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Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 2:33 pm
by guyome
I can't post links yet (if I understood the forum rules correctly) so I thought it might be best to begin this log with a short overview of the languages I am studying/using at the moment (I will list resources in another post). Of course, these short introductions cannot do justice to the relatively complex socio-linguistic situations these languages find themselves in, they are only very broad strokes and I hope I'll be able to add more flesh and nuances in future posts.

Occitan is the language I will try and focus on for the next few weeks. Once the main language in what is now southern France, it held out reasonably well there up to the first half of the 20th c. but has since declined sharply and it can now be said to have been replaced by French. There are still quite a few speakers around, especially among older rural generations, but it's probably not a language you'll hear very often unless you make a point of attending specific events. A timid revival of some sort has been taking place in some circles since the 1960/70s and despite the overall dire linguistic situation, books are still published, radio and TV shows are still produced. Despite this, it seems to me Occitan remains in a very precarious state. There is also the fact that the loss of traditional Occitan speaking communities means that L2 speakers may become the main carriers of the language in the very near future, which may in turn lead to even more French influence on Occitan as far as vocabulary, syntax and phonology are concerned.

Manchu appeared on the map as a written language at the very beginning of the 17th c. in what is now Northeast China. The Manchus defeated the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) shortly after and founded the Qing dynasty, which would rule over China proper and other conquered territories until its fall in 1912. Being the language of a conquest elite, Manchu was given a place of pride and the amount of documents produced during the Qing dynasty is staggering. Manchu books were also published in large number, but a Manchu literature never really developed and most literary productions are translations of Chinese works. Each year, more and more of these documents and books become available online through digitalisation campaigns, meaning that there is no shortage of reading material available.

The Manchus living in Chinese provinces being vastly outnumbered by their non-Manchu speaking subjects, their language gradually gave way despite efforts by the Qing emperors to foster it. The language held out better in Manchuria proper, but the vicissitudes of the 20 th c. probably hastened its final demise. The language is now bordering on extinction, with reports of only a few elderly speakers still living on the late 2000s.

It should however be mentioned that a close relative of Manchu, the Sibe language, still lives on in the Xinjiang region, spoken by the descendants of soldiers sent there by the Qing emperor in 1764 to guard the empire's border. Their geographic isolation helped the language survive and Sibe materials are still published today (although accessing them outside of China is not an easy task). Written Sibe is almost identical with Manchu as written during the Qing dynasty.

Yiddish is a language I spent a lot of time on some years ago and managed to bring to a level where I can read and listen to it rather confortably. I have very few opportunities to speak it though.
The sociolinguistic situation of Yiddish today is sort of a strange one, with two different poles. On one hand, Yiddish is not exactly doing well as a language in the secular world (despite some sort of "revival" over the last decades) and there isn't a lot of new material produced today. And while I am very interested in the "Old Country" pre-WWII Ashkenazic culture, I wouldn't mind having more contemporary material to interact with from time to time. On the other hand, Yiddish is still the main language of many Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities and it is quite easy to find videos, pamphlets, and websites in Hasidic Yiddish. They are however (and not surprisingly) very much Hasidic centered and I woudn't mind having less Hasidic/religious material to interact with from time to time.

There is probably no need for a long introduction to this language. I have been reading Latin for years now, so I won't post about learning it per se. My main interest lies mainly in Late Antiquity and Medieval Latin rather than Classical Latin, so I will try and post occasionally about interesting texts I encounter.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 3:09 pm
by guyome

- Assimil L'occitan (2014)
This is the main course I'm using right now (currently reached lesson 14). It is one of the new Assimil courses, so the dialogues are rather short. The course is divided into two parts: lessons 1-49 teach Literary Languedocian, while the remaining ones introduce the various dialects (plus medieval Occitan). I quite like the course so far and plan on using it to develop a firmer grasp on grammar and words I already intuitively understand when reading but cannot use actively. My goal at the moment is to complete at least the first part of the book, which covers the main grammatical points. I'll then shift to authentic material full time while occasionally coming back to the second part if need be.
I would prefer the book to teach a dialect from the start rather than the somewhat artificial Literary Languedocian but I can understand why the author chose it: Literary Languedocian is commonly used in writing so getting familiar with it is essential, and if you decide to teach a dialect you have to pick one, which invariably leads to bickering

- Assimil L'occitan sans peine (1975)
I also make occasional use of the older Assimil course. I actually like the recordings better but the 1970s militant Occitanist rhetoric that pervades the whole work is rather off-putting. I might say more about this in future posts since it is linked to topics I find interesting (if slightly disheartening at the same time)

- Jornalet
A web based newspaper, with many short articles on various subjects. Perfect for quick reading on current topics

A web based TV channel with quite a few programs.

