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Coronavirus: The Federalist prefers mass death to massive deficits

Federalist editorial board meeting (artist’s conception)

By David Futrelle

People often ask “who funds The Federalist,” assuming that the answer is some shadowy right-wing billionaire who finds the site’s crackpot conservatism congenial. But I think I’ve found the actual answer: it’s the coronavirus. Yes, that’s right: the coronavirus is funding The Federalist.

I was led to this conclusion by a pair of articles that went up on the site today arguing, quite seriously, that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of coronavirus deaths might be a fair price to pay for an early end to the not-quite-national shutdown that has millions of Americans now “sheltering in place” to help control the virus’ spread.

If you think I’m exaggerating or engaging in rhetorical overkill, nope. I’m basically just paraphrasing. In an article posted on The Federalist today, Hillsdale College grad student Jonathan Ashbach writes

It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die. … Yet honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly.

In addition to the economic costs of the shutdown, and what he sees as a fundamental loss of freedom, Ashbach worries that all this social distancing is making our lives a lot less fun.

“[C]onsider the massive sacrifice of life Americans are making in their social distancing campaign,” he writes.

True, nearly all are not literally dying, but they are giving up a good deal of what makes life worth living — work, classes, travel, hugs, time with friends, conferences, quiet nights out, and so forth. Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions. The abandonment of normalcy, therefore, is in many ways equivalent to shortening the lives of the entire nation.

He’s rather have hugs and death than a temporary loss of hugs. One wonders if his blithe acceptance of the possibility of mass death may have something to do with the fact that as a grad student (presumably in his twenties or early 30s) he is much less likely to be one of the dead than, for example, those over the age of 70.

When it comes to Federalist executive editor and self-described “happy wife” Joy Pullman, one does not have to wonder: she plainly acknowledges that she’s unlikely to die if the current state lockdowns are brought to an early end. But when it comes to the country as a whole, she’d prefer mass death to massive deficits.

“My point here is not that I like people dying,” she wrote.

It’s that very often our society chooses to allow deaths because the alternative is worse. I’m suggesting the severe social and economic tradeoffs of unlimited quarantine are an important consideration that is not being taken seriously enough. …

The costs Americans are being forced to bear may be more than is rational to impose.

She’s well aware that the cost of abandoning the current lockdowns could be utterly devastating; indeed, she begins her article citing a report predicting that without social distancing the deaths in the US alone from cornonavirus could reach 4 million, two million more than the deaths that could result if we stay locked down. Naturally, she prefers the considerably more optimistic takes on the subject that have come from others on the political right, but she knows that serious researchers think the cost in lives could run into the millions.

Nonetheless, she suggested in one of the article’s subheads that “a depression will ruin 330 million lives, not 4 million.” She worries that cash payments from the government to ordinary Americans will “[addict] millions to welfare … transform[ing them] from workers to takers,” while “many” others will “die due to poverty, lack of medical care, and despair.”

Huh. That last bit sounds like a plug for socialized medicine and a stronger welfare state, but of course to Pullman the very idea is anathema.

In the end, she decides that she’d rather risk coronavirus than a massive economic slump. I mean, why should she and others like her suffer economically when they’re not even part of the group of people most likely to die from the disease?

Why would the entire nation grind to a halt when the entire nation is not at a severe risk? I would rather have a flu I am 99.8 percent likely to survive than the nation plunged into chaos indefinitely because we pulled the plug on our economy during a stampede.

In other words: I’ve got my health, fuck the rest of you.

It would be one thing if this thinking was confined to the fringes of the crackpot right. But it’s not just Federalist writers who see the disease this way. Indeed, Donald Trump himself seems to be suggesting in one recent tweet that he’s getting pretty annoyed with the effect all this social distancing is having on the stock market, and that he might be considering a more laissez faire approach.

At the daily coronovirus briefing today, Trump went further. ”
“America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” he said. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

The Federalist is providing Trump with handy talking points for whatever terrible policy — or non-policy — he decides to enact when the 15 days are over on March 30. Depending on what he does or does not do,4 million deaths may turn out to be too optimistic a projection.

