pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I came across this Romanian Wikipedia article on Cetatea Albă street in Chișinău (while looking for the diacriticful spelling of a Postcrosser’s address), and what struck my eye was this bit:

Strada Cetatea Albă (până în 1991 str. Krasnodonskaia) se află în sectorul Botanica, cartierul Muncești. (emphasis mine)

That reminded me of Sursilvan Romansh sesanfla for “to be located (somewhere)”, literally “to find oneself”, which I believe comes from a Latin root along the lines of anflare. (Rumantsch Grischun uses sa chattar for this instead, and I think Vallader also has as chattar.)

Hm, checking MeinPledari.ch, it seems that Vallader is as rechattar; ah well. And Sursilvan also has secattar, though it seems to me that sesanflar is more common. (The non-reflexive forms are cattar, anflar.)

So! I guess this Romanian sentence means that C.A. street “is located” (se trouve) in B sector, etc.—and I imagine that the verb is cognate to the Sursilvan one, which I hadn’t otherwise come across in Romance before.

Whee!

pne: The coat of arms of the Swiss canton of Graubünden. (Graubünden)

I was reading a web page somewhere (probably an article on Nunatsiaq News Online) when an advertisement in syllabics caught my eye.

I had a closer look and saw that it was a quadrilingual (English—French—Inuktitut—Inuinnaqtun) advertisement asking for comments on the Proposed Uqausivut Comprehensive Plan.

I had a bit of a look through the materials there and the strategies and rationales outlined in the plan, and parallels struck me between Inuktitut and Romansh.

The strongest was definitely the bit where they said that one challenge was the fact that different communities spoke different dialects and that they wanted to work towards a written standard to enable Inuit to communicate more easily with one another. I suppose that’s one area where Graubünden is about 25 years ahead of them: they already had people working on standardised written forms and are introducing one in more and more spheres.

But there are other parallels:

  • Both languages are spoken in an area where the traditional language is under strong attack from a foreign language, due not only to amount of media available but also because it is the language of education and work (English in Canada, German in Switzerland)
  • Especially if you only consider Graubünden north of the mountain range: both languages are spoken in an area where there are two predominant languages, yet three official languages; all three are equal according to the law, but two of them are more equal than the others (the third being French in Nunavut, Italian in Graubünden)
  • Both languages are spoken in the high Arctic by a people traditionally relying on hunting… oh, wait. Though Graubünden was predominantly agrarian, I suppose, and the move to an industrial or service-oriented society (with the societal and linguistic changes that entails) probably comes with challenges.

One area where Graubünden has a huge advantage, though, in my opinion: when it comes to new technology, it has the common European stock of Greek and Latin to draw on. And not only that, it has models to follow: for example, French and Italian are not only both Ausbausprachen with highly-developed vocabulary, but are also linguistically fairly closely related to Romansh, making it easire to use them as models, and German, the other Ausbausprache relevant, tends to draw word stock for “advanced” vocabulary from the same sources.

So if you want to translate, say, “market capitalisation”, then you just twiddle the endings a bit and come up with chapitalisaziun dal martgà: essentially what happens if you take CAPITALISATIONEM and MERCATUM and apply the appropriate sound changes.

Inuktitut doesn’t have this readily available: not only is there no classical language that plays the role of Latin for French (or Sanskrit for Hindi, etc.), but cognate languages have similar situations, so you can’t generally just look to (say) Aleut or Iñupiaq to see how they word this or that new concept.

True, Inuktitut has a wide array of suffixes letting it express many new concepts, but for a combination of precision and concision, it’s surely hard to beat borrowings: especially since you can borrow what’s essentially a synonym and use it in only one of its senses. (The first that came to me was English sheath vs Latin vagina: which has the same array of meanings in Latin as the English word does in English AFAIK, but as a loan word in English is used for a restricted subset, leading to more precision with a good measure of consision. FWIW, German uses the same word for both.)

Anyway.

Other things also rang bells, such as Inuktitut/Romansh education in the lower grades (scheduled to be extended to K–12 in Nunavut by 2019).

