Garden of the Forked Tongues.

Meg Miller reports on what sounds like an interesting exhibit:

The acrylic mural of a Queens map that greets visitors to the Queens Museum, in New York, is enormous, abstract, and angular, rendering the borough in a colorful array of polygons. Inside the shapes is the word for “tongue” in each of the endangered languages still spoken in Queens, by residents the artist Mariam Ghani refers to as people with “forked tongues.” There are 59 such languages in total.

“Migrants and the multilingual are constantly speaking with forked tongues, slipping from one language to another,” Ghani writes in her description of her project The Garden of the Forked Tongues, which is part of the exhibition Nonstop Metropolis, a collaborative show based around the work of author Rebecca Solnit and geographer Josh Jelly-Schapiro. […]

Queens has been called “one of the most diverse places on Earth.” The evidence is in the languages. According to the Endangered Language Alliance, whose data Ghani used to create the mural as well as an accompanying interactive graphic, an estimated 500 languages are currently spoken in Queens. The 59 languages depicted in the map are the ones endangered, which means that Queens residents are some of the last people on Earth who know the language that they speak. Given that there are a total of 574 “critically endangered” languages worldwide, according to UNESCO, 59 is a pretty remarkable number to have just in one borough.

Here‘s the project site, and if you click on the interactive graphic link you get a clickable map that will provide information on each of the languages, e.g.:

Bukhori (Tajiki: бухорӣ – buxorī, Hebrew script: בוכארי buxori), also known as Bukhari and Bukharian, is a dialect of the Tajiki language spoken in Central Asia (and in the diaspora) by Bukharian Jews.

Spoken in: Kew Gardens, Queens

alternate name(s): Bukharian
word for tongue: זבאן/zabon
language family: Indo-Iranian (West)
place(s) of origin: Uzbekistan, Turkestan, Tajikistan
worldwide speaker population: 110000

And it’s got a video of an elderly gentleman speaking the language, which is so much like Persian/Farsi I could understand chunks of it even though my studies of the latter are a couple of decades in the past — in fact, I wouldn’t have guessed it was a different language. Thanks, Trevor!

(Warning: the “interactive graphic” link didn’t work the last time I tried it; I just got a blank page. Don’t know if there’s a site problem; maybe wait a day and try again.)

Comments

  1. The video from Aron Aronov is in perfectly standard Tajik and wouldn’t differ in any way from the speech of a Muslim Tajik-speaker from Bukhara, as far as I could tell. As a speaker of Iranian Persian I understood him perfectly. I found Rabbi Babayev more difficult to understand, but that was more to do with his enunciation than anything else; it’s just as hard for me to understand Muslim Tajiks and Afghans who mumble like him.

  2. Though diglossia now has a specialized technical sense, before that it was just the Greek for ‘bilingualism’. But (h/t Nick Nicholas back in the 1C it was used for ‘duplicity, insincerity’: “Οὐκ ἔσῃ διγνώμων οὐδὲ δίγλωσσος· παγὶς γὰρ θανάτου ἡ διγλωσσία“, meaning “You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued [diglossos], for to be double-tongued [diglossia] is a snare of death.” (Didache 2:4) Speaking with forked tongue indeed.

  3. Though diglossia now has a specialized technical sense, before that it was just the Greek for ‘bilingualism’.

    And still is, apparently. Along similar lines I wonder how Greeks distinguish between the notions of ‘democracy’ and ‘republic’ that western Europeans have constructed, with the UK, for example, being the former but not the latter.

  4. Yes, I meant that the word was only Greek until Psichari popularized Roidis’s specialized use of it, and only really took off in languages other than French after Ferguson.

  5. How few people a language should have to be endengered? 110000 speakers seems to be a respectable number.

  6. @D.O.: The real question would be, how many of them are children?

  7. “the language, which is so much like Persian/Farsi I could understand chunks of it even though my studies of the latter are a couple of decades in the past — in fact, I wouldn’t have guessed it was a different language.”

    There was a post or comment on Languagehat that linked to a video with someone speaking in Ladino (Turkish Ladino, I think?) I was expecting to hear something different and exotic, but I was disappointed to find it was basically Spanish with a slight accent.

  8. There was a post or comment on Languagehat that linked to a video with someone speaking in Ladino (Turkish Ladino, I think?) I was expecting to hear something different and exotic, but I was disappointed to find it was basically Spanish with a slight accent.

    Many years ago Spanish-language t.v. network Univision aired a news story about the remaining Ladino speakers in New York City and they spoke on camera in Ladino with no dubbing and no subtitles. They had a certain accent and there might have been a word or two I didn’t understand ( I can’t remember) but otherwise they were perfectly understandable.

