Dialect boundaries

LeifGoodwin

Member
English
It is easy to find maps showing the various romance dialects that used to be spoken in France, and indeed many romance dialects are still spoken today in Italy. My question is this. Were there distinct boundaries between adjacent romance dialects, or was it in practice more of a continuum? And if there were distinct boundaries eg one village speaks X, the next village speaks Y, what preserved or enforced this separation? Note that I am talking about dialects in the past, before a standard French was imposed. Clearly today languages tend to be defined by geopolitical boundaries, thus Basque has survived due to geographical inaccessibility, and might have been far more widely spoken in the past.
 
  • Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    In the case of the Romance family, the continuum is very obvious. Until very recently, you could go from Lisbon to Liège to Messina, and each town spoke just a little bit different from the one before.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Linguistic separation between adjacent areas can only be preserved through a continuous lack of contact between the two populations. I can't think of any other cause for it except for 1) geography (seas, swamps, deserts, mountains and gorges), and 2) political blocade (North Korea).

    That's as far as preservation; as for the appearance of such a separation, I also can count but two reasons: 1) continuous existence of said lack of contact, so that that innovations that reach either side of the divide between what used to be the same variety don't spread to the other, and 2) migration. The latter is responsible for the linguistic picture of the Caucasus, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, South America, and basically every other unusually linguistically diverse territory. There are pockets and other remains of Occitan in Calabria and Puglia, and of Provençal in central Sicily and Basilicata, presumably descended from the mercenaries who decided to remain there (or even the Anjou royal court, in the case of Sicily).

    There are also situations of multilingualism such as where different castes speak different languages, but I presume that's not what you're asking about. This also ordinarily arises out of migration, with the invaders subjugating and oppressing the natives and adopting other measures to prevent assimilation.
     
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    Dymn

    Senior Member
    In the case of the Romance family, the continuum is very obvious. Until very recently, you could go from Lisbon to Liège to Messina, and each town spoke just a little bit different from the one before.
    However, the degree of change in speech, say, every 30km, isn't the same everywhere. So sometimes in this path you would find next to no variation, and then suddenly the speech is still recognizable but has had a noticeable change. After all there are many attempts at classification of vernaculars and they don't seem to be that disparate. Isoglosses exist and it seems to me many cluster together. E.g. map of isoglosses in France. Why is that? I would venture the bundle of isoglosses between Catalan and Occitan reflects the five-century long border between the Principality of Catalonia and the Kingdom of France, so it's essentially political in nature. The bundle of isoglosses between Òc and Oïl dialects especially in the West seems very dense. How is that?
     

    LeifGoodwin

    Member
    English
    I did a little research and apparently there is a sudden change from an English accent to a Scots English accent as you cross the border from England to Scotland. Clearly there is no obvious geographical boundary, and England and Scotland are politically united, albeit with devolved powers. In this case I suspect the explanation is that at one time they were politically distinct, and that separation created a strong sense of self identity, even though English in some form has existed on both sides of the border for more than 1000 years. That self identity has been preserved to this day as the schools and media in Scotland permitted Scottish English (but not Scots) to exist. Thus Scottish TV uses Scottish English, thereby giving it legitimacy. The fact that the two dialects do not merge near the border is probably because they are too distinct, though I’d be surprised if some Scottish words didn’t wander across the border. This is consistent with the answer from Dymn.

    There are villages in Italy that speak a form of Greek, and in this case the language survives because it is so distinct, and speakers are bilingual, but the young people do not learn it so it will die soon.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    However, the degree of change in speech, say, every 30km, isn't the same everywhere. So sometimes in this path you would find next to no variation, and then suddenly the speech is still recognizable but has had a noticeable change. After all there are many attempts at classification of vernaculars and they don't seem to be that disparate. Isoglosses exist and it seems to me many cluster together. E.g. map of isoglosses in France. Why is that? I would venture the bundle of isoglosses between Catalan and Occitan reflects the five-century long border between the Principality of Catalonia and the Kingdom of France, so it's essentially political in nature. The bundle of isoglosses between Òc and Oïl dialects especially in the West seems very dense. How is that?
    Either geographical boundaries, such as a mountain range, or human ones. A political boundary will cause two varieties that were close to diverge because the area of influence has simply changed. But even so, there will surely be remainings of the older gradient.