In some ways, Nunavut has a leg up on Graubünden by the fact that a higher percentage speaks Inuktitut compared to Romansh, and that you have ethnic differences that make it easier to combine “being an Inuk” with “being able to speak Inuktitut” which is harder in Graubünden: I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “ethnic Romansh speaker”.

(I also wonder whether a bigger push for Inuktitut will lead to the equivalent of Rumantschuns: something like “professional Inuktitut speakers” who speak it because it gives them certain privileges or access to funding or something due to the status of “speaker of endangered language”, rather than because they feel a deep relationship to the language. Though I’m not quite sure of the exact sphere of meaning of Rumantschun so I might be missing the point.)

And finally, I was amused to read that the French-speaking radio station in Iqaluit is CFRT-FM, which apparently (cf. page 52 of the Uqausivut plan document) stands for cé frette! :)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Software Rumantscha blog announced that a Romansh spellchecker for Office 2007 has now been released (using the same dictionary as the one for Office 2003).

("Romansh" in this context meaning the standardised variant "Rumantsch Grischun", i.e. rm-rumgr, rather than one or more of the five traditional written standards.)

pne: The coat of arms of the Swiss canton of Graubünden. (Graubünden)

I was reading through a grammar of Romansh when I came across this delightful example sentence (exemplifying gruppas conjuncziunalas):

Sco mintga di è il tren era oz puspè stà punctual.

Or roughly,

Wie jeden Tag ist der Zug auch heute wieder pünktlich gewesen.
Like every day, the train was on time again today.

Only in Switzerland would they use something like that casually as an example sentence! :D

avair num

Thursday, 4 March 2010 22:47
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

German “heißen” is translated in Romansh as “avair num”, literally, “to have name”.

The basic meaning of “heißen” is “to be called”, so the Romansh equivalent makes sense: “Co avais Vus num? Jau hai num Chatrina.” (How have You name? I have name Chatrina = What are you called? I’m called Catherine.)

However, I’ve also seen “avair num” used in at least two ways corresponding to figurative senses of “heißen”:

First, in situations such as “ussa hai num lavurar”, literally “now has-it name work”, which seems to mean “now it’s time to work; now is the time to work; what needs to be done now is work”, parallel to German “jetzt heißt es arbeiten”.

And second, in situations such as “en ses cudesh hai num che…”, literally “in his book has-it name that…”, for “in his book it says that…”, parallel to German “in seinem Buch heißt es, dass”.

When I first saw such constructions, I thought they were maybe something an L2 learner had produced under the influence of their L1, but having seen that a few times, I wonder whether L1 speakers actually say that these days. Interesting, if so, where the meaning is broadened under the influence of the range of meaning of the translation in another language.

(Another, vaguely similar thing I saw today: “‘Bla bla bla,’ uschia X Y” for “‘Bla bla bla,’ according to X Y/said X Y”, parallel to the German construction “‘Bla bla bla,’ so X Y”. Which seems perfectly normal to me in German, but the Romansh construction looked odd at first glance. Funny how I kind of expect different languages to “feel” different.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

It’s amusing sometimes to read some people’s written Rumantsch Grischun, where they make mistakes based on their “native” written idiom.

(Most recent example: an invitation, where the Sursilvan shone through in the masculine plural participle ending -ì (sr: sg -i pl -i, rg: sg -ì pl -ids), including an instance of the masc/fem form “bainvegnì(das)” (sr: beinvegni(das), rg: bainvegnid(a)s); and also in “dat ei” for “gibt es” rather than rg “datti”.)

Also makes me feel better about the mistakes I make :-)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

In La Quotidiana, they have a regular feature right now where they publish installments of Notiztgas dalla Sizilia by Linard Candreia (in Surmiran). (Is that the right word? Where they take a text and publish it a bit at a time, day by day?)

The other day, I was reading part 31, and came across this bit:

Chegl tgi fò smarvagler ad en Rumantsch an Sicilia è la preschientscha da pleds sicilians tgi sumeglian fitg (u èn schizont identics) cugl sursilvan! Cunchegl tg’ia na sung betg igl om digl fatg per sclareir tals misteris linguistics, surlascha l’explicaziun digl fenomen gist numno alla fantascheia digl singul lectour…

Which I understand as:

What makes a Romansh person in Sicily marvel is the presence of Sicilian words which strongly resemble (or are even identical to) Sursilvan! Since I’m not the kind of expert who can explain such linguistic mysteries, I’ll leave the explanation of the phenomenon I just mentioned to the imagination of each reader….

