Columbus’s Catalan.

Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera of the University of Puerto Rico has a brief but interesting Lingua Franca piece on the national origins of Christopher Columbus:

While conventionally regarded as Genovese, his language had resonances of Catalan.

Columbus signed documents (and was referred to in state records) as “Colom” — a Catalan last name meaning “dove.” There is no record of him writing in the Genoese dialect or Italian, even in letters sent to Genoa. Save one letter in Catalan, his epistles are in Latin or Spanish, some have marginal notes in Hebrew. The conquest chronicler Bartolomé de las Casas noted that Colom “doesn’t grasp the entirety of the words in Castilian” — and much of his Spanish was colored by false cognates, idiomatic interference, and crosslingual appropriations from Catalan […]

Lluís de Yzaguirre, a professor at the Institute of Applied Linguistics at Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona, studied Colom’s Spanish with a forensic linguistics algorithm that applies lexical mistakes to decipher the native language of the writer. He found Colom’s hypercorrections of “b” and “v,” as well as “o” and “u” in Spanish were typical of a Catalan speaker.

Colom’s library had books in Catalan, and he named the island of Montserrat for a monastery near Barcelona.

He was also surrounded by Catalonians. […]

There’s more at the link, including an impressive-looking table of Catalanisms in Columbus’s Spanish writings. I don’t know if this is old hat, but I hadn’t been aware of it.

Preserving Laz.

I don’t normally link to videos, but Saving Turkey’s endangered Laz language is only a bit over three minutes long, and you can not only hear a little of that Caucasian language but see a brief clip of a Laz dictionary. (Laz previously on LH.) Thanks, Trevor!

Veltman’s Sara.

I’ve finished Veltman’s Воспитанница Сара [The ward Sara] (see this post), and I regret to say that I’m grievously disappointed; it’s the first of his novels that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone except a Veltman completist (like myself). I was hoping for good things because Sara is a classic Veltman heroine: self-willed, impatient, eager to achieve her goals and not particular about how she does so. She’s left as an infant (by a poor mother who can’t take care of her) with a midwife and brought up with another little girl named Vera who has a rich benefactor and thus gets nice clothes and toys; when she’s able to talk, she says imperiously “я не хочу быть Сарой, я хочу быть Вѣрочкой!” [I don’t want to be Sara, I want to be Verochka!]. The midwife winds up keeping the other girl (who’s sickly and lovable) and palming Sara off on a rich family as Vera. She spends the rest of the novel as Vera, and causes no end of trouble.

The problem is that it’s all done sloppily, with cardboard characters and unbelievable contrivances. By the time I reached the end, I realized that it was essentially a rewrite of Salomea (see this post and the earlier posts linked therein), but with all the interest drained away and replaced by bog-standard country-house drama (mom wants her eldest daughter to marry the handsome hussar Lonsky, but he only has eyes for Sara; lots of mazurkas, card-playing, etc.). I’ll translate the relevant section from Saltykov-Shchedrin’s crushing review:
[Read more…]

Irish Calligraphy.

Occasional commenter speedwell writes:

I have done a bit of calligraphy over the decades and I live in the rural West of [Ireland]. So I notice that the street signs and a lot of the art and all of the old Irish writing is in what my teachers in the Donegal course simply called “the old way they were taught to write Irish in school fifty years ago”. Well, if it was taught in school, there must be some sort of book or practice material or mimeographed handouts. […] The teachers suggested I try Google, which was fruitless. I’ve contacted an Irish calligraphy society, who put me in touch with a man who suggested I copy Irish-language fonts. But the fonts are all different from the old writing I see in old documents.

Could you put the call out to your friends and colleagues who might have information about how to actually form the letters and letter combinations (literally how to move the pen to make the strokes, like they teach five-year-olds to write individual letters in English with a pencil)? Even legible page scans are OK; I need only the information, not the actual book if it’s not convenient for the person to send it to me or make copies of it.

So: any suggestions? (I know nothing about calligraphy, only irregular verbs.)

Faroe Islands Translate.

This is a really clever and delightful site, described in this PR Newswire story:

The tiny Faroe Islands – 18 islands in the North Atlantic, located between the Shetlands, Iceland and Norway – are once again taking on giant Google in a bid to have their unique language included on Google Translate. They have created their very own Faroe Islands Translate.

With a growing tourism market, the Faroe Islands realized that not being included on Google Translate has frustrated visitors who can’t fully immerse in their unique traditional culture by learning a few phrases in Faroese.

Creating their very own version of the online translation service, with the help of locals who will translate live by video, Faroe Islands Translate will provide a free online service for those visiting the destination or, in fact, anyone around the world curious to learn a little of this unusual language.

I discovered it via this MetaFilter post, and in the thread you can find links to, e.g., Hello. I am the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands. Your translation is as follows: Góðan morgun, as well as SheepView360. What fun!

Linguistics Movies and TV Show Episodes.

Gretchen McCulloch (a linguist previously seen at LH here and here) has posted A very long list of linguistics movies, documentaries, and TV show episodes which is exactly as advertised. It starts with “Arrival, 2016” (discussed at LH here) and ends with Whistles in the Mist (“Interesting questions about origin of lg. typology”); lots of intriguing-looking stuff in between, e.g.:

*Het Dak van de Walvis (On Top of the Whale) 1982 Raoul Ruiz. Parody of much of western academia. A group of field linguists set out to study an exotic language which consists only of one single word, which therefore means everything. Very strange, not a crowdpleaser.

Followed immediately by “Being John Malkovich. Also features a single word language.” (The asterisk means it’s available on YouTube.)

