West Germanic vs. the Stammbaum

Anthony Aristar aristar at linguistlist.org
Mon Feb 23 19:50:11 CET 2009

I don't think I'd go that far.  Language trees are meant to  show 
genetic descent, and that they do very well.  They don't attempt to show 
borrowing or areal influences, and nor should they.  They do show what 
is fundamental to a language, for this tends to resist the influence of 
other languages.  English in its basic vocabulary is pretty obviously 
related to Low Saxon languages, at least to a linguist.  The borrowings 
sit on top, like icing on a cake.  And -- a bathroom anecdote -- I 
remember sitting in a men's restroom in northern Germany where someone 
had scrawled various obscene suggestions on the wall, and being struck 
by how some of the words looked much more like English than Standard 
German.. and not because they were borrowings, either!

John Cowan wrote:
> Anthony Aristar scripsit:
>> I would not look at the Ethnologue subgroupings, which for Germanic
>> are not accepted by most scholars.  Ethnologue, for example, treats
>> Dutch and Low German as being in the same Low Saxon/Low Franconian
>> German Subgroup.  No Germanic scholar believes this. Instead they
>> posit a group called "North Sea Germanic", which includes English,
>> Low German languages, and Frisian.  Dutch is in the Franconian group,
>> which is part of the High German group.
> What this really shows, IMHO, is that no tree model is very good for
> West Germanic, whose languages have been strongly influencing each other
> almost since they split.  In particular, the modern Frisian languages
> have been mugged by Dutch and Low German and High German and Danish,
> modern Low German by Dutch in the Netherlands and High German in Germany,
> and modern English by French and Latin, resulting in the near-total
> obscuring of their original connections.

Anthony Aristar, Director, Institute for Language & Information Technology
  Professor of Linguistics            Moderator, LINGUIST Linguistics Program
Dept. of English                       aristar at linguistlist.org
Eastern Michigan University            2000 Huron River Dr, Suite 104
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

URL: http://linguistlist.org/aristar/

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