That bit reminded me of what I had experienced occasionally, where I would recognise a Romansh word here or there as one I had first come across in the context of Maltese (whose Romance word-stock, of course, comes mainly via Sicilian).

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I’ve come across a construction a couple of times while reading news in Romansh that seems to be used to refer to people from a specific place: “ils da X”, literally “the [ones] from X”.

I was reminded of that just now when seeing an article with the subtitle “Ils dal Vnuost vulessan eir alch «Bio e sfera»” (The ones from Vinschgau Valley would also like some ‘bio and sphere’”), but had also seen things such as “ils da Flem” (the ones from Flims; die aus Flims, die Flimser) in the past.

It’s fun extracting such grammatical constructions / learning them “by osmosis”—and makes me feel accomplished :-)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was reading La Quotidiana the other day (issue of Tuesday 2010-02-16) when I came across two articles on the same page that each had two identically-spelled words next to each other. (I’m not sure whether they are also pronounced identically, which would make them homophones and homonyms as well as homographs, according to the the Venn diagram on the Wikipedia article Homograph.)

Anyway, I was a bit chuffed that I manged to read the respective sentences at the first go, without a problem.

The articles were both in Sursilvan. The first was about carnival revellers in worship services and contained the sentence Gia daditg para il tscheiver dad esser ina spina egl egl, e la fundaziun conservative Pro ecclesia ha apparentamain ugliau daditg d’intervenir. Here the first egl is from en igl “in the” (with igl being a variant form of il “the” used before vowels), and the second is the noun “eye”; hence, egl egl “in the eye”.

The second article was about a visit of the President of the Confederation visiting Disentis/Mustér; it included the sentence Silsuenter referescha ella ella sala Peter Kaiser davart las schanzas per il svilup regiunal; here, we have ella “she” followed by ella < en la “in the”: “Afterwards, she will report on the chances for regional development in the Peter Kaiser hall.” (For the juxtaposition, compare the German word order: „Hinterher referiert sie in der Peter-Kaiser-Halle über die Chancen für die regionale Entwicklung.“)

So, fun stuff! Also goes to show that not all Romansh idioms will prevent homography; in Vallader, for example, they distinguish i’l “in the” from il “the”.

Schaffition

Thursday, 18 February 2010 11:01
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

This morning, I was reading the Romansh newspaper and came across the "Word for Sunday", talking about how "water is life".

One word which caught my eye was scaffiziun, which seemed to mean "creation". (meinPledari glosses rm-sr "scaffir" as "schaffen, schöpfen, erschaffen", which makes this seem likely. I can't reach Pledari Grond online right now to check "scaffiziun" in particular.)

It seems likely to me that scaffir (rm-rg "stgaffir") is borrowed from Germanic, so the combination of such a root with a Latin suffix looks funny to me :) Like "Schaffition" would in German, or perhaps "makeition" (from "make") in English.

Of course, that sort of word (stem from one language, derivational affix from another) is probably not unusual in English or German, only you tend not to notice them as much if they're words you're used to.


In mostly-unrelated news, it seems that Surmiran does "article + possessive + noun" like Italian does (à la "the your book"); I don't think I've seen that in other Romansh idioms.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Just watched today's Telesguard daily news program in Romansh, and also the Minisguard weekly news program for children. (The latter apparently gets put up even before the show is over! It started at 17:40, and I started watching at 17:44.)

One interesting thing was hearing two Romansh speakers speaking to each other in different dialects: the host of the news program spoke Sursilvan, the guest (as far as I could tell) Vallader. And hearing the newscaster refer to the New Fiscal Equalisation Scheme as the NFA—obviously using the German acronym (from Neuer Finanzausgleich) as a loanword.

The NFA has been a topic in the news for quite a while; I'd read about it in the newspaper every now and then, with different people arguing whether people should be for or against it. (The guest in the news program was against it, as far as I could tell.)