    My way of painting a Romance continuum was a simple one, of course, because it's obvious that some isoglosses are not as smooth as others, and they're what usually tell us how to tell a language from a dialect. And then we've got different substrates and adstrates, which shaped many of the original differences between the Romance areas. But the fact that even today we've got so many 'hard-to-assign' varieties or microlanguages in between more recognized ones (Eonavian, Benasquese, the Croissant zone, Royasc, Tarantino, etc) goes to show the perseverance of that continuum. Obviously some other cases, like Western Riojan (between Castilian and Aragonese) or the boundaries between the Mozarabic varieties have simply got lost in history.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    English (Southern England)
    I did a little research and apparently there is a sudden change from an English accent to a Scots English accent as you cross the border from England to Scotland. Clearly there is no obvious geographical boundary,

    Apart from a river and a range of hills… 😁

    But you’re right, there’s nothing unusual there considering there are similarly-sized rivers and hills further north and south of the Tweed and Cheviots.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    In the case of the Romance family, the continuum is very obvious. Until very recently, you could go from Lisbon to Liège to Messina, and each town spoke just a little bit different from the one before.
    This is very clearly true regarding the western Romance languages (in Gaul, Iberia, Italy, and the Alps). It is obviously not true with Balkan Romance (Romanian and Aromanian do not partake in a continuum with western Romance.). Moreover, while it is true of European Spanish and Portuguese, it is not true of Brazilian Portuguese and American Spanish, which are not part of a continuum. The difference is that western Romance derives from, and deviates from, a common ancestor, the non-indigenous languages in the Americas arrived in the new world in pretty much their modern form.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    This is very clearly true regarding the western Romance languages (in Gaul, Iberia, Italy, and the Alps). It is obviously not true with Balkan Romance (Romanian and Aromanian do not partake in a continuum with western Romance.). Moreover, while it is true of European Spanish and Portuguese, it is not true of Brazilian Portuguese and American Spanish, which are not part of a continuum. The difference is that western Romance derives from, and deviates from, a common ancestor, the non-indigenous languages in the Americas arrived in the new world in pretty much their modern form.
    Is it possible that you've missed the fact that this thread is about the presence/absence of a continuum in adjacent varieties? Mentioning Balkan Romance in this connection is surprising, because it's been fully isolated from any other Romance variety for close to 15 centuries.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Is it possible that you've missed the fact that this thread is about the presence/absence of a continuum in adjacent varieties? Mentioning Balkan Romance in this connection is surprising, because it's been fully isolated from any other Romance variety for close to 15 centuries.
    Brazilian Portuguese and American Spanish are adjacent, but not a continuum.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Either geographical boundaries, such as a mountain range, or human ones.
    But there aren't any geographical or human boundaries for most of the Òc-Oïl isogloss. I wonder if it's possible that once a certain number of isoglosses separate two areas, their inhabitants start feeling estranged of their neighbours' speech, so that the innovations don't cross the barrier, thereby strengthening it. How strong was the difference between neighbouring variants of Oïl and Òc?

    It does seem like most discontinuities as Sobakus says would be due to immigration, geographical barriers, and I would add political influence too (although in the past this wasn't as important as it is today I suppose).
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Brazilian Portuguese and American Spanish are adjacent, but not a continuum.
    But they are consecutive varieties, not constitutive. It's a different story.

    But there aren't any geographical or human boundaries for most of the Òc-Oïl isogloss. I wonder if it's possible that once a certain number of isoglosses separate two areas, their inhabitants start feeling estranged of their neighbours' speech, so that the innovations don't cross the barrier, thereby strengthening it. How strong was the difference between neighbouring variants of Oïl and Òc?
    I think the substrate played an important role at its origin. The case of Gascon with regard to the rest of Occitan varieties is clear. There is no real physical barrier either, other than the fact that Gascon lies on a previous Basco-Aquitanian layer, and that made them become a lengatge estranh within Occitan itself.

