Danish vowel allophony

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ɶʙ ɞʛ
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Danish vowel allophony

Post by ɶʙ ɞʛ »

/i i: y y: u u:/
/ɪ ɪ: ʏ ʏ: ʊ ʊ:/
/e e: ø ø: o o:/
/ɛ ɛ: œ œ: ɔ ɔ:/
/æ æ: ɶ ɶ: ɒ ɒ:/
/a a:/
/i̯ u̯ ɐ̯/

With such a crazy vowel system, there is bound to be some weird stuff going on. At one point I thought there was one dialect that merged /ʏɐ̯/ (as in "fyrre") into /ɶ:/? Also not helping is the fact that the orthography has become so confusing, the vowels are probably comparable to English in how unpredictable they are.

I wonder how the dialects will diverge in the coming centuries. Some may develop an 8-way contrast in high vowels /i i: y y: ʉ ʉ: u u: ɪ ɪ: ʏ ʏ: ɵ ɵ: ʊ ʊ:/ from Norwegian/Swedish influence, while others may reduce it to the German system /ɪ i: ʏ y: ʊ u: ɛ e: ɛ: œ ø: ɔ o: a a:/.
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

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If Danish was a conlang, I would say it's a jokelang.
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Salmoneus »

ɶʙ ɞʛ wrote: 27 Apr 2021 18:43

I wonder how the dialects will diverge in the coming centuries. Some may develop an 8-way contrast in high vowels /i i: y y: ʉ ʉ: u u: ɪ ɪ: ʏ ʏ: ɵ ɵ: ʊ ʊ:/ from Norwegian/Swedish influence, while others may reduce it to the German system /ɪ i: ʏ y: ʊ u: ɛ e: ɛ: œ ø: ɔ o: a a:/.
I'd say a bigger concern would be whether Danish still exists in a few centuries - minor regional language, few speakers, almost complete proficiency in English (highest English proficiency of any country without English as an official language). Assuming it does survive, I wouldn't expect much divergence, as there's only one significant city - while the other towns might be big enough to preserve some dialect features, it does't seem as though they'd be able to actively pull against the linguistic magnetism of Copenhagen to the point of divergence.
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Xonen »

Salmoneus wrote: 29 Apr 2021 03:07
ɶʙ ɞʛ wrote: 27 Apr 2021 18:43

I wonder how the dialects will diverge in the coming centuries. Some may develop an 8-way contrast in high vowels /i i: y y: ʉ ʉ: u u: ɪ ɪ: ʏ ʏ: ɵ ɵ: ʊ ʊ:/ from Norwegian/Swedish influence, while others may reduce it to the German system /ɪ i: ʏ y: ʊ u: ɛ e: ɛ: œ ø: ɔ o: a a:/.
I'd say a bigger concern would be whether Danish still exists in a few centuries - minor regional language, few speakers
A question of definitions, I suppose, but... it's the sole official language of an independent country and has several million native speakers. Of the thousands of languages in the world, this puts it squarely in the top 200 (searching for it on Ethnologue gives 164 as the exact rank), and it's larger and more robust than the vast majority by several orders of magnitude. So if Danish is all but done for, then so are almost all languages on Earth. Which could be the case, I suppose, but egads that's a dystopian idea.
almost complete proficiency in English (highest English proficiency of any country without English as an official language)
Widespread bilingualism by itself doesn't necessarily mean that one of the languages is doomed, though; such situations can remain quite stable for long periods of time (and indeed, seem to be or have been the norm in many parts of the world). Now, English probably has higher prestige, but even so... As long as Danish children are still mostly picking up Danish as their first language, it shouldn't be in any immediate danger of dying out - even though it could very well be pushed out of some usage domains (Finnish at least seems to be moribund as a language of science, for instance). The real trouble starts if Danish parents start speaking English to their children en masse.
I wouldn't expect much divergence, as there's only one significant city - while the other towns might be big enough to preserve some dialect features, it does't seem as though they'd be able to actively pull against the linguistic magnetism of Copenhagen to the point of divergence.
Maybe, but as far as I can tell, the OP doesn't seem to be asking about diverging into different languages; just into varieties with different vowel systems. And that can clearly occur even within a single city, with London probably being the most famous example. And at least something like that has (rather unsurprisingly, IMO) apparently already happened in Danish (first source I found; there'd probably be better ones with more information, but I don't really have time to look right now).
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Salmoneus »

Xonen wrote: 29 Apr 2021 17:00
Salmoneus wrote: 29 Apr 2021 03:07
ɶʙ ɞʛ wrote: 27 Apr 2021 18:43

I wonder how the dialects will diverge in the coming centuries. Some may develop an 8-way contrast in high vowels /i i: y y: ʉ ʉ: u u: ɪ ɪ: ʏ ʏ: ɵ ɵ: ʊ ʊ:/ from Norwegian/Swedish influence, while others may reduce it to the German system /ɪ i: ʏ y: ʊ u: ɛ e: ɛ: œ ø: ɔ o: a a:/.
I'd say a bigger concern would be whether Danish still exists in a few centuries - minor regional language, few speakers
A question of definitions, I suppose, but... it's the sole official language of an independent country and has several million native speakers. Of the thousands of languages in the world, this puts it squarely in the top 200 (searching for it on Ethnologue gives 164 as the exact rank), and it's larger and more robust than the vast majority by several orders of magnitude. So if Danish is all but done for, then so are almost all languages on Earth. Which could be the case, I suppose, but egads that's a dystopian idea.
Well, on the one hand: yes, absolutely, the great majority of languages on Earth are highly endangered. To quote Wikipedia: "the general consensus is that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages currently spoken and that between 50% and 90% of them will have become extinct by the year 2100". And that's just 80 years from now, let alone centuries. Most languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people; 96% of languages are, collectively, spoken by only 4% of Earth's population, while the top 20 languages are collectively spoken by around 50% of the population. People shifting from less-spoken languages to more-spoken languages isn't a rare thing, it's the norm.

On the other hand: well, not exactly. Language vulnerability isn't just a matter of absolute speaker numbers - exposure to dominant languages is more important. A language with 500 speakers may be completely safe, if it's spoken in a remote village that sees one passing trader per year; a language with ten million speakers may be in extreme danger if it's spoken in, for instance, one city in the middle of China.
almost complete proficiency in English (highest English proficiency of any country without English as an official language)
Widespread bilingualism by itself doesn't necessarily mean that one of the languages is doomed, though; such situations can remain quite stable for long periods of time (and indeed, seem to be or have been the norm in many parts of the world). Now, English probably has higher prestige, but even so... As long as Danish children are still mostly picking up Danish as their first language, it shouldn't be in any immediate danger of dying out - even though it could very well be pushed out of some usage domains (Finnish at least seems to be moribund as a language of science, for instance). The real trouble starts if Danish parents start speaking English to their children en masse.
[/quote]
I don't know enough firsthand about the current Danish situation in particular to comment in detail. However, looking at the situation of European languages in general, there are some big reasons to be concerned about pressures from English:

- overt prestige: English is often regarded as prestigious by high-society and authoritative figures, with businessmen, academics and politicians taking pride in their ability to speak English well
- covert prestige: English is often regarded as prestigious by alternative, countercultural authority sources, with teenagers taking pride in their ability to, for instance, listen to English rap music, or engage in English meme-making online
- mass media exposure: English is often the medium of exposure to a large percentage of popular TV and music, including many shows for children
- online exposure: although social media does exist outside of English, the internet as a whole is still dominated by English (outside of China, at least); people can read sites of interest in English, and engage in English-language social media (like this board), even developing entire important relationships in English through the internet
- transmigration: many immigrants speak English but not the local language; many emigrants find that people in their new homeland speak English but not their own native language; many emigrants re-immigrate after years of speaking English; and many people marry people with different native languages - even if they don't speak English with their partner, this lessens the connection of children to any one non-English language. Many people who do not emigrate may want to keep their options open in future (enabled by freedom of movement). This also of course applies to internal migration where areas have distinct dialects.
- denationalism: far-right ideologies have generally declined, and with them the notions that it is important to be a "True [insert nationality here]" and that being a True [] requires speaking [insert national language here]. Likewise, most European languages are not ideologically bolstered by religious mandates. There can even be a risk that if someone says to their friends "hey guys, can we stop speaking English and speak Our Own Language!?" then they may be seen as cryptofascist... at the same time, there is generally little hatred of the English or of other nationalities, and only a little sense of language preservation as a war against outsiders
- exposure through trade: English is often seen as essential, or at least highly valuable, for conducting trade with companies outside one's country (increasingly important in an increasingly globalised economy). Indeed, many people in one country work for a company headquartered in a different country, and hence use English and other foreign languages to communicate with their own bosses; others may be in some supervisory or liaison role with workers in the same country but based abroad, and hence likewise may resort to other languages to communicate with them
- English at work: due to all of the above, it's not uncommon for companies (particularly multinationals) to encourage the use of English in the office, even among coworkers who in practice only need to cooperate with one another within the one country
- English in education: similarly, English is often used in educational systems. At lower levels, "international schools" in English may be prestigious and academically accomplished; at higher levels, universities may run entire courses in English in a desire to attract overseas students, prepare students for dealing with academic materials in English, or enable the hiring of experts from abroad; indeed, some universities encourage the use of English in all courses, to make themselves more welcoming for non-native students and faculty.

In many of these respects, the local language is not helped but hindered by the alternative pressures from other regional languages (particularly French and German) - these may make English less essential, but they also make the native language less attractive by offering other non-English options.

In general, then, there are two serious problems: usefulness and coolness.

In terms of usefulness: if a young person can chat with their IRL friends in English (some of them, being immigrants, may actually prefer English to the native language), can chat with their family in English (barring one very-old-fashioned great-grandparent), can chat with their online friends in English (many of whom don't know the native language), and attends a university course in English, and in the summer does an internship at a prestigious company where everyone is encouraged to speak English, and speaks English when they go on holiday, and listens to music in English, and writes a little music in English to share online, and has a hobby that they read about online in English, and watches the latest acclaimed dramas in English, and reads Dan Brown (or whoever it is now) in English, and has fond memories of children's cartoons that they saw in English, and hopes to one day go and work abroad (it's OK, they speak English) and maybe meet a hot foreign partner (of course they'd like to learn each other's languages, but no hurry, they'll both speak English)...
...then what use is their native language to them? What will make them feel the need to maintain it?

And in terms of coolness: when English use is more common among younger, richer, more educated, more liberal speakers in urban areas, and native languages are more commonly used by older, poorer, less educated, more conservative speakers in rural areas, that poses a really major PR problem for the native language. When young people are looking at their options and deciding "I want to be like THAT" or "I want to be like THAT", the salt-of-the-earth old farmer is rarely the top pick.


The other big problem for language preservation is that there's a ratchet effect: languages can be easily lost in one or two decades, but take generations of work to regain. For example, in only ten years in the Netherlands, adult speakers of Low German went from around 30% to around 15% - while child speakers went from about 6% down to only about 2%. [similarly across Germany: even in Schleswig-Holstein, only 16% now claim to be able to speak it - and this is a language that once had tens of millions of speakers]

Nor is being a state-supported language as much a help as people often assume. Take Irish. Two hundred years ago, it was the majority language, with millions of speakers. A century of neglect and emigration ended that... but one hundred years ago, it still looked in a good position. There were around 700,000 speakers - not great, but not terrible. It was widely used in politics, in journalism, in commerce, in education, in law, and increasingly in literature, and was spoken in urban as well as rural areas, and by people from all classes. And after independence, the government was commited to Irish as the national language; it became compulsory in education (indeed, for several decades it was compulsory for ALL education to be through the medium of Irish); all state employees had to be proficient in Irish (and the state was the largest employers); Irish-language literature was subsidised, and Irish-only radio and television channels were established; areas of the country were set aside to be Irish-only to preserve its strongholds, from which it could expand across the country once again...

...and as a result, by the end of the century, there were no native speakers, and only a few tens of thousands of people regularly used it at all. [things have improved a little in the last few decades, but it still has a long way to go].

Notably, Irish remains a sort of zombie language, neither dead nor alive: not only are (almost) all the speakers non-native, but they speak a modernised form of the language that often smooshes together the various dialects into a single mishmash, and scrapes off the 'difficult bits' in favour of lexical and syntactical calquing from English. It's largely now an affectation and clique-marker for upper-class, well-educated people, something to drop into so that hoi polloi can't understand the joke. [the current revival is driven by excellent Irish-language private schools preferred by wealthier parents; essentially, Irish is used as a barrier to implicitly exclude the less educated, less 'dedicated' pupils]. This is probably quite a plausible outcome for languages like Danish and Dutch - optional add-ons for the local gentry, in simplified, Anglicised, de-dialecticised second-language forms.

Of course, when I say it's a 'concern', I don't mean it's a certainty. Certainly Danish COULD survive as a living language. I just think it's probably an open question at this point.

I wouldn't expect much divergence, as there's only one significant city - while the other towns might be big enough to preserve some dialect features, it does't seem as though they'd be able to actively pull against the linguistic magnetism of Copenhagen to the point of divergence.

Maybe, but as far as I can tell, the OP doesn't seem to be asking about diverging into different languages; just into varieties with different vowel systems. And that can clearly occur even within a single city, with London probably being the most famous example.

Yes, but significant divergence of any kind is difficult without conflicting centres of linguistic momentum.
If you're referring to the decline of cockney, for instance, or the incomplete rise of MLE, both of those developments occured due to migration from outside the city, from dialects that had already diverged. (It's true that dialects can arise in different areas of the same city, but this is rare and overstated (the 'Bronx accent' was never actually unique to the Bronx), and probably requires a much larger city than Copenhagen...
And at least something like that has (rather unsurprisingly, IMO) apparently already happened in Danish (there'd probably be better sources with more information on Danish dialects somewhere; I'll try to find some when I have more time).

