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Euroversals – Are all European languages alike?


Europe always struck me as a land full of
languages. Big ones like German and Italian. Ones you may have never heard of like Friulian
or Wymysorys. Gazing over from the US, it looks like a linguistic
playground. Ask the experts though and you might get a
different view: a grammatically flat, vanilla, uniform Europe where the languages share common
Euroversals. It’s the 1930’s. Benjamin Lee Whorf is struggling to understand
how the Hopi talk about time. (Wait, but Hopi’s not a European language! I know, we’ll get there.) Whorf is about to make a controversial breakthrough. The Hopi don’t have concepts for past, present
and future, he says, because they speak Hopi. We, on the other hand, do see time this way
because we speak Standard Average European. Even if you’ve never set foot in a linguistics
class, you’ve likely heard part of this claim before: the concepts in your mind are relative
to the language you speak! But I don’t see many of you talking about
the second part, the Standard Average European. I’m here to change that. So Whorf, let’s say we met a Standard Average
European. What would they sound like? Well, not like any single language. They’d have common patterns that are definitively
European. Early attempts to listen for such patterns
drew bold conclusions from just a handful of languages. German, French and English do it, so it must
be European! Now, depending on which expert you trusted,
it started to seem like any language in Europe both was and was not Standard Average European. Everyone felt like there was some core heartland
of shared Europeanness, but they couldn’t agree on specifics. By the 90s, dissatisfied linguists were demanding
a more rigorous approach. If you can’t find one, make one, so the European
Science Foundation funded EUROTYP, a huge project to collect data about the typology
of over 130 European Languages. Everything from word order to tenses and flow
of time to the all-important adverbial subordinators. These are words like “because”, “if”, “although”. The man responsible for collecting these little
words used them to make general statements called “Euroversals”. See, the field of typology was already hunting for Universals, things true of every human language. So here we have Euroversals about all European
languages. These make for some light bedtime reading,
I promise. Check out Euroversal #1 when you have the
time. The hunt for euroversals didn’t stop at grammar. Like in this more recent search for widespread
idioms, where we discover that shedding crocodile tears isn’t unique to English. At least 45 languages in Europe were found
to fake their sobbing with the same turn of phrase. But all of these researchers admit we’re still
lacking important data. What’s wrong with our picture? What are we still missing? Well, it’s one thing to read Euroversal #1,
quite another when the author goes on to say this could be a Universal. It’s one thing to find out that Europe cries
crocodile tears, quite another when you learn the same idiom appears in Swahili and Mongolian. If we want to know what makes Europe unique,
we need to compare non-European languages. We got that comparison in 2001. Finally, a serious look at features pervasive
in Europe but uncommon around the world. Was it all arcane, thorny grammatical nitpicks? Actually, most of it is straightforward stuff. Here, let’s play a game called “you might
be a European”. You might be a European if you have a word
for both “the” and “a”. You might be a European if you use “have”
as a helping verb, saying things like “have done” and “have seen”. You might be a European if you use a little
word like “than” in comparisons. You might be a – yeah, sorry, that got old
– but also if your word for “self” is different from your reflexive pronoun. If you’re an English speaker these might sound
normal enough to make you shrug. Until you get to that last one, which works
for German and Spanish but not English. It’s ok, it’s ok. I know nobody wants to hear their language
is less European than German. But what if it is? Let’s find out. Let’s count these features and score the languages
against each other! Tallying and mapping the 9 features that had
complete data, we got a geography of euroversals. It’s a bold and cohesive unit: Germanic languages,
Romance, Slavic, Baltic, Greek, Hungarian, Albanian, all of them with five or more features. Then it’s a steep dropoff down to languages
that have hardly any: Maltese in the South, Basque and Celtic in the West, Turkish and
Georgian in the East, Finnish and Estonian in the North. We have our boundaries. But is there a core? Well there is one area with a high concentration
of nine features right here, centered around France and Germany, dubbed the Charlemagne
area. Notice that English is a couple notches outside
of that Charlemagne core, despite being a close relative of one of the languages and
a heavy borrower from another. We’ve been calling this “Standard Average
European”, but it may not be so standard or average on the world scene. Instead of “default”, it’s actually been called
downright exotic. Well how did a continent end up sharing exotic
features and then convincing us these features were just plain normal? The answer… would take up another video,
and it’s really a bunch of maybes. Maybe we can blame the migrations and upheavals
of the Middle Ages. Perhaps the widespread use of Latin. Maybe these languages have constantly been
adjusting to one another. But one thing’s for sure. The search for a genetic root, a shared ancestry
behind all these features, won’t cut it. Europe’s languages, it seems, aren’t exotically
Standard and Average because of what they’ve inherited but because of what they’ve shared
as they shaped the continent into a unique language area. Well, maybe except for you, Celtic and Basque. Heh. Stick around and subscribe for language!

