Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8105 [post_author] => 87 [post_date] => 2019-10-06 06:35:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-05 22:35:15 [post_content] => ¿Alguna vez has creído que tú o quienes te rodean de manera más cercana hablan “sin acento”, o con un “acento estándar” y que el resto de las personas sí tienen “acento”? Pues bien, cuando nos vamos del lugar en el que nacimos o crecimos, cuando ingresamos a una universidad a estudiar una carrera académica por ejemplo, o cuando empezamos a tener procesos de migración internos o externos -con la llegada de otros migrantes a nuestro país y de nosotros hacia otros lugares-, comenzamos a escuchar con mayor agudeza diferentes acentos, diferentes formas de expresar una idea, diferentes patrones gramaticales, diferentes palabras para nombrar una acción o un objeto… En ese momento sentimos que estamos en un espacio en el que convergen muchas maneras de hablar y notamos esas marcas en el habla, que son diferentes a la propia, a la nuestra. Este contacto cultural nos permite darnos cuenta que a la fruta que en Colombia, Cuba y México le llamamos “fresa”, en Chile y en Argentina la llaman “frutilla”; que en Colombia a la persona que llamamos “gomelo [1]”, “play”, “puppy”, “fifí”, “dediparado”, “farto” –dependiendo de la región en Colombia de la que estemos hablando-, en México le dicen “fresa” o “milloneta”, en Costa Rica “pipis”, en Panamá “ye-yé”, en Venezuela “sifrino”, en Ecuador “pelucón”, en Perú “pituco”, en ”Chile “cuico”,  en Argentina y Uruguay “cheto”, y en España “pijo”[2]. ¡Son muchas palabras las que hacen referencia a una misma cosa! ¿De dónde salen tantas variedades en una misma lengua? ¿No existe entonces un “solo español”? ¿Cuál es la variedad “mejor” y “peor” hablada? [caption id="attachment_8275" align="aligncenter" width="557"] Figura 1. Ejemplo de Atlas Latinoamericano de Palabras: cómo se dicen entre amigos en América Latina. Pictoline (septiembre 7 de 2018)[/caption]   Todos estos patrones lexicales (variación de las palabras), gramaticales (ordenación de las palabras), segmentales (diferentes formas de pronunciar los fonemas) y prosódicos (diferentes “acentos”) son fruto de nuestras interacciones culturales, de nuestras relaciones familiares, con amigos, vecinos y medios de comunicación, como la radio, la televisión o la internet. Los dialectos son precisamente esas variedades que ocurren dentro de una misma lengua, asociadas a una determinada zona geográfica, es decir, dependiendo del lugar geográfico en el que nacimos o hemos vivido más tiempo, adoptaremos las variedades lingüísticas que allí se utilizan. Sin embargo, debemos tener en cuenta que no siempre las fronteras o zonas dialectales tienen correspondencia con las divisiones político-administrativas de los países, departamentos, regiones o municipios. Los dialectos han sido un tema de gran interés para los lingüistas, por lo que desde principios del siglo XX diferentes teóricos han hecho diversas propuestas de zonas dialectales del español en América, es decir, han intentado establecer cuáles son los rasgos lingüísticos compartidos con los que se podrían formar unidades mayores de las variaciones del español. En el momento, ya está superada la discusión sobre la inexistencia de una homogeneidad en el español de América, es decir, ya está claro que no existe un “único español” en América, y a partir de esta premisa se han hecho las propuestas de zonificación dialectal que, por cierto, ninguna de ellas ha sido concluyente, pues a todas se les han hecho diferentes críticas razonables.

¿Cómo se ha dividido dialectalmente a América?: hagamos un recorrido

 Como afirma Alba (1992:66) “la lengua hablada en América constituye un complejo dialectal, un macrosistema lingüístico que aunque tiene unidad interna, es decir, posee una estructura profunda única, exhibe múltiples diferencias externas, posee estructuras superficiales diferentes”. Como nos introduce Alba, Hispanoamérica es un mosaico dialectal, bastante complejo, que debe ser analizado con cautela para comprender las variaciones lingüísticas que ocurren y a qué variables sociales podrían estar asociadas. Algunos ejemplos de delimitaciones dialectales que se han hecho de Hispanoamérica son:
  1. Max Leopold Wagner (1920) es pionero en la división dialectal, proponiendo una división entre las tierras altas o interiores, y las tierras bajas o costeras.
  2. El dominicano Pedro Henríquez Ureña propone, a principios del siglo XX, cinco zonas dialectales basadas en lengua de sustrato, es decir, en la influencia de las lenguas originarias de América en el español. Sin embargo, esta propuesta tiene sus críticas por considerar una sola variedad del español peninsular y solo algunas lenguas indígenas, cuando realmente hubo muchas variedades del español peninsular que se encontraron antes de llegar a América y una cifra escurridiza de lenguas prehispánicas.
  3. El mexicano José Pedro Rona (1964) propuso una división dialectal del español en América agrupando los dialectos según dos características. La primera de ellas era según la manera de pronunciar el sonido o fonema /ʝ/, que se corresponde con los grafemas “y” y “ll”. La segunda característica era según las zonas en las que se utiliza o no el voseo, ya sea el voseo pronominal, como por ejemplo en “vos sabés” “¿vos te comiste el pan?”, o el voseo verbal, como en “vení a la casa”, “llamá a tu abuelo” o “¿qué querés?”. Propone así 16 zonas para el español en América, a las que luego le suma otras 7 zonas, que pueden trastocarse con las ya establecidas.
  4. Melvyn Resnick (1975) con base en 16 rasgos lingüísticos, propone una división del español americano que puede llegar al establecimiento de 272 unidades dialectales, lo que es una cantidad bastante numerosa que dificulta la identificación de un dialecto específico.
  5. Philippe Cahuzac (1980) utiliza un nuevo método para proponer la distinción de áreas territoriales en el Español de América, al cual denomina semántica dialectal. Se basa en el reparto geográfico de 600 unidades léxicas, que plantea la división del español de América en 4 zonas, sin embargo es una propuesta poco abarcadora con los niveles lingüísticos, en el sentido en que se pretende hacer una división dialectal únicamente a partir de rasgos léxicos, de palabras.
  6. Zamora y Guitart (1988) proponen una división dialectal de nueve zonas basada en tres rasgos fonéticos. El primero de ellos se refiere a las diferentes formas de pronunciar la letra o grafema “j” en, por ejemplo, la palabra “naranja”, o el grafema “g” en la palabra “gente” (es decir, el fonema /x/). El segundo rasgo fonético considerado basa en las diferentes formas de pronunciar el grafema “s”, ya que como te habrás dado cuenta, depende de la zona geográfica a la que pertenezca el hablante, podrás escuchar eses (“s”, fonema /s/) más intensas, más silbadas, o pueden ser aspiradas, o elidirse por completo y ni pronunciarse. Finalmente, en tercer lugar, los autores retoman el voseo, es decir, estudian en qué zonas se utiliza con más frecuencia o se prefiere una frase del tipo “¿vos querés venir a la fiesta?”, en contraposición con una frase en la que se utilice el tuteo como en: “¿ quieres venir a la fiesta?”, o una en la que se utilice el ustedeo: “¿usted quiere venir a la fiesta?”. Los autores también proponen una caracterización dialectal de dos grupos: dialectos radicales (Antillas, Panamá, costas de Venezuela y Colombia) y dialectos conservadores (sierras del Ecuador, Perú y Bolivia, entre otras) (Quesada-Pachecho, 2000: 176), haciendo referencia a que los primeros son más innovadores y los segundos tienen procesos de cambio más lentos.
  7. José Joaquín Montes (1995) propone dos superdialectos basados en rasgos fonéticos. El Superdialecto A o continental interior comprende las tierras altas de América y se caracteriza por la conservación de /s/ prenuclear como sibilante y el mantenimiento de /r/ y /l/ prenucleares. El Superdialecto B o costero-insular, que incluye las islas del Caribe, las costas y las riberas de ciertos ríos americanos, se caracteriza por la aspiración de /s/ prenuclear, como en necesario [nehesario], y la neutralización de /r/ y /l/ prenucleares (Quesada-Pachecho, 2000: 177).
  8. Francisco Moreno Fernández (2014) propone cinco áreas para dividir el español en América: 1) el español caribeño, 2) el español mexicano y centroamericano, 3) el español andino, 4) el español austral y 5) el español chileno. La división de estas zonas la hace a partir de las coincidencias lingüísticas que describe entre ellas, en los planos fónico, gramatical y lexical.

¿Te atreves a descifrar de donde son estos dialectos latinoamericanos?

Audio 1 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/M--xico.wav"][/audio] Audio 2 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Cuba.wav"][/audio] Audio 3 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Colombia.wav"][/audio] Audio 4 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Venezuela.wav"][/audio] Audio 5 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Chile_.wav"][/audio] Audio 6 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Uruguay-S.wav"][/audio] Audio 7 [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Argentina.wav"][/audio]   Con este panorama de las propuestas de división dialectal para Hispanoamérica queda claro que hay unas variantes dentro de la lengua, que se pueden percibir en diferentes niveles del habla. A continuación te invito a que escuches algunas variedades del español. Todas las colaboradoras son mujeres, nacieron en el país que están representando en este ejemplo, tienen una edad promedio entre 25 y 35 años, tienen estudios universitarios, son de clase media y no han vivido por más de un año en un país diferente al suyo. Además, fueron grabadas por la autora y a todas se les propuso la misma tarea de completamiento discursivo (DCT), es decir, debían imaginar que estaban en la siguiente situación y responder espontáneamente, como lo harían en su vida cotidiana: “Se encuentra en una ciudad que no conoce y necesita saber dónde queda el hospital. Pasa un señor por la calle, ¿cómo se lo preguntaría?”. ¿Por qué crees que te doy tantos datos de las colaboradoras? ¿Influirá en la manera en que cada una habla? ¡Efectivamente, así es! La pertenencia o no, a cada una de estas variables o categorías, pueden influir en la manera en que hablamos. A esto es a lo que llamamos variación diatópica –o variedades geográficas-, variación diastrática –o variedades socioculturales o de carácter social-, y variación diafásica –o variedades en el registro, como por ejemplo un registro o forma de hablar más familiar o más formal-. Si tenemos “congeladas” o inmovilizadas la mayoría de estas variables, y cambiamos solo la variación diatópica, tenemos los siguientes resultados: México [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/M--xico.wav"][/audio] Cuba [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Cuba.wav"][/audio] Colombia [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Colombia.wav"][/audio] Venezuela [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Venezuela.wav"][/audio] Chile [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Chile_.wav"][/audio] Uruguay [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Uruguay-S.wav"][/audio] Argentina [audio wav="https://unravellingmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Argentina.wav"][/audio]   Ahora bien, dependiendo de tu lengua y/o dialecto podrás percibir con más o menos detalle las diferencias entre dialectos. Por ejemplo, una persona del sur de Chile, generalmente logra identificar y diferenciar, por la forma de hablar, quién es de Chile y quién es de Argentina. De la misma manera, un argentino, generalmente, puede reconocer en la forma de hablar quién es de su mismo país y quién es uruguayo, y viceversa, tarea bastante compleja para el resto de los hispanohablantes. Sin embargo, para algunos mexicanos o españoles, que no tienen tanta cercanía con esta zona de Suramérica, se les hace difícil reconocer entre un chileno y un argentino, por ejemplo, y agrupan todas estas maneras de hablar en un “dialecto” más amplio o abarcador. Esta situación nos lleva a pensar que la percepción dialectal es variable, es relativa de acuerdo al lugar en el que nos ubiquemos y, por tanto, la construcción de un concepto de “dialecto” debe aún tomarse con mucha cautela.

¿Cómo percibimos los dialectos? ¿Dónde se habla “mejor”?

Si te preguntara cuántas zonas dialectales logras identificar en México, ¿qué me responderías? ¿1, 2, quizás 3? En este punto es importante hacer alusión a uno de los trabajos que se han realizado sobre dialectología perceptual (Preston 1999), específicamente en México (Serrano, 2002). El autor traza un mapa de los dialectos mexicanos, basado únicamente en las impresiones subjetivas de los informantes, es decir, hace una delimitación de las zonas dialectales de México con los datos de percepción proporcionados por los mismos hablantes del centro del país. Esta propuesta es novedosa porque no hace la clasificación a partir de los resultados de producción del habla, como se ha hecho tradicionalmente, sino que se centra en la percepción de los hablantes, lo que abre una línea de investigación interesante al combinar ambas metodologías. Los resultados de esta investigación muestran que hubo cuatro variedades más etiquetadas, o bien, más reconocidas por los informantes: la norteña, la costeña, la central y la peninsular, como se observa en la figura 2. ¿Le atinaste al número de zonas dialectales identificadas por los mexicanos? Y si hacemos este ejercicio con otros hablantes de otras lenguas, ¿qué crees qué responderían? ¿Lograrían reconocer diferencias entre un mismo país? Como ves, la percepción de los dialectos depende mucho de nuestra relación, vivencia y conocimiento de los mismos. [caption id="attachment_8264" align="aligncenter" width="598"] Principales zonas dialectales percibidas por los informantes mexicanos (Serrano, 2002)[/caption]   Retomando una de las preguntas iniciales, entonces, ¿cuál es el español “mejor hablado”? ¿Qué es hablar bien? ¿Quién dicta las normas para hablar bien? Al buscar las respuestas a esta serie de interrogantes en las opiniones de las personas, hablantes de la lengua, encontramos opiniones como “hablar bien es hablar de acuerdo a las normas que dicta la Academia”, “con una adecuada pronunciación y entonación”, “con un vocabulario adecuado”, “hacerse entender”, “hablar educadamente”, “hablar sin decir mentiras, o groserías o, incluso con una adecuada gesticulación” (Domínguez y Vento, 2012). Sin embargo, podemos resaltar en las anteriores opiniones que parten a priori de la idea de un habla “bien” y “mal” hablada, lo que estaría inscrito dentro de la ideología del normativismo, o prescriptivismo, que tienen como objetivo decirle a las personas de nuestra misma lengua cómo deben hablar, cómo deben utilizar el idioma. Esta actitud es, en todo sentido, un despropósito y un esfuerzo de aficionados, que pocas veces se dedican al estudio riguroso del lenguaje, y no dimensionan ni son conscientes de la importante y evidente variedad “natural” de la lengua. Por tanto, no hay ningún español “mejor” o “peor” hablado, ni uno mejor que otro, todas las variedades son igual de importantes y es inútil que se quiera estandarizar, más allá de la adecuación que guarda estrecha relación con la variedad diafásica, o de registro lingüístico. Así pues, lo que ahora hace la lingüística, más que imponer reglas “del buen hablar” y perpetuar una discriminación lingüística entre los hablantes, es recoger todas las variedades posibles de habla y analizarlas de una manera descriptiva, sin juicios de valor.