H/T — Dr. Nerdlove, who drew my attention to these articles

UPDATE: Story updated with quote from the coronavirus briefing.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

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Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Lumipuna

emphasize the involvement of”government”, which is presumed to make everything inefficient, low quality for high cost.

This is another case where the right wing has broken a government system and then declared that it doesn’t work. It’s like slashing someone’s tires then declaring that their car just doesn’t work and so they should buy a new one.

jefrir
jefrir
8 months ago

Hi Diego, I don’t comment often but I do read, and I can read Spanish and appreciate perspectives from other parts of the world.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
8 months ago

@Alan:
Candace Owens has been discussed on this site before. She’s the one who started the ‘Social Autopsy’ group that was supposedly anti-cyberbullying but which had a ‘name and shame’ approach that would have made it easily co-opted to being another form of cyberbullying. And then when Zoe Quinn started trying to point out exactly what kind of mess she was stepping into, Owens decided that Quinn was actually behind the harassment she was receiving from GamerGate.

https://wehuntedthemammoth.com/2016/04/20/social-autopsy-founder-candace-owen-channels-gamergate-in-bizarre-attack-on-zoe-quinn/

Lainy
Lainy
8 months ago

This is random but guys my dad is great. On my parents property they have this large, it’s almost like a barn, type storage unite in the back. my dad keeps like his two riding mowers out there, the boat he owns, his old truck and halling trailer, a lot of stuff that we packed up into boxes after my grandmother passed away from her home. it’s got a pull table and a fridge and still a lot of room out there just so you can get an idea how big it is. Since I had to move back home he bought a lot of hard foam rubber to put on the floors so I can go out there and have a space still practice my dancing. My state just went into safer at home, stay in place orders so he surprised me with it last night.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

And…The Federalist continues to get more and more idiotic and dangerous.
https://www.rawstory.com/2020/03/trump-loving-publication-pitches-voluntary-infection-as-outside-the-box-solution-to-covid-19-pandemic/

@Jenora Feuer
I’d almost forgotten about Social Autopsy. Just the sheer volume of stupid stuff Candace Owens says and does makes it hard to remember everything.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
8 months ago

@Naglfar:
Well, that’s what brought her to public attention originally. And her reaction to that mess is what moved her from the ‘misguided but possibly means well’ column to the ‘actively trying to make things worse’ column for a lot of people.

Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
8 months ago

@Lainy: I’m so glad to hear that, I’m glad you are safe.

OT: my chorus had to cancel our season. We were told we had to stop rehearsing for at least 2 months and that would put us after the date of the first performance, so we just decided screw it and canceled. I know this is not the end of the world with all that’s going on, but it was very disappointing because this was supposed to be a big year for us, but mainly because we’re like a family and I miss everybody and some of us I’m worried I might never get to see again because they have immune issues or are over 60 or both. So we were all very happy when our director announced we’re doing rehearsals online with zoom. We probably still won’t perform but it’s just such a relief to be able to see everybody again.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Yutolia
When rehearsing over zoom, would latency be an issue or would it be too small to matter?

Lainy
Lainy
8 months ago

@yutolia

Yeah that really sucks, I’m sorry about all of that. I’m trying to keep my core strength up right now because I started taking aerial silk classes the last couple of months, it’s one of the most physical challenging things I’ve ever signed up for. I thought the strength from my ballet training would be enough for it, but I was so wrong. I’m sure it helps a lot more then if someone just decided to learn this for exercises. But those classes have been cancelled until the middle of may so far, I don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

So, the Federalist earlier today tweeted that we need voluntary “controlled” infection to defeat the Coronavirus. Twitter removed it, or I’d link, but it’s pretty fucking appalling. The right are not even trying to hide their death cultness now.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
8 months ago

I have seen the article in question. They really need to understand why people do vaccinations and not that horrible DIY of an idea. If a disease is worth immunizating against, then you pretty much never want to voluntary get it at full force.