100 Replies to “Euroversals – Are all European languages alike?”

  • To help some confused commenters – the map isn't showing language relatedness, only the number of shared features. Perhaps I should've taken a minute to explain isopleths and isoglosses? Are "language families" just an easier concept for us than "areal" linguistics? Thanks for thinking about this and commenting!

  • It's funny how people are debating whether Turkey is European or not rather than the actual topic of the video. You have to realise that even if you don't consider Turkey as a European country, Turkish is a language of Europe. There are 10-15 million Turkish speakers living in Europe excluding recent migrants to countries like Germany. That's a larger population than most European countries. Therefore it's quite natural that Turkish is mentioned in this video.

  • I'm European and my language doesn't have a word for "the". However, we do put it in the end of the word instead. For example "a telephone" would be "en telefon". But instead of saying "the telephone" we take "en" and put it in the end of a word. So it's "telefonen".

  • You forgot that in Thé Netherlands thé northern part speaks Frisian? A language on it's own. Not to forget in thé North East, they speak nedersaksisch ( it's going to be a official language like Frisian ) and we have the exact same words as the Scandinavians. I am a native Dutch speaker living in Sweden. And I can understand most of what they are saying. I litterly hear German, Dutch and English.

  • This isn't a map of how "european" a language is. It's how 'French and German' other languages are. This is retardation on its greatest extent.

  • Zd'ia sém Boshniak i sém dolzíl v' Bosna in Hertszegowina i predstavám Starie Boshniansky ieźik koi ie pomréo in koi sí vshe ne uprábuie v Bosni in Hertszegowini zbog razloga iery smí prítwilí Horwatski in Sérbsky ieźik ki nash ieźik !!
    Im Bosniak and i comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina and i present you the Old Bosniak language witch is extinct because we accept Croatian and Serbian language as ours!! 😥😥😥

  • About wymysorys language: it is from Wilamowice, a small city in Poland (I live in gmina Wilamowice) and barely anyone speaks it, only 50 people.

  • there is such thing as asiaverals

    it's called 助詞

    and chinese, japanese, and korean all have them

  • If making a linguistic comparison like this you might want to familiarise yourself a bit with Europe and it’s languages. I had to stop a few times and ask, did he say that? First: Europe can’t be discussed as “a land”. Most countries are in the union called EU, but not in the same way as the US, the union consists of many, many countries. Easy to make that mistake, no worries. But, second: if talking linguistics, Swedish and Norwegian are Germanic languages, not Baltic. The correct term for these northern Germanic languages (also including Danish) is Scandinavian. 🤔 Quite different from the Baltic languages.

  • In Swedish (we are european) we don't have a word for the "The" instead in your example go from "en varg" (a Wolf) to "vargen" (the Wolf)

  • I want to make a language that is a mix of two. What would be the two languages that clash the most/are most different

  • The map on 1:24 seems to suggest that Turkey is part of Europe. In fact, only one part of it lies on European soil, but that's not reason enough to include Turkey in Europe, since it's definitely not European in more than one essential aspects… Other than that, truly nice and interesting video, both content-wise and presentation-wise. Congrats!

  • "Standard Average European" is a bunch of bullsh*t! Of course the European languages have relations to each other. They're all descendants of Proto-Indo-European!

  • European languages have cognates within eachother, I get no cognates with other languages. Mystery solved.

  • looking for universals, hmmm…. 🤔
    a universal from me: we all use our mouths to talk. 🤓 found one, yes 😎

    😲 sign languages disagrees!!!!!!! 😠
    ……
    i shall fade away in ignorance right about now.😶😶😶
    😶
    😶

  • Translating "A fish is swimming in the water." into any Slavic language leaves you with "Fish swims in water." So you are saying, Slavic languages are not European languages, since they fail on having articles?

  • 5:18 this map is making me mad. Where is Belarus? You know that Belarusian language exists, right? … Right?

  • Well,…i've been asked many times only from citizens of a perticular Republic I'll leave unnamed here: "if I could translate something from European to English".

    So, this video might help these unfortunates understand there's no such thing, not to mention, you've got 2 (soon to be 3) independent European nations that speak English as their first language (it's a European language btw) Lmao xD.

    Please pay attention watching this video my Colonial friends, and stop asking people stupid questions xD.

  • Turkish is not part of a European language family so why is it on the map? The amount of European territory Turkey holds is 3% of its land area, that's my best guess as to why it was included ob the map at the start

  • Something similar happened in East Asia. Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese all share many similarities even though being languages from different families.

  • The core of all European languages are the Slavic languages. They are the closest to the Indo-European original proto-language.

  • A list of random, arbitrary features. This suppose to be list of features common for european languages and not spoted or at least rare in other languages? Lets see first point for example. Definitive and indefinitive articles. Slavic languages doesn't have them as well as Latin. On the other hand Arabic have them as well as some other not European languages. Why not a case system for example. It also isn't restricted to European languages but at least PIE had it.

