Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Soi Cowboy will have to wait (and so will last Saturday's write up)
Instead the Brain-e-hack research organisation brings you some answers to the burning questions which proved so divisive last Saturday.
First up, the test of what constitutes a language and a dialect, assuming that one doesn't subscribe to the army (and navy) posession theory which was actually posited by linguist Max Weinrich in respect of Yiddish, is generally judged by mutual (un)intelligability. (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09296170701794278#.UcmuB9JASS8 if you have $37 to spare or Wikipedia if you don't!) By that standard the number of currently extant languages is variously estimated as something between 6,700 and 7,000. But this includes such oddities as Flemish which most non-political linguists would say was Dutch by another name and Slovak and Czech which both fail and pass the intelligability test depending one where it is run.
But there is not much dispute that the country with the greatest concentration of languages which are mutually unintelligable is Papua New Guinea where the figure is well over 800 distinct languages (http://www.ethnologue.com/country/PG/default/***EDITION***) most of which are spoken by populations of no more than a few thousand who have become separated from each other in the central highlands. So the figure of 900 bandied about on Saturday is to all intents and purposes correct.
However, the estimate of 700 aboriginal languages in Australia is a wild over-statement, at least these days, although it is estimated that at the time of the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 there may have been as many as 400 distinct languages. Today however, the figure is about 30, with another 175 or so still understood by a few people but in the process of dying out (http://www.ethnologue.com/country/AU/default/***EDITION***).
The other figure touted on Saturday, that a quarter of the world's languages are spoken in either Australia or New Guinea is also highly debatable at best, flat wrong at worst. The estimate seems to come from a lumping together of Austronesian and Papuan languages which many liguists would argue with, and anyway, the term Austronesian has got nothing to do with Australia, and the aboriginal languages are not generally thought to be related to the Austronesian language family, of which the largest member is Malay. References for that one on request but too numerous to publish here.
So, back to beer, depravity and lust....