Yes, but Danish history is not the Danish future. Historically, all (?) European languages experienced gradual divergence in their rural areas, because these areas were relatively populated yet relatively disconnected from the speech of the capital. But in recent times, rural dialects have been dying out en masse - rural areas are now relatively depopulated, and have become increasingly connected to the urban mainstream, both physically (transportation is cheaper and quicker) and intellectually (the press, mass media, telephones, the internet). Instead, large cities have become the drivers of divergence, with older rural dialects being replaced by the dialects of the dominant cities. We live in a world now not of nations of the soil, but of cities. But are Denmark's cities, other than Copenhagen, big enough and independent enough to drive substantial linguistic divergence in the long term? I'm not certain that they are.
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Xonen »

Salmoneus wrote: 29 Apr 2021 23:29Well, on the one hand: yes, absolutely, the great majority of languages on Earth are highly endangered. To quote Wikipedia: "the general consensus is that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages currently spoken and that between 50% and 90% of them will have become extinct by the year 2100". And that's just 80 years from now, let alone centuries. Most languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people; 96% of languages are, collectively, spoken by only 4% of Earth's population, while the top 20 languages are collectively spoken by around 50% of the population. People shifting from less-spoken languages to more-spoken languages isn't a rare thing, it's the norm.
Indeed. Between 50% and 90% of languages in the world also have a four-digit number of speakers at most, and no official status anywhere (or perhaps some sort of nominally official status which has essentially no effect in practice). Which is why I was somewhat bemused by Danish getting dubbed a minor language with few speakers; compared to the vast majority, it's positively gigantic.
On the other hand: well, not exactly. Language vulnerability isn't just a matter of absolute speaker numbers - exposure to dominant languages is more important. A language with 500 speakers may be completely safe, if it's spoken in a remote village that sees one passing trader per year; a language with ten million speakers may be in extreme danger if it's spoken in, for instance, one city in the middle of China.
Again, Danish is the sole official language of an independent country and used in all levels of society. In this sense, it's probably much safer than, say, Shanghainese, despite having fewer speakers.
I don't know enough firsthand about the current Danish situation in particular to comment in detail. However, looking at the situation of European languages in general, there are some big reasons to be concerned about pressures from English:

- overt prestige: English is often regarded as prestigious by high-society and authoritative figures, with businessmen, academics and politicians taking pride in their ability to speak English well
- covert prestige: English is often regarded as prestigious by alternative, countercultural authority sources, with teenagers taking pride in their ability to, for instance, listen to English rap music, or engage in English meme-making online
- mass media exposure: English is often the medium of exposure to a large percentage of popular TV and music, including many shows for children
- online exposure: although social media does exist outside of English, the internet as a whole is still dominated by English (outside of China, at least); people can read sites of interest in English, and engage in English-language social media (like this board), even developing entire important relationships in English through the internet
- transmigration: many immigrants speak English but not the local language; many emigrants find that people in their new homeland speak English but not their own native language; many emigrants re-immigrate after years of speaking English; and many people marry people with different native languages - even if they don't speak English with their partner, this lessens the connection of children to any one non-English language. Many people who do not emigrate may want to keep their options open in future (enabled by freedom of movement). This also of course applies to internal migration where areas have distinct dialects.
- denationalism: far-right ideologies have generally declined, and with them the notions that it is important to be a "True [insert nationality here]" and that being a True [] requires speaking [insert national language here]. Likewise, most European languages are not ideologically bolstered by religious mandates. There can even be a risk that if someone says to their friends "hey guys, can we stop speaking English and speak Our Own Language!?" then they may be seen as cryptofascist... at the same time, there is generally little hatred of the English or of other nationalities, and only a little sense of language preservation as a war against outsiders
- exposure through trade: English is often seen as essential, or at least highly valuable, for conducting trade with companies outside one's country (increasingly important in an increasingly globalised economy). Indeed, many people in one country work for a company headquartered in a different country, and hence use English and other foreign languages to communicate with their own bosses; others may be in some supervisory or liaison role with workers in the same country but based abroad, and hence likewise may resort to other languages to communicate with them
- English at work: due to all of the above, it's not uncommon for companies (particularly multinationals) to encourage the use of English in the office, even among coworkers who in practice only need to cooperate with one another within the one country
- English in education: similarly, English is often used in educational systems. At lower levels, "international schools" in English may be prestigious and academically accomplished; at higher levels, universities may run entire courses in English in a desire to attract overseas students, prepare students for dealing with academic materials in English, or enable the hiring of experts from abroad; indeed, some universities encourage the use of English in all courses, to make themselves more welcoming for non-native students and faculty. [I actually know someone who works at a university in the Netherlands that has English-first policies]

In many of these respects, the local language is not helped but hindered by the alternative pressures from other regional languages (particularly French and German) - these may make English less essential, but they also make the native language less attractive by offering other non-English options.

In general, then, there are two serious problems: usefulness and coolness.

In terms of usefulness: if a young person can chat with their IRL friends in English (some of them, being immigrants, may actually prefer English to the native language), can chat with their family in English (barring one very-old-fashioned great-grandparent), can chat with their online friends in English (many of whom don't know the native language), and attends a university course in English, and in the summer does an internship at a prestigious company where everyone is encouraged to speak English, and speaks English when they go on holiday, and listens to music in English, and writes a little music in English to share online, and has a hobby that they read about online in English, and watches the latest acclaimed dramas in English, and reads Dan Brown (or whoever it is now) in English, and has fond memories of children's cartoons that they saw in English, and hopes to one day go and work abroad (it's OK, they speak English) and maybe meet a hot foreign partner (of course they'd like to learn each other's languages, but no hurry, they'll both speak English)...
...then what use is their native language to them? What will make them feel the need to maintain it?
Speaking as a professional linguist with a minor in English philology, and as someone who's lived in the US as a child and used English in some form almost daily for the past 30 years... I still express myself much more fluently in Finnish. So there's that. In the extremely hypothetical situation of me somehow managing to reproduce, I don't think I'd be able to consistently keep speaking English in my family life even if I wanted to. Of course, a lot of people simply don't seem to realize that they don't actually know English quite as well as they think, so perhaps they'd just fluently can it to their children as well. Still, in at least the few intercultural families that I know, multilingualism seems to be the norm; parents speak English with each other but their native languages to their kids. Obviously, though, we'd need to look at some statistics here.

More broadly, at least here in Finland, all of the aforementioned factors are certainly in existence: English is considered more prestigious, more useful, more progressive, more "logical" and just generally better in every sense, while people who object to its increasing presence in society are easily accused of being, at best, lazy regressive ignorants who can't bother to get educated, and immigrant-hating fascists at worst. But still, there's no real move to abandon Finnish entirely, apart from a few lunatics on Twitter - and even they quite often seem to post their musings about the greatness of English and general inadequacy of Finnish in Finnish. It's still the norm in most places to default to Finnish as long as everyone can be assumed to understand it (of course, as soon as one immigrant enters the room, everyone switches to English, no matter how badly they themselves or the immigrant in question actually speak it...), the media operates primarily in Finnish (by a rather wide margin – and I think there might still be more media in Swedish than in English, even), and as far as I know, the vast majority of children are still learning Finnish at home, even if some are being put into English-language daycare. So again, the risk of Finnish being pushed out of certain more prestigious domains of life is certainly present, but its situation is still infinitely far stronger than of any genuinely endangered language.

Now, the above is obviously from a Finnish perspective; I'm not sure how well that translates into Denmark or the rest of Europe. I've heard anecdotes about people in other countries actually taking more pride, on average, in their native languages than we do, but again, we'd need statistics here. I guess the Netherlands might be a lost cause, though – although even there, people's attitudes can change once the language actually starts looking endangered. And even more generally, the political pendulum will probably change direction several times during the next few centuries, so I'm inclined to doubt any far-reaching predictions based on current trends.

Also, seriously, children's cartoons? I thought those at least were still mostly getting dubbed...

Nor is being a state-supported language as much a help as people often assume. Take Irish. Two hundred years ago, it was the majority language, with millions of speakers. A century of neglect and emigration ended that...
Those, and, you know, a million people starving to death. That'll do it.
but one hundred years ago, it still looked in a good position. There were around 700,000 speakers - not great, but not terrible. It was widely used in politics, in journalism, in commerce, in education, in law, and increasingly in literature, and was spoken in urban as well as rural areas, and by people from all classes. And after independence, the government was commited to Irish as the national language; it became compulsory in education (indeed, for several decades it was compulsory for ALL education to be through the medium of Irish); all state employees had to be proficient in Irish (and the state was the largest employers); Irish-language literature was subsidised, and Irish-only radio and television channels were established; areas of the country were set aside to be Irish-only to preserve its strongholds, from which it could expand across the country once again...