  • You might be a sae if you have a word for a or the.

    Well, sweden failed. I guess we're not European.

  • < Talks about European languages
    < writes "Turkish" in the map, but leaves all other non-European languages uncharted
    < implies "Turkish" and "Turkey" are European, just because they have a European Union membership credential and a miserable percentage of territory inside Europe
    < unsubbed

    PS: Konstantinoúpoli eínai ellinikí

  • The concept of standard average European is dumb as fuck, can't believe Whorf basically conned real Linguists into grappling with it. What you gotta look at is genetic relation, i.e. language families, i.e. Indo-European. Also Turkey is not Europe

  • we swedes don't have an equivalent to The but we compensate it in a way I cant explain, let me give you some examples.

    House – Hus
    The house – Huset
    The houses – De husen
    These houses – Dom här husen
    Those houses – Dom där husen

    Dog – Hund
    The dog – Hunden
    The dogs – Hundarna
    Their dogs – Deras hundar
    Those dogs – De hundarna
    These dogs – Dom här hundarna

    This is from what I know from an natives perspective but I would love to hear what other people can contradict or give other valuable point to either build from what I wrote or correct me if I did any errors in any way possible.

  • I wonder if many of these European language features are also found in other Indo-European languages such as the Iranian or Indo-Aryan branches and is therefore a common thing among the whole language family (even though the Celtic languages were an exception).

  • @4:50 slavic countries but you guys coloured Romania which use a romance language because we are latins in a slavic sea…Greece and Great Britain (english is a germanic language)

  • 4:45 french is a latin language not a germanic one.
    French is the most germanic language amount latin languages.
    English is the most latinized language amount the germanic languages.

  • што за хлусьня блін увогуле там у канцы была?!

    Why you did not select Belarus (where I came from btw), Slovakia, Moldova, Denmark, Corsica, North Macedonia, Iceland?

    Okay, def and indef those actually not a lot of languages have, but I see not "grammar cases" in feature list, it is so analitic-language-centristic!
    Гэта зусім ня файна , чувак!

    4:52
    said "baltic" and selected Norwigian and Swedish (germanic languages btw) and czech (slavic)
    said "slavic" and selected English (germanic) and Romanian (romance)

  • I mean, with that map I don't think you have to hunt very far for causes. Not Latin, Latin doesn't have a lot of the features mentioned (articles, for instance). The most European languages are the ones spoken in the former Holy Roman Empire…not exactly a surprise lol. English was a secondary language even in England during most of the Middle Ages: so it's idioms largely don't come from German or French but from the Celtic languages. That is, when they didn't originate in English or didn't come from some British colony. And English grammar has strayed quite far from it's German roots at this point.

  • I did try to understand and make some sense out of this video but I could not because of the very implicit way of you trying to explain things even though I am studying linguistics. The only thing that I have understood from this video is that some so-called scientists have been trying to form a separate branch which would gather the languages of a specific region, and/or specific people or societies by making it look like it's a scientific effort, which is definitely not. This is clearly ethnocentricism which has been being unrighteously disguised as science by some so-called scientists themselves.

  • Hello! I just wanted to share that you helped me find my passion for languages, and even though I was out of college, I decided to go back to school to get a BA in Linguistics. Thanks for your enthusiasm, knowledge and uh… being on YouTube I guess 😀

  • Did they even analyse languages from Easternmost part of Europe, like Nenets, Bashkir, Tatar etc.? Or the only language they analysed from Russia is Russian? Oh boi, that is so so wrong! Part of Russia west of Urals constitutes 40% of area of Europe and has several dozens of languages

  • From the languages I have looked at, the most common universals are the determinates, this and that, and here and there. I couldn’t see them on the list.

  • As a speaker of French and English (and Japanese) I find it relatively easy to understand Spanish and Portuguese, to read Italian and even understanding German or Dutch seem like a possible task, given I focus! However, Slavic languages feel harder to understand aside a few words. So it seems to me that most European languages are kind of cousins, which is way less prevalent in, say, east-Asia.

  • I've heard that PIE was very grammatically diverse, had 8 noun cases for each noun and many unnecessary features in general, that other Proto-languages don't.

  • This was one of your most boring videos. Not because of you, who are always entertaining and well read, but because ot the topic.

  • Hungarian is not slavic, as well as romanian (and moldovian) isn't. The first is ugro-finnic and the other two are mostly romanic….. but I think you know it…..

  • Me throughout the entire video: finland and hungary are entirely different than indo european
    me when first seeing the map: why arent finland and hungary colored in
    me when he colors them in: case and point.

  • Romans and Greeks. They standardized structure of behavior and language for centuries and still evolved along the way also. No doubt this is the reason for a perceived "standard european".

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