April 03, 2007

Linguistic nationalism and the political spectrum

A note from Fabio Montermini in Toulouse:

In reading the recent Language Log post "Gingrich's 'ghetto' talk", I was struck by a coincidence. The Italian Government recently adopted (on March 28) a modification to the Constitution, stating that "Italian is the official language of the Republic". Though Italian was de facto the official language of Italy since its reunification, this fact curiously was not inscribed into its fundamental charter in 1947. The adoption of the modification was related by some Italian newspapers (e.g. Gian Luigi Beccaria, "È ufficiale parliamo l'italiano", La Stampa), and also in the article in the Italian Wikipedia (but not so far in the English one).

The modification failed to be adopted last December, because of the opposal by two extremist parties (one left, one right). The leftist Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation) feared the inscription of Italian as the official language of the Republic would make an obstacle to those immigrants who don't speak the language. The right and advocate of regional autonomies Lega Nord (Northern League, Berlusconi's ally) claimed this modification to be a violation of dialect speakers' and linguistic minorities' rights. As you see, curiously enough, a left Government has just adopted a law which in the US is supported by conservative groups. It seems to me however, that this need to explicitly affirm linguistic identity in European countries is strictly related to immigration issues, and in particular to the proposals which have been made in various countries (e.g. Italy, France and the UK are those which I am aware of) that candidate immigrants should pass a linguistic test before they get official papers. I wrote a post on the topic on my blog, which unfortunately is in Italian ("Una d'arme, di lingua...", 4/3/2007).

Well, I always enjoy an opportunity to make some small improvement in my feeble command of Italian -- so apologies in advance for mistranslations in this short excerpt from Fabio's post:

In pochi giorni, infatti, ho scoperto che, più o meno lo stesso dibattito si sta svolgendo in diversi paesi. In Francia, ad esempio, la campagna per le elezioni presidenziali si sta concentrando, da qualche tempo, sul tema dell'immigrazione e dell'identità nazionale. Pochi giorni prima di proporre il suo "Ministero dell'immigrazione e dell'identità nazionale" che fa tanto discutere, il candidato Sarkozy ha proposto un test di ingresso per i candidati al ricongiungimento familiare in Francia che dimostrasse una "conoscenza sommaria della lingua francese" acquisita già nel paese di origine. [...] Sono stato sorpreso, poi, di scoprire, proprio ieri, che la stessa condizione fa parte dei provvedimenti di controllo dell'immigrazione varati dal governo laburista di Blair in Gran Bretana. Ma sono stato ancora più sorpreso quando questa mattina, da un post su Language Log scoprivo che anche negli Stati Uniti è in corso un vero dibattito sull'opportunità di rendere l'inglese lingua ufficiale, e che esistono diverse associazioni, perlopiù legate al partito Repubblicano (come U.S.English o ProEnglish) che fanno lobby in tal senso.

Within a few days, in fact, I've discovered that more or less the same debate has taken place in different countries. In France, for example, the presidential election campaign has been focused, for some time, on the theme of immigration and of national identity. A few days before proposing his "ministry of immigration and national identity" that created so much debate, the candidate Sarkozy proposed an entry test for [immigration on the basis of] family reunion in France to demonstrate a "basic knowledge of the French language" already acquired in the country of origin. [...] I was surprised, later, to discover, just yesterday, that the same condition was part of the measures for control of immigration launched by the Labour government of Blair in Great Britain. But I was again suprised when this morning, in a post on Language Log, I discovered that again in the U.S. there is a debate in progress on the idea of making English the official language, and that there are various associations, generally linked to the Republican party (like U.S. English or ProEnglish) that lobby for this goal.

Some background for Fabio's note: the current Italian government, since the April 2006 election, is a precarious center-left coalition called L'Unione ("the Union"), led by prime minister Romano Prodi, and including some twenty political parties, some of which are regional in nature (Liga Fronte Veneto, Südtiroler Volkspartei, Lega Alleanza Lombarda) while others have a more universal agenda (Federazione dei Verdi, Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, Democratici di Sinistra). The coalition is precarious both in terms of the divergent goals of the participants and in terms of its majority in parliament.

I know very little about the political history in Italy of the promotion of the national language at the expense of regional or minority languages, immigrant languages, and so on -- though I do know that because of the relatively recent formation of Italy as a nation-state, the local languages in Italy remain much stronger than their counterparts in France.

