is considered a dialect of Spanish because Catalonia has not. On that note, I don’t know what a country is anymore. Is Scotland a country? Is Catalonia a country? Is Puerto Rico a country?
    Another example is one mentioned by Kevin in this podcast: Plattdeutsch (Low German), Hochdeutsch (High German) and Dutch. Both Dutch and (High) German are considered languages while Low German is considered merely a dialect on the grounds that it is not the dominant language in its state.

    • Nowadays, nobody would consider Catalan as a Spanish dialect. “During much of its history, and especially during the Francoist dictatorship (1939–1975), the Catalan language was ridiculed as a mere dialect of Spanish. This view, based on political and ideological considerations, has no linguistic validity. Spanish and Catalan have important differences in their sound systems, lexicon, and grammatical features, placing the language in features closer to Occitan (and French)” (Wiki entry.

    • “The difference between a dialect and a language is political” I took this to be exactly what the podcaster was saying?

    • Travelling in Catalonia, I was surprised to find that my fluency in French afforded me some facility in reading Catalan — whereas Spanish is very dissimilar to French and unintelligible to me. If Catalan was ever considered a “dialect” of Spanish, this was surely a mistake based on geography, rather than a close linguistic relation….

  6. An example of the development of mutual unintelligibility would be Indian English as spoken by those Indians in India who lack much in the way of formal education.

  7. In an episode discussing languages versus dialects, it felt really strange to have you repeatedly refer to a language called “Chinese” when I don’t think any linguist would refer to such a thing any more.

    It’s my understanding that Min is not considered a dialect or even a language, but a whole group of languages. And across China, a landmass nearly as big as Europe, there are many language families.

  8. Pingback: The History of English Podcast – PGA Gameday

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