- Viure al País
A weekly 20 minute long TV show broadcasted on France 3 and available online.

I started learning Manchu 8/9 years ago and can now read it without too much problem (though vocab is still a problem depending on the subject) so the resources I use these days are mostly texts I found online. Apart from pdf of various publications, my main source for Manchu texts are:
- the Bibliothèque Nationale de France collection
- the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin collection.

I use Yiddish less than before these days but when I do it is mostly:
- books, audiobooks, and talks from the Yiddish Book Center
- the occasional Forverts article
- Hasidic videos and weekly publications.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 6:22 pm
by Lawyer&Mom
An interesting collection of languages. What drew you to them?

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 7:50 pm
by nooj
Very interesting !

What variety of Occitan ?

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 10:09 pm
by guyome
Lawyer&Mom wrote:An interesting collection of languages. What drew you to them?

Manchu because I've always been interested in the history of the Qing dynasty. I've learned a bit of Classical Chinese but it took me forever to be able to read simple texts because of the script. Manchu is written with an alphabetical script which made it easier to use authentic material as soon as possible. Ideally I'd like to revisit Classical Chinese one day but it seems to big a commitment right now and the ever growing collection of online Manchu texts has been enough to keep me busy for years now.

Yiddish I encountered randomly but stumbling into the Assimil course in a book shop. I was suprised to see it was a Germanic language and started to dig deeper. I quickly was fascinated by pre-WW2 Jewish history. This was also the time when the Yiddish Book Center started putting its collection online, so I suddenly had thousands of free books to read from which helped nurturing my newly found interest.

Latin has sort of always been there. I think it is the first language I seriously tackled on my own. I like the language itself for some nice features (like the well balanced periodic sentences) but what kept my interest going is the enormous amount of things and the very long time frame they cover. There's something exhilarating to be able to jump at any point of almost 2000 years of history and be able to read in the same language used in very different contexts.

Occitan is a more recent interest. I think I first got interested 3/4 years ago but can't remember what triggered my interest. I studied a little bit and found I could tolerably read easy texts thanks to Latin and French. I kept reading here and there after that but never made the push to get to a higher level. Compared to Manchu or Yiddish (and Latin to some extent), Occitan feels much closer. I don't have a deep personal/familial connection with the language, in the sense that any relative that may have spoken Occitan probably died a 100 years ago, but it is the language of areas where my family comes from, places I spent time in when growing up.

nooj wrote:What variety of Occitan ?

I'm using the new Assimil course as my base, so Literary Languedocian. I would have prefered a "real" dialect but it's not like there is much choice as far as learning materials are concerned. I plan on going throug the first half or maybe two thirds of the book, to get the basic grammar down more solidly, at the same time I keep reading and listening as much as possible, regardless of the dialect (Aranese is a bit of a work out, though :)). Ideally I'd like to learn Auvergnat or Vivaro-Alpine well, but there is a serious lack of written and/or audio material for these and I doubt it will be possible.

And let me thank you for your log! I have read large parts of it last year and always find it very interesting and motivating. I even credit it for making me studying Basque during a couple of months, most certainly a language I'll go back to at some point (if only for bertso and Huntza which your log introduced me to).

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Thu Jan 02, 2020 10:31 pm
by IronMike
guyome wrote:
Yiddish I encountered randomly but stumbling into the Assimil course in a book shop. I was suprised to see it was a Germanic language and started to dig deeper. I quickly was fascinated by pre-WW2 Jewish history. This was also the time when the Yiddish Book Center started putting its collection online, so I suddenly had thousands of free books to read from which helped nurturing my newly found interest.

Have you read the Lansky book, Outwitting History, about how he created the Yiddish Book Center? Incredible story.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2020 8:54 am
by guyome
Yes, I read it a few years ago and found it fascinating! I don't think I could have learned Yiddish without the material the YBC put online.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2020 10:58 am
by Saim
Plan interessanta ta seleccion de lengas ! D’ont siás se o pòdi demanar ?

