Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Up words?

Mellow Monk reports that "uptalk is going global":

You know that annoying way of talking? where you raise the tone of your voice at the end of a phrase or sentence? like it's a question? But it really isn't a question?
...Japanese teens all over Japan today can be heard speaking declarative sentences that rise in pitch at the end like a question. In Japanese, the phenomenon is known as shiriagari intoneshon ("rising-at-the-end intonation") or simply shiriagari.

He references a Guardian article from 2001 that bemoans the fact that what it calls HRT is "travelling fast and may be reaching critical mass." Are we, like, there yet? Or whatever?

Unexpected things found while looking up しりあがり and 尻上がり: A Japanese comic artist named しりあがり寿; and an expensive figurine of a cat with its tail in the air (尻上がりねこ).

Posted at 22:40 PST  Link | Tags:

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Snarky German

It might seem presumptuous of me to blog about German, since I only know a few words ("ja", "nein", "der Hobbit", "Herr der Ringe") and can barely count to drei. But I came across a discussion of German in the Language section of the Snarkish forums, and did a little web research, and da! Blog entry!

In the forum, Hot Member Buzz mentions two German words which he says have no "easy parallels in English": doch and eben. He gives these examples:

You're not going to eat that, are you?" Answer: "doch"
"That is my sandwich" "No, that is -eben- MY sandwich, not yours."

These short words are in the list of Top 1,000 German Words by frequency; doch is #110 and eben is #504. But what do they mean? About.com has a page explaining the use of doch:

When you answer a question negatively or positively, you use nein/no or ja/yes, whether in Deutsch or English. But German adds a third one-word option, doch (“on the contrary”), that English does not have [and] which in some cases is required instead of ja or nein. ...
This also applies to statements that you want to contradict. If someone says, “That's not right,” but it is, the German statement Das stimmt nicht would be contradicted with: Doch! Das stimmt. (“On the contrary, it is right.”) In this case, a response with ja (es stimmt) would sound wrong to German ears. A doch response clearly means you disagree with the statement.

It reminds me of French au contraire, or the Japanese use of 違う to express disagreement. But that's just one of the uses of doch, and eben is even more varied (pun intended). A long article called Teaching German Modal Particles contains a "Qualitative Data Analysis" of eben, alone and in combination with other particles. When used as a response, it means "exactly"; other meanings are "just (a moment ago)", "quickly", and "simply" (see Table 3. Summary of Results: EBEN).

I can eben conclude that the German saying is true: Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache.

Posted at 19:45 PST  Link | Tags: ,

Monday, March 20, 2006

Remembrance of Books Past

For a long time I used to read the same book over and over. Sometimes, when I had reached the last page, I would close the book so quickly that I had not even time to say "I'm finished." And half an hour later the thought that I could read an entire book through in one sitting would excite me; I would try to put away the book which, I imagined, was very long and difficult, and to do something else; I had been thinking all the time, while I was reading, of getting to the end, but my thoughts had run in a channel of familiar words, until I myself seemed actually to have become a reading machine, a robot, not that any such thing existed in those days.

My earliest dalliance with foreign languages was in my beloved Book House Books, a set of 12 illustrated volumes of world literature and poetry, abridged and edited by Olive Beaupré Miller as a graduated series for children. The first volume, In The Nursery, contained easy-to-read nursery rhymes and stories. Some of the rhymes were from other countries and translated into English; they were accompanied by a line of small print that noted the title in the original language. I found these scraps of foreign languages even more fascinating than the dictionary with its table of alphabets, or the bilingual missal with Latin on one side and English on the other.

Later I collected "exotic" dictionaries and language-learning books, and haunted the foreign language aisle of the public library. For a time I was enthralled by a library book called The Menomini Language; I was probably the only person ever to check it out. The only place in town that sold dictionaries was the Book & Stationery store downtown. I remember the See It and Say It series, based upon the most useless language-learning technique ever devised. It consisted of simple drawings accompanied by sentences in the target language. For example, I recall a picture of a chair captioned "Что это? Это стул." and a picture of a table, "Что это? Это стол." Presumably you could use the handy Pronunciation Key to figure out how to say the sentences. On a whim I looked up "see it and say it" on Amazon and was astounded to find si&si books still available for Spanish, French, German, and Italian. (Что это? Русского нету!) It appears that these newer editions have been repositioned to teach useful phrases to travellers (Voy al banco. No voy al parque. Vamos al restaurante.), and some people find them useful, judging from the reviews.