    Different substrates also had something to do with the differences between Oil varieties. But obviously things can change quickly when the physical boundaries are close to none. A parallel of Navarrese becoming easily Castilianized can be seen in Poitevin, which is classiified nowadays as an Oil language instead of an Occitan one.

    Innovations sometimes don't cross the barrier simply because they're not 'on the road'. We tend to forget that people didn't move as much in the old times, and when they did the roads they used were pretty much the same during their lives. Innovations often followed these roads, and sometimes some of these crossed mountain ranges between the passes.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    But there aren't any geographical or human boundaries for most of the Òc-Oïl isogloss. I wonder if it's possible that once a certain number of isoglosses separate two areas, their inhabitants start feeling estranged of their neighbours' speech, so that the innovations don't cross the barrier, thereby strengthening it. How strong was the difference between neighbouring variants of Oïl and Òc?
    In principle this mechanism also exists within any given community, such that there are systematic differences in speech between the sexes, generations, different status groups, even styles and registers. This of course depends on complex social dynamics and is a hot topic of research in modern sociolinguistics, with much still to be discovered.

    The same caveat applies to the issue of the origins of isoglosses and dialectal divisions within Romance, including Oïl vs. Òc. It has to have to do with socio-economic factors, that much is clear, but to demonstrate and prove the exact mechanisms and chronologies seems virtually impossible. To me at any rate, the difference between Oïl vs. Òc appears to reflect two different waves and/or modes of Romanisation: southern Gaul (Gallia Narbōnēnsis) fell under Roman influence significantly earlier than northerrn Gaul (Celtica), and was officially integrated into the Republic in 118 BC, so at least half a century earlier than northern Gaul. The socioeconomic modes of their Romanisation were also presumably distinct – much more economically-driven in the South, and much more militarily in the North. The substrate varieties spoken in the two regions were presumably already distinct. And in general, the South of France has always been integrated into the rest of the Mediterranean, which ensured that it readily participated in the linguistic innovations.

    Northern Gaul on the other hand was a backwater during the same time period, but suddenly found itself as the political and economical center by the end of the early Middle Ages, but not before suffering from the greatest sociopolitical upheavals of perhaps any other European region; it's southern Gaul that became the calm provincial backwater in comparison. So the two regions have always had contrasting sociopolitical histories in addition to being Romanised in at least two distinct waves. It's not therefore suprising that they should have been linguistically distinct throughout, even if the precise details and chronologies are probably lost to us.
     
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    Dymn

    Senior Member
    In principle this mechanism also exists within any given community, such that there are systematic differences in speech between the sexes, generations, different status groups, even styles and registers. This of course depends on complex social dynamics and is a hot topic of research in modern sociolinguistics.
    Indeed but these differences even if very noticeable exist on a continuum. They're never as extreme as in you could have people from Elvas (Portugal) and Badajoz (Spain) talk in their mother tongues and everybody would agree 100% on the classification.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Indeed but these differences even if very noticeable exist on a continuum. They're never as extreme as in you could have people from Elvas (Portugal) and Badajoz (Spain) talk in their mother tongues and everybody would agree 100% on the classification.
    Nor do I think we have any reason to believe that such an abrupt transition ever existed anywhere on the border between Oïl and Òc areas (making the border fuzzy), for sure not before the rise of nationalism and national language education. As for the linguistic picture of Iberia, I'm sure many in this thread are aware that it's been shaped to a large extent by the Reconquista, even before the rise of nationalism elsewhere in Europe.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Indeed but these differences even if very noticeable exist on a continuum. They're never as extreme as in you could have people from Elvas (Portugal) and Badajoz (Spain) talk in their mother tongues and everybody would agree 100% on the classification.
    The difference between Elvas and Badajoz couldn't be more abrupt. The language basically changes at the border.