Ieu ai estudiat lengadocian standardisat, e per ieu l’aranés es pas complicat de comprene (e pòdi pas díser aquò sus d’autres dialectes gascons), per lo fach de saber catalan supausi.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2020 11:40 am
by guyome
Mercés, Saim!
Per ieu es de bon legir en occitan mas escriure, aquò's de mal faire! Pamens vau ensajar.
Soi nascut en França, en defòra d'Occitània, e ara demòri dins una pichona vila ont i a pas degun (cresi) que parla l'occitan.

Re: Occitan, Manchu, Yiddish and Latin

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2020 3:16 pm
by guyome
I am done with lesson 18 of the new Assimil course, which I like so far. The dialogues are not as witty as in other Assimil courses I used but they are not boring and do a good job at introducing new vocab and grammar. One thing though: the lessons do not use a lot of 2nd and 3rd conjugation verb forms despite them being shown in the recap lessons 7 and 14. I wouldn't mind getting a bit more exposure to those.

Apart from Assimil, I keep reading and listening here and there: some articles on the Jornalet (many about the Catalan situation), some tales and short stories published in various late 19th and early 20th c. publications, some videos at OCtele and youtube. I am not picky about the dialect the material I consume is in, anything goes as far as I'm concerned since I want to be familiar with all varieties of Occitan. At this stage anyway I notice the similarities more than the differences between them. Ignorance is bliss I guess.

Here is a video I watched at ÒCtele, the topic being:
Pierre Larraillet qu’a avut ua aulha tuada per un ors en montanha. Que tornè enviar lo chèc de 1200 euros qui l’envièn tà l’indemnizar en disent qu’ei tròp en per ua aulha e que n’accèpta pas ua soma qui poderé estar lo prètz deu silenci.
Pierre Larraillet got one of his ewes killed by a bear in the mountain. He sent back the 1200€ check that was sent to him as financial compensation, saying that it was too much for one ewe and that he doesn't accept a sum which could be the price of his silence. (translation and possible mistakes mine)
I find the topic interesting although it is in Gascon, which is harder for me to understand than the other dialects. I found the speaker's accent really enjoyable.

I like reading tales or short humorous stories in any language and, fortunately, there is no shortage of this type of material in Occitan. Here is one I read this morning. It was published in the 1910 issue of the Armana Provençau and is, as could be expected, written in the Provençal dialect and makes use of the Mistralian norm:
L'autre jour Pisso-sciènci, l'espeditour de tartifle bèn couneigu à Castèu-Reinard, disié dins lou café i païsan que l'escoutavon : — Aro que vèngon plus nous parla de Bon-Diéu : emé la Sciènci l'ome fara
tout ço que voudra. Regardas lis aerouplan, se vuei amount au cèu mounton pas sènso escalo !
— Es clar que, rebriquè lou Guèche di Gounfigno, se vèi à l'ouro d'iuei de causo espetaclouso. Dequé s'enventara mai ? Figuras-vous qu'à Cavaioun, la semano passado, i'avié sus lou marcat uno espèci de machine que veritablamen èro estraourdinàri ; se ié metié d'un bout uno brassado de fen — e de l'autre n'en tiravon, sabès dequé ? Un toupin de la !
— Eh ! bèn, vesès ? cridè lou famous Pisso-sciènci, ah ! boutas, n'en veirés bèn d'autro.
— Soulamen, faguè lou Guèche, aquelo machino d'aqui, es pas la sciènci que l'a 'nventado ; ié dison « uno vaco ».

The other day, Pisso-Sciènci, the well-known potato dealer in Chateaurenard, was saying in the café to the farmers who were listening to him: "I hope we're not going to be bothered by this God talk anymore now. With science, man will do whatever he wants to. Think of planes, they don't go up in the sky with a ladder today!
— Sure, you can see amazing things today, answered Guèche from the Gounfigno. What will they invent next? Think that last week at the market in Cavaillon there was some sort of machine that was truly extraordinary. If they put a armful of hay at one end, do you know what they got at the other end? A jar of milk!
— Well, you see?! cried out the famous Pisso-sciènci. Ah, you keep going and you'll see many more of these things.
— It is just that, said Guèche, this machine, it hasn't been invented by science; it's called "a cow". (translation and possible mistakes mine)
Of course, my clumsy translation can't really do justice to the various expletives, names, and structures used here.