But in general, it should not be any sort of surprise that a left-of-center government might be associated with promotion of a national standard language. This has been a dominant pattern in Europe for the past two centuries. [Actually, I guess that Fabio may be expressing surprise that this position in the U.S. has come to be associated with right-of-center groups. That also should not be a surprise, though for different reasons...]

Thus the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote ("Language, culture and national identity", Social Research, 1996):

The original case for a standard language was entirely democratic, not cultural. How could citizens understand, let alone take part in, the government of their country if it was conducted in an incomprehensible language -- for example, in Latin, as in the Hungarian parliament before 1840? Would this not guarantee government by an elite minority? This was the argument of the Abbe Gregoire in 1794 (Hobsbawm, 1990, p. 103 n). Education in French was, therefore, essential for French citizens, whatever the language they spoke at home. This remained essentially the position in the United States, another product of the same age of democratic revolution. To be a citizen, an immigrant had to pass a test in English, and readers of The Education of Hyman Kaplan will be familiar with this process of linguistic homogenization. I need not add that Mr. Kaplan's struggles with the English language were not intended to stop him from talking Yiddish with his wife at home, which he certainly did; nor did they affect his children, who obviously went to English-speaking public schools. What people spoke or wrote among themselves was nobody's business but their own, like their religion. You will remember that even in 1970 -- that is to say before the onset of the present wave of mass immigration -- 33 million Americans, plus an unknown percentage of another 9 million who did not answer the relevant question, said that English was not their mother-tongue. Over three quarters of them were second generation or older American-born (Thernstrom et al., 1980, p. 632).

Earlier in the same article, Hobsbawm points out that

At the time of the French Revolution, only half the inhabitants of France could speak French, and only 12-13 percent spoke it "correctly"; and the extreme case is Italy, where at the moment it became a state only 2 or 3 Italians out of a hundred actually used the Italian language at home.

The French -- originally from a democratic and revolutionary perspective, and later from a more purely nationalistic one -- relentlessly and ruthlessly promoted linguistic homogeneity for two hundred years. It's only recently, and (I think) only as a result of implicit or explicit pressure from EU pieties about the treatment of linguistic and cultural minorities, that France has relaxed the official suppression of Breton, Occitan, Basque and so on.

As right-wing versions of popular nationalism arose in Europe, in the form of fascism and nazism, I suppose that they took over the idea of using a national language to forge a national identity (though in fact I don't know anything about the history of fascist language policies). And the communist governments in the east -- the (late, unlamented) Soviet Union and China -- certainly promoted the use of a dominant national language as strongly as any other governments in history.

Hobsbawm observes that globalization has changed the underlying situation for linguistic nationalists:

In Europe, national standard languages were usually based on a combination of dialects spoken by the main state people which was transformed into a literary idiom. In the postcolonial states, this is rarely possible, and when it is, as in Sri Lanka, the results of giving Sinhalese exclusive official status have been disastrous. In fact, the most convenient "national languages" are either lingua francas or pidgins developed purely for intercommunication between peoples who do not talk each others' languages, like Swahili, Pilipino, or Bahasa Indonesia, or former imperial languages like English in India and Pakistan. Their advantages are that they are neutral between the languages actually spoken and put no one group at a particular advantage or disadvantage. Except, of course, the elite. The price India pays for conducting its affairs in English as an insurance against language-based civil wars such as that in Sri Lanka is that people who have not had the several years full-time education which make a person fluent in a foreign written language will never make it above a relatively modest level in public affairs or -- today -- in business. That price is worth paying, I think. Nevertheless, imagine the effect on Europe if Hindi were the only language of general communication in the European parliament, and the London Times, Le Monde, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung could be read only by those literate in Hindi.

All this is changing, or will profoundly change, the relation of languages to each other in multinational societies. The ambition of all languages in the past which aspired to the status of national languages and to be the basis of national education and culture was to be all-purpose languages at all levels, that is, interchangeable with the major culture-languages. Especially, of course, with the dominant language against which they tried to establish themselves. Thus, in Finland, Finnish was to be capable of replacing Swedish for all purposes, in Belgium Flemish of replacing French. Hence, the real triumph of linguistic emancipation was to set up a vernacular university: in the history of Finland, Wales, and the Flemish movement, the date when such a university was established is a major date in nationalist history. A lot of smaller languages have tried to do this over the past centuries, starting, I suppose, with Dutch in the seventeenth century and ending, so far, with Catalan. Some are still trying to do it, like Basque.