However, the newspaper article headlines usually called it the NGF, from the Rumantsch Grischun name nova gulivaziun da finanzas; I wonder whether the newscaster didn't use that abbreviation because in her dialect it was an ulivaziun rather than gulivaziun, or whether NGF is simply a fiat abbreviation that nobody really uses "in real life", and everybody outside the press just uses the German abbreviation. (Related to this: in Minisguard, they mentioned handing over a "CD" to the winner of a competition; the puristic, native abbreviation would be "dc" from "disc cumpact".)

In related news, I learned that "Puntraschigna", the Romansh name of Pontresina, is apparently not Пунтрашиња, as I had always thought, but Пунтражиња.

If they adopted Croatian or Serbian spelling conventions, that'd resolve some of the ambiguity in the consonants, e.g. "sur" зур but "Surselva" Сурселва; Sursilvan "nus schein" нус шејн "we let" vs. "nus schein" нус жејн "we say". Though then you still wouldn't have enough vowel letters: not only would the front rounded vowels ü ö of Putèr and Vallader be missing, you couldn't distinguish between e.g. rg pez "cloth"/pèz "breast", sr spert "fast"/spért "spirit". (Unless you did something like use two or more of э е є in Cyrillic, or of é è e in Latin.)

Also, they had an interview with Urs Imboden, originally from Val Müstair but who will be representing Moldova at the Winter Olympics; he, presumably, spoke Jauer, and I could hardly understand anything at all :(

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was reading a recent issue of La Quotidiana this morning in the train, and on one page, in the Engiadina section, there were two news items:

One was about the school in La Punt-Chamues-ch which is scheduled to change from a so-called "Romansh school" (not sure what it was like there specifically, but apparently a typical case is 100% Romansh in years 1–4, then about 50% German) to a bilingual school (14% of class time will be in German in 1st grade, with that value rising to 37% by 5th grade); the other was about a doctor in Zernez closing his practice after 24 years.

Now, the funny thing was that La Punt-Chamues-ch is in the district of Maloja, i.e. Upper Engadine, and Puter is traditionally spoken there, while Zernez is in the district of Inn, i.e. Lower Engadine, and Vallader is traditionally spoken there—but the article about the bilingual school in La Punt-Chamues-ch was in Vallader, and the article about the doctor's practice was in Puter!

Even more interesting was that both articles included quotes from local people, and those quotes were also in the same idiom as the article; so presumably the author of the article "translated" them from spoken Vallader to written Puter or vice versa.

Though on second thoughts, I don't know how close the speech of the people interviewed was to the written standard anyway; I don't know how different local dialects are. It's possible that either written idiom is equally close or far from the way they actually speak. As for the doctor, I see that he was born in Celerina, so perhaps his speech is more Puter than Vallader; I don't know how much it might have changed/approached the local variety during the long time he spent in Zernez. Finally, for all I know, the people interviewed might even have spoken German rather than Romansh to the journalist....

I also wonder what things were like on the next page (still in the Engiadina section), which is about Val Müstair. The article is in Vallader, which is traditionally the written form used in Val Müstair, but as I understand it, the dialects spoken there are a bit different from those spoken on the other side of the Fuorn Pass in Lower Engadine (more conservative in some respects, for example).

So I suppose the words of Gabriella Binkert, "director of the ventur(?) Regional Natural Park of National Importance, Biosfera Val Müstair", would not usually have been transcribed exactly as she spoke them (assuming she spoke Romansh to the journalist in the first place, though Val Müstair is fairly firmly Romansh-speaking as far as I know), since Jauer, the local dialect(s), is usually not written.

(And then at the bottom of that page is a short article about "the smallest museum in the world" (size: "about 0.1 m²", or about 1 sq.ft.) in St. Moritz—written in Rumantsch Grischun. I wonder why not Puter?)


All this makes me a bit sad that I don't speak a more "divergent" regional dialect of German—that made it easier to learn standard German, since my dialect is nearly standard anyway, but it makes it hard for me to understand the situation where someone's native speech is not well represented by the usual written standard in use in that area.