    Indeed, it seems like Spanish and Portuguese cannot seem to coexist. Olivença was Portuguese until the 19th century. People born before the 1950's were largely isolated, spoke Portuguese and passively understood Spanish. Today after mass education Olivenza is monolingual Spanish-speaking despite the border being next door.
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    The difference between Elvas and Badajoz couldn't be more abrupt. The language basically changes at the border.

    I wouldn't say 'it couldn't be more abrupt', as both languages belong to the same cluster. But in any case that's because the languages are spoken consecutively there, not constitutively. The gradient in the Northern areas (Portuguese/Galician to East Galician/West Asturian to C. Asturian to Eastern Asturian/North Castilian) has more or less persisted to this day.

    Still, if Asturian/Leonese was still reaching the province of Huelva today, the transition we'd see in the Estremaduras would most likely be a smooth one.

    The same thing happens in the East. The transition between Aragonese and Catalan in the Ribagorza has traditionally been a very smooth one. But in the rest of Aragon south of the Ribagorza and down to Murcia, the transition today between Spanish and Catalan is abrupt because Aragonese is just gone.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    The difference between Elvas and Badajoz couldn't be more abrupt. The language basically changes at the border.
    Yes, that's why I chose that example. I don't know enough about the boundary between Òc and Oïl languages, but the map I linked has 27 isoglosses starting at the Gironde department, so the boundary seems strong enough, however we can't really know what happened there. It seems really difficult that an abrupt discontinuity appears between two neighbouring towns in a "natural" way (i.e. without widespread migrations or political impositions).
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    @Dymn The problem in France is that those old isoglosses are basically history nowadays. I recently visited the old historical border in Lorraine between Romance patois and Germanic patois. I use patois because there is no name to call them, at least anymore. I also don't believe there were just two either, rather 4 or 5. The medieval monks documented the limits of Romance and Germanic "ways of speaking". Some call the Germanic patois Platt (but it is not low German), others Francique (as some say it is the language of the Franks), the Romance is Oil, Patois français or roman, etc. This is of course more abrupt than continuum, but I have seen Romance patois with German-like word order and loan words. Judging from the Lëtzebuergesch Germanic language which was the only one to survive for being outside France, half the words are Gallo-Romance. The boundary was never a straight line, lots of zigzags and enclaves on both sides. Plus the line was constantly moving over time as the population changed. You see linguistic border in 1600, 1700, 1900 etc. Nowadays standard French goes all the way up to the border where it meets standard German so you have to have imagination about these isoglosses and what they meant. The rich linguistic heritage is about dead. The Germanic patois area disappeared abruptly as people just stopped speaking them out of shame 2 or 3 generations ago. The Romance patois kind of melted into standard French over time. Plus there has been a lot of movement of people over time around France. There are sporadic expressions still used.

    Finding continuum in Spain is probably easier. People speak Aragonese, Aragonese Catalan, Aranais, Western Catalan, Eastern Catalan only in their original set areas.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Ok. I was talking basically about Spain and Portugal.
    Is Portuñol a way for people to understand one another at the border like Spanglish or has it become a codified native language somewhere ?

    There can be some communication between a Portuguese and a Spanish speaker with both speaking their own language. Depending on the subject matter, there can be quite a high degree of mutual intelligibility between written Portuguese and Spanish. With the spoken language the mutual intelligibility is asymmetric with Spanish speakers having more difficulty. (Spanish speakers can more readily understand spoken Italian than Portuguese even though Italian is not such a close relative as Portuguese.)

    Portuñol is not really any sort of a language, but rather a term used to describe what happens when Portuguese and Spanish speakers who know little or nothing about each other's language converse. It can involve something like code switching, but not quite because that implies knowing both languages well. Rather a speaker may attempt to use the other's language and fill in any gaps with his own language. If contact is frequent speakers will gradually get to know a bit more of the other's language.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I did a little research and apparently there is a sudden change from an English accent to a Scots English accent as you cross the border from England to Scotland.
    I am not sure I can agree with that. The first time I heard a Geordie I thought he was Scottish. I am not the only one who thinks there is a similarity*:

    "[Geordie] is similar in some ways to Scottish English." Why do Geordies sound Scottish?

