Welsh is not as distant as Basque, Maltese, or Apache

W Brewer brewerwa at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 20 06:11:48 UTC 2012

RE: Interlingual distance.  Eric Nielsen wrote:  <<<How does one measures
how distant one language is from another?>>>

WB:  For us amateurs, a handy scale might be that of CV James, shown in a
box in Crystal?s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, p.371 in the first
1987 edition (yeah, all my stuff is old). Basically, James has 5 criteria
for an informal estimate of the structural distance between E=English and
five European languages (F=French, G=German, I=Italian, R=Russian,
S=Spanish).  The diagram is like a five-pointed star, each arm segmented
from 1 (least distance from English) to 5 (greatest distance). The arms are
labeled Pronunciation, Grammar, Vocabulary, Orthography, and Spelling.
According to this scheme, Italian comes closest to English (of the five
Indo-European languages), with a score of 6: Pron=1 (easiest to pronounce)
+ Gram=2(French, Spanish, Italian grammar would be about equally familiar
to Anglophones) + Vocab=1(same score as French & Spanish) + Orthog=1(same
as Fr, Sp, German) + Spel=1(same as Spanish). The other languages score for
interlingual distance as follows:  Spanish 7 (2+2+1+1+1), German 10
(2+3+2+1+2), French 12 (4+1+1+1+4+), Russian 15 (3+3+4+4+2). So, how would
I evaluate Welsh, based upon my one quarter of Medieval Welsh? Pron=1,
Gram=15, Vocab=14, Orthog=1, Spel=1; for a score of 32. I guess we have to
adjust the values upwards for less familiar languages; familiar to EGO in
the middle of the star, who happens to be ME.  Chinese (Mandarin): Pron=5
(1/segments, 10/tones) + Gram=50 + Vocab=100 + Orthog=1,000 + Spel=1,500 =

Keep in mind these are subjective, egocentric evaluations. If we had a
larger-scale survey, it might mean something. Plus the more language
criteria considered, the more meaningful (whatever that means).

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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