...and as a result, by the end of the century, there were no native speakers, and only a few tens of thousands of people regularly used it at all. [things have improved a little in the last few decades, but it still has a long way to go].
You seem to be leaving out the part where the state abandoned those policies after a few years and:
The government refused to implement the 1926 recommendations of the Gaeltacht Commission, which included restoring Irish as the language of administration in such areas. As the role of the state grew, it therefore exerted tremendous pressure on Irish speakers to use English. This was only partly offset by measures which were supposed to support the Irish language. For instance, the state was by far the largest employer. A qualification in Irish was required to apply for state jobs. However, this did not require a high level of fluency, and few public employees were ever required to use Irish in the course of their work. On the other hand, state employees had to have perfect command of English and had to use it constantly. Because most public employees had a poor command of Irish, it was impossible to deal with them in Irish. If an Irish speaker wanted to apply for a grant, obtain electricity, or complain about being over-taxed, they would typically have had to do so in English. As late as 1986, a Bord na Gaeilge report noted "...the administrative agencies of the state have been among the strongest forces for Anglicisation in Gaeltacht areas".[29]
Also, what's the source no native speakers? According to that same Wikipedia article, "estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 to 80,000 people.[35][36][37][38]"

In any case, Irish (or at least Modern Irish) was never the sole or primary language of an independent state; it was always in a weaker position competing against the strongest language in the world. Of course, the competition is the same for languages like Danish, but at least they're not yet vastly outnumbered by essentially monolingual English-speakers in their own countries.
Notably, Irish remains a sort of zombie language, neither dead nor alive: not only are (almost) all the speakers non-native, but they speak a modernised form of the language that often smooshes together the various dialects into a single mishmash, and scrapes off the 'difficult bits' in favour of lexical and syntactical calquing from English. It's largely now an affectation and clique-marker for upper-class, well-educated people, something to drop into so that hoi polloi can't understand the joke. [the current revival is driven by excellent Irish-language private schools preferred by wealthier parents; essentially, Irish is used as a barrier to implicitly exclude the less educated, less 'dedicated' pupils]. This is probably quite a plausible outcome for languages like Danish and Dutch - optional add-ons for the local gentry, in simplified, Anglicised, de-dialecticised second-language forms.
Interestingly, this sounds like pretty much the exact opposite of how the situation seems to be developing here in Finland: it's the upper class that's most enthusiastically promoting the use of English and trying to get their children educated in it, while the Finnish-speakers (ie. those not fluent in English, or self-conscious enough to realize that they're not fluent, I guess) are the plebs.
If you're referring to the decline of cockney, for instance, or the incomplete rise of MLE, both of those developments occured due to migration from outside the city, from dialects that had already diverged. (It's true that dialects can arise in different areas of the same city, but this is rare and overstated (the 'Bronx accent' was never actually unique to the Bronx), and probably requires a much larger city than Copenhagen...
Why would the size of the city matter that much? As long as kids go to the same neighborhood daycare centers and schools, their speech isn't going to be that much influenced by what happens on the other side of town. Helsinki is smaller than Copenhagen, and even here, there are differences between eastern and western neighborhoods. True, this is largely due to immigration both from the countryside and from abroad; especially the concentration of poorer immigrants and refugees in the east has led to calques from Arabic and whatnot becoming common among the younger generation there (having grown up in the relatively affluent and deeply secular west back in the '90s, hearing kids on the subway casually using Jumalan nimeen 'in the name of God' to emphasize stuff still feels rather surreal). There also seem to be some slight phonological differences; apocope of final vowels might be somewhat more common in the east (perhaps because western speech tends to approximate standard Finnish slightly more), for instance. But I'm not sure if this has really been studied in detail.

And of course, rather famously, Helsinki slang started evolving in a few working-class neighborhoods back in the 19th century, when the town was much, much smaller than now. Again, this was driven partially by immigration, yes - but immigration into cities isn't really going to stop anytime soon, is it?
Yes, but Danish history is not the Danish future. Historically, all (?) European languages experienced gradual divergence in their rural areas, because these areas were relatively populated yet relatively disconnected from the speech of the capital. But in recent times, rural dialects have been dying out en masse - rural areas are now relatively depopulated, and have become increasingly connected to the urban mainstream, both physically (transportation is cheaper and quicker) and intellectually (the press, mass media, telephones, the internet). Instead, lrge cities have become the drivers of divergence, with older rural dialects being replaced by the dialects of the dominant cities.
Yeah, I was mainly pointing out that diverging developments in the Danish vowel system have already taken place, since I thought that might be relevant to what the OP was asking. It's certainly true that old dialectal features are being largely leveled out - although as long as there are people who'd rather not live in the city, there will be people who'd rather not speak like the city, either. As pointed out in Labov's famous study on Martha's Vineyard, for instance, speakers' attitudes have quite a lot to do with how they speak. Similar results have once again been found here in Finland; rural folk with a positive attitude towards their home regions tend to preserve dialectal features, while those who dream of moving to larger towns or cities tend to approximate the standard more.
We live in a world now not of nations of the soil, but of cities. But are Denmark's cities, other than Copenhagen, big enough and independent enough to drive substantial linguistic divergence in the long term? I'm not certain that they are.
Again, though, if I'm understanding the OP correctly, the question was about the exact pronunciation of vowels... Which doesn't really strike me as particularly substantial divergence.
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Salmoneus »

Xonen wrote: 30 Apr 2021 21:21
Salmoneus wrote: 29 Apr 2021 23:29Well, on the one hand: yes, absolutely, the great majority of languages on Earth are highly endangered. To quote Wikipedia: "the general consensus is that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages currently spoken and that between 50% and 90% of them will have become extinct by the year 2100". And that's just 80 years from now, let alone centuries. Most languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people; 96% of languages are, collectively, spoken by only 4% of Earth's population, while the top 20 languages are collectively spoken by around 50% of the population. People shifting from less-spoken languages to more-spoken languages isn't a rare thing, it's the norm.
Indeed. Between 50% and 90% of languages in the world also have a four-digit number of speakers at most, and no official status anywhere (or perhaps some sort of nominally official status which has essentially no effect in practice).
So when you say that if Danish were in danger, almost every language would be danger, then that should be no suprise to you!
Which is why I was somewhat bemused by Danish getting dubbed a minor language with few speakers; compared to the vast majority, it's positively gigantic.
Yes; but the vast majority of languages are absolutely tiny, even collectively make up a tiny percentage of the world's speakers, and are going to go extinct probably in decades, rather than centuries - so it doesn't seem to make much sense to compare Danish to them. When someone says "It's touch and go whether Bob will even survive for ten years, with his condition", it doesn't make sense to say "what? that's nonsense! Many people are dead already!" - instead, the meaningful health comparison is to people who aren't in imminent danger of dying. I was implicitly comparing Danish not to moribund languages, but to languages that we can be confident will NOT be dead in 200 years - by which standards I don't think Danish measures up.
Danish is a massive language compared to the majority of languages. But compared to the languages spoken by, say, 80% of all living humans, it's relatively tiny.
On the other hand: well, not exactly. Language vulnerability isn't just a matter of absolute speaker numbers - exposure to dominant languages is more important. A language with 500 speakers may be completely safe, if it's spoken in a remote village that sees one passing trader per year; a language with ten million speakers may be in extreme danger if it's spoken in, for instance, one city in the middle of China.
Again, Danish is the sole official language of an independent country and used in all levels of society. In this sense, it's probably much safer than, say, Shanghainese, despite having fewer speakers.
It's certainly safer than some speakerful Chinese languages, yes; although Shanghainese itself apparently has a lot of prestige culturally and economically. But again, I don't see the relevance of "but X is even MORE in danger!" - I wasn't making a specific claim about a unique peril for Danish alone.
Speaking as a professional linguist with a minor in English philology
...nice gatekeeping, thanks. Should I stop replying now, is that your point?
, and as someone who's lived in the US as a child and used English in some form almost daily for the past 30 years... I still express myself much more fluently in Finnish. So there's that. In the extremely hypothetical situation of me somehow managing to reproduce, I don't think I'd be able to consistently keep speaking English in my family life even if I wanted to. Of course, a lot of people simply don't seem to realize that they don't actually know English quite as well as they think, so perhaps they'd just fluently can it to their children as well. Still, in at least the few intercultural families that I know, multilingualism seems to be the norm; parents speak English with each other but their native languages to their kids. Obviously, though, we'd need to look at some statistics here.
But the home is the last refuge of the dead language. Saying "but parents speak it with their children" is like saying "there's no need to worry about the possibility of flooding - sure, the ground floor of my house is flooded, but up here on the roof everything is fine for now!" If a language stops being passed from parent to child, that doesn't mean we should start to be concerned for it - it means it's probably too late to be concerned for it! It's like saying "sure, people say that my catastrophic blood loss should be concerning, but I don't think there's anything to worry about yet - I still have a pulse. Get back to me when my heart stops beating, doctors, and THEN I'll accept that I need to worry about my health!"