    "The Geordie dialect shares similarities with other Northern English dialects, as well as with the Scots language." Geordie - Wikipedia

    https://www.reddit.com/r/Britain/comments/8x7ljm
    Accents can though change significantly within a short distance if crossing an isogloss. I used to live in Spalding. If you travel from there to King's Lynn only 23 miles away the accent is quite different. The two main North/South England isoglosses run between the two places.

    Maps showing varieties of present day Anglic tend to show either Scotland or England so you never get to see what the position is in the border zone.

    *For the record I can now recognise a NE England accent though I cannot say I would be able to distinguish between Geordie, Mackem and Pitmatic.
     

    LeifGoodwin

    Member
    English
    I’m a native English speaker with an East Midlands dialect, which means I speak fairly standard English, but I sound like a peasant (someone of humble origin). I have family in Yorkshire so I am attuned to the accent. To my ear Yorkshire is quite distinct from Geordie/Northumbrian, and both are quite different from Scottish English. I have heard a lot of spoken Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen Scottish English, and they all share a Scottishness, whatever that means, whereas Geordie is clearly English, even though I can’t for the life of me understand broad (strong) Geordie. I am sure there is a technical reason for this, but I have no idea what it might be. I did wonder if Scots was syllable timed, but apparently not. Perhaps it is a remnant of their Gaelic past, when large numbers of Gaelic speakers moved from the highlands to the cities bringing with them their speech patterns.
     

    pimlicodude

    Senior Member
    British English
    I’m a native English speaker with an East Midlands dialect, which means I speak fairly standard English, but I sound like a peasant (someone of humble origin). I have family in Yorkshire so I am attuned to the accent. To my ear Yorkshire is quite distinct from Geordie/Northumbrian, and both are quite different from Scottish English. I have heard a lot of spoken Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen Scottish English, and they all share a Scottishness, whatever that means, whereas Geordie is clearly English, even though I can’t for the life of me understand broad (strong) Geordie. I am sure there is a technical reason for this, but I have no idea what it might be. I did wonder if Scots was syllable timed, but apparently not. Perhaps it is a remnant of their Gaelic past, when large numbers of Gaelic speakers moved from the highlands to the cities bringing with them their speech patterns.
    It's not really a case of Gaelic speaking moving from the highlands to the cities. Rather around 1000 AD nearly the whole of Scotland was Gaelic-speaking. See the map on the vivid maps website. Parts of the very northern coast were Norse speaking, as were parts of the Western Isles (Norse influence may be reflected in Gaelic?), and the Western parts of the border region were Cumbric-speaking (i.e. speaking a language related to Welsh). Only the eastern parts of the border region (the Lothians) were already Anglo-Saxon-speaking. So Scots, as it developed over the subsequent 500 years counting from AD 1000 developed as Gaelic speakers shifted to Scots. The later shift from Scots to Scottish English in most of Scotland probably leaves the latter with multiple sub-strata. Parts of Scotland were originally Pictish-speaking, then Gaelic, then Scots then Scottish English. That has got to leave an imprint.
     

    LeifGoodwin

    Member
    English
    The Goedelic form of Gaelic was exported from Ireland to the Scottish West coast and highlands of Scotland in the fifth century. Brythonic Celtic (early Welsh) was spoken in the south (and in Cumbria as you say), and Pictish was spoken in the north. The latter might have been a Brythonic Celtic, although no-one knows.

    But yes you have a point, English didn’t really dominate in Scotland until much later when compared to England, and it was presumably adopted primarily by celtic speakers. England appears to have had a large influx of Germanic and Norse speakers.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The later shift from Scots to Scottish English in most of Scotland probably leaves the latter with multiple sub-strata.
    I am not sure that is the case. "Scottish English" is imported "English English" with a Scottish flavour. Very roughly, things started to go downhill for Scots when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. In particular, the Scottish Enlightenment encouraged English English and disdained Scots. The relationship between Scots and Scottish English is complex. See further posts 10 and 15 in this thread: "Scottish and Northern English" Why Is It Broken Down Like This?
     

