Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Beware the umlauts of Finland
Music lovers in Europe are bracing for impact: the heavy-metal band Lordi has been chosen to represent Finland in the Eurovision competition in May. According to a New York Times article, Finland's "peculiar language is spoken by only six million people worldwide", and Finland has finished in last place eight times in the contest, in three cases receiving no points at all. Coincidence?
Finns blame their losing streak on the fact that contestants have typically sung in their mother tongue, a famously difficult Uralic language where words with three umlauts are not uncommon.
Do not fear the umlauts, learn to speak Finnish like a restless native! Here are some handy phrases to get you started:
Hyvää päivää! Good day! Käyhän että tuon kannettavani saunaan? Is it OK if I bring my laptop in the sauna? Mihinkä aikaan aurinko laskee tänä iltapäivänä? What time does the sun set this afternoon? No, kuunteletkos paljon metallimusaa? So, do you listen to a lot of black metal?
And if you want to delve a little more deeply into the peculiarities of Finnish, the Virtual Finland website has plenty of info, and tries to answer the question, "Is Finnish a difficult language?" You decide...
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Far from the Madding Gerund
Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log fame has reluctantly announced a forthcoming book of blog posts collected from the last 3 years, titled Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from Language Log.
I'm a bit nervous, actually, to be competing with Dan Brown on his home turf. It's all very well for me to say that Dan can't write an effective simile to save his life. But he can sell books like a monster, can't he? Will we overtake him? His Amazon.com sales rank, for the new paperback version of The Da Vinci Code, is in the region of 5, and Language Log, as you know, champions the use of empirical evidence and quantitative methods. Things are now about to become distinctly empirical. Will we reach number 5 in Amazon's sales rankings? Or will Dan kick our sorry butts? What will you, the public, decide on? Is it to be The Da Vinci Code, which comes in either paperback, hardback, or a special illustrated luxury edition with fine art reproductions? Or Far from the Madding Gerund, which comes in pale blue with a picture of an eggcorn on the cover?
Why must everything be a competition? Can't we jest get along? Don't be like the media, a bowl in a china shop, always trying to martial conflict as an intrical part of each perspective event that's coming down the pipe. Supposably this suped-up tension between invented clicks makes it more eggsighting. But I think going at it hammer and thongs just leads to post-dramatic stress. Let's cut to the cheese - we must nip this in the butt! Visualize whirled peas!
And furthermore, I hope FftMG kicks TDVC's sorry butt.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
A Clear Profit
I was catching up on some Tivo-ed Japanese dramas, and finally got around to looking up a saying that appears frequently in one of them. In Wakaba, our heroine's grandmother is always remarking that "人生、生きちょるだけで丸儲け", or according to the subtitles, "Just being alive means you've made a clear profit". I'm often reminded of that saying while watching my poor feeble 猫, age 21, try to wash his face without falling over... Anyway, I Googled the phrase and it's apparently a quote from a Japanese comedian named Akashiya Sanma, fondly referred to as Sanma-chan. Wakaba is Yet Another young-girl-coming-of-age type dorama, and it's a good program for practicing listening comprehension, because each plot point is hashed over endlessly by every character, in case you didn't get it the first few times. I have to keep watching, though, to see what happens next (eventually).
These J-dorama are broadcast by San Francisco TV station KTSF on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Most of them are subtitled in English so that lazy geeks don't have to work too hard to figure out what's going on. I've been watching them faithfully for over 10 years, and while I still can't understand most of the dialog without reading the subtitles, they have taught me a lot about pronunciation, intonation, and Japanese history. The 9:30 program on Saturday night is always the current year's Big River Drama from NHK - a historical epic about some period in Japanese history, often the Warring States era, full of samurai warriors battling with swords and exquisitely kimono-ed women married off to warlords for strategic purposes and larger-than-life portrayals of personages like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. (Takenaka Naoto did an amazing performance as Hideyoshi in the 1996 NHK Drama.) The title of this year's dorama is Koumyou ga Tsuji. I haven't found an official translation, but I think it means something like "The Road to Great Achievement" - Glory Road, anyone? OK, so maybe there aren't too many similarities between the Japanese drama and Heinlein's fantasy romp...