Language shards

In an earlier posting on Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), I wrote:

After working in the language lab at Princeton, she had accumulated a stock of examples in other languages, beautifully pronounced: “The wind has come, bearing with it the scent of amber” in Persian (the poetic), “Bring me one beer” in Arabic (the practical), and the like. And phonetically challenging phrases in French, like Ose, zèbre! ‘Just you dare, zebra!’ (the absurd).

Her friend Bonnie Campbell has now clarified and expanded on this note:

I was the one who taught Ann “Ose, zèbre!” as well as “La girafe est dans la carafe” and “Le sage voyage sans bagage” — all culled from my classes with the (eventually ) renowned Pierre Léon at the Institut de Phonétique [in Paris].

From the same source, another example Ann liked a lot:

“Ce vieux quincailler infirme avait la fringale d’un goinfre.” Long-abandoned slang terms — “This feeble old hardware vendor had a glutton’s insatiable appetite.”

And among the non-French language shards: “All the royal elephants are at your disposal” in classical Persian (how’s that for practical bits of language?). Probably from a college classmate of Bonnie’s whose boyfriend was studying Persian.

As for the elephant and its trunk (mentioned in my earlier posting), the example was

Zoo wa hana ga nagai ‘As for elephants [zoo, marked by topic particle wa], (their) noses [hana, marked by subject particle ga] are long [nonpast verb nagai]’, or better, ‘As for (the) elephant, (its) nose is long’.


5 Responses to “Language shards”

  1. Eli Morris-Heft Says:

    Ergh. I’ve always disliked the hyper-literal “As for X, it is Y.”-type translation of Japanese sentences. Yes, wa is the topicalizer particle, but it makes for awkward sentences sometimes and it’s never how I’d translate it even in my head. (Conversational-level Japanese speaker here.)

    For this sentence, I’d go with “Elephants have long noses.” Much more like what a native English speaker would say.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The translation is an attempt to give the flavor of the structure of the Japanese original; it’s a “linguist’s translation”. The natural translation of the elephant sentence is, of course, just “The elephant has a big nose” or “Elephants have big noses”.

      • Eli Morris-Heft Says:

        Yes, definitely a smoothed-out linguist’s translation. I suppose I’m so used to reading those that I assumed your “or better” meant “or more naturally”.

  2. Language instruction fun « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Language shards […]

  3. Robert Says:

    There was a group of sentences in my high-school French textbook illustrating aspirate and non-aspirate “h”, of which one (all aspirate) still sticks in my mind 50+ years on: “Le hibou hue au haut du hangar.”

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