    LeifGoodwin

    Member
    English
    The later shift from Scots to Scottish English in most of Scotland probably leaves the latter with multiple sub-strata. Parts of Scotland were originally Pictish-speaking, then Gaelic, then Scots then Scottish English. That has got to leave an imprint.
    I’m sure it does, as maps show the various dialects that exist in modern Scotland. After all, the accents in modern England are a ghostly remnant of past migrations. Whilst I am not very familiar with Scotland, I could hear a huge difference between speakers from different regions. The working class probably preserve the dialects better. In Montreal, where I once lived, it was the working classes that preserved the older speech patterns and words, sometimes known as joual, with the more educated and aspiring classes adopting a more international form of French.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Finding continuum in Spain is probably easier. People speak Aragonese, Aragonese Catalan, Aranais, Western Catalan, Eastern Catalan only in their original set areas.
    Aragonese is really in a dire situation, it's only spoken by a sizeable part of the population in the Ribagorza. Most Catalans don't know it exists. In most of the Catalan-Castilian boundary there is a sharp difference. Of course in the Catalan-speaking side Castilian is also spoken, either as a second or first tongue. But what I mean is the two languages don't melt together. This is due to the Reconquista.

    I think the best place to observe a dialect continuum in Spain is with Galician and Asturian. Also Asturian is much more spoken than Aragonese, although it has become highly hybridized with Castilian.

    Is Portuñol a way for people to understand one another at the border like Spanglish or has it become a codified native language somewhere ?
    In the Uruguay side of the border with Brazil, the native tongue seems to be called Portuñol, which is a Portuguese variety with a lot of influence from Spanish.

    I did a little research and apparently there is a sudden change from an English accent to a Scots English accent as you cross the border from England to Scotland.
    That's quite interesting, actually. Languages may well adapt to fit political borders but for accents it's much rarer.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    @Dymn OK, I had imagined there might have been a variety of far western Catalan where all the vowel sounds were pure and most consonants were weakened or castilianized. Plus they'd neutralize every word or grammar structure that was different. So I thought they might have said things like Bones tardes. On està el mío amic Chordi? No està en cassa. No le he vist huy. Yo necesito parlar amb ey urchentemente. Podeu ayudarme, per favor? Is Catalan even co-official in Aragon?
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I think the best place to observe a dialect continuum in Spain is with Galician and Asturian. Also Asturian is much more spoken than Aragonese, although it has become highly hybridized with Castilian.
    Asturian has indeed more speakers. But even if the continuum in Upper Aragon got discontinued along the 20th century, we know about it and it was a clear one, each valley being close to the next one, the sharper boundary probably being in the Cotefablo mountain pass, a divide between the Western and Westernish dialects from the Easternish and Eastern ones. And let's not forget that Benasqués, a 'perfect' evidence of the continuum between (Eastern) Aragonese and (Western) Catalan, is still one of the most 'vibrant' varieties.

    Is Catalan even co-official in Aragon?
    It is recognized and legislated but has not been declared co-official as of today, even if a draft of the Language Act defined the areas of both Catalan and Aragonese which should be deemed officially bilingual.

    Even such a simple thing as admitting that the modalidades lingüísticas to which the Statute refers in article 7 are Aragonese and Catalan was difficult, since many political parties denied it, being as absurd as naming them with long acronyms.

    However, at the moment it's approved that the names of the languages are <Aragonese> and <Catalan in Aragon>, a common Academia Aragonesa de la Lengua for both is supposedly being implemented (consisting of an Instituto de l'Aragonés and an Institut del Català d'Aragó), and promotion is encouraged in signs, placenames, schools and its usage in the zones where it's spoken.
     
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