The Argot of Albanian Bazaars.

More synchronicity: in a nice follow-up to my Lake Talk post, here’s Marjola Rukaj’s “The secret languages of the Bazaars“:

When the čaršijas* [*To make reading easier the ‘bchs’ version of the word (čaršija) is used in the texts on Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia; in those on Albania, the Albanian spelling (çarshija); whereas for the bazaars in Kosovo and Macedonia both wordings are used indifferently] were the pulsating heart of Balkan towns, many languages mingled and crossbred there. Similar languages belonging to the southern Slav family, but cousins of Greek, Albanian and Rumanian, part of the Balkan brotherhood formed over the centuries with population movement and the outside influence of German, Italian, Venetian and Hungarian. In the çarshijas everyone was multilingual with each person being able to speak to his neighbour in that person’s own language.

Along with the natural languages, defying the principles of historic linguistics, invented languages survived and even developed over the centuries. These were actual codes which the people of the čaršijas used to communicate. Secret languages with precise grammar rules and vocabulary were conceived in such a way as to confuse any outsider who tried to guess the meaning.

The secret languages existed for many centuries, probably since the birth of the çarshijas, though when they began cannot be precisely dated though they have been found in many texts from 1500. Some words and expressions survived in urban jargon in several towns but few people have studied them and with the emptying of the čaršijas they have become extinct. […]

According to the theory of Milenko Filipović, supported by the Kosovan Kadri Halimi, the secret languages respected the grammar rules of the local majority language, for example Serbo-Croat in Sarajevo, inserting words which were invented also from a morphological point of view. “Often the words were metaphors which then took on another meaning” states Filipović in a document of 1930. For instance gledač meant window, derived from the verb gledati – to look; pevac – pope [presumably ‘Orthodox priest’ — LH], from the verb pevati – to sing; ušačka – door, from the verb ući – to enter.

Another system was the so-called ters. This consisted in using the opposite of the root of the word. Somewhat similar was the šatrovački system in which the order of the syllables in a word was changed. An example of the latter can be found in the Albanian saying shatra-patra which probably derives from the Romani shatra, here indicating a Rom word inserted into other languages.

There are a lot more examples at the link; thanks, Michael!

Comments

  1. [*To make reading easier the ‘bchs’ version of the word (čaršija) is used in the texts on Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia; in those on Albania, the Albanian spelling (çarshija); whereas for the bazaars in Kosovo and Macedonia both wordings are used indifferently]

    For completeness, the Istanbul Turkish version of the word is spelled çarşı, which Nişanyan Sözlük says is from a Persian چارسو [sic] /tʃɑrsu/, ‘crossroad (literally four-directions), market,’ This is spelled more conventionally in its entry in Dehxoda, as چهارسو. It’s not currently a common word in Persian, the usual word is بازار /bɑzɑr/ as in English.

  2. Seems kinda similar in concept to Brahmin Tamil ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmin_Tamil )

  3. Seems kinda similar in concept to Brahmin Tamil

    How?

    I actually read that Wikipedia link, though I normally avoid anything Brahmin-related on Wiki, since it tends to be unreliable and sometimes disjointed from editing wars. It was not as bad as I had expected, but I saw nothing in there that seemed conceptually similar to the Albanian bazaar language.

  4. Somewhat similar was the šatrovački system in which the order of the syllables in a word was changed.

    Is that also similar to children’s Pig Latin ?

  5. @fisheyed,

    I guess I read the article too quickly. I didn’t realize these were invented languages.

    Interestingly, there is a market in Chennai, India called Burma Bazaar. It is run by Tamils who originally lived in Burma but came back in the early 60’s after the coup. Among themselves they speak an amalgam of Tamil and Burmese which is used as a “secret language” similar to the ones described by the article above.

  6. Reading Robert Lowell’s interviews, and he says:”…it just bores me to hear a language I don’t understand. People have sometimes read me Russian and so forth. But the worst Russian poet would sound like the best, I couldn’t tell. You could get the meter–but I don’t think sound effects are transferable from one language to another.”

