back to article How languages can live together without killing each other

Those of you who are concerned that linguistic globalisation will eventually steamroller local tongues into extinction should take heart from a study by a team from the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, which has mathematically proved that two languages can live together in peace and harmony. Jorge Mira Pérez and …


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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


    I could not resists following the tag


    However, unsurprisingly the response was



    Sorry, there are no articles for this tag.

    Try searching for all relevant articles.


    It still leaves me wondering, what does



    Amanfrommars, where are you?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Tag?

      Yes, I've taken the offending surname off the tag. Seems the acute accent sent our system into a linguistic tailspin.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        I thought someone had

        i) spilled coffee


        ii) fallen asleep

        on the keyboard

      2. Anonymous Coward

        UTF-8 overload

        The tag system didn't seem to like Nyström either:

        Too many trips through the UTF-8 encoder, I think.

  2. Chris Miller


    Linguistics lacks a clear distinction between the two - and the definition is often politically driven: "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy". If you want to be consistent, however, and you count Galician as a distinct language from either Portuguese or Castilian, then you would need to recognise Geordie or Scouse (say) as a separate language from English, which few people are willing to do.

    Galician is helped to survive* because there are essentially no Castilian speakers who would fail to understand a monoglot Galician-speaker - this is very much not the case with Basque, for example.

    * And because there's popular support for separate development, evidenced by the folks who go around spraying out the 'L' and the tilde in roadsigns for 'La Coruña'.

    1. The Indomitable Gall


      "If you want to be consistent, however, and you count Galician as a distinct language from either Portuguese or Castilian, then you would need to recognise Geordie or Scouse (say) as a separate language from English, which few people are willing to do."

      Actually, you've picked a very good comparator here.

      Geordie is more similar to Scots than English, and it's alignment as a dialect of English is more geopolitical than linguistic.

      This is the situation with Gallician. Gallician is part of the same language group as Portuguese, but is aligned to Castillian for political and geographical reasons.

      But Gallician is very definitely a different language from Castillian, and "if you want to be consistent", then if Gallician is a dialect of Spanish then so are Portuguese and Italian, and English is a dialect of Afrikaans, and eventually we ratchet back until all our languages are rebranded as dialects of "Earthish".

      1. Cameron Colley

        @The Indomitable Gall

        I take it you mean Geordie is closer to Scottish English than English English? Unless my ears need cleaning Gaelic doesn't have a lot in common with any form of English and doesn't sound like Geordie.

        I would call Geordie and Scottish dialects of English because they sound an awful lot like the strange Norman/Saxon/Latin/etc. mish-mash that is English and not because of any political leanings.

        1. Jimbo 6

          @ Cameron

          You are sadly confusing Scots English (which is a form of English which is spoken by Scottish people) with Gaelic, which is a Celtic language.

          The Germanic (i.e. including English) and Celtic language families both split off from the parent tongue of Indo-European several thousand years B.C. (as did, for example, Latin, Greek, and Slavic). So Gaelic (and the other Celtic languages) doesn't sound much like *anybody's* English because they have been separate for at least 5,000 years, probably far longer.

          1. Cameron Colley

            @Jimbo 6

            On the contrary -- that was largely the point I was making: "Geordie" is an English dialect which is nothing like "native" Scottish and more like "Scottish English". I just realised I missed out an "English" which may have made my meaning less clear.

        2. The Indomitable Gall

          @Cameron Colley

          The various dialects that emerged from the kingdom of Mercia after the collapse of the Danelaw (ie the traditional dialects of Scotland and NE England, not the modern "educated" Standard English spoken there) are less influenced by Norman than dialects spoken elsewhere in Great Britain, and they have strong influence from the language of the Danish vikings that are not found in the dialects spoken elsewhere in Great Britain.

          These differences are systematic and consistent, and therefore describe two distinct... things. I call these two things "languages". You may not agree to the word, but linguistically, there are two collective "things" of some sort.

        3. Grumous

          Scots != Gaelic

          Scots = either a dialect of English, or a Germanic language very closely related to English (depending on your politics). Also known as Lallans or Doric. What Rabbie Burns wrote in. Can generally be read by an English speaker with some time, effort, and the help of a decent glossary.