The differences between how I'd write and how I'd speak are most closely related to the difference between "formal, written" and "informal, spoken" rather than (or so I feel; I may be deluding myself) to real dialectal differences in word usage, grammar, syntax, morphology, or phonology, so I don't have a good grasp of what it's like for people for whom this is not the case.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The other day, I tried to listen to RTR (Romansh radio and television), and it worked—last time, I couldn't get it to play in my browser.

My first impression was that it sounded Portuguese: lots of "sch" in it and a fair bit of "au" probably contributed to that impression.

And for a couple of words I learned that I had guessed the wrong vowel quality ("oz" as if spelled "otz" in German, not "ohz"; "betg" as if spelled "behtch" in German, not "bettch") or stress ("medèm" not "mèdem", "Pigniù" not "Pìgniu"). Oh, and that Glion is /'ʎɔn/ (лён) rather than /ʎi'ɔn/ (лиóн).

It was also fun trying to guess where the speakers came from; while some speakers, especially on the news, apparently spoke Rumantsch Grischun, others seemed to speak Sursilvan or Vallader. The former was most easily recognised by less palatalisation of c- and g- and (perhaps even more easily) by masculine participles in -au and -ai (instead of -à and -ads) and the -s on predicative adjectives; the latter most easily by front rounded vowels (especially "ü"), but also by the use of "nu" for negation and palatalised "cha" for the relative pronoun rather than velar "che".

What was handy was that it was possible to listen not only to a live stream of the radio, but also to some individual programs (especially news on the hour) and even—from links on the "news" page—to individual news segments or stories; since live radio played a lot of music, which doesn't help with Romansh listening comprehension.

On the whole, I certainly didn't understand everything, but I understood bits and pieces everywhere, which was encouraging.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I came across a Romansh-language clip on "youth and beauty" (about what youth think about standards of beauty and brands etc.) on YouTube (part 1, part 2, part 3) and was a bit disappointed to find that I understood next to nothing—I could hardly even pick out a word or two!

Reading it is one thing but picking out continuous speech is obviously a whole nother thing. Though some speakers were easier to understand than others (in the sense that I could pick out a few words here and there, while most others were just a continuous stream of sound); I wonder whether that depends on the dialect they spoke or simply how clearly they enunciated or something.

This documentary on a unicorn in Val Cama seemed to start off a little better; perhaps because the professional announcer was talking for a television audience and was enunciating more clearly.

And finally I watched this short film where I didn't understand anything, but I noticed that they seemed to use a uvular fricative /r/ rather than an alveolar tap or trill as I thought the others had used.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I saw that it's possible to download older issues (more than 14 days ago) of the weekly newspapers published by the Südostschweiz group free of charge, so I had a look to see what they publish: mostly regional newspapers for Graubünden and Glarus, partly with official notices from the various communes.

The reason I had looked in the first place was to see whether it was possible to get back issues of La Quotidiana, the Romansh-language daily newspaper published by the group, but you need a subscription for that.

But one of the weekly newspapers (that had free older issues) was nearly all in Romansh: the Fegl Uffizial/Amtsblatt for the Surselva region in the west of Graubünden ("Bündner Oberland" in German). On the one hand, it was exclusively official notices and advertising (and no news or other articles), but on the other hand, it was mostly Romansh (though some communes—presumably those with a majority of German-speakers—issued notices in German or bilingual ones), so I downloaded the most recent available copy anyway and had a look through it.

One thing I noticed was that the names of the days of the week sometimes ended in -dis and sometimes in -gis; I had read that the di/gi spelling thing was a Catholic/Protestant thing in Surselvan, but that didn't seem to be the case any more; rather, it seemed to be a regional thing, with some communes preferring the -d- spelling and some the -g-. (This was especially noticeable in the news of the various parishes, since both Catholic and Protestant ones used both spellings.) I'm guessing this reflects local pronunciation, though it might simply be for hysterical raisins.

And one thing amused me: there was an employment ad for a meinacasa (some kind of director, apparently; at any rate, the list of responsabilities seemed fairly broad) for a nursing institution in Cumbel, and the ad was in Rumansh. And among the desired qualifications, it said, "Enconuschientscha dil lungatg romontsch ei d'avantatg."

