Polyglossia.

Polyglossia” is an sf story by Tamara Vardomskaya, a Canadian writer currently pursuing a PhD in theoretical linguistics at the University of Chicago. It’s one of the most remarkable linguistics-oriented stories I’ve read, featuring a linguist who studies the endangered languages of her region and a young speaker of a dying language, navigating the capital city’s tense ethno-linguistic situation; it gets into nice detail about historical relationships between languages and is a lot of fun to read (if you enjoy sf, of course). Thanks, Vasha!

Comments

  1. “And I was there and ate and caroused, but I drank no wine, so what I say is true.”

    И я там был мёд-пиво пил, по усам текло да в рот не попало.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. Haven’t read it through, but I really like it.

    Suzette Haden Elgin’s We have always spoken Panglish, had left me looking for more, and this seems to provide that.

  3. И я там был мёд-пиво пил, по усам текло да в рот не попало.

    Yes, I figured that’s where she got it, unless the trope is a lot more widespread than I’m aware of.

  4. My guess is that it is a standard trope. I recently had occasion to translate three Russian ‘skaski’ from the collection by Vladimir Tropp and two of the three ended with that text. At the time, I did not understand the idea that one could believe me because I had not drunk beer or wine.
    137. ИВАН БЫКОВИЧ
    На том пиру и я был, мед-вино пил, по усам текло, да в рот не попало;
    !” I was at that feast, I drank honey-wine and some flowed down my mustaches and didn’t get into my mouth.

    Zolushka
    Я на свадьбе был, мед-пиво пил, по усу текло, да в рот не попало.
    I was at the wedding, drank honey-beer, some flowed down my mustaches and didn’t get into my mouth.

  5. My guess is that it is a standard trope.

    Do you mean in Russian folklore, or more generally?

  6. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”, note H:

    The verbal ending — usually held to be as typical of the end of fairy-stories as “once upon a time” is of the beginning — “and they lived happily ever after” is an artificial device. It does not deceive anybody. End-phrases of this kind are to be compared to the margins and frames of pictures, and are no more to be thought of as the real end of any particular fragment of the seamless Web of Story than the frame is of the visionary scene, or the casement of the Outer World. These phrases may be plain or elaborate, simple or extravagant, as artificial and as necessary as frames plain, or carved, or gilded. “And if they have not gone away they are there still.” “My story is done — see there is a little mouse; anyone who catches it may make himself a fine fur cap of it.” “And they lived happily ever after.” “And when the wedding was over, they sent me home with little paper shoes on a causeway of pieces of glass.”

    Endings of this sort suit fairy-stories, because such tales have a greater sense and grasp of the endlessness of the World of Story than most modern “realistic” stories, already hemmed within the narrow confines of their own small time. A sharp cut in the endless tapestry is not unfittingly marked by a formula, even a grotesque or comic one. It was an irresistible development of modern illustration (so largely photographic) that borders should be abandoned and the “picture” end only with the paper. This method may be suitable for photographs; but it is altogether inappropriate for the pictures that illustrate or are inspired by fairy-stories. An enchanted forest requires a margin, even an elaborate border. To print it conterminous with the page, like a “shot” of the Rockies in Picture Post, as if it were indeed a “snap” of fairyland or a “sketch by our artist on the spot,” is a folly and an abuse.

    As for the beginnings of fairy-stories: one can scarcely improve on the formula Once upon a time. It has an immediate effect. This effect can be appreciated by reading, for instance, the fairy-story The Terrible Head in the Blue Fairy Book. It is Andrew Lang’s own adaptation of the story of Perseus and the Gorgon. It begins “once upon a time,” and it does not name any
    year or land or person. Now this treatment does something which could be called “turning mythology into fairy-story.” I should prefer to say that it turns high fairy-story (for such is the Greek tale) into a particular form that is at present [1939] familiar in our land: a nursery or “old wives” form. Namelessness is not a virtue but an accident, and should not have been imitated; for vagueness in this regard is a debasement, a corruption due to forgetfulness and lack of skill. But not so, I think, the timelessness. That beginning is not poverty-stricken but significant. It produces at a stroke the sense of a great uncharted world of time.

  7. “It produces at a stroke the sense of a great uncharted world of time.” -add: “and space.”

    In all three Russian ‘skaski’ which I translated, “Once upon a time” was rendered by the trope “There lived, there was…” [жил-был/жили-были] and with an added expression of “and faraway” -‘in a somewhere kingdom, in a somewhere province’, i.e. В некотором царстве, в некотором государстве. The Russian order seems to start with the location followed by the “once upon a time”.

    В некотором царстве, в некотором государстве жил-был царь на гладком месте, словно на скатерти, сроду не имел у себя детей.
    In a far-away kingdom, in a far province, there once lived a king on a flat
    plain, smooth as a tablecloth, and who had never had children of his own.

    Жили-были старик да старуха. У старика со старухою было три дочери.
    Once upon a time, there lived a man with his wife. The couple had three
    daughters.

