Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

A visit to Kyrgyzstan

January 11, 2016

In my most recent News for Penises posting, I reported on an unfortunate horse penis joke made by a Scot working in the gold mining industry of Kyrgyzstan (a country with an ancient and still vital horse culture), and that recalled for me a high school fascination with the central Asian republics of the USSR: at one point, we were required to memorize the list of the 15 Soviet republics (presumably, this was part of a Know Your Enemy move), and I was especially taken with those in central Asia and the Caucasus as impressively remote and exotic places, with (in addition) truly breath-taking mountain scenery. The central Asian republics also came with the romance of the Silk Road to China. And then Kyrgyzstan stood out  because of its challenging name.

None of this was relevant to the tale of the horse penis guy, but still I was moved to dig up information about Kyrgyzstan and its immediate neighbors and about the path from Kyrgyzstan back to familiar places in Europe and on to various parts of China. Eventually I’ll have things to say about Turkic languages, so it won’t be all travelogue.


Pasta fazool

October 16, 2015

Some time back I was assauted by the Dean Martin recording of “That’s Amore”, a hymn to love that includes the ugly lines

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool / That’s amore

The word drool just doesn’t belong in a song about love; nor for that matter does the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie”.  And what’s pasta-and-bean soup / stew doing in there?

The song is a play on all things Italian-American, including Martin using an Italian-American accent in English (which came to him legitimately, from childhood), where the Italian in question is the language (with its accompanying peasant culture) of Italian immigrants to the US, that is, primarily the Neapolitan language (and its accompanying culture), of the Italian south, and not by any means something approaching standard Italian. Along with the linguistic features come the peasant foods of the south, in particular pizza and pasta e faglioli (Ital.) / pasta fasule (Neap.).


Let’s twist again

September 10, 2015

Today’s Zippy:

On Tuesday it was Latvian. Today’s it’s Estonian. Can Lithuanian be far behind?



September 8, 2015

Today’s Zippy continues a soap-operatic alternative-world story line in which Zippy has abandoned Zerbina in favor of her friend Chlorine. Poindexter barbats are once again prominent, and not only is Latvian referred to, it’s actually quoted.

Stop talking! Just kiss me!!

On the Basque detail

August 8, 2015

In the NYT on the 5th,”A Taste of Basque Paella Amid Idaho’s Potatoes” (the on-line head) by Kirk Johnson, beginning:

Boise, Idaho — When the president of the Basques arrived here in Idaho’s capital from Europe late last month, the mayor stepped in to interpret for him into English from Basque, one of the world’s most ancient and difficult languages.

“Boise is part of Basque Country,” said the mayor, David H. Bieter, in an interview, explaining his role. [Basque Country is the customary name for the Basque regions of Spain and France, viewed as an entity.]

Mr. Bieter’s brother, John, a professor of history at Boise State University who was at the time running an academic conference across town about all things Basque — coordinated with the weeklong festival that had drawn the president, Iñigo Urkullu — said he could not agree more.

“If you’re into Basque studies,” he said, “this is Christmas.”


A giant puppet, a Basque tradition, at the Jaialdi festival in Boise, Idaho

Two things here: the claim that the Basque language is one of the world’s most ancient and difficult languages; and something of the story of the Basques in the U.S.


“a fun roof in Gent”

August 1, 2015

So went the message from my colleague Elizabeth Traugott on the 25th, to accompany this wonderful photo:

(This was before Elizabeth went on to Antwerp for the activities of the International Pragmatics Conference; posting here.)

Elizabeth has not yet identified the building for me, but what caught my eye, beyond the roof, was the spelling of the city’s name, GENT (rather than the spelling in English, GHENT). Things are linguistically complicated in Belgium.


A query on comic conventions

June 24, 2015

A query from regular reader Andy Sleeper on the 15th, about conventions in the comics. Andy reported on two cases where he’d seen flanking punctuation used to indicate that what was inside the punctuation was spoken in a language other than English. Andy wondered (a) whether this was an established practice in comics, and (b) whether artists have tried to use other means to solve this problem in their work.

I have to confess that I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, though I’ve spent some time looking around. So now I throw the questions open to the world, hoping that someone will know things I don’t.


Back-to-back American holidays

February 2, 2015

This is day 2 in a pair of specifically U.S. hoidays. Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday; today is Groundhog Day.


Another cross-comic allusion

January 30, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:


That’s obviously no groundhog, but some kind of crocodile, so the strip works at one level. But that’s not just any crocodile; it’s one of the crocodiles from Stephan Pastis’s comic strip Pearls Before Swine. What makes this especially entertaining is that Pearls itself is exceptionally rich in cross-comic allusions.


Linguistic diversity on the tube

November 1, 2014

Fascinating story on The Atlantic CityLab site on October 27th: “Mapping London’s ‘Tube Tongues’: An interactive map shows what languages — apart from English — are most spoken at each underground stop” by Tanvi Misra:

Step out at the Oxford Circus stop in London and your ears are immediately assaulted by several different languages at once. That’s understandable, considering Oxford street is usually quite crowded—tourists and Londoners alike buzz in and out of the shops and restaurants the street is known for.

One of the languages I heard most in that region was French. I thought this was because, in general, London has the most French nationals living there of any other city outside France. A more targeted review shows it’s also because a lot of French speakers live in that area.

Linguistic diversity is one of the most striking things about London. If you’re like me and enjoy the playing “What Language Are Those Strangers Speaking?,” this interactive map can help inform your guesses.