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Lexical distance of European languages

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 24 Feb 2016, 16:18

I find this diagram about the lexical distance between European languages intriguing:


It seems to show English as being close to French in terms of lexis (which I would expect) although it belongs to the Germanic rather than Romance sub group.

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Me in a rare cheerful mood

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I'm very surprised by that dotted line between English and Welsh.  I didn't think there was any commonality between them.

Patrick Andrews

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Thanks for the comment, Simon.

I am not an expert on Welsh (the languages I have studied seriously are French, Russian and Chinese) but I think we can think Welsh is more different from English than it really is because the spelling is so different.  The list below is interesting as some would be hard to recognise as being derived from English.


The following article suggests some Welsh origins for English words


Me in a rare cheerful mood

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I was told the spelling is unusual because Welsh is a spoken language and it needed a written form to be invented for it.  Apparently the academic written-language-maker-uppers went to town on it.

I got my sketchy knowledge from working with a woman whose degrees were to do with the development of Welsh.  She told me the split occurred so long ago that there are languages in India more closely related to Welsh than the other European languages.  It has sounds unique to it and some subtleties of pronunciation that us English cannot hear (which I did not believe, but it is true that if you do not hear some of the subtle word differences as a child, you won't be able to as an adult).

My father-in-law found, when working in Saudi Arabia, that there's a surprising amount of words in Arabic the same as in Welsh.

So, although we've influenced Welsh and Welsh has influenced English, I was led to believe they are very unrelated languages.

Now cue someone who actually knows what they are talking about (as opposed to my hearsay) to put me right!

Lexical Distances

Another interesting subject. Could it be that relatively small similarities between languages grow from contact, either at borders of neighbouring countries, or by conquest, trade, science, philosophy etc. Whilst the languages themselves may have little or no similarity a kind of pidgin evolves, originally to enable basic communication, of which some words are retained in daily speech. English, for example has many French, Greek, Arabic and Indian words or derivations because of these various contacts and many societies evolving in border territories, or small countries bordered by much larger ones, have this lexical exchange. As I general comment it fascinates me that the more you study the languages and cultures of others, the more you learn about your own.
Patrick Andrews

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Thanks for your comment, Simon

I would think that all languages would be spoken first and it took a while for the spelling of English to become standardised. 

I looked up Welsh words related to computers and this site is interesting.  http://www.caryb.co.uk/Welsh02.html

Some words seem clearly related to the English but others less so.

Patrick Andrews

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Thanks for your comment, Terry.

I wonder if the apparently large differences between English and Welsh are the result of so many Welsh speakers being bilingual (although I do not know the history of this bilingualism).  There is no need for a pidgin if one side can speak the language of the other.  Also, I think it is the case that Welsh tends to be more widely spoken in the west of the country (ie further from the border).  It would be interesting to know if there is a Welsh influence on dialects in English near the border.