NENETS-NGANASAN DICTIONARY.

OK, I realize this is obscure even for me, but I have to share it anyway: the Comparative Nenets-Nganasan Dictionary “contains ca. 1.000 most frequent Nenets words with Nganasan parallels and Russian and English translations.” The introduction shows you where the languages are spoken (in northern Siberia, Nenets in a large area to the west, Nganasan on the Taimyr Peninsula to the east) and explains their histories and relations to the other Samoyedic languages. The great thing is that you can hear a recording of each word, a feature that could theoretically make it possible to have an online dictionary better than any print one could possibly be, since even the most accurate phonetic transcription is a poor substitute for actually hearing how the word sounds. (Via Wordorigins.org.)

Comments

  1. Hmm, yes and no. When you learn from a single native speaker, you learn that speaker’s idiosyncrasies, too. In very diverse languages, or in almost-extinct languages, that may not matter so much. But I’d hate to go to Japan speaking Japanese with a marked regional accent, e.g.

  2. Since non-standard dialects of Japanese are never taught in Japanese courses, Japanese people who encounter a foreigner who speaks a non-standard dialect tend to assume that he or she has a Japanese partner on the theory that that is just about the only way to acquire a non-standard variety.

  3. michael farris says:

    “even the most accurate phonetic transcription is a poor substitute for actually hearing how the word sounds”
    That depends, very few people after infancy really have the opportunity to approach a new language first as a raw sound with no guide whatsoever as to what the elements are supposed to be.
    This year I’m giving a field methods course and the language we’re doing in class is (it turns out after enough analysis) not especially phonetically complicated.
    That didn’t make it seem any easier the first session or two, when intermittent vowel length, uncertain stress, non-cardinal vowel positions, intermittent fortis articulation of consonants and the usual tricks of assimilation kept blurring the picture. Now, after a couple of sessions I don’t hear any of that anymore because except for a couple of trouble spots I’m hearing it more phonemically. But it’s still there.
    Without some guide to tell you what the sound is (how it fits into an overall phonemic system) plain recordings are not necessarily so useful.
    I’d modify your comment to phonetic/phonemic transcription (or plain recordings) alone are no substitute for the combination of both.

  4. michael farris says:

    “even the most accurate phonetic transcription is a poor substitute for actually hearing how the word sounds”
    That depends, very few people after infancy really have the opportunity to approach a new language first as a raw sound with no guide whatsoever as to what the elements are supposed to be.
    This year I’m giving a field methods course and the language we’re doing in class is (it turns out after enough analysis) not especially phonetically complicated.
    That didn’t make it seem any easier the first session or two, when intermittent vowel length, uncertain stress, non-cardinal vowel positions, intermittent fortis articulation of consonants and the usual tricks of assimilation kept blurring the picture. Now, after a couple of sessions I don’t hear any of that anymore because except for a couple of trouble spots I’m hearing it more phonemically. But it’s still there.
    Without some guide to tell you what the sound is (how it fits into an overall phonemic system) plain recordings are not necessarily so useful.
    I’d modify your comment to phonetic/phonemic transcription (or plain recordings) alone are no substitute for the combination of both.

  5. Dan Milton says:

    Indeed an interesting site.
    I notice an oddity in the English introduction, the use of the American name “caribou” for the wild
    Rangifer tarandus, presumably as a distinction from the domestic reindeer. The Russian just uses the equivalent of “wild deer”.

  6. no substitute for the combination of both
    You’re right, of course; I was taking it for granted that a dictionary would include a transcription as well.

  7. Wow, amazing how argumentative people can be. How could it be a bad idea to have an online dictionary that includes actual sound recordings? I would certainly prefer that to a regular print dictionary, who wouldn’t? Of course a transcription would be provided as well, just silly to pretend otherwise simply to create an argument.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    intermittent fortis articulation of consonants

    What do you mean? (“Fortis” means at least three different things to different people.)