I don't doubt for a moment that there are people who best express themselves in Finnish, or Danish, or Norwegian, or Dutch, or Low German, or Scots, or Faroese, or even Frisian. But that shouldn't mean that we regard these languages as thriving without a care in the world.

[FWIW, Scandinavians online always seem to be self-conscious about their English, and don't realise how good they are at it. Let's put it this way: if you were given two texts, one with almost 'perfect' standard English with one little typo/brainslip, and the other with multiple spelling mistakes and instances of non-standard syntax, and you were told that one was written by a Finnish teenager and the other by a succesful American businessman, you ought to assume that it's the Finn who has the perfect English. And this impression is backed up by proficiency survey results, not simply self-assessed ability. Sure, I've no doubt that watching Finns in real life for long enough, dialectical features could be distinguished... but the same is true for most native-speaking English populations.
More broadly, at least here in Finland, all of the aforementioned factors are certainly in existence: English is considered more prestigious, more useful, more progressive, more "logical" and just generally better in every sense, while people who object to its increasing presence in society are easily accused of being, at best, lazy regressive ignorants who can't bother to get educated, and immigrant-hating fascists at worst.
...and yet you don't think this should give rise to even a smidgen of concern!?
But still, there's no real move to abandon Finnish entirely, apart from a few lunatics on Twitter - and even they quite often seem to post their musings about the greatness of English and general inadequacy of Finnish in Finnish.
Languages don't die because there's a "move" to abandon them, expressed through polemical speeches and essays. They die because people don't bother using them because another language is 'more useful' or 'better'. The speeches, if they happen at all, are only a symptom, not the disease, and they're by no means necessary to the process. Irish marched to the edge of the grave to the musical accompaniment of speech after speech, essay after essay, about the importance of preserving the beautiful national language. Very often even the people delivering those speeches didn't bother to learn Irish, let alone their listeners.
It's still the norm in most places to default to Finnish as long as everyone can be assumed to understand it (of course, as soon as one immigrant enters the room, everyone switches to English, no matter how badly they themselves or the immigrant in question actually speak it...)
Well, let's look at that. 7% of the Finnish population are immigrants; presumably there's a small percentage of second-generation migrants whose Finnish isn't great. That doesn't sound like much, maybe. But it means that if you take a room of 10 Finns, there's a better than 50% chance that one of them will be an immigrant. A language only spoken when 9 or fewer people are in the room is a language that's going to have some problems. And as Finland is a liberal, rich country, with freedom of movement with the EU and many refugees, and as the 'native', Finnish-speaking population has a fertility rate considerably below the replacement rate, it's likely that the percentage of immigrants will continue to increase. The immigrant population has increased 400% in just 20 years; by 2050, it's projected that around 20% of the population will be immigrants - who, given that Finland is not widely spoken outside Finland, will mostly not fluently speak Finnish. And the threshold room size - the number of people who would have to be in a room for there to be, on average, at least one immigrant - decreases dramatically with even small increases in the immigrant population. At 7%, it's 10; at 10%, it's 7; at 15%, it's only 5; at 20%, it's only 4. Or let's put that the other way around: in a room with, say, 7 people, with 7% non-speakers you'll have to switch language 40% of the time; with 20% non-speakers, you'd have to switch language 80% of the time. Obviously, there will be both contexts (among family) and places (in rural areas) where you'd be on average less likely than that to encounter immigrants; but there would also be contexts (at work, in education) and places (cities) where you'd be more likely than that to encounter immigrants. And those contexts tend to be more prestigious.
, the media operates primarily in Finnish (by a rather wide margin – and I think there might still be more media in Swedish than in English, even), and as far as I know, the vast majority of children are still learning Finnish at home, even if some are being put into English-language daycare. So again, the risk of Finnish being pushed out of certain more prestigious domains of life is certainly present, but its situation is still infinitely far stronger than of any genuinely endangered language.
Again, this is a No True Scotsman. Sure, compared to some Platonic ideal of the maximally endangered language, Finnish is NOT likely to suddenly go completely extinct by 2023.

But I'd put it the other way around: the situation of Finnish is far, far weaker than of any genuinely un-endangered language. Thus, it should be a topic of concern (if you think that language death is a bad thing).
I guess the Netherlands might be a lost cause, though – although even there, people's attitudes can change once the language actually starts looking endangered.
The problem is, because it's much easier to lose speakers than to gain them, by the time a language "starts looking endangered", it's probably too late - at least, too late to maintain the language as a genuinely living language.

In particular, when we're talking about long-term bilingualism - rather than demographic decline of a monolingual population - language death can happen very quickly and suddenly. A person can switch quite quickly, when conditions change, from "Finnish speaker who is also completely fluent in English" to "English speaker who is also completely fluent in Finnish". And when the conditions lead one person to make that switch, the same conditions can also lead other people in similar situations to make the same switch. Large parts of the population can switch within a short period of time.