  9. That Ladino video link is here, in a discussion of a multilingual Ottoman calendar, a couple of months ago.

  10. For various reasons (perhaps partly by analogy from Yiddish), there seems to be a strong ideological preference from several quarters for identifying any variety spoken by Jewish people as a language distinct from the speech of those around them, even if it’s perfectly mutually intelligible and sometimes even if it’s indistinguishable when used to discuss any topic except religion. People casually throw around terms like “Judeo-Arabic”, but linguistically, there’s no such entity. In a few areas (like Baghdad, or southern Morocco) there really was a significant difference between coterritorial Jewish and Muslim dialects – but Jewish dialects of Morocco were a whole lot more like Muslim dialects of Morocco than they were like Jewish dialects of Baghdad. And in a lot of the Arab world, they simply spoke the dialect of the Muslims next door, with a bit of Hebrew religious terminology thrown in. I suspect that’s what’s going on in this case.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    How many “endangered” languages you can find in Queens is going to be driven to a large extent by whether you’re taking a lumper or a splitter approach toward what counts as a separate “language” (as well as what counts as “endangered”). Sometimes the splitter approach will seem more plausible because of the different social and geographical context of immigration — I imagine Bukharian-speakers may have more social interaction in the context of Queens with other Jewish immigrants from the former USSR who don’t speak any tongue close to Bukharian than they do with gentile speakers of Farsi/Dari/Tadjik/etc who could probably understand them perfectly well. I believe there are some Farsi-speaking Jews in the NYC area (although not nearly as many as in LA), but I don’t know to what extent they do or don’t hang out with the Bukharians.

    Even accepting the compromises needed to make the “map” conceit work (i.e. the highly dubious assumption that each endangered language is centered in a different part of Queens with a nice 1:1 correspondence, and probably including some languages whose NYC “center of gravity” is in another borough) the further information you get when clicking seems of highly variable quality. It looks as if they set up a generic format cutting-and-pasting in somewhat generic information from different external sources without then having a human being review the result to see if it harmonized and made sense. The “illustrations”, in particular, seem like the result of typing a neighborhood name into google streetview and just taking the first scene that popped up without thinking about whether it does or doesn’t relate to the presence of the specific language group in the community. Do Garifuna-speakers hang out at that specific White Castle? Out of all the Korean-signage storefronts in that commercial strip, is that specific one a place where the Judeo-Tat speakers congregate? Oh, and if you’re claiming that Livonian is currently spoken in Rego Park, maybe you shouldn’t cut and paste from a reference work that claims the last native speaker in the world died several years ago?

  12. Lameen, what about Judeo-Berber?

  13. even if it’s perfectly mutually intelligible and sometimes even if it’s indistinguishable when used to discuss any topic except religion

    That’s why it’s better to talk of “Jews’ English, Jews’ French, Jews’ Greek”, and so on for all these religiolects, and keep the separate language labels for what really are separate languages with independent development lines. Jews in early mediaeval Germany spoke Jews’ German based on localized versions of MHG, which then became the koine Yiddish (Eastern and Western). Jews in modern Germany then switched to a new Jews’ German based on NHG, while in the East they retained Eastern varieties of Yiddish.

  14. Aside from being used by more people (enough for it to have its own subdialects), Yiddish is not much different from the other supposed Jewish languages. It is just a grouping of German dialects (plus the usual smattering of Hebrew-derived terms). The standardized Yiddish spoken in, say, 1930s New York was mutually intelligible with standard German.

    I think that two things contribute to the claims that these various Jewish dialects are really separate languages. One is standard Jewish exceptionalism/separatism. The other is the privileging of the written forms of the languages over the spoken. Many Jewish dialects had different orthographies (including uses of the Hebrew alphabet) from the gentile versions of the same languages.

  15. Yiddish grammar, though, is pretty different from German grammar because of the aspect system (German has none), although that doesn’t block basic mutual intelligibility. There’s no analogue in most Jews’ varieties, Ladino being an intermediate case.

  16. My impression is that 20th century spoken Yiddish was far more divergent from spoken standard German than the “Jewish dialects” of Tajik/Persian or Arabic were from their standard gentile forms. It’s an oversimplification to describe Yiddish as “just a grouping of German dialects (plus the usual smattering of Hebrew-derived terms).” First of all, those German dialects were not coeval with Yiddish– they were fossilized, centuries-old dialects, so that the Germanic substrate of Yiddish was derived from German as spoken in the 9th-10th century Rhineland and not how it was spoken in the 20th. Secondly, in addition to the (more than a smattering of) Hebrew, Yiddish vocabulary also drew from Aramaic and Slavic sources — and that non-Germanic vocabulary was not relegated to the domain of religion, but was also used for all sorts of secular things. Despite all that, I don’t dispute that in the 20th century spoken Yiddish and spoken standard German were largely mutually intelligible. But I think this is not really comparable to, say, spoken “Bukhari,” which is apparently identical in all ways to spoken standard Tajik except for perhaps the odd Hebrew word when referring to religious terminology. I think the English spoken by American Orthodox Jews differs more from standard US English than “Bukhari” does from standard Tajik. Sorry to repeat myself on that topic – my point is really that I disagree with the idea that “Yiddish is not much different from the other supposed Jewish languages.”

