Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Otaku Life

The Japan Times carries a column by Kaori Shoji called Bilingual that's always fun to read. It's about life in Japan, and mixes in various Japanese words and expressions, many of them from pop culture. This column talks about living with an otaku:

Wedding bells rang for my friend Yoshika six months ago and last night a bunch of us got together over drinks to hear all about it -- her new life as a wife to a genuine, full-fledged ota-yome (wife of an otaku or "nerd").

...her husband adheres to a strict otaku diet of cappu nudoru (cup noodles), kan-inryou (canned soft drinks), bananas, hamburgers and convenience store onigiri (rice balls). And being an enthusiastic fan of shoku-gan (the small toy prizes that come attached to snack boxes), he has taken to consuming three or four junk snacks daily, and has cleared a whole shelf to display the prizes. Says Yoshika: "Ota-yome no michi wa ibarano michi (the path of the otaku wife is strewn with thorns)."

The path of a language geek is strewn with twisty little languages, all different. It's an Adventure!

Posted at 23:05 PDT  Link

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Yesterday in my web-browsing I came across a reference to a Japanese puzzle that has become so popular there's a Dummies book about it: Sudoku. As soon as I saw this word I thought "doku" = "read" (読), and went to the trusty Wikipedia to look it up. やっぱり, they have an extensive article.

It turns out that the "doku" character means "single" (独), not reading, but unfortunately I'm already hooked on this "single number game" (数独ゲーム), and spending way too much time playing free Sudoku games on sites like this one.

Posted at 10:20 PDT  Link

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cwtch your OED

Good news, Welsh fans, one of your favorite words has been added to the concise Oxford English Dictionary:

In the dictionary cwtch, which has long been a familiar word in the Welsh language, was given two definitions: noun (Welsh) 1. a cupboard or cubbyhole. 2. a cuddle or hug.

Apparently the Welsh language, along with Wales itself, is enjoying a revival. According to an article in the International Herald Tribune,

Welsh is the only Celtic language so far that has managed to reverse a seemingly inevitable decline.
... Spoken by a majority of the population late in the 19th century, the Welsh tongue languished over the following decades. By the 1980s, fewer than 20 percent could speak it; in Cardiff, fewer than 6 percent. But from 1991 to 2001, the number of Welsh speakers increased for the first time in more than a century, rising to 21 percent. No other Celtic language has managed such a revival, according to David Crystal, a linguist at Bangor University in north Wales.

Here's some more about "cwtch" and other "Wenglish" expressions.

Posted at 22:20 PDT  Link

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Chinglish en Français

The French blog Le Petit Champignacien illustré has a link to a story in the People's Daily about mangled English in Beijing, sometimes called "Chinglish". Since my French is nothing to write home about, I went searching for an English translation of the article. No joy. I wonder how they decide which articles to translate into what languages? (Or is it "what articles...into which languages?" Somebody on Language Log probably knows...) Happily, a comment by lamkyre provides a link to an English version of the article, noting that it uses the term "Chinese-styled English" instead of "Chinglish".

To read lots more about Chinglish, check out the Wikipedia article.

Posted at 14:08 PDT  Link

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Russian Mat Unearthed

Archaeologists in Veliky Novgorod have dug up some birchbark documents containing Russian profanities:

Archaeologists did not disclose the texts. They only said one of the findings was a note written by a woman to her acquaintance in which she reprimanded the latter for not paying her debt. The other piece is said to be part of a larger document not found so far.
... The first bark document did not contain profanities, but was rather unusual. It said a Velikiy Novgorod resident, known as Shilnik, had stolen pigs and horses.

The English translation of this article leaves out a few juicy details from the original:

По словам специалистов, текст первой грамоты, обнаруженной на соседнем, тринадцатом Троицком раскопе, хоть и не содержал матерных слов, но также был крайне необычен. В этой грамоте рассказывалось, что новгородец по прозвищу Шильник "пошибает" чужих свиней и лошадей. При этом, как отмечают историки, слово "пошибает" имело в древнеславянском языке несколько значений. Оно, в частности, могло означать "крадет, ворует".
"Однако слово "пошибает" имело у наших предков еще одно, совсем иное значение", - пояснили историки.

...This document said that a Novgorod resident known as Shilnik "poshibayet" other people's pigs and horses. Historians note that in old Russian the word "poshibayet" had several meanings. In particular, it could mean "steals, robs". "However, the word "poshibayet" had another, quite different meaning for our ancestors," the historians explained.

Surely they don't mean...!

For more information about these birchbark writings, but not Russian profanity, check out this page.

Posted at 11:44 PDT  Link

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Geek Alert

Spotted on eBay: a Russian book on chess by E.Gik (Евгений Гик, Необычные шахматы). Is that geeky or what?