Atlas lingüísticos en América

En este sentido, respecto al interés de algunos lingüistas por dejar registro de la variedad del español en América, se han llevado a cabo varios proyectos que han dado como resultado una serie de atlas: En 1948, Tomás Navarro Tomás publica el primer atlas lingüístico del español de América, titulado El español en Puerto Rico. Contribución a la geografía lingüística hispanoamericana. En 1973 aparece el Atlas lingüístico-etnográfico del sur de Chile (ALESuCh; Araya, Contreras, Wagner y Bernales) y entre 1981 y 1983 el Atlas Lingüístico Etnográfico de Colombia (ALEC; Flórez). En México se ha construido, entre otros, el Atlas lingüístico de México (Lope Blanch 1990-2000) y el Corpus sociolingüístico de la Ciudad de México (CSCM= Martín Butragueño y Lastra 2011, 2012, 2015). En Uruguay se encuentra el Atlas Diatópico y Diastrático del Uruguay (Elizaincín y Thun 2000); en Paraguay el Atlas Lingüístico Guaraní-Románico (Dietrich, Aquino y Thun) y para Centroamérica el Atlas Lingüístico de América Central (Pacheco Quesada), entre otros más (García Mouton, 2006). Finalmente, en el marco de las investigaciones sobre variedad geoprosódica del español, es decir, sobre las diferentes maneras en las que hablamos según nuestro dialecto, nuestro “acento”, hay diversos mapas elaborados con el objetivo de evidenciar la diversidad de esta lengua, la manera en la que “entonamos”. Así, encontramos dos proyectos internacionales que son el Atlas de la entonación del español (ATLES; Prieto y Roseano 2009-2013) y el Atlas Multimèdia de la Prosòdia de l’Espai Romànic (AMPER; véase Martínez Celdrán y Fernández Planas 2003-2018). Los resultados de ambos pueden consultarse por internet (http://prosodia.upf.edu/atlasentonacion/ y http://stel.ub.edu/labfon/amper/cast/, respectivamente). Además, hay otros proyectos nacionales que tienen el mismo propósito: establecer las características generales del español hablado en cada uno de los países o regiones. Por ejemplo, el Corpus oral del español de México (COEM= Martín Butragueño, Mendoza y Orozco en preparación), el Mapa prosódico de Chile (Román y Ortiz Lira 2013-2016), el Mapa prosódico de Antioquia-Colombia (Muñoz-Builes, en preparación), entre otros. A continuación podrás acceder a uno de estos mapas prosódicos, el de Chile, para que a modo de ilustración puedas escuchar las diferencias entre la entonación de los entrevistados que pueden ser hombres o mujeres y pertenecientes a la zona rural o urbana. Podrás seleccionar entre dos tareas lingüísticas: una frase leída o un fragmento de conversación espontánea. [caption id="attachment_8269" align="aligncenter" width="689"] Mapa prosódico de Chile[/caption]

Recapitulando

Los dialectos son variaciones del habla que se asocian, generalmente, a diferencias diatópicas, es decir, geográficas. Estos dialectos se han agrupado según diferentes propuestas de zonificación dialectal para el español de América; se debe considerar que dichas zonas dialectales no coinciden totalmente con las divisiones administrativo-políticas de los países y sus subdivisiones. Por otra parte, podría decirse que la percepción que tenemos de los dialectos es relativa, ya que está determinada por nuestro propio dialecto y por nuestro conocimiento e interacciones con los demás dialectos. Sin embargo, a pesar de la percepción y creencias que tengamos de nuestro dialecto y de los demás, es importante considerar que todos tienen la misma importancia y construyen la significativa variedad lingüística de una lengua. Finalmente, debemos recordar que ha habido diversos Atlas del español de América, realizados con el objetivo de registrar las variedades de estas hablas. En los últimos años ha incrementado el interés por complementar estos estudios, incluyendo la variación geoprosódica, es decir, la entonación. Sin embargo, el estudio de la entonación aún es materia de investigación y de trabajo conjunto, al que todas y todos estamos invitados a hacer parte.

Bibliografía

Academia Colombiana de la Lengua. (2012). Breve Diccionario de Colombianismos (4a ed. Revisada). Bogotá, Colombia: Academia Colombiana de la Lengua. Alba, O. (1992). Zonificación dialectal del español en América. All Faculty Publications. htt://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/1181 Domínguez, C., Vento, R. (2012) ¿Qué es hablar bien? Análisis de los resultados de una encuesta. Lengua y Habla, 7, pp. 81-92. Disponible en: <http://erevistas.saber.ula.ve/index.php/lenguayhabla/article/view/3601>. García Mouton, P. (2006). Los Atlas lingüísticos y las variedades del español de América. Boletín Hispánico Helvético, 8(otoño), 111–122. Serrano, J. C. (2002). ¿Cuántos dialectos del español existen en México? Un ensayo de dialectología perceptual. La Lingüística Contemporánea En México, (55), 1–22. Martín Butragueño, P., Mendoza, É. y Orozco, L. (en preparación). Corpus oral del español de México COEM. Martínez Celdrán, E. y Fernández Planas, A.M. (coords). 2003-2018. Atlas Multimèdia de la Prosòdia de l’Espai Romànic. http://stel.ub.edu/labfon/amper/cast/index_ampercat.html Moreno-Fernández, F. (2014). La lengua española en su geografía: manual de dialectología hispánica. Arcos: Madrid. Muñoz-Builes, D. (en preparación). Mapa prosódico de Antioquia-Colombia. Pictoline (septiembre 7 de 2018). Atlas Latinoamericano de Palabras: cómo se dicen entre amigos en América Latina. https://scontent.fscl8-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/41223423_2239021273023672_2046203547451654144_n.png?_nc_cat=103&oh=0ceaec661a918f55c1c267caa9543d49&oe=5C14CF30 Prieto, P. y Roseano, P.(coords). 2009-2013. Atlas interactivo de la entonación del español. http://prosodia.upf.edu/atlasentonacion/. Quesada Pacheco, M. Á. (2000). El Español de América. Cartago, Costa Rica: Editorial Tecnológica de Costa Rica. Román, D. (2013-2016). Mapa prosódico de Chile. Serrano, J. C. (2002). ¿Cuántos dialectos del español existen en México? Un ensayo de dialectología perceptual. La Lingüística Contemporánea En México, (55), 1–22.
[1] En el Breve Diccionario de Colombianismos (2012) es definido como: “Bog. coloq. Joven de clase media o alta que se viste en forma llamativa y usa un lenguaje peculiar”. [2] Si quieres conocer más ejemplos para el español, puedes ver este video que es divertido e ilustrativo:  https://youtu.be/eyGFz-zIjHE [post_title] => Hispanoamérica [post_excerpt] => ¿Alguna vez has creído que tú o quienes te rodean de manera más cercana hablan “sin acento”, o con un “acento estándar” y que el resto de las personas sí tienen “acento”? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => hispanoamerica-un-complejo-mosaico-dialectal [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-09 22:17:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-09 14:17:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8105 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8178 [post_author] => 82 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:09:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:09:44 [post_content] =>

“Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.”

  You might be wondering where this paragraph came from. A theatre play? A novel? A manual for English learners? Not quite. While the paragraph may not be famous, it has actually been read and recorded more than 3,000 times. All you have to do is visit the Speech Accent Archive to listen to each and every single one of those clips recorded by individuals of 175 different countries and 381 languages. The purpose? To compare accents.
Maria Inês Teixeira speaks with the creator and administrator of the Speech Accent Archive, Professor Steven H. Weinberger from the George Mason University in Virginia. The Archive has been around for 20 years now and attracts linguists, actors, researchers, language enthusiasts and phonology students who cannot wait to learn more about how different accents compare.

We were wondering if you could start by introducing yourself, telling us about what you do and a little bit about your work.

Sure! My name is Steven Weinberger and I’m a linguist. Mostly I do phonology: I study sound systems of the world’s languages. I have been a professor at George Mason University in Virginia for 30 years now. I teach graduate school. I was the director of the program for the last 15 years. I’m now no longer director, but I’m still teaching, and I teach classes to our students who are very interested in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). We have a very theoretical linguistics program, so we developed the phonetics class about 24 years ago, to teach teachers how to instruct non-native speakers about the sounds of English. I do work in foreign accents—I think that foreign accents are amazingly interesting! I tell my students that, to me, and linguists like me, a good accent is really a bad accent. It tells you a lot about the speakers’ native language. So… it’s interesting that people have accents. And there’s probably a reason for why everyone has an accent. It’s about identity, it’s probably about something called the critical period, about how people can’t possibly become a native speaker after a certain age, but they get very good and they can communicate. But there’s this flavor about someone’s speech that’s remarkable and linguistically interesting.

You believe accents can tell us a lot about someone. 

Yes, yes. Particularly linguistically. Particularly about what language they speak natively. Anyway, everyone has an accent, so… there’s no perfect accent, even if we’re native speakers. I do work on that, and I also do work on weird kinds of languages. I like to work on alien languages from science fiction. I look at sound systems, how people develop alien languages by looking at films, and reading books. It turns out that there’s no perfect alien sound system either. (laughs) So that’s all about the work I do. That’s about me…

About the Speech Accent Archive, how would you describe it to those who don’t know it? 

This year it’s the 20th anniversary of the Speech Accent Archive. It’s a place you can go to online. It’s been up and running on the internet for 20 consecutive years—which is sort of an amazing thing in itself–and it’s a place for people to listen to speech accents in English. Everyone is reading the same exact paragraph. The paragraph is short, it’s only 69-words long, but it has virtually all the sounds of standard American English. Not all of them, but virtually all of them. So if you want to hear what a Kiswahili speaker sounds like speaking English, you can do that. Or what a Romanian speaker sounds like. You can listen to what a Portuguese speaker from Portugal sounds like, what a Portuguese speaker from Brazil sounds like… you know, almost 3,000 samples from more than… currently, we have more than 381 languages represented by 175 different countries. So, almost all around the world people are speaking English and they all sound different. We ask them a set of nine questions about their background: where they were born, what their native language is, how old they are, what their gender is… and so we have a list of attributes that each speaker possesses, you can listen to them, and for most of them you can see a phonetic transcription of their speech. It is very useful if you can understand that kind of system. You can search for things, it has a search facility, and anyone can send a sample to us. There’s a place to send a sample. We only accept really good quality samples, so people should know that—there’s instructions. And we’ve been doing that for 20 years now. And it’s slowly growing. Our own graduate students and undergraduate students at George Mason contribute to the archive. The transcriptions are done carefully, very narrow transcription. So it’s a great resource for anyone doing research, it’s been used for more than 150 research projects, honest research projects, over the last 10 years. People write their dissertations with the data, people work on speech recognition… because you know, everyone talks differently and machine understanding needs to understand our native and non-native speaker sounds. But most of the people are ESL teachers, and people who just want to play and listen to accents!

How did you first get the idea for this platform?

It started out as an assignment in 1999 for my phonetics class. I had students record a non-native speaker and bring in the tape. We had tapes back then. (laughs) They brought in all different kinds of tapes, little tapes, big tapes, CDs… but then they were difficult to manage and the quality was variable. So we systematized it, we made it a uniform system and we put it on the internet when it was brand new! This paragraph is so small because the bandwidth in 1999 was difficult, everyone used dial-up modems… and we’ve kept the sample paragraph since then! And students just love it, they find a speaker, they solicit his or her participation, they record them adequately reading the paragraph, they analyze speech, they compare speech to a presumably native speaker of English, and they find the issues they wanted to attend to. So it’s usually a semester-long project for each student or groups of students.

People use the platform for research and sometimes for fun. Are there other specific goals for the Archive?

We want to keep it running, gather languages we don’t have. We only have about 400 languages or so, but there are 6,000 languages in the world. There are a lot more to do.

Who runs the Archive?

(Smiles and raises hand) My students and I run it. We run it on a shoestring. It’s about due for a remake. A facelift. So we want to make it a little more computational, we want to make an app for the smartphone so people can just use their smartphone and send us their samples immediately. But this takes a large bit of funding, so we are searching for funding to remake the archive. We’ve already developed some very good tools that are now available. We’ve developed a computational tool that will compare two transcriptions. So you can take a Romanian sample and, let’s say, an English sample from London, and this computational machine will essentially overlay one transcription on top of the other, and you can find the differences automatically. So you can make some predictions, it’s good for ESL or language assessment, and even forensic linguistics… perhaps. But we’re not quite on that level yet.

It sounds like hard work!

Yes! And the hardest work is transcribing. You know, getting it right. You need three people, three different individuals to transcribe. So we’ve had to develop a second tool to crowd source the transcriptions. We send them out to transcribers all over the world.  It’s very collaborative! That’s one of the biggest things about it. Very collaborative.

Already in 2011 the Speech Accent Archive got over 1 million hits in a month...

Yes! In a month! Yeah, it was doing very well back then. I think the number of visits is somewhat lower now, but people are still checking in a lot. We get thousands of hits a month still. And when we’re doing maintenance and it goes offline for a few minutes, we get a slew of emails asking “Why isn’t it on? Why isn’t it online? When is it going back online?”— so people are paying attention.

What do you think attracts people to accents and this type of project? 

Well, you know, one of the basic human abilities is to listen to people. Listen to our colleagues, listen to our friends, listen to people we meet. If we're hearing and speaking species, for the most part, that’s the first thing we pay attention to—how someone says something. We always have an idea, we have a bias, we make a judgement about something as soon as you open your mouth. As soon as you open your mouth I know you’re not from my hometown, right? So I ask you, “Where are you from?” It’s an interest that’s built into us. So we want to make it less mystical. Accents have a reason. You can look at them scientifically. The judgements that people make, the biases that people have about someone’s speech, should melt away.

Can you give us specific examples of unusual ways in which people have used the Archive?

A few years ago we had a fellow from Ireland who got an Irish government grant to write some music to go along with the Speech Accent Archive. He wrote an entire saxophone suit— saxophone!—going along with people speaking their scripts on the archive. It’s quite beautiful! People have done art shows in Washington state, at a university inside Washington state… I think they called Please call Stella, an art exhibition. They had speakers in the area and some video, and they had people listening to archive data as they walked through the art exhibit. We can’t control what people do with the archive! (laughs) It’s open to anybody!

How can people contribute to the Archive?

You visit the Speech Accent Archive website, go to the “How to” page, click on “Submit a sample”, read the instructions, then use your smartphone [to record your speech]… we only accept CD-quality recordings, and we answer all questions if people have questions about if they are doing it right. Eventually, they have to confirm that they sent it and we send them a “thank you” note. The speaker is anonymous—nobody knows who’s doing the speaking. It’s a university… human subjects sanction, so it’s a real research project. You have to be 18 years old or older to participate.

Are there entries from native speakers of endangered languages, for example? 

Yes, we’ve recently gotten some from Alaskan Yupik, which has a small population. People have said we could use many more Native American languages and contributions from places in Brazil, we don’t have very much. We also have American Sign Language, so you can hear the accent of a deaf individual.

What do you think your accent says about you?

(laughs) Well, I was born in Pittsburg, and I don’t think I sound like a Pittsburger anymore, but if I go and stay in Pittsburgh for a few months I suppose my accent would come back. Yeah I definitely have an accent, but we’ve transcribed my accent as well. It’s somewhere around the Archive. Just like anybody else!

Anything else you'd like to add?

The work is never done. It grows slowly. Every week we get more submissions… we’re gonna be putting out another call to phonetics instructors and ESL (English as a Second Language) instructors to help us with the crowdsourcing part of this. We sent out little small pieces of the paragraph for students to transcribe, and it’s a fun little project. They learn how to transcribe. By learning to listen to people’s speech, I think we can become more understanding of different kinds of variety of language.

Any aspects of research regarding accents that you think can still be developed and that you are interested in?

We’re trying to figure out what makes German speakers sound German. Or what makes French speakers sound French. What listeners listen out for. What makes a listener of a speech variety feel that one accent is different from another accent? What are the characteristics? How is someone making their vowels? How is someone making their consonants? And we’re measuring those things. We’re figuring out: what makes a Mexican Spanish accent sound the way it is? [post_title] => What’s in an accent? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => whats-in-an-accent [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-21 22:13:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-21 14:13:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8178 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8080 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:09:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:09:00 [post_content] => Most linguistics students trained in Hong Kong have attended courses which focus on the comparison of Mandarin and Cantonese. While courses of this kind can help us appreciate the fascinating diversity of the Chinese language(s), they may also create or reinforce the common impression that Mandarin, despite its size, is an astoundingly uniform language which barely leaves any room for internal variation. Pretty soon I realized that there must be something wrong with this notion—when discussing syntax questions, “native speakers” of Mandarin often had considerable disagreements over the acceptability (or grammaticality) of certain Mandarin sentences, a phenomenon rarely observed in other languages (including Cantonese). Later on, I was blessed with the opportunity to get exposed to Jianghuai Mandarin and Southwest Mandarin, which gave me a new, broader perspective on Mandarin, as well as the Chinese language(s) as a whole.
(1)
ŋə˦ tʰa˦ mɔ˥˧ ʂuo˩˧ kuɔ
I he not say experiential
‘I didn’t tell him.’ (adapted from {Dwyer 1995}[ref[Dwyer, Arienne M. 1995. From the Northwest China Sprachbund: Xúnhuà Chinese dialect data. Yuen Ren Society Treasury of Chinese Dialect Data 1. 143–182.]])
 