  7. Poor Lowell. That statement is irredeemably confused. But he wrote some wonderful poems, so I forgive him.

  8. I think it’s exactly right (though to meter I would add simple rhyme and a few other things). To understand a sound effect, to grasp why Tennyson’s line And murmuring of innumerable bees is onomatopoetic and soporific, and why And murdering of innumerable beeves (with only two minor phonetic changes) is neither, you have to grasp the sound-meaning relationship in detail. Just hearing poetry you don’t understand won’t give you anything of that.

  9. I once listened to a lecture a Telugu actor gave on Ism, the philosophy he had co-invented, just because his delivery was so energetic & telugu is beautiful. (A Telugu man told me if I had understood I would have turned it off.)

    I couldn’t rate poets obviously but i can enjoy the sound of foreign languages without understanding. In public places, i vastly prefer that people speaking near me speak in a language I don’t know. Canto especially is wonderful to listen to.

  10. Just hearing poetry you don’t understand won’t give you anything of that.

    True, but it’s a long way from that to “it just bores me to hear a language I don’t understand.”

  11. a long way from that to “it just bores me […]

    Such languages only bore me if they are Polish, as I’ve said before. I have nothing but affection for Poles as a nation, but there’s something about the fixed stress and lack of vowel reduction, or something, that is insufferably tedious for me to listen to, syllable after syllable, foot after foot, sentence after sentence, strophe after strophe, until I want to screeeeeeeeam.

    But really, I think you and I and fisheyed are unusual. Most people seem to want to understand what they hear at all costs or squelch it, as I’ve observed when accidentally tuning a non-English radio or TV station in the presence of others. I think their language engines are activated by any speech whatever, and then all that unconscious work to understand precisely zero is nothing but a frustration.

  12. But really, I think you and I and fisheyed are unusual. Most people seem to want to understand what they hear at all costs or squelch it,

    I wonder if you are referring to monoglot people in monoglot environments. I have been in polyglot environments all my life, and not just people but films, tv, classes at school etc were in other languages. Listening to music /watching music videos in non-understood languages was pretty common.

    (Actually, Canto does activate something in my brain, so I feel I’m just about to understand it, and then I don’t. I attribute this to years of reading English subs while hearing Canto. But I enjoy the not quite understanding too, it’s like being next to a waterfall.)

  13. I suppose I am.

  14. A long time ago, I found this poem which struck me as beautiful even though I didn’t know a word in this language!

    Try it, perhaps the magic works on you too.

    Lenge lány,
    aki sző,
    holdvilág
    mosolya:
    ezt mondja
    a neved,
    Ilona,
    Ilona.
    Lelkembe
    hallgatag
    dalolom,
    lallala,
    dajkálom
    a neved
    lallázva,
    Ilona.
    Minthogyha
    a fülem
    szellőket
    hallana,
    sellőket,
    lelkeket
    lengeni,
    Ilona.
    Müezzin
    zümmög így:
    “La illah
    il’ Allah”,
    mint ahogy
    zengem én,
    Ilona,
    Ilona.
    Arra, hol
    feltűn és
    eltűn a
    fény hona,
    fény felé,
    éj felé,
    Ilona,
    Ilona.
    Balgatag
    álmaim
    elzilált
    lim-loma,
    távoli,
    szellemi
    lant-zene,
    Ilona.
    Ó az i
    kelleme,
    ó az l
    dallama,
    mint ódon
    ballada,
    úgy sóhajt,
    Ilona.
    Csupa l,
    csupa i,
    csupa o,
    csupa a,
    csupa tej,
    csupa kéj,
    csupa jaj,
    Ilona.
    És nekem
    szín is ez,
    halovány
    kék-lila,
    halovány
    anilin
    ibolya,
    Ilona.
    Vigasság,
    fájdalom,
    nem múlik
    el soha,
    s balzsam is
    mennyei
    lanolin,
    Ilona.
    Elmúló
    életem
    hajnala,
    alkonya,
    halkuló,
    nem múló
    hallali,
    Ilona.
    Lankatag
    angyalok
    aléló
    sikolya.
    Ilona,
    Ilona,
    Ilona,
    Ilona.

  15. No magic for me until I got to the Arabic. Perhaps it would have been different if an attractive voice was reading it to me with a native accent, who knows?

