Saturday, June 24, 2006

Basquing Again

My fascination with Basque received an extra nudge this week when I read news about the discovery of some ancient Basque inscriptions (via Le Petit Champignacien illustré). The inscriptions were found at an archaeological site in the Basque Country of Spain, and have been dated back to the 3rd or 4th century:

The managers of the archaeological site Iruña-Veleia, ten kilometres away from Vitoria-Gasteiz, have unveiled the details of their discovery today. As they have said, they have found words of two kinds: common, and linked to religious issues.

Among the common words, they found "zuri urdin gori" (colours white, blue and red), "urdin isar" (blue star) -although philologists think that in this case the meaning is separate star and blue-, "edan ian lo" (drink, eat, sleep), "ian ta edan" (eat and drink) and "jaun" (lord).

Other words are linked to religious issues: "Geure ata zutan" (our Father among us), the greeting ancient Christians used, and "Iesus, Ioshe ata ta Mirian ama" (Jesus, Jose [father Joseph] and Virgin Mary [mother Mary]), that is, the Sacred Family [the Holy Family].

This gave me the opportunity to delve into my latest LG indulgence, The Basque Language, A Practical Introduction. I looked up some of the words in the Basque-English vocabulary section, and was amazed to find that they are almost exactly the same: "blue" = urdin, "red" = gorri, "eat" = jan, "drink" = edan, "father" = aita. Surely the language would have changed more than that over 17 centuries? This same point is made in a Spanish Wikipedia entry:

El valor lingüísitco de estas inscripciones en arcilla sigillata no solo radica en su antigüedad sino en su riqueza, ya que algunos de las inscripciones que presentan parecen corresponderse con la lengua común, inteligibles no sólo para los filólogos, sino también para cualquier vascoparlante contemporáneo: edan (beber), ian (comer), iauna (señor), y no sólo onomástica (nombres de persona o divinidades), como las que se conocían hasta ahora procedentes sobre todo de zona aquitana... Lo más asombroso es que el hallazgo incluye breves series de hasta seis palabras, como urdin isar (gris/azul estrella), geure ata zutan (nuestro padre en vosotros), o "iesus, iose ata ta mirian ama" (Jesús, el padre José y la madre María), adelantándose en unos cinco siglos a las contenidas en las Glosas Emilianenses.

The Emilian Glosses (las Glosas Emilianenses) are small annotations found in a Latin manuscript dated to the 10th century. Most of the annotations are in an early form of Castilian Spanish, but two of them constitute what was the first example of Basque, until now.

Hori harrigarria da! Oh, and I found a good online Basque dictionary too.

Posted at 21:15 PDT  Link | Tags:

Saturday, June 17, 2006

From One, Many

Just finished reading the first book in Lee Child's series of thrillers starring Jack Reacher, Killing Floor. What a thrill ride! A good mystery with an intriguing protagonist who is out for justice and damn the consequences. There was just one tiny fly in the ointment, which nobody but a language geek would cavil at. A key clue in the story is the Latin phrase "E unum pluribus". Now most Americans would recognize this as a skewed form of the motto on our national currency (coins), "E pluribus unum", which means "Out of many, one". In the book the re-arranged words are supposed to mean "Out of one, many." I don't know much Latin, but I do know about cases, and this just didn't sound right. So I Googled it.

It turns out that others (like The Economist, The New York Times, and even a Catholic church, who really should know better) have made the same mistake. So Language Log took the opportunity to present a little Latin quiz that asks readers to translate "out of one, many" into Latin. A good and detailed explanation was given on the Diacritiques blog; the answer is either "Ex uno plura" or "Ex uno plures", depending on whether you're referring to nations or being vague.

But I won't hold this mistake against the author - his books are real page-turners. Two down, and eight to go...

Posted at 19:45 PDT  Link | Tags: ,

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Searching for a Finnish Da Vinci Code

I was checking the logs to see what people are searching for, and noticed that there were several searches for "Da Vinci Code Finnish subtitles". It looks like people in Finland are anxious to see the movie. Maybe if they had searched for the Finnish title Da Vinci-koodi they would have found the subtitled movie trailer on this site. My wimpy Berlitz Finnish-English dictionary sufficed to figure out some of the menus: PELIT - games, UUTISET - news, UUSIN TRAILERI - new trailers. The pelit menu has an item labelled SYMBOLISUDOKU which links to a page with a Sudoku-like game that uses a 4 x 4 board and arcane symbols from the movie (an ankh, a pyramid) instead of numbers. It's trivially simple, but I played a couple of games just to see the nice animations. Anyway, to see the trailer with Finnish subtitles, click on the TRAILERIT menu, the UUSIN TRAILERI item, and then select a size: Pieni, Keskikokoinen, or Iso.

I must say that I was underwhelmed by the movie. There were a couple of good shocks which were counterbalanced by lengthy pedantic spiels. I wish the Sophie Neveu character had been given more to do than listen to the spiels and look bewildered. She was a lot smarter in the book. Sadly, the only things of interest to a language geek were the dialogs in French and Latin.

Posted at 17:35 PDT  Link | Tags: ,