You might wonder what triggered all this nostalgia for livres perdus. I was researching a possible blog topic, the revitalization of the Lakota language, and after 15 minutes of web browsing had found word lists with audio, grammar info, textbooks, statistics, and dictionaries galore. What a contrast to the meager language resources available in the small Wisconsin town where I grew up! These kids today have it so easy!

It's tempting to acquire a copy of In The Nursery and totally have a nostalgia fest...

The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.   [notre passé] est caché hors de son domaine et de sa portée, en quelque objet matériel (en la sensation que nous donnerait cet objet matériel), que nous ne soupçonnons pas. Cet objet, il dépend du hasard que nous le rencontrions avant de mourir, ou que nous ne le rencontrions pas.
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past   A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

Posted at 14:25 PST  Link

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Surzhyk in Space?

I was reading about the tug-of-war between the Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine, and came across a reference to a new (to me) speech form: surzhyk, described variously as "pidgin Ukrainian", "a blended patois", or "Ukrainian mixed with Russian":

Surzhyk (Ukrainian: суржик, originally meaning ‘flour or bread made from mixed grains’, e.g., wheat with rye), is currently the mixed language or sociolect used by fifteen to twenty percent of the population of Ukraine. It is a mixture of Ukrainian substratum with Russian superstratum. Normally Russian vocabulary is combined with Ukrainian grammar and pronunciation.

It appears that surzhyk has been cooking for awhile. A 1997 article in The Ukrainian Weekly reports:

Yuri Shevchuk of the New School for Social Research introduced a topic that is as controversial as the issue of eubonics in the U.S. He says that he believes "surzhyk" (pidgin Ukrainian) is not an linguistic aberration, but a viable tongue of discourse for millions of Ukrainians.

Speaking on the topic of "Identity and Language in Ukraine," Mr. Shevchuk put a spin on the definition of surzhyk: "It's difficult to define surzhyk; I can't say. But like the definition of pornography, I know it when I hear it."

Mr. Shevchuk contended that Ukrainian is spoken by only a minority of the population, and that surzhyk, a synthesis of grammatically broken Ukrainian and Russian is more prevalent. Even though it is the tongue of low prestige, discussions about national consciousness are taking place in surzhyk and are associated with it. Many people who speak surzhyk think they are speaking Ukrainian, he said.

You can see traces of surzhyk in the web comic Salo in Space, which is mainly written in Russian, but contains some strange spellings and words that boggle the Russian corners of my brain. The comic, by Vadim Nazarov, is a space opera about Cossacks (козаки) fighting their enemies, the devils (черти), over "Salo". Salo is apparently both the name of a planet and a food substance that gives the Cossacks their power (САЛО это наша сила!). Possible surzhyk citings include:

The first example above shows druzhe, the vocative of drug "friend"; Ukrainian is the only East Slavic language to retain the vocative case, used for addressing or calling someone. Another example of this in the comic is when the other Cossacks address the hero Ostap as "Ostape" or "Ostape druzhe". Other Ukrainianisms are the spelling of "Cossacks" with an "o" (козаки) and the words "прочуханки", "хлопцы" (хлопці), and "гайда". (See Ukrainian dictionary here)

But on to more important matters... What is salo, exactly? The dictionary defines it as "lard, tallow", but that doesn't do it justice - it's pig fat! I had the opportunity to try salo once, as a late-night snack with bread and vodka, but I turned it down and to this day regret it not at all... Some fun facts about salo: Ukraine held a nationwide Salo Festival complete with a monster salo sandwich; they sell a food product called Salo in Chocolate, also known as Ukrainian Snickers; and finally here is a humorous ode to salo:

О, Сало, ты всему отрада!
Твой вкус особенно ценю!
То похвала, а не бравада,
Деликатес такой люблю!

My rough translation: Oh Salo, you are everyone's delight! Your taste I especially appreciate! That is homage, not bravado, I love a delicacy like you!

Posted at 12:45 PST  Link | Tags: ,

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Let's Parler Franglais

I was sorting through a Texas-sized pile of old books and came across my tattered copy of "The Franglais Lieutenant's Woman", by Miles Kington.