  9. michael farris says:

    By ‘fortis’ i mean ‘tense’ (gross simplification: facial and/or neck muscles are tensed) much like the Korean consonants usually transcribed tt, kk etc.
    While I’m here, at the risk of being scolded again, I’ll point out that not all transcription is created equal either. I’ve been trying to make heads or tails out of a grammar (published in 1987) that makes use of a transcription that seems stuck in an awkward place between phonetic and phonemic and obscures at least as much as it reveals. Completely infuriating. And recordings wouldn’t necessarily make it that any less opaque.

  10. @ Dan Milton:
    “Caribou” is used in opposition to “reindeer” in Alaska, and in at least some parts of Canada. Caribou are wild, reindeer are domestic. The difference is useful because reindeer herding is a relatively small scale activity in North America and there are far more of the wild animal than the domestic. Presumably the English translator was familiar with this distinction.

  11. O man, images of Cyrillic text.
    Unicode is in the corner crying and feeling emo.

  12. Or rather, feeling эмо.

  13. и кан хаз уникод! омг.

  14. Wow Hat, this is awesome! Even if of course, unicode is a little unloved in this dictionary, it still works somehow. ;)
    You make the uralic geeks happy!

  15. As someone doing reindeer terms and their etymologies as his MA thesis, this dictionary is a godsend. :)

  16. You’re doing reindeer terms and their etymologies as an MA thesis??? How many languages are you planning to cover? Presumably Gilyak and Evenki are in there….:) (I was at Hokkaido University in Japan many years ago where the linguistics department had a focus on “Northern languages”, including Ainu, Gilyak, Mongolian, etc. Osahito Miyaoka was teaching Eskimo linguistics that year.) Anyway, good luck on your thesis!

  17. Okay, enough of my snarking from the sidelines… in all seriousness, maybe the thing to do would be to try to help these folks produce a Unicode version of their data? It’s not a huge amount of stuff there; I even took some time to look at the markup, and it looks like a pretty straightforward situation where each letter (or letter + diacritical) is represented by a single img tag.
    So, it wouldn’t be hard at all to write a conversion script and output some files that would make all our neighborhood Uralicists rejoice!
    But reality is always more difficult than thoery: I actually started digging into trying to write such a script, and I discovered that the orthography represented by the images differs from the orthography described on Wikipedia. (I have only looked at Nganasan, not sure about Nenets.)
    Is this orthography stable?
    Anyone interested in collaborating on such a project? (Presuming, of course, that we could obtain the permission, or better, cooperation, of the site’s creators.)

  18. I can’t imagine the site’s creators wouldn’t be happy to have their site made more useful.

  19. I can’t comment on the state of the orthography of either Nenets or Nganasan, Patrick, but if someone can get it into a usable format we could do amazing things if it were a database driven site. I’d be willing to collaborate too, if of course, the sites owners were up for it. Maybe someone who writes Russian really well could contact them and ask questions? My Russian writing skills aren’t really up to snuff.

  20. Sorry to take so long to respond to this, bathrobe:
    I’m covering almost all of the Eurasian languages north of 50 degrees, all of the varieties of Saami, the Eskimo-Aleut languages, a smattering of Indo-European languages, Hungarian, and isolates such as Gilyak/Nivkh, Ket, Yukaghir, and even Basque. There are several anthropological theories regarding the origin and diffusion of reindeer husbandry, and I’m trying to see if the linguistic data match any of the anthropological theories. (I had to abandon the Athabaskan and Algonquian languages to make the project smaller, and their data proved to be pretty far removed from the rest anyway.)
    Thanks for the good luck; I may really need it. This thing is a monster!

  21. Sounds like quite a task! Let me know when you have your results; if you put them online I promise to link to them.

  22. My Mongolian teacher was telling me that they have reindeer herders near Lake Khovsgol in western Mongolia. So Mongolian is in the list, too? :)

  23. bathrobe:
    Yes, Mongolian is on the list (actually, several different Mongolic languages are there). It’s some pretty crucial data, actually. :)

  24. I was just checking. The reindeer herders of Lake Khovsgol are actually Dukha (Tsaatan) related to the Tuvan ethnic group. And according to Wikipedia, there are only 44 families left.

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