Speaking of Russian, The Independent has an article about my favorite Russian writer, Boris Akunin (Б.Акунин):

Akunin confides that if he ever stopped writing, he would take up inventing computer games. He loves puzzles, and at this point I begin to feel that this pleasant personage, outwardly so benevolent, is fixing me with the too-innocent eye of the expert poker player. He tells me that he has derived his pseudonym from Japanese, in which he is an expert, having worked as a translator, and that Akunin is Japanese for "bad guy". He also goes into a long discourse about the 19th-century Russian revolutionary Sergei Nechayev, author of Catechism of a Revolutionary, solemnly telling me how to spell the name. Later, I look up Nechayev, to find that his seminal revolutionary work was co-authored by none other than - the anarchist Bakunin [Бакунин].

Akunin has an elaborate web page, with a couple of his works available online (in Russian).

Posted at 11:10 PDT  Link

Friday, August 12, 2005

In today's Luann comic strip, Aaron Hill says a few words of Chinese. What are they saying?

Google searches of the two sets of Chinese characters turn up an intriguing result. Each statement is the title of a song: 對不起 and 沒關倸. I tried running the song lyrics pages through Google's translator, but it didn't help at all.

Updated on Aug 13 at 15:45 PDT

According to my Chinese informant (thanks, SoChi!), Aaron Hill says "Sorry" and the girl says "No problem". Mystery solved! Not very exciting though, after all.

Added on Aug 14 at 18:45 PDT  Link

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fun With Dictionary

Laughing Squid shows an Easter Egg in the New Oxford American dictionary, where it defines the word "blog" as:

a weblog: blogs run by twenty-something Americans with at least an unhealthy interest in computers.

Wow, they've got us pegged. Or not.
As if that wasn't enough fun, I used Sherlock to look up the word "geek", and found these synonyms in the Thesaurus:

beatnik, case, character, coot, crackpot, creep, customer, fly ball, freak, fruitcake, gonzo, goof ball, heretic, hippie, kook, loner, looney tunes, maverick, nonconformist, nut, nutcake, odd person, oddball, oddity, original, queer duck, rare bird, screwball, three-dollar bill, weirdo, whacko, wombat, zombie.

Hmmm... Language Wombat. I like it!

Posted on Aug 10 at 22:10 PDT  Link

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The HP Way, Globalized

If someone were going to start collecting a work of fiction translated into various languages (like, say, The Hobbit), Harry Potter books would be an excellent choice these days. Good ol' Harry has been translated into at least 60 languages. The latest book is so hot that unauthorized translations abound. And I must admit, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was a pretty good read.

Still, I resent the fact that Harry Potter was translated into Ancient Greek, but not The Hobbit.

Posted on Aug 3 at 22:30 PDT  Link

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Pidgin to da Max

The middle column in yesterday's WSJ was an article about Hawaii pidgin:

Around 1900, after large numbers of indigenous Hawaiians were felled by foreign diseases, plantations imported thousands of immigrants from different countries and put them to work in often difficult conditions.

What resulted, as it turned out, was a language that borrows heavily from English but mixes languages like Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Portuguese. It is one of the 200 or so pidgin and Creole languages now spoken around the world, according to Michael Forman, a linguistics professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. While it is universally referred to in Hawaii as "pidgin," the term technically applies to something people learn as a second language. Linguists say that what Hawaiians actually speak is a Creole, a form of language that develops when speakers of mutually unintelligible languages remain in persistent and long-lasting contact with one another. One of the contributing languages is usually dominant...

[Lee] Tonouchi, whose nickname is "Da Pidgin Guerrilla," remembers his aunt telling him he couldn't buy a copy of "Pidgin To Da Max," one of the language's most popular pidgin dictionaries. But as a student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1990s, Mr. Tonouchi stumbled across a pidgin poem and was, he says, "blown away." He boldly elected to write all his papers in pidgin.

After graduation, Mr. Tonouchi founded a magazine for local writers called Hybolics, a word defined by Pidgin To Da Max as "to talk like one intellectual-kine" Caucasian. What "we trying fo' do is reclaim da word and make da statement dat you can use pidgin jus as well fo' express da kine intellectual ideas," Mr. Tonouchi wrote in one issue.

If you have a subscription to the Online Edition, you can read the whole article here.

An Amazon search turns up these books by Lee Tonouchi:
Da Kine Dictionary, Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture, and da word.

Posted at 22:50 PDT

I've always thought Hawaiian was a neat language, ever since I discovered a Hawaiian-English dictionary in the public library of my hometown in Wisconsin many, many years ago. The dictionary was in the reference section, so it couldn't be checked out, but every time I visited the library I would browse through it covetously.

Posted on Aug 3 at 08:40 PDT  Link