          Scottish English = English as it is spoken in Scotland: some different words (taken from Scots) and turns of phrase (e.g., things "go on fire" not "catch fire"), but in written form presents no problems to a speaker of Standard English; when spoken, however, it's a different matter.

          Gaelic = Celtic language closely related to (and formerly mutually intelligible with) Irish.

        4. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

          Re: Scots English

          Funny how in Ireland, it's all just 'English'

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge



      2. Chris Miller


        If you want to compare these two, then you'll need to specify which type of Scots. Official Scots as recognised on the Scottish Parliament website* is really Lallands - the Ayrshire speech in which Rabbie Burns wrote his "Poems in the Scottish _Dialect_" (my emphasis). But why insist on this version of 'Scots' as opposed to say Aberdonian or Midlothian (both closer to Geordie)?


    2. jshombre


      "Galician is helped to survive* because there are essentially no Castilian speakers who would fail to understand a monoglot Galician-speaker"

      That's not true IME. If you speak in Galician to Andalusians, for example, they typically won't understand you (or claim not to, at least).

      "And because there's popular support for separate development, evidenced by the folks who go around spraying out the 'L' and the tilde in roadsigns for 'La Coruña'."

      Yep - where my family lives, the different variations of La Coruña (Castilian), A Coruña (Galician - official spelling) and A Corunha (Galician - Portuguese spelling) are constantly being sprayed on and painted over. Some signs are virtually unreadable as a result.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy" - I guess that makes Strine a language, then.

      1. Alan Newbury

        Yes, Strine

        Too bloody right, cobber

  3. Mike Hanna

    Welsh Vs English

    I'm sure all the Sheep Botherers in North Wales would argue the point over Welsh being a dead language

    1. Britt Johnston
      Thumb Up

      Welsh support

      Two weeks ago, I met a teenage boy growing up in Switzerland who conversed with his mum in Welsh. She was bemoaning the lack of a Welsh self-help group, though.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Now, I read the sentence ...

      ... "Traditional analysis of "competing" languages points to the eventual extinction of one, as was pretty much the case with ... Welsh and English," to suggest that Welsh had made English extinct. I admit that, come closing time, it seems that it might be the case what with all the spitting and slavering and hacking and slurring, but English is still most definitely the spoken language here.

      Regarding Welsh as an extinct language - my wife and I have different opinions. She comes from a country which is very proud of the fact that they use a language that was basically invented by nationalists in the late 19th Century (i.e. Czech)*, and thinks that anyone should be able to speak any language they like, and have it recognised. On the other hand, I don't see the point of having made-up languages whether or not they have some basis in a language that people once spoke, particularly since they all seem to involve a lot of spitting and tongue-cramping noises.

      * Czech, like Welsh, was a series of dialects spoken in different areas, and rarely written down. In order to make a language that could function as a badge of membership of a particular group, a written, standardised form was deliberately created (rather than evolved, like English, Spanish, and German, but not French which has conscious interference from language police), and is seriously compromised. Czech deliberately has strange letters (such as "ř", which represents "rzh", where the "zh" is like the "s" in "pleasure", even though they have two letters - "r" and "ž" - which would make the same sound. Even using the diacritic over certain letters was basically so people could look at it and differentiate it from other similar languages, which make the same sounds with different spellings (such as Polish). If you ever want to start a vigorous argument amongst Czechs simply suggest that they might have been better keeping German as their language after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, since they would then be less isolated from the rest of Europe. It is amazing how many will agree!

  4. The Indomitable Gall

    Never trust a linguist....

    Never trust a linguist who's ignorant of languages.

    "the other three languages of Spain (Galician, Catalan and Basque)"

    Ignores Aranès, Bable, Fala, Portuguese (yes, Portuguese),Caló, and many others besides.

    1. J 3

      @Never trust a linguist....

      Well, I suspect they know that. So they might be referring there to the languages that are spoken, read and written by more than a handful of people, maybe?

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Never trust

      a cunning linguist you say?

      er ok

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Portuguese a spanish language?

      Didn't we kick your ass out of Portugal 4 centuries ago?

      Portuguese never was a spanish language. Next thing you'll claim Italian also is a variant of Spanish...

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: Portuguese a spanish language?


        Portuguese is still spoken in some border regions of Spain -- particularly in Extremadura.