I hope they will try controlled rabie infection. That would show if they are truly too stupid to die.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@WWTH
Twitter may have removed it, but the story on their site is still up (archived here in case they take it down). Would expect that most of these Republicans would insist that others should be voluntarily infected, not them.
In the future, it will be very apparent from abundant evidence and confessions who was at fault.

@Ohlmann

I hope they will try controlled rabie infection.

I’d be a bit wary of that. I don’t want to get bitten by a rabid conservative and have to get all the shots to keep from getting sick.

Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
8 months ago

@Naglfar:

I learned more about the rehearsal today and we mostly won’t be singing for practice, it will be more for solidarity and to check in with each other. So it won’t be much of an issue (in fact, it will probably induce some hilarity, which will be very much needed!)

@Lainy: I’m glad you have a space to do your dancing. I hope that helps keep you sane!!

Allandrel
Allandrel
8 months ago

@Naglfar

Out of curiosity, did you ever file a complaint against her like you mentioned?

I have not. I wanted to discuss it more with my psychiatrist at my next appointment in April, but oh, look, the plague. Now that I’m on work-from-home and peritoneal dialysis, I won’t be leaving the house.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ lainy

So glad you’ve found a space you can be yourself. Now you can use the downtime to choreograph a dance representing all that’s happening. I’m hoping we get a lot of creativity out of the enforced retreats. Although is anyone else thinking “All that stuff I put off because ‘I don’t have the time’ turned out not to be the lack of time”?

In other news my housebound neighbour’s cat got all arsey because I could only obtain her second preference cat food. I swear, one more snooty look and I’m going to the hippy shop to get her the vegan stuff.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Allandrel
Is there maybe a way you could do your appointment remotely via video call or something?

@Alan Robertshaw

I’m hoping we get a lot of creativity out of the enforced retreats. Although is anyone else thinking “All that stuff I put off because ‘I don’t have the time’ turned out not to be the lack of time”?

I’m currently discovering that luthiery is a lot hard than I thought. Trying to make a guitar-like instrument from some scrap wood is my current project, but I am limited by what I have at home to build with. I salvaged some tuning machines from an old ukulele but am not sure they will withstand higher tension strings. I also don’t have precision measuring tools, which is a limitation.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ naglfar

Trying to make a guitar-like instrument

Ooh, that is so cool.

Hmm, the machine heads themselves can probably take the strain.

The issues will be whether there’s enough interface areas so they can be securely fastened to the wood and not get torsioned out with the sheering force. And whether they’ll actually take thicker strings and have room for winding.

I admire your productivity though.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

My state is going into lockdown starting Friday. But liquor stores will still be open as essential. Which is very super typical upper Midwest (we’re very German and Irish here).

opposablethumbs
opposablethumbs
8 months ago

@Naglfar (I have rubbish memory at the best of times, and just lately more than ever – sorry but) did you say you are another Spanish speaker around here?

It’s just that what you said about inventing yourself an instrument made me think of Les Luthiers (Argentinean comedy multi-instrumentalists of a generation ago), one of whose trademarks is weird instruments invented out of household odds and ends.
(another trademark is taking the mickey out of musical snobbery, and also doing pastiches of different genres). They have lots of clips on youtube. The humour is variable – some of it undeniably shows its age, but some stands up fine.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@opposablethumbs

did you say you are another Spanish speaker around here?

I’ve forgotten some but I can still speak it fairly well.

The comedy act you describe sounds right up my alley, I’ll have to check it out later. Thanks for the recommendation.

Speaking of entertainment, I finished the last season of BoJack Horseman last night. Somewhat disappointed (I thought the second-to-last episode was better), as I thought it could have brought better closure to the show and had too much crammed into one episode. I won’t put in any spoilers, but that was my general impression.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ jenora

Thanks for that. I thought I remembered the name from somewhere. I do get a bit confused as to all the people covered on this site, and who’s a baddie and who’s a goodie. Although that seems to not always be clear anyway!

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

Bit more science on the whole utilitarian economy thing.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743514001224

This is based on European experience, but executive summary:

The death rate from things like suicide do go up in a recession; but overall mortality drops.