  16. I liked it!

  17. col. squiffy von bladet (ret.) says:

    Like the Spanish neighbour of Commissioner Adamsberg, who listens to a radio only half-tuned to a station, I (sometimes) enjoy the sound of human speech more than its content; I use Internet radio stations in languages I do not speak for that purpose.

  18. The classical way of reading Russian poetry has a special, declamatory style that can engage listeners who don’t understand a word. Here’s Sergey Yesenin reading one of his poems, and here is a reading of one of Pushkin’s epic poems .

  19. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    The classical way of reading Russian poetry has a special, declamatory style that can engage listeners who don’t understand a word

    There’s something in this declamation that brings Gomułka’s speeches to my mind. Like an expressive, rhyming Gomułka. A Gomułka with a sensitive heart.

  20. an expressive, rhyming Gomułka. A Gomułka with a sensitive heart.

    I literally laughed out loud on this one.

  21. When I first heard “La Isla Bonita”, my mind mondegreened the words when they appear in the refrain, somewhat mispronounced, into “Władysław Gomułka”, likewise somewhat mispronounced. I thought “Whaaaat?” but let it drop; eventually I found a copy of the lyrics and understood it, but the anomaly stuck in my mind nevertheless.

    (Has anyone else ever noticed a resemblance between Jaruzelski and a slightly underfed Joe McCarthy?)

  22. When I was ten, I was part of a drag lip sync performance of “La Isla Bonita.” Due to the nature of the performance, learning the lyrics precisely was among the least of our concerns, and I learned it all full of mondegreens.

  23. “Chatra-patra” is used in modern Greek, meaning “so-so”, well enough to get by. For example: “How does he communicate with his Italian in-laws?” “Oh, he can speak their language chatra-patra”. But I didn’t know the origin of the expression. Thank you for this very nice post!

  24. Paul says:

    Is that also similar to children’s Pig Latin ?

    A bit like it. Pig Latin involves transposing syllables and adding -ay on the end.
    šatrovački just transposes syllables, for example:
    đido = dođi (come, 2nd person imperative)
    ciba = baci (throw, 2nd person imperative)

    This can result in some crossovers, for example:
    trava = vatra (fire)
    vatra = trava (grass)

    There have also been some interesting developments, for example, “ciba” the šatrovački word for “throw” can be transformed into “cibni” which means exactly the same thing (throw, 2nd person imperative); the -ni ending is the normal 2nd person imeprative ending in regular Croatian verbs such as “digni” (lift) and “trepni” (blink).

  25. I agree with Robert Lowell — not just because of John Cowan’s excellent example, but also because poetry works by manipulating a language, and someone who doesn’t know that language won’t have an unmanipulated baseline to compare it to.

    For example: In English, it’s very common for words to end in [z], but very rare for words to start with [z]; so if a verse has several words starting with [z], that will stand out to English ears, whereas we won’t even notice if it merely has words ending with [z]. I believe the reverse is true in Russian (where final /z/ is realized as [s]), so a Russian-only speaker could completely “mishear” an English poem.

    Conversely, an English-only speaker hearing a Russian poem will not be able to tell if the ratio of palatal to non-palatal consonants is normal for Russian, or if it’s producing a certain “sound” that (s)he can’t hear. (Somewhat related: I remember the first time I heard “Tumbalalaika” sung by a Russian speaker. Those dark L’s, wow.)

    Above the phoneme level, the same is presumably true of rhythm; iambic and dactylic meter have distinctive sounds in English, but Finnish and Persian speakers will surely perceive them very differently, since Finnish has mostly-fixed first-syllable stress and Persian has mostly-fixed last-syllable stress.

    (And, stretching a bit: If I show you a beautiful piece of programming-language source code, will you see what’s beautiful in it?)

  26. If I show you a beautiful piece of programming-language source code, will you see what’s beautiful in it?

    In my experience, esthetic evaluation of programs is so tied up with idiosyncratic styles and individual philosophies of what is ‘best’ that the answer is likely ‘no’.

    Now mathematical theorems, or proofs rather, do have an associated consensus-based notion of elegance, which is the mathematician’s beauty.

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