(2)
kɯ˥˧ ʐɯ˨˩˧ xa tʂʰʅ˦ liɔ˥˧
dog meat [xa] eat perfective
‘The dog ate the meat.’ (adapted from {Dede 2007a}[ref[Dede, Keith. 2007a. The origin of the anti-ergative [xa] in Huangshui Chinese. Language and Linguistics 8(4). 863–881.]])
  Do you speak Mandarin? If your answer is yes, you may find the above sentences pretty weird. While you are likely to recognize each and every word, they appear to be in a chaotic order; you may even find it difficult to understand the meaning of the sentences without looking at the translations. What’s more, if you came across these sentences in real-life scenarios (with no Chinese characters or glosses provided), you’d probably struggle to make any sense of them since the words would be pronounced rather differently from the Mandarin language you’re familiar with. What about the following sentence?
(3) 晓得 好久 不?
ȵi˥˧ ɕiau˥˧te˨˩ tʰa˥ xau˥˧tɕiəu˥˧ nai˨˩ pu˨˩
you know he when come question
‘Do you know when he’ll come back?’ (adapted from {Li 2002}[ref[Li, Rong (ed.). 2002. 現代漢語方言大詞典 Xiàndài Hànyǔ fāngyán dàcídiǎn [The great dictionary of Modern Chinese dialects]. Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Publishing House.]])
  In this case, while there may be nothing unusual about its sentence structure, you may still have difficulty understanding the sentence because the actual meaning of some seemingly familiar words is probably quite different from what you expected. You may well be surprised to learn that all the examples illustrated above are in fact grammatical sentences of some varieties of Mandarin. Yes, Mandarin can be quite different from what we learn and know from Mandarin Chinese textbooks and dictionaries.

Mandarin?! Seriously?

Spoken by over 900 million people as their mother tongue, Mandarin is not only the largest language in the world by number of native speakers ({Simons & Fennig 2018}[ref[Simons, Gary F. & Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the world, 21st edn. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.]]), but also an increasingly popular choice among foreign language learners. When we talk about Mandarin, what comes to mind is typically a major lingua franca rising to global prominence, or a monolithic linguistic superpower displacing Chinese “dialects” like Cantonese, Hokkien, and Hakka in various domains, driving some less well-established ones like Minjiang, Weitou, and Shehua to the verge of endangerment or even extinction. Naturally, few would expect to see such a dominant, well-known, and well-studied language in the Language Profiles section. A lesser-known fact about Mandarin is that it is a polysemous term. In common usage, Mandarin typically refers to a standardized form of the Chinese language spoken as a national and/or intra-ethnic lingua franca in Mainland China (as Putonghua 普通话), Taiwan (as Guoyu 國語), Singapore and Malaysia (as Huayu 华语). Although the various national standards differ from each other in a number of ways ({Bradley 1992}[ref[Bradley, David. 1992. Chinese as a pluricentric language. In Michael Clyne (ed.), Pluricentric languages: Differing norms in different nations, 305–324. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.]]), they still maintain a very high degree of mutual intelligibility and do not constitute the focus of this article. Adopting {Sanders’ (1987)}[ref[Sanders, Robert M. 1987. The Four Languages of “Mandarin”. Sino-Platonic Papers 4. 1–14.]] terminology, the Standard Mandarin varieties belong to “Idealized Mandarin”, which was (artificially) constructed based on the Beijing dialect in the early 20th century to facilitate nationwide communication ({Moser 2016}[ref[Moser, David. 2016. A billion voices: China’s search for a common language. Melbourne: Penguin Random House Australia.]]; {Weng 2018}[ref[Weng, Jeffrey. 2018. What is Mandarin? The social project of language standardization in early Republican China. The Journal of Asian Studies 77(3). 611–633.]]). Meanwhile, in this article, my main focus is on the (naturalistic) regional vernaculars of Chinese which, in a linguistic sense, belong to a Chinese dialect group known as Mandarin, i.e. “Geographical Mandarin” according to {Sanders’ (1987)}[ref[Sanders, Robert M. 1987. The Four Languages of “Mandarin”. Sino-Platonic Papers 4. 1–14.]] terminology.

Mandarin as a Chinese dialect group

Although often considered a single language, Chinese dialects (aka Sinitic languages) carry a degree of internal diversity on a par with that of the Romance (e.g. Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Romansh, Italian, Romanian) or Germanic (e.g. English, German, Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic) languages within the Indo-European family ({Norman 1988}[ref[Norman, Jerry. 1988. Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pulleyblank, Edwin G. 1991. Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese and Early Mandarin. Vancouver: UBC Press.]] {Chappell 2001}[ref[Chappell, Hilary. 2001. Synchrony and diachrony of Sinitic languages: A brief history of Chinese dialects. In Hilary Chappell (ed.), Sinitic grammar: Synchronic and diachronic perspectives, 3–28. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]]). In modern Chinese dialectology, Chinese is classified into 10 major dialect groups, namely Mandarin 官话, Jin 晋语, Wu 吴语, Hui 徽语, Gan 赣语, Xiang 湘语, Min 闽语, Hakka 客家话, Yue 粤语, Pinghua 平话 and Tuhua 土话 ({Zhang 2012}[ref[Zhang, Zhenxing (ed.). 2012. 中国语言地图集Zhōngguó yǔyán dìtújí [Language atlas of China], 2nd edn. Beijing: The Commercial Press.]]).

Source: {Zhang 2012: Map A2}[ref[Zhang, Zhenxing (ed.). 2012. 中国语言地图集Zhōngguó yǔyán dìtújí [Language atlas of China], 2nd edn. Beijing: The Commercial Press.]]

Native speakers of Mandarin account for around 70% of the Chinese-speaking population in China ({Zhang 2012}[ref[Zhang, Zhenxing (ed.). 2012. 中国语言地图集Zhōngguó yǔyán dìtújí [Language atlas of China], 2nd edn. Beijing: The Commercial Press.]]). Geographically, Mandarin dialects are spoken over a huge area in China, stretching from the Manchurian region in the northeast all the way to the border region in Yunnan in the southwest (the yellow region on the map above), occupying the vast majority of the Han Chinese region north of the Yangtze River. Classification of Chinese dialect groups is based primarily on phonological criteria, especially the diachronic development of various Middle Chinese sound categories. For example, Mandarin has lost the Middle Chinese [m], [p], [t], [k] codas (which means that these sound units—or phonemes—do not occur in the syllable-end position in Mandarin words), which are preserved to different degrees in most non-Mandarin Southern Sinitic varieties (see the table below). Interested readers may refer to {Norman (1988)}[ref[Norman, Jerry. 1988. Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pulleyblank, Edwin G. 1991. Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese and Early Mandarin. Vancouver: UBC Press.]] and {Kurpaska (2010)}[ref[Kurpaska, Maria. 2010. Chinese language(s): A look through the prism of The Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.]] for further phonological features which define the Mandarin dialect group.
‘one’ 一 ‘three’ 三 ‘six’ 六 ‘ten’ 十
Middle Chinese *ʔit *sam *luwk *dʑip
Beijing Mandarin san˥ lioʊ˥˩ ʂi˧˥
Xi’an Mandarin i˨˩ sæ̃˨˩ liou˨˩ ʂʅ˨˦
Yinchuan Mandarin i˩˧ san˦ lu˩˧ ʂʅ˩˧
Chengdu Mandarin i˨˩ san˥ nu˨˩ sɿ˨˩
Nanjing Mandarin iʔ˥ sɑŋ˧˩ luʔ˥ ʂʅʔ˥
Suzhou Wu ʔiəʔ˥ sE˥ loʔ˧ zəʔ˧
Nanchang Gan it˥ san˦˨ liuʔ˥ sɨt˨
Xiamen Min it˩ sam˥ liɔk˥ sip˥
Meixian Hakka it˩ sam˦ liuk˩ səp˥
Guangzhou Yue t˥ sam˥ lok˨ sɐp˨
Source: Pulleyblank (1991) and The Great Dictionary of Modern Chinese Dialects by {Li (2002)}[ref[Li, Rong (ed.). 2002. 現代漢語方言大詞典 Xiàndài Hànyǔ fāngyán dàcídiǎn [The great dictionary of Modern Chinese dialects]. Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Publishing House.]] Mandarin dialects also share a range of basic vocabulary items. As {Norman (1988)}[ref[Norman, Jerry. 1988. Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pulleyblank, Edwin G. 1991. Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese and Early Mandarin. Vancouver: UBC Press.]] observes, the following seven lexical items are uniform across Mandarin dialects:

(i) The third-person pronoun is tā 他or cognate to it

(ii) The subordinative particle is de(di) 的or cognate to it

(iii) The ordinary negative is bù 不or cognate to it

(iv) zhàn 站 or words cognate to it are used for ‘to stand’

(v) zǒu 走 or words cognate to it are used for ‘to walk’

(vi) érzi 儿子or words cognate to it are used for ‘son’

(vii) fángzi 房子 or words cognate to it are used for ‘house’

Are Mandarin dialects mutually intelligible?

Chinese dialectologists usually classify Mandarin into eight subgroups, namely Northeast 东北, Beijing 北京, Jilu 冀鲁, Jiaoliao 胶辽, Central Plains 中原, Lanyin 兰银, Jianghuai 江淮, and Southwest 西南 ({Zhang 2012}[ref[Zhang, Zhenxing (ed.). 2012. 中国语言地图集Zhōngguó yǔyán dìtújí [Language atlas of China], 2nd edn. Beijing: The Commercial Press.]]). Although it is agreed that the subgroups differ from each other phonologically, Chinese dialectologists generally regard Mandarin as a homogeneous group with a very high level of mutual intelligibility: A person from Harbin in Northern Manchuria has little difficulty understanding a native of Kunming some 3,200 kilometers away ({Yuan 1960}[ref[Yuan, Jiahua. 1960. 汉语方言概要Hànyǔ fāngyán gàiyào [An outline of Chinese dialects]. Beijing: Wenzi Gaige Chubanshe.]]). Mandarin dialects have a high degree of uniformity—speakers of different Mandarin dialects, like a Harbin speaker from Heilongjiang, an Urumqi speaker from Xinjiang, a Kunming speaker from Yunnan, and a Nanjing speaker from Jiangsu, can readily communicate with each other using their native dialect ({Li & Xiang 2009}[ref[Li, Xiaofan & Mengbing Xiang. 2009. 汉语方言学基础教程Hànyǔ fāngyánxué jīchǔ jiāochéng [An introductory course on Chinese dialectology]. Beijing: Peking University Press.]]). Despite their prevalence in the field, claims of this kind should be taken with a pinch of salt. Yes, speakers of different Mandarin dialects can readily communicate with each other as long as they are reasonably proficient in Standard Mandarin. When discussing the mutual intelligibility between different Mandarin dialects, we must always draw a clear distinction between Mandarin dialects (i.e. local vernaculars which belong to the Mandarin dialect group) and the regional varieties of Standard Mandarin (i.e. Standard Mandarin spoken with different regional accents, aka “Local Mandarin” according to {Sanders (1987)}[ref[Sanders, Robert M. 1987. The Four Languages of “Mandarin”. Sino-Platonic Papers 4. 1–14.]]). If Mandarin dialects were indeed that homogeneous, we would expect any proficient speaker of Standard Mandarin (which is based largely on Beijing Mandarin), regardless of their linguistic and/or geographical background, to be able to understand any Mandarin dialect with ease. Anyone with some basic knowledge of Standard Mandarin and a handful of Mandarin dialects can tell that this is an unrealistic expectation. You don’t have to plan a three-month field trip to some remote villages to appreciate the incredible diversity among the Mandarin subgroups. Just go to major cities like Xi’an (Central Plains), Dalian (Jiaoliao), Chengdu (Southwest), or Nanjing (Jianghuai), and pay attention to the vernaculars spoken among the locals, especially the middle-aged and elderly. Alternatively, you may simply do a YouTube (or Baidu) search on any well-known Mandarin dialect (not limited to the aforementioned ones); in a matter of minutes, you can gain exposure to myriads of exotic-sounding dialects. The following two videos involve conversations between a speaker of Standard Mandarin and that of a local Mandarin dialect, where the latter can understand Standard Mandarin but cannot really speak it. Communication is therefore still marginally possible in these cases. Imagine what will happen if the two speakers of Mandarin dialects have to communicate with each other! Sichuanese, a representative variety of Southwest Mandarin: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVGQANncDTg[/embed] Dalian Mandarin, a representative variety of Jiaoliao Mandarin: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syotwBJwVQU[/embed] For a more colloquial impression of these Mandarin dialects, listen to these candid—and slightly rude—examples of Sichuanese and Dalian Mandarin. Sichuanese: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnoGjPGtxcw[/embed] Dalian Mandarin: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O49iqsN6TWA[/embed] Put simply, the “intelligibility claim” is divorced from reality. More specifically, according to the personal experience of friends and colleagues from various Mandarin-speaking regions, without prior exposure, speakers of different Mandarin dialects often have difficulty understanding each other’s local vernacular even if they come from one and the same province, provided that two or more distinct subgroups of Mandarin are spoken therein. Typical examples include Shandong (Jiaoliao, Jilu, Central Plains), Jiangsu (Central Plains and Jianghuai), and Hubei (Jianghuai and Southwest). In some cases, mutual intelligibility is not guaranteed even if the Mandarin dialects concerned belong to the same subgroup and are spoken within the same province. A native speaker of the Zhenjiang dialect (a Jianghuai Mandarin dialect spoken in the Jiangsu province) reported that it is impossible for her to understand the Nantong dialect (another Jianghuai Mandarin dialect spoken around 140 kilometers away from her neighbourhood in the same province).

Variation between Northern Sinitic and Southern Sinitic

Of course, as linguists, we cannot make any strong claim based on gut feeling and anecdotal evidence. Intrigued by the remarkable diversity within the Mandarin dialect group, I decided to conduct a typological survey of 26 Mandarin dialects, plus 16 dialects which belong to other Chinese dialect groups. The resultant research article, co-authored with my supervisors Umberto Ansaldo and Stephen Matthews, was recently published in Linguistic Typology ({Szeto et al. 2018}[ref[Szeto, Pui Yiu, Umberto Ansaldo & Stephen Matthews. 2018. Typological variation across Mandarin dialects: An areal perspective with a quantitative approach. Linguistic Typology 22(2). 233–275.]]). The results are in stark contrast to the common belief in a homogeneous Mandarin dialect group, but highly consistent with our preliminary observations—Mandarin dialects demonstrate internal variation in all major domains of grammar (phonology, morphosyntax, semantics, and grammaticalization patterns). Adopting a quantitative approach, we find that the degree of typological diversity within the Mandarin dialect group is comparable to that of the Sinitic branch as a whole. This implies that, if the various Chinese dialect groups are indeed as internally diverse as the Romance or Germanic languages, the Mandarin dialect group alone may carry such a degree of internal diversity from a typological (or structural) perspective! The extensive geographical range of Mandarin can help explain its typological diversity. Sandwiched between Altaic languages (e.g. Manchu, Mongolian, Uyghur) to the north and Tai languages (e.g. Zhuang, Lao, Thai) to the south, Sinitic as a whole can be considered typologically intermediate between these two groups of languages. A north-south divide, whose boundary is conventionally drawn along the Qinling Mountain-Huaihe River Line, is evident in the Sinitic branch.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Northern Sinitic shows signs of typological convergence towards Altaic languages ({Hashimoto 1976}[ref[Hashimoto, Mantaro. 1976. Language diffusion on the Asian continent: Problems of typological diversity in Sino-Tibetan. Computational Analysis of Asian and African Languages 3. 49–63.]]) and Southern Sinitic towards Tai languages ({Bennett 1979}[ref[Bennett, Paul. 1979. A critique of the Altaicization hypothesis. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 6. 91–104.]]). For instance, the northern varieties tend to have a smaller number of numeral classifiers, monosyllabic words, tones and codas, as well as a stronger tendency to head-final structures, to be exemplified below. Transcending the Qinling Mountain-Huaihe River Line, the Mandarin dialect group also displays a north-south divide in typological features. The adjective-final comparative constructions (e.g. Standard Mandarin ) represent a typical example of head-final structures, where the “head” of the phrase in question (e.g. the adjective in an adjective phrase, or the noun in a noun phrase) is at the end of the phrase.
(4) [Standard Mandarin]
gāo
I compare he tall
‘I’m taller than him.’
  While this sentence may look perfectly natural to Mandarin speakers, cross-linguistically speaking, the head-final adjective phrase actually correlates with SOV languages ({Dryer 1992}[ref[Dede, Keith. 2007a. The origin of the anti-ergative [xa] in Huangshui Chinese. Language and Linguistics 8(4). 863–881.]]), which typically have the parts of the sentence structured in the order of subject-object-verb. It is in fact unusual for an SVO language like Mandarin to possess such a word order. Unsurprisingly, the adjective-final comparative constructions are more common in Northern China, where influence from the SOV Altaic languages is relatively profound. Meanwhile, the surpass comparatives (where a verb meaning ‘to cross/surpass’ has developed into a comparative marker) predominate in Southern China, as well as Mainland Southeast Asia ({Ansaldo 2010}[ref[Ansaldo, Umberto. 2010. Surpass comparatives in Sinitic and beyond. Linguistics 48. 919–950.]]).
(5) 佢/他
ngo5 gou1 gwo2 keoi5 [Cantonese]
ŋo˥˧ kɑ˦ ko˨˦ tʰɑ˦ [Liuzhou Mandarin]
ŋo˥˧ kɑu˥ ko˨˦ lɑ˥ [Guiyang Mandarin]
I tall surpass he
‘I’m taller than him.’
  Another example of head-final structures common in Chinese is the Adjective-Noun order (e.g. 小狗 xiǎo-gǒu “small-dog”, 高山 gāo-shān “high-mountain”, 白衣 bái-yī “white-clothes”). Although Adjective-Noun is the dominant order in all known Chinese dialects, the Noun-Adjective order (which is prevalent in Mainland Southeast Asia), is found in a small subset of nominal constructions in Southern Chinese dialects, as in the animal gender constructions. For example, in Northern Chinese dialects, the word for ‘rooster’ is the cognate form of the Standard Mandarin 公鸡 gōng-jī “male-chicken”; in many Southern Chinese dialects, however, 鸡公 “chicken-male” is the more common word order, as in the Cantonese gai5-gung1, Hokkien kue˩-kak˩, Wuhan Mandarin tɕi˥-koŋ˥, Chengdu Mandarin tɕi˥-koŋ˥, and Liuzhou Mandarin ki˦-koŋ˦.