That’s because people can’t afford certain food and drink items; like alcohol; as well as tobacco and other drugs. So they get healthier. And fewer people travel so there are fewer road accidents.

So another argument against the economic apologetics.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Alan Robertshaw
And one thing that would probably bring down suicide is better health care and social programs.

Allandrel
Allandrel
8 months ago

@Naglfar
I’m looking in to it. Right now I’m trying to focus on my peritoneal dialysis transition.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Allandrel
Well, best of luck with the peritoneal dialysis and the psychiatrist.

Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
8 months ago

For those who might be interested, a rebuttal to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s wish for the ‘old people’ to hurry up and die so everything can go back to normal again:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtfulpastor/2020/03/25/older-people-useless-dan-patrick-husband-die/

Basically she listed many of the ways she and her husband and friends are helping out during this crisis, things that aren’t exactly ‘useless’ to other people.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
8 months ago

@Lainy:

Yeah that really sucks, I’m sorry about all of that. I’m trying to keep my core strength up right now because I started taking aerial silk classes the last couple of months, it’s one of the most physical challenging things I’ve ever signed up for.

“Aerial silk”?

Are you Spiderwoman?! 🙂

Lainy
Lainy
8 months ago

@surplus

I’ll get you a video of it

Lainy
Lainy
8 months ago

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
8 months ago

I’m practicing with my air guitar, in my aerial silk pajamas.

Lainy
Lainy
8 months ago

Well the link I post didn’t post. Any ways to be honest with y’all I wanted to try aerial silks because I watched the youtuber markiplier try out a class for it and it seemed really fun, challenging and a little scary. plus like pole dancing it has a kind of elegant sexiness to it that I really like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwHIKlK-4Dg&t=1096s

Sam.
Sam.
8 months ago

Gotta say love how none of them ever assume it’s going to be them or their loved ones dying because of it.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
8 months ago

Thank you. Seems like this would almost allow the sort of things that you could do in weightlessness. I wonder if we’ll see an explosion of new dance, acrobatic, etc. art forms when there’s a substantial population living in space?

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Surplus

I wonder if we’ll see an explosion of new dance, acrobatic, etc. art forms when there’s a substantial population living in space?

I can imagine we would. And if we have lots of people living on other planets, the separation would allow for very different cultures to develop on different worlds. Each world would be a blank canvas culturally, to develop new cultures from those brought by settlers (assuming no sentient extraterrestrial life, of course). Who knows what religions would develop on Mars, or what language would evolve on Titan?

Snowberry
Snowberry
8 months ago

@Naglfar:

Who knows what religions would develop on Mars, or what language would evolve on Titan?

One thing we don’t know is how much gravity humans, as well as earth life in general, needs in order to grow and function properly.

We know humans can handle 1.50 G to 0.98 G long term with no issues. We know that virtually no earth life functions quite right at 0.001 G, and our bodies slowly fall apart, in more ways than just muscular dystrophy. Mars is 0.38 G. Which side of the line does it fall on? What happens if the line is fuzzy and it falls in that fuzzy area?

The answer to that will determine whether we end up with humans living on Mars, or humans using Mars as a mining base and living in rotating space stations around it. In the latter case, we probably won’t get any new cultures which are heavily shaped by life in lower gravity. At least not until we’re able to use genetic engineering to splinter ourselves into countless new species.

[Edit] There is some optimism that humans can function properly long-term on Mars, given that the Chang’e 4 Mission proved that crop plants can sprout on the moon in a sealed environment (0.16 G). That’s not nearly enough evidence in itself, obviously.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Snowberry

In the latter case, we probably won’t get any new cultures which are heavily shaped by life in lower gravity.

I think we’d still develop new cultures regardless of whether we live on space stations or on the ground. Telecommunications would be out due to the latency, internet would be unusable, and travel would be months. There would be a degree of disconnect from other humans not seen since before the telegraph era, so it seems likely that new dialects and rituals would develop.