Sooth, Forsooth.

Another quote from Ford Madox Ford’s Memories and Impressions (see this post). He’s been talking about how the English avoid saying anything that anyone might take offense at, whereas the Germans are constantly saying provocative things in loud voices; he goes on:

Take German philologists. These are formidable people. To set out upon the history of a word is an adventurous and romantic thing. You find it in London or in Gottingen to-day. You chase it back to the days of Chaucer, when knights rode abroad in the land. You cross the Channel with it to the court of Charlemagne at Aix. You go back to Rome and find it in the mouth of Seneca. Socrates utters it in your hearing, then it passes back into prehistoric times, landing you at last in a dim early age among unchronicled peoples, somewhere in the Pamirs, on the roof of the world, at the birth of humanity. Yes, a romantic occupation — but, in a sense, piratical. For why otherwise should a comfortable and agreeable gentleman over a large pot of beer become simply epileptic when one suggests that the word “sooth” may have some connection with the French sus, the perfect participle of savoir, which comes from the Latin scire? Personally I care little about the matter. It is interesting in a mild way, but that is all. But my friend became enraged. He became more enraged than I have ever seen in the case of a learned gentleman. You see, some rival Captain Kidd or some rival Francis Drake had enunciated the theory as to the word “sooth” which I had invented on the spur of the moment.

Funny and clearly LH material. (If you’re curious, sooth is actually from Old English sōth, from the PIE root *es- ‘to be.’)

The Future of EU English.

Cathleen O’Grady writes about a possible result of Brexit that hadn’t occurred to me; after describing a guide called “Misused English words and expressions in EU publications” that details “many of the ways in which European English has gone a bit wibbly” from the point of view of UKanians, she says:

Following Brexit, the UK will no longer be able to call these kinds of shots. In a paper published in the journal World Englishes last week, linguist Marko Modiano speculates about what this is likely to mean for the future of English in Europe. He argues that the newfound neutrality of English is likely to help it survive Brexit – and that without the UK’s clout in Europe, European English will be free to do what language does best: change. […]

Modiano argues that Brexit will give English a surprise boost, by making it the neutral option. Without the UK’s 60 million native English speakers, the five million native speakers from Ireland and Malta will make up only 1% of the total EU population. This will leave almost everyone else who speaks English in Europe on an equal footing, all using their second language to communicate. Even after losing the UK’s native speakers, the 38% (and growing) who speak English as a second language will make it the most widely-spoken language in Europe: German sits at around 27%, including native and second-language speakers, and French at around 24%. […]

The major change, argues Modiano, is that the UK will no longer have a say in how English is used. There will be no chance to exert the kind of influence exhibited by Gardner’s document, pulling the continent’s use of English towards a British English standard. This will leave European English free to drift towards US or Commonwealth conventions, and to develop features of vocabulary and grammar that are perfectly well-understood by other Europeans speaking English as a second language – for example, entrenching the use of structures like “I am coming from Spain,” rather than “I come from Spain”.

There’s a precedent for this kind of language change: the varieties of English spoken around the world in the ex-colonies. Much as standard English has changed its own rules over time (“thou” fell out of vogue quite a while ago, while the grip of “shall” is weakening swiftly), Malaysian English, Indian English, and a multitude of other varieties have developed their own grammars and norms. These varieties aren’t the result of speakers learning British English incompletely—their learning of English is aimed at an entirely different target, and English is often one of their native languages.

I don’t imagine there will be drastic changes, but it’s still interesting to think about. Thanks, Trevor!

Draft of New Latin-based Kazakh Alphabet.

I realize it’s just a draft, and may never become a reality (a point made by cliff arroyo in this recent Log thread: “The switch from cyrillic to latin seems to be one of these issues that shows up every few years and gets some press and then disappears”), but this Kazinform report includes a paragraph that baffles me:

The scientists rejected the idea of introducing diacritical marks (glyphs added to a letter, or basic glyphs) as they suppose that because of rare use, the specific sounds of the Kazakh language can disappear.

Any ideas as to what they might be trying to say?

Learning Minority Languages.

Alice Bonasio writes for Quartz about an apparent paradox:

Yet at the same time as teens in the UK are turning their back on traditionally valued European languages such as German, French, and Spanish, Britain is experiencing a strong surge of interest in local idioms. There has been an uptake of kids learning languages such as Irish and Scottish Gaelic over the past five years, with 33% more students choosing to studying these languages in 2017 than five years ago.

She says “A recent poll of 15 countries showed a common language is the most important factor in defining a nation’s identity” and talks about the Inuit community of Nunavik, which “has the highest rate of Inuktitut speakers amongst all Inuit groups worldwide,” and the surprising flourishing of Basque:

Only a few decades ago, children caught speaking Basque in northern Spain would have been punished at school. But as of 2017, 54% of the region’s population are Basque speakers (pdf in Spanish), and in 2016 52% of university students opted for being taught in Basque instead of Spanish. […]

“There shouldn’t be a conflict between the local and the global, but I find that children who are not taught other languages struggle to grasp the concept that diversity isn’t a threat,” says Mari Tere Ojanguren, the principal of Lauaxeta ikastola, which is considered one of the best schools in Spain. “A person that only comes in contact with one language cannot truly understand other cultures. By the age of four our children are immersed in three different languages. So they can be in Abu Dhabi or New York, and they can understand that others around them are different, and be at ease.”

Nothing particularly new and surprising, but a nice roundup. (The title ignorantly talks about “a local dialect” instead of a minority language, but that’s on whoever writes titles for Quartz — the writer of a piece is rarely responsible for the title that gets slapped on it.)