    В некотором царстве, в некотором государстве жил-был царь с царицею; детей у них не было.
    In a faraway kingdom, in a faraway province, there lived a king with his
    queen; they had no children.

  8. The Georgian equivalent is იყო და არა იყო რა [iqo da ara iqo ra] ‘there was and there was not’; for that reason George Papashvily called his book of translated Georgian folktales Yes and No Stories.

  9. “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away ….”

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Es war einmal und ist nicht mehr
    ein riesengroßer Nasenbär.

    “There once was and no longer is
    a giant big coatí.”

  11. On all its noses striding,
    Here comes the Nasochron.
    Its child so gently guiding
    ‘S not drawn by Audubon.

    You won’t find it in Brockhaus
    Or Britannica Online,
    I found it in this schlock-house
    I’m pleased to call my mind.

    On all its noses striding
    (As I have said anon)
    Its child so gently guiding
    Here comes the Nasochron.

  12. That formula “there was and there was not” is very widespread regionally; I know it occurs in Neo-Aramaic and apparently in Sanskrit, and it’s presumably the origin of the somewhat ambiguous Arabic formula kān yā mā kān.

  13. This formula (There was and there wasn’t) is also widespread in the Balkans, and I think that one scholar (Kristian Sandfeld) explained it as having been transmitted there via Turkish.

  14. Yes, the Turkish formula is “bir varmış, bir yokmuş” (once there was, once there wasn’t).

    This Wikipedia page of stock beginnings and endings in other languages is nice to browse:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_upon_a_time#Other_languages

  15. Interesting; it has a similar spread to the saying “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.” I wonder if there’s been a study of that culture area and the transmission of the various bits?

  16. Folk stories and fairy tales started with the equivalent of “Once upon a time …” («Μια φορά κι έναν καιρό …») but even before this standard beginning there was a beautiful introduction about a red crewel corded on a spinning wheel. Once the wheel started spinning, the narrator could start the story. I remember listening to folk fairy tales on the radio, which always started as follows: «Κόκκινη κλωστή δεμένη, στην ανέμη τυλιγμένη, δως της κλώτσο να γυρίσει, παραμύθι ν’ αρχινίσει». Perhaps in the old days, such stories were told by women while they were spinning their yarns.

    There was also another standard introduction about a broad bean and a chickpea fighting by a public fountain and being put to jail by lentil, which happened to pass by, but being released after the intervention of a split pea.

  17. Es war einmal und ist nicht mehr
    ein riesengroßer Nasenbär.

    I remember that from my childhood, but in the version I know it was Teddybär. I assume there are more variations.

  18. Teddybär is surely the normal version: David’s point is that a coati does look like a small bear with a prominent nose: indeed, the main North American species is called Nasua narica. Quoth WP:

    The coati snout is long and somewhat pig-like (see Suidae) – part of the reason for its nickname ‘the hog-nosed raccoon’. It is also extremely flexible – it can be rotated up to 60° in any direction. They use their noses to push objects and rub parts of their body. The facial markings include white markings around the eyes and on the ears and snout.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    That’s not a point, but a fact of the German language… almost certainly extrapolated from the coati’s fellow procyonid, the raccoon = Waschbär.

    I hadn’t encountered the Teddybär version, but it doesn’t surprise me.

  20. gwenllian says:

    The Georgian equivalent is იყო და არა იყო რა [iqo da ara iqo ra] ‘there was and there was not’; for that reason George Papashvily called his book of translated Georgian folktales Yes and No Stories.

    That formula “there was and there was not” is very widespread regionally; I know it occurs in Neo-Aramaic and apparently in Sanskrit, and it’s presumably the origin of the somewhat ambiguous Arabic formula kān yā mā kān.

    This formula (There was and there wasn’t) is also widespread in the Balkans, and I think that one scholar (Kristian Sandfeld) explained it as having been transmitted there via Turkish.

    And then there’s… Czech?

    This formula (There was and there wasn’t) is also widespread in the Balkans

    In the souhern and eastern portions? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it, living in the ex-Yu part. Well, I wouldn’t know about Macedonia.

    Interesting; it has a similar spread to the saying “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.” I wonder if there’s been a study of that culture area and the transmission of the various bits?

    We do have this one, though! Have you written about it before? Searching, I can’t find anything beyond a brief mention about it being Arabic, and I’d like to know more about its spread.

  21. I’ve mentioned it similarly in a couple of other threads, but there’s never been any extended discussion of it; des von bladet gave a book reference back in 2010.

  22. gwenllian says:

    Thanks!

  23. MMcM mentions in that thread that “the dog barks …” rhymes in Turkish (it ürür, kervan yürür), which suggests that it began there or in a closely related language.

  24. “In the faraway kingdom of Saramasond / Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond” —Dr. Seuss

  25. marie-lucie says:

    the dog barks …

    In French this sentence is said about plural dogs: les chiens aboient, la caravane passe.

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