The Franglais Lieutenant's Woman
Un novel complet
Condensé et traduit de l'original par John Fowles

Lyme Regis est un typical village de fishing sur le South Coast d'Angleterre, une de ces petites villes qui, sur la route à nowhere, n'ont pas été totalement ruinées par le progrès et les juggernauts. Pittoresque, mais business-like, Lyme Regis est toujours un beau petit spot, suitable, par exemple, comme une refuge pour un auteur comme moi. Depuis 1867 elle n'a pas beaucoup changée. Si un habitant de Lyme en 1867 fut transporté soudain par time travel en 1967, il dirait: 'Pouf! Lyme n'a pas beaucoup changé! Un peu de growth surburbain, peut-être, et ces choses curieuses qu'on appelle saloon cars, mais otherwise c'est pretty much la même.'

All the French and English words are grammatically correct, they're just composé ensemble! I checked my reference sources préférentiels (Amazon and Wikipedia), and learned that l'auteur wrote columns for Punch magazine in the 1970's and 1980's called Let's Parler Franglais! and many of them were published in a series of books. According to the back cover of the book I have, The Franglais Lieutenant's Woman is a "unique compendium of world literature... Miles Kington has spent the best years of his life (1985 and 1986) reducing these masterpieces to manageable size, then translating them into Franglais, that fragrant language which combines the poetry of French with the directness of English..." Amazon lists several livres by Monsieur Kington, but I was scandalisée by some of the prices. Vous savez what that means, garçons et jeunes filles, it's eBay temps!

En tout cas, without further adieu, voilà La Belle Dame Sans Merci par Jean Keats:

'Au revoir!' dit la belle dame.
'Au revoir?' dit-il. 'C'est tout, au revoir?'
'Sorry,' dit la belle dame, blushing. 'Au revoir, et merci.'

Posted at 15:10 PST  Link | Tags: ,

Saturday, March 4, 2006


Here I am in West Texas, trying desperately to find something language-related to blog about. The pickins are slim indeed. I looked around the Regional section of a bookstore, hoping to find "Talk Like a Texan" or somethin' like that, but no luck. Wouldn't you know I would turn to a bookstore when all I really need to do is eavesdrop on people's conversations?

Kinna hep ya?
Hower yew?
Ahm fahn.
Have a grait die, y'all!
According to an old article in The Texas Observer, the Texas accent is making a comeback of sorts:

...people – especially younger ones – use monophthongs to flaunt their happy Texanness. Chances are, they do this unconsciously. Still, the Texas accent seems to have taken on a role similar to that of name-brand clothing and car models. You wear cowboy boots and drive a Mazda not just to get around, but also to proclaim to the world who you are. Likewise with your drawl: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

It sounds like ahm, I mean I'm surrounded by happy Texans! I've heard many of the pronunciations mentioned in the article, especially "monophthongs":

"Night" is the quick and graceful combining of "nah-" plus "-eet."
But in Texas, the second part of that diphthong – the "ee" – often gets dropped, making "night" come out "nahht." Instead of two vowel sounds, there’s only one: hence, the word "monophthong" to describe the result. It was LBJ’s monophthong that shamed him when he said the first word in "Mahh fellow Amurricans." Lyndon is long gone, but countless Texans still turn words like "swipe" to "swap" and "white" to "watt." This "monophthongization" is one of the most common features of the statewide accent.

"Y'all", of course, is yallbiquitous. Other words I've heard are "gullywasher", "whomper-jawed", "dudnt", "idnt", and "wudnt". I haven't actually heard anyone say "fixin to" or "might could", although The Spouse (a native Texan) claims to have. And then there's the pin-pen merger, in which syllables containing short "i" or "e" are pronounced the same: pin/pen, tin/ten, fill/fell, and also Jim/gym/gem. The pronunciation of some other vowels is merging, too:

Especially in urban areas, but also in rural west Texas, the vowels in words like caught and cot are becoming merged (both sound like cot), as are tense/lax vowel pairs before /l/: pool-pull are now homophones throughout much of the state, and feel-fill and sale-sell are increasingly becoming so. The caught-cot merger is particularly interesting in Texas since it should signal the movement of the phonological system away from the “Southern Shift” pattern. In the Texas Panhandle, though, things are not quite so simple. Even as the caught-cot merger has become the norm among those born after World War II, the loss of the offglide in right and ride and Southern Shift features remain quite strong. What seems to be emerging on the west Texas plains, then, is a dialect that combines features of Southern speech and another major dialect. The development of such a mixed pattern is not what a linguist might expect, but this is Texas, and things are just different.

I reckon that's so! Here are the numbers from 1-10 in Texan, as I've heard them:

  1. wun
  2. tew
  3. thruee
  4. fower
  5. fahv
  6. six
  7. sevun
  8. ite
  9. nahn
  10. tin

Posted at 15:45 CST  Link | Tags: ,