A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Soft Letters And Drunk Germans

My mind has a tendency to wander, and lately it's been trotting all over languages closely related to each other. Specifically, I've been thinking about Estonian and Finnish and Dutch and German - and how those languages sound to me in relation to each other.

Frankly, I can't help but think of it two ways: Dutch sounds like a drunk German whose native language is English, and Estonian sounds like a Finn being really lazy.

It's because of the gradation of vowels that happens across those languages. It makes everything sound more "lax". And of course Dutch is one of English's closest relatives, so I view things on sort of a continuum:

Tot -(soften the t) - Dood -(alter the vowel) - Dead
Tanz -(soften the t and z) - Dans - (strengthen the s back to a [ts] sound) - Dance
Und -(since the end vowel can't be gradated further, remove it) - En (strengthen the vowel) - And (It's worth noting that where I live, quite a few people, myself included, will actually pronounce "and" as "en" quite often.)

So yes, to me Dutch sounds more "relaxed" than German, especially because it's so close to English. Also...to me it just sounds pretty garbled, even when it's being spoken with the clearest of diction, simply because of the guttural qualities of the language. This isn't to say I don't love how you sound, Dutch! It just means that I keep thinking "hangover imminent" whenever I hear you.

And Estonian...it doesn't do the same thing with the consonants, for the most part. But I do see it in the vowels.

I call vowels like ä "sharper" than vowels like a, because it's what it sounds like to me. So, from Finnish to Estonian, those vowels are "softened". You can see it in common words like pronouns:

Minä - Mina
Sinä - Sina

So, no theories or questions today. Just an observation about how I interpret phonologies of related languages.

1 comment:

  1. The German-Dutch-English continuum is really interesting! I'd never thought of it like that before...

    By the way, I stumbled across this and wondered if you'd find it interesting?