Joel of Far Outliers has written a long and interesting post about Chamorro and Saipanese and their struggle for survival on the island. A tidbit on Saipan Carolinian to whet your appetite:

The Trukic languages form one long dialect chain, where speakers on neighboring islands can understand each other fine, but speakers from farther apart have increasing difficulty. There is no contrast between l and n in most of the dialects. Where this speaker writes aramasal Seipel ‘people of Saipan’, a speaker of a different dialect might write aramasan Seipen. Similarly, the town of Tanapag, settled by a different group of Carolinians, also goes by the name of Tallabwog.

Unfortunately, Joel is “going to have to concentrate on some high-priority projects with relatively tight deadlines, so posting will be very light” this summer. Work well and come back soon!


  1. I wonder how common n/l allophony is. I recall that the Thai letter l at the end of a word is pronounced “n”, and most Thai people had difficulty saying and reading my name when I was there.

  2. Yes, King Phumipol’s name is pronounced “Phumipon.”

  3. xiaolongnu says:

    Slightly tangential, but early on after my move to Hawaii (anonymity, what anonymity?) I spotted a big Polynesian-looking guy walking down the street wearing a T-shirt with the legend “Proud Carolinian.” For a second I thought “North or South?” before realizing that wasn’t the point at all. The kapa design on the shirt should have tipped me off, of course.

  4. Ancient Egyptian apparently had some l/n/r variations.

  5. English has one I can think of – chimney/chimbley.

  6. xiaolongnu says:

    And now that I think of it, so do certain dialects of Chinese. I had a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai who taught us the history of contemporary Chinese literature. She always pronounced the title of Lu Xun’s book “Na Han” (usually translated “Call to Arms”) as “La Han,” and it took me ages to figure out what was going on.

  7. Jimmy Ho says:

    This is very common in varieties of Cantonese. In Guangzhou, to take an easy example, I never heard anyone say, “Nei ho” 你好 with the same initial as Mandarin “ni hao”; it is (or sounds like) “lei ho”. A friend I taught some French to could never say “Joyeux Noël” (merry Xmas), always turning it into “joyeux Loën”.

  8. John Emerson says:

    L-N variations are a factor in the transliteration of Mongol texts around 1300-1400, and n-r variations are common in the historical development of Chinese.

  9. P. Spaelti says:

    L-N-D variation is found in Siouxan. For example Lakhota-Dakhota-Nakhota.

  10. P. Spaelti says:

    Oh yes, and also in Nakanai/Lakalai (an Austronesian language spoken on New Britain). It’s also found in a variety of Bantu languages, but specific references escape me at the moment.
    So that makes for a pretty wide spread occurrence, I would say.

  11. It sure does. It makes sense phonetically, but I’d never thought about it or noticed all those examples.

  12. michael farris says:

    N-L (and NH-L) variation is also found in Vietnamese.

  13. And in Sumerian.

  14. January First-of-May says:

    And in Evenki, whence Yakut нууча “Russian” (borrowed west-to-east over a long chain of languages).

  15. In native Korean words, ㄹ r does not occur word initially, unlike in Chinese loans (Sino-Korean vocabulary). In South Korea, it is silent in initial position before /i/ and /j/, pronounced [n] before other vowels, and pronounced [ɾ] only in compound words after a vowel. The prohibition on word-initial r is called the “initial law” or dueum beopchik (두음법칙). Initial r is officially pronounced [ɾ] in North Korea. In both countries, initial r in words of foreign origin other than Chinese is pronounced [ɾ].

  16. I always wondered about that; thanks!

  17. ktschwarz says:

    Neal Whitman on teaching EFL students from Hubei, China to distinguish [n] from [l] when speaking English. Their native consonant is both nasal and lateral: Neal observes that “there isn’t even an International Phonetic Alphabet symbol for it; the best we can do is to use the [l] symbol and use the tilde (~) to indicate that this is a nasalized consonant: [ l̃ ]”.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Western Oti-Volta has a peculiar but extremely regular internal sandhi rule *ld -> nd; so, for example Mooré yolgo “sack”, pl yondo, which belongs to the same noun class as wobgo “elephant”, pl wobdo (in Kusaal, respectively yɔlʋg yɔn wabʋg wabid.)