The Amdo Sprachbund

The above examples may not look particularly remarkable to speakers of Southern Sinitic varieties like Cantonese and Hokkien—after all, as those word order features are typical of Southern Sinitic, their presence in Southern Mandarin dialects may not come as a surprise. The truth is that the most interesting Mandarin dialects are not found in Southern China. In Northwestern China, there is a linguistic area in the Southeastern Qinghai-Gansu border region known as the Amdo Sprachbund ({Janhunen 2012}[ref[Janhunen, Juha. 2012. On the hierarchy of structural convergence in the Amdo Sprachbund. In Pirkko Suihkonen, Bernard Comrie & P. Solovyev (eds.), Argument structure and grammatical relations: A cross-linguistic typology, 177–189. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.]]; {Sandman & Simon 2016}[ref[Sandman, Erika & Camille Simon. 2016. Tibetan as a “model language” in Amdo Sprachbund: Evidence from Salar and Wutun. Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics 3(1). 85–122.]]). Comprising around 15 language varieties, the Amdo Sprachbund is a region of great ethnic and linguistic diversity, where Amdo Tibetan has served as the lingua franca for centuries. Remember the first two examples in the beginning of the article?
(1’) [Xunhua Mandarin]
ŋə˦ tʰa˦ mɔ˥˧ ʂuo˩˧ kuɔ
I he not say experiential
‘I didn’t tell him.’ (adapted from {Dwyer 1995}[ref[Dwyer, Arienne M. 1995. From the Northwest China Sprachbund: Xúnhuà Chinese dialect data. Yuen Ren Society Treasury of Chinese Dialect Data 1. 143–182.]])
 
(2’) [Huangshui Mandarin]
kɯ˥˧ ʐɯ˨˩˧ xa tʂʰʅ˦ liɔ˥˧
dog meat [xa] eat perfective
‘The dog ate the meat.’ (adapted from {Dede 2007a}[ref[Dede, Keith. 2007a. The origin of the anti-ergative [xa] in Huangshui Chinese. Language and Linguistics 8(4). 863–881.]])
  These “exotic” sentences (from a Chinese point of view) are examples of Mandarin dialects within the Amdo Sprachbund. Under intense influence of SOV languages in the region like Amdo Tibetan and Monguor, the basic word order of these Mandarin dialects has shifted to SOV. In addition, like most other SOV languages, they have developed a range of case suffixes. For instance, the [xa] in (2) functions to mark grammatical relationships like patients, recipients, goals, and sources. Likewise, the [lia] in (6) marks the instrument involved in the action, while the [sa] in (7) expresses a motion away from something (what is otherwise known to linguists as the ablative case).
(6) 毛笔 [Xining Mandarin]
nɔ˥˧ mɔ˨˦pi˦ lia ɕie˥˧ tʂɛ
I ink.brush instrumental write progressive
‘I am writing with an ink brush.’ ({Li 2002: 86}[ref[Li, Rong (ed.). 2002. 現代漢語方言大詞典 Xiàndài Hànyǔ fāngyán dàcídiǎn [The great dictionary of Modern Chinese dialects]. Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Publishing House.]]) (our glosses and translation)
 
(7) 夜来 北京 sa 回来 [Xining Mandarin]
tʰa˦ i˨˩˧lɛ˥˧ pi˦tɕiə̃˥˧ sa tɕiɔ̃˨˦ xui˨˦lɛ
he yesterday Beijing ablative just return
‘He just came back from Beijing yesterday.’ (adapted from {Dede 2007b}[ref[Dede, Keith. 2007a. The origin of the anti-ergative [xa] in Huangshui Chinese. Language and Linguistics 8(4). 863–881.]])
  Such features are clearly atypical of Chinese, but are indicative of the significant degree of restructuring, which Mandarin dialects have undergone in contact scenarios. There are numerous other examples not discussed here but interested readers are welcome to refer to our paper on this topic ({Szeto et al. 2018}[ref[Szeto, Pui Yiu, Umberto Ansaldo & Stephen Matthews. 2018. Typological variation across Mandarin dialects: An areal perspective with a quantitative approach. Linguistic Typology 22(2). 233–275.]]).

Concluding remarks

A quick recap of what we’ve gone through so far. What we usually learn about Mandarin is mostly about its standardized form (“Idealized Mandarin”). Meanwhile, there are a vast array of local vernaculars in Mainland China which belong to the Mandarin dialect group (“Geographical Mandarin”). Like all other natural languages in the world, Mandarin is susceptible to influence from its neighboring languages. Given their extensive geographical coverage, Mandarin in different regions of China are in contact with languages of different typological profiles. Unsurprisingly, Mandarin dialects display a considerable level of typological variation under such a setting. The variation within the Mandarin dialect group, however, is severely downplayed or underestimated by most Chinese dialectologists. As language enthusiasts with good knowledge about the language in question, we were not satisfied with the received wisdom. As mentioned above, we conducted a study which arrived at a completely different conclusion. The large discrepancy between the received wisdom and our conclusion is particularly astonishing if we take into account the fact that our study is primarily based on the analysis of linguistic data published in some major works in Chinese dialectology. Apparently, we may reach radically different conclusions depending on how we analyze and interpret the data in hand. We hope our study can shed new light on the nature of Mandarin, paving the way for further studies on this fascinating and important language. [post_title] => Mandarin dialects: Unity in diversity [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => mandarin-dialects-unity-in-diversity [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 19:13:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 11:13:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8080 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8028 [post_author] => 82 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:08:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:08:36 [post_content] => Language enthusiasts may notice one thing almost all language education platforms and applications have in common: if they offer a Portuguese language learning option, the icon representing that language is often the flag of Brazil. One might assume that learning Portuguese is equivalent to learning Brazilian Portuguese. Is this really a surprise? By learning Brazilian Portuguese, anyone will be able to communicate with over 200 million native Portuguese-language speakers living in and outside of Brazil, in countries as different as the United States, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and France. The massive influence of Brazilian music, entertainment, literature, and politics all around the globe cannot be denied. A lot has been written about the differences between Brazilian and European or Continental Portuguese, whether it is worth learning one over the other, which sounds more pleasant to the ear, and the history they share. Most curious learners looking to explore the Portuguese language will choose between one or the other. But what do we truly know about Angolan Portuguese? What are we missing out on here?

Onwards, Angola

Angola is the country with the second largest number of Portuguese speakers, only after Brazil. Located on the west coast of South Central Africa, the young country declared independence from Portugal only in 1975, after centuries of colonization (from the end of the 15th century until the second half of the 20th century) and more than a decade of war under the control of the Portuguese dictatorship that lasted 41 years without interruption. Colonialism has had a deep impact on the languages spoken in Angola, and on the perception of these languages. Today, Angola recognizes more than 10 national languages, including Umbundu, Kikongo, Kimbundo, Nganguela, and Chokwe. More than 7 million Angolans speak one of these 10 national languages at home. However, ask anybody what language the urban, highly-qualified, well-educated, well-traveled Angolan speaks—the answer is Portuguese, which continues to be the only official language in Angola. Spoken by 85% of the urban crowd in comparison to only 49% of speakers in rural areas, Portuguese has been perceived as the language of education, prestige and opportunity, even by local communities and often to the detriment of regional languages. It is used by the government, in media, in schools and in most forms of entertainment. The Portuguese language has played a double role in Angola. On one hand, it is often seen as a unifying force in a country characterized by at least eight different peoples and a total of 45 languages, not including Portuguese. Even historically, the Portuguese language was a crucial tool of Angolan emancipation in the 20th century, again because it allowed the message of a national identity to spread more quickly and more thoroughly throughout a linguistically diverse country. It is also seen as a language of culture, opportunity and connection, opening doors to several other geographical and professional destinations. On the other side of the coin, the Portuguese language has had a very dark past in the country, having been imposed by force in schools during the Portuguese dictatorship and humiliating children who spoke any other language. It is also often criticized for creating a divide between the rich and the poor, as the Portuguese spoken by the elites and the government is not the same version of Portuguese spoken on the streets. All things considered, Angolan Portuguese is a dialect in its own right, but its existence cannot be mentioned without also including other national languages that have impacted its vocabulary, accent and ways of expression. So, what makes Angolan Portuguese unique?

Characteristics of Angolan Portuguese

To the casual foreign ear, Angolan Portuguese will sound like European Portuguese in staccato—short, perky sounds and clear diction, sometimes clearly influenced by Brazilian Portuguese as well. However, Angolan language identity goes much deeper than this first impression that it could be just a dialect that stands between two other dialects. Its very distinct musicality, playfulness and elegance are contagious. It borrows several words from regional Angolan languages, a breath of fresh air for any Portuguese learner. For instance:

kota = old person; coming from “di-kota” in Kimbundu bazar = to go away, to leave; coming from “kubaza” in Kimbundu camba = friend, partner; coming from “di-kamba” in Kimbundu bué = a lot, many; possibly coming from “mbewe” in Kimbundu

Spoken Angolan Portuguese is also characterized by stronger consonants. The letters “s”, “t” or “r” for instance will sound slightly more vigorous compared to Standard Portuguese. Secondly, Angolan Portuguese will often simplify combinations of two vowels. The word sexta-feira (Friday), pronounced in Portugal as “say-shta fay-ra”, would be heard in Angolan Portuguese as “say-shta feh-ra”. Another common feature of the Angolan variant of Portuguese is that it will often replace à/ao, which in Standard Portuguese means “to”, with na/no, which means “in the”. This is mostly common when speaking. Here is an example: “Vou à escola” (I am going to school) would become “Vou na escola” (I am going in the school). Another major difference that has much in common with Brazilian Portuguese is the regular placement of pronouns before the verb rather than afterwards, as happens in Portugal and in the English language. For example, a European Portuguese speaker would say “Dá-me um beijo” (Give me a kiss). When speaking, Angolans would probably say “Me dá um beijo” (“Me give a kiss”). Angolan Portuguese is so catchy and practical that the Portuguese themselves have adopted words brought in by Angolan immigrants. Millennials all over Portugal use the world (yah) for “yes”, rather than the original sim. Often, Portuguese youth prefer the previously mentioned bué (boo-eh) instead of the typical muito(a)(s) when they mean “a lot” or “many”—although this term has been adapted in Portugal to also mean “very”. Any young Portuguese who wants to compliment a fantastic dish at a restaurant can call it a pitéu—slang originally used in Luanda, the Angolan capital, for “food”, and later used in Portugal to mean “tasty food”. Finally, the word bazar is used very frequently by youngsters in Portugal to refer to the verb “to leave”, although the traditional expression would be ir embora—and that is because it is originally an Angolan expression, and it too was borrowed. My grandparents would not be able to recognize these words or what they mean. Nor would Brazilians, as these particular words are not used at all on the other side of the Atlantic. Brazil itself was not immune to the influence of Angolan Portuguese. Words like moleque (“little boy/kid”, originally Kimbundu), nenê (“newborn”, origin in Umbundu) and yes, even the globally famous samba (originally from semba, a traditional genre of music and dance in Angola) are still used today in full force, and it is evident that Angolan culture has been crucial in defining some of Brazil’s strongest cultural features, for example capoeira and candomblé. This truly says something about the growing influence of Angolan Portuguese, and that it is not contained within strict borders. It has colored two variants of the language standing on opposite sides of the ocean, and continues to grow as Angola now undertakes one of its most controversial reforms to date.

The future of Angolan Portuguese

Angola is back on the news for the political reform it has been promised. It seems to be happening as we speak, with an understandable blend of optimism and skepticism as Angolans hope for a brighter future against corruption and poverty. Having said that, there are several good reasons to look to Angola for Portuguese language goals. In July of this year, the Observatory of the Portuguese Language predicted that by the year 2100, the number of Portuguese speakers will be much larger in Africa than in Latin America. The case of the Portuguese language in Angola and its interaction with other variants is a great example of how language flows and spreads back and forth uncontrollably, unforgiving of oceans, wars, borders or laws. It flows with the people who carry it along, because and despite of political oppression and conflict. Angolan culture has in many ways been scared by an imposed language, but it is also deserving of more attention nowadays for its valuable linguistic diversity and potential. At least since 2014, the Angolan Ministry of Education has expressed its will to have local languages taught in schools nationwide, side by side with the Portuguese language. While that has been happening in some regions of Angola since 1990, the Ministry has admitted to not having enough resources or teachers to be able to accomplish that goal yet. Bonifácio Tchimboto, an Angolan linguistics scholar who has written about regional languages and works for their preservation, worries that Portuguese is still seen as the only valid option in a country colored with a variety of languages. According to Tchimboto, children who express themselves in Umbundu on the streets are still sometimes advised not to speak that language by Angolans themselves. Additionally, bilingualism is still frequently seen as unnecessary or even as an obstacle, as parents fear their children will get confused and not learn Portuguese: the proper way to succeed in life and in their careers. Earlier, oral African traditions had been ridiculed and excluded by the Portuguese. After the 1960s, they continued to be, this time by Angolan independence advocates and leaders, and even by other African countries. Hopefully, Angolan Portuguese will get the visibility it deserves. From its inception, it has been a language of struggle, revolution, unity, ambition and controversy. And Angola is not alone on its relative lack of representation as a Portuguese-speaking country. Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe use Portuguese as their official language. Equatorial Guinea adopted Portuguese as one of its official languages in 2010. Could the fascinating Angolan dialect become an open door for African cultures to finally claim their spot as giants of the Portuguese language? [post_title] => Discovering Angolan Portuguese [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => discovering-angolan-portuguese [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-09 22:22:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-09 14:22:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8028 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8085 [post_author] => 86 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:06:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:06:38 [post_content] =>

I. Translate to validate

It is 1741 in New Spain, in the pueblo of Santo Domingo del Valle, to be exact, in what will eventually become the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Don Pedro de Zarate finishes translating a bill of sale, an official record of individuals exchanging land and money. In doing so, he legitimizes a legal act and galvanizes it for the future. In effect: “Yes, this property was and is owned by Zapotec people.” Signed, sealed, and put away for the potential resolution of future disputes. There’s a discomfort in the need for translation. Zapotec speakers wrote the bill of sale, and it pertains to their Zapotec-speaking community. The written variety of Zapotec, now called Colonial Valley Zapotec, may have functioned as a lingua franca, or a standardized language used in communication between linguistically diverse communities ({Smith Stark 2003}[ref[Smith Stark, Thomas. 2003. La ortografía del zapoteco en el Vocabulario de fray Juan de Córdova. In Escritura zapoteca: 2,500 años de historia, editado por María de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, 173-239. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.]]). But Zarate knows that not all of the town’s land disputes will be resolved in Zapotec. Translating a Colonial Valley Zapotec document into Spanish is a necessity if that document is to be used as evidence in a court case ({Farriss 2018}[ref[Farriss, Nancy. 2018. Tongues of Fire: Language and Evangelization in Colonial Mexico. Oxford University Press.]]). Oaxaca’s current linguistic landscape would look strikingly different to Zarate, but it probably would not shock him. Spanish has, of course, become ubiquitous in Mexico. Zapotec languages are spoken throughout Oaxaca by 441,183 speakers, but they are classified as endangered ({Simons and Fennig 2018}[ref[Simons, Gary F. and Charles D Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Twenty-first edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.]]). Translating Colonial Valley Zapotec documents into Spanish falls within the scope of Zarate’s oversight as cacique, or regional indigenous leader, and in that job a transfer of power and autonomy is implicit. While Spanish elites were in charge of large territories, they were also vastly outnumbered, so the strategy of granting colonial towns a local leader became a common one for furthering colonial expansion ({Deagan 2003}[ref[Deagan, Kathleen. 2003. Colonial Origins and Colonial Transformations in Spanish America. Historical Archaeology 37, no. 4: 3-13.]]). New Spain (the Spanish empire extending from modern day North America to Central America) was almost two centuries old in 1741. Zarate had already translated several legal manuscripts in his lifetime. Today, we’re lucky to still have access to many of these texts—some of which can be viewed online at the Ticha Project). A linguistic analysis of Zarate’s Spanish translations confirms the historically sound hypothesis that as a cacique, he was also a fluent speaker of both Zapotec and Spanish. Zapotec-Spanish bilingualism, as it came about in towns like Santo Domingo del Valle, is first visible among the religious and political elites who had reason to use Spanish professionally. In this piece, we will first review the linguistic evidence in Zarate’s work that identifies him as bilingual. This evidence includes variation, that is, alternation between multiple grammatical forms in a text. The linguistic innovation evident in Zarate’s work fits with certain features of the modern Oaxacan Spanish dialect, and I hypothesize that these features exist due to Zapotec language influence on the development of this dialect.