  17. Discussing whether two geographical varieties are separate languages or separate dialects or not usually generates more heat than light. I see no reason to believe that it’s different for varieties spoken by different ethnic or religious groups.

    That said, you can usefully discuss whether Yiddish is, or was at one point, an Ausbausprache, and as such ‘escaped’ from German as Dachsprache — there may not have been universities teaching in Yiddish, or laws written, but newspapers have certainly been published. Yiddish is certainly much closer to that status than Bukhari relative to Tajik.

  18. what about Judeo-Berber?

    As far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist; the one text available seems to reflect ordinary Central Moroccan Berber plus the characteristic Moroccan Judeo-Arabic merger of sibilants with shibilants, and was rather artificial to begin with. All but a more or less anecdotal handful of the most isolated Moroccan Jewish groups spoke Arabic at home by the time usable records become available, and used Berber only as a second language. There may have been more Jewish Berber speakers earlier on, though.

  19. Thanks, Lameen. Are you referring to the Berber Haggadah, published by Zafrani?

    Hebrew Wikipedia says that “the main spoken language of the Jews of the Atlas Mountains was a Jewish dialect of Tashelhiyt, also known as Judeo-Berber… this Jewish language is currently in danger of extinction, spoken only by a few thousand elderly Jews living today mainly in Israel… Most Jews were bilingual in Tashelhiyt and Moroccan Arabic. The Jews’ Berber neighbors often spoke no Arabic, and because of that Arabic was considered in certain regions to be ‘a language of the Jews’ (ref.: Harvey E. Goldberg, The Mellahs Of Southern Morocco: Report Of A Survey, The Maghreb Review 8, 3-4, 1983, pp. 61-69.)”

    The current Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, Gadi Eizenkot, is of Moroccan descent. His German-sounding name elicited much curiosity when he was appointed. I have read that the name Eizenkot, usually romanized Azenkot, ultimately comes from a Berber word, azǝnkǝḍ ‘gazelle’ (this form is from Ritter and Prasse; is this an example of the Jewish sibilant-shibilant merger?) I have no idea how common Berber surnames are among Moroccan Jews. The name was Ashkenazized to Eizenkot by an Israeli immigration officer. (As an aside, Gadi Eizenkot is considered an unusually outspoken moderate and a reformer.)

  20. Lameen: I once ran into a long article (in French) by a linguist who specialized in the Arabic spoken by Jews in North Africa, who likewise discusses (and denounces) the (ideologically-driven) tendency to automatically assume that any language variety spoken by Jews is IPSO FACTO a separate language (he was adamant that no known variety of North African Arabic spoken by Jews could be called a separate language). If you’re interested I *might* be able to find the exact reference.

    It is telling, in this light, that A) the two most distinctive Jewish languages, (Eastern) Yiddish and (Balkan) Ladino, were both isolated from German and Spanish (respectively) for several centuries, and B) that nothing indicates that their distinctiveness predates their separation from other German/Spanish varieties.

    On the non-existence of another Jewish language, Judeo-French, see my June 28 comment on this thread:

    http://languagehat.com/where-did-yiddish-come-from/

  21. Y: If you read it carefully, that extract undermines the idea that Judeo-Berber was their first language even as it ostensibly supports it: to maintain Arabic fluency in the overwhelmingly Berber context of the High Atlas, they had to be speaking Arabic at home. A Moroccan rabbi (Moshe Maman) who toured 100 communities of the region in 1902 found only one where the Jews spoke Berber natively; later oral testimony suggests there had been several others earlier, but by the early 20th century they all knew Arabic. The actual language of their Haggadah was quite consistently Arabic, with shortened, comic Berber versions circulating mainly in jokes (along the lines of “the Jews of that village over there are such ignorant hicks that their Haggadah is in Berber”). See Joseph Chetrit, “Diglossie, hybridation, et diversité linguistique”, chapter 5.

    Etienne: Within Morocco, Jewish dialects show far northern dialectal features throughout the country; thus the further south you go, the more different from their neighbours’ dialects they get…

  22. David Marjanović says:

    That Ladino video link is here, in a discussion of a multilingual Ottoman calendar, a couple of months ago.