    Moreover, Western Oti-Volta non-initial l seems fairly regularly to correspond to n elsewhere in Oti-Volta, eg. Kusaal iil “horn”, Gulimancéma yinli (where li is a class suffix), Kusaal gɛl “egg”, Buli ɟein, alongside cases where Western Oti-Volta n = n elsewhere, like Kusaal bin “dregs”, Gulimancéma binli.

    There’s no trace of nasalisation of l in contemporary Western Oti-Volta languages; I think what’s happened is that it has denasalised following a change of inherited oral *l to *j or *r (depending on the environment) in Proto-Western-Oti-Volta itself (followed by various further changes of *r in the daughter languages, including merger with l itself in Dagbani, just to confuse the issue.)

    So Proto-Oti-Volta probably had a contrast of nasal and oral *l, which is unusual, to say the least. It’s not preserved in any of the daughter languages.

  19. One of my favorite unpacking sound changes is *lː > /nɬ/ (and *lːʲ > /nʲɬʲ/) in Forest Nenets.

    (Or Neshang, as I’ve seen it proposed it ought to be called after the actual native name. The name “Forest Nenets” is kind of like calling Frisian “Continental English” or Portuguese “Atlantic Spanish”. Although I guess it’s less bad than “(Forest/Tundra) Enets”, derived purely by taking the name “Nenets” and applying one Nenets/Enets isogloss to remove initial /nʲ/; this would be analogous to something like calling Estonian “Soomi”.)

  20. I see from Russian Wikipedia that нешаӈ [neshaŋ] means ‘person.’

  21. Neshang sure sounds better than “d’urak” (that’s how the Enets call their Nenets cousins).

  22. J. Pystynen: An actual Romance scholar, Robert Hall, consistently called the Provençal language “Southern French” (!), so the mislabeling of “Forest Nenets” definitely has at least one parallel in Western Europe.

    Granted, “Southern French” is not the dominant term used to refer to Provençal today; on the other hand, the distinctiveness of Provençal was something which Hall could not be unaware of, whereas whoever first used and whoever first caused the spread of the term “Forest Nenets” probably had a much less clear picture of the actual degree of linguistic differentiation between “Forest Nenets” and its closer relatives.

  23. January First-of-May says:

    The name “Forest Nenets” is kind of like calling Frisian “Continental English” or Portuguese “Atlantic Spanish”.

    Or, in other words, kind of like calling Plattdüütsch “Low German”.

    Vaguely related: Turns out [the “Mordvin” languages are] more like Spanish and Portuguese, if everybody else ignored that distinction and called them both “Iberian.”

  24. But isn’t that what its speakers call it?

  25. January First-of-May says:

    But isn’t that what its speakers call it?

    In case of Low German, the answer appears to be “sometimes, yes”, though of course “German” is technically an exonym in the first place, and “Platt” doesn’t actually mean “low” (but there are other local endonyms whose first parts do mean “low”).

    In case of Mordvin, emphatically no, but you knew that already.

  26. In case of Low German

    That’s what you had just mentioned and what I was referring to; we weren’t talking about Mordvin.

  27. January First-of-May says:

    That’s what you had just mentioned and what I was referring to; we weren’t talking about Mordvin.

    I apologize – I honestly forgot that the part about Mordvin was only edited in after your comment was posted.

  28. Ah! One of those rare moments when editing comments causes (temporary) miscommunication.

  29. How is “Deutsch” / “Düütsch” an exonym? It’s what both speakers of Low and High German call themselves, if they’re not applying more regional or local group designations.

  30. PlasticPaddy says:

    January FOM stated that “German” was exonym (applied by Latin authors to the country and maybe its people). Deutsch may also be an exonym (Italian tedesco) but Germans started applying it to themselves very early, so it is well eingebürgert ☺

  31. Oh, ok on “German”. I understood it as if “German” were an exonym specifically if applied to Low German. That’s clear then.
    On “Deutsch”, the original meaning of “diutisk” is “belonging to the people, popular, vulgar”, and was the designation of the language of the German speaking people as opposed to the written language (Latin). It certainly was used by German medieval writers, and I assume it also was coined by them, so it wouldn’t be an exonym.