        I don't think Franco was any more happy about that than the other languages of Spain.

    4. ian 22

      Caló? In Spain?

      Caló is also a 20th century Mexican criminal class argot. I was unaware of the Spanish/Roma version.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        IIRC Caló is actually something akin to Cockney English, with similar origins (criminal argot). If that's a language, the so-called "rapper speak" or whatever they call that these days would classify as a language.

        Of course, then you have Portugese, which basically looks like mangled Spanish.

        1. The Indomitable Gall

          Re: Caló?!

          "IIRC Caló is actually something akin to Cockney English, with similar origins (criminal argot)."

          Nope. Caló (the Spanish variety) is one of several creole languages that emerged from the Romani gypsy community in Spain, through contact with the local languages -- see also Erramintxela (a mix of Romani and Basque) and Catalanorromani (self-explanatory).

          These are certainly not criminal argots -- they didn't need new languages in order to "hide" from being understood, because Romani would have served that purpose fine. Romani is now dead in Iberia, replaced by Caló, Erramintxela and Catalanorromani in Spain and Calão in Portugal.

    5. Vincent Ballard

      Languages of Spain

      @Gall, I suspect there's an implicit "official". (And please don't start an argument about whether valencià is a different language to català).

      @Jose Bernardo, I think Gall is using "of" in the sense of "spoken in" rather than "belonging to". And I wouldn't be surprised if there are villages in Extremadura with lots of Portuguese-speakers.

  5. ben 29
    Thumb Up


    Geordie is pretty much a language - it has much in common with Norweigian - and to a non Geordie a large chunk of the vocabulary is unintelligible (Makems and possibly Smoggies might get by of course).

    Scouse, on the other hand, is just unintelligible!

    in my book, Basque wins hands down in incomprehension stakes... for a start, IIRC, the nouns are inflected.... "A Basque noun-phrase is inflected in 17 different ways for case, multiplied by 4 ways for its definiteness and number. These first 68 forms are further modified based on other parts of the sentence, which in turn are inflected for the noun again. It has been estimated that, with two levels of recursion, a Basque noun may have 458,683 inflected forms"

    /me Boss says "Get back to work, slacker!


    1. Mike Richards Silver badge


      I salute you for knowing something quite so spectacularly obscure.

      Meanwhile I wonder if there is anyone capable of directly translating Basque to Icelandic, a language so unfathomably strange that it's just as well they're all stuck on an island halfway across the Atlantic.

      1. kwhitefoot

        You are joking surely?

        Compared to Basque Icelandic is just another Scandinavian dialect.

        Anyone who can read another Scandinavian language should not have too much trouble with basic Iclandic. Also the connections with the other Germanic languages are clear.

        For instance:

        Hvaða tungumál er þetta?

        Remember that ð and þ are closely related to the use of th in English. tungumál means language and is clearly related to the English tongue, þetta means that, Hvaða means what and is clearly the same word.

        So without much trouble we have 'What language is that?'

        I'll allow that pronunciation is a bit harder to grasp.

  6. Steven Hedges 1

    Quechua - a dead language?

    Interesting article - but spoilt a bit by the claim the that Spanish has virtually eradicated Quechua. True it has been severely reduced but (according to wikipedia) "It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 6 to 8 million speakers "

    1. ian 22

      Quechua - an undead language

      In support of that, I once had missionary neighbors that learned Quechua in order to translate the Bible into that tounge.

      They also learned to enjoy roast guinea pig.

  7. Steven Hedges 1

    And another thing...

    " the continued survival of both can happen "only where there is a stable bilingual group, and this is possible only if the competing languages are sufficiently similar".

    Quechua and Spanish are *not* similar languages and there is *not* a stable bilingual group

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ahh but...

      Quechua is quite unique in its orthogonality for a real language and has been demonstrated to be a reasonable choice as an intermediate step when translating between two other unrelated languages. (Or was it Aymaric?)

  8. Tony Sweeney

    One other thing...

    Would be that it would probably also have contributed a great deal toward linguistic diversity if invasive cultures hadn't historically explicitly tried to deligitimise the use of the native language and culture in occupied countries and regions:

    For an older example in Ireland. There are newer (and probably older) ones involving much harsher sanctions against local cultures and customs worldwide.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I lived in a vilage near Sunderland for a couple of years - every time I went to the local shop the guy there chatted away - ! never understood a word he was saying

  10. Paul Johnston

    Strange Journal

    Funny how this is in a journal on Physics and not Linguistics!