Snowberry
Snowberry
8 months ago

@Naglfar: True, but my answer was meant to be in the context of low-gravity culture, not culture in general. Thing is, Luna is right there and easier to get stuff off of, and there are like a bajillion asteroids, so if Mars ends up not having enough gravity then we can expect the vast majority of civilized development for the forseeable future will be in Cislunar space. That’s close enough to be heavily influenced by Earth cultures. Given the time and expense needed to create a giant space station to begin with, I don’t think those will see a lot of deviation from their founding culture in the vast majority of cases… unless the Earth goes kaboomey and they’re on their own, or the super-rich try to create exotic isolated cultures as a hobby.

We can expect at least a few attempts to crowdsource Galt’s Space Gulch, obviously. Probably all end up being scams.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Snowberry

the super-rich try to create exotic isolated cultures as a hobby.

Definitely a possibility. Elon Musk would probably be the first to try, seeing as he is very wealthy and tries a lot of strange ideas.

We can expect at least a few attempts to crowdsource Galt’s Space Gulch, obviously. Probably all end up being scams.

That will probably happen pretty quickly, seeing as libertarians would be all over the idea of a place without laws (because presumably they haven’t heard of the Outer Space Treaty and there’s no one to enforce it anyway) yet they tend to be short on actually thinking things through.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
8 months ago

@Snowberry:

We can expect at least a few attempts to crowdsource Galt’s Space Gulch, obviously. Probably all end up being scams.

Probably all end up breathing vacuum. Hull integrity is a public good that will be undersupplied by an unfettered free market.

@Naglfar:

Elon Musk would probably be the first to try, seeing as he is very wealthy and tries a lot of strange ideas.

Helps that he is one of the few, even among the überrich, who already has his own personal space launch capability.

Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
Yutolia the Laissez-Fairy Pronoun Boner
8 months ago

@Naglfar: re: languages

Probably no new languages would emerge because that society and ours would still be in constant contact, which makes language change slow down, plus we have a written language, which slows language change even further. What would most likely happen would be like happened in English, Spanish, French, etc. Over time, different accents and styles of speaking and slang have emerged, but when you get down to it, for example, British, American, Australian, and Canadian English are all still English. We’d get a titanese version of English (or Chinese or whatever) but most people speaking the language here would be able to understand.

I hope this isn’t rambly and actually makes some sense.

It would work similarly to how English is now.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Yutolia
So we’d get new dialects? Still could be interesting.

Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meanie
8 months ago

But even if they were technically speaking the same language, would they still understand each other? The example I’m thinking of is putting a guy with a thick Cockney accent/slang in the same room with a guy who has a thick Texas drawl/slang, and seeing how well they understand each other. Wouldn’t the same things apply for the theoretical Venusian and the Titanian when it comes to understanding each other?

Dalillama
Dalillama
8 months ago

For that matter, plenty of the people in India hired to do American tech support are native speakers of English, it’s just not American or British English, nor yet Cameroonian English. And then there’s things like Scots, Krio, or Gullah, which are loosely based on English but aren’t really the same language. Catalàn still isn’t Spanish either, as far as I know, and in the event that off-Earth settlements become feasible it’s totally plausible that many such settlements would be founded by ethnic and/or religious separatists of various stripes, which us the kind of thing that can spawn novel language variants surprisingly quickly.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Dalillama
Catalan is rather different from Spanish, to me it sounds more like French in the pronunciation and orthography. When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I was unable to understand Catalan despite my knowledge of Spanish. Though I don’t speak Catalan, so someone who speaks it would have a better perspective.

The thing is that the boundary between dialect and language is fuzzy and often political. There’s a saying attributed to Max Weinreich that “a language is a dialect with an army and navy.” For example, Moldovan was not considered its own language until 1991 when Moldova became an independent country despite it having been considered a dialect of Romanian before. Or how Catalan is often called a dialect despite being quite different from Spanish.

in the event that off-Earth settlements become feasible it’s totally plausible that many such settlements would be founded by ethnic and/or religious separatists of various stripes, which us the kind of thing that can spawn novel language variants surprisingly quickly.

