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Re: Beauty of Old Norse (was Re: New to the list)

From:Danny Wier <dawier@...>
Date:Saturday, June 17, 2000, 5:35
>From: Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
>Patrick Dunn wrote: > >>*grins* I once told Dr. Deskis, my Old English prof, that Old Norse was >>the ugliest language I ever saw. She said, "well, if you didn't read it >>with a midwestern accent, it wouldn't be so ugly!" She was right. :) >>Still, clusters like skzk still give me pause. > >I would never even attempt to say Germanic phonotactics were anything but >"tolerant" (i.e. of clusters), and therefore perhaps a bit "crude" (don't >like the prescriptiveness in that word). Many difficult clusters appear in >modern English as well, such as [NTs] in 'strengths'. And, as your teacher >so eloquently taught you, never judge a language's "beauty" by its >orthography (though the beauty of the orthography can be readily judged, of >course).
> Anyhow, we can't say if Old Norse was particularly beautiful or not. I >suspect it had a similar sound to it as continental Scandinavian of today >(Swedish and Norwegian). Icelandic sounds very different from the >Scandinavian languages, and very different from the old language as well >(it >sounds like no European language you've heard before - lots of fricatives, >just about any consonant can be unvoiced + very melodic intonation). Though >I can't reliably judge, I believe modern Icelandic sounds considerably >better than the old form (and better than the Scandinavian langs as well). >Many Scandinavians have at least agreed with me in that Icelandic is the >most beautiful Nordic language.
Well, the very subjective notion of a language being 'ugly' is obviously not a good way to describe a language, but even some linguists, especially in the past, describe languages as having some quality. In childhood, I thought that Romance languages were so-called because they were 'romantic', and I misheard Germanic languages as being 'Dramatic languages'! Also, just because you have 'weird' orthography with six consonants in a row or whatever doesn't mean it sounds like it looks. I have no idea how Old Nordic sounds; I haven't even heard anyone speak Icelandic. But there could be 'unwritten vowels' like you have in Irish and Scots Gaelic: for example, _ainm_ 'name' is pronounced like 'anim'. And then you have silent letters, like English 'eight', where 40 percent of the word is silent! Russian has some scary sequences like (IIRC) _zdnja_, but I think the d is silent. And then you have the most extreme examples -- the languages of Caucasia, which come from several families: Abkhaz, Chechen, Georgian, Armenian -- can have some tough consonant strings. Two Georgian words begin with six consonants. (We discussed this on the list a couple years ago, I remember vaguely; Georgian doesn't stick 'incidental schwas' in those sequences either. But I also read that even Georgian leaves some consonants silent, so _mxedruli_ (the name of the modern script, meaning 'soldier's script') may have a silent m. Oh yeah, and there's Bella Coola (a NW American Indian language), which can have entire sentences without one vowel from what I've been told. Now you and I are aware of Dutch and its weird orthography. You got auw, uij, dt and what not. And a lot of it is not pronounced anything like it's spelled. (And they used to write Indonesian using Dutch conventions!) Daniel A. Wier ¶¦¬þ Lufkin, Texas USA ________________________________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at