Now in practice this is ceasing to be the case operationally, although small-nation nationalism does what it can to resist the trend. Languages once again have niches and are used in different situations and for different purposes. Therefore, they do not need to cover the same ground. This is partly because for international purposes only a few languages are actually used. Though the administration of the European Union spends one-third of its income on translation from and into all the eleven languages in it which have official status, it is a safe bet that the overwhelming bulk of its actual work is conducted in not more than three languages. Again, while it is perfectly possible to devise a vocabulary for writing papers in molecular biology in Estonian, and for all I know this has been done, nobody who wishes to be read -- except by the other Estonian molecular biologists -- will write such papers. They will need to write them in internationally current languages, as even the French and the Germans have to do in such fields as economics. Only if the number of students coming into higher education is so large and if they are recruited from monoglot families is there a sound educational reason for a full vernacular scientific vocabulary -- and then only for introductory textbooks; for all more advanced purposes, students will have to learn enough of an international language to read the literature, and probably they also will have to learn enough of the kind of English which is today for intellectuals what Latin was in the Middle Ages. It would be realistic to give all university education in certain subjects in English today, as is partly done in countries like the Netherlands and Finland which once were the pioneers of turning local vernaculars into all-purpose languages. There is no other way. Officially, nineteenth-century Hungary succeeded in making Magyar into such an all-purpose language for everything from poetry to nuclear physics. In practice, since only 10 million out of the world's 6000 million speak it, every educated Hungarian has to be, and is, plurilingual.

I like the idea of having all the newspapers, laws and contracts of Europe written in Hindi. That would certainly solve the EU's translation problems -- or at least, it would transform them. Turn about is fair play.

Of course, the French would complain that the new European continental language should instead be taken from one of their former colonies, say Wolof or Vietnamese...

[By the way, the title of Fabio's post is a quotation from an ode on the Piedmontese revolution by Alessandro Manzoni, entitled "Marzo 1821", which contains these lines [apologies again for my very uncertain translation]:

una gente che libera tutta
o sia serva tra l’Alpe ed il mare;
una d’arme, di lingua, d’altare,
di memorie, di sangue e di cor.

One people who will all be free
or enslaved between the alps and the sea;
one in arms, in language, in religion,
in memory, in blood and in heart.


[Update -- David G.D. Hecht writes:

I cannot speak for Italy or any of the other facist or protofascist states of the Mediterranean littoral or the Balkan massif and Danube basin, but in Germany, the "purification" of the German language, in the form of replacement of foreign "loan-words" by more "authentic" germanic constructions, seems to have been driven by a post-WW1 nationalist and anti-French reaction. Examples that are commonly referred to are "Fernsprecher" ("Far-Speaker") to replace "Telefon", and "Personen-Kraftwagen" ("Personal-Power-Vehicle") and "Last-Kraftwagen" ("Goods-Power-Vehicle") to replace "Automobil" and "Kamion" (truck). Doubtless there are many others. There is also a reference to this process being endorsed by the Hitlerite regime in 1936 in the Time Magazine archive (http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,805288,00.html).

The concern with linguistic "purity" is another dimension of linguistic nationalism -- certainly the recent balkanization of Serbo-Croatian into separate Serbian and Croatian "language" seems to have had a large component of eliminating different strata of borrowings, depending on the historical affinities of the nationalisms involved. But in principle at least, this is different from the promotion of a shared national standard at the expense of regional variants or other languages. So I wonder whether the fascists in Germany, Italy etc. also promoted the standard language at the expense of local alternatives.]

[And Steve (Language Hat) writes:

I'm enjoying your long piece on linguistic nationalism, but I have to take issue with this:

"And the communist governments in the east -- the (late, unlamented) Soviet Union and China -- certainly promoted the use of a dominant national language as strongly as any other governments in history."