    Reminds me a bit of the Lotka–Volterra equations from chaos theory.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Publish publish publish!

      That's why....

      Mathematical proof for an issue this complex... right.... What a load of bollocks.

      I'd like to see what the model says about... say about.. modern Hebrew for example... or the fate of Irish.

  11. Alister Silver badge

    Romanes eunt domus

    I snorfled at the image you used to illustrate this story...

    Thank you :-)

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Why is this news?

    How is this news? There are lots of languages that co-exist quite happily. Parts of the US are bi-lingual English and Spanish already and one is not going to crowd out the other. And in India they have bazillions of languages, most vaguely similar (Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi etc) and some radically not (English) and they seem to rub along just fine.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      you must not live in the states.

      all of us that aren't multilingual bitch and moan about it.

  13. Daniel B.

    It is mostly political...

    The real reason behind those languages being still in use is because of political reasons. Spanish is called Spanish (Español) everywhere *except* in Spain. Also, only Castellans will call themselves Spaniards (Españoles) as well; Asturians are Asturians, Gallegos are Gallegos (and oh dear, the jokes on the "Gallego idiot" are infinite!); Catalans are Catalans and Basques are Basques. Those with their own languages use them as a differentiator stating "we ain't Spaniards!".

    I still remember one friend searching info on the Barcelona University and got slammed with that university's Catalan-only website. Ow!

    That said, it does seem to be the same case for Welsh, anyone remember those super-duper-long towns which were named that way just to fuck with English-speaking people?

    1. carl 10

      Andaluces, Extremeños, Murcianos.....

      "Also, only Castellans will call themselves Spaniards (Españoles) as well"

      In my experience Andalucians, Murcians and Extremadurans do label themselves Spanish not only Castillians.

      Icon: Jarra de Cruzcampo!

  14. VeganVegan

    Is that why we are still bothered by so many flavours of


  15. -bat.


    Uh, he wasn't suggesting Portuguese was a "dialect" of Spanish - what he was saying is that one of the languages spoken in some parts of Spain is Portuguese. Go to Olivenza sometime and you will observer the truth of this.

  16. Steve Evans

    Time will tell...

    It depends what you mean by "get along fine"... 1000 years ago Anglo-Saxon and Norman French co-existed, then ended up in the tumble-drier of linguistics and English came out.

    They evolved and cross-bred, and resulted in modern English calling a cow a cow when it's in a field, and beef when it's on the plate. Something which causes natives of most other languages to raise an eyebrow.

    You've got to be damn stubborn for two languages to co-exist and not influence each other. Either the infamously stubborn Académie française have failed to prevent the entire population accepting the phrase "Le weekend".

    1. Dagg


      >You've got to be damn stubborn for two languages to co-exist and not influence each other.

      In New Zealand the two official languages are New Zealand English and Maori. New Zealand english has absorbed quite a few maori words.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile in sunny California...

    It seems that having fluency in some for of Spanish is some sort of requirement. In my case I know:

    Se Habla B*llsh*t.

    It seems to fit nicely. Humor intended. Usually received.

  18. Ken 16 Silver badge

    a dialect of Portuguese?

    I think you mean that Portuguese is a dialect (or mispronunciation) of Gallego. It was reconquered by Galician warlords who then split away from the Spanish crown.

  19. captain veg


    I suggest that the reason for Galician's continued viability has much less to do with any mathematical similarity to Castilian than to the fact that it's basically the same language as that spoken by approximately 200 million Portuguese and Brazilians.


  20. John Sanders

    All of those small languages

    In Spain survive exclusively because the local powers use them as some kind of ethnic differentiator to justify enormous political spending.

    It is so much in fact that they are imposed, the majority of the people in Spanish regions that have any of those useless languages do not learn them academically because they have a need or a cultural interest in learning them, they do because for the last 30 years they have been brainwashed by opportunistic politicians.

    Spain which is being in serious decadence for the last 10 years is set for a major collapse soon in many fronts. Remember you read if it first here.

    Just a tip, unemployment in Spain is 23% now... and raising.

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