I would expect that that could happen, seeing as a number of present-day countries (such as much of the Americas) were settled by religious groups.

Allandrel
Allandrel
8 months ago

@Dalillama

It’s funny, I find Scots perfectly comprehensible, even the words that have no English analogue like “scunnered.”

Apparently many other non-Scots speakers have far more difficulty. For example, the Wikipedia article on Robert Burns’ “To A Mouse” features a line-by-line “English translation” that “translates” many words that mean the same thing in 21st-century English as they did in 18th-century Scots. Most egregiously “beastie” into “beast,” which actually causes it to lose the meaning the word conveyed. “Beastie,” in both languages/dialects, is diminutive and affectionate. “Beast” is neither.

Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
Surplus to Requirements, Observer of the Vast Blight-Wing Enstupidation
8 months ago

@Redsilkphoenix:

But even if they were technically speaking the same language, would they still understand each other? The example I’m thinking of is putting a guy with a thick Cockney accent/slang in the same room with a guy who has a thick Texas drawl/slang, and seeing how well they understand each other.

In evolutionary biology, an analogous phenomenon is called “ring species”. It’s one more reason for “dialect” vs. “separate language” to be fuzzy: even the seemingly objective standard of mutual intelligibility may fail, because as a relation it is not transitive: A and B may be mutually intelligible, and B and C may be, without A and C being. (Consolation prize: speakers of B have guaranteed employment as translators when A and C need to communicate.)

@Naglfar:

Catalan is rather different from Spanish, to me it sounds more like French in the pronunciation and orthography. When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I was unable to understand Catalan despite my knowledge of Spanish.

Could you understand Portugese? I’m curious if it’s closer to Spanish than Catalan is. I take it all of them (and French and Italian, and probably others) derive ultimately from Latin.

As I recall the real oddball in Europe is Basque, spoken in some enclaves inside present-day France but not even derived from Proto-Indo-European. Likely a remnant from some aboriginal population that was all but wiped out by some ancient conquest circa six or seven thousand years ago, if not even older. (Perhaps Neandertals spoke it!) Certainly it’s in the expected location for such a remnant: along the west coastal region of the continent, in the areas that would have held out the longest when the Proto-Indo-European army came marching and pillaging across the landscape lo those many millennia ago.

It’s not the only one. Many of the others are around the edges of Europe, including Sámi and Finnish in the north, but not all. The Ural Mountains provided shelter to tribes speaking such languages as (ancestors of) Estonian and Hungarian. There’s also a hybrid of Latin and Arabic languages, Maltese, in the Mediterranean, the result of the long-running intellectual (and often military) tug-of-war between Christendom and the Islamic world over the last millennium or so.

In biological species, isolated habitats such as islands and valleys with a different surrounding biome provide shelter to diversity, while large expanses of a single biome become melting pots and hotbeds of competition. With human languages (and cultures and everything else “memetic”) a similar thing happens: anywhere naturally militarily defensible (mountain redoubts, islands) allows for preservation of culture against would-be conquerors and their penchants for assimilational and sometimes exterminational genocide. From these seeds can sometimes sprout fresh descendants of a once-besieged culture, starting with as little as a monastery up some mountainside or a village in a valley surrounded by defensible passes and judged “too much blood for too little treasure” by tyrannical rulers of nearby polities. (Deliberately avoiding having treasure helps a lot here. Monasteries with their vows of poverty are not very tempting targets, especially when, as they usually do, they claim to have supernatural friends in extremely high places that might smite anyone who dares desecrate them.)

Plains full of arable land on the other hand get washed over by army after army, empire after empire, and become recombinating melting-pots where cultures are readily obliterated and new ones readily arise by the amalgamation of existing ones. So there are all these interesting little languages in rugged coastal regions, up the mountains, and on Mediterranean islands, but only a few big language groups in the central plains of Europe, where Germanic, Latinate, and Slavic languages predominate now.

Oh, one more thing found on a Mediterranean island, eventually, was the culture that spawned the peculiar Voynich Manuscript. It turned out to be Latin-derived, but having completely reinvented the writing system, just about.