I'm not sure about the history of Chinese language policy, but the Soviet Union explicitly and enthusiastically supported local languages, going so far as to establish writing systems and print dictionaries, newspapers, poetry anthologies, etc. for previously little-written languages like Kabardian. Unless by "national language" you mean the primary language within each Soviet republic? But I don't think that's what you meant. The Soviet Union was a terrible place in many respects, but they did not repress minority languages.

Steve, who knows much more about this than I do, is right to correct me -- or mostly so. I was thinking not about languages like Kabardian, but about the situation in the Baltic Republics, in Ukraine, etc., where as the wikipedia says in its article about the Baltic Republics

The Soviet Union conducted a policy of russification by encouraging Russians and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups of USSR to settle in the Baltic Republics. Today, over one-quarter of the population of Estonia are Russian-speakers. In Latvia the figure is closer to one-third and in its capital (Riga) ethnic Russians now outnumber ethnic Latvians.

According to Soviet law, the three local languages (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian) had the status of official languages in the three respective "Republics" and they were used in schools and local administrative apparatus in parallel with Russian (which was the official language of whole USSR in all but name). However, as the Russian-speaking settlers from USSR formed an ever larger part of the population and typically were neither encouraged nor motivated to learn the local language, almost everybody had to learn Russian to some extent and use it whenever communicating with Russian-speakers in daily life.

As I understand it, this was pretty much a continuation of the policies of the Russian empire before 1917. My maternal grandmother was the principal of a Russian-language school in Dvinsk (now Daugavpils) before 1917, and emigated to the U.S. in 1921 (during the period of Latvian independence between 1918 and 1940), because the Latvian government made education in Russian illegal.

Anyhow, Steve is right that the discussion of pressures towards Russian-language uniformity during Soviet times sound mild, compared (for example) to the standard practice of the French towards linguistic minorities during the past couple of centuries.

Cory Lubliner sent in some information about mid-20th-century fascist language policy:

When you write that "the local languages in Italy remain much stronger than their counterparts in France," do you mean "languages" such as French in the Aosta Valley, German in the South Tyrol and Slovene in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, or do you mean "dialects" such as Venetian and Neapolitan?

When you "wonder whether the fascists in Germany, Italy etc. also promoted the standard language at the expense of local alternatives," this is true when the "local alternatives" were ones that the people who spoke them regarded as their "languages" such as the ones that I mentioned above for Italy, or Basque, Catalan and Galician in Spain, but not when they were "mere dialects" used to express local color. Dialect movies (Austrian-Bavarian in Germany, Neapolitan in Italy) were very popular during the Hitler-Mussolini era.

Cory also corrects my assertions about the Soviet Union and China:

When you write that "the communist governments in the east -- the (late, unlamented) Soviet Union and China -- certainly promoted the use of a dominant national language as strongly as any other governments in history" you are simply mistaken. The promotion of regional languages was a hallmark of Stalinist policy (perhaps because of Stalin's Georgian background), and it was followed by Tito (who was the first to make Macedonian official, and to institute schooling in Romany) and the PRC as well. The last time I saw a Chinese banknote, it was printed not only in Chinese but also in Uighur, Tibetan and a couple of other languages.

Point taken. But banknotes aside, the Chinese government certainly seems to have the aim of ensuring that everyone can speak, read and write Putonghua. And for some discussion of differences between language-policy theory and language policy reality, see this 2005 U.S. Congress report, which claims (for example) that

The government continued its campaign to restrict the use of the Uighur language in favor of Mandarin Chinese, despite provisions in the REAL protecting the right of minorities to use and promote their own languages. Government efforts to limit Uighur language use began in the 1980s, but have intensified since 2001 and throughout the past year. In May 2002, the Xinjiang government announced that Xinjiang University would change the medium of its instruction to Mandarin Chinese. A March 2004 directive ordered ethnic minority schools to merge with Chinese-language schools and offer classes in Mandarin. Despite a severe shortage of teachers in Xinjiang, the government is forcing teachers with inadequate Mandarin Chinese out of the classroom. Party Secretary Wang Lequan noted in April 2005 that Xinjiang authorities are "resolutely determined" to promote Mandarin language use, which he found "an extremely serious political issue."


