Shaetlan. A contact language in the North Sea.


Shetland is the northernmost part of the UK, an archipelago straddling the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east between Scotland, Norway and Faroe. The strategic location, smack in the middle of maritime trade and migration routes, means that the islands have been a place of contact for centuries, if not millennia.

Shetland has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years: the earliest evidence of human settlement in Shetland is the shell midden of West Voe dated 4200-3600 BC. These settlers were hunter-gatherers/fishers, but we don’t know when they came to Shetland or from where .

At some point around 3700-3600 BC we see evidence of a farming lifestyle in West Voe, for example that …

Basque and gender: how a genderless language also suffers from gender inequality

Ikurrina Urgull Donostia Euskal Herria scaled

Basque, or euskara, is the official language of the Basque Country. It is a well-known language for nerdy linguists. You’ve probably heard it’s a language isolate with an unknown origin, that it has a weird word order, peculiar sounds, and no gender whatsoever. Some rumours are true, for instance that its weird order is that the verb always comes at the end, like: “the woman the book reads”. The statement about gender needs a little explanation. And since I’m a native Basque speaker who happens to be a linguist writing for this blog, let me offer that explanation.


Why Basque is so special

But first, please allow me to praise my mother tongue by briefly summarising and translating …

Are the Nordic languages mutually understandable?

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There is a common understanding outside the Nordic countries that Nordic people can all understand one another’s languages, or at least the Scandinavians (the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians) can. However, this impression of linguistic unity is not wholly accurate.

Is there a ‘Scandinavian’ language?

People from outside the Nordics might be tempted to believe communication between Nordic speakers is effortless, and that their languages are mutually understandable. From a practical point of view, ‘Scandinavian’ was – and still is – used when many Danish, Norwegian and Swedish people communicate with one another. They primarily speak their own language, perhaps replacing some words, phrases, or pronouncing things slightly differently, depending on who they are talking to. In fact, in a paper …

How do you define “samfundssind”? – A little questionnaire study

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Along with the word “hygge”, the Danish word “samfundssind” (roughly ‘community mindedness’) has recently become one of the few internationally known Danish words. The concept it stands for has achieved worldwide credit for the comparatively successful handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Denmark.

The word was first introduced into the Danish language in 1936 by Thorvald Stauning (Danish Prime Minister 1924 – 1926 and 1929 – 1942) to urge the Danish people to solidarity in the difficult times around World War II. Since then, the word has been used, but without anyone paying too much attention to it (the online dictionary of The Danish Language Council quotes, for example, a passage from the regional newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende from 2007: …

The Survival of Yiddish beneath Israeli

Phenicuckoo Cross Zuckermann

Today it is Hebrew Language Day. It is each year on 21 tevet, which is Eliezer Ben Yehuda‘s birthday. For that occasion, Ghil’ad Zuckermann displays his view on the underlying roots of the Israeli language.
First, a little background information:

Background on the Hebrew language

Hebrew was spoken after the so-called conquest of Canaan (c. thirteenth century BC). Following a gradual decline (even Jesus, ‘King of the Jews’, was a native speaker of Aramaic rather than Hebrew), it ceased to be spoken by the second century AD. The Bar-Kokhba Revolt against the Romans in Judaea in AD 132-5 marks the symbolic end of the period of spoken Hebrew. For more than 1700 years thereafter, Hebrew was comatose, …

Including students in computer search activities during student counselling sessions

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In these modern times, we use technology on a daily basis, and computers have become a standard tool or equipment in most institutional settings. They are used for everything from communicating with co-workers to registering data in certain systems to being an invaluable tool in seeking information. The latter can be important when dealing with clients and especially in specific support services. But how are computers actually used in these settings? Are there specific “good” ways of using computers while talking to other people? Let us try and have a look!

This blog post is based on my MA dissertation from 2019, where I examined the usage of computers in student counselling sessions from a Danish university. The dissertation has …

The dictionary game: for learning and entertainment

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The dictionary game is an entertaining board game and it costs nothing. That is, if you already have a dictionary, sheets of paper that are blank on at least one side, and a number of pens / pencils, so that everyone has a sheet of paper and something to write with.

I’ve played it with between six and eighteen people. You play individually, and it may be less important who wins, than about having fun.

The game is simple. You take a dictionary from your bookshelf in a language that everyone knows, or a language that no one knows, but then it should be a bilingual dictionary, preferably in both directions. It is usually played with a (not too elementary) …