II. Second language acquisition

There are several markers of Zapotec influence in Zarate’s works that we can analyze as linguistic variation. Let’s break down the following examples to identify Zarate’s use of Spanish as Zapotec-influenced.

1) Agreement

In Spanish, nouns are marked for number and gender. Determiners and adjectives used with nouns must agree with or match the number and gender of the noun. In Zarate’s Spanish texts, though, we often find a surprising lack of agreement (marked with a #): Gender                

a) Attested:  #Un pedaso de tierra comprada suyo            SDE746 Expected Spanish:  Un pedazo de tierra comprada suya     English translation:  ‘one piece of land bought (which is) theirs’

Number

b) Attested:  *Assi son los lindero         SDE736 Grammatical Spanish:  Así  son los linderos     English translation:    ‘this is the way the boundaries are’                            

Why would Zarate, a professional Spanish translator, not always follow the expected patterns of number and gender agreement in noun phrases? Consider this: in Zapotec, number agreement is not required. A number preceding a noun is one way to pluralize something, but in the form of the noun itself does not change ({Munro and Sonnenschein 2007}[ref[Munro, Pamela and Aaron Huey Sonnenschein. 2007. Four Zapotec Number Systems. ms: UCLA.]], Cordova 1578). As for gender agreement, there are no pronouns in Zapotec that distinguish between masculine and feminine classes as Spanish does ({Operstein 2003}[ref[Operstein, Natalie. 2003. Personal Pronouns in Zapotec and Zapotecan. International Journal of American Linguistics 69, no. 2: 154-185.]]), and, more importantly, nouns are not marked for gender as they are in Spanish or German. English does not have gender-marked nouns, either. So, similarly to Zarate, English speakers learning Spanish or German often find gender agreement tricky to remember! It isn’t the case that Zarate never uses the expected Spanish forms that show number and gender agreement in his translations: sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. The influence of Zapotec as his first language explains why. His Spanish grammar shows interference from Zapotec grammar—a language that does not utilize number and gender agreement in noun phrases. This variation in how number and gender agreement is realized in his Spanish is a window into his linguistic identity as a bilingual speaker. Next, we will look at more variation… this time, variation that constitutes an innovation and has repercussions for the future development of Spanish spoken in Oaxaca.

III. Variation as innovation

An innovation is a “novel linguistic creation,” purposefully or inadvertently generated in speech or writing (Paradowski & Jonak 2012). The following variation constitutes innovation because while its structure has no previous model in Spanish, it occurs as a useful turn of phrase in several Zapotec translators’ manuscripts, including but not limited to Zarate’s. Thus it was something that was used in Zapotec, and made its way into Spanish through Zapotec-Spanish bilinguals.

2) Quantifier for dual

Take a look at this Spanish sentence from the 1741 bill of sale (its English translation is provided below).

c) Don Sebastian de Gusman  los dos con su hijo lixitimo.     SDE741dT[1] 1 Line 10 Don Sebastian de Gusman  the two with his son legitimate. ‘Don Sebastian de Gusman the two with his legitimate son [appeared in court]’

How many people appeared in court? “The two with” suggests a calculation of 2 + 1. In English and Spanish syntactic rules, with/con can introduce a prepositional phrase to modify the entities participating in verb phrases or belonging to nominal phrases. Therefore, the word with/con leads me to believe that something is being added. However, only two parties are indicated: Don Sebastian de Gusman and his legitimate son. Looking at the original Zapotec text can provide a better idea of what this means.

d) Don Sebastian de Gusman quiropa      xinijgananij      SDE741d[2] 1 Line 11 Don Sebastian de Gusman qui-ropa    xinij-gana=nij Don Sebastian de Gusman irr-two      child-male=3rd person

Now, translating the above into English will just get us into the same trouble as before, but we can see more clearly that the key is quiropa. In Colonial Valley Zapotec qui- is a prefix that usually attaches to verbs. It marks the “irrealis”—something that is not (yet) realized. However, if you attach qui- to a number, you can get a definite quantifier, or a word that signals a specific quantity. (Cite Sonnenschein and Munro). Many and two are both quantifiers in English, and the two is a definite quantifier. Adding qui- to the word that means ‘four’ gets you the definite quantifier ‘the four’, etc. Because it indicates a group of two, we can call quiropa a dual. Zarate’s translations include several examples of los dos con in the Spanish that were translations of quiropa constructions in Zapotec. In fact, the con in the Spanish translation appears optional, as you can see in example e.

e) Xuana de la Cruz quiropaa xyninij Pedro de Silva       SDE736[3]; P. 1 Line 15 Juana de la Cruz los dos su hijo Pedro de Silva                  SDE736T4; P. 1 Line 23     ‘Juana de la Cruz, the two [with] her son Pedro de Silva’ =2 people: Juana de la Cruz and her son Pedro de Silva

f) rotao quia atini quile Don Antonio de Zelis quiropa lachelani Christina    SDE7265; P. 1 Line 11 venden realmente la compra, Don Ant.o e Zelis, los dos con su muger           SDE726T6; P. 2 Line 11    ‘(they) really sell the purchase, Don Antonio Zelis, the two with his woman’    = 2 people: Don Antonio de Zelis and his wife Christina.              

Variation can lead to language change

In Oaxacan Spanish, the los dos con construction can still be used today to express a dual:

g) Fuimos al cine con Juan. We went to the movies with Juan.

This sentence can have two potential interpretations:

i) We went to the movies with Juan. (3+ people) ii) We went to the movies, Juan and I. (2 people)

The interpretation that you access when reading the sentence is determined by your lexicon, or mental word inventory, and how it connects to the syntactic rules of your native language. I have informally posed this interpretative question to some native speakers of Spanish while sharing this research in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Oaxaca; their intuitions are not the same. Some people can access both meanings, and some people can access only the first. Without having conducted a formal study, I can’t be certain yet, but it seems that those who can access both interpretations are actually speakers of a Zapotec influenced Spanish variety. As this los dos con phrase became common in the local dialect, more speakers would have grown accustomed to its role as a dual and incorporated it into their structural understanding of the language. A long term impact may be that, today, adding con to a sentence modifies the subject by specifying or naming one of the parties included, not necessarily by adding anything. Bilingual Zapotec-Spanish speakers like Don Pedro de Zarate mapped quiropa onto Spanish and developed something novel, an innovation, that really took hold in the Spanish of the region. The manuscripts of Colonial Zapotec that I studied are available online at the Ticha Project. To hear the Zapotec languages spoken, check out the Online Talking Dictionary. To see Zapotec language in use, watch the documentary web series Dizhsa Nabani.

Further reading on Zapotec influencing Spanish

Beam de Azcona, Rosemary G. In preparation. "El sustrato zapoteco en el español de la Sierra Sur"

Footnotes

[1] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE741dT/ [2] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE741dT/ [3] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE736/ [4] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE736T/ [5] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE726/ [6] This document can be consulted on Ticha at: https://ticha.haverford.edu/en/texts/SDE726/ [post_title] => Zapotec mapped onto Spanish [post_excerpt] => Zapotec-Spanish bilingualism, as it came about in towns like Santo Domingo del Valle, is first visible among the religious and political elites who had reason to use Spanish professionally. In this piece, we will first review the linguistic evidence in Zarate’s work that identifies him as bilingual. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => zapotec-mapped-onto-spanish [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 19:05:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 11:05:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8085 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8033 [post_author] => 83 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:05:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:05:35 [post_content] => When you hear the word ‘mutation’, your mind may jump to the dramatic result of a scientific experiment gone wrong, or maybe to the occasional blip in the amazing unravelling and duplication of our genetic code. But it’s not surprising that this term has a well-known meaning in linguistics too: after all, languages are themselves products of nature which can unravel, evolve and transform in an incredible number of ways. If you’ve ever started learning a Celtic language, you may have come across a particularly interesting grammatical phenomenon in which the beginning of words can change or ‘mutate’ in certain contexts. For example, let’s take the Welsh word Cymru, which means ‘Wales’. Normally this word starts with a c, but if you have ever visited Wales, you most likely would have passed a sign with the words Croeso i Gymru, or ‘Welcome to Wales’, and you can truly say that you are now yng Nghymru, that is, ‘in Wales’. As we can see, the same Welsh word appears in three different linguistic contexts in three different forms, all differing in their first letters. While many language learners may be familiar with grammars that require the ends of words to change, grammatical rules requiring the modification of the beginning of a word are much less common. Mutations are a type of grammatical function that linguists call phonological marking, a way of conveying grammatical information about a word and its role in the sentence by changing the way it sounds. As we shall see below, even though mutation is a clearly phonological variation, the exact environments in which this process occurs suggest that there are various different underlying causes. Amazingly, these mutations are some of the last remaining fossilised remnants of extremely old sound rules dating back to the early stages of the Celtic language family, and still remain a topic of great interest for linguists of all academic fields. Living transformations Once spoken across Western Europe and the British Isles, the Celtic languages are now hard to find in spoken form, and are limited mostly to small communities in coastal areas. The two surviving branches of this language family are Goidelic, comprising Irish Gaelic and its two descendants Scottish Gaelic and Manx, and Brythonic, which contains Welsh, Breton (spoken in Brittany, France) and the recently revived Cornish language. Understanding how these languages are related is important for making sense of the striking similarities between some of the mutation patterns we see in all six of these languages, as well as the clear differences in how they are structured. For example, Manx and Irish have only two main mutation patterns for initial consonants, whereas a Brythonic language like Breton can have up to four. Mutations even vary according to dialect, region and speaker, and show interesting variation between communities, though for the sake of simplicity here we will use the standard mutation forms usually given in Celtic grammars. So how exactly do mutations work? Simply put, the initial sound of a word undergoes a transformation of some sort, which is represented both in a change in pronunciation and in a change in spelling. Let’s take a common example of mutation in which the beginning of a noun changes after a possessive adjective, namely a word such as ‘my’, ‘your’ or ‘her’. Comparing the unmutated or ‘radical’ form of the word for ‘house’ in Irish, Welsh and Breton we can see that the following changes are possible: [table id=63 /] As can be seen from the table, the word for ‘house’ begins with the same sound [t] in each language. What happens to this sound depends on the rules of each language and on the word that precedes it, processes that are (rather confusingly) given different names depending on which language we’re talking about. Starting with Irish, we see that there are two possibilities: [t] in the word teach may undergo what is called lenition to become [θ] in theach (a sound like English ‘th’ in ‘thing’) or it may be eclipsed to become the sound [d] in dteach. Clearly, this depends on what precedes the word: mo ‘my’ causes the mutation called lenition in the following word, whereas a ‘their’ causes eclipsis. Comparing this to Welsh and Breton, we see that Irish lenition has the same effect as the Welsh aspirate mutation and that eclipsis has the same effect as Welsh and Breton soft mutations, namely that the consonant [t] is voiced to [d]. However, there are also some clear differences. The word va, ‘my’ in Breton, triggers the so-called spirant mutation, transforming [t] to [z], whereas the corresponding word fy in Welsh triggers a nasal mutation, changing [t] to a voiceless nasal sound [ṇ] (pronounced like ‘n’ but with an accompanying puff of air through the nose). At first glance it seems that mutations are already extremely complicated, even after fairly common words! However, despite the technical terminology, it has been observed that these changes are actually quite intuitive to native speakers, and once it is learnt exactly how letters transform, it’s simply a matter of applying the phonological rules correctly. Another observation worth noting is that these sound changes are often quite predictable with a bit of knowledge about phonetics (the study of sound production). To illustrate, let’s take the complete table of possible Welsh mutations: [table id=62 /] For each letter there are some interesting phonetic patterns. For soft mutation, voiceless consonants are voiced, whereas voiced consonants are made fricatives (hissing sounds). For the nasal mutation, sounds simply keep all their phonetic features (voiced or voiceless, pronounced with the teeth or the lips) but are pronounced through the nose, that is, made nasal! The aspirate mutation simply involves making the original letters more like fricatives and pronounced with slightly more aspiration, and so for native speakers there is a clearly learnable link between the original consonants and their mutated forms. While the exact nature of these links differ from language to language, a fascinating feature of Celtic mutation systems is that the same phonetic patterns occur more or less consistently. Another question that arises when faced with understanding mutations is when they actually occur. When talking about sound changes, linguists try to isolate the environments or triggers associated with the change in order to determine the conditions for its occurrence. In Celtic languages, the environment of a mutation categorises it into one of two broad groups: contact mutations and grammatical mutations. Contact mutations are so-called since they occur directly after or in ‘contact’ with common mutating words such as ‘my’, ‘your’, and ‘their’, question words, verbal particles and adverbs, the exact members of which vary from language to language. Less common (and more elusive) are grammatical mutations, in which words are affected if they come before or after a word or phrase with a particular grammatical feature. An illustrative example of this is the common mutation of an adjective that follows any feminine singular noun: [table id=64 /] Here the word for ‘door’, which is masculine in all of these languages, induces no change in the following adjective, whereas for ‘river’, which is feminine, the following adjective mustbe mutated. Intriguingly, when several different mutation-triggering environments occur in a sentence, these may lead to a whole chain of mutations as in this Irish sentence. Shown below is a sentence as it would appear grammatically, with mutations, and then ungrammatically, without mutations (here an asterisk before a phrase means ‘ungrammatical’ or ‘not attested’):

Chaill mé mo fháinne i lár na habhann i ngar don fheirm bheag.

I lost my ring in the middle of the river by the small farm.

*Caill mé mo fáinne i lár na abhann i gar don feirm beag.

Here there are a total of six mutations, with four contact mutations after the words mo, na, i and don, and two grammatical mutations triggered by the past tense (chaill mé) and a preceding feminine singular noun (fheirm bheag). As we can see, features such as tense, gender and definiteness (whether or not we are talking about the thing or a thing) are often marked by mutations in Irish and its sister languages, alongside the expected inflectional endings we see in many other languages. While it would be possible to write this sentence without mutations, as above, this would be highly ungrammatical, and in some cases ambiguous or even incomprehensible. Indeed, as much as mutations have been studied by linguists, it is still incredibly difficult to ascertain why certain grammatical features require sounds to be changed at the beginnings of words, and even native speakers have to learn individual cases off by heart or simply do not use them at all. In order to understand why these linguistic patterns occur, it is necessary to dig deeper into the history of the Celtic language family.

