Welsh-Hindi link?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Mar 17 13:36:27 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List,

The supposed Welsh-Hindi link

Date: 16-Mar-2005
From: Briony Williams <b.williamsbangor.ac.uk>
Subject: The supposed Welsh-Hindi link

In Linguist 16.970 (Tuesday March 15th 2005) Anthony Green highlighted a
BBC news story on the supposed similarity between a Welsh English accent
and a Hindi English accent: see

He writes:  ''At http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4328733.stm
there's a story about a BBC journalist from India, now living in Wales,
who has noticed 'peculiar similarites' between the Indian accent and the
Welsh accent of English, and calling on professional linguists to help her
figure out why.''

The similarity betwen Welsh-accented English and the English spoken by
Asian language speakers has long been noted. For example, Mark Green (no
relation?) notes:

''... though you have to be careful with Welsh because if you're not
careful a bad Welsh accent pretty soon starts to sound like a good
Pakistani one.''
(see http://www.licc.org.uk/articles/article.php/id/139 )

The cause is probably the fact that, in regularly-stressed Welsh
polysyllables, the linguistic stress falls on the penultimate syllable,
but the pitch peak actually falls on the immediately following unstressed
syllable - the ultima. This is the syllable that has high pitch, and also
is more likely to contain an phonologically long vowel. It's likely that
this pattern was taken over into Welsh-accented English, so that the
intonation peak falls on the unstressed syllable immediately AFTER the
stressed syllable. This might be one source of the perceived similarity
between Welsh and Hindi/Pakistani etc.

Anthony Green continues: '' In my opinion, her speculations are unlikely
to yield any useful results. I can predict what the results of any serious
linguistic comparison will be:  Welsh and Hindi are both pitch-accent
languages, resulting in superficial intonational similarities in the
respective accents of English. The fact that Welsh and Hindi are both
pitch-accent languages is probably coincidental, as Welsh at least does
not preserve the Proto-Indo-European pitch accent (Proto-Celtic almost
certainly had a stress accent). And calling Indo-European 'the mother of
all languages' is just absurd, and really shoddy journalism.''

Welsh USED to be a pitch-accent language, but since the Old Welsh Accent
Shift it has become a stress language. However, there is a residue of the
old accent seen in the delayed pitch peak described above. In the case of
stressed monosyllabic words, however, the situation is simpler: the pitch
peak, length, etc are all seen on the stressed single syllable.

However, the prosodic similarities will no doubt continue to provide
entertaining fodder for journalists.

Briony Williams
(University of Wales, Bangor)

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