[Tilman Stieve sends enough observations and questions to serve as the seeds of several additional posts -- but for now, I'll just add his note to the end of this one:

Re. Hobsbawm's claim that only 2 or 3 per cent of Italians spoke Italian at the time it became a state and also the one about only half the French populations being able to speak French at the time of the Revolution: I've seen similar claims about German, but it does seem to be rather a big exaggeration that does tend to create a somewhat false impression. So by the time of unification only 2 or 3 out of hundred spoke "standard" Italian (which, from what I've been told by my Italian teachers, is basically the Tuscan dialect), but does that mean that the dialects spoken in other parts of Italy then were not Italian or that they were completely unintelligible to other Italians (note that at the time Italy became a nation-state, it did not include many of the regions where minority languages such as German or Friulian are spoken these days). So what if only a small percentage of the population conforms to some prescriptivist ideal. The impression I got was that Italian as a literary language goes back to the late middle ages at least, and it is not all that different in Germany (where a standard based on a Saxon dialect of High German was established not least due to Luther's translation of the Bible way back in the 16th century, and gradually even took over those parts where Low German was spoken).

BTW, doesn't the French effort towards linguistic homogeneity predate the Revolution? I thought that from its inception one of the main jobs of the Académie Francaise has been to oversee the standards and purity of the French language.

Your correspondent G. D. Hecht's is off by at least a century. Efforts to "purify" German date back at least to the wars against Napoleon, and even some statements of the medieval poet Wolfram of Eschenbach (ca. 1200 AD) have been interpreted as abrasive reactions to unfavorable comments on his extensive use of words borrowed from the French. In the 19th century, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778-1852), an early radical German nationalist and chauvinist (also a pioneer of athletics) wrote some of the first well-known texts on purging the German language of foreign influences. Although at the time he only had few followers (with, not insignificantly, strengths among the academic youth) and was regarded as a bit of a crank by many, many of the new German words he invented to replace "loan-words" did in fact gain general acceptance. Others, on the other hand, failed, e.g. Jahn's coinage "Haemling" (derived from "Hammel" = neutered ram) which did not replace "Kastrat" and "Eunuch". The German language of gymnastics and athletics still is to a large extent dominated by the terms "Turnvater" Jahn invented for the exercises and equipment he came up with. Interestingly enough, the technical terms of football ("soccer" to some of you) were quickly replaced by German ones in Germany, even before World War 1, even though football players were shunned by the Turnvereine and regarded themselves as more cosmopolitan. (Also interestingly, German-speakers in Austria-Hungary and Switzerland continued to use the English terms by preference for much longer).

Quite a lot of these efforts at "purifying" German seem to have been arrived at more by general consensus than by governmental policy, although one obviously should take into account the disproportionate effect of linguistic purists among academics. The effect can be seen well in certain specialized fields, e.g. science and medicine (while the specialized language of the military continued to be dominated by words taken from foreign languages, especially French and Italian).

The fate of some of G.D. Hecht's examples is interesting in this respect. "Fernsprecher" really remained an officialese word not used as much as "Telephon/Telefon"; the derivations "Ferngespraech" and "Telefonat" have different meanings, by the way, a "Ferngespraech" is a long-distance call, while a "Telefonat" is a conversation on the telephone irrespective of distance. (A local call would be an "Ortsgepraech"). Similarly, "Personenkraftwagen" ("power-wagon for persons") and "Lastkraftwagen" ("power-wagon for loads") are also primarily used for official texts and, due to their length, frequently shortened to "PKW" and "LKW" (when spoken, these acronyms have three syllables each in German). But "Automobil" is also quite a long word, so in general usage it is normally shortened to "Auto" (which for most German-speakers would mean "automobile for persons", but for professionals involved in goods transport can also mean "freight truck"). However, "Wagen" (wagon) has since become a wide-spread word for "automobile for persons" (even though that word can also be applied to animal-drawn vehicles and railway and tramway coaches/carriages) and trucks are usually referred to as "Lastwagen" or "Laster". As a historian I have worked quite a bit with early-20th century texts, but this must be the first time I've seen "Kamion" (certainly with that spelling) as a German word. It can't have been very common even before World War 1.

The Nazis support for linguistic purism was half-hearted at best, one only has to recall that the movement did not ever feel it necessary to change its name of "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei", even thought three of its five elements are "foreign". The philologist Victor Klemperer (1881-1960) in his seminal 1946 study "LTI" (= Lingua Tertii Imperii, the language of the Third Reich) noted that that although the National Socialists tried to revive a number of Germanic words and coin a few new ones, they also had a tendency towards the inflationary use of certain "foreign" words.