  32. PlasticPaddy says:

    Thanks for that. I was fuzzy about who applied Deutsch when to people, as opposed to their language. But I agree that a native word used early on as a self-description is not an exonym.

  33. vulgar

    Wondered for a minute if it’s related to Bulgars.

    Turns out, no, it’s not, but buggery is.

  34. Stu Clayton says:

    By the same explanatory gambit, using the word “related” in an impersonal sentence, it can be accurately claimed that “Democrat” is related to “traitor”.

  35. John Cowan says:

    I had thought there were six basic names for Germans in various languages, but the left bar s.v. “German people” at WP shows only five: Alemanni, Theodisci/Deutsch, Germani, Nemci, Saxones. Can anyone remember the sixth?

    When I was at my Ukrainian butcher shop a while back, I said to one of the folks behind the counter: “Let me have a package of Weisswurst, please.” He looked at me confused, so I pointed at it. He gave it to me, and I said, “I’m a Nyemetz, so I talk like a Nyemetz”, and he smiled.

  36. I presume he would have called it Біла ковбаса.

  37. PlasticPaddy says:

    You probably know this, but a ukraine/polish kielbasa biala (and a French boudin blanc) is more like a German bratwurst (the white one). The main similarity with the weisswurst is that they (like our white pudding) are not made with blood. The weisswurst cannot be grilled or roasted. You have to simmer it (or I suppose you could skin and fry it but I have never seen this). Over to you, David M.

  38. John Cowan says:

    Exactly. My mother simmered them and so do I. (If you boil them too hard they explode and try to turn inside out.) Anyhow, they were already packaged and plainly labeled in German.

    Ah, the sixth root is Baltic: Lt vācietis, Li vokietis. The etymology is disputed, but Wikt says:

    Its source would be Proto-Indo-European *wekʷ- (“to speak”), whence Old Prussian wackis ([vakis], “shout, war cry”), Sanskrit वक्ति (vákti, “to speak, to say”), Ancient Greek ἔπος (épos, “word, talk, song”) (< *wépos), Latin vox (“voice, sound, talk”). This stem might have been used to form a word (perhaps *vākyā-) to designate foreigners, meaning originally something like ‘those who speak loud, shout (unintelligibly)’

  39. Weisswurst in Russian/Ukrainian is сарделька (sahrdel’ka). A one-minute search didn’t yield any etymology, even spurious one.

  40. сарделька Искон. Суф. производное от сардель, заимств. в Петровскую эпоху из польск. яз., где sardela < итал. sardella, суф. производного от той же основы, что sardina «сардинская рыба» (< лат. sardina).

  41. PlasticPaddy says:

    From sardinia?
    “ sardela, sardelka (a nieraz i z ruska, z e: serdelka), sardynka, nazwa rybek, od Sardynji, gdzie ich połów. ”

  42. Heh.

  43. John Cowan says:

    To begin with, the sausages in those pictures aren’t even white. “That’s not Weisswurst. This is Weisswurst.” It’s very delicately flavored.

    As I’ve said, my mother grew up on the Hesse-Thuringia border (Google Maps), several hundred km from Bavaria. I don’t know whether she ate them in Germany (1919-35) or only after coming to the U.S.

  44. Sardelka is the correct word pragmatically, in case you want to get from the butcher what you want. My familiarity with the substantive side of food is limited to consumption.

  45. Sardelka is the correct word pragmatically, in case you want to get from the butcher what you want.


  46. John Cowan says:

    He’s gotten used to me now. His English is fine, I should add.

  47. Where?

    Assuming that your butcher speaks Russian. If there are several types of meaty things that look like sardelka you have to be more specific, but in which exact manner I don’t know. The key part is form, not substance.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    Doesn’t look like Weisswurst.

    Indeed not. That’s a Knacker, allegedly also called Beamtenforelle “civil servant’s trout”, which might be somehow related to the sardine connection, I guess.

    This is Weisswurst.


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