And even more generally, the political pendulum will probably change direction several times during the next few centuries, so I'm inclined to doubt any far-reaching predictions based on current trends.
It's unwise to rely on "current trends could change, you never know" to justify a position of "so my gut instinct is a better guide than current trends". Particularly when we're fundamentally talking here about long-term economic processes!
Also, seriously, children's cartoons? I thought those at least were still mostly getting dubbed...
Well, I don't live in NL, so I can't swear to anything. But when I spent time there as a child (I had relatives living there whom we would visit), in general most English programmes were either dubbed or subtitled, but the cartoons were left in English. I've heard from residents that this is indeed common. However, maybe they were exaggerating, and my own experiences were unrepresentative, or maybe things have changed. But given the level of English proficiency I've encountered in the Netherlands - and the eagerness to speak English! - it wouldn't surprise me if they haven't.
Nor is being a state-supported language as much a help as people often assume. Take Irish. Two hundred years ago, it was the majority language, with millions of speakers. A century of neglect and emigration ended that...
Those, and, you know, a million people starving to death. That'll do it.
...please don't lecture me on my family history. Yes, the famine was neglectful, and spurred emigration. But the famine by itself wouldn't have made a huge difference to the language, if it were still the majority language (Irish-speaking areas were disproportionately hard-hit, but not THAT disproportionately). The emigration that the famine triggered, which WAS that disproportionate, was a much bigger factor. And in general the way that famine and emigration destroyed the cultural integrity of the West - with peasants migrating (even if only temporarily) to the East, and Eastern landlords capturing large swathes of the West, and the West just generally being forced to enter into the cyclic migration patterns the East had already been locked into for decades, Ireland became, as it were, conceptually smaller and more homogenous.
but one hundred years ago, it still looked in a good position. There were around 700,000 speakers - not great, but not terrible. It was widely used in politics, in journalism, in commerce, in education, in law, and increasingly in literature, and was spoken in urban as well as rural areas, and by people from all classes. And after independence, the government was commited to Irish as the national language; it became compulsory in education (indeed, for several decades it was compulsory for ALL education to be through the medium of Irish); all state employees had to be proficient in Irish (and the state was the largest employers); Irish-language literature was subsidised, and Irish-only radio and television channels were established; areas of the country were set aside to be Irish-only to preserve its strongholds, from which it could expand across the country once again...

...and as a result, by the end of the century, there were no native speakers, and only a few tens of thousands of people regularly used it at all. [things have improved a little in the last few decades, but it still has a long way to go].
You seem to be leaving out the part where the state abandoned those policies after a few years
Most of those policies were not abandoned 'after a few years', no. Irish remained the national language (and 'first official' language); Irish continues to be compulsory in education (though the policy of teaching other subjects through Irish was, as I say, only in place a few decades) - Irish is a compulsory subject up to the Leaving Cert (and all other exams bar English can be taken in Irish if preferred), and a pass mark in it is a prerequisite for entrance into many universities; the requirement that all civil servants speak Irish was in place until the 1990s, when it was replaced by a 'bonus point' system (Irish speakers were more likely to be hired), which is now being replaced by a quota system (20% of new hires should be Irish speakers); Irish-language literature, radio and television are still subsidised or outright nationalised; areas of the country are still set aside as Irish-only.

Now, it's true that these provisions were completely ineffective, but that's my point: having a government that - at times grudgingly, at times ardently - promotes the language through laws and policies is completely ineffective at actually preserving a language. For instance, take the requirement that civil servants speak Irish: how do you define 'speaking Irish'? Given that there was a desperate need for civil servants, yet almost no candidates actually were fluent in Irish, it's no surprise that the official standards of Irish dropped and dropped - not helped by the fact that the people hiring these people themselves could not speak Irish well - and of course even if a bright young recruit DID speak Irish when they were hired straight out of school, years and years of never speaking Irish in practice would cause their Irish to fall into desuetude. The government's intentions were good, and mostly (if not whole-heartedly) sincere, but the powers of government to effect (or prevent) cultural change are extremely limited.
Also, what's the source no native speakers? According to that same Wikipedia article, "estimates of fully native speakers range from 40,000 to 80,000 people.
This I think depends how you define 'native'. I'm referring to people with Irish as their genuine first language, which is an extremely small number - though not literally zero. However, if you define 'native' as anyone who has spoken Irish regularly since childhood, it's somewhat higher.
In any case, Irish (or at least Modern Irish) was never the sole or primary language of an independent state; it was always in a weaker position competing against the strongest language in the world. Of course, the competition is the same for languages like Danish, but at least they're not yet vastly outnumbered by essentially monolingual English-speakers in their own countries.
Nobody ever is vastly outnumbered, until they are. It also depends how you define 'country', of course - Danes are vastly outnumbered in the EU as a whole.
Notably, Irish remains a sort of zombie language, neither dead nor alive: not only are (almost) all the speakers non-native, but they speak a modernised form of the language that often smooshes together the various dialects into a single mishmash, and scrapes off the 'difficult bits' in favour of lexical and syntactical calquing from English. It's largely now an affectation and clique-marker for upper-class, well-educated people, something to drop into so that hoi polloi can't understand the joke. [the current revival is driven by excellent Irish-language private schools preferred by wealthier parents; essentially, Irish is used as a barrier to implicitly exclude the less educated, less 'dedicated' pupils]. This is probably quite a plausible outcome for languages like Danish and Dutch - optional add-ons for the local gentry, in simplified, Anglicised, de-dialecticised second-language forms.
Interestingly, this sounds like pretty much the exact opposite of how the situation seems to be developing here in Finland: it's the upper class that's most enthusiastically promoting the use of English and trying to get their children educated in it, while the Finnish-speakers (ie. those not fluent in English, or self-conscious enough to realize that they're not fluent, I guess) are the plebs.
Which is why Irish, despite being in a parlous situation right now, is generally seen to be on a good trajectory, whereas a language like Finnish, despite being in no immediate threat, is probably on a downward trajectory. Because, historically, once speakers of a language are seen as 'the plebs', and another language is seen as aspirational, the first language is in serious trouble!
If you're referring to the decline of cockney, for instance, or the incomplete rise of MLE, both of those developments occured due to migration from outside the city, from dialects that had already diverged. (It's true that dialects can arise in different areas of the same city, but this is rare and overstated (the 'Bronx accent' was never actually unique to the Bronx), and probably requires a much larger city than Copenhagen...
Why would the size of the city matter that much? As long as kids go to the same neighborhood daycare centers and schools, their speech isn't going to be that much influenced by what happens on the other side of town.
Of course it is! People speak to one another! Language traits spread across entire countries, continents, let alone cities! For divergence to occur, the language has to be pulled in two different directions by two (or more) linguistic 'centres' with their own linguistic 'gravity'. In the UK, for instance, people living between Liverpool and Manchester can be linguistically pulled toward one or other of those cities. But gravity is hard to get without population - population leads to prominence. There's a reason why people emulate the speech of large cities, and not of random hamlets! So a city below a certain size is unlikely to be able to support two gravitational centres.
True, this is largely due to immigration both from the countryside and from abroad
Again, this was driven partially by immigration, yes - but immigration into cities isn't really going to stop anytime soon, is it?
But the point is, immigration only leads to language difference when there are different languages to bring in. If a language only has one centre, then there won't be aberrent dialects to bring into the city; and over time, any change in the city language due to immigrants speaking other languages will either die out or else be adopted thoughout the language.