An advantage, eh? It seemed to me that if you didn't have a knowledge of the Romansh language, you wouldn't have understood the ad in the first place and known what to apply for and where...

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

At the beginning of December, there was a post to the "Posta Rumantscha" mailing list advertising "Il Chalender da Litterature Rumantscha" (the Calendar of Romansh Literature) to all those who were still "looking for a pretty Christmas present": "53 Romansh authors accompany you through the year 2009 with some poetry or some prose text and a pretty photograph or picture for every week".

Sounded interesting, but I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go through the hassle of ordering from Switzerland and figuring out how to send them my money. (Or whether I even had enough at the time, since I wasn't sure how much postage would be.)

A couple of days ago, though, another post came to the mailing list announcing "the last opportunity to purchase the Calendar of Romansh Literature 2009" from the Lia Rumantscha, for a reduced price.

So I thought, why not, and headed over to their little shopping corner, and found the calendar, as advertised—though irritatingly enough, it didn't say how much p&p would be, only that the price would be "plus postage and packing".

I placed my order anyway, and a day later I got a bill with their bank details but also the offer to send them euros by post in order to save on international bank fees, which I thought was a good idea. (And handily enough, the cost including postage and packing was very nearly a round sum in euros, so I could just stick one banknote in my letter.)

However, the response was in German (except for the greeting and salutation, which were in Romansh), and I wasn't sure whether to feel insulted or not :)

I suppose they figured that someone with a mailing address not in Graubünden (or even Switzerland) was unlikely to understand Romansh, even though he was ordering a calendar of literature. Ah well :)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

One of my favourite books in my high school library was Kenneth Katzner's The Languages of the World, which briefly describes many of the world's languages, which a short sample text plus translation in each article. A few years ago, I bought the book so that I could have it on my shelf.

A while ago, I remember re-reading the article on Maltese and realising I could now understand some of it, and the other day, I thought I'd see whether Romansh was also included.

And lo and behold, it was, kind of:

Rhaeto-Romanic

A Vella, la veglia capitala la Lumnezia e liug distinguiu da purs e pugnieras, tonscha la splendur dil geraun tochen maneivel dallas cases. El ruaus della dumengia damaun fa ei la pareta che vitg e vultira seigien in esser, ch’igl undegiar dils feins madirs seplonti viavon sur seivs e miraglia, encurend in sinzur davos ils veiders glischonts dellas cases. L’empermischun della stad schai ell’aria cun si’odur pesonta da rosas selvatgas e mèl, mo era cugl aspect penibel da spinas e carduns.

In Vella, ancient capital of the Lumnezia Valley, long the domain of bredders of prized cattle, the speldnro of the home fields seems to touch the very hosues. In the hush of Sunday morning, on gets the feeling that village and nature are fused into one, that the swaying of the rpiening alfalfa seems to stretch beyond the boundaries and walls, almost listening for an echo behind the shining windowpanes of the surrounding homes. The promise of summer is in the very air with the sweet perfume of wild roses and honey, but also with the painful sight of thorns and thistles.

Toni Halter, The Heardsman of Greina

Rhaeto-Romanic is a collective term for three dialects of the Romance family spoken in northeastern Italy and southeastern Switzerland. Of the more than 500,000 speakers of Rhaeto-Romanic, about 90 percent are in Italy, but there the language is considered a mere patois and has no official status. The Swiss dialect on the other hand, known as Romansch, is one of Switzerland’s four official languages, despite the fact that it is spoken by only one percent of the population. The passage cited above is in ROmansch.

The two Rhaeto-Romanic dialects of Italy are (1) Friulian, with about 500,000 speakers in the region of Friuli, near the border with Austria and Slovenia; (2) Ladin, with about 10,000 speakers in Alto Adige to the west. Romansch is spoken by about 50,000 people in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, bordering Austria and Italy. The survival of Rhaeto-Romanic, despite pressures from surrounding languages, is largely due to the isolation of its speakers in extremely mountainous regions.

So the book’s position on La questione ladina (more discussion on the Questione Ladina in the German Wikipedia) seems to be that Friulian, Ladin, and Romansh are dialects of the same language (family) “Rhaeto-Romanic”.