Making sense of mutations: the historical picture

Mutations are not a recent phenomenon: they are recorded in the earliest Celtic texts written in the Roman alphabet, and so studying these can give one a clue about their origins. More information is available in the observable nature of mutations in the living languages themselves. Firstly, in certain cases, mutations are surprisingly similar between languages, even between the Goidelic and Brythonic branches. Usually, this suggests that some common factor is at work. Secondly, many of the phonological processes involved in mutations are very similar, such as the transformation of the stop [m] to the fricative [v] in the words for ‘big’ after a feminine singular adjective. Thirdly, as we have seen, mutations are usually triggered by similar grammatical environments or by the proximity of a small word like a preposition or possessive adjective, even though the exact words involved differ from language to language. Since this evidence applies to all remaining Celtic languages and has even been recorded in the extinct Continental Celtic branch {(Eska 2008)}[ref[Eska, Joseph F. (2008).Continental Celtic in ed. Roger D. Woodward, Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.]], historical linguists argue that mutations must have a common historical origin, which would most likely have originated in their mother language, Proto-Celtic. By recognising that mutations are processes with solely phonological effects, historical linguists argue that mutations originated as a regular phonological process, triggered by the presence of certain sounds in the surrounding environment which are no longer present in the modern language. It is a well-observed linguistic phenomenon that when adjacent in speech, sounds which are articulated differently will change their features in some way so as to become more like one another—a process called assimilation. For example, in English the plural of cat is pronounced as [kats], with a voiceless fricative [s] since it is preceded by another voiceless sound [t]. But when a word ends with a voiced consonant as in log, the plural ending assimilates to this consonant by also becoming voiced, so we actually pronounce the plural as [logz] and not as [logs].Coupled with historical information about previous stages of the Celtic languages, this well-observed tendency of sounds to become similar to each other gives us a clue as to why many of the observable mutations are so similar between different Celtic groups, even in the case of seemingly strange mutations such as [b] to [m] (e.g. Welsh brawd ‘brother’ vs. fy mrawd ‘my brother’). As an example, let’s take the word for ‘two’ which causes mutation of the following word in all of the Celtic languages: [table id=65 /] Despite the differences in spelling, there is a remarkable consistency here in the nature of the resulting contact mutation after ‘two’. In each case the word for ‘cow’ begins with the sound [b], but after ‘two’ this mutates to the sound [v] (note that in Welsh this sound is written as ‘f’). To figure out why this is so, we need to be able to take a look at what Proto-Celtic words may have looked like so as to suggest some motivation for mutations at work. Since there are no actual records of Proto-Celtic, linguists compare evidence from all the Celtic languages and from other Indo-European language families to come up with an approximate reconstruction of individual words. Using these methods, and noting that the Celtic languages all have quite similar words for ‘two’ and ‘cow’, the Proto-Celtic forms are reconstructed as *dwi and *bows respectively (Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru). As in the example above, here an asterisk preceding a word means it has never actually been attested in real language, but in this context it is nevertheless a good working reconstruction of an older form. Putting this together, we can see that in the expression *dwi bows ‘two cows’ the initial [b] of *bows is surrounded by a vowel on either side, which is the phonological environment for the expected mutation. Appealing to the study of sound production in language, linguists can tell that a vowel sound is simply a continuous vibration of the vocal chords as we breathe out, whereas the stop [b] involves a vibration of the vocal chords with closed lips, before suddenly releasing the tension in a burst of air. Although such a sequence of sounds is fully possible (English speakers do this every day) in fast speech, it is a little tricky to vibrate the vocal chords while exhaling, stop the flow of air, and then release it again in a short space of time. Historically, it seems that Proto-Celtic speakers dealt with this by assimilating the initial stop [b] of *bows into the fricative [v], which is a little easier to say between two vowels since it involves both vibration of the vocal chords and a continuous outgoing stream of air from the mouth. Consequently, after the word *dwi nouns beginning with consonants changed phonetically to accommodate the preceding vowel, i.e. *dwi [b]ows became *dwi [v]ows. Over time, as Proto-Celtic changed and became the Celtic languages we know today, such mutating environments either disappeared or were no longer understood as phonological, allowing the effects on following words to be fossilised as a seemingly arbitrary mutation. The evidence for these mutations is widespread, and doesn’t just explain mutations after words that are quite similar to their suggested historical forms. In Irish Gaelic, consonants always undergo eclipsis after the preposition i ‘in’, though this seems to include a set of unrelated sound changes: i mbaile ‘in town’, i gcarraig ‘in rock’, i nÉirinn ‘in Ireland’. Historically, this can be explained by noting that i is originally descended from the Proto-Celtic word *in, which ends in a voiced nasal consonant [n]. Consequently, the following sound assimilated to this final [n] by becoming voiced if it was voiceless (as in gcarraig) or becoming nasal if it was already voiced (as in mbaile) or transferring the [n] to the affected word (as in nÉirinn). When *in lost its final [n] the rule was preserved, thus destroying any phonological motivation for the change but retaining the mutation. This methodology has turned out to be relatively successful in explaining why certain mutations appear where they do, and in charting the development of the notoriously tricky spelling system in Irish as a way of representing these sound changes with ingenuity. However, the fully successful way of modelling all mutations is still being debated in linguistic scholarship, and there are still unanswered questions about certain types of grammatical mutation and how they operate in the mind of a speaker. Despite these difficulties, a historical approach to Celtic mutations provides linguists with useful knowledge of change and transformations from two different perspectives. Firstly, what appear at first to be arbitrary and confusing alternations in the beginnings of words are shown to have underlying patterns that can be uncovered by concentrating on exactly how mutation changes the sounds of a word. On the other hand, the historical approach enables linguists to look back into the past and learn how the previous forms of a language can structure and explain its present.
Language change is an inherent part of human communication, and it is the task of linguists to look between the lines and find the hidden regularities underneath seemingly irregular effects in the hope of understanding phenomena as unique and fascinating as mutations.
[post_title] => Mutations in Celtic languages [post_excerpt] => If you’ve ever started learning a Celtic language, you may have come across a particularly interesting grammatical phenomenon in which the beginning of words can change or ‘mutate’ in certain contexts. For example, let’s take the Welsh word Cymru, which means ‘Wales’. Normally this word starts with a c, but if you have ever visited Wales, you most likely would have passed a sign with the words Croeso i Gymru, or ‘Welcome to Wales’, and you can truly say that you are now yng Nghymru, that is, ‘in Wales’. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => mutations-in-celtic-languages [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 20:07:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 12:07:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8033 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8188 [post_author] => 90 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:03:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:03:49 [post_content] =>

Language of the Fenua across the seas

Reo Ta’hiti (The Language of Ta’hiti), or Tahitian,is part of the Reo Mā’ohi, a term for the ensemble of indigenous languages spoken in French Polynesia. There are five main indigenous languages: Tahitian (Reo Ta’hiti), Tuamotuan (Pa’umotu), Marquesan (Reo Nu’uhiva), Rurutu-Tupuai (Reo Tuha’a pae), Mangarevan (Reo Mareva). Composed of 118 islands and atolls scattered throughout a territory that is roughly the size of Metropolitan France itself, French Polynesia has both French and Tahitian as official languages. While French is the institutional and educational language, the Reo Ta’hiti is a vernacular that is most commonly used at home. More than half of the French Polynesian population is bilingual, speaking French and at least one other Reo Mā’ohi, and with about 125,000 speakers concentrated in the Society Islands, the Reo Ta’hiti is the most spoken indigenous language of the region ({Peltzer & Tuheiava-Richaud, 2011}[ref[Peltzer, L, Tuheiava-Richaud, V. S (2011). Tahitien de poche. Assimil France. ]]). However, it is, to some extent, spoken across all of French Polynesia and by diasporic groups in Vanuatu, New Caledonia, France, and other territories. This typically refers to Tahitian peoples having left Tahiti and French Polynesia for various reasons (to work abroad, to study, etc.), who maintain strong cultural links with the culture of their homeland. Originally the language of the Mā’ohi peoples before the successive waves of evangelization and of colonization (in that order) that started in the 19th century and continued through the 20th century, the Tahitian language travelled across the various archipelagos of French Polynesia (Tuamotus, Austral islands, Gambier islands, Marquesas, Bass islands) and branched out into other dialects. If their common origin links the indigenous languages of French Polynesia to the Reo Ta’hiti, they are all invariably distinct. Note: “Fenua” means land in Tahitian. It generally bears affective connotations to the Mā’ohi peoples who use it to refer to their homeland in French Polynesia.

In thirteen letters

As is often the case with languages, theReo Ta’hitiis very sensitive to pronunciation. Good grammar skills won’t take you very far if your pronunciation is lacking. As a matter of fact, the Tahitian alphabet only contains thirteen letters: eight consonants (f, h, m, n, p, r, t, v) and five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). Not surprising then that so much comprehensibility lies on Phonology’s thin shoulders. Be careful about the “u” which sounds like the “oo” in “foot”. The “h” is heard, just like in English. The pronunciation of the vowels can vary. They can either be short (a, e, i, o, u) and unstressed, or long (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū) and stressed upon. For example, [i] would be pronounced as in “city”, while [ī] would be closer to “teem”. One important sound, eta, is symbolized by a reversed comma ʻ and corresponds to a glottal pause; the airflow is blocked in the vocal tract. It is so important, in fact, that it is considered a separate consonant. Let’s see with a few examples of why pronunciation is key. Oftentimes, the vowels (long or short) or the etaare the only distinctions between two or three words with spellings that look traitorously similar but with different meanings.
ʻaʻo (animal fat) ao (day, world) aʻo (advice, teaching)
iʻa (fish) ʻīʻā (to overflow) ʻiʻa (to coat)
ʻāvaʻe (moon, month) ʻāvae (leg) ʻavae (sugar cane)
 

The incongruity of written orality

Languages are in constant process of evolution; they’re changing, adapting, getting influenced and being remodeled. Before the first contact with European missionaries and navigators, theReo Ta’hiti, like most languages, was submitted to its own internal variations ({Vernier, 1948: 59}[ref[Vernier, C (1948). “Les variations du vocabulaire Tahitien avant et après les contacts européens.” Journal de la Société des Océanistes, Paris: 57-85. ]]). Then the Europeans accosted. The Protestant missionaries of the London Missionary Society came to Tahiti in the early nineteenth century, converted the main ariki (chiefs), and initiated a dramatic change in the practice of the Reo Ta’hiti, notably by translating the Bible into Tahitian (undefined). The language officially went from purely spoken to scribbled and penned. A way to save the language, to immortalize the words? Possibly. But some Mā’ohi scholars and writers argue that this spoken-to-written transition instead contributed to the weakening of the Tahitian tradition of orality. Tahitian poet and educator Flora Devatine blames colonialism and the transition to writing for muting Polynesian orality ({2009: 13}[ref[Devatine, F (2009). “Written Tradition, Oral Tradition, Oral Literature, Fiuriture.” Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 3(2), 10-14.]]). By defining it as “the foundation, the support, the construction and the boat that guides the navigation of one’s thoughts” ({2009: 10}[ref[Devatine, F (2009). “Written Tradition, Oral Tradition, Oral Literature, Fiuriture.” Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 3(2), 10-14.]]), she underscores its significance for the speakers and for the cultural traditions of the region. In the same vein, Polynesian author Chantal Spitz, whose famous novel L’île des Rêves Écrasés was first published in 1991, deplores the “hegemony of writing over orality” (my translation, {Sultan, 2011: 65}[ref[Sultan, P. (2011). La scène littéraire post-coloniale. Paris: Editions Le Manuscript. ]]). Chantal Spitz’s controversial masterpiece was translated by Anderson Jean under the English title “Island of Shattered Dreams” and published by Huia in 2007. But both these authors’ literary pieces, infused with Tahitian orality and Reo Ta’hiti words, show how French Polynesian writers manage to turn this aspect of the language into a cultural, literary strength.

Relations of power

Reo Ta’hiti is not spared the indigenous linguicide imposed by the rise of super-global languages. In spite of its institutionalization and of its inclusion in the French Polynesian school curriculum in 1981, the Tahitian language sees its number of speakers decline. Worse yet, a recent sociolinguistic study suggests that the Tahitian language has been reduced to basic and extremely simple communication phrases and expressions in the mouths of the youngest generations of speakers ({Salaün et al., 2016}[ref[Salaün, M, Vernaudon, J, Paia, M (2016). “’Le Tahitien c’est pour dire bonjour et au revoir’: paroles d’enfants sur une langue autochtone en sursis.” Enfances, Familles, Générations: Revue Interdisciplinaire sur la Famille Contemporaine, n.25, 1-64. ]]). Several factors can explain this intergenerational decline in linguistic practices. One of them is the general ban of the Reo Ta’hitiby French schools and administrations that lasted over a century, roughly until the 1980s. Speaking Tahitian was not just frowned upon, it was forbidden. In an interview, author Chantal Spitz shares her anecdote of the Tahitian language interdiction at school when she was young. Whenever a child was heard speaking the Reo Ta’hiti, he was given a seashell. If he were lucky, another child would be caught speaking the forbidden language and would become the stigmatized offender in his place. Otherwise, as bearer of the seashell, he would be pulling weeds after school as punishment. Later, as the interdiction was progressively lifted, parents were still strongly advised not to speak Tahitian to their children. The general idea was that speaking the indigenous language at home would hinder their children’s learning of French at school. Studies in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics have since refuted this claim, and they even advertise the benefits of exposure to multiple languages ({Fan et al., 2015}[ref[Fan, SP, Liberman, Z, Keysar, B, & Kinzler, KD. (2015). “The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication.” Psycho Sci 26(7), 1090-7. ]]). But undoing a century of linguistic censorship and uprooting an erroneous belief that has embedded itself deeply into the collective consciousness is harder said than done.
Add globalization into the mix, and the Reo Ta’hiti appears more and more like a street vendor about to be swallowed by a multinational fast-food chain.

A cultural wake-up call  

Facing risks of extinction in the long run, the Reo Ta’hiti has no choice but to voice its own warning. Tahitian linguists and artists call for a re-appropriation of the language by the younger generations, for a cultural and linguistic awakening, as letting theReo Ta’hiti turn into an unspoken dialect would mean losing a part of the Mā'ohi culture. Steve Chailloux, Tahitian instructor at the University of Manoā in Hawaii, encourages people to try out the language, no matter their levels of proficiency ({Chameau, 2016}[ref[Chameau, Christine (2016, December 17). “Reo Tahiti, enquête sur une langue qui se meurt.” Telerama. https://www.telerama.fr/television/reo-tahiti-enquete-sur-une-langue-qui-se-meurt,151553.php]]). With 2019 being credited the “Year of Indigenous Languages” by UNESCO, an acknowledgement of the increasing threat of extinction hanging over the indigenous languages, but also of the cultural resonance that such languages sustain, what better time to start learning (or re-learning) the Reo Ta’hiti?

The best time is now...

Say hello to your friends... ʻIa ora na! Ask them how they are... ʻE aha te huru? Impress them by toasting in Tahitian... Manuia! Tell your beloved “I love you”... Ua here vau ia oe Or that he/she is beautiful... Mea purotu roa oe Say that you’re fed up... Fiu pei! Or that you don’t mind...ʻAita e’pe’a pe’a. Say thank you... Māuruuru. And goodbye... Nana! Want more? Check out the Tahihi Tourism website for common expressions in Tahiti and Steve Chailloux’s Youtube channel E Reo Tō ‘Oeto hear Tahitian: [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpqXABBXZes[/embed] [post_title] => Te Reo Ta’hiti [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => te-reo-tahiti [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 20:04:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 12:04:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8188 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8200 [post_author] => 91 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:03:23 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:03:23 [post_content] => A young couple about to marry listen to their wizened grandparents’ words of guidance and warning. They stand in the front room of a white house in a small Mexican village surrounded by lush farmlands and misty mountains. Only the parents, and two stealthy observers Brenda Barrera Lino and Mariana Figueroa Martínez eavesdropping from just outside, witness the solemn moment. The tradition is an intimate one. As the community bustles outside preparing for a wedding, Barrera Lino hears only the murmur of the Mazahua words. The novios, passive speakers of the indigenous language, can respond only in Spanish, although they understand the words their grandparents speak. Language loss is a nearly imperceptible process that severs enduring lines of cultural continuity. The moment a passive speaker realizes she’s lost a link to her identity can be as isolating as watching family members carouse on the beach unaware as a riptide sweeps her away. About 111,840 people in communities throughout central Mexico speak Mazahua, down from over 133,000 speakers in 2000. That’s a 10% drop in 15 years. In just two generations, for many, a connection that supports their sense of Mazahua self and community is lost.