Finally, let's not forget linguistic regionalism. A few years back, a pressure group for the purity of the Bavarian dialect issued a list of words a true Bavarian should not use, mostly "invaders" from other parts of the German-speaking word. Among them was the North German words "Tschuess" ("bye", a corruption of the French word "adieu") and "Trecker" (tractor, derived from the Low German verb "trecken" = to pull). The words Bavarians should use instead? "Ade" (from Latin "ad Deum") and "Bulldog" (from "Lanz Bulldog", the name of an early German-produced tractor), respectively.


[Update 4/6/2007 -- David Marjanovic send in a long, helpful comment, given below. At some point, I really should arrange all these comments on the political history of language policies into a coherent overall framework...

I'd like to comment on your blog post "Linguistic nationalism and the political spectrum", specifically on Soviet language policy. The goal of Soviet language policy was "sliyaniye", the merger of all cultures and languages into one, which was equated by Marxism-Leninism(-Stalinism) with the creation of a Soviet nation -- and it was supposed to be implemented in the long run, not immediately, just like the building of Communism had to wait till Socialism would be reached. On the one hand, thus, standard languages and alphabets were created for many previously unwritten languages, and an impressive campaign brought literacy rates close to 100 % in a very short time; on the other, teaching in some languages was discontinued when all of their speakers had learned Russian (this includes cases like the interesting isolate Nivkh/Gilyak).

Googling for "sliyaniye" (in this transcription) brings up many informative results, such as your own post http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001499.html (which explains a case of divide-and-conquer) and Bill Dickens' treatise which you have cited http://www.oxuscom.com/lang-policy.htm. From a bit below the middle of that page (in "The crucial role of bilingualism"): "As mentioned above, Russian was the obvious choice for the unofficial "official" language of the Soviet state. It takes little insight to see that it is also the projected super-language which is ultimately intended to absorb all the other languages in the Soviet Union, although Soviet statements to that effect have hinted at this more than stating it outright: [...] Not only is Russian "the language of the Union's most developed nation, which guided the country through its revolutionary transformations and have [sic] won itself the love and respect of all peoples"(Isayev 1977:299-300), it also offers "unlimited opportunity to join the most progressive human culture, and to gain a deep and lasting knowledge in all the fields of science"(cited in Rakowska-Harmstone 1970:248)."

Interesting aspects of the divide-and-conquer approach include how the same sound was often written with different letters in different (but sometimes closely related) languages (not only in the Cyrillic but also in the preceding Latin alphabets), and how some languages -- apparently often those with more speakers -- were given new letters for sounds absent from Russian while others had to make do with digraphs. (The alphabets of the literary languages of the Russian part of the Caucasus especially consist mostly of di- and trigraphs and the occasional tetragraph.)

My impression, like Dickens', is that Chinese language policy is similar, except for the major difference of the writing system -- you can't impose Chinese-characters-only on anything even if you try. Clearly, Mandarin is greatly preferred by the Party over all other languages. I have been to the southeastern corner of Inner Mongolia; there are a few signs that bear columns in Mongolian script next to every Chinese character, but that's it; I only heard Chinese (small sample), and most writing I saw (small sample again) was in Chinese only.

The Nazis went so far as to forbid societies because of "Deutschtümelei" (fooling around with "Germandom"). I guess that was because of the mentality expressed in Göring's famous sayer "Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich" -- "I'm the one who gets to decide who is a Jew".

Modern German officialese still includes several words that are not used elsewhere. A typical example is "Lichtbildausweis", meaning "any ID document with a photo" -- nobody says or writes "Lichtbild" instead of "Foto".

Linguistic regionalism? In Austria, the word for "tractor" is, wait for it, "Traktor". I'm not aware of anyone using "ade", which I used to think has been obsolete for a century or two; what the Bavarian-Austrian dialects normally use is a corruption of "may God protect you".

Incidentally, in your earlier post "Liberté, Égalité, Néologie" you mention "Dusseldorf". That would mean something like "nincompoop village". It's Düsseldorf, after the river Düssel which sounds silly but doesn't have an etymology I'm aware of.

Apologies to both Düsseldorfers and Dusseldorfers for the confusion.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 3, 2007 08:56 AM