    Thanks, this time I’m watching it!

    I understand almost every word. I didn’t expect to do that well with mainstream Spanish; the slow, deliberate delivery works wonders. O.o

    However, at 14:50 it turns out the speaker at some recent point learned Spanish at an Instituto Cervantes and at the same time started brushing up (lustrar) her Ladino again. So… the similarity may be slightly exaggerated.

    Greatest phonological surprises: [ɕ] in “400” at 2:21; [nz] in Constanţa (Romanian: [nts]) at 3:33; long [lː] in umbrella at 7:48.

    …That map at 0:40. o.O What has happened between Turkey on one hand and Syria + Iraq on the other? 😀

  23. Kurds, lots of Kurds.

  24. More on Jewish languages, with more details, at the Jewish Language Research Website. No discussion of Judeo-Berber.

    Indeed, Lameen, the existence of Judeo-Berber is a slippery idea. Ethnologue claims a community of supposed Judeo-Berber speakers living in the northern coastal plain of Israel, between Haifa and Hadera. Another source claims thousands living in the south, in Ashkelon. In Israel there is and has been great interest in diasporic languages big and small, and in recent years efforts of language revitalization, or at least documentation, are widespread, and elicit sympathy. There are programs in Yiddish and Ladino, theaters in Jewish Moroccan Arabic and Neo-Aramaic, and documentation of Jewish Greek and Malayalam. I’ve found almost no trace of the supposed Jewish Berbers. What I’ve found are these:
    An article quoting the Moroccan census of 1936 as saying that half of Morocco’s 161,000 Jews were bilingual in Arabic and “Berber”, and 25,000 were exclusively Berber speakers.
    — The 1911 book נר המערב Ner Hama’arav by Yaakov Toledano, an account of a visit to Morocco, says that “Their language, spoken in northern-western Morocco, is Spanish with a Portuguese accent, and in southern Morocco Arabic, and šilḥit (Berber)…” followed by a desription of the peculiarities of the Arabic.
    — There is a very interesting documentary (with French subtitles), De Tinhir a Jérusalem: les derniers judéo-berbères de l’atlas sud-marocain or Tinghir-Jérusalem: les échos du Mellah. At about 15:00 the interviewer asks an Israeli of Moroccan origin if he still speaks Berber, and he says that he’d mostly forgotten it, but still understands it in conversations (with whom?) I haven’t seen the whole movie, but the code-switching, at various times involving French, Moroccan Arabic, Hebrew, Berber (and standard Arabic?) is fun to watch.
    — The issue of whether Jewish languages are truly distinct is discussed in an essay by Rabin (in Hebrew) with commentaries by other scholars, here. Some so-called Jewish languages are not very distinct from those of the surrounding communities (e.g. Cairene Jewish Arabic), while others are (Baghdadi ditto). Other than Hebrew and Aramaic loans, many Jewish languages (Ladino, Malayalam) tend to preserve more archaisms than surrounding dialects.

  25. The only place I’ve ever encountered ‘forked tongue’ is in Westerns where Indians accuse white people of speaking with forked tongue.

    Is this an actual attested usage, or is it something made up by screenwriters?

  26. I believe it comes from Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

  27. per incuriam says:

    However, at 14:50 it turns out the speaker at some recent point learned Spanish at an Instituto Cervantes and at the same time started brushing up (lustrar) her Ladino again. So… the similarity may be slightly exaggerated

    Indeed. And the clarity mentioned is perhaps simply a lack of fluency. This speaker sounds a bit more dyed in the wool.

    The absence of subtitles also makes it a better gauge of how easy it really is to figure out Ladino with some smatterings of Spanish. The punchline of the opening yarn is a good test (unless you’ve already heard it of course).

  28. My idiolect does not allow “dyed in the wool” as a predicate adjective.

    He’s a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.
    *As a conservative, he’s dyed in the wool.

    I asked my wife’s opinion, but she refuses to comment on any post that contains the word “idiolect.”

  29. David Marjanović says:

    This speaker sounds a bit more dyed in the wool.

    Watching the first 3 minutes, I still understood surprisingly much, though not enough to get the joke. It seems to me that I’d understand more if I knew more Spanish, though there are Hebrew words in it, too. (Wasn’t there once a post here about mamzer?)

    Greatest surprise: ciudad with [v] instead of [u].

  30. This is good!
    Una otra mujer is not standard Spanish, I think.
    Some of the non-Spanish words I recognize are names of foods, like burekas. She describes her birthplace as “al lado del kotel,” i.e. the Western Wall.
    The /r/ in era is trilled in several instances, around 4m.
    And so on…

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