An amusing and instructive WSJ story by Drew Hinshaw about Nigerian parrots:
Hundreds of languages are spoken in this country: So which one do you teach a parrot?
It is a decision the pet shops of Nigeria confront every time a talking bird lands in their possession. Last year, a babbling grey parrot arrived at Salisu Sani’s bird stand in this northern city.
There was only one problem. She spoke one of the country’s lesser-known tongues.
“I told her: ‘This is a rubbish language. Try my own,’ ” recalled the lifelong parrot distributor, who spent weeks teaching the animal greetings in Hausa, a more widely spoken vernacular. […]
The country’s 182 million people speak 520 different languages, according to Ethnologue, an atlas of the world’s linguistic boundaries, published by the International Linguistics Center in Dallas. Church services drag for hours as deacons translate their pastor’s sermons into three, sometimes four languages. Customer service lines begin with a plethora of options: one for English, two for Hausa, three for Yoruba, four for Igbo.
It makes the parrot business complicated, too. […]
The language barrier means some pollys can accidentally squawk parrot profanities.
In Kano, Mr. Mohammad bought a secondhand parrot from an American or possibly British expat leaving Nigeria. When he peered into the cage, the bird blared back: “Waka, waka!”
In Hausa, this is a very bad thing for a bird to say. Roughly translated, it means “your mother.”
“That one was misbehaving,” Mr. Mohammad recalled. “It took a long time to sell.”
There’s a lot more there (“By a quirk of geography, parrots tend to live in the most multilingual corners of the world: the Amazon, Indonesia, Central Africa”; “As it turns out, parrots face some of the same language barriers. There are untold hundreds of different parrot dialects”) — read the whole thing.
A couple of brief items: if you’re in NYC on Saturday, you might want to attend the launch of the English edition of Oleg Woolf’s Bessarabian Stamps, translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk; it’s at Kray Hall, December 5, from 2 to 4 PM, and if I were in the city, I’d definitely go. And many, many thanks to
whoever Paul, who sent me a copy of Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks (see this LH post and reviews by Fiona Macdonald at BBC.com, Kirsty Gunn at the Guardian, and Daniel Fraser at Berfrois); not only have I been very much wanting to read the book, but it was sent from Kennys Bookshop in Galway, a town I have nostalgic memories of from a four-decade-old visit. The deep green of the store’s bookmark (enclosed with the copy) nicely complements the brighter green of the book’s cover, and both go well with the green of the grass I see outside my window. It’s a good day.