I also rather missed a mention of the fact that there are five written standards of Romansh in Switzerland (I think this is what is called a pluricentric language), called “idioms” locally. If I’m not mistaken, the text is specifically in Sursilvan (though I would have expected casas rather than cases).

In a sidenote, it’s perhaps interesting to compare the situation of Rumantsch Grischun as a compromise written standard of the five Romansh varieties to Ladin Dolomitan as a similar compromise written standard of the five Ladin varieties.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The other day, I dreamed that I studied linguistics of some kind or another and worked on a Romansh spell-checker as part of my work (perhaps an input file for myspell/hunspell or something like that).

I thought I'd ask to see whether something like that—or even simply a decently-sized list of correctly-spelled words—exists, so I asked the Lia Rumantscha.

Today, I got a response telling me that he only knew of Microsoft Office's spell checking function for Rumantsch Grischun which, he said, used the Pledari Grond (the "Big Dictionary" that's also available online) as a basis, and that he didn't know of any other systems. (And that he hadn't even heard of ispell/myspell/hunspell before; I had mentioned that OpenOffice.org uses hunspell, for example.)

Pity. Though I suppose that's par for the course for a language with a small native speaker base, unless you get an idealistic enthusiast or three who push forward the work themselves.


Incidentally, his response to me was in Rumantsch Grischun, which was a wee but welcome surprise for me since the past few emails I had received in Romansh were in various idioms, which I don't understand as well as RG.

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According to an article I read today (in Romansh; possibly, specifically Vallader), Christ's ascension into heaven was referred to differently in the Roman and the Gallic (France, Spain, Portugal) traditions: as ASCENSA in the Roman (until C6) and as ASCENSIO (acc. ASCENSIONEM) in the Gallic (C4–C9).

However, by C10, the Roman liturgy had also started using ASCENSIO, and so words deriving from ASCENSA are now typically found only in dialects (the article mentions Italian, which has Ascensione in the standard language and Ascensa in some dialects/regional languages and in Old Italian, e.g. Dolomitan (as)senza, Furlan assense, northern Italian dialects (as)sensa).

However, Romansh preserved the older Roman-liturgy form even in the standard language, throughout the entire territory of the language.

Yet today, we find two forms: one deriving from ASCENSIO, one from ASCENSA.

Apparently, what happened was that when the Reformation came along, it brought the "newer" word, and that caught on especially in Engadine (where the Reformation was most successful), so now we have Ladin Ascensiun vs. central and Surselvan Anzeinzas.

And the article notes at the end that "To close, we can find that the Romansh Catholic regions are the only ones in Europe to have preserved the old form from the Roman liturgy not only as a dialectal form, but as the official form of the liturgical language and of today's literary language".

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I found an interesting article on the development of the standardised so-called "idioms" of Romansh in Graubünden (in German) today.

It's only a short introduction, but it reminded me of the fact that the existence of five idioms doesn't mean that there are also five dialects—in the context of Romansh, it appears to be traditional to use idiom to refer to the standardised written languages (of which there are five) and dialect to refer to the spoken language of a particular community. And there are far more dialects than idioms; the language varies quite a bit from town to town, in some areas more than others. (For example, Putèr is apparently comparatively homogeneous.)

There were also some interesting tidbits of information, such as that the extreme (south-)west areas of the Surselva, Medel and Tavetsch, have initial tg- in their words for "house", like Engadine and central Graubünden, but unlike the remainder of the Surselva (and that many features characteristic of one area tend to pop up in local dialects of other areas, such as "Surselvan" au in Lower Engadine); that the Jauer spoken in Val Müstair is more similar to old forms of Vallader than current ones; that Putèr has an orthography that is more suitable to the pronunciation in 16th century than to today's (a "feature" shared by a couple of other languages; English and Irish come to mind, though I think Icelandic and Faroese orthographies are also in this category); and that the Sutselvan written idiom was initially devised for the Val Schons but later extended to Domleschg and Heinzenberg by the device of certain diacritics and orthographical conventions that let each area choose their appropriate realisation of the written supra-phoneme.

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Philip Newton

June 2015

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