The workshop for speakers of Otomanguean languages

On the historic Oaxaca streets, en route to the Biblioteca de Investigación Juan de Córdova, the Juan Córdova Research Library, the morning bustle is set against the sweet, citrus smell from a nearby orange juice vendor. The corn scent of tamales wafts through the iron gates and out onto the courtyard of the Centro Cultural San Pablo (San Pablo Cultural Center). Creeping cactus with bursting white blossoms cling to walls as a gardener clips the grasses growing between the patio bricks. It’s day three in a seven-day workshop. Librarians, teachers, writers, and musicians, all speakers of indigenous languages spoken in Oaxaca, mill around eager to enter the library nestled within the renovated walls of the one-time convent. One year after their surreptitious participation in the pre-marriage ritual, Barrera Lino and Figueroa Martínez wait with fellow workshop attendees. Mexico’s linguistic landscape is vast. The country has seven language families and four isolates. Three families and two isolates, languages that are not related to any other language, are spoken in Oaxaca, a state roughly the size of the US state of Georgia. By comparison, the entire continent of Europe has five language families. Every year, the Workshop for Speakers of Otomanguean Languages draws native and heritage indigenous language speakers. The workshop provides linguistic tools for people seeking to fit their languages into daily life. This is the first of a three-year series focused on creating texts. They’ve come to write songs, create calendars, pen folk tales, draw comic books, and text their friends. Barrera Lino wants to do it all. She was a passive speaker. She grew up hearing the language and understood it but didn’t speak it. As a young adult, she learned to actively speak Mazahua and is now a fluent speaker. Speakers of ten languages congregate at the library, and organizers have sorted the workshop attendees into groups by language. Barrera Lino and Figueroa Martínez are in a small group with six workmates who speak Mazahua, Otomí, Amuzgo and Me’phaa. They gather with three mentors in a remodeled cloister with crisp white walls and concrete windows overlooking a small courtyard below. The hum of traffic and chirping of birds set the backdrop for the classroom chatter. Participants share freshly penned prose and present questions. Barrera Lino and Figueroa Martínez are up. They project lines of Mazahua text on the white screen. Behind them, a chalkboard marked with vowels accented with upticks, downticks and squiggles stands by as reference. Justin MacIntosh, lecturer in the linguistics department at the University of California San Diego and a co-organizer of the workshop, is one of three mentors working with the group. He asks the Mazahua pair what they would like to present. Barrera Lino exclaims, “Un montón de dudas!” (‘a mountain of questions’). The class laughs, but they are sympathetic. They are all trying to work out how to represent the tones in their languages. But first they have to identify them. At this early stage in the workshop, all five groups are laying down the groundwork for the next three years. For some, this means working out tones.

The challenges of tone

The Otomanguean languages are tone languages, or languages that use pitch to differentiate words and parts of speech. All the tick and squiggle marks written in these languages mark rising pitch, falling pitch, tones that rise and fall, and vice versa. Or even pitch that rises and falls and rises again. The classic example of a tone language comes from Mandarin Chinese. The most widely referenced set of words, ‘mother’, ‘hemp’, ‘horse’, mà ‘scold’, and ma (question particle), are each distinguishable by tone, or lack thereof. Barrera Lino reads a line from the passage that Figueroa Martínez wrote for homework. First she reads it slowly. They test to see if the words are readable. Barrera Lino stumbles over a word. The term “dialect” is politically loaded since historically it demoted the status of an indigenous language to something less. “Variety” is both politically neutral and descriptively useful. The tone here in Martinez’ text is different from her own variety of Mazahua. Barrera Lino is from San Felipe del Progreso. Figueroa Martínez is from La Concepción Segunda, the town where the two witnessed the pre-wedding exchange between grandparents and novios. Both women study language and culture at the Universidad Intercultural del Estado de México (Mexico State Intercultural University), where they became fast friends. They spend a lot of time talking about Mazahua. In class, the duo’s challenge is to compare words in their varieties to identify what the tones are, how many there are, how they might be similar or different, and how they’ll represent them (with ticks, á, and squiggles, â, or with numbers, a5, where 5 indicates a high tone). They note the differences as they play with different words. Identifying tones and deciding how to represent them is no small feat. The Eastern Chatino group has cloistered itself away behind a maze of exhibit spaces displaying colorful masks, a six foot steel mosquito sculpture, and an ensconced courtyard featuring water and stone. This animated group is led by Emiliana Cruz, researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City (Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology), a main co-organizer and founder of the workshop, and a native speaker of Chatino. They project Chatino verses and word lists on the crisp, white walls as they brainstorm jokes and insults and methodically compare tones word-by-word across the three varieties spoken in the room. In Chatino, tones vary wildly across the varieties. Zacatepec Eastern Chatino has five tones, San Juan Quiahije Chatino has twelve tones, and Zenzontepec Chatino has only two tones. Compare that with Mandarin, which has five. Tones are tough. Researchers have been known to overlook tone. The Zapotec group, easily the largest at the workshop with 27 speakers, occupies the auditorium above the water and stone courtyard. Speakers of six Zapotecan varieties form this group, led by Francisco Arellanes Arellanes, professor at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Institute of Philological Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico), and Rosa Maria Rojas Torres, researcher from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History). Attendees take turns listening to recordings of poetry they each wrote the night before and together work out the best ways to represent the sounds and tones. Roughly 410,900 people speak Zapotec languages, and compared to other languages in Mexico, Zapotec enjoys substantially more research attention. Yet a number of academic papers overlook tone in their descriptions of the language. Anthony Woodbury, professor of linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin, co-organizer of the workshop, and a mentor to Barrera Lino’s group, says this is problematic since some Zapotec languages use tone in subordinate clauses the way English uses “that” or “which” to form clauses. The oversight is as significant as omitting the word “which” when writing a grammar book of English. In Mazahua, words for “my stick” and “your stick” are almost the same, in mbala. It is the tone that distinguishes the meaning. The term ín mbala with a high tone means ‘my stick’, which might be written with an uptick. In contrast, in mbala meaning ‘your stick’ has no tone, neutral tone. Barrera Lino and Figueroa Martinez stumble upon differences in their varieties. Figueroa Martínez explains, “It’s complicated because there are differences in speech between different communities, but there are also differences within single communities, between generations.”

Expenses measured in time and sweat

Each Saturday morning, Barrera Lino sets out from her home in San Felipe, 90 miles from Mexico City, and takes a 45-minute bus ride to the desviación de Tapaxco, a bus stop at a fork in the road. From there, she catches a taxi for 10 pesos to the center of Yomeje. She then walks 30 minutes uphill through farmland to the Iglesia La Magdalena. Once she arrives, she teaches Mazahua to 15 kids aged six to 17 for two hours in an unfurnished room of an abandoned two-room adobe school. When she’s not attending university classes or doing homework, she spends her time creating games and activities to teach children. All the materials she uses are recycled or repurposed. Several mothers have expressed interest in learning how to read and write in Mazahua. Soon she’ll teach them too. In Oaxaca, the women have joined 42 attendees and ten organizers from the U.S. and Mexico. Until this year, the Harp Helu Foundation and the National Institute of Indigenous Languages funded the Otomanguean workshops. When the Mexican government changed, priorities shifted and funds were redirected. This year, with no external funding sources, workshop organizers launched a GoFundMe drive that raised USD 3,400 (about 64,700 Mexican pesos)—enough to provide meals and lodging for twenty Otomanguean speakers to attend the workshop. Michael Swanton, academic director at the Biblioteca de Investigación Juan de Córdova, professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, and a workshop co-organizer, believes that a strength of the workshop is that it draws “highly specialized academics who are willing to come to Oaxaca every year at their own expense to provide this mentorship.” They work on topics important to the attendees, often setting aside their own envisioned goals to accommodate the group. “Originally, the plan was to work with texts and record them and analyze them,” MacIntosh recalls. For linguists, texts are samples of recorded stories, conversations, recipes, and explanations. “But people started pulling texts out of their own head,” he adds. They started creating texts in the form of poems, announcements, and jokes on the spot.

What’s in a text?

It’s easy for language lovers to immerse themselves in the minutiae of language and words and tones, but here mentors and attendees think about language in terms of the communities that speak them. The central idea of the workshop is to approach language as verbal art. To look beyond specialized speech that comes with ceremonial speech or storytelling. To look at everyday speech, like jokes and insults. The Center makes its library space and resources available for the workshop, one of many cultural projects it offers scholars and countryfolk alike. Library employees who speak native languages, each with stories that reflect the light and shadow of their relationships with identity and language and connection, also attend. They help shape the myriad of ways that the workshop approaches language use. Team Mazatec, led by Mario Chávez Peón, professor of linguistics at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City, is taking text in a different direction. Under the leadership of resident librarian and Mazatec speaker Gabriela García García, who has printed paper calendars for the Library since 2013, the group is creating an interactive, web-based, 18-month and 5-day calendar that represents the Mazatec year. Each month has a theme, such as tecolote (owl), najme (maize), and huipil (embroidered blouse). The theme highlights recipes, poems, riddles, activities, cultural subjects, and games. Each section and activity is a brief, researched text. MacIntosh stresses “[these] languages are deeply in danger of falling out of use…so it's this idea of how can we document the languages in a way or promote types of texts, or reading, or literacy. A lot of people don’t even read their own languages. So it's a really different focus in that sense.” Beyond the complexities of what it takes to work with texts, what emerges from the workshop are the stories that illustrate the lengths individuals go to preserve and rebuild connections with the people in their cultures.

Rebuilding the lines of continuity

Barrera Lino recalls winding her way through the market of San Felipe among stalls displaying colorful vegetables and leafy green herbs. The sweet, earthy scents of ripening fruit and roasting nuts mingle under the clear blue sky as vendors call out their products or chat with one other. She approaches an abuelita (grandmother, affectionately) with her herbs and remedies carefully arranged on a blanket on the ground. She remembers what it was like before she knew how to speak Mazahua.
“If you ask in Spanish, they’re going to tell you it’ll cure your stomach pain, but nothing else.”
Since learning to speak Mazahua, “When you talk to them in their language, there’s a feeling, a connection. When you ask them in their language, they tell you what it’s used for, how it’s prepared, how you take it, and what else it’s good for.” For Barrera Lino, it’s about more than formally transcribing a recipe to analyze sounds and sentence structure. She wants to reconnect intergenerational lines with the doñita (elderly woman, affectionately) selling her remedies in the market. She wants to sing original Mazahua songs with her young students. She wants to text her friends in Mazahua. [post_title] => Mazahua: Text, tone & tradition [post_excerpt] => About 111,840 people in communities throughout central Mexico speak Mazahua, down from over 133,000 speakers in 2000. That’s a 10% drop in 15 years. In just two generations, for many, a connection that supports their sense of Mazahua self and community is lost. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => mazahua-text-tone-tradition [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-07 01:03:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 17:03:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8200 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8115 [post_author] => 88 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:02:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:02:26 [post_content] => Few languages have contributed as much to English as Greek has, and few works of poetry have influenced English literature as profoundly as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, but the influence of Homer’s language on English has been surprisingly limited. Thousands of English words derive from Greek, and while many of these derivatives are first recorded in the Homeric epics—think ‘music’ (moûsa, Od. 1.1), ‘pathetic’ (páthen, Od. 1.4), and ‘psychic’ (psukhén, Od. 1.5)—only a handful of English words actually derive from Homer. This article is about the journeys those words took on their paths from Homer, at the end of the eighth century BCE, into English today.

‘Mentor’

Given that ‘mentor’ ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- ‘think’ (whence English ‘mind’), the semantic evolution of ‘mentor’ seems clear enough. But its etymological journey into English is more circuitous than you might think. Mentor first appears as a character in the Odyssey, where he is described as Odysseus’ trusted companion in Ithaca. He is chosen as one of the guides for Telemachus’ journey to Pylos and Sparta, and from that point forward Mentor is the preferred disguise which Athena takes on whenever she wants to communicate with Telemachus, as she guides him on his way. ‘Mentor’ has appeared as a proper noun in English translations of the Odyssey since the early seventeenth century, but it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that ‘mentor’ entered English as a common noun, thanks to the widespread success of François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque (1699). Fénelon expanded on the Odyssey’s account of Telemachus’ travels, taking Mentor as the hero and mouthpiece for his critique of Louis XIV. The novel was a best-seller in France and appeared in English within a year of its publication. Owing to the popularity of Fénelon’s novel (and Mentor’s prominence within it), Mentor’s name came to be used as a byword for ‘guide.’ Homer made Mentor who he is, but Fénelon made ‘mentor’ mean what it does.

‘Siren’

The origin of ‘siren,’ like the creatures it names, is somewhat mysterious. It derives from ancient Greek Seirēn, referring to Homer’s mellifluous enchantress of the sea. Seirēn may in turn derive from another ancient Greek word, seirá ‘rope,’ perhaps in reference to the spellbinding nature of the Sirens’ song. The motif of binding is central to Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens in the Odyssey, when, acting on Circe’s advice, he instructs his crew to tie him to the mast so that he can safely hear the Sirens sing. Ancient authors reached no consensus on the parentage, number, or location of the Sirens, but agreed on three key strands which have been formative for the word’s meaning in contemporary English. First, the Sirens were always depicted as part-woman; the word was used metaphorically to refer to a monstrous or deceitful woman as early as the fifth century BCE. Second, the Sirens were consistently represented as producers of alluring song; the first attested use of ‘siren’ in English as a producer of seductive song is in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Finally, the Sirens have always had a connection with the sea. Over time, Homer’s seaside singers came to be understood as marine creatures. As Chaucer wrote in The Romaunt of the Rose:

Though we mermaydens clepe hem here, In English, as in our usaunce, Men clepen hem sereyns in Fraunce.

Though we call them ‘mermaids’ here, In English, as in our usage, Men call them ‘sirens’ in France.

Even today, the French word for ‘mermaid’ is ‘sirène.’ The more common meaning of ‘siren’ today, i.e., ‘alarm,’ originates with a musical instrument invented by the Scottish physicist and conspiracy theorist, John Robison, in the late eighteenth century. Shortly thereafter, Baron Charles Cagniard de la Tour improved the device, giving his tone-producing instrument the peculiar capacity to function underwater. Inspired by this property, de la Tour named his invention after those sonorous sea-creatures of antiquity, and ‘siren’ acquired a new meaning. The machine kept its name as it evolved from an obscure musical instrument to an all-purpose sound-producer.

‘Odyssey’

The title of the Odyssey and the common noun that derives from it ultimately come from the poem’s central character, Odysseus. The actual etymology of Odysseus’ name is disputed, but folk etymologies have been proposed as early as the Odyssey itself; when Odysseus’ grandfather Autolycus visited his infant grandchild, he named him ‘hateful one,’ from the Greek verb form odúsasthai ‘to hate’ (Od. 19.406-9):

My son-in-law and daughter, give him what name I say. Since I come as one who has angered (odussámenos) many, men and women alike, throughout the fertile land, let his name be Odysseus.

The title of Homer’s epic—Odússeia in ancient Greek—was variable in English until the eighteenth century. George Chapman and Thomas Hobbes, for example, both referred to their translations of the Homeric epics as the “Iliads and Odysses” of Homer. While figurative uses of ‘odyssey’ appear in French from the end of the eighteenth century, it wasn’t until the end of the next century that ‘odyssey’ entered figurative usage in English, giving rise to its current meaning: an eventful journey. In Homer’s day, only Odysseus could have had an odyssey; now anyone can.

‘Python’

Though the etymological journey of ‘python’ begins with neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey, the word is nevertheless ‘Homeric’ in the sense that it originates with the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, a poem written in the meter and style of the great Homeric epics, once believed to have been composed by the legendary bard himself. Among other things, the hymn explains how Apollo established his sanctuary on the slopes of Mount Parnassus by slaying Python, the monstrous serpent who lived there. While the actual etymology of the monster’s name is uncertain, the poem provides an explanation. According to the hymn, Apollo leaves the serpent to rot (púthein) where he died. From this putrefaction came the names both of the monster, Púthōn, and the place, Púthōn or Puthó, commemorated in one of Apollo’s cult titles and in the ‘Pythian’ games, held in his honor. It might seem strange that a large snake native to the tropical parts of Africa and Asia takes its name with a Greek mythological monster. This was a singular contribution of eighteenth century French zoologist François Marie Daudin. Daudin had wide-ranging interests, publishing books on and naming several species of worms and mollusks, but it was in herpetology—the study of reptiles—that Daudin had his most lasting etymological impact. He named nine genera of snakes, and he drew several names from Greek roots or stories. For instance, he named a genus of vipers Lachesis after one of the Three Fates. As for a new scientific name for a genus of gigantic constricting snakes, ‘python’ must have seemed a logical choice.

