Wednesday, 24 February 2010

'li ch 'o' 'uy' 'ul'?

The coolest part of the Olympics opening ceremonies for me was seeing members of four west coast First Nations saying a welcome in their respective languages. The nations and languages were the Squamish Nation (Squamish or Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), Musqueam Indian Band (Hun'qumi'num' or Downriver dialect of Halkomelem), Lil'wat First Nation (Lillooet or St'at'imcets), and Tsleil-Waututh First Nation (Downriver dialect of Halkomelem). This map shows where these languages are spoken. These are all Salishan languages, related to Nuxálk, the language that freaked out Mattitiahu, because of its profusion of consonants and the difficulty of syllabifying them.

Linguistically, these are very interesting languages. Halkomelem and St'at'imcets have glottalised sonorants, which are extremely rare sounds, and St'at'imcets has glottalised voiced pharyngeals. How cool is that?

St'at'imcets uses reduplication for various purposes, for instance kl'axʷ "muskrat", and kə-kl'axʷ "muskrats"; and qʷal'út "to talk", and qʷə-qʷal'út "to talk loudly, to bawl out".

Halkomelem has a suffix to express an action done accidentally or with limited control, as opposed to an action done on purpose. For instance, the sentence "The child accidentally clubbed the woman with the paddle" contains the limited control suffix, and the sentence "The child clubbed the woman with the paddle (on purpose)" contains the general transitive suffix; otherwise the sentences are identical. (I don't know why linguistic examples are always so violent.)

Here are some lessons in Halkomelem, including sound files and grammar points. I like the word stl'itl'qulh [stɬʼitɬʼqəɬ] "child", which I might be able to say after a few years of practice.

Here are some useful phrases. The phonetic transcriptions are mine, so they're probably wrong. (Wikipedia was helpful, altho they use the wrong symbol for glottalisation.)

'li ch 'o' 'uy' 'ul'?
How are you?

'I tsun. 'li ch tl'o' 'uy' 'ul'?
[ʔitʃən ʔiːtʃtɬʼuʔəjʔəlˀ]
I'm fine. And how are you?

Huy ch q'u.
Thank you.

Namut kwu.
You're welcome.

Excuse me.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

enthusiasm and fanatic

Proto-Indo-European *dʰeh₁s- was used in words for religious concepts, and was possibly an extension of *dʰeh₁- "to set, put". In Greek it became θεός theos (from earlier *thes-os) as in theology. ἔνθεος or ἔνθους was "inspired by god", and ἐνθουσιασμός was "inspiration, frenzy", whence enthusiasm.

The suffixed zero-grade form *dʰh₁s-no- became Latin fānum "temple" and fānāticus "belonging to a temple, inspired by a divinity" (Skeat).

The suffixed form *dʰeh₁s-to- became Latin fēstus "festive" and festa "festal ceremonies", and Italian festone, borrowed into English as festoon, as in "decoration for a feast".

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Khan from the epiglottis

I haven't seen My Name is Khan, but I'm told that Shah Rukh Khan's character makes a big deal out of the pronunciation of his name. "Khan, from the epiglottis," he keeps saying.

He's confusing epiglottis with uvula; at the end of the trailer (2:49) he pronounces the name with a uvular fricative. The uvula is the thing hanging at the back of the throat that cartoon characters grab when they get eaten by bigger cartoon characters.

Altho the Hindi-Urdu sound (written ख़/ﺥ) is sometimes pronounced as a uvular, most sources I've looked at say that it is not uvular, but velar. The velum is the soft palate. At the beginning of this promo (0:14), Khan pronounces the name with a velar fricative.

So what is the epiglottis? It is a bit of cartilage located just above the larynx that is thought to protect the trachea when we swallow. Speech sounds made with the epiglottis are extremely rare. They can be found in the Caucasian language Agul.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

khan and asana

Not khan the lord or prince, but khan a building for the accomodation of travellers, as in gymkhana "place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided." According to the OED, gymkhana is a refashioning of Hindi gend-khāna "ball house", from गेंद gend "ball" plus ख़ाना ḵẖānā "house", borrowed from the Persian word below.

Proto-Indo-European *h₁ēs- "to sit" (a lengthened-grade form of *h₁es- "to be") in the suffixed form *h₁ēs-en-o- became Iranian *āhanam "seat" then Middle Persian خان ḵẖān "house".

In Sanskrit *h₁ēs- became ās "to sit" and आसन āsana "sitting", used as a term for yoga positions.

khan meaning "lord" or "prince", and probably also the source of Shahrukh Khan's name, is from Turkish.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

spelling reform

In the 16th century, some words were respelled to clearly show their Latin origin. det became debt (Latin dēbitum), scol became school (Latin schola), and etik became hectic (Latin hecticus). But sometimes the spelling reformers got it wrong. They changed iland to island, in the belief that the word was related to isle from Latin insula - but in fact it's from Old English īeġland, a combination of īeġ "island" and land.

The same thing happened in France. Letters were added to reflect the words' Latin origins, even tho the sounds had long been lost. doi became doigt "finger" (Latin digitum), pié became pied "foot" (Latin pedem), and set became sept "seven" (Latin septem). Mistakes were made: pois became poids "weight" in the belief that the word was derived from pondum "weight", but in fact it is from pensum, neuter past participle of pendo "to weigh".

Friday, 5 February 2010

banal and fairy

The Proto-Indo-European root *bʰeh₂- "to speak" became Proto-Germanic *ƀannan "proclaim" (as in English ban), and this was thought (according to the AHD) to have been borrowed into Old French as ban "proclamation, publication, summons". This became Old French banal. According to the OED, banal in English first meant "Of or belonging to compulsory feudal service", then "Open to the use of all the community", which then came to mean "Commonplace, common, trite; trivial, petty".

*bʰeh₂- became Latin fārī "to speak", the past participle of which is fātum, literally meaning "that which has been spoken". It was used to mean "prophecy", similar to Greek προφήτης (prophētēs) "prophet", from φημί "to speak", also from *bʰeh₂-.

The Latin plural of fātum, fāta, was used in the singular to mean "fairy, Fate", and this became Old French faerie and English fairy.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

lady, dough, dairy, fiction, paradise

Our Proto-Indo-European root today is *dʰeiǵʰ- "to build, to form". In Old English it became dag "dough", *dig "knead", and dǣge "bread kneader, female (farm) servant, dairy-woman". Hlāf "bread, loaf" plus *dig equals hlǣfdige "mistress of a household", becoming Middle English lafdi, then lady. dǣge became Modern English dairy.

The zero-grade form with a nasal infix *dʰi-n-ǵʰ- became Latin fingere "to shape", past participle fictus, which gives us fiction.

In Avestan, the suffixed o-grade from *dʰoiǵʰ-o- became daēzō "wall", as in "something that is built". This combined with pairi "around" (from *per- "forward, through") to form pairidaēza "enclosure". This was borrowed into Greek as παράδεισος "enclosed park, pleasure ground", then into Latin as paradisus, and then thru Old French into English as paradise.