[on urban dialects: the population size required to support a dialect has clearly exploded, due to mass migration and particularly mass media. Put it this way: the number of like-speaking people you have to surround a kid with to prevent them being exposed to relatively large amounts of out-speech is now far, far, far higher than it was. As a result, dialects now subsume much larger areas - in the UK, a few urban dialects have been spreading across large swathes of countryside where, two hundred years ago, once every dale would have had its own distinct dialect. But people no longer live in one dale and never leave and never hear from outsiders - and it's the same for wards. And, I'm suggesting, it's the same for countries too...]
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Xonen »

Salmoneus wrote: 02 May 2021 20:16
Which is why I was somewhat bemused by Danish getting dubbed a minor language with few speakers; compared to the vast majority, it's positively gigantic.
Yes; but the vast majority of languages are absolutely tiny, even collectively make up a tiny percentage of the world's speakers, and are going to go extinct probably in decades, rather than centuries - so it doesn't seem to make much sense to compare Danish to them. When someone says "It's touch and go whether Bob will even survive for ten years, with his condition", it doesn't make sense to say "what? that's nonsense! Many people are dead already!" - instead, the meaningful health comparison is to people who aren't in imminent danger of dying.
No, but neither does it make sense to compare Bob to the world's top-performing athletes, diagnose him with the condition of not being as healthy as them, and then, based on that, conclude that he might as well be dead in ten years. Especially if you're making an unqualified statement of Bob being in poor health, the assumed comparison would seem to be to the general population (rather than to the top 2 %) - and in this case, Bob is in fact healthier than most of it.
Speaking as a professional linguist with a minor in English philology
...nice gatekeeping, thanks. Should I stop replying now, is that your point?
Um... no. The point was, in fact, that I should probably be better-equipped to speak English than most L2 speakers, and yet it's nowhere near as strong as my native language. So if you're asking what use a native language is to people, this is one answer: the native language will, for most people, probably remain their strongest language barring rather extraordinary circumstances, and as such, has quite a lot of inherent use.
, and as someone who's lived in the US as a child and used English in some form almost daily for the past 30 years... I still express myself much more fluently in Finnish. So there's that. In the extremely hypothetical situation of me somehow managing to reproduce, I don't think I'd be able to consistently keep speaking English in my family life even if I wanted to. Of course, a lot of people simply don't seem to realize that they don't actually know English quite as well as they think, so perhaps they'd just fluently can it to their children as well. Still, in at least the few intercultural families that I know, multilingualism seems to be the norm; parents speak English with each other but their native languages to their kids. Obviously, though, we'd need to look at some statistics here.
But the home is the last refuge of the dead language.
This is actually far from universal. Plenty of small languages have symbolic uses at communal events and whatnot, and many are even spoken outside of those by the older generations among each other, long after they've stopped speaking the language to their children. And again, this was one response to the question of what use the native language is to your hypothetical cosmopolite: speaking the language to one's children seems like a fairly important use! No, it on its own is not enough to keep it alive if the rest of society is entirely English-speaking, but we're not talking about a situation where that's the case.
[FWIW, Scandinavians online always seem to be self-conscious about their English, and don't realise how good they are at it. Let's put it this way: if you were given two texts, one with almost 'perfect' standard English with one little typo/brainslip, and the other with multiple spelling mistakes and instances of non-standard syntax, and you were told that one was written by a Finnish teenager and the other by a succesful American businessman, you ought to assume that it's the Finn who has the perfect English. And this impression is backed up by proficiency survey results, not simply self-assessed ability. Sure, I've no doubt that watching Finns in real life for long enough, dialectical features could be distinguished... but the same is true for most native-speaking English populations.
Writing proficiency is one thing. But what I'm really getting at is the ease of producing spontaneous speech; Finnish just flows off the tongue much more readily. I guess that could get better with practice, but as long as Finnish is by far the predominant language in everyday life, there's really no way English is going to get the most of it of the two.
More broadly, at least here in Finland, all of the aforementioned factors are certainly in existence: English is considered more prestigious, more useful, more progressive, more "logical" and just generally better in every sense, while people who object to its increasing presence in society are easily accused of being, at best, lazy regressive ignorants who can't bother to get educated, and immigrant-hating fascists at worst.
...and yet you don't think this should give rise to even a smidgen of concern!?
It's certainly cause for a lot of concern! Bob's ability to function and quality of life are clearly deteriorating, and he should absolutely receive treatment for that. But jumping to the conclusion that he's already dying seems needlessly pessimistic.
But still, there's no real move to abandon Finnish entirely, apart from a few lunatics on Twitter - and even they quite often seem to post their musings about the greatness of English and general inadequacy of Finnish in Finnish.
Languages don't die because there's a "move" to abandon them, expressed through polemical speeches and essays. They die because people don't bother using them because another language is 'more useful' or 'better'. The speeches, if they happen at all, are only a symptom, not the disease, and they're by no means necessary to the process. Irish marched to the edge of the grave to the musical accompaniment of speech after speech, essay after essay, about the importance of preserving the beautiful national language. Very often even the people delivering those speeches didn't bother to learn Irish, let alone their listeners.
Perhaps "move" was a poor choice of words, then? As I said, English isn't my best language... But I did mean the broader sense: including both the speeches and the actual actions of not bothering to speak the language anymore - there's not much of either occurring. And the few people making those speeches seem about as efficient at actually going about it as those proponents of Irish you mention.
It's still the norm in most places to default to Finnish as long as everyone can be assumed to understand it (of course, as soon as one immigrant enters the room, everyone switches to English, no matter how badly they themselves or the immigrant in question actually speak it...)
Well, let's look at that. 7% of the Finnish population are immigrants; presumably there's a small percentage of second-generation migrants whose Finnish isn't great.
Might be, but that's probably much smaller than those whose English isn't great. Also, kind of my bad, but I was really mainly thinking about "visible" immigrants there... Estonians and Russians probably don't count, since you can't usually tell they're immigrants just by looking, and they're expected to speak more Finnish than English anyway. But if you look at immigration statistics, those two groups make up a large proportion of that 7%.

And as far as those visible immigrants go, many of them don't actually speak English that well (or at all), and will often in fact be somewhat hurt by getting addressed in it (since that's effectively saying "I see you're not one of us", no matter how good the intentions might be). And there've been at least some steps towards spreading awareness of that lately.

So certainly, it's a worrying (and somewhat stupid) trend. But enough to spell doom for the entire language? I remain hopeful that it's not.
That doesn't sound like much, maybe. But it means that if you take a room of 10 Finns, there's a better than 50% chance that one of them will be an immigrant. A language only spoken when 9 or fewer people are in the room is a language that's going to have some problems.
Theoretically - but as you point out, immigrants aren't just randomly spread into rooms: there are certain places and areas of life where people are more likely to encounter them, and there are still many rooms where they won't be present. Plus, when there's ten or more people in a room, in an informal setting at least, it's quite likely the conversation will fracture into two or more smaller cliques, and only one of those will remain English-speaking.
And as Finland is a liberal, rich country, with freedom of movement with the EU and many refugees, and as the 'native', Finnish-speaking population has a fertility rate considerably below the replacement rate, it's likely that the percentage of immigrants will continue to increase. The immigrant population has increased 400% in just 20 years; by 2050, it's projected that around 20% of the population will be immigrants - who, given that Finland is not widely spoken outside Finland, will mostly not fluently speak Finnish. And the threshold room size - the number of people who would have to be in a room for there to be, on average, at least one immigrant - decreases dramatically with even small increases in the immigrant population. At 7%, it's 10; at 10%, it's 7; at 15%, it's only 5; at 20%, it's only 4. Or let's put that the other way around: in a room with, say, 7 people, with 7% non-speakers you'll have to switch language 40% of the time; with 20% non-speakers, you'd have to switch language 80% of the time. Obviously, there will be both contexts (among family) and places (in rural areas) where you'd be on average less likely than that to encounter immigrants; but there would also be contexts (at work, in education) and places (cities) where you'd be more likely than that to encounter immigrants. And those contexts tend to be more prestigious.
Considering that many immigrants (and refugees especially) end up in low-paying, low-education jobs (sometimes in spite of having good academic qualifications), the contexts might really not actually be that prestigious. And again, many immigrants, at least for now, don't in fact speak English all that well; the largest sources of immigration appear to be Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where knowledge of English is variable, to say the least. They're also offered intensive teaching in Finnish (or Swedish) upon coming here, and obviously, the surrounding society, media, government services and whatnot still operate predominantly in Finnish, so there are a lot of opportunities to pick it up, even if many well-meaning idiots will often try to address them in English first. And for those that wish to permanently settle, at least, learning Finnish or Swedish is essentially a must, since you need it for citizenship (well, unless you're from the EU, in which case you don't really need Finnish citizenship for anything other than voting, which a lot of people probably don't really care about; but again, we're not really attracting that much migration from the English-speaking parts of the EU).