‘Pander’

The minor Trojan warrior Pandarus has his big moment in book 4 of the Iliad. Having been duped by Athena in disguise, he hits Menelaus with an arrow and sabotages a potentially war-ending truce. It may have been for this act of treachery that Pandarus’ name fell into etymological disrepute, bequeathing to us the English verb ‘pander.’ As the Troy legend continued to be told and retold, new stories developed and new characters rose to prominence. One particularly popular offshoot of the Troy legend was the romance of Troilus and Cressida. In Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, the lovers are brought together through the help of Pandarus, a friend of Troilus and a relation of Cressida. Homer’s oath-breaker received new life in English with Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which kept Boccaccio’s Pandarus, but imbued him with sophistic eloquence. Pandarus’ character underwent another decisive transformation in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which portrayed him as a lewd and syphilitic pimp. By the mid-fifteenth century, ‘Pandarus’ could be used to refer to a pimp or an intermediary in secret love-affairs, and by 1603, a ‘pander’ could be used to refer more generally to someone who “assists the immoral urges of others.” Though the noun has since become obsolete, the verb retains traces of its disreputable descent.

‘Kudos’

In Homer’s Greek, kûdos meant ‘glory’ or ‘renown,’ particularly that which was won in war. In the Iliad, Diomedes remarks that kûdos will attend Agamemnon if the Achaeans capture Ilios, and Ares sits in kûdos beside Zeus. ‘Kudos’ first appeared in English in 1793, in Robert Southey’s poetic ‘study’ of a cat, in which the narrator recalls having heard a fur coat “Kudos’d egregiously in heathen Greek.” By the mid-nineteenth century, Benjamin Disraeli could tell his sister that he had been “spoken of with great kudos.”

‘Hector’

If you’ve ever read the Iliad, it might come as a surprise that Hector, the great Trojan prince, has been memorialized in English as a braggadocious bully. True, he berates Paris for embroiling the Trojans in an unnecessary war and disparages Polydamas’ sound advice, but surely we should all be ‘Agamemnon-ing’ each other instead? The verb ‘hector’ derives from ancient Greek Héktōr, an agent noun formed from the verb ékhō ‘hold.’ Hector is the ‘holder’ of Ilios, an etymological connection that Homer and Plato both appear to have recognized. Hector’s name is attested in English from the fourteenth century, but his name wasn’t associated with bullying until the mid-seventeenth century, when a notorious gang of London-based con-artists named themselves ‘the Hectors’ in homage to Homer’s hero. The Hectors made their first recorded appearance in English in 1652, in a pamphlet entitled, A notable and pleasant history of the Famous renowned Knights of the Blade, commonly called Hectors or, St. Nicholas Clerkes, which complains of the gang’s “flim-flams” and describes their manner of life as one that “consists much in cheat and cousenage, gaming, decoying, pimping, whoring, swearing, and drinking, and with the nobler sort, in robbing.” In the following year, John Cleveland wrote “To the Hectors,” a poem that describes them as “tame Professors of the Sword.” By the latter half of the seventeenth century, the word was extended from the gang and applied to their nefarious activities more generally, giving rise to the use of hector as a verb. Thus, Charles II of England could say, as Samuel Pepys recorded, “that he would not be hector’d out of his right and preeminency’s by the King of France.” The Hectors weren’t the only classically-educated gang terrorizing the streets of London in the seventeenth-century, however. In fact, they seem to have modeled themselves on the Tityretus, who took their name from the first words of the Roman Homer’s first Eclogue, Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi (“you, Tityrus, relaxing under the shield of a spreading beech tree”).

‘Stentorian’

Like ‘kudos,’ ‘stentorian’ is borrowed from ancient Greek with little semantic change. The adjective derives from Homeric Greek Sténtōr, the name of one of the Greeks who fought at Troy, formed from the verb sténō ‘moan.’ Stentor was first mentioned in the Iliad, where he appears only once, as a vessel for Hera’s exhortation to the Greek troops (Il. 5.784-6):

Then the goddess, white-armed Hera, stood and shouted in the guise of brave, bronze-voiced Stentor, whose voice has the strength of fifty men.

After his brief appearance in the Iliad, Stentor’s powerful voice became proverbial, and the adjective Stentóreios ‘Stentorian’ came into use from the fourth century BCE. The first recorded use of the adjective is in Aristotle’s Politics, where he says that cities cannot function if they’re too large, since no herald could be effective in such a city unless he were truly Stentorian. ‘Stentorian’ is first attested in English in 1605, when Joshua Sylvester translated Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas’ Semaines as Divine Weeks and Works, wherein he promises that his “Stentorian song, | With warbled echoes of a silver tongue, | Shall brim be heard from India even to Spain, | And then from thence to the Arctic wain.” [post_title] => Homeric word journeys [post_excerpt] => Few languages have contributed as much to English as Greek has, and few works of poetry have influenced English literature as profoundly as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, but the influence of Homer’s language on English is underrated. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => homeric-word-journeys [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 19:07:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 11:07:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8115 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8207 [post_author] => 92 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:02:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:02:24 [post_content] => What do flies, foxes, thumbs, and mustard have in common? Besides the fact that you likely wouldn’t want any of the first three in your mustard, the answer is simpler than you might think: all of the above words are parts of popular German idioms. Learning idioms is one of the best parts about studying languages. Besides sounding rather amusing in their directly-translated forms, such phrases are sure to impress any local you may happen to meet. Below, find ten of the most popular German idioms that are sure to help you knock a native speaker’s socks off (see, English has good idioms too! But I digress…). Let’s find out what those flies, foxes, thumbs, and mustard are all about!

Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen To kill two flies with one fly-swatter 

While we “kill two birds with one stone” in English, German speakers choose to eliminate pesky flies instead. As this is slightly more socially acceptable than going around throwing stones at cute little birds, I think the Germans have won this particular idiom battle.

Einen Vogel haben To have a bird

However, just because they kill flies does not mean that the Germans have no idioms about birds. If someone “has a bird” in the German language, it means that they are acting insane, and therefore must have a bird flying around in their head. I guess that’s why German speakers don’t try to kill two birds with one stone – if the birds in question are in a person’s head, things might get a little tricky. I get it, Germans, I get it.

Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen To act like an insulted liverwurst

The German language is full of sausage idioms, and this is one of the best. To act like an insulted liverwurst (sausage made from liver) means “to sulk or to pout”. So if someone tells you that “you have a bird”, do your best not to sulk, because you may face accusations of acting like a disgruntled sausage before you can even begin to defend yourself.

Schwein haben To have a pig

If you’re going to have an animal in German culture, I would definitely advise having a pig. To have a pig means that you’ve experienced good luck, which is why people will sometimes gift each other items with pigs on them to express good wishes for the New Year. I have to admit, the first time I received a pig keychain as a present from my Austrian mother-in-law, I was a bit confused, but I now know the meaning behind it. And I am very grateful she didn’t gift me a bird instead.

Jemandem die Daumen drücken To press your thumbs for someone

No, this is not a torture method. If you press your thumbs for someone, it means you are crossing your fingers for them, or wishing them good luck. So if you really want your friend to have a pig this coming year, you better press those thumbs and cross those fingers — a little extra luck never hurt anyone!

Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen Where the fox and hare say goodnight to one another

You wouldn’t normally think of the fox as a polite animal who bids a lovely evening to his prey, would you? I didn’t think so. And that’s where this idiom comes from. As the chance of a fox saying goodnight to a hare is very small (assuming he could talk, of course), the Germans say that such a greeting would only happen in the middle of nowhere — which is precisely what this idiom means. So next time you have to drive way out into the country, see if you can find a polite fox wishing his neighbor rabbit a pleasant evening. Perhaps he’ll invite you in for tea.

Den Löffel abgeben To give up your spoon 

If the fox does invite you in for tea, I sincerely hope you don’t have to give up your spoon. Why? This phrase means “to die” in English. In the Middle Ages, there wasn’t a lot of silverware to go around, so when a member of the family died, his spoon was apparently passed down to the next generation — and giving up the spoon became a euphemism for dying.

Auf Wolke 7 sein To be on cloud seven

Let’s return to slightly happier topics, shall we? While we English-speakers hang out on cloud nine, the German-speakers like to congregate down on cloud seven. To each their own, right? But no two clouds are created equal — while being on cloud nine means that you’re extremely happy, being on cloud seven means that you’re in love. Makes me wonder what’s on cloud eight…

Seinen Senf dazugeben To contribute one’s mustard

In English, we put in our two cents to a conversation, but in German, if someone wants to offer their opinion, they are contributing their mustard. I suppose that with all those sausage idioms in the German language, they needed a little mustard idiom as a topping.

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof I only understand train station

If you don’t understand an idiom a German speaker tells you, just say “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!” This means “I don’t understand a thing” or “It’s all Greek to me.” This phrase is thought to have come from World War I, when soldiers would get permission to go to the train station to make their way home. The soldiers would be so excited to hear the word “station” that they didn’t listen to or understand anything else that came after the word — hence the “I only understand train station.” With these 10 German idioms, I hope you’ll now be able to understand more than just train station and contribute your own mustard to any German conversation you may have. Good luck or Viel Glück — I hope you have a pig with all of your German learning! [post_title] => German idioms [post_excerpt] => Learning idioms is one of the best parts about studying languages. Besides sounding rather amusing in their directly-translated forms, such phrases are sure to impress any local you may happen to meet. Here, find ten of the most popular German idioms that are sure to help you knock a native speaker’s socks off [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => german-idioms [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 19:08:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 11:08:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8207 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8055 [post_author] => 84 [post_date] => 2019-10-05 00:01:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-04 16:01:36 [post_content] =>

From: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: Tuesday, October 9, 2018 10:08 AM To: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]] Subject: Job transfer

Hello Mercury, I’m writing to request a job transfer. But let me preface that request by saying that I am grateful to have a job here. I realize that a lot of words are out of work these days. I know that it has been hard for you to watch the average English vocabulary shrink, and I know that you’ve had to make some tough calls about which words you could keep on staff. So I’m thankful to still be here. But the reduction in personnel is what’s making my job so much more difficult than it used to be. I was already overworked when I was involved with four different departments at the same time. Then my job description expanded to include the Conjunction Department. And now the guys from Interjection are unofficially dumping work on me too. Frankly, this is getting ridiculous. I can appreciate that we are radically under-staffed right now. I understand that with such a limited budget, we couldn’t afford to keep contractors like PERISTERONIC and UMBRAGEOUS on the payroll. And I know that there is no room for redundancy: we couldn’t pay ROBORATIVE to do the same job that RESTORATIVE was already doing. But if the total workload is going to increase indefinitely while the personnel decreases, I think that eventually my job is going to be too stressful for me to sustain. Respectfully, LIKE

From: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: Friday, October 12, 2018 3:16 PM To: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]] Subject: RE: Job transfer

Hi LIKE, Sorry that it’s taken me a while to get back to you. They’re renovating the third floor right now and contractors have been ripping out the old stone fireplace in my office and replacing it with a space heater. So my work schedule has been kind of topsy-turvy. I hear what you are saying about the stress of your job. But you need to understand that the economy is beyond my control. I don’t get to decide what the market for working words will be; I just respond to the demand. And right now the semantic job market is very weak. I wish we could pretend that it was the heyday of wordsmithing around here, but it’s not. I wish people were still willing to pay top dollar for the perfectly apt verb, or spend an entire minute searching for the best possible noun. But that’s not the name of the game these days. Precision, lucid expression, and brilliant flights of semantic imagination are not in high demand right now, and I’ve had to lay off a lot of good folks because of it. People don’t want a variety of options from us anymore. They aren’t interested in freshly coined material. They want familiar words, stock phrases, pre-fabricated sentence structure, well-worn semantic ruts. They want quick, "close enough" solutions. Meanwhile, the demand for raw output is higher than ever, and our company has to churn out even more verbiage than before to keep up. But no one knows that better than you, right? You’re one of our most in-demand contractors right now. Didn’t I hear that a thirteen-year-old child deployed you seventeen times in a single minute yesterday? He used you five times before he even got to the verb, right? So I’m sure that you of all words can appreciate the sheer quantity that we are expected to provide. And because of that, I have to ask: if I give you a transfer, who’s going to pick up the slack? Best, Mercury

From: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: Saturday, October 13, 2018 8:23 AM To: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]] Subject: RE:RE: Job transfer

Hello Mercury, Thanks for your reply. I guess my central concern is not really the workload, though that’s certainly one of my frustrations. My biggest worry is that we, as a company, ought to be assessing the value of our end product and not just racing thoughtlessly to keep up with demand. You’ve seen how much overtime I will gladly put into a worthwhile contract. I happily work time-and-a-half for a truly sweeping Homeric simile. That’s the kind of project that I joined the company to do so many years ago. When I interviewed, you told me that yes, I would have to do my fair share of hack work, but that I would also have lots of opportunities to collaborate on real rhetorical masterpieces. But when was the last time I built a truly profound comparison? At the moment, I feel as though all of my projects are just semantic padding. I’m working twelve-hour days, and for what? For people who are too timid to wield a metaphor. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the projects were insipid similes. But now I spend all my time slaving for people who are just shying away from direct communication entirely. I’m coming in to the office on weekends, I’ve got no social life, and it’s all so that I can be verbal styrofoam peanuts between human beings and reality. Let me give you an example that’s sitting on the top of my inbox. It was a sentence from the mouth of a fifth-grader who was answering a question in class: "Irate…that’s like when you get really mad at someone, right?" I’m just insulation foam in that sentence, padding the kid from definitive meaning. She used me to water down a declarative statement into a squishy pseudo-analogy…in the form of a question! It gets worse. Here’s one from last week. "So, like, are you going to see Stephanie today?" What kind of contribution am I making there, exactly? Why did I even have to show up to that project? Apparently I’m just a cheap substitute for "um". I didn’t get into this business to be a meaningless vocable. If I’m going to stoop that low, I might as well join COME and DO and get a second job in the red light district. In frustration, LIKE

From: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: Wednesday, October 17, 2018 10:02 AM To: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]] Subject: RE:RE:RE: Job transfer

Hi LIKE, Again, sorry for the delay. I think you heard about the identity-theft lawsuit that NAUSEATED is threatening against one of our current employees, NAUSEOUS. We were in legal mediation all day yesterday and I didn’t have time to deal with my e-mails. Let’s not bring references to the red light district into company e-mails, okay? It’s bad enough that half the English language seems to be working there these days; I don’t need to be reminded about it at work. With regard to your point: it’s easy to be zealous about quality control, but what kind of end value is our product going to have if the company goes under completely? I wish we could swim harder against the tide of consumer demand, but if we obsess so much about quality that we bankrupt ourselves, then our competitors are going to be the sole visionaries shaping the next generation of rhetoric. So we’re adapting as best we can. And I don’t mean to downplay the strain that this is putting on you, but frankly, some of our other words have had to make even bigger sacrifices. Take AWESOME, for instance. You think his work environment hasn’t changed? I have to talk him down from the ledge once a week. He’s so fed up with it. It used to be nothing but seraphs and glaciers and tsunami for him, and now he has to go to work every time someone finds an extra peanut M&M in their bag. And did you know that LITERALLY is actually in therapy these days? All those years he spent honing one meaning, and now the poor guy has to go and completely reverse all the work himself. It’s really done a number on him. He’s taking medication for schizophrenic episodes. If you want some advice on how to get through a tough transition period like this, try talking to HOPEFULLY. When his job description expanded, he could have played the wounded prima donna and tried to correct everyone’s usage. He could have screeched, "what does this idiot mean, 'Hopefully, I will get the septic tank drained today'? How does an afternoon spent knee deep in sewage fill him with hope?" But he didn’t. He just quietly adapted to the new situation, and now he’s completely at home with it. Best, Mercury [post_title] => If English words had jobs [post_excerpt] => If words could speak on their own behalf, some of them might wish to protest the abuses committed against them daily. And no doubt some of them would dispute the notion that all trends in word usage are for the better. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => if-english-words-had-jobs [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-06 19:06:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-06 11:06:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://unravellingmag.com/?post_type=articles&p=8055 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) )

Issue 14

Dialects & Variants

Dialogue: The Unravel Blog