Naglfar
Naglfar
8 months ago

@Allandrel
My experience of Scots is that with context I can usually understand it, but individual words by themselves often are different enough from English for me to miss them.

@Surplus

Could you understand Portugese?

When it’s spoken, I can’t really understand it much, but I can read it to some degree (the pronunciation is rather different from Spanish). Maybe a native Spanish speaker would have more understanding of Portuguese?
FWIW it seems linguists class Spanish and Portuguese closer together than Catalan is to either of them, as Catalan is usually placed as a Gallo-Romance language like French and Occitan while Spanish and Portuguese are Ibero-Romance.

Perhaps Neandertals spoke it

If Neanderthals spoke anything resembling Basque, it would be very different than the modern language, as even isolate languages shift over millennia.

Oh, one more thing found on a Mediterranean island, eventually, was the culture that spawned the peculiar Voynich Manuscript. It turned out to be Latin-derived, but having completely reinvented the writing system, just about.

I’ve heard multiple theories about the Voynich Manuscript, but was unaware that any had been confirmed. I like the XKCD comic about it, however improbable:
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weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

For that matter, plenty of the people in India hired to do American tech support are native speakers of English, it’s just not American or British English, nor yet Cameroonian English.

When I was younger I didn’t realize how many Indian and Pakistani people spoke English as their first language. I might not realize that now, but my college had a ton of South Asian students. Although I don’t think South Asian English is super different than British English, just with a different accent. I actually first learned a lot of Britishisms from my friend who’s from Karachi.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
8 months ago

Surplus wrote:

As I recall the real oddball in Europe is Basque, spoken in some enclaves inside present-day France … Certainly it’s in the expected location for such a remnant: along the west coastal region of the continent, in the areas that would have held out the longest when the Proto-Indo-European army came marching and pillaging across the landscape lo those many millennia ago.

It’s not the only one. Many of the others are around the edges of Europe, including Sámi and Finnish in the north, but not all. The Ural Mountains provided shelter to tribes speaking such languages as (ancestors of) Estonian and Hungarian.

In biological species, isolated habitats such as islands and valleys with a different surrounding biome provide shelter to diversity, while large expanses of a single biome become melting pots and hotbeds of competition. With human languages (and cultures and everything else “memetic”) a similar thing happens …

… Plains full of arable landon the other hand get washed over by army after army, empire after empire, and become recombinating melting-pots where cultures are readily obliterated and new ones readily arise by the amalgamation of existing ones. So there are all these interesting little languages in rugged coastal regions, up the mountains, and on Mediterranean islands, but only a few big language groups in the central plains of Europe, where Germanic, Latinate, and Slavic languages predominate now.

It’s interesting to speculate on what factors have driven linguistic takeovers in large areas. Of course, while languages do evolve phylogenetically, they can also absorb aspects (more than just vocabulary) from competing, unrelated or distantly related languages.

The original Indo-European expansion is thought to have been driven by the military and economic advantage gained from horse domestication, horse riding and wagon transport in primitive farming societies. Later on, IE languages spoken in central Eurasian steppe zone were displaced by Turkic language expansion, driven by more sophisticated horse warfare technology.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
8 months ago

I should note that Proto-Uralic also had a major expansion several millennia ago, across the hunter-gatherer societies of northeastern Europe and western Siberia. The reasons for this seem to be unclear. Later on, some Ugric branch speakers from western Siberia went along with the horse-riding Turkic language expansion, and eventually managed to establish their language in what is now Hungary.

It seems that in the northern areas, unsuitability of the environment for agriculture (or suitable for only marginal agriculture) slowed down Indo-European language encroachment over the less competitive Uralic languages. Eventually, fairly recently, Slavic took over what is now northern European Russia. The survival of remaining Uralic speaking communities is generally not tied to mountain areas, but rather (apparently) to random chance, and in some cases to either far northern areas, or marshy and remote areas (marginal for agriculture, and less connected to the main Russian speaking population).