The closest comparison would probably be Sweden, where the percentage of immigrants is already well into the double digits, and people "with a foreign background" make up about a quarter of the population. My understanding is that situation there is similar to that of Finland; English is taking over some of the most prestigious domains, but immigration isn't really that important in driving it.
, the media operates primarily in Finnish (by a rather wide margin – and I think there might still be more media in Swedish than in English, even), and as far as I know, the vast majority of children are still learning Finnish at home, even if some are being put into English-language daycare. So again, the risk of Finnish being pushed out of certain more prestigious domains of life is certainly present, but its situation is still infinitely far stronger than of any genuinely endangered language.
Again, this is a No True Scotsman.
Perhaps so, then, but also pretty much the generally accepted definition, as used by sources such as UNESCO and Ethnologue:
Spoiler:
Image
And even more generally, the political pendulum will probably change direction several times during the next few centuries, so I'm inclined to doubt any far-reaching predictions based on current trends.
It's unwise to rely on "current trends could change, you never know" to justify a position of "so my gut instinct is a better guide than current trends".
Current trends are already changing; nationalism is rising in Europe, and Denmark in particular has become kind of infamous for how hostile it's become to immigration. Not that I necessarily think this is a good thing, either, but still... Even in more liberal circles, some level of awareness that linguistic diversity is a good thing might be rising, as well as the aforementioned notion that being "accommodating" by using English could backfire.

In any case, again, I'm not relying just on my gut instinct here; as far as I'm aware, linguists don't generally consider Danish a minor language with few speakers, in severe danger of going extinct, so that strikes me as a rather extraordinary claim. And if you're the one making extraordinary claims about the long-term future based on current trends, then it shouldn't it be up to you to supply some proof that those trends are likely to continue (and that they are in fact likely to produce that outcome)?
Nor is being a state-supported language as much a help as people often assume. Take Irish. Two hundred years ago, it was the majority language, with millions of speakers. A century of neglect and emigration ended that...
Those, and, you know, a million people starving to death. That'll do it.
...please don't lecture me on my family history.
Sorry. But I don't know your family history - and considering that you've spent two lengthy posts largely lecturing me on Language Endangerment 101, I kind of figured pointing out the relatively obvious is just kind of how we roll in this thread... And hey, it could be at least somewhat warranted: this is a public discussion, so there's a chance someone else might read it as well (well, maybe not at this point, considering how far off topic we've veered, but theoretically), and a lot of the people here are beginners at this stuff, so what might seem obvious to you or me can't be assumed to be so for everyone.
But the famine by itself wouldn't have made a huge difference to the language, if it were still the majority language (Irish-speaking areas were disproportionately hard-hit, but not THAT disproportionately).
Probably not, no. But absolute number of speakers is one of the criteria used in assessing language vitality, and especially if a language is already on a downward trend, having it drop precipitously can't help.

The decline of Irish depended on some fairly extreme circumstances, is what I'm saying. And yet it still has children learning to speak it, so counting from the early 1800's, it might well survive for at least 300 years, despite everything. What disaster are we expecting to hit Danish that makes it likely to do worse?
...and as a result, by the end of the century, there were no native speakers, and only a few tens of thousands of people regularly used it at all. [things have improved a little in the last few decades, but it still has a long way to go].
You seem to be leaving out the part where the state abandoned those policies after a few years
Most of those policies were not abandoned 'after a few years', no.
Just going by Wikipedia here; it seems the policies that could've been most effective didn't really last more than a couple of decades at most, and there's been a lot of going back and forth, which probably just ends up making things worse. In any case, Irish didn't start out as the sole official, nigh-universally spoken language of the country, with the expectation that all immigrants learn it if they want to get educated or into a government job or read the papers or whatever; remaining essentially English-only was always an option.

In this way, it kind of reminds me of the situation of Swedish in Finland; yeah, it's compulsory in school, you need to demonstrate a certain degree of proficiency in to graduate from university, and civil servants are theoretically expected to speak it (having graduated from university essentially counts as proof enough for most jobs). But the bar is low enough that you can pretty much make some token amount of effort at studying a couple of nights before, string a few memorized words together in the test and pass it, and then forget most of what you knew by the next week. And of course, being forced to learn a "useless" language results in many people actively hating it and therefore essentially refusing to retain any knowledge of it once it's no longer needed. By contrast, a lot of immigrants genuinely want to integrate into their new home country and are quite motivated to learn Finnish.
It also depends how you define 'country', of course - Danes are vastly outnumbered in the EU as a whole.
I don't really see how the EU behaves as a country, at least in any way that would have a major effect on languages in each state. And it's not predominantly English-speaking, especially not anymore.
True, this is largely due to immigration both from the countryside and from abroad
Again, this was driven partially by immigration, yes - but immigration into cities isn't really going to stop anytime soon, is it?
But the point is, immigration only leads to language difference when there are different languages to bring in. If a language only has one centre, then there won't be aberrent dialects to bring into the city; and over time, any change in the city language due to immigrants speaking other languages will either die out or else be adopted thoughout the language.

[on urban dialects: the population size required to support a dialect has clearly exploded, due to mass migration and particularly mass media. Put it this way: the number of like-speaking people you have to surround a kid with to prevent them being exposed to relatively large amounts of out-speech is now far, far, far higher than it was. As a result, dialects now subsume much larger areas - in the UK, a few urban dialects have been spreading across large swathes of countryside where, two hundred years ago, once every dale would have had its own distinct dialect. But people no longer live in one dale and never leave and never hear from outsiders - and it's the same for wards. And, I'm suggesting, it's the same for countries too...]
Perhaps. But people don't speak differently just because they never hear from outsiders - they speak differently to distinguish themselves from outsiders (cf. the point about attitudes). So as long as not everyone wants to associate with the same groups, I'd assume there to be some linguistic diversity around - perhaps sociolectal more than dialectal, considering we don't need to live in the same areas as our preferred peer-groups anymore - but I wouldn't imagine taking pride in one's home region is something that's going to disappear entirely, either. I guess time will tell, though.
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Vlürch
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Re: Danish vowel allophony

Post by Vlürch »

Just mentioning that I've also noticed that more immigrants tend to speak Finnish than English, at least here in Roihuvuori. Although I'm not at all active in the community, even I can tell that between immigrants and non-immigrants, the language used by default isn't English but Finnish. Personally I can't recall ever having actually spoken English with anyone here (except with people who didn't live here). Obviously I'm not a very social person (to say the least), so it's a small sample size, and it's not like you'll never hear English here, just that it's rare except when the cherry trees blossom and people from elsewhere come here.

I guess it's also possible that Roihuvuori is an exception since it's famous for its "communal spirit" and practically everyone is poor and there's no housing segregation like in at least some parts of Helsinki, though, since even slightly west or slightly east of here you'll hear English spoken a lot more and much more obvious foreign accents in Finnish.

A big part of me thinks English should be made an official language, anyway, just not if it was American English... which it probably would be, so ugh. But like, in all seriousness, a standardised Finnish English based on RP but with modifications/accommodations to how Finns actually speak English would be hilarious. Probably embarrassing, though.

As for Danish, in speech I can never even tell it apart from Dutch even though in writing they can't be